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)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Having A Marketing Theme

Right now at The Seeing Place, we’re gearing up for our exciting start to Season 4. We just had our first rehearsal for the season opener, and on November 2 we’ll be having our official Season 4 Launch Party, where friends, family and patrons will get the chance to meet our company members and have an exclusive sneak peak at our upcoming season. (Join our list to get an invite.) We could not be more thrilled!

We commit to producing 5 plays over the course of the season in 3 programming times - fall, winter and late spring/early summer. There are a multitude of plays that our artistic director is tasked with choosing - not only does he need to think about what shows would fit our ensemble, but he also has to consider offering a balanced season (all of which will be covered in a future post about building a good artistic season.) As the Managing Director, I’m tasked with making sure that our season can be marketed and that our team has an overarching plan of attack that will span the season. But how does one do this when doing 5 different plays in 3 different programs?

When putting together our 3rd season last year, I had an idea as I looked at the subjects/topics of shows that were in consideration: What if we could choose a single theme for the season, and then base the show selection and marketing around that central idea? This is precisely what we did, and it worked out beautifully. We chose the theme, “Crimes of the Heart and the Politics of Sex” and chose 5 plays that told that story: Closer (Patrick Marber), Scotch Kiss (Brandon Walker), Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov, adapted by Brian Friel), The Lover (Harold Pinter) and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (John Patrick Shanley.) Have a theme make all the difference in choosing the graphic marketing of the show (which I talked in a blog about designing your promotional postcards to make them pop.) Having a theme helps anchor the marketing, and gives a context to all of our promotions.

It worked so well last year that we’ve created a theme for this year as well. As I mentioned, we’re having a Season Launch Party for Season 4 on November 2, where we’ll be revealing the 5 shows planned for our season. But I thought I’d go ahead and reveal our brand new theme, and then engage you, our readers. on what kinds of thoughts and ideas the theme conjures up. Are you ready…?

The theme for Season 4 of The Seeing Place Theater is…

** FANTASY VS REALITY: The Games Our Minds Play **

What is real? What is imagined? Is the old adage “Perception is reality” true? How responsible are we to fight for the truth when a lie seems much easier to believe? And do we deserve to fight back when we’ve been duped?

These are just some of the questions that are raised in this season of raw, intimate theater.


In the comments section below, answer one of the following questions using only 1-2 sentences...

• Quick: What is your first thought when you hear, “Fantasy Vs Reality?”
• Has there been a time when you thought something was real but it turned out to be fake?
• Have you ever had a bad situation turn out good, like a “blessing in disguise”?

You can post anonymously, or leave your name if you dare. :)

All entries, including those posted below and entries contributed by our company members, will be printed out anonymously and scattered around the room at our Season Launch Party November 2, 2012. Throughout the night, different stories will be used for improvised readings by our amazing actors. The result will be a smorgasbord of dreams, nightmares, realities and fantasies jumbled together and shared amongst our friends, family members and valued patrons.

It’s our way of engaging the public with the art we’re creating, in an invigorating and fun atmosphere. It would be an honored to have your contribution.

So, please leave your thoughts and comments below, and make it anonymous if you’d rather your words stay discreet. And then sign up for our mailing list to make sure that you get your exclusive invite to the party.

Ready, set, go… comment! :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All Hail The Board Operator

Thanks for your patience over the last couple of months as we've built our ensemble for The Seeing Place Theater's 4th Season - which will be announced on October 29th at our Season Kickoff Party!  Please join our mailing list to get the gritty details!

For a long time, we've been wanting to discuss some of the technical side of Off-Off Broadway theater-making.  This post is for all of you Board Operators out there (that never seem to get any credit)!

I'll begin with an analogy.  Have you ever listened to an album, fallen in love with it, and then gone to see the band only to find that the musicians fall apart in performance?  I know I have.  And rather than addressing what is actually happening, most people feel like they've been duped - as though those musicians somehow faked it in the recording studio and cranked out songs that don't represent their actual level of skill.  In reality, there is an artist on every album that is essential to the creation of the songs we have come to love and enjoy: The Producer.  That's the person that drives the group to better their songs, to cut the fat, to pull out a metronome (if needed).  And then they get mixed down to create something that is unified in sound.  All the time, the Producer supervises the creation of the album.

In theater, that person is the Stage Manager, who lives behind the action and calls the show so that the design elements and acting elements create the unified package that is received afresh every night by an audience.  In the Off-Off Broadway world, which can't afford mic systems galore, all of those responsibilities fall upon the Board Op - who can either make or break your show.

First of all, for those of you who have yet to experience Off-Off Broadway in all of its glitz and glamour, please understand that there is rarely have a perfect sound system, and even more rare is a computerized light board.  More often than not, the lighting system is run on a Two-Scene Preset Light Board.  It's a far cry from what most people have experienced in their colleges - and some high schools!  Most of our schooling only prepares us for the state-of-the-art work going on, rather than the stark reality of what we normally deal with in most of our theatrical endeavors (before we get there).

Have you ever seen a production with beautiful acting work that is completely swallowed by problematic transitions?  Or have you ever seen a play with sub-par acting, where the crispness of the technical flow actually impressed you into appreciating the show?  We tend to point fingers at the Director or the Designers, but much of the time, these things are all within the power of the Board Op - especially in Off-Off Broadway, where there are limited budgets and very little time to get everything perfect in the theater.

A great Board Op doesn't just pull the lights down and hit the sound cue when the last line in the scene happens.  The Board Op is every bit as important of an artist as the Director, the Designers, the Writer, and the Actors - and that person should strive to live the show with the cast (and audience!) every night.  The Board Op is the person that directs and packages the show into the event that the audience witnesses.  In most of my favorite projects as an actor, it's almost as if I could feel the artistic touch of the Board Op smoothing out the edges of our work as we're playing onstage.  And when the technical elements pop, the audience is that much more engaged. 

There's no better way to lose an audience than to forget to turn the work lights off, scramble to get the first cue up, or pull the music out too early - even to pull the lights up too high during transitions.  And often times, it really isn't easy to make that everything go off without a hitch.  It requires a lot of organization, and a lot of concentration.  It sometimes requires a lot of improvisation.  Lights often go out or ghost (come up unexpectedly), and speaker cables might need a little bit of TLC in order to work every time.  Actors may skip pages of dialogue.  The Board Op has to be just as attentive and responsive to the action and inevitable problems as the actors onstage.  And the greatest ones often go completely unnoticed.

In some ways, it's a thankless job.  In others, Board Operators really cradle the experience of the entire event in their hands.  So, next time you are at a show and either you or the actors you're watching point to the booth and clap for the techies, consider all that has gone into creating the story that night and show your appreciation for our unsung heroes.

By the way, we're looking for a Board Op for our next production, so please let us know if you'd like to be involved.  Please also share your thoughts and stories of shows where the Board Op either saved or broke the night.

I'll start...

Personally, when I was in high school, running a production of Open 24 Hours by my classmate and friend, Justin Hudnall, I accidentally pulled the lights down on a Two-Scene Preset Board to work on the scene after this scene (totally not thinking).  And luckily for me, in the middle of this total blackout during a moonlit romance, actor Nico Pitney (who's character was on a date with actor Maya Baldwin) blurted out "Oh wow!  An eclipse!"  At which point, my head shot up and I fixed it.  But just keep in mind that neither actors nor techies are perfect.  Thankfully, there's usually a tomorrow night, so that the show can grow into something eternally better than the night before.

Your turn.  :O)