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.

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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.

The Start of a New Theatre

The other night I went to the inaugural production of  a new theatre company in town. I was impressed, for many reasons. New theatres sprout up around here all the time, several each year. Few survive beyond a few productions or seasons. I think there may be something different about this one.

I’ve been known to say how producing your own theatre can be the most rewarding, and the hardest, work you may ever do in theatre. Having been a part of a few different companies, where I was often wearing more than one hat at one time…

(actor/producer, producer/director, writer/director, even one time as adapter/actor/director/producer – though not more than one creative job for the same piece of material in a grouping of shorts)

…I feel I know what I’m talking about. Of course, this may not be everyone’s experience of it. I may enjoy things others don’t, and get a thrill at seeing all the elements come together, and perhaps I have a control issue, I don’t know….but I know that when I’ve gone from doing double-duty on a show to being “just an actor” I was amazed at how easy it was to be “just an actor.”

And being “just an actor” is very difficult and time consuming and energy sucking. After all, when the lights go down on the house and up on stage, it’s all on him, or her.

But being creative and being part of the decision to do this particular show…that’s some satisfaction.

I digress… The reason I’m excited by what I saw at The Phoenix Theater Project‘s production of Proof is there was clear determination. Gumption. Drive. Desire. There was a lot of work done by few hands to get that show up on its feet, on a real set, in front of a real audience. It wasn’t a “let’s throw something together and call it a production” kind of thing. It was “we want to do this script because it’s important, because it tells the story of how we as humans connect and disconnect, and how our lives are entangled, and…” any number of other things that this brilliant script brings out, as well as “we’re going to do this right, with good talent.”

And the fact that there was so much good work done within it too was icing on the cake.

I expect they’ll continue on, with other important scripts. Forging their own way. I certainly hope so.

I’m excited to see just where it is they head.

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.

Umm….what?

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.