Saturday, March 31, 2012

Effort vs. Achievement

Bitter Lemons draws our attention to Samuel Bernstein's review of DOMA's production of The Who's Tommy.  The salient point for me, and the reason why when I first read this I wished I had written it:
Are we meant to applaud the attempt itself? Our culture’s psychological and human development strategy has become one of rewarding effort rather than achievement. I’m not a fan of the idea. Nor do I want to sit idly by and let it take the theater hostage.
As a hard and fast rule, I disagree.  Sometimes the effort is enough, but we would have to be talking about a pretty goddamned spectacular effort -- Amelia Earhart not quite making it across the Atlantic, Rocky not quite defeating Apollo Creed, etc.  When the effort itself is the point, the achievement doesn't really matter.  When the effort is the point, odds are you are doing it for yourself.

And yet theatre is not for us.  It's for them.  No one cares about the effort it took to produce the play.  Maybe your mother, but outside of her, no one. One of the take-aways from Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art are the reasons why people go to the theatre.  As Larry Pontius at LA Stage Times summarizes:
For most, a primary motivation was to relax or escape, which goes up significantly with age, and then tapers off.  Second in popularity was the desire to be emotionally moved or inspired, which also went up with age, before leveling off.  The third motivation was to spend time with family members, which rises during the child rearing years, and then, “plunges” later.
Go read the whole thing.  I'm pretty sure "To go see how hard everyone worked" is not on the list.

We are not children.  We don't all get a ribbon at the end of the day, emblazoned with tacky gold letters that read "Participant."

That's not to say critics should be heartless.  If anything, a negative criticism, artfully relayed, may do  more to improve the work of a theatre company than all the smoke one could possibly blow up their asses.  It's tough, but necessary.

A fantastic article was posted at HowlRound earlier this week, "Criticism! Eeek! Run! Run!"Here is a brief excerpts:
When artistic colleagues are working together, we expect to exchange criticism of one another’s work. This is the job of collaborators, to engage in an ongoing, critical discussion of what is working and what is not. But when it comes to a colleague’s work that we ourselves did not participate in making, while it may be easy to comment either critically or superficially on our positive response, it’s understandably more difficult to speak to our negative response.

Yet we must. How else can we hope to make and see stronger work? Obviously it’s important that collaborators be critical with one another. Collaborators have the unique, up-close perspective that comes from creating the work. This is the vital, key perspective that no audience can have. Likewise, the audience is privy to a perspective that nobody who worked on the production can have. And this perspective is ultimately the vantage point from which a theater production is made to be experienced. Gathering the perspectives of our audience is essential. To that end, artistic colleagues in the audience can provide a particularly informed perspective, since they understand firsthand what goes into making work. Thus, we who make theater can be of great value to one another in the ongoing effort to determine how our work is working.
(Emphasis added.)

No more "A's for Effort."  Producing a play--any play--is damn near impossible.  That's a given.  Let's save the praise and ovations for those who actually achieve something.  We owe those who don't quite hit the target honesty, not a pat on the head.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Creativity Works

via Scott Myers at Go Into the Story:



Looks like an interesting book.

On the heels of calling out a director for lacking vision (Jesus Christ, I can be a real asshole sometimes) I find myself absorbed in thought.  How?  How do we approach something with a fresh set of eyes and create something new and exciting?  We do it, but how do we do it?

If we know how we do it, maybe we can be more consistent about it.  Maybe we can share the skill with others, and improve the overall quality of what we do.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Naked Before God

presented by Circle X Theatre Co. at [Inside] the Ford


I remember the moment I learned about the [Inside] the Ford Winter Partnership Program.  My immediate response was an explosive expletive followed by the word "Yes" and an exclamation point. A program wherein a large theatrical entity takes a smaller, scrappier theatrical entity under its wing to produce a new work?  Technical and marketing support and the smaller company keeps most of the box office?  The Ford is a hero, folks.  And they are choosy about who they bring into the program.  So consider this an upfront disclosure:  I went into Naked Before God expecting the best of Los Angeles Under-99 Theatre.  I was not disappointed.

Naked Before God is a farce of the new American dream; our obsession with the quick fix for what ails us, the Hail Mary pass towards religion, and the eager pursuit of disposable celebrity and the fortune that it accompanies.  Placing this farce in and around the modern porn industry is a meta statement on our town – the players could just as easily be pursuing a more “conventional” form of plastic glory in TV and film – making this a very Hollywood story, despite its Arizona setting. The farce is aimed at us, fellow Angelenos,  but it’s a loving farce, absolutely turgid with lovable, twisted people.  They are bigger than life, and all too believable.

Writer/director Leo Geter is the mastermind behind this work.  Act one is a series of toppers – just when you think things can’t get more complicated, they do.  Act two is a series of twists – Geter gleefully rips the rug out from under us at every turn.  The playwright also gives lie to the old reviewer’s chestnut that “a playwright should never direct his own work.”  Geter's staging is at times naturalistic, and the moments of slapstick that do occur flow naturally and logically from the narrative.

The cast is wonderful, gaining a solid grip on the madness and pumping it for all it's worth.  There is not a wasted moment; the piece has been thoroughly explored, and every moment is mined for its full comic potential.  Jennifer A. Skinner as Kristen, the retired porn star who is figuratively (and literally, by play's end) "naked before God", delivers.  She runs right up to the edge of improbability, and dances.  She is a joy and a delight. Kristen’s monologue about the three-way is the play’s highpoint, and Skinner makes it a heart-warming family moment.

On top of it all, we have an absolutely perfectly rendered production design.  Brian Sidney Bembridge's set is an engineering marvel by under-99 standards, with a fully functional kitchen and walls that swivel to reveal the interior and exterior of Kristen’s house.  A patch of murky carpet easily doubles for grass in the second act.  I truly wonder how long Bembridge spent looking for that exact right shade and texture.  Clever use of moving lights extend the outdoor scenes up to the police helicopter-occupied heavens.  Great care is taken with Ann Closs-Falrey's costume design – Kristen dresses in the hippest fashions of 20 years ago, while son Duncan looks like he just stepped out of a Vice magazine ad.

We all like to say "support the theatre."  We should be more specific:  Support GOOD theatre.  Go see this show.  Go because it is balls-deep funny.  Go because Circle X wants to entertain YOU, not just themselves.  And in the end, it's all about mutual pleasure, isn't it?

Naked Before God does it while you watch on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 pm through April 28th.  [Inside] the Ford is located at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in Hollywood (off the 101, just north of the Hollywood Bowl.)

General admission is $25, except for Sunday matinees, which are Pay-what-you-can.  Parking is ample, free and non-stacked.  For more information, visit http://www.fordtheatres.org/.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Who's Tommy

presented by DOMA Theatre Company at The MET Theatre

There's no getting around it:  The Who's Tommy is dated.  A musical about a pinball whiz who becomes a new age cult leader -- no doubt past its "best by" date when it premiered onstage in the age of Super Nintendo, it seems none the fresher in the age of Angry Birds.  But that music!  Such an improbable story, set four decades before the actor playing Young Tommy was born -- Despite it all, The Who's Tommy remains forever young, vitalized by the music.  The music is clearly DOMA's first concern, and by and large, the onstage talent rocks the house.  It is unfortunate that the direction and design work does not keep the tempo.

A piece like The Who's Tommy requires a strong vision; something for the designers and actors to build toward.  This vision was either missing altogether or simply lacking in potency.  Director Hallie Baran delivers up rare moments where things seems to click -- the overture, the hospital montage -- but these are rare moments indeed.  Act Two feels like a race to the end.  The clever staging ideas that pepper Act One are largely absent in Act Two, replaced by scenes of standing around and singing.   It should be enough to just let the cast belt out Pete Townshend's explosive music.  It should be, but it's not.  We may come to the show for the music, but it's the story, the characters that grab us.

The lack of vision is most sorely felt in Brandy Jacob's production design.  The stage is hemmed in by an arbitrarily assembled assortment of levels that are never adequately used.  There's no consistency of palette, texture, anything that might unify the set.  The costumes are a confusing pastiche of 70 years worth of costumes -- 1940s fashions rub shoulders with Daft Punk t-shirts, 1970s leather, and day-glo 80s wear.  Tommy's off-the-rack Tron hoodie is the most egregious costuming fault.  Picked, no doubt, because it "looks cool," it reveals nothing about the character.  But that's precisely what design work is supposed to do:  Reflect and amplify the world of the play.  In a musical as malleable as Tommy, the potential for imaginative design is extraordinary.  The creative team settled on ordinary.

I trust that the lights will be fixed.  I have to believe that lighting designer Cullen Pinney saw the same show I saw, and made a mental note to fix every dark spot and clean-up every wayward follow spot.  Likewise, I hope he reminds the cast to find their light.  There are some fantastic ideas happening in the lighting, and I'll give Pinney a pass on opening night technical issues.  I don't want to say much more about the lights, other than the transformation effect -- when Young Tommy became deaf, mute, and blind -- did not work.  The specialty gobo was too washed out.  That's any easy fix, as are all the lighting issues.  I trust they will be fixed.

The sound issues are few and fleeting -- only a couple of times did I feel the band overpowered the vocals.  I appreciate that everyone was mic'ed (or seemed to be.)

Although Jess Ford (Tommy) is an appealing performer with a strong voice and tremendous energy and presence, he doesn't quite connect with Tommy.  He has the external right -- he strikes all the right poses.  But the internal world of Tommy just rings hollow.  And Tommy is all internal world.  And so it is that Tommy's reemergence into the land of the seeing, hearing, and speaking doesn't earn its emotional pay-off. His epiphany at the end of the show doesn't land.  It is well within Ford's abilities to nail this role.  He hasn't found Tommy yet, but he's close.

The music, under the direction of Chris Raymond, is where this production of The Who's Tommy really begins to hit its stride.  The band sounds great, and the the ensemble is wonderful.  Chris Kerrigan in particular lit up the stage every time he took it.  His Pinball Wizard was a frustrated nerd, and an utter delight to take in.  Donovan Baise (Young Tommy, the night I attended) is an adorable young man with considerable stage presence.  Really, I find very little fault with the cast and the band.  I only wish they had received the support they so dearly deserve.

The Who's Tommy can be seen, heard, and felt on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm through April 15th.  The MET Theatre is located at 1089 Oxford Avenue in Hollywood, just off Santa Monica near Western. 

General Admission is $30; VIP seating is $35.  Seniors and students with ID pay only $20.  There is secure parking available for $5, but get there a little early. Also, calling it "stacked parking" is a little generous:  Cars are sardined into the Earl Scheib parking lot around the corner.  It's okay -- just know before you go.

And if you go, be sure to avail yourself of the pinball machine in the lobby.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Boomerang Effect
a new play by Matthew Leavitt
Directed by Damaso Rodriguez


Photo by Ed Krieger
"The Boomerang Effect" a new play by Matthew Leavitt, is a very cynical comedy, and it tries to hide it with unending, fast paced banter and a punchline at the end of every scene. It's a montage of bedroom scenarios that all take place in the same bedroom, two actors at a time. Each scene has a dot that's connected to the next scene through the mention of a character (If you say you have a Father, then he is one of the two in the next scene, and so on...) You go forward through 5 of these, then reverse order back to the first one to see how each story is tied up. That's the layout.

It is the type of show that people who like seeing the world through the veneer of a sitcom will enjoy. I don't watch many sitcoms, especially 3 camera sitcoms, and I don't enjoy that level of artificiality on stage (unless you're making a point about it); I kept expecting to see chords and PAs running around the set while the actors worked their asses off for laughs. The director, Damaso Rodriguez, feels like he spent weeks studying episodes of "Will and Grace" because each character panders to one of the overused sitcom archetypes: the man child afraid to grow up, the nagging girlfriend, the bitchy over achieving worker, the prick boss, etc and none of the scenes really take the time to develop the character beyond those limitations. I've seen some of these actors in other shows around the city and on television and I've enjoyed and liked their performances in the past, and at times over this hour and a half run, their delivery of quips gave a momentary reprieve from the barrage of emptiness that filled each situation. No, the faults with this show lie on the backs of the writer and director .

Where was I...ah, yes, it's cynical. As with most sitcoms, the reality with which each situation is handled and the repercussions that come with choices the characters make are swept tidily into the shadows of cupboards and sock drawers by the end of the half hour, so the audience members can feel safe laughing at the contrived situations and go to bed thinking that their life isn't so complicated. The reason why this tends to work with sitcoms is because we see the show every week, we know who these characters are, we've invited them into our household and can be forgiving of their faults. Here however, we're introduced to some very unlikeable characters, and we're given no reason to connect. It is cynical, because it passes these unlikeable, sometimes detestable people off with such cute passivity, as if the audience will laugh because they somehow relate. And when we could relate, any real human emotion or reaction is treated like a punchline or contrivance to keep someone in the room a little longer to get to the punchline. Do they really think we're that gullible? It only ever feels artificial. It's the type of show in which a woman after having sex covers herself up with a pillow even when the guy is asleep, and when the title of the show is brought up not once, but twice in two different heartfelt moments. I digress...

We're introduced to the first two characters, and they are immediately at each others throats, bickering. For ten minutes we listen to them argue. First, you do not develop characters through arguing. Second, you do not build drama through arguing. Third, arguing does not make for great comedy. Fourth, each character should have their own voice. That doesn't mean different opinions, it means that each should speak differently; have their own rhythms, their own vocabulary.  The entire show each character speaks exactly like the person that spoke before them, and the director has the actors roll through each line of dialogue at the same volume and speed as the last one. Fifth, if you start at 10, you have no place to go! How much fun can an actor have with that? I found it mind numbing. Then the second scenario starts and the new couple is arguing about the same thing we just finished hearing the first couple argue about. So, why not combine the first and second scenes?

There were a lot of members in the audience that enjoyed this and no doubt there will continue to be; the critic and the audience member must part ways here, but I'm sure we can agree this show will be liked mainly due to the talented actors committing one hundred percent. Each performer deserves applause for fighting to give a shred of humanity to each moment, despite the uninspired direction, and it's a pleasant moment when they are able to. It's too bad the work of the playwright didn't match up and the director pandered with sitcom safety.

An extra bravo to the scenic (John Iacovelli) and lighting (Jared A. Sayeg) designers. It felt like we were looking into a real bedroom, working sinks and all.

"The Boomerang Effect" an original play by Matthew Leavitt. Directed by Damaso Rodriguez. March 24-April 29, 2012. Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm.

At The Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets $20-$30. http://www.odysseytheatre.com/box.htm or (310)-477-2055

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Diplomacy

From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way: his genius for tact and diplomacy
                                                                                                            
Creative types are sensitive.  It takes guts to put yourself out there, to present your interpretation of something for the world to see, hoping that they understand your creation and make a connection with your product. The job of being an artist is full of vulnerability and subjectivity. And you don’t always get the necessary feedback until the job is done, long after you could have really used it. 

I work in the lively arts.  I know that I have to constantly improve my product so my audiences are entertained.  They pay me to entertain them; the least I can do is strive to provide them with the best entertainment I can create.  That way I can have longevity in this field.

As a dancer, I have a few trusted collaborators whose honest feedback and suggestions helps me improve my work.  I’ve paid experts in my field for performance reviews, getting their valuable feedback on how to make stronger choices, replace weak choreography, and add flourishes--like sprinkles on a sundae. 

It’s scary to ask for someone’s honest opinion, and I don’t ask for it from everyone.  Remember that old saying that “opinions are like assholes?” Mix that with the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen.  That’s why I don’t solicit opinions from everyone on my creative works.  That, and I don’t want to come off as desperate and in need of validation.  But it is important to get honest feedback in order to improve what I’m doing.

I understand the validity of criticism via word-of-mouth and media.  How else are people going to know what to expect from a show?  This isn’t the feedback I seek to improve my works, but rather how Joe Public and Joe Critic receive my works.  I’ve gotten some great verbal and written critiques.  (“We decided to come to the show because you were on the lineup.”  “I just had to meet you because you were my favorite.”  “…these costumes were engineering marvels.”)  I’d also include the stuff said to the producers after the show, the coffee shop chatter where people are still talking about the show a few days later, and fellow entertainers wanting to book me for shows based on a performance.

I’ve also gotten some negative critiques.  Those aren’t awesome to experience when I’m putting myself out there, when some performances are way more personal than others:  Out of place, low self-esteem, fat, unsexy (which really sucks because my lively art is in the field of sexuality).  I’ve been turned down for shows and festivals with no specific feedback about my submission given.  (I can’t blame the producers on the last one because they do get a lot of applications and they’re trying to make a cohesive and entertaining show.  It would be like giving feedback to every actor who auditions for your play or short film.  I’m looking at this from the receiving end right now.)  The negative critiques sting.  Sometimes I want to get into online fights (or physical fights because I’m aggressive-aggressive) over some of the criticisms that seem unfounded or unrelated to my work.  Sometimes the person giving the criticism appears to be the modern-day definition of a bully, saying something that hurts my feelings.  Usually I’ll rant to my most trusted friends about my feelings, about the misperception and the bullying of my work.  Then I’ll grab a beer, grumble, and go to bed.

I get up the next day and get back to creating.  Why?  Because I am an artist.  This is what I do. 

I’ve spotted three kinds of negative reviews:

1.     What I did was not their cup of tea.  My music choice, my costume, my body, my dance style, whatever.  I don’t eat fish.  No matter how brilliantly you prepare a fish dish, I’m not going to eat it.  I can’t really change anything about what I did to become their cup of tea.
2.     They had a bad day and that affected their viewing of the work.  Try as I might to lighten someone’s mood with entertainment, sometimes the outside world has set the viewer against enjoying anything.  Maybe they didn’t want to be there in the first place, so we get to be the butts of their frustration.  I can try to make them forget about their troubles, but it’s not my fault if they come in so stuck in their problems they aren’t really watching the show.
3.     There’s room for improvement.  It’s not always easy to have someone broadcast your apparent weaknesses, especially when they’re weaknesses you didn’t catch in your rehearsal process.  As an independent artist, I can make changes immediately, not having to ask someone for permission.  If the criticism will help me create a better piece of entertainment, I try to implement it.  As an actor, I would have to yield to the director/producer/playwright.  There are more people involved in the creative side of the work than just me.

As a dance teacher and director, I understand the investment and vulnerability of artists.  I keep that in mind when I work.  I push for the best technique that person can achieve, the greatest investment they can give, and the strongest representation of the vision for the piece (whether their vision for a dance or my vision for a play).  I validate what they get right, and I encourage them to improve the entertainment value of the weaker parts.  (I blogged about how I teach here.)

I’m also a play critic.  My husband does way more reviews than I do, but we discuss every show we see together and sometimes I do reviews.  We look for what was done well, what was especially noteworthy that audiences will not want to miss.  We also look for what might turn audiences off, what elements stood out as falling short of the mark, what people might want to know before dropping $15 to $35 a ticket on the show.  I have absolutely hated some shows we’ve seen.  (I know that isn’t very nice to say.  I’m not naming names, but these shows are the reason I want snacks in the theater so I can keep my mouth occupied and not spend the entire play grunting and sighing about something that I think sucks.)  Of course, it’s not polite to say something sucks, especially when you don’t give a logical reason for it.

The true test of being a critic (or coach or collaborator) is being diplomatic.  If you’re good at your job, you can successfully tell an audience what they need to know while giving useful criticism and encouragement to the artists who are most intimately invested in the piece.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spitballing, Brainstorming, and Rapid Prototyping

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the better part of a Friday afternoon spitballing ideas for an Equity-waiver production of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars with Phillip Kelly and the great Sebastian Kadlecik.  The net result?  Kelly and I are going to look at the book and fiddle around with maybe adapting it.  Maybe.  We both have "so many irons in the fire I can't see the fire" as another friend recently put it.
  
I bring this up for one very important reason:  Spitballing does not equal "committing to doing something."  In the world of Equity-waver, there's a real risk of opening your mouth to voice an idea, and finding yourself in charge of the committee to get it done.  I wonder to what extent this curtails healthy, robust brainstorming? 
  
We should really brainstorm with wild abandon, with no strings attached.  Anything less is not a free flow of ideas, and therefore not true brainstorming.  I believe rapid prototyping is the future of small theatre. The free and open flow of ideas facilitates rapid prototyping.

I am fascinated by the methods and techniques used at The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, or d.school for short, and I wonder how producers of small theatre in Los Angeles might take some cues from Stanford.  The rapid prototyping of "beta" productions would allow a theatre company to present a number of possible shows from which to develop a season, utylizing audience input to determine which shows to produce in full.  I believe these beta productions could be presented in the style of PechaKucha or the d.school's own Launch Pad, with teams of artists presenting their visions for their productions.
 
We may have a way of testing the d.school approach.  Today they unveiled the "Crash Course", an online series of teaching tools with the following aims:
  • Grow your own capacity to innovate.
  • Allow you to experience something different than how you normally work.
  • Encourage collaboration with interdisciplinary teams; unraveling new perspectives on approaching solutions.
  • Give adults back break time. Participants work with arts & crafts supplies as a way to understand the value of rapid prototyping.
  • Help you put Design Thinking to work immediately following the video via half-day long guided tours through some of our methods, called “mixtapes.”
There is a devil-may-care, DIY ethic at play here that synchs up nicely with theatre.  Surely I'm not the only one who sees it!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When I Heard the Learn'd Panelists ...
UPDATED

... BEGIN UPDATE ...

Hugh MacLeod's latest email just hit my inbox.  Synchronicity:


(If you haven't already, subscribe to his daily cartoon email newsletter!)

... END UPDATE ...

Before I write anything else, let me say:  I think the LA Stage Talks series is a good idea, and I fully intend on attending at least one ("Why Are Theatre-Makers the Masters of Collaboration?" on May 14th) and will try to catch the livestreams of the others.  Conversations are good.  Thinking about what theatre can do, how that differs from other forms of art and entertainment, and how we might flex that power; these are worthwhile pursuits.  The LA Stage Alliance fulfills an important need for Los Angeles theatre, and it pleases me to see them proactively doing this sort of thing for the community.

However, in reading the press release (quoted in its entirety below) I can't help but roll my eyes.  Name one other form of art or entertainment that indulges in this kind of navel-gazing.  A series of panel discussions?  Really?  Here's what is in store for attendeees of the first panel, entitled "What is the Intrinsic Impact of Live Theatre?":
The results will be revealed of a two-year, nationwide research study called “Measuring the Intrinsic Impact of Live Theatre,” that looked at 18 theatre companies across the country, 58 productions, and over 20,000 survey responses — all in an effort to increase the field’s understanding of what seeing a piece of theatre actually does to someone emotionally, intellectually, and empathetically.
That's very exciting, in a dreadfully wonkish sort of way.  Meanwhile, people are out there actually making compelling theatre, people who don't give two shakes about panel discussions regarding the intrinsic impact of live theatre because said people are actually achieving that impact on a nightly basis.

As a sweaty-toothed madman once said (in his poem, "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer"):
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
I am looking forward to hearing more about these panels, and if you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know I like pondering my own theatrical belly-button as much as the next guy.  I trust that all sorts of marvelous things will come from these discussions--I really do.  I am sorry to be such a cynic about this.  Meetings just make me ... itchy.
  
Press release follows.
 
*     *     *
 
LA STAGE ALLIANCE ANNOUNCES LA STAGE TALKS
MARCH 27 - JULY 9, 2012

FIVE PANELS EXPLORING THE CREATION OF
PERFORMING ARTS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGION

LA STAGE CEO TERENCE McFARLAND WILL MODERATE
WITH SPECIAL GUESTS

LA STAGE Alliance has announced LA Stage Talks, a series of panel discussions moderated by LA STAGE Alliance CEO Terence McFarland, exploring various aspects of the creation of performing arts in the Southern California region. The premiere event will take place on Tuesday, March 27 from 10am - 1pm, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. All events are free, but space is limited. RSVP is required at www.LASTAGEAlliance.com/talks.

The first subject to be explored is What is the Intrinsic Impact of Live Theatre? Co-hosted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, noted arts researcher Alan Brown, project director Clayton Lord, and leaders of greater Los Angeles theatres will discuss Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art, a new book that examines the ways theatre artists, administrators, patrons, and funders value and evaluate the art they make and consume. The results will be revealed of a two-year, nationwide research study called “Measuring the Intrinsic Impact of Live Theatre,” that looked at 18 theatre companies across the country, 58 productions, and over 20,000 survey responses — all in an effort to increase the field’s understanding of what seeing a piece of theatre actually does to someone emotionally, intellectually, and empathetically.

Speakers at the March 27 panel include researcher Alan Brown, researcher Clayton Lord, Theatre @ Boston Court artistic director Jessica Kubzansky, Musical Theatre West marketing director Michael Betts, South Coast Repertory director of marketing Bil Schroader. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Boulevard in Culver City. Free parking is available in the City Hall underground garage, across Culver Boulevard from the rear of the theatre.

The schedule of future LA Stage Talks includes the following: Arts Criticism - How Does It Serve Los Angeles? (Monday, April 30, 7-9pm, co-hosted by Southern California Public Radio at KPCC Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena); Why Are Theatre-Makers the Masters of Collaboration? (Monday, May 14, 7-9pm, co-hosted by LA County Arts Commission/Ford Theatres at Inside the Ford); What Is Artistic Direction and How Can You Tell When Someone Is Doing It? (Monday, June 11, 7-9pm, co-hosted by the Geffen Playhouse, at the Geffen); and What Am I Hearing? The Aural Life of the Theatre (Monday, July 9. 7-9pm, co-hosted by the Colburn School at Zipper Hall). Terence McFarland will moderate all discussions.

All LA Stage Talks will be livestreamed, and panelists will take questions from online viewers during the events. Information on how to view and how to ask questions will be posted on each event date at http://www.lastagealliance.com/, where further information on the LA Stage Talks program is available now.
  
LA STAGE Alliance, a non-profit organization empowering artists and engaging audiences since 1975, is dedicated to building awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts in Greater Los Angeles by strengthening the sector through community building, collaborative marketing, audience engagement, professional development, and advocacy. LA STAGE Alliance serves over 900 arts organizations annually, including over 450 dues-paying member professional, educational, and community based producing and presenting performing arts organizations in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. LA STAGE Alliance’s constituents operate in intimate sized venues (99 seats or less), mid-sized venues (100-499 seats), and in large venues (500+ seats), and include independent producers, educational groups, and social service organizations that have a performing arts component. Additionally, LA STAGE Alliance directly serves over 50,000 diverse local, regional, national, and international performing arts patrons and, indirectly, three million unique patron households by conducting research on their behavior and buying habits. Providing access to the performing arts for patrons and access to resources for organizations has been our focus for 35 years.

LA STAGE Alliance programs are sponsored, in part, by Actors Equity Association, The Angell Foundation, Arts Council for Long Beach, California Arts Council, California Community Foundation, City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA), City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division, City of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Goldstar, the James Irvine Foundation, Los Angeles County Supervisors through the LA County Arts Commission, Los Angeles Times, MusiCares/Grammy Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, SDC, The Shubert Foundation, and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CANNONBALL!

Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod

As stated in an earlier post, Pinterest looks to be pretty awesome.  It may turn out to be a tool theatre makers can use for research, collaboration, and communicating with our audience.

Last month, Pinterest referred more traffic than Twitter.

Scratching your head, trying to figure out how to use Pinterest?  You could run with some of the ideas I proposed in that earlier post.  You could read this:  "10 Tips for Using Pinterest Well" by Jessica Turner.  You should go ahead and request an invite, start a board, and get cracking.

But here's what NOT to do:  Don't just fill up a board with your postcard art.  Don't use this like a Flickr account and give us an album of show photos that are hosted in one place.  For goodness sake, don't confuse the canon with the canonball.

The cartoon at the head of this article came to me via Hugh MacLeod's email list.  (Subscribe to it already!)  Here's a bit of the accompanying text:
It’s a cute little reminder that no matter how big your business is, your business is not really all you want to be talking about on social channels. It's the idea of brand as platform. Finding interesting aligned ideas to talk about.  The challenge is to create lots of cool stuff to launch into your social networks through your brand.
It's good to be social; it's bad to be a boor.
The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King
an original play by Andrew Dolan
Directed by Rod Menzies
and presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre of Los Angeles



The writer of this premiere I think might appreciate the following sentiment, as I've seen it often in LA: a play about social issues will typically get a great review or a pass by reviewers simply because it's about social issues relevant to our time and place. Issues do not make a play great. Likewise, simply attempting to turn an issue on it's head does not make a play great. The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King is an incredibly well produced play. The acting is top notch, the direction is very competent and inventive, the set, lighting and sound design are some of the most professional I've seen in LA, the writing is intelligent, clever and involving. My first time seeing a show at EST Los Angeles, and I'm without a doubt impressed. In spite of all of this, the show itself falls short of being great. It has all the necessary elements, but doesn't quite know how to piece them together to make them impactful or to create a relevant whole.

This is a play about the anger and honesty of the misunderstood white man and the people who assume he's racist because of it. Great! It's as provocative as the title, kind of. It pretends to be as provocative as the title, which honestly didn't provoke me that much. I'll explain. The main character, Simon (Philip Casnoff), male, white, late 40's, the voice of the play is a supposed provocateur; a professor that lost tenure for writing his request for tenure in crayon simply to make a point. He's hyper-intelligent, more so than those surrounding him, and has the ego of a God. The play asks us if he's a tragic character. A character asks him this at the end, he dreams that he is, a cleverly created Greek chorus implies that he might be. But the only mistake he makes throughout the show is that he's a prick. He cares so passionately about what he believes that he doesn't allow for any other opinions to be relevant. Okay, so that makes him a prick, but it doesn't make him wrong in what he believes. It doesn't make him uncaring or inhuman. The tragedy here is that people are so ingrained with what they are told to believe that any dissent from that or anyone who asks a question putting those beliefs under scrutiny is immediately thrown on the fire and thought of as evil or racist - the type of arguments I see thrown around on Facebook all the time. Great. Outstanding point. An appropriate critique of the world and how it works. But having a great point also does not make for a great play. Stay with me...

The writer, Andrew Dolan, sets Simon up with a younger black wife, a bright student of his, Lashwana (Tracey A. Leigh), who is not afraid to tell him he's full of shit. It's why he's attracted to her. Her brother Anquan (Theo Parks) has been put on probation from school for stealing an iPod from another student - I will take the leap and buy that (You get the feeling this is a very conservative, politically correct college campus.) - and is staying with them, because he doesn't want to go back to his family living in a rough part of town. They have invited over one of Simon's fellow ex-teachers Augustus (Carlos Cassasco) and his wife Janine (Judith Moreland), both of whom are black, and for reasons that really have no emotional relevance to the story - it's simply a reason to get them all in the same room. You have one white man espousing his ideas of the black culture and where that culture is at and what the real problem is while surrounded by black people. Both sides have valid arguments. Simon is willing at times to admit this and even apologize for his candidness and anger; the other four are not willing in any way to admit that Simon has valid points because he is, after all, white.

The first half of the play was exceptional, it handles all of this with competence, wit, heart and fire. Here's where the play loses me: Yes, Simon is white, but he's quick to point out that he was a social worker for nine years in a poor, black neighborhood. That's it. The play leaves it at that. That's as much as we get to know about Simon and why he is the way he is. Mr. Casnoff, along with no doubt excellent direction, fills in the blanks beautifully, bringing a level of dimension to the character that is not in the writing, as do the other performers. But that's the problem, through the writing we never get to know who these characters are. In the end it's literally black and white. The joy of seeing O'Neill, Shephard is that we not only get to the heart of the theme or argument, but we get to see the hearts of the characters exposed. Not just their ire or passion, but why it exists. In the end, while I understand Simon's arguments, I don't understand Simon, and that can be said for all of the characters in this show, except for Anquan. He has the fewest lines in the play, yet we see who he is in the beginning, we hear why he is that way, and we see how the events in the play effect or don't effect him. He is a fully developed character with a clear arch. It doesn't take much. For Simon, all it would have taken is a few more brush strokes, what happened to him during those 9 years as a social worker, but we're left to guess. And because we have to guess, the drama of the show suffers. Yes, there are still incredibly effective moments throughout, brought on by intelligent and creative directing and palpable performances, but we're only allowed to see shadows of who these people are, and never truly begin to understand them.

The biggest problem with the play is the macguffin, the book itself that Simon writes and publishes, "The Many Wives of Martin Luther King". I cannot begin to tell you what the purpose of it was or why Simon wrote it, except to provoke his readers, but I don't buy that. There's too much passion instilled in Simon for that to be true. Maybe he's simply tired of a single train of thought that really isn't getting us anywhere, so he's shaking the boat, much like Andrew Dolan is trying to do. So delve into that. Don't simply allow Simon to tells us what he thinks is wrong, but let us hear those outlandish ideas about what should be done about it, something that could really, truly get him in trouble for saying. Instead we get to hear an argument that's familiar. Dolan doesn't give the audience credit in this regard; he's not the first to make this argument. In the end, like Simon, Dolan has forgotten the hearts of the people he's writing about, who they are as individuals. They shouldn't exist on the page and on stage just to make a point.

In spite of these drawbacks, there is much to like about the production, particularly as I've mentioned the layered performances, the beautifully written, often funny and striking dialogue and the atmospheric and balanced direction. Some of the hopping around in time killed a little of the emotional continuity - a minor complaint. No doubt Dolan has talent as a writer, I hope with his next piece he works on the core of the characters as much as he does the thesis of the argument. Until that happens, the arguments presented remain slightly convoluted and in the end lacking a level of thoughtfulness and weight.

The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King. Written by Andrew Dolan. Directed by Rod Menzies. March 17 - April 29, 2012. Fri + Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm and 7pm.

Ensemble Studio Theatre of Los Angeles, 3269 Casitas Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90039. (323) 644-1929. For more info: ensemblestudiotheatrela.org

Sunday, March 18, 2012

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
BY EUGENE O'NEILL
PRESENTED BY THE ACTOR'S CO-OP

This is the first Los Angeles stage production I've seen in a long while in which I felt like almost every minute of the three and a half hour run time was necessary and well executed (are you allowed to cut Eugene O'Neill if you're not head of a motion picture studio?) The Actor's Co-op, under the direction of Marianne Savell and with incredibly capable actors from the company, have put under the lights a gripping, mature production of O'Neill's autobiographical masterpiece that falls just short of transcendent, and let me tell you, that's quite the compliment coming from me.

This is one of my favorite types of stories in which the characters dictate the action of the play, as opposed to the plot. And no plot could match the poetry of O'Neill's words and characters and the life that these actors fight to put into them, laying a piece of their soul on stage for all to see. A family of four: Nan McNamara plays the medicated matriarch, Mary Tyrone, as a girlish soul, a ghost of who she once was before her growth as a person was stunted by her overbearing, stingy, drunken, ex-actor of a husband James Tyron, brought to life with fierceness and a surprising vulnerability by Bruce Ladd. James is none too pleased with his eldest son, James Tyrone, a drunkard and failure in his eyes, played by David Scales, who has influenced his younger brother, Edmund Tyrone, with his dark heart. Daniel J Roberts naturally brings a balancing act of sensitivity, intelligence, ignorance, despair, loathing and most importantly a desire to grasp onto what little hope remains intact to the character of Edmund. In fact, I've just described each of these characters and the performances in this show. O'Neill has crafted these characters, at the end of their rope, each who loved too much but are too imperfect to know how to do it well. Who fight as hard as they can for that last shred of hope and possibility. And each actor allows us to see every angle of these restless and lost souls, loving and hating them, blaming and finding forgiveness in them - we understand them. No one is the villain and no one is the victim. As they un-weave a carefully knit web of self-denial and false security in each other, each ironically with their own vice, we hope for them as well. Their histories unfurl in their interplay and we see Mary crumble on the stage before us, until James Tyron is left holding in his arms what is one of the most staggering visual metaphors I've ever seen in the final few minutes of a play. I was deeply moved.

Playing the fifth character Cathleen, the hired help, Selah Victor, brings an unaffected soul to the proceedings that allows Mary to free herself momentarily from the suffocating presence of the men in her life and we're allowed to see her for who she is. And while Cathleen is a necessary character for this reason, I felt an opportunity was missed. She didn't quite resonate with that spark of life that would have placed her outside of the world of these characters, instead she felt to near the world weariness of them. It's a choice and not a bad one, but one I feel, if a little more light came from the character, another dimension would have been added to the show, and really allowed us to conceptualize just how corrupted this family unit had become. Nitpicking, really. A tough balancing act and one you may not want to mess with, as the tone of the show is near perfect; to add an element such as that if handled incorrectly could border on distracting.

However, what almost derailed the show just as it was beginning could have easily been avoided. The performances began a little hesitant, nerves of the actors perhaps, within minutes they found their natural flow, so this wasn't the problem. The problem is what makes the play a difficult one to pull off, where to begin the decline of Mary Tyrone, when to show the facade start to crack. In my humble opinion, they began too early, almost from the first few moments of the show. Somewhere along the way, between the actress and director, this was a choice that was made. Mary's energy was too scattered, too nervous, there was nothing to hide, nothing to wonder about. This decision sacrificed, in the beginnings of the play, a certain nuance to ms McNamara's performance, and kept her from exploring the full extent of Mary's arch. These nuances I hoped for in voice and movement came back into the play later, especially with the moments shared alone with Cathleen. Fortunately I found myself unconcerned, I patiently waited, thankfully not for long, for the show to catch up with the performance, and when it did, McNamara was riveting. Another almost hour long sequence shared between Ladd and Roberts, father and youngest son, was an exquisite exchange between two seasoned actors - worth the price of admission alone to see actors actually listening to each other as opposed to waiting for their turn to speak. Another compliment I can lay on all five of them.

I can't finish up without talking about two other things. First the inventive set, a maze of bookcases, full of much referenced books, hiding other areas of the house between their staggered placement. This brilliant design allowed us to feel the depth of the space and in turn the emptiness these characters lived in. The lighting design smartly highlighted this effect.

The second is something I discussed with my fellow theatre enthusiast while leaving the show, is simply the difference between the tone of this show compared to many of the other current, original works being produced now days. It seems like the current trend in original productions about characters with problems simply exist for the writer to complain about how horrible life is and how poorly they were treated, subjecting the audience to shallow shouting matches and pity-me-antics, most often times touching on things of "topical importance". This seems to be an LA-centric disposition. The shows lack the depth and maturity writers like O'Neill used as profound tools, but they also lack one very important thing, hope. The desire of the characters involved to seek out that glimmer of hope, no matter how difficult it may be for them. It has become the modern tragedians aspiration that everyone has succumbed to tragedy before they ever had a chance to live...and to me, that's not tragic - that's pathetic. You have to begin high before you can fall to the earth. Up and coming writers, tragedy cannot be found without first showing us hope and empathy.

I hope you all take an evening to go see this wonderful, layered production. You can tell they care about their theatre.

Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill presented by The Actor's Co-op. 1760 North Gower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (323) 462-8460. March 16 - April 29, Fri and Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2pm.
For more information: http://actorsco-op.org/

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Of Pinterest to Collaborators

The Pinterest Logo, designed by Michael Deal and Juan Carlos Pagan

Are you familair with Pinterest
Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.
A simple idea -- really, an obvious idea.  The good folks have Pinterest have filled a much need niche with a very intuitive set of tools.  The "Pin It" button is camped out on my browser tool bar right now, and I'm playing around with it for a history project I'm picking away at.

I think this is a tool theatre makers could use.  Let's say a theatre company wants to adapt and develop an all Japanese-American version of Miss Julie, set in Los Angeles in the Spring of 1942.  A dramaturg could use a Pinterest board dedicated to this project, and fill it with images of the time and place.  A design team could share their visual research with each other, and possibly even sketches and rough drafts of ideas.  The director could contribute to such a board, as could the actors.  The audience could follow this online visual dialogue between the collaborators, contributing to it in the form of re-pins and comments, thus building anticipation for the coming production.
 
I hope some bright theatre companies are already doing this.  Since there is no such thing as an original idea (although I try, damn it!) I'm sure there is a company in my own backyard doing this right now.  If you know of any such brilliant souls, let me know.  I'll do a little poking around on my own, to see what I can find.
 
A couple of things to note:  First, Pinterest is not about self-aggrandizement, it's about sharing.  Going into this thing as another way to advertise shows would be a very bad idea.  Use it as a tool to facilitate conversation, collaborating, sharing, etc.  Second, the copyright issues around this site seem a little murky to me, and could possibly bite everyone in the ass in the end.  So tread cautiously, and read their Terms of Use very carefully.
 
Happy collaborating!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Phases of Disaster

I am currently wrapping up CERT training, and just this week was exposed to the "Phases of Disaster" chart:


i.e. "Phases of Starting a New Theatre Company".

(Clarification for the humor impaired:  In this example, starting the new theatre company would be the disaster.)

Drawing a Bright Line

I just ran across this old-ish post on a blog I follow (yet don't read as often as I should.)  Yowza.  I'm not sure that it's a bad thing for non-profit theatre to serve as the "minor leagues" for commercial theatre, but boy howdy do I appreciate the Spartan resolve of Scott Walter's modest proposal:
While I was thinking about this issue and how best to address it, I came up with an idea that absolutely everybody will hate which, if I were an avant garde artist, I would see as proof that it is an excellent idea. And while I acknowledge its likelihood of universal horror, and also the complicated details that would be involved, I am going to share it anyway as a "modest proposal" offered to provoke thought if nothing else.
Go to Scott Walter's blog and be provoked:  An Idea That Everyone Will Hate

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Modest Proposal: The Theatre Guide for People Who Hate the Theatre

I have a pet theory as to why Joe Public stays away from the live theatre: He doesn't want to be disappointed. It's not so much a pet theory as a dead horse I like to wail on from time to time.  Almost as much as I like to quote Seth Godin.  Speaking of which:

So who comes on opening night? No discounts, no reviews, no warning...

The patrons come. For them, part of the attraction of art is that they don't know in advance if they're going to like it. They come for a simple reason: it feels good to support something because they can, not merely because it's a good value.

And the true fans come. They come because the artist has earned their trust. "If you made it, that's good enough for me," they say. They come because to not come is to not be a true fan, with all that entails.
Gotta love them "true fans."  They're not your problem.  Your problem is Joe Public!

Joe has no patience for crap.  He's outcome oriented:  "Entertain me!" he says as he plops down his greenbacks.  He'll go see whatever big action movie just opened because at the very least, he'll get spectacle.  Joe Public wants a good value.  He wants to know in advance if he's going to like it.

And at $25 a ticket, why the hell shouldn't we give him a clear indication of whether or not he will?  A clear and concise -- some may say cynical and crass -- guide to what's currently occupying our Under-99's across Los Angeles may just encourage Joe to put down the Xbox controller, cancel that pay-per-view UFC fight, or eject that Blu-ray disc and instead throw on a clean hoodie and go see a play.

You may be saying to yourself, "Do we even want that kind of patron to darken our door?"  Look, just quit entertainment.  There's still time to get a job in arts administration.  Seriously.

So here's the proposal to bring Joe Public into our meager little black boxes.  I call it ...

The Theatre Guide for People Who Hate Theatre

... and it would have the following sections:
 
RUN TIME  Three hour plays may be incredibly gratifying to the people putting them on, but let's not kid ourselves:  A three hour MOVIE damn well better have a major battle scene involving giant robots, orcs, spaceships, WWII or some combination of all four.  At the very least, give Joe a heads-up.  A short runtime = "At the very least, it's short."  A long runtime = "There had better be swordplay and/or gratuitous nudity."

GENRE  Is it a light-hearted romantic comedy or a serious psychodrama?  Look, let's make it easy on Joe Public:  "ROMANTIC COMEDY". Oh God, do we hate labels. "We're all iconoclasts, dammit! You can't label what we do!" Look, either you provide the label, or Joe Public will. What you're doing here is managing expectations. The choice to call it a "Romantic Comedy" instead of just "Comedy" or "Romance" will actually color the way your audience perceives the play. Make it accurate! (Don't we all just hate the romantic comedy that pitches itself as an action film?)

SYNOPSIS  Logline.  TV Guide synopsis.  Don't write a novel, just tell Joe what it's about.  You would be surprised how many show postcards omit the very simple step of TELLING THE AUDIENCE WHAT THE DAMN THING IS ABOUT.  Sure, the postcard is pretty, but what's the story?

WHAT IT IS LIKE  You're going to hate this one: Yes, I'm suggesting you describe the show in terms of "high concept." This guide is all about letting Joe know what he can expect, right? So tell him, in words he can instantly translate into concepts. "The guide says it's 'Donnie Darko' meets "Gosford Park.' Sweet. I'll have to check out this 'Hamlet'." (What a piece of work is a man.) And by the way, every play about a pedophile ever written is "Law & Order: SVU" meets "Stealing Home".

PRODUCTION VALUES  Are there any?  As I said, Joe Public is willing to pay to see spectacle, if nothing else.  A set, decent costumes, more than three semi-functional fresnels -- these things matter.  You don't have to belabor it (unless there's something worth noting like flying monkeys or gratuitous nudity), maybe just give it a star rating.

PARKING  Will Joe Public miss the first ten minutes of the show because he's doing laps?  True confession time:  I've bailed on seeing a show because I couldn't find parking, and I got fed up looking.  I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one who's done that.  So break it down for Joe Public: "Meters are safe after 6pm."  "Park around the corner at the Moose Lodge."  Etc.

CONCESSIONS  "If you can't entertain me, at least give me a snack."  A genius once said this to me, and it is as true as it is pithy.  We all know that alcohol is the social lubricant, and theatre is a social art, so lubricate the audience!

In closing, one of my fellow Die Grüppe castmates recently had this to say after one of our shows:  "I had some audience members who were NOT friends of mine tell me they thought it was really funny."  That should be what we're shooting for:  entertaining complete strangers.  Yes, we love the True Fans, and we are always happy to see familiar faces in the audience.  The real challenge is to reach the seemingly unreachable, to push out of our circle of True Fans and create new fans.  That's how you grow.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rockstar Theatre

Dave Grohl is Rock and Roll
image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Krypto

From ArtsHub, "7 tips to promote a gig and pull a crowd" by Lachlan Bryan:
It’s a fundamental question in the live music business; why do some some local gigs pack in the punters, whilst others fail miserably to draw a crowd? Often the venue is the same, the night of the week the same, sometimes it’s even the same band. Few are naive enough to think it’s actually ‘the music’ that makes the difference.

Whilst there are always variables at play, my observations have led me to this 7 point checklist for promoting a successful hometown gig…
Go read the whole thing

I think we can learn a lot from the work-a-day world of the gigging musician.  Musicians have to make it happen for themselves, and as into their own art as they may be, they must contend with the practical matter of reaching an audience (literally) staring them in the face.  You can't fill an arena with friends and family, you need fans.

So how might we apply these seven rules to small theatre?

1. The Venue Stay nomadic.  Don't enter into a long-term agreement with one theater.  For your three-person drama dealing with fe-e-e-elings, find the smallest hole possible.  If you have a cast of twenty in "Twilight: The Stage Play," go big.  In otherwords, rightsize the venue to fit the production.  And keep an eye on your nut!  If you need to make X dollars to cover your expenses, don't shackle yourself to a ticket price/number of seats that will guarantee you'll never cover your nut.

And here's a crazy idea:  Work with the theater management.  The better your show does, the more likely you won't be paying off the back-end of what you owe for rent a month after the show closes.  Theater owners got into the business because they actually like theater.  Ask their advice, pick their brains for promotional ideas in the neighborhood, etc.

2. The Lineup Share the venue.  Find another company that would like to do a double-feature.  This happens a little with late-night shows (improv or something scrappy like that) after a so-called mainstage show.  You can pool audiences with another company!  NOTE:  If you do this, please refrain from producing a 2 - 3 hour-long show.  (Actually, as a general rule avoid producing 2 - 3 hour-long shows.)

3. The Poster One of the most brilliant things I've read this week came from Amarita Ramanan at HowlRound:  "A marketing manager practices dramaturgy by communicating to an audience to mission and vision of the art through website blurbs, posters and brochures." Yes. That.  If the graphic designer isn't sweating as much as the cast, he or she isn't working hard enough.

4. The Online Stuff Theatre seems to be generally ahead of the curve on this point, so I won't say much more than this:  What Ramanan said about dramaturgy applies to the online stuff.  Just because the internet makes it seem effortless to promote doesn't mean you should put as much effort (and thought and creativity) into it as possible.

5. Pre-Sales  Again, we seem to be ahead of the curve on this one.  Brownpaper tickets, Goldstar, etc.  Now, the idea of using pre-sales as a way of monitoring your marketing efforts?  Brilliant.

6. The Show Itself Words I never want to hear again:  "I wish you hadn't come on opening night!"  Look, opening night is not a dress rehearsal.  Bryan's advice regarding "Have a thorough sound-check" could not be more applicable to what we do, as well.  Get to the theater early enough to fix the invariable technical issues that will have come up between curtain call last week and house opening this week.  Talk to the people you share the space with.  Work with the theater management.  Don't be surprised by a dead light or dimmer pack.

And, of course, put on a good show.

7. The Follow-Up Theatre tends to have this covered as well.  Tends to.  I think the last time I saw an email list for a stage play was for Re-Animator at the Steve Allen last year.  Lili VonSchtupp, producer of Monday Night Tease puts the email sign-up on stage at intermission and has the host say, "Join the email list."  Her shows have been standing room only for some time now (of course, she has boobs in her show, so that may be a factor.)  The point is, it's easy to forget.  A blanket "thank-you" on Facebook is great.  An email address has value. (Also, you can forward an email.)

...

To quote the great Jeff Bebe in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, "You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn't getting off, and I make him get off." That, my friends, is rock and roll.  It's also theatre -- or should be.