Excited, and Perhaps Anxious.

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be doing other things but I can’t really focus right now because I have a show opening tonight. Typically when I’m acting in a show I take that day off from the day-job as part of a recovery from tech/dress/preview kind of thing, but also because I know my mind can’t focus on anything else for too long.

This time I’m not acting, but I am producer and director so it’s almost all I’ve breathed for the past month or so. Now it’s virtually out of my hands. I have to trust that the actors and board op will do what I know they can and plan to do. I can only sit back.

It’s been a crazy busy month. (Technically I opened and closed a whole other show I directed earlier this week–another experience that deserves some bit of write up here.) Twice in the past couple weeks I’ve had conversations with people (who don’t work in theatre) about theatre and what I am or have been working on, etc. etc. Both times the person made comments regarding how excited and fulfilling for me it sounded, made some remark such as they “could see something in [my] eyes when I talked about this stuff.”

I love the work I do, feel lucky to get to do it, and find it satisfying.

Between the projects and the day-job, I’ve probably been working about 70 hours/week for the past several weeks. I should be exhausted. (And truly, I think I am.) But I’m energized. Elated. Ready for things. My mind is engaged and I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions and choices more easily and with more certainty.

Side story example: At the day-job yesterday I discovered I was expected to present some materials during a staff-wide meeting, and the meeting had already started and my presentation was in less than five minutes.Yes, I panicked. And then I quickly gathered the info I needed, made quick decisions about what to say and how to say it…and then presented. I don’t think I said more than one “uh” in the whole thing — which I say all the time anyway. And I’m certain no one who wasn’t already in the know about my last minute prep could tell anything was amiss.

But still, today is different. It’s the day people are going to pay money to see the work we’ve done. I’m not nervous, just excited. Perhaps anxious. It’s hard to let go, to stop thinking about the show and how to improve it and what’s working and not working and what if this or that or I wonder…….

My mind’s on overdrive, but I might sleep well tonight.


Raining, Pouring

A month ago I had virtually nothing on my artistic schedule for this Fall, and very few opportunities on the books down the road.

In the past few weeks that has all changed:

      • I’m currently producing and directing short-story adaptations for a late-night show for Balance Theatre Project to perform in less than one month from now. I have a killer cast and a jigsaw of a rehearsal schedule that may also kill (me).
      • We had our first read-thru of the production, when we gathered in the attic playroom of a historic mansion
      • I got cast in and have already shot a mini-short film (is that a category?)
      • I had a fun audition for a new (to me) company and new (to me) director, where the talent and creds are high, and have snagged a call back for it to be done sometime in the next week or so
      • I had an audition for a feature-length film (a paid feature length indie film = a rarity) and have a callback in the next week or so
      • I was invited to audition for another show for another (new to me) company with a really cool script, and which also happens in the next week or so

Over a century ago, small children put on little plays in this space

Those bottom 3 items will likely all conflict and I may have to make some choices of my own. That is if the rain keeps falling.

Suddenly, A Show

Monday morning I had an email inviting me to mount a late-night show for a couple nights in late October, with a ghost-story like theme to coincide with another production.

It’s not like I usually have a play in my back pocket, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, but in this case – I sort of did. Years ago I had co-created a show with the the person who approached me about this, and he suggested that the ghostly tales of our 4 Stories production would be a good fit. I had to decide quickly.

1998, 4 Stories by Upstart Theatre. Photo by P. Losacker.

That same day some one else, in a completely different context, quoted a saying about being more disappointed by the things you didn’t do rather by those you did. Hmmm….

I stopped by the theater, looked at the space, considered and said, “OK. Count us in!”

Several days and numerous emails and phone calls later, and with a bit of re-curating, I’ve got a cast in place to create a slightly altered version of that 1998 production.

A week ago I had nothing….well, almost nothing….in this time-slot of my year. Now, I’m playing producer/director and scrambling. It was all a bit sudden, but some fates have to be working for me because I quickly secured some amazing talent to be on board.

Out of nowhere, suddenly I’ve got a show to put together.

Waiting for Guffman

I was recently approached by a small, fairly new theatre company out in the ‘burbs. Possibly the ‘burbs of the ‘burbs. I couldn’t really tell you. I tend to rarely leave the city, and when I do get past the inner ring things quickly look all too much the same and I feel lost. I had been recommended to them as a director. They were apparently looking for new blood and fresh ideas.

That all seems fine, but upon re-reading the email I received I became wary. Started seeing flags. And became a bit annoyed. In the email I was asked to respond with my interest, resume (and apparently any scripts I’d like to direct for them) by four days from now, because in five days there’s going to be a board meeting and this person would like to come prepared.

I don’t think I’ll respond, but if I did it might be with a bunch of questions, rather than with my curriculum vitae (as requested) and my analysis and vision of Streetcar or Virginia Woolf.

It might include….

You’ve done three productions in the past year? Great! This shows gumption and promise and planning. I noticed you pointed out that you’ve discovered the need to produce things that people in your community will want to come out and see.

Really? It took you three productions to realize this little fact?

OK…moving on….

You want to get away from doing shows whose rights are held by a certain publishing company (a company I’ve not heard of before, and that’s fine) because, as you claim, the quality of the scripts available are below the caliber for which you’re aiming, but are the least expensive you could find.


I wonder what exactly it was that made you choose the scripts you had? Least expensive and….what? Most relevant to your audience? No, doesn’t sound like it. Most relevant to our times? No…not that either. Just what was it that made you choose the lousy sounding schlock that I saw on your “website” (which was not impressive, although I realize that’s redundant of me to point out in the context of this note.)

However, kudos to you for trying to improve the quality of your work. I admire anyone or any group who strives to do better. Except….

You tell me you’re looking for input from directors? Fine, but you’re contacting people who are not necessarily familiar with your audience or your community. I’m not so sure that’s the way to go about improving things. Yes, I realize that you’ve identified “plays people have heard of” as being a criteria for things you choose, and I’ve probably “heard of” more scripts than you and may even have an inkling of what your townsfolk have “heard of” but….I guess while I could come up with a suggestion list of productions that might work (in a community I’m not familiar with) they’re likely not the shows I’m even interested in directing.

How about Genet’s The Balcony?

oh…never mind.

Also, thank you for pointing out that the only director who was paid in your last season (or at least only was implied) was someone who was a “board member” and was paid because you had received a grant  and who has agreed to direct again for free (thus implying you don’t have another grant.) I notice you don’t mention any fee, salary, stipend or other verbiage that indicates payment.

And….remind me why you started a theatre company out there in…where is it again? Can you [even remotely] explain your vision to me, or just why it is that you thought a theatre was warranted, desired or the right thing to fill the void in your life, er I mean your town’s cultural milieu? And after you explain that, tell me why you think I, or those other directors you’ve contacted, who has never been to your town (as I suspect the others may be) are the right people to take you in a new direction? It’s probably because someone said to you, “Oh, so-and-so is really talented and works all the time and you should contact him about shows you should do or people to get involved” and you did that.

So-and-so is a dear friend who wouldn’t go near you with a 10-foot pole and said to himself, “Well I don’t want to get involved, but maybe these people do” and hence you ended up with my email address.

Honestly, I was tempted because turning down opportunities is not easy.

Then I saw the red flags and remembered the last time I ignored red flags. So…thanks, but no thanks.

Good luck, and have a pleasant day.

PS: This response sounds sort of nasty and sarcastic. That’s why you haven’t actually been sent it. Want my advice? Find scripts and stories that speak to the people in your town, and that are of the caliber and quality you desire, and do them. Raise some money, pick your scripts, hire..ahem, hire your directors and crew and actors, and take a risk. If your town has a need for a theatre the people will come, and you’ll build your audience.

Have, Have Not

I think I’ve successfully layed out at least some aspects of the next six or seven months of my schedule. This involves some more writing and further development of the project that’s already consumed most of 2009, and workshopping and directing someone else’s script with a production next spring. There’s still room in the schedule for other things (like day-job…er, day-job hunting, and some family plans, and hopefully some acting work) but I’m usually sitting with a void of time in front of me. Not knowing when the next opportunity will land. This ain’t so bad. It kind of makes things easier to plan for and deal with.

The weird thing is the acting part. Something made me think of it last night. Most all the work I’ve done in the past…16 months?…has been writing and directing. Not acting, with the exception of a few occassional staged readings. I miss it. It’s a long time to go without a real acting gig. I mean, I’m enjoying my work opportunities, but I miss being on stage, and hope I can find something to be in during the upcoming season. There’s always the fear it won’t come again.

While this may not be typical for me—that is, having theatre work planned for numerous months ahead—it seems like it’s rather common to many, many folks I know. Actors (and certainly directors) often are either booked for the next several months or more, or have nothing at all and seemingly no hope of getting something. A friend of mine from NYC was in town earlier this year doing a show at a the big G, and when someone approached her with the question “Are you available next March?” she thought he was crazy. She thought no one who does stage work knows where they’ll be in 12 or 13 or 14 months! (Or mostly no one.) I had to tell her that in this city if you don’t have work in the next six months, you’re not likely to get any. Everything is scheduled very far advance.

It didn’t used to be this way. It used to be audition on Monday and start rehearsals the following week. Practically.

So I guess if I want an acting gig….I better start keeping an eye out for it.

A Delicate Watercolor on Stage

The other night I was treated to a night at a theater and we saw The Syringa Tree at The Jungle. This one woman show, about growing up in South Africa during apartheid, was….astounding.

Dear Sarah Agnew – How do you make it look so easy? How do you make it seem so seamless? How do you dig so deep down and anchor yourself in a character at the turn of a dime? Where did you find that sharp focus? Also, how do you portray 22 distinct characters in 90+ minutes without a stop, without a drink of water and without looking like a sweaty wet mop at your curtain call? I think I love you. Sincerely, your new fan.

Now, this is not to say she did it all alone. First off, there’s this wonderful and complicated script. Honestly, I have a few issues with some of the script, but their very minor. It certainly made me want to learn more about a topic that I feel woefully inadequate in discussing. I need to know more about the history. But the human toll – the hatred, the discrimination, the anger. It’s heart breaking. And then, hopeful.

Furthermore, there was the brilliant directing. Joel Sass has never been a slouch, and is one of the most creative people I know. Back in the day, when he was often producing his own work, his directing style and his shows were wickedly on the edge, with artfully exaggerated images and twisted elements. It was bold, brash and exciting. This too was exciting, but I described it as “very delicate” – to which he said that it was like a “watercolor.” Exactly.

A complicated, multi-layered story, presented with ease and beauty.

As the famous Frenchman sitting behind me yelled during curtain: “Bravo!”

Bravo, indeed.