Sunday, July 31, 2011

Got Reviews?

I am available to review plays and other forms of live entertainment.  If you would like a review published on this blog, and I am able to schedule it, I would like to come see your work.  Email me.

Here's a sampling of the reviews I have written over the past year:

At Stage Happenings:

At LA Theatre Review:

I Never Sang for My Father 

The Beverly Hills Psychiatrist and Jessica’s Monologue

Here at Mad Theatrics:

Re-Animator: The Musical
How Did I Get Here? [written with Pamela Moore]
Circus Vargas

A few things:

I am mostly interested in seeing productions based in the LA Basin.  That's not to say that I absolutely won't go over the hill, just keep in mind if you invite me to Woodland Hills to see your production of Our Town, I may not be able to make that happen.

If I know you, if we've worked together, I may decline reviewing you.  This will be decided on a case-by-case basis, and my view on the subject is as fickle as a toddler's appetite.  If I do decide to write a review and we used to pound beers at the corner bar in college, the review will bear a disclaimer that says as much.

I am very interested in the unreviewable and under-reviewed.  Scrappy, short runs of plays hardly anyone will see, performance art, dance, variety arts, etc.  Producing a one-woman juggling show in Culver City that plays two weeks?  Shoot me an email.  Have a modern dance troupe that's just beginning to figure out what the hell it is you're trying to do?  Bring it on.

My review philosophy is pretty simple.  It's detailed in rambling prose here and here, but the bullet points are:
  • Be honest
  • Be specific
  • Be constructive
  • Leave preconceptions and prejudices at the door
  • Snark is not a public service
Need a review?  Drop me a line.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Theatre Re-Animated

It's been a few weeks since Pamela and I took in Re-Animator - The Musical at the Steve Allen Theatre.  I wasn't there in any official capacity as reviewer; this was strictly pleasure, not business for me.  I am quite taken with The Steve Allen since dropping in on Ron Lynch's Tomorrow! back in May.  My comedy partner Phillip Kelly and I subsequently took our neo-vaudeville act "Mr. Snapper and Mr. Buddy" to Tomorrow! and we had a blast.  The audience was feisty and engaged and I enjoyed watching Ron work his magic from the wings (the man is a tremendous emcee).

Backstage at Tomorrow! I ran across a Re-Animator program and to my delight discovered that the music and lyrics were by Mark Nutter.  I was first exposed to Nutter at Xmas Smackdown, an irreverent holiday show up in the Valley.  My wife performed a burlesque number for one evening of that show, and I discovered Mark "Baby Shredder" Nutter.  I was already aware that Re-Animator was the one show in Hollywood that boasts a splash zone.  Nutter's name on the production sealed the deal..  And so plans were hatched, tickets were purchased, and soon enough we found ourselves in the third row of the splash zone as the lights dimmed and the overture began.

That splash zone?  Absolutely, delightfully necessary.

Nutter's songs are tight, clever and laugh-out-loud funny in their own right.  (For Cthulu's sake PLEASE record a cast album!!!)  The cast is fully committed to the mania, and each and every one of the players gives a stand-out performance.  From Brian Gillespie's scene stealing janitor to Jesse Merlin's operatic ├╝bercreep, Dr. Hill there is not one wasted choice, not one perfunctory moment.  This show is balls-out from open to close.

Re-Animator is full of surprising solutions to staging problems.  I dare say Stuart Gordan is a genius, and it kickstarts my own theatrical heart to see his work on stage.

Re-Animator - The Musical is brought to life Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:00 pm through August 14th.  The Steve Allen Theatre is located in The Center for Inquiry, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., in Hollywood. 

Tickets are $15 for CFI members and students, $30 for everyone else.  (Check Goldstar for discount tickets.)  Ticket info may be found here.

Don't be a puss.  Sit in the splash zone and revel in it!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pay What You Will, Get What You Pay For

I'm not opposed to promotional ticket schemes, discount nights, whatever.  I think the psychology behind "Pay What You Will" could potentially cause people to pay more than what you may pull on a discount ticket seller like Goldstar.  That was the reasoning that won me over when we gave "Pay What You Will" a shot back at the ol' theatre company.  I still think there may be something to it.

But part of me thinks "Pay What You Will" devalues an experience that shouldn't be devalued.  What's wrong with boldly stating, "This evening of theatre is worth $15!"  Jeezy creezy, it doesn't even look that bold a statement.  So what's the reluctance all about?

"Pay What You Will" does let you off the hook if the show sucks, but only to yourself, not to the audience.  "Well, that was a show.  [insert eyeroll here.]  Thank God we made it 'Pay What You Will!'" 

Meanwhile the audience is reminded why they don't go see more live theatre, and grumble about it all the way home.

In my estimation, the exchange of money for theatre actually benefits the audience. It makes their decision to go see a play dearer, more important. It adds value to their experience and validates their aesthetic taste. It invests them more deeply in the play.

Money is a value-holding device, a stand-in for the work that went into earning it. When an audience member plops down $15 for a ticket, he or she is paying for it with a portion of their labor. They are investing their own productivity into an aesthetic experience. Going to the theatre is therefore not just something “fun” or “interesting” to do, it’s a reason to get through the work week – it’s something to get excited about.

We know this! How many times do we buy advance tickets to something like Wicked or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part two and spend a little time each day savoring the experience yet to come?

"But in this economy ..." goes one argument in favor.  "It brings out people who might not otherwise come out," goes another.  Nonsense.  People pay to be entertained.  Maybe the focus should be on custom-crafting an evening of entertainment that is worth something, rather than figuring out an angle to pack the house.

If what you're doing is Something Worth Seeing, people will pay.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Know Thy Audience

Know Thy Audience
How to Avoid Pulling Your Pud in Public

Theatre.  Huh!  Good Gawd!  What is it good for?

Hopefully not absolutely nothing.  But aside from entertaining your family and friends, do you have any idea who would be interested in your art?  And if you knew your audience, truly knew your audience, how would that inform your choices?

Seth Godin tackles just this thing in a blog entry entitled "Articulating your preferred use case (what's it for?)"

First, what is a "use case?"  Per  "A use case is a methodology used in system analysis to identify, clarify, and organize system requirements."  In other words, it's a way to figure out what you make, how people find and interact with what you make, and what results come from that interaction.
Thus spaketh Seth:
There are two reasons to articulate your use case. First, it helps your staff, your designers, your marketers and your sales force get on the same page about what they're building and growing. And second, it might be unrealistic. You might be hoping for a market that's far bigger than it is, or to solve a problem that's too easy (or too difficult).
From my experience, a lack of coordination of goals is an absolute team killer, and there is no stopping a group that has harnessed the power of a true collaborative process.

Seth invites us to answer the following questions:
•How does someone find out about what you do?
•How much do they pay for it?
•When they're engaging with you in the very best way, what happens? What's accomplished?
•What do they do after they use it?
•How often do they return?
("How much do they pay for it" reminds me.  I've been meaning to air out my thoughts on the "Pay What you Can" model.)

I firmly believe that since the audience is one half of the theatrical equation and since they don't join us until well after production meetings, casting calls, rehearsals, etc., understanding the audience is key.  Defining the preferred use case will take us pretty far in the direction of figuring out an answer to that great, existential question, "Why Theatre?"

And finally:
You'll often be wrong about what the market is and what it wants. When that happens, time to either shift your use case (and the way you're organized around it) or stick it out but be prepared for a long, tough slog.
It's okay to be wrong, especially in the arts.  The important thing is to grow and evolve, staying sensitive to the needs of the audience.  After all, they are the reason we do this stuff! 

Now -- who the hell are they?

BONUS BLOG:  Go Into The Story, a screenwriting blog I follow has an interesting take on the subject of qualifying the customer.  A couple of choice quotes:
You may have the greatest pitch in the world, but if the customer doesn't really want to buy it, you're going to have a tough time making that sale.

You may be in the Closer Hall of Fame, but if the customer doesn't want what you're pushing, you are set up to fail.

Qualify the customer. Find out what they want. Then give it to them.
What is it about your story that will motivate that customer to get off their ass and go to a movie theater to see your movie? Why do you want to see my movie? If the resulting list of reasons you come up with is thin, then perhaps you're not writing a big or compelling enough story.

If the reason you're making theatre is "it makes me feel good," you're violating Stanislavsky's Golden Rule; loving yourself in the arts rather than the art in yourself.  I never really understood ol' Uncle Konstantin's point until I started doing burlesque.  There's no mistaking an artist who's doing it for the audience for an artist who's doing it for themselves.  It's tangible.

Self-aggrandizement, tooting one's own horn -- that's all well and good.  Part of the show.  But when you hit the boards, you best be shining your light for the people in the dark, not pulling your pud in public.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Creating an Illusion

I read a lot to improve my skills as a performer.  While my focus is burlesque, the things I read tend to apply to all types of performance.  This week I started Magic and Showmanship, A Handbook for Conjurers by Henning Nelms.  Just a few pages into the book, Nelms starts discussing tricks versus illusions.  He points out that illusions convince an audience of something, even if they're no longer convinced when the show is over.  From Nelms:
In most cases, the conviction will be neither deeper nor more lasting than the conviction of an audience at Hamlet that the prince has been killed in a duel.  However, this is all the theater needs to create drama--and it is all a conjurer needs to fascinate his audience instead of being content to provide a little amusement.
There is a tremendous difference between even such short-lived illusions and none at all.  If a play fails to create any illusion, it is worthless.  On the other hand, if it succeeds in creating an illusion, the fact that the spell of the drama is broken with the fall of the curtain does not diminish its effect in the slightest.
Wow.  So how can this be applied to improve a performance or an entire show?  Look at bad reviews you've gotten.  What illusion did you personally or the show as a whole fail to create?  What about the good reviews?  What illusion was successfully created?

I've always believed the focus should not be on how being on stage makes you feel, but instead should be on the audience's experience.  Nelms's discourse on illusions can help improve the audiences' experiences so every trip to the theater is magical and worth the cost of admission.