Sunday, August 25, 2013

Musings About Our Actors

 One of the things I love about our theatre is how much it feels like a family. A weird, sometimes dysfunctional and chaotic family, but a family just the same. As producer and owner, it is my job to navigate the current with grace and class and approach all decisions with professional leadership. And the other 99% of the time, I just do the best I can.
  I could write today about how I feel about actors missing rehearsals for reasons I deem ridiculous, irresponsible, frivolous. I could write about how frustrated I get when people blow off responsibilities. I could say how angry it makes ensemble actors in the cast when principles are absent or keep everyone waiting because there is nothing to rehearse until they show up. I could rant and vent about giving actors chances to shine and then feel like they sh*t on those chances, and choose to be lazy or busy. But I won't. Not today.
  Today I am choosing to focus on the good things that the actors in my company do. I am. I really, really, REALLY am. Despite all the drama and mistakes and poor choices, there are such golden moments that deserve mention.
-Like the transplant military actor  in the ensemble of "REPO, The Genetic Opera" in 2010 who had to leave after only one play to serve his country. His fellow actors have made sure that for every show since, his picture is somewhere in the show. On a name badge, or a nondescript framed photo on the set. They've even placed his framed picture in the shopping cart of a homeless woman character in "Avenue Q". The audience doesn't even notice, but the actors do. Then they take pictures and email him or post it on Facebook so he can see it and still feel part of the company of actors. 
-The way that the actors chip in to buy the first ticket on opening night. This is something our co-owner +Lj Brewer's Mom did for us on EVERY opening night, started way back when we were feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. She would drop by the theatre about an hour before curtain with money in hand and say "the first ticket is on me", and would give first patron in line free admission. This was done even after purchasing her own tickets. After she passed away, the actors in her honor started the "First One's for Frances" tradition and have done it for every show since her passing.
-The way every new actor is greeted and loved and accepted for who they are. I have seen the girl who felt so nervous her first show, who never thought she would fit in during her first production, reach out two shows later to another girl who she noticed was feeling the same way. And then in turn has blossomed and reached out to the next new actress. I have seen LGBT people accepted and loved and cheered for who they are, instead of judged and excluded. 
-That the actors write on the walls of the dressing room after each production. When I feel defeated, I go back there and read the thousand or so musings. It inevitably cheers and refocuses me. I realize that many theatres do this, but ours started when we took over our current space, after a former theatre had gone out of business. The walls then sported previous actors writings, not too many but enough to know how much they loved their space. My original plan was to paint the dressing room, and designate a place for signatures, but after our very first performance, which had felt unconnected and hollow, those actors and I decided to sign alongside these original writings. I don't think it's a coincidence that the performance immediately after that was amazing and felt whole. Now, even the ceiling in the dressing room has been signed.
-The way they support each other by buying tickets to see their fellows perform in other productions, even at other theatres. They show up to shows and performances to cheer their friends. Again, this isn't a Paper Wing Theatre exclusive, but it's heartwarming just the same, especially since the world has become a busy, distracting place.
These are just a few of the reasons the actors impress and make me happy. 

"You're a shining star, no matter who you are
Shining bright to see... what you can truly be
That you can truly be." 
-Earth, Wind, and Fire

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Comport Yourself Publicwise, Oh My Brothers..."

**No one I've given tickets to should get their panties in a twist over this. This isn't about you. I'm happy to say that all producers that have attended shows at my theatre have behaved supportively and for that, I am grateful.**

So, readers of my blog know that some pretty spectacular theatre shows are happening in Monterey, CA right now. (Quick side note, Pacific Rep. Theatre in Carmel just opened "Buddy Holly and Friends in Concert" and it's getting some wonderful feedback). While I unfortunately don't get to see everything playing due to needing to be at my own theatre, I do get the chance to see quite a bit, and that is largely due to invites and occasional complimentary tickets from fellow producers in the area.
I recently ran into one of the stars of "Buddy Holly..." and she generously offered me two "comps" to see the show and, as luck would have it, I happen to be able to go see it. Better still, my friend really wants me to see her perform. That's really very cool and I am super grateful... and that act of kindness got me thinking about these kinds of tickets.
I recall a colleague of mine who was rightfully angry at a fellow director because of their behavior after they had received such a ticket.
Apparently, after this person had called my colleague to get 2 "comp" tickets to a very big and popular show, they proceeded to trash talk the *free* performance all around our county. Their actions, of course, got back to my colleague, causing an unnecessary and uncomfortable rift between them. He was offended. I side with my colleague on this one because it is never nice, receiving this "sneaky criticism". More so, it just makes the offender look petty, selfish, and well...TACKY.
My Grandmother used to say "Good manners are for making people feel included and appreciated, not excluded and criticized."
If someone gives you a wrapped gift, you wouldn't unwrap it and then proceed to tell your friends what a crappy gift it was. And you most certainly wouldn't start criticizing the gift in front of the giver. And if you would, you need a crash course in etiquette.
Sadly, the offenders are not limited to just theatre people. I have many times given away free tickets in online contests, radio spots, etc, only to have the people show up and be extremely rude to my staff, complain about the parking, the weather, the seagulls on my roof, and just generally be pissy while holding $50.00 worth of free tickets. Or even worse, people who claim free tickets and never show up at all. Again, TACKY.
I am not talking about theatre critics who get paid to critique shows; clearly they can give their opinion freely. But unless you consider reviewing shows as your profession, it might behoove you to pay attention.

As a Public Service Announcement, I have decided to write a small list of "dos and don'ts" for the receiver of free tickets. Bear in mind that these are mostly for people getting tickets from directors and producers, but can easily be applied to people getting free stuff from anywhere.  They're called manners, my little Droogies....let's all use them.

1) If you had to call a producer, director, theatre owner, etc. to receive free tickets, go with the attitude of enjoyment instead of the attitude of "I wonder what will be wrong with this". You are obligated to find things you like about the production. You may find several things you don't like as well, but keep that to yourself. If you really need to bitch about what you saw, call your Aunt Millie in Texas or someone out of the area. DO NOT go running around town spewing your opinion unsolicited. If you did like the show, tell the person who gave you the tickets and thank them again. REMEMBER that YOU called THEM to receive the FREE tickets. Be grateful.

2) If you are offered free tickets by someone, the same rules apply. If the person asks you what you thought, (especially if they use the word "honestly") respond privately and be polite. Talk about what you liked more than what you didn't.

3) DO NOT march up to anyone involved with the production after and give advice, direction, criticism, a better idea, etc. No one wants to hear it. Even if your heart is in the right place, it is never appropriate and will only cause people to feel uncomfortable. Never say ANYTHING to the actors except "Good Job". If you can't say that, keep your mouth zipped.

4) DO remember that you are a guest and behave yourself. Be nice to the Box Office, the ushers, the concession workers. Let the paying customers complain. DO NOT complain about anything while seated for the show, even to your companion, because chances are someone who knows the person who gave you free tickets will hear you...making you later look like an idiot.

5) DO NOT be offended if your request for comp tickets is denied. Often, producers cannot afford to give up paying seats. Be pleasant if you are told no and DO NOT let this fuel your fire to bitch.

6) DO write a thank you to the person who gave you tickets, or better yet if you enjoyed yourself, talk about how much you liked the production publicly.

and lastly...

7) DO bring a paying friend if you can. That's just a nice thing to do.

In closing, just be a professional grown up and show a little class. It is much appreciated.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Summer of Theatre in Monterey

I have been feeling really great lately about my local theatre scene. There are three different shows playing in our small city of Monterey, CA. And we are all having record numbers in attendance.
At the small Wharf Theater, located directly on the Monterey Wharf, the historic crowd favorite "The Pirates of Penzance" is seeing a huge bump in attendance. The show is campy, funny, and, as I have written before, the cast is clearly having a blast performing in it. Granted, it isn't a perfect show; but it is enthusiastically performed and has a dynamite Mabel who can hit all of those Gilbert and Sullivan notes perfectly and without her head exploding.
On our local college stage (Monterey Peninsula College, our area's "big dog" theatre), we have "Les Miserables". I haven't had the chance to catch this yet, but the word on the block is that it is MPC Theater Company's finest work. Phenomenal  vocals, very well cast, excellent props and costumes, and professional directing. And it's "Les Miz"....a true crowd pleaser that has packed their newly remodeled space. I have only heard positive feedback and I really look forward to seeing it soon.
And on our own stage, Paper Wing Theatre Company, we are staging a modern version of "Macbeth". Record crowds and standing ovations abound. Bloody stage combat. Punk and Gothic influences. The acting is spot on, and the direction by Jourdain Barton is fresh and youthful and has breathed new life into Shakespeare.
Everyone's success makes me happy. I have been a huge cheerleader for all three of these shows. For some reason, they all go hand in hand. A classic musical, Shakespeare, and a Broadway hit.
It has become commonplace for small local theatres to be extremely competitive. The Monterey peninsula has ten plus theatre companies producing at least one production per year. That's a LOT of shows to foist on would be patrons. I cannot speak for other producers or directors, but that can make me a little nuts sometimes. Worried about sales and creating new patrons. Protective, selfish, and...competitive.
I have been guilty of not supporting my local theatres, afraid their success meant my failure. I have participated in my share of bullsh*t and I am not proud of that fact. And the reality is this: all of that negative and unproductive crap did not promote my theatre over others, boost sales, or positively impact our business. All it did was make me angry, a little paranoid, and a lot frustrated. So I decided to try something new.
I went to see some local shows and instead of looking at it with a directors eye, I chose to watch it as a patron. I noticed the bright spots instead of the flaws. I chose not to be distracted by the pieces and enjoyed the whole. And I had fun. I felt good.
The reality is that each of our theatres give something wonderful to the community. Speaking just of the three in production right now, I know that The Wharf Theater is firmly rooted in classic musical theatre, reminding us of beautiful bygone Americana, leaving patrons feeling good and smiling. Angelo has kept the doors open for many, many years and still runs the Box Office. I love that.
MPC is the launching pad for most of the actors in the area. They have an extremely strong Theatre Department and one of the most driven leaders I have seen in Gary Bolen. They have the budget to bring big, newer musicals to the stage and also create fantasy fairy tales in their smaller space. Watching them power through the displacement during their theater remodel, and still produce such quality, was seriously inspiring.
And Paper Wing Theatre? We bring an eclectic blend to the scene. Edgy and provocative shows, musicals, and performances. Something for everyone. I'm proud of our work.
I am done with feeling like everything is a competitive threat. I no longer see another theatre's success as taking something away from us. This summer of theatre here in Monterey has taught me a huge lesson about being supportive and positive. And I am grateful for that.