Friday, December 7, 2012

From the Rehearsal Room: Brandon Walker as "Beane"

As a special feature, we're excited to introduce you to our cast members and their experiences creating the world of LOVE SONG. 

LOVE SONG runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here

Introducing: Brandon Walker, who's playing Beane in LOVE SONG. Here is his first-hand account of the rehearsal process. 

This has been a wild process.

First of all, it's been wonderful working with Erin Cronican as a director. Often times, I don't quite get to let go as an actor in rehearsals, because I am either directing myself or I am guiding another director through our process. So, it was a real joy to have that freedom in rehearsals, as she's worked this way so many times.

Secondly, I love this play. But it is not an easy play to do. It seems like it's going to be easy on the page; however, it's very poetic, and it's difficult to get underneath the words to the situation. One scene even alluded us until well into performances - the love scene between Molly and Beane. I kept trying to address the scene with my work, and it just kept falling flat, somehow. It would get too sexual or too weird. It's a love scene, but there's a lot of over-poetic language, and a lot of potty humor, too. It's very odd. Finally, Erin and I discussed the idea that it might be akin to a high school date. One night, I just decided to go hogwild and create the story with the objects in the room, using creative work that makes me sheepish - and miraculously, it worked wonders. And that's just ONE example.

Lastly, Beane is such an extreme character in all of his incarnations throughout the play, and I couldn't play the scenes with any logic by simply putting myself into the situation that seemed to be happening on the page. For instance, he's depressed (to the point that he appears to have Asperger's Syndrome) in the beginning of the play, and he really doesn't respond to regular stimulus. I would continually live through the situation and find that I was too sensitive - and then end up going down some rabbit hole which took us away from the story of the play. Later, he's not just hungry, but rather enjoying life as if for the first time. It seemed to me and to Erin that Beane becomes overly-sensualized - which took a while to actually get my body to DO. And then at the end of the first act, he's not just in a happy mood, but ON TOP OF THE WORLD.

Basically, these are the things that make LOVE SONG a fantastical comedy, and they are important to the storytelling. I believe this is the first time that I was really able to exercise my craft to create these tall-tale situations. Rather than just acting BIGGER, I pushed my creative work to the Nth Degree. From everything I've learned from my teacher, David Gideon, Comedy is Reality Extended. So, let's say that I were turned on in a scene, and imagining that someone were licking me sensually in order to get my imagination engaged. If I were playing a true Comedy, I would want to create TEN PEOPLE licking me. I've basically done just that all over the play. 

I'm not going to go into any more specifics with regard to this play, because how I do what I do on a stage isn't the audience's concern. You come to see the story. Ideally, you won't even notice the acting. Best case scenario is that you simply believe what we're doing. But it's been really great to stretch my acting muscles in a way I am not normally able to on stage.


Brandon Walker - As an actor in New York: Committed (Dooky) - Living Image Arts; Violating Uncle Piggy (Investigator) - Gallery Players; Love's Labours Lost (Dull) - ATA. Regional: West of the 5 (Charles) - La Jolla Playhouse; Androcles and the Lion (Lelio) - Old Globe; And A Nightingale Sang (Eric Parker) - Barnstormers; A Moon for the Misbegotten (Mike Hogan), The Tempest (Caliban) - North Coast Rep; A Christmas Carol (Dick Wilkins) - Sierra Rep; Two Gentlemen of Verona (Proteus), Playboy of the Western World (Shawn Keogh) - New Village Arts; Marat/Sade (Duperret) - ion Theater; Dog Act (Bud) - Moxie Theatre; This Is Our Youth (Dennis) - Life Out Loud; Romeo and Juliet (Romeo), Titus Andronicus (Saturninus), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Puck), Twelfth Night (Orsino), Measure for Measure (Pompey/Claudio), 'Tis Pity She's A Whore (Giovanni), Taming of the Shrew (Hortensio), The Tempest (Trinculo), Othello (Lodovico), Coliolanus (Brutus), Hamlet (Horatio) - Poor Players). As a Director: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Poor Players), and This Is Our Youth (Life Out Loud). As a composer: Taming of the Shrew (Poor Players).Training: David Gideon. Member AEA.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

From the Rehearsal Room: Jason Wilson as "Harry"

As a special feature, we're excited to introduce you to our cast members and their experiences creating the world of LOVE SONG. 

LOVE SONG runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here

Introducing: Jason Wilson, who's playing Harry in LOVE SONG. Here is his first-hand account of the rehearsal process. 

Build the set. That is, if you’re allowed to as an actor. Some places won’t let the actor take part in building their own sets, but I’m here to tell you the benefits are beyond compare. One of the first questions I ask myself when I take on any role is where am I? This question is quickly follow by, where did I come from and where am I going? The first thing I work on is place. Long before I try substitutions or overalls, I “find” my place. If I have the luxury of actually getting to lay hands on the flats and hammer a nail into the walls or cut a piece of luan with a circular saw, most of my work on place is done. It becomes easy to say this is my house, this is my home, and this is where I’m living, if everywhere I look on stage is the fruits of my labor.

Such is the case with the set of my current production, LOVE SONG; produced by my company The Seeing Place Theater running at the ATA Sargent Theater in Hell’s Kitchen. I built the set with the help of other company members, so now when I look out the window or straighten of picture frame while “in character” on stage I have no trouble endowing the set with a rich history and a tapestry of personalizations. My work becomes real and I’m able to live fully in the moment. I believe where I am and so the audience believes my character believes where he is.

The first time I experienced this level of personalization and truth happened my second year of grad school at The New School for Drama. My class was doing a production called “The Chekhov Project”. We had the audacity to do four Chekhov plays at once, interweaving the dialog from all four plays into one script, creating a whole new play based on Chekhov’s major themes. The production was a tremendous success. I had the pleasure of creating Lopakhin from The Cherry Orchard for this “new” play. As you may know, Lopakhin buys the cherry orchard in the end but has to cut it down in order to create new revenue. When we were building the set, my director, Casey Biggs, had us go up to his house in upstate New York to gather wood and branches he wanted to use for the set. When we got to his house we discovered that on his land were actual cherry trees! Yes, I cut them down and it filled me with all sorts of emotions. I felt the guilt of destroying life and the power in being able to do so. When the weekend was over and all the branches had been loaded into the trunk and hauled to the theater I had an overwhelming feeling connection to what Lopakhin must have felt when he was “forced” to cut down Madame Ranevskaya’s cherry trees. I was able to bring this history (my personal history) to the stage when I performed. It was all needed to make the environment real for me.

Now, when I’m playing Harry in LOVE SONG I have that same sense of truth. When I feel a little lost on stage at any given moment I simply look at the walls and I remember, “oh yeah, that’s where I practically drilled a screw into my hand.” This is an honest thought and that truth brings me right back to the reality of the moment. When I look out the window I’m filled with a sense of pride because I think, “I built this window frame and it wasn’t easy.” If I need to create something to invoke a sense of fatigue or frustration, I simply remember the four days in a row I was at the theater until 5:00am painting, cutting, and drilling. I remember being at the theater for eighteen hours straight building the my set; and yes I’m tired! This is the kind of truth that makes theater seem magical. This level of personalization bring the play to “life”. When the characters are able to live truthfully in the moment the play pops.

 I guess this means the cat’s out of the bag. When you come join us for this beautiful and honest look at love, when you see LOVE SONG, you’ll be let in on a secret. “What is Harry thinking about? Oh, right I know”. Thankfully, I wouldn’t want it any other way. When I see theater I want to see real characters living and breathing, thinking and feeling on stage. I want the truth. I want the real experience. So, come experience the results first hand. LOVE SONG runs through Dec. 9th. Come see me, the actor, and if you would please tell me what you think of the set too. I’m very proud to have built it right along with building my character.


Jason Wilson is excited to be a part of this dynamic ensemble driven theater called The Seeing Place Theater. Mr. Wilson was last seen on the New York stage in The New York International Fringe Festival, where he created the roles of Reverend Dale Goodkind and Deputy Blackhawk in THE ABDUCTION OF BECKY MORRIS by Alison Crane. Mr. Wilson graduated this past May with his MFA in Acting from The New School for Drama. Since graduating, he has performed with Emursive and PunchDrunk at The McKittrick Hotel, as well as The Fringe. Before returning to his studies 2009, Mr. Wilson spent 12 years as a working actor in Chicago, performing in over 24 theatrical productions as well numerous regional and national commercials. While in Chicago, Mr. Wilson performed regularly at Pegasus Players, Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Chicago Dramatis, and The Chicago Theatre Company, just to name a few. In 2007, he toured India with an original play about the American Civil Right Movement titled, MY SOUL IS A WITNESS penned by David Barr III. Some notable characters he’s brought to the stage include, Edgar Allan Poe in the world premiere of E.A. POE:THE FEVER CALLED LIVING, The Captain in WOYZECK, Duke of Gloucester in HENRY VI, Lopakhin in THE CHEKHOV PROJECT, and Barry “Little Bill” Williams in the world premiere of NEVERLAND INDUSTRIES by Danny Carroll. Mr. Wilson was born in Schenectady, New York where his mother still lives in the house he grew up in. He attended Ithaca College and graduated with his BA in Theatre in 1996. Web:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Live Tweets for LOVE SONG!

On opening weekend, we were excited to have Megan Smith (@mightymegasaur) in our audience. We asked Megan to use her phone to “live tweet” throughout the show, letting fans know about her thoughts about feelings about LOVE SONG while it was happening (think: running commentary that you hear on DVDs, only it’s on Twitter in 140 characters or less!

Without further ado - our Live Tweet Transcript!

Show: LOVE SONG by John Kolvenbach
Theater: The Seeing Place Theater
Date: November 24, 2012 (8pm)
Tweeter: Megan Smith

7:15pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Live Tweeting for “Love Song” tonight, very excited! @TheSeeingPlace (@ ATA’s Sargent Theater)

7:30pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Cast warming up pre show #lovesong @theseeingplace

Photo by Megan Smith
7:35pm Megan @mightymegasaur
The lovely stage manager/actor Shannon MacPherson from the booth #lovesong @theseeingplace

Photo by Megan Smith
7:40pm Megan @mightymegasaur
“the pre show music is kinda dark and intense so I like to play something light for the actors” -Shannon #lovesong

7:45pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Shannon was right, we just switched from some rocking Black Keys to brooding Smashing Pumpkins :) #lovesong

7:46pm Megan @mightymegasaur
House is open! #lovesong

7:50pm Megan @mightymegasaur
However far away, i will always love you…Singing along to #Lovesong by The Cure brings me back to my high school days

7:55pm Megan @mightymegasaur
I hear there’s a big secret in this play. Hooray potential #spoileralert. I can’t wait to see if I can figure it out! #lovesong

7:58pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Looks like a full house tonight #lovesong

Photo by Megan Smith
8:03pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Very intense opening moment inside the characters paranoia. Great setup. #lovesong @OhBrandonWalker

Photo by Matthew Sussman
8:09pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Taking Joan’s side on this one, u shouldn’t cry when ur boss tells u to file correctly. Oh & keep your underwear out of sight lol #lovesong

8:16pm Megan @mightymegasaur
A human baby in a box?! Lol #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
8:25pm Megan @mightymegasaur
So true! “I was in love and in Paris, you keep the ashtray”-Molly aka @erincronican #lovesong

8:28pm Megan @mightymegasaur
ohhhh…k…..”I don’t want to have a fork if it’s going to lie to me”-Beane aka @ohbrandonwalker #lovesong

8:46pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Okay there must be a secret here about their relationship… Who is she, really? #gettingwarmer #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
8:51pm Megan @mightymegasaur
#liberated Beane is cracking me up #lovesong

9:01pm Megan @mightymegasaur
“what secret ingredient makes you think things are possible…fucking”-Beane #lovesong

9:03pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Apparently Harry is turned on by fruit stands lol #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
9:10pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Who likes the new in love version of Beane? If you’re following/watching, let’s take a poll #lovesong #newbeane or #oldbeane? #intermission

9:23pm Megan @mightymegasaur
“it’s like I’m cutting class, smoking pot, and tricking my mom… It’s exciting”-Joan #lovesong …HA yes.

9:31pm Megan @mightymegasaur
#newbeane is romantic bringing Molly flowers and telling the story of how they met :) #lovesong

9:35pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Ahh love “I will build a house in your molars”-Molly #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
9:40pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Oh snap the secret is out! #lovesong

9:50pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Genius use of the set here in the 2nd act, bringing back that intensity of the closing walls, very nice! #lovesong

10:01pm Megan @mightymegasaur
These poetic turns in the script are really interesting, nice juxtaposition with the comedy #lovesong

10:03pm Megan @mightymegasaur
#curtaincall and a little closing speech (sorry its blurry!) #lovesong

Photo by Megan Smith
10:15pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Took a quick survey of audience, seems abt half & half as to who was able to figure out secret but it certainly evoked emotions #lovesong

Doesn’t that make you want to see the show? :) Get your $12 tickets here:

Be sure to follow Megan Smith on Twitter. And, while you’re at it, follow us as well!

Friday, November 23, 2012

From the Rehearsal Room: Javan Nelson as "Bill"

As a special feature on opening weekend, we're excited to introduce you to our cast members and their experiences creating the world of LOVE SONG. 

LOVE SONG opens November 23 and runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here

Introducing: Javan Nelson, who's playing Bill in LOVE SONG. Here is his first-hand account of the rehearsal process. 

A good friend of mine and a fellow actor holds as his personal career motto: "speak it into existence." I've heard the phrase over and over for months, as he pummels along in his journey toward stardom. Sage words, I always think, considering them mildly as another of those upbeat, motivational catchphrases to be stored in some mental knapsack and brought out occasionally for particularly blue days. The other day it was finally brought out, leading me to an incredible breakthrough in my acting process--but in a way I never expected.

Several days ago the director of our current production, LOVE SONG asked her actors to prepare for a scene. She charged us to speak out our feelings, motivations, and objectives out loud as our characters. She explained by doing so we were helping to make our characters' circumstances real to us in our minds. We were speaking the fictions of the play into a truthful existence. Now, many actors may have learned this simple technique when they first began studying their craft. It may even sound rather, well, "duh!" to some of you readers. But if any of you actors out there are like me (I imagine there must be some of you), speaking into existence is a procedure you have probably overlooked.  

Certainly I have come across this concept many times throughout my artistic development, even utilized it continually in my work, whether it be through in-character conversing with my scene partners during rehearsal or reminding myself of my objectives backstage before a show. My oversight, however, has been to take advantage of speaking into existence, thinking of it as a mental exercise that can be accomplished in one's head. I have been thinking into existence rather than actually saying the words out loud. To my great surprise, the two are not nearly the same and both are necessary in creating strong work.

Physically verbalizing my character's thoughts--his feelings, his desires, his fears--has proven incredibly helpful in convincing my mind the thoughts it is manufacturing for a character are actually true. Particularly for the character I play in "Love Song," the technique has deeply advanced my preparation for a performance. Bill is a lowly waiter dealing with a heavy sadness at the time of the play. He has decided, however, today is the day he moves on, finding happiness once again, whether he's ready or not. I began practicing speaking into existence during rehearsal a few days ago, talking out loud as Bill. I confessed to myself that I was sad and coached myself on all the things I was going to do to make myself happy again. While I was not particularly down that day, this silly act of saying out loud that I was sad completely changed my mood. I was able to reach an emotional depth I simply could not achieve if all the work had stayed in my head. And because Bill (like Javan) was trying to convince himself he could feel something he wasn't feeling right now, every time I confessed sadness felt like a new stab of torture. It heightened the sadness, hence heightening the obstacle and the desire to overcome the obstacle. Of course, none of this work would have been effective if I had not prepared my creative work and done a substantial amount of mental work; but by putting the work into the air rather than keeping it trapped in my crowded head, I was acting out in real space rather than my own theoretical headspace.  

For those of you who may be like I have been in the past, I know what you're thinking: this seems deceptive. You can really convince yourself of something by saying it out loud? The scary answer is "yes" (and I'm just as surprised myself). It's truly astounding how we can manipulate our minds with the proper nudges. I must reiterate, none of the verbalization would have been helpful if I had not first been implanting conscious mental thoughts--before you can speak into existence it's crucial to try thinking into existence first. But by ignoring one technique in favor of the other, it's very possible you're robbing your acting of its full effect. And if you need further proof, I urge you to try it yourself. If anything, it's incredibly simple and entirely worth the shot.

Now, I realize the "speaking into existence" that my actor friend regards as a personal motto is a bit different than what I have talked about. His speaking into existence refers more to sayings like, "I will book a gig this month," in order to motivate the psyche and encourage your self-esteem so that you have the confidence to accomplish your career goals. In the course of writing this blog, however, I discovered a powerful link between the phrase my friend holds dear and the one my director asks of her actors. Verbalizing your career-oriented goals and verbalizing your character's thoughts go hand in hand. Speaking your character's thoughts into existence may very well improve your work, and when you feel your work is strong it becomes much easier to convince yourself you can reach your career goals. Personally, I always feel encouraged about making my dreams come true by knowing those dreams depend on the reality of my own strengths as an actor. I'm a big proponent of giving yourself hope--our futures are in our own hands, we have only to apply ourselves to the greatest parts of our own abilities. So, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Speak out!


Javan Nelson is an alumni of the University of Arizona Fine Arts Acting Program. His work in the NYC area extends through Stageplays Theatre Company (Narrator, Someone Should Kill That Bastard Bran Bentley *staged reading), Random Access Theatre (Orsino/Antonio, Twelfth Night), Columbia University School of the Arts (Archibald Higbie, Spoon River Anthology), and Rescue Agreement (Nikola Tesla, Electric Eden). He has also worked regionally with Arizona Theatre Company (Tom u/s, The Glass Menagerie), Arizona Repertory Theatre (Adam, The Shape of Things; Peter, The Diary of Anne Frank; Costard, Love's Labour's Lost), the Rogue Theatre (Improvisor, BoMA Improv Troupe), and the Now Theatre (Ali, The Retreating World). He is thrilled to be a new member of The Seeing Place, bringing vital theater to a hungry audience.  Web:

From the Rehearsal Room: Marnie Klar as "Joan"

As a special feature on opening weekend, we're excited to introduce you to our cast members and their experiences creating the world of LOVE SONG. 

LOVE SONG opens November 23 and runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here

Introducing: Marnie Klar, who's playing Joan in LOVE SONG. Here is her first-hand account of the rehearsal process. 

LOVE SONG is the first production I’ve been fortunate enough to work on with the great people of The Seeing Place Theater. After seeing numerous examples of Erin and Brandon’s work in other productions, I’m thrilled to now have a “behind the scenes,” if you will, or insight into the way they operate.

I’ve been acting for a while now and have learned several different acting techniques over the years. Usually, when learning a new process, I’m able to take all the variations I’ve learned previously and apply them into one solid form through the rehearsal process, which I’m therefore able to bring to the stage. Working with Brandon and Erin is also just that, however, they’ve added their own methodology to great success. Their process is so unique and yet it all makes sense.

After going through some table work/dramaturgy and improvisation exercises, I remember our first rehearsal we were on our feet for the first time, script in hand for two scenes. While it doesn’t sound too far out of the norm (incorporating the lines of the script, your intention and physical activities) that day we learned something called “speaking out.” This was a process very foreign to me, as it incorporates not just the subtext of the characters, but actually all the “actor thoughts” that are ever present in our work as well. I learned that while that seems easy enough, I’m not actually used to articulating every thought on my mind. I seemed to just relish in the word, “ok" but not everything that “ok,” really encapsulated. Such as, “ok...I feel incredibly awkward,” or “ok...this is what I'm talking about,” and so on. I learned that we're allowed to feel the things we're feeling and think the things we're thinking - now how do I actually incorporate those realities into my work?

One example that stuck with me occurred early on when talking through beat changes. If there's a scene where my character spans multiple thoughts & emotions, how do I take that journey? Speaking out allowed me to talk through my private thoughts as the beats progresses. These were things I had in my mind but has never articulated. With speaking out, I now understand completely why or how I would go from one though to another. And articulating it? That’s something I’m working on…


Marnie Klar is originally from Virginia Beach with a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Miami. While at Miami, Marnie performed in such productions as Into The Woods (Cinderella), The World Goes 'Round, Tartuffe (Elmire), Piece of My Heart (Mary Jo) and Mame, directed by the legendary Jerry Herman. Favorite regional credits include Three Tall Women (B), Wild Oats (Jane), A Lie of the Mind (Lorraine), all at the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. Favorite NY credits include Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis (Venus- HERE Arts Center), Warning Adult Content (Elizabeth- Shetler Studios, TDG), Jewel Thieves! (Lady Lynne Fortescue- Time Square Arts Center), and Fleet Week: The Musical (Lucille Lortel Theatre- Fringe NYC '05 Winner Outstanding Musical). In 2011, Marnie presented her first all rock cabaret, "Marnie Klar Sings...," and was featured as part of the "People You Should Know" Cabaret Series at Don't Tell Mama.  Member AEA  Web:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Invites To Shows...Are They Spam?

As The Seeing Place is preparing to open LOVE SONG, many of us have a familiar sinking feeling in our stomachs that it seems is somewhat universal when it comes to putting on theater in New York.

Strangely enough, it's got nothing to do with the show.  We're scared to do it, certainly - but I've put my acting career on the line enough times to know that if I get slammed or praised, my ego might react for a little while, but it's probably not going to appreciably change my life.  We may not make our money back, but it wouldn't be the first time - and we've promised six plays this year.  Heck, we just sold a bunch of season tickets to those plays.  So, we're committed. 

What many of us are most scared of is alienating our friends when we ask them to come. 

If I tell my friends that I want them to see my show, then they tend to hear one of two things:
1.)  I want everyone to come see ME and support ME and look at ME and love ME!
2.)  I think of them as walking dollar signs - because I'm a producer on the project.

Here's the problem:  I have to market to people or they won't know about the show.  The world doesn't revolve around me, so we have to remind people that we really want them to come - or they don't.  I just missed a dear friend's show that I was dying to see, because he only told me once.  Surely, no offense is meant when we reach out a second or third or tenth time.  In marketing, it takes 7-10 times for anyone to take notice.  I've found that it's not a much better average with our peers.  We all lead busy lives.  We forget easily.  And in fact, I only come to my friends' shows when they let me know that they want me there.  Simply mentioning it is not enough.  I want to know that they stand behind their work.  I want to know it means something to them.  Why?  Because that means that it's better or I'm going to like it more?  No.  Because I know that they have something to share.  

I know I get confused when I reach out to my friends and get a response as though I've harassed them.  It's heartbreaking to tell someone how important they are to you and be met with, "Yeah, I heard you the first time."  Or "I've already supported you this year."  Partially, I get that response because we're in our fourth season.  But it goes deeper than that.  We live in a commercial city, and unfortunately we seem to have bought into the idea that Art is either a commodity or a favor.  It makes us sad. 

The thing is, I'll bet that most of us are not looking to impress anyone.  Personally, it feels good when people like my work.  It feels even better when people like The Seeing Place Theater's work - and I mean that.  But more than anything, we all kill ourselves bringing something to life.  And then we birth it for three weeks and it's done.  I want to share it with the people I care about.  And after the show is over for the night, I want to spend time with the people that came.  Because theater is (and always has been) about COMMUNITY.

We sit in a dark room and celebrate humanity together.  And then we have the opportunity to come together afterwards and discuss life.  It's unfortunate that the Theatre - and even movies - have become something of a bourgeois pleasure.  And that price is costing us something very beautiful.  The group of us at The Seeing Place firmly believes that the Theatre is an important past-time.  To us, it is sociology without the science.  And that's why we keep our ticket prices so low.  As screwed up as Lenin and Stalin may have been, they understood how mainstream cinema creates a common language for people of all walks of life to come together.  In their case, they may have been speaking of propaganda in film.  But it applies even more to live theater.  There's a reason why Harold Clurman referred to great plays as being "propaganda for a better life".

This is a call to arms.  We need a shift of focus in our community.  We're opening a show on Friday.  We want to share it with our community - especially with those closest to us.  It's not because we need our egos stroked.  It's because we want to share our souls with you.  And we want that to create something bigger than a show you came and liked.

Consider that, when I invite my friends, that it's as though I'm suggesting we go to a movie and hang out afterwards.  The only difference is that I'm providing the entertainment.  I expect that the show is only the first part of our evening together.  And I challenge this community to engage in that possibility with me and with The Seeing Place. 

We open John Kolvenbach's beautiful comedy, LOVE SONG, this week on Black Friday.  When you come, please stay after and crush a cup of wine with us.  How often does a community get a chance to conspire?  I never knew the exact definition of that word until an actress names Rhona Gold taught me.  It literally means:  To Breathe Together.  It's touched me ever since.

What thoughts do you have on the subject?

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Organic Theater" - Part 3: Objective

"Competition [in a scene] is healthy. Competition is life. Yet most actors refuse to acknowledge this. They don't want to compete. They want to get along. And they are therefore not first-rate actors."
- Michael Shurtleff

I don't normally find myself quoting Michael Shurtleff, but it rang particularly true when it was brought to my attention by Erin Cronican (our Managing Director), who is directing our upcoming production of John Kolvenbach's LOVE SONG.

There seems to be an epidemic going around our theaters.  I call it playing nice.

We spend our lives learning how to avoid conflict.  In my opinion, that's really the main thing taught in the majority of public schools: socialization.  But we get it from our parents, our peers - literally everywhere we turn, we're taught how to get along.  We learn very early on that Sharing is Caring, that we can't hit people or roar at them when we want something.  We can't just take food off of people's plates.  We learn to bite our lips, watch our mouths, hold our tongues...the sayings go on and on.  And all of these maxims serve us very well in life.  Not so well onstage.

The truth of it is:  we can't afford to behave onstage the same way we do in life.  Many of the great acting teachers have cited a difference between Naturalism and Realism onstage.  I'll go into greater detail on that in another post.  But the long and the short of it is this:  We go to the theater to see ourselves.  It's why we chose The Seeing Place as our name, the literal meaning of the Greek word, "Theatron".  In our minds, the theatre should be a place to express the things that we don't want to admit about ourselves in public.

We can hardly aim for that kind of goal if we insist on behaving in an everyday fashion onstage.  But how do we go about achieving that kind of heightened expression without setting blocking or levels of emotion?  What's to keep the strength of the story intact?  What's to keep us from avoiding conflict and behaving naturally, when that's what we've been taught all our lives?

In every theater around town, actors and directors alike stress the importance of raising the stakes.  But how do we do that? 

To answer that, I think Phil Connors says it best:

"It's the same thing your whole life.  Clean up your room.  Stand up straight.  Pick up your feet.  Take it like a man.  Be nice to your sister.  Don't mix beer and wine - ever!  Oh yeah...don't drive on the railroad tracks.  I don't know, Gus.  Sometimes, you just have to take the big chances.  I'm bettin' he's gonna swerve first.  I'm not gonna live by their rules anymore.  You make choices, and you live with them."
- Groundhog Day

Essentially, we have to change the way we're looking at the world.  David Gideon, my teacher, talks about the importance of recognizing the fact that we get applause onstage for the same things that we'd be thrown in jail for in real life.  But that's not just going to happen of its own volition.  We literally have to give ourselves permission.  Because there are no consequences onstage.  We're there to celebrate the reaches of humanity.  And we all have to play with the same kind of openness that we did when we were kids, playing make-believe. 

That said, there is still one more piece to the puzzle.  Simply acting with abandon doesn't help tell a story.  Though it's tempting, we can't just be free onstage. Why not?  Because that would destroy the reality of the play - unless the character is a psychopath.  We still have to live within some guidelines.

There is a sign posted in our rehearsal space.  It reads "GO AFTER WHAT YOU WANT."  And it really brings the whole thing to the surface.  How many people do you know that say they want to be actors, and yet when you ask them when they went on their last audition, they couldn't even begin to tell you?  I'll bet they have the same problem in their work onstage.

The singularly most difficult thing for an actor to find in a play is:  AN ACTABLE OBJECTIVE.  Many of us are taught to look for some action verbs or what our characters want is.  But in reality, what are our characters aiming for?  How are they going to get it?  Those are big questions.  And we spend a lot of time answering them at The Seeing Place. 

But it's not enough to have it in mind - in life or onstage.  We have to DO something about it.  I can know that I should exercise if I want to slim down until I'm blue in the face.  Nothing's gonna happen if I just think about it, though.  Sometimes, I literally need to force myself to act on my desires.  It can't be a matter of 'when we feel like it'.

Because our characters are at big points in their lives.  They're taking action.  There's a reason that Long Day's Journey Into Night takes place THIS WEEKEND at the Tyrone mansion - not last weekend or next weekend.  This is the time the family DID something.

I learned this from one of the greatest books on playwrighting ever.  On the second page, it says...

Let's begin the process simply, with a one-line definition of a story:
A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why.

One more time, because I think it's important:
A speaker tells a listener what someone DID to get what he wanted and why.

The objectives are our lifelines in the theatre.  If I go head first after what I want, and you do too, then BAM - immediate conflict.  I've been told that the greatest stories happen when two opposing viewpoints on living go into battle.  Just because Torvald loses the at the end of Ibsen's A Doll's House, it doesn't mean that he shouldn't be fighting for his life all along the way.  Otherwise, we'll know what happens in the end before he does.  Our failures onstage are what tend to give us the greatest successes. 

It's in that collaborative competition that the story is told.  We can't afford Kumbaya in the theatre.  I don't want to give my scene partners the benefit of the doubt.  I want to challenge them.  I want them to challenge me back.  It's just like any other game we play.  We should play to win.

There seems to be this idea that in an ensemble theater, everyone should give to everyone else.  We agree.  But we shouldn't make ourselves smaller to do that.  I'll end with Marianne Williamson's overquoted quote that is especially pertinent:

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give

other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

What are your thoughts on the subject?
This is the third post in a series, defining methods The Seeing Place Theater uses in our rehearsal process to create Organic Theater.  

Other posts in this series:     Part One: Speaking Out  |  Part Two: Physical Reality

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Organic Theater" - Part 2: Physical Reality

This is the second post in a series, defining the unusual methods The Seeing Place Theater uses in our rehearsal process to create Organic Theater.

"We don't use blocking."  That used to be our catch-phrase.  You can't imagine how many people have been up in arms over that concept with us over the last three years.  There's always someone there to suggest that it's possible to craft moments, block things out to a 'T', AND live through a play as though it's the first time.  And while I suppose there is some truth to that in that we could easily represent life on the stage and pretend it's the first time, why wouldn't we just live each moment for the first time?

"How do we do that?"  You ask.  And it's an important question.  Many theaters just say they live it for the first time and still use blocking.  Some don't block and just encourage actors to find the story each and every night - and I suppose that if they were especially well trained, then that might work...but most aren't.  What we do is to answer a question, based in what I consider to be Lee Strasberg's greatest insight into the theatre:

What would I be doing if the scene weren't taking place?

When asked, most people seem to want to tell us what they'd like to be doing.  "Oh, I'd be at a bar with some friends."  From my understanding, Strasberg would commonly respond to this kind of remark by saying, "Great.  You go to a bar with some friends, and I'll get an actor who will actually do what he'd be doing here if the scene weren't taking place."  And that's the rub:
What would I be doing IN THIS ROOM if the lines of this scene weren't taking place?

And then we actually DO those things throughout our scenework.  That's our blocking.  That's our physical reality.  By answering this question, The Seeing Place is able to live through something onstage that is unique to each night, rather than setting the actions and their timing in advance. Another way to think of it is this:  If your scene partner had to run off to the bathroom and left you onstage by yourself, what might your character be doing here in your imagined reality?

To illustrate: Let's take the first scene of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for example.  What would Brick be doing if the scene weren't taking place?  Some things might be...
  • Cooling off from the hot day - might include fanning, ice from the drink, etc.
  • Drying off from the shower he takes before the play starts and any sweat that accumulates.
  • Keeping his sprained ankle elevated.
  • Drinking with the energy to fade out or "get that click" and maintain it, rather than to get drunk.
  • Getting dressed in silk pajamas...or getting ready for Big Daddy's Birthday Party - even though the lines might suggest otherwise.
At Strasberg's behest (which I constantly hear from my teacher, David Gideon):
Do what you would be doing if the scene weren't taking place, and don't stop doing it unless something happens to interfere.  But if there is an interference, stop and take the time to actually deal with it.  But as soon as you are able, go back to doing what you'd be doing if the scene weren't taking place - even if it doesn't make sense.

That's a very complicated statement - though we've found it to be relatively simple in execution.  Simple does not mean easy.  It requires a change of viewpoint from what we normally find in the theater.  Many actors in our mainstream theater seem to rely on the guidance of directors to be told what to do and where to go.  Even in TSP rehearsals, there is an occasional outburst of, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!"  But we don't let our group go through the motions onstage.  I'm not suggesting that there are not actors out there that are organic and alive in their work.  But we are a full company of actors that set out to remain creative in performance.  We have to keep our thinking caps on.  For us, it's not simply a matter of saying lines well or expressing whatever emotional reality is going on.  We're aiming to live fully into an imaginative situation onstage.  The tasks we do keep us concentrated and engaged.  We can't fake them.  That gives us grounding, whether or not we're having a good night at the theater.

The primary thing that The Seeing Place aims to create in our work is the simple reality.  If someone is drinking tea, we want them to actually make it and actually drink it.  If you need to sweep a stage, go ahead and actually sweep it.  That's the easiest part of acting.  As Lee Strasberg had posted over his door at The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, "It's not about emotion."  That's not to suggest that the emotional reality isn't important.  But at Strasberg's insistence, we can't go for emotions:
"The emotions take care of themselves."

Of course, there will be exceptions and times when the play calls for something slightly different - as was the case in our production of THREE SISTERS, which had some "stand-in" props that were not 100% realistic.  But even then, we were still doing what we'd be doing if the scenes weren't taking place - within the confines of that reality.

Lee Strasberg's insight into this element of human behavior, which The Seeing Place uses in our work, is based in an observation that Strasberg made about people, which is that in life, we don't stop doing what we're doing to have conversations.

David Gideon, my teacher, has given the following example (I'm paraphrasing):  If we're driving to Boston, we don't stop the car to have an argument.  We may begin an argument and respond so intensely that we feel out of control and NEED to stop the car to deal with the situation, but as soon as we've got it back under control and can continue driving, we do.

And that's how The Seeing Place goes about doing something unique to each night.  Sometimes, the emotional reality interrupts in one place or another, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes, we're doing one activity in a certain place in a scene, sometimes another.  It's completely based on how things play out that night.  But it's all connected to the logic of the scene, the play, the character, and our own observations about people and our world. 

I've even used this approach in plays that were stringently blocked by a director.  In reality, the director doesn't want to have to block actors that stringently much of the time.  If the actor comes in with a logical life to carry out onstage, most directors are more than willing to work within it. 

All in all, I find it to be much more fun.  After all, it is a play.  :O)

What are your thoughts on all of this?

Other posts in this series:     Part One: Speaking Out

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Is "Organic Theater"? - Part 1: Speaking Out

This is the first post in a series, defining some of the tools we use to make the theater you enjoy on our stages.

For a long time, we've been very hesitant to talk about our process.  It tends to get a bad wrap.  Anytime someone doesn't understand something we do, they blame the way we work - as though there would be no problems if we were to just follow the theatrical norms in our business. 

The biggest mystery seems to revolve around what we call "Speaking Out" (In the past, we've referred to it publicly as "Structured Improvisation", because we felt it needed a layman's term).  Over the last three years that The Seeing Place has been around, people have taken this phrase to mean anything from a lack of textual analysis to a complete disregard for the playwright.  Both could not be further from the truth.

It's hard to describe what we do in terms that people outside of it can understand.  As with bike-riding, there's a lot of jargon representing uncommon experiences - that are best learned in action, rather than words.  Simply put, "Speaking Out" is a means to combine the Actor's thoughts and impulses with the Author's words.

Speaking Out is a practice that we've borrowed from Lee Strasberg's work.  For those unfamiliar, I like to describe it as being similar to Meisner's Repetition Exercise, because it functions to answer the same problem -  helping the actor respond impulsively and get out of his own way.  As far as what we do at The Seeing Place is concerned, it is a rehearsal technique that allows our actors to actively keep their creative juices flowing and address any difficulties that come up.  The main benefit is that it forces actors to really talk and listen to one another.  As Bobby Lewis said, "If it's not talking and listening, it really doesn't matter how much more it is."

We've found that with Speaking Out, we are able to facilitate actors in effectively getting their work into their lines.  There is a common worry that speaking your thoughts will put you in your head.  That is not the aim.  It's not about creating new dialogue.  It's about living in the situation.  In our process, there should be no discrepancy between the actor's spoken thoughts and the author's written lines.  Speaking out is not private subtext.  The other actors can and do hear you.  They respond in the same way as you would to someone screaming "Hello!" at you.  Actors are encouraged to take the same energy of their thoughts into their lines.  This gives them a means of addressing expression - so that their work gets out of their heads and into reality.

Without giving a formal tutorial, what we do basically looks like this:

Let's say that the lines of the scene are:
A:  Hi.  How are you?
B:  I'm fine.  Thanks.  And you?

Speaking Out is loosely structured like this:
A:  [1st actor speaks his impulsive thoughts, then]  Hi.  How are you?
B:  [2nd actor responds, speaking impulsive thoughts, then]  I'm fine.  Thanks.  And you?

In action, let's say that actors A and B are in a lover's quarrel.  Let's say that A stormed out of the house, giving B some time to pack up and leave.  This is an example of how this conversation might manifest, while speaking out.

A:  I can't believe you're still here!  Hi!  How are you?
B:  I'm...really sorry, okayI'm fine.  I promise.  Thanks.  And you?

1.)  There is no distinction made between the author's lines and the actor's thoughts. (In the last example, lines are only in bold to provide clarity.  There should be no notable difference between lines and thoughts in either energy or volume.)
2.)  The actors thoughts affect the manner in which the author's lines are said. 
3.)  The actors can choose to speak freely within their own lines, but offer no improvised thoughts after they give the cue.
4.)  B is responding in situation to A's behavior, though not necessarily to the improvised words.  In other words, B does not say "What made you think I was going to leave?" 

It looks very complicated.  And it is at first.  There is a learning curve.  But only because Speaking Out requires actors to be active participants in their work.  They are forced to think on their feet.  They have to get personally involved.  They can't plan how they are going to say their lines.  They have to go with today's reality, right now.  It will be different tomorrow.  In this way, their work is full of life each and every time.  They also bear the full responsibility of communicating with their scene partners - because everyone is accountable to keeping the ball in the air. 

Every actor, I'm sure, can identify with the following experience.  You plan out exactly what you want to do in a scene, you have the creative juices flowing before you enter, you walk into the scene and...say lines without doing what you set out to do.  Oops!  We've all been there.  Speaking out gives you a practical tool in rehearsals to address those kinds of difficulties in the moment.

You may be wondering why anyone would bother with this kind of work.  First of all, it really is fun to live through an imaginary event, rather than represent it.  But the chief reason is this:

The playwright does not and cannot mean anything without the actor's interpretation.  In order for the playwright's words to sing, they have to resonate personally with the actors.

Also, please keep in mind that this is a rehearsal technique.  It's nothing that ever happens on our stages.  In production, you'll only ever hear the author's words, unless there is some unavoidable emergency - which happens in any production from time to time (it's the fun of live theater).  Most audiences comment that there is very personal character work and a lot behavioral nuances in our shows that the actors seem to share.  That's a direct result of Speaking Out.

You may worry that The Seeing Place does not hold writers in the highest esteem.  We absolutely do.  In fact, we do everything we can to dissect the situation, the story, the characters, and our own interpretations.  The playwright wrote way more than the words on the page.  A play is a skeleton.  It is our call as actors to give it life. 

Please comment and ask any questions you may have.  Please also share any experiences you've had in improvisation as a rehearsal technique.  Either way, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Producing on a Shoestring Budget

As we're all recovering from Hurricane Sandy, many of our Off-Off Broadway comrades are having to scale our theatrical ideas down a bit to compensate for the week of work that most of us are losing - not to mention the greatly reduced support (both in attendance and donations from our community).  A couple of people have reached out to me to ask:

How do theaters produce on a shoestring budget?  Luckily, I'm an expert on the subject (or unluckily, but I'm an optimist). 

We seem to have this lingering idea in our society that we need to wait for something to make art.  From what I can gather, this concept is based largely on our commercial theater marketplace.  In calling it "commercial theater", I am including all of us - because our society has set a bar that everyone is judged against.  Essentially, we have been brought up to understand that art is only worthwhile when it is commercially viable.  This is a trickle-down effect that starts at the top.  In the theater world, the top is Broadway.  They get the big sets, the great lighting, the good directors, the known actors, the critical response, the most money, the most respect, and the greatest financial support from individuals in our community.

"Financial support?  But people can't donate to for-profit ventures", some of you may be thinking.  However, what's on the top ten list of things to do in NYC: See a Broadway show.  So, everyone is willing to pay for the experience of Broadway.  Good or bad, it's something we should all live through, society tells us.  No one is running to Off-Off Broadway - or even Off-Broadway.

When we think of what is "good" or "professional" or "accepted" or "successful", the paradigm always starts with the pinnacle of commercial theater.  Building upon that concept, the best regional theaters are all trying to land shows on Broadway, so everything is set up for future success in the world market.  The best theatrical programs are going to prepare students to work in these markets, so they also have the kinds of systems that are comparable to the best of what our country can boast.  Even our high schools try to give their students that leg-up.  On every level, our country is trying to measure up to these standards in our industry.

No wonder it's become so difficult to find the heart in our business.

You didn't come here to read about what's wrong with our system, though.  You didn't come here to learn the backstory.  You came here to find out what we can do about it.  First of all, we've got to start thinking about theater as though it's an art form.  That may sound like an obvious statement.  And yet...look at other, more obvious artists and ask yourself:  Does a songwriter need the best guitar to write a song?  Does a painter hold out for the expensive paints in order to alter a canvas?  Does a writer wait for the book deal to begin writing?  In all of these examples, the artist begins with having something to say - and then they carry it out in the best way they know how.  The World will let us know if our art is viable.  That's not our job.

Now, what are shoestrings?  They aren't laces.  They are pieces of string, holding shoes together.  Shoes are meant to operate with more support.  So is theater.  The next step is in realizing that in a race that depends on the sturdiness of your shoes, you will always lose.  So, you have to change the game around.  If your shoes are going to compete with everything that our society tells us is good, it has to offer something other than fancy footwork.  The first step towards producing on a shoestring budget is to realize that YOU make the art.  The spectacle doesn't do it alone.  No amount of panache can substitute for what you bring to the table.  Your message has to be at the forefront. 

The biggest thing you can do is to come up with a concept for your play that rests on human storytelling.  We've all heard this, but it seems that very few of us believe it.  At the core of the theater is a person on a stage.  Without a person on a stage, there is no theater.  Theater can exist without a written script, without a director, without a light board, without a stage manager - even without a building.  The requirements for theater are: actors, story, audience.  That's it.  So, place your focus on that person-to-person communication.  How can the people tell the story?

It takes some practice.  I was lucky.  My theater program in my high school had no money.  We had a lot of passion and drive.  We had a black box.  We had a lot of old paint.  But all we had to fall back on was our collective creativity.  And we did a lot with just that.  My first theater company was called Poor Players for a reason.  Keep in mind that acting is primarily the suspension of disbelief, anyway.

Minimalism isn't easy.  But here are some benchmarks to help the fledgling artists in us all as we try to make art in these trying times:

Use your imagination.  Ask yourself how your story can benefit from a bare-bones staging.  It is generally good to pick plays that don't require multiple sets.  The more conceptual you can make the show, the better.  We told the story of our production of WAITING FOR LEFTY, using only Union buttons (which had our Seeing Place Eye on them), apple crates and a sepia color scheme.  Rather than telling the story as vignettes in reverie, we kept the Union Meeting alive the whole time.  The lights stayed on over the audience, and we set up the scenes as though they were skits that the committee had brought to convince the taxi drivers to take action.  When audiences entered the theater, the cast was already improvising their way into the play for the first half an hour until "curtain time", when we started Clifford Odets' written play.  Our focus was the life on stage.

Start from where you are.  See if what you already have can work.  In our production of THREE SISTERS, we knew from the get-go that we were not going to be able to create a 1904 Russian Mansion realistically on stage.  But rather than aiming for the moon and falling short with shoddy costumes and the like, we opted to create a concept for what we wish we had and do our best to suggest that concept.  We set up the production as though it were a designer run of the show that still had elements of rehearsal, so that the seams of our work were showing - literally.  Costumes were half-finished with some elements from the present.  Some props and set-pieces were represented by signs.  We had a wooden block that said "Clock", pieces of paper that said "Book" or "Picture frame".  We had a ladder with "Stairs" written next to it.  There were realistic elements from both the present time and 1904.  We had a real Russian Samovar.  And we also had Whoppers that my Andrey was stress-eating.  We had a violin onstage that I practiced in concert with some of the greats on our soundtrack during scene changes and intermission.  We had our Stage Manager onstage, calling cues.  The concept was to meld our current time with the past, so that our audience would associate with Chekhov's characters in the present time, rather than holding them as a distant relic from our history.  We could have made our show pretty realistic - much more than we originally thought.  We actually opted to remove several elements toward the end to make sure that the concept was clear.  We didn't want to seem like we were offering the pared-down version.  It had to seem intentional.  And so it was.

Cut corners wherever you can.  Save your money for the stage.  The biggest hurdle is rehearsal space.  It usually costs almost as much as the performance space.  But that's not the only place you can save a lot of money.  Use as much wardrobe and props as you can from your actors.  On the showcase code, you can't require any AEA actor to loan their own clothing or props, but you can always make a request.  Most actors prefer to wear their clothes if they make sense within the concept, because they know their clothes will fit.  And then your major cost is in weekly laundry.  Our Props and Costumes Manager, Gabrielle Loneck, is currently on a mission to find as much as possible for our entire Fourth Season from within our company and their resources.  Re-use everything you can.  Ask other theater companies, who have recently produced the shows you're doing, if they still have any odd props, costumes, or set-pieces in storage.  They'd probably much rather get a few bucks for it than take up their space with it, when they might not use it again.  Look into Build It Green for your construction needs.  Look on Craigslist.  Go to second-hand stores.  Don't buy top-dollar anything unless it is your last resort.

Be creative.  You need to think outside of the box.  When we started The Seeing Place, I took a shot in the dark.  A regular at my old restaurant was leaving for Paris and didn't want to clean his $4,000 a month apartment and get rid of all of the things in it.  I offered to do it for him.  As a result, he donated his apartment for 2 months for our rehearsal period for THE CREDEAUX CANVAS three years ago.  We rehearsed a good amount of our production of WAITING FOR LEFTY in St. Nicholas Park.  We've rehearsed in our living room, donated living rooms, my bedroom, you name it.  We took over my old apartment and used my living room, hallway, bathrooms, kitchen, and several bedrooms for various entrances and backstage areas on many of our initial productions.  I've worked with theater companies that used office lobbies, museums, libraries, churches, courtyards, exercise studios on off hours, you name it.  Just keep in mind that The Group Theater had passion and craft.  They rehearsed (and lived) in an apartment for much of their beginnings.  It doesn't take as much as you may think to make art together.

Ask for help.  You'll be surprised at how much you'll get.  Try to get everything possible donated.  In-Kind donations are essential.  What are In-Kind Donations?  Donations of goods or services.  Most people can donate a lot more than they think they can.  This is a tactic I learned from our Managing Director, Erin Cronican.  And I have to admit that I was doubtful.  But we've been donated paint, rollers, ladders, vacuum cleaners, flooring, printer ink, doors, windows, even scripts (that's a big one for people with office jobs) - just because we asked.  Even donations of time are a big deal.  Get your friends to help you promote your show if they can't afford to do anything else.  It all goes a long way.  At Erin's suggestion, we reached out to everyone we knew to help spread the word about our last production of DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.  As a result, we nearly sold out our entire Off-Broadway Debut.

Get your community involved.  Make postcards and leave them everywhere you can.  Don't just rely on rehearsal spaces and audition rooms.  You want the theater-going world to know about your show.  So, get your postcards in every theater you can.  Don't stop there.  Go to pizza places, laundromats, bars, bike shops, libraries, ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE.  Let people know what you're doing.  Post your show online everywhere you can.  Talk about it on the social networks.  Ask every blogger and reviewer you can get ahold of to come see your show.  You don't need a publicist.  You just need a diligent group. 

Yes, you will need more money than you have.  But you don't need to rely on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo - though they are great resources.  You also don't need to be 501(c)3 to receive tax-deductible donations.  You can apply to become a sponsored project with Fractured Atlas (as we have) - which is an umbrella organization that offers fiscal sponsorship to upstart companies and projects.  But you can also make it fun.  Have a party to fund-raise for your show.  That will help you build some excitement around it as well. Lots of bars are willing to host events and give your crew a discount or kick back a dollar for every drink.  Or you can hold your own.  Spaces are hard to find, but we've used a lot of artist flats in the past.  We've also rented theater spaces and done staged readings as fundraisers, where we've taken donations for Hot Spiced Wine and novelty drinks. 

IN FACT, The Seeing Place will be holding our SEASON FOUR LAUNCH PARTY this Friday night from 7pm-2am.  If you're in the NYC area, come join us!  We'll have Dancing and Drama and the cheapest Drinks you're bound to find.  And all of the proceeds go to making great theater happen.

Thanks for reading.  We'd love to hear your stories and ideas.  Please leave a comment and tell us a story about a show that you've seen or done that built something out of nothing.

I'd tell mine, but you've already read my stories.  Now, I wanna hear yours!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Pitfalls of Off-Off Broadway

Howard Sherman at The Huffington Post put out an article yesterday about Community Theaters.  It's all about how we degrade "community theater", when in reality, some of the most inspiring work happens just there.  I want to take this all a step further.

Off-Off Broadway has a major problem:  
Very few people believe in it.

But that's not where the problem stops.  This is the Empire State.  With enough money, you can pay your way into anything.  This includes the producing of "Great Art".  And our newspapers buy into that concept.  As long as you get your theatrical production put up in an expensive building, pay a publicist for your connections, and advertise for your audience, you stand a pretty good chance of getting any paper you want to review you.  And so long as you have a passing product at the end of that mess, you'll get a good review, and you might get people to show up to see the show - but that's a long shot.

But let's say you're not made of money.  You'd better have a relationships with the next hit writer.  And as long as you're constantly putting up new work, the big papers will try to make it to your productions as much as they can.

If you don't fit into the last two paragraphs, then you sure as Hell had better have a crazy concept going on - you'd better be doing Viewpoints work, have some dance or movement twist, incorporate some angle in a bar, be doing site-specific work, or you'd better be riffing on another successful idea to borrow their credibility.  And then you'll get some of the big papers some of the time.

But let's say that you believe in actor-driven work.  Let's say that you believe that we have a lot of great stories in our history that haven't been told all that well.  And let's say that you commit to bringing justice to these relevant stories and sharing them with your community.  Let's say that your angle is as simple as doing good, believable work.  Nobody trusts that.  Why not?  Because everyone professes to do it.  But most theaters don't have the faintest idea how to accomplish that.  And audiences know that.  So, people wait to see what the reviews are gonna say before they'll trust THIS theater.  But the big reviewers don't want to come out, because most of them don't trust it, either.

So, you're faced with the following situation:  Because everyone pretends that they know what good acting and good theater is, and because every actor thinks that their talent gives them reality on the stage (so long as there's a good director and good blocking and good sets and lights and costumes) . . . and because everyone wants to pretend that there's nothing special about James Cagney and Marlon Brando and all of the rest of the greats we once had . . . the community is suspicious of theater that professes to be alive.  Because most companies misrepresent themselves.

As if that weren't enough...
  • Let's say that your theater has a Hit on its hands.  And because of the fact that your theater uses Union actors, you're only allowed 16 performances, maximum.  So, if you want to build your group, you can't have one big hit, share it with everyone in NYC, and build your company off of it.  You have to have multiple hits at 16 performances a pop.  
  • But then this city refuses to believe that a theater company can do consistent work.  Why?  Because very few groups have a way of working that is consistent from play to play.  
  • Why?  Because actors are taught that they shouldn't commit to one group.  Moreover, we're all barely alive, working two jobs, and constantly reaching for that one big role.  So, it's hard to keep a group of artists together in a city like this.
  • So, even when you get a group together and do consistent work, it's still hard to build an audience, because our community has taught us to be wary of anything that doesn't have a stamp of approval (that golden review) on each and every product.  
  • And because the skepticism feeds from the top down, it's a major uphill battle just convincing your friends to believe - forget the rest of the community.

Off-Off Broadway is a conglomeration, involving everything from community amateurs to seasoned, professional artists.  It's chock-full of vanity projects.  And there are way too many companies to count.  To put up a show for three weeks at a run-down theater costs a minimum of $8,000 . . . if you rehearse out of your home.  People make fun of the fact that so many fundraisers are necessary just to keep our theaters alive, but it's an amazing feat, producing in this market.  The amount of resistance that all of us producing on this level are dealing with is staggering.  And most of us can see it when we go see our friends' shows - with five other people in the audience.

Keep in mind:  Off-Off Broadway can't really afford previews.  The theater rental costs too much.  We can't have long rehearsal periods.  Our Union won't allow us - or they will for a lot of money.  We can rarely say our art has been vetted by reviewers that make a difference.  But Off-Off Broadway is the place to see passion onstage.  Very rarely can you see it elsewhere.  And anyone that tries to make a functioning company out of all of this insanity, all of this nonsense that has to be waded through to stay afloat as an arts organization, should be revered in some way or another.  This is a city that plays more to visitors than residents.  Everything feeds out, rather than back into the community.

I've thought for a long time that you can see great work in only two places:  1.)  On the biggest stages for the biggest bucks.  And 2.)  In a community theater.  Why?  Because at least amateurs are doing it for the love of it.  Most people in the middle are just trying to imitate the work we call great - so, the middle ground is false art, mostly regurgitated.  But some of them aren't.  Some of the work on the Off-Off Broadway level is truly inspired.

And that's where The Seeing Place Theater lives.  We're in the middle.  And we're doing work that should be noticed.  We're not amateurs, but we're not billionaires.  We're a bunch of passionate individuals, who have a craft and a means of creating life on the stage - and we're all committed to working as a cohesive group, in service of the stories we tell.  It's representative of the world we live in.  It feeds back into our community.

Now, how do we, as members of that community, overcome the pessimism that we're living into?
We have to reach our community to let them know we're here.  Over and over again.

What do you think?  What's your experience of  Off-Off Broadway and its value in our community?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Do They Pick All Those Cool Plays?

Yes, that is my bookshelf.  I pray to it for much longer than I'd like, most days of the week.  Most of those plays are mine.  Some, I've been holding hostage from The New York Public Library for way too long - in fact, I just got a notice that I owe them something like $150!  But back to the point...

Now that we're gearing up to announce our Fourth Season (woohoo!), I figured that there might be some questions as to what all goes into building a season in the first place.

The Seeing Place gets together once a week to read plays, which I choose specifically for whatever ensemble members are available on a week-to-week basis.  It's a monumental task, believe me.  Generally, I'll spend a few hours on Dramatists' website, looking through the Playfinder.  Then I'll head over to the new Samuel French search engine.  Then I'll go to Google Books and try to look at character lists of the plays that fit the size and genders of our group to see if the ages also match.  Then I'll read reviews to get a sense of the plays, if I don't have them or know them.  Then I'll head down to The Drama Book Shop to look through the plays and buy one (or rent it from the library).  Then I scan it into my computer (should I be admitting this online?).  Then I'll send that play to the group for us all to read, come Monday night.  I do this every week.  Crazy, right?  But that's how we've built our ensemble every year for the last three seasons.  And that's the main thing that's kept me artistically engaged in a community for the last five years.  And that's the trial ground for the shows we eventually pick for our seasons.  And when I say "we", I really mean me.  Because I'm the Artistic Director - and that's one of the million things the Artistic Director does.

In the first few years, choosing shows went something like this:
1.)  We'd read plays that fit our group.
2.)  Someone would get really excited about one.
3.)  Other people didn't hate it.
4.)  People would look at me.
5.)  I'd hesitate a moment and then muster up my courage.
6.)  We'd end up doing the play.

Contrary to popular belief, though it may seem that this is one big ego trip for me, I've very rarely done any of my first-pick shows.  Aside from the fact that rights aren't easy to get in New York, it's never been exciting enough for me to do a vanity project.  I need the people around me to be excited.  This is all way too hard if they aren't.  So, I usually get inspired by what inspires the people I'm working with.  The first play I produced on my own, This Is Our Youth, was this genius piece that I found before Kenneth Lonergan was a household name and convinced my friend Tom Zohar to do it with me and my then-girlfriend, Rachael Van Wormer (they later went on to do a big time production with New Village Arts Theatre after I left San Diego to come to NYC).  Anyway...every time I've brought a play to a group and thought, "Oh, this'd be a really cool idea!", and they get excited, I usually think:  "Oh man, what did I get myself into."  And then I feel like I'm beholden to that group of people, do the play, and end up having a priceless experience - because there's something about standing up in this world and doing something, not because somebody chose us, but because we had something big to say.  That's an amazing experience.

And that's how most plays this company has done have been chosen.  We've gone from play to play like that, one inspiration after another.  In fact, my first dream play that we did never happened in this way at all.  It happened once we turned a new corner into our Third Season.  In fact, our first two seasons were not seasons at all.  We arbitrarily broke them down to look like seasons on our page, because they spanned two years of time.  Last year was the first year that we committed to doing a full year at once - and BOY was it scary!

To make our decision for a year, Erin Cronican (our Managing Director) and I sat down and came up with a list of plays that fit our group - and that we wanted to do.  Some of those plays had consistent themes.  And so, we decided that last year's theme would be Crimes of the Heart - and the Politics of Sex.  Mainly, we were doing Closer in rep with a play I was writing (Scotch Kiss), and we wanted to do Three Sisters, so we found a title that would encapsulate the three.

Then we needed two more plays.  We wanted to diversify our season, so we thought about the kinds of plays we might want to do in our ideal world, and we came up with a five-play season that still looks like this:

An Urban Play that Speaks to Our Community
A New Play
A Classical Favorite
A Modern Classic
An Americana Play

Last year, our season was:

Closer by Patrick Marber  (Urban Play)
Scotch Kiss by Brandon Walker  (New Play)
Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov and Brian Friel  (Classical Favorite)
The Lover by Harold Pinter  (Modern Classic)
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea  (Americana)

In case you're wondering, my first dream show we did in three years was Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.  Closer was Erin Cronican's dream show.  Scotch Kiss was an Elderly Love Story, created for our older actors.  Three Sisters had a good role for everyone in our company.  And The Lover was the only companion piece we could get the rights to for Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.  It so happened that Pinter was our Lighting Designer's favorite playwright.

The concept behind our long awaited FOURTH SEASON is:

Fantasy or Reality:  The Games Our Minds Play

We'll be announcing it at our Season Kickoff this Friday night, 11/2/2012.  Check our Facebook Event throughout the week for the location, the exciting things we'll be doing and auctioning off, and all the other gritty details!

And in the meantime...

TELL US:   What's a game your mind has played on you?  
(Answers will be anonymously acted out at our party on Monday)