When I Wish Upon a Star

Quickly following the year-in-review at the end of the December, full of “best of” lists and even a “best of the worst” list (which was one of my favorites) there came a few new lists: Wish lists for a better 2014—things we’d like to see from the Twin Cities theatre scene in the coming year.

I’d thought I’d put together a list of 10 of my own wishes, and for this I’m ignoring the financial and logistical difficulties.

  1. This town is full of talented performers, writers and musicians. Why not create an original musical? It was done last year by one company, but it could be done on a much larger scale. You know, Latte Da + Playwrights Center?
  2. Workhaus Collective is such an asset to the community, but I’d love to see more original scripts by others, whether as a whole season or as a single production in a season.  (oh, wait. Torch is doing this! And I’m excited!) We can do more
  3. As for previously produced scripts there are some plays and playwrights I want to see people tackle, like Caryl Churchill (who wants to take on Traps?) and Shepard (I’d kill for a good Buried Child production*) or more Mamet (for fuck’s sake!)
  4. Open a new performance space, and create a home for the itinerant companies that are ready for it. I know the logistics of numerous companies managing a space together are complex, but I think there are people running these companies that can make it work.
  5. Someone please fix the Theatre Garage, k?
  6. Festival programming: one ensemble company of actors, a few thematically or artistically related plays, running in rep for two months. Who says only the G should do something like this?
  7. More pop-up theaters. Sandbox did it this past fall in City Center. I’d like to see it create a new trend. I see plenty of empty storefronts and buildings.
  8. A while back someone did a show with mid-to-late-afternoon Sunday matinees, like in the 3 to 5 time slot. I thought it was weird, but realized I loved it because it fit nicely between daytime and evening commitments I had at the time. Someone should bring that back.
  9. And while we’re talking scheduling how about longer runs? ** I hate finding a show opening only to realize it closes ten days later and I’ve missed it. (I won’t even mention that one theatre’s production schedule which has way too many previews followed by too short a run.)
  10. Finally……Me. There should be more of me, which frankly I can’t rely solely on others for but can’t do on my own either. I act. I direct. You probably know where to find me. Last year was a good year but I had a few months I would’ve liked to fill.

As far as “wish” lists go, I’m hardly reaching for the stars on many of these. Baby steps, I guess.  Let’s do this, 2014!

summersky3

* I’d direct that in a heart beat
** just like money shouldn’t be a factor in this dream list neither are audiences. I realize longer runs will likely stretch audiences thin for some folks, but short runs don’t have the benefit of buzz time.

Advertisements

A New Year for Making a Blank Slate

Empty Field. NE Iowa. Fall 2013

Empty Field. NE Iowa. Fall 2013

The new year has begun – the year end lists are over – the future is before us.

Last year may have been one of the most significant years for me for reasons both personal and professional. The whole first half of the year was booked solid with plays, established and newly-created, with companies and artists I’ve longed to work with for several years. In that sense it was an incredible and satisfying year, as I got to add those company names to my resume. Much of that work was referenced here in posts scattered throughout the year.

The new year before me is a blank slate. And by that I mean right now there’s nothing on the books.

I look forward to carving out time for exploring some ideas for a new play, auditioning for new (to-me) companies, and perhaps even redefining my artistic world.

Need to Ruminate

Today I witnessed a truly unique theatre piece. Original. Risky. Experimental.

There were things I liked, and things I liked…less. Including a moment or two that may have been weak.

There were things that I found fascinating.

There were things I didn’t understand.

There was a moment where I suddenly cried.

There was a moment I was suddenly inspired.

Perhaps in a day or two I could put it all in to words.

This. This is the reason I love the art of theatre.Image

The Nominees are….No One. Or, Everyone. Appropriately

Once a year for the last nine years my theatre community has gathered downtown to honor and celebrate the previous season of theatre in this town. It’s an awards show like few others. While there are all the trappings of what might be expected—fancy red carpet, lots of photographers, flashing lights, gawkers driving by on the main strip downtown, and loads of people (who typically see each other in jeans, t-shirts and occasionally underwear) are all dressed up with high heals, long gowns, sexy gowns, jackets and ties. (And sometimes several of these items at once.)

iveys2013But what makes the Iveys really different is that no one is a nominee. Unlike other awards shows where there a people nominated for awards, the pre-awards buzz for this event is not about any single individual or production, it’s about all productions. There aren’t a handful of nominees walking the door and chatting up their colleagues or getting their picture taken – instead nearly everyone in the crowd is a potential winner.

This awards program has neither nominees nor categories (save for two – Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement.) And the possibilities are widespread. Awards can be given to individuals (actor, director, designer, playwright), entire casts, collaborators or a company for a production. The number of awards and the breakdown of categories is never the same from year to year.

This year a good friend of mine, Craig Johnson, won for his performance as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency, a production I was fortunate to have been a part of. I’ve worked with him on many productions over the years and feel I know his work very well.  This was a big production—it’s a long, wordy script, and it’s not Oscar Wilde at his wittiest, finest self. It’s more complicated, more layered, than that. And it was very much an ensemble piece, albeit one whose success would hinge strongly on the man at the center of it all. It was a successful show, well received by audiences and certainly a highlight of the year for everyone involved. As for Craig, our fearless leader, I’m familiar with how hard he worked on this show, and with how his work turned out. I saw it in his eyes every night in our scenes. His winning was a highlight of the evening for a lot of people.

My big takeaway from the evening were several of the other winners. They were individuals and companies whose work I either didn’t know, didn’t see or….in one instance didn’t even know about. (Eek! How did that happen?) I feel like I know what’s happening on stages across the city, I feel like I see a lot of shows and read about and follow many more, and I know and talk to theatre artists all the time. Of course, sometimes I too am working, and I’m only human and can’t see everything. Still, this year this element of “i don’t know that person” felt stronger than in the past. (The after party only solidified it. Or maybe my cohorts are just getting older and leaving earlier.)

Then there was this great presentation in the middle of the show about the vast number of playwrights in this city, along with the vast number of original scripts produced by a wide variety of companies. Original scripts are the heart and blood flow of the theatre. All presented, appropriately, by the head of the Playwrights Center, the nationally recognized vital writing institute.

So what does all this tell me?

It tells me that the Twin Cities theatre scene has grown. A Lot. Not only has the number of actors, directors, designers and writers increased dramatically over the years, so has, I think, the quality. The breadth, depth and caliber of talent amazes me.

This is the thought I landed on ultimately…..this town is chock full of talent. Amazing, strong, varied and eager talent.

I’m proud to be a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming year. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.

My low-key Fringe

The 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival is half over, and so far….I’ve seen only three shows.

This isn’t so much by design or choice, as it is by circumstance. Sometimes life gets in the way of art.

Or, in the way of what could be, should be, oh-I-wish-to-God-it-were, art.

Two of the three that I’ve seen have been fascinating, inventive and fun rides. The third one….not so much. Could’ve been. But wasn’t.

It’s not important which is which.

And I write that not because I don’t want to write a “review” or critique the work or am afraid to criticize. I write that because it’s not important. That’s part of the Fringe experience. People try things, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.

But…nothing has been a waste of time.

I was having a great chat the other day over lunch with a couple of talented Fringe artists that are also just observers this year. We agreed that in performing and writing, either do it well or get the F out of the way.

We were more eloquent than that.

Fringe tests my patience with mediocrity. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m a know-it-all, or a snob. But really….no. I’m just an audience member. One who happens to know a thing or two, but truthfully I’m just audience member this time.

And everyone’s experience of a show is valid.

I want to be charmed. I want to be pulled in to a story. I want to the world to disappear as I travel the road alongside the characters and storytellers and the pictures on stage.

Fringe festivals give us the chance to experience such a wide range of shows and performers. I only wish I could make it more a priority.

Tonight I’m off to see my fourth show, which is highly anticipated.

This may turn out to be the year I see the least, and in some ways that’s disappointing. Which only puts the pressure on to spend those few hours the best way I can.

After all….that’s part of the beauty and magic of live performance. See it when it happens, or never see it all.

Another Closing Night

Almost any theatre artist will tell you that closing nights can be bittersweet.

There’s a camaraderie amongst a cast and crew that grows quickly, and at times intensely, over the few months’ course of any given production. People come together to create this living, breathing piece of art which by its very nature is not permanent – which will have to disappear into memory. In this process they come to know each other intimately, rely on each other and, hopefully, trust each other. This is most true for those who are part of every performance, on stage and off, working with a live audience who may love it or hate it or both.

There’s nothing like performing live. There are no second takes in theatre, there’s only another chance the next night….until there isn’t. And you close.

Tonight is the closing night of my current show: Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.

It’s an ensemble piece in the truest sense. Nine actors creating over fifty characters. (The remnants of one of mine are seen here.)

The remnants of a character

There’s a beauty in this kind of group work, in this non-linear script, where energy is tossed or thrown or deftly handed from person to person. And in this show most of us are always on stage the entire time. I don’t think I’ve ever watched my cast mates more in any other production. I love watching actors work. I’ve loved watching these actors work.

This has been quite a memorable experience, challenging in its own unique way. There are so many new-to-me people and the cast is filled with actors I’ve come to admire—well, a few I already had admired and I’m very glad to have had this experience with them—but most of the them I didn’t know before this show.

Part of this cast is young—young enough to make me feel old, and I don’t think of myself as old. They’ve reaffirmed my hope for the future of theatre. They’re creative, talented, ambitious and hungry. They’re the reason the theatre has never died, despite the calls for its demise that appear every now and then.

Until I get another chance to do so, I’m going to miss working with all of them.

I’ve been fortunate to have been working on some project, whether as actor or director, since September, and do not have anything definite laid out in the future just yet. (That actually may change as I write this….) This too makes the closing a little bitter. Doing theatre is something that fills me like no other thing, and when I’m away from it from too long….well, I go a bit stir crazy. I doubt that will happen.

There’s only one take left, one more chance. Like every play I’ve done there are things I still strive to make more beautiful, more artful, more true. No two performances are ever the same, and tonight there’s another unique group of people who will come together to be the tenth actor in this performance: our audience. I hope they bring their A-game. I suspect we will.

Listening, Concentration and Other Cobwebs

Every show brings its own challenges. Sometimes it’s the needed energy for the physical life of the show, sometimes it’s the vocal strength needed for the space or the volume of words. This time around I think it’s the mental concentration for the long haul of the performance. That’s what I’m discovering.

After each show I’ve not been so physically drained as mentally drained. In a 2 1/4 hour performance (not counting the much needed intermission) I’m on stage for all but about  three minutes. And while I may not be speaking the whole time, or be the point of focus the whole time, I’m still there, still creating a whole life.

Actively listening on stage can take just as much concentration as when involved in dialogue. It’s so easy to “space out” and stop listening when you know you don’t have to speak for another 5 or 10 minutes. I mean, I could just sit there and think about all sorts of things…my shopping list, what I should make for dinner on my night off, the upcoming vacation plans, what was that guy thinking by wearing that outfit tonight?….but I know I shouldn’t and I know if I do I’ll just end up throwing myself off later, when I really do need to buckle down and perform a scene or monologue.

That’s what this show has been like to perform, and I’ve found it to not always be so easy to keep my concentration. Even my pre-show routines have been thrown off – my concentration seems to be lacking at times, almost troubling. In the end, it works out…it’s fine. But it’s been a struggle. I think if this were a show where I had a lot of stage time but were entering and exiting and having costume changes or whatever, then the energy and pace, for me personally – not the show, would be different and would require a different mind set and a different kind of concentration, something I’m perhaps more adept at – but I’m only guessing here.

This feels more like some kind of yoga or meditation type of focus. There’s a need to clear out all external stimuli…..

clear out any noise from my mind….

concentrate on my breathing….

and then listen and react.

Sounds so simple. It’s not always as simple as I would like. Plus, with the presentational style of the play and the intimacy of the space and clear faces of the audience members sitting within reach, there’s more stimuli to have….and then to let wash over me, leaving me with my breathing and my listening and my reacting.

Only now, in our third week of a four week run, am I realizing this is the kind of thing I need to be doing each night at the theater. Of course the great thing about live theatre is that it’s live….and until it closes, there’s always another opportunity to make it better.

The next performance is this afternoon, in only a few hours. Time to clear my head yet.