Wednesday, August 28, 2019

TSP's History: Season One

As we celebrate our 10th Season, we thought we'd publish a series of articles detailing our history - how did these 10 years come to pass? From award-nominated plays to community favorites rarely seen on NYC stages, since August 2009 we've produced 40 main-stage productions and countless readings, employing over 200 actors, designers, and directors who all worked tirelessly as self-producers thanks, in part, to our Self Producing Training Program.

To help The Seeing Place produce its 10th Season, please consider making a tax deductible donation. You can make monthly or one-time donation here:

Here is our story from Season One of The Seeing Place:

Brandon Walker, TSP Founder
by Brandon Walker, Producing Artistic Director and Founder

It’s funny to refer to Season One as a season. We were doing things show by show for a while and compiled them into seasons later. My memory may be off, but I don’t think it was until Season Three until we officially decided what Seasons One and Two were and where to split them up.

I reached out to Erin Cronican (Executive Artistic Director) shortly after moving to New York. We’re both from San Diego, and I had assisted her with Marketing on the San Diego Actor’s Alliance Festival of New Plays in summer 2005 before she moved out to NYC. Initially, we were talking about doing a production of Neil LaBute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS. We’d get together occasionally and read plays in coffee shops. I had a few other friends I’d do that with, too. We didn’t get the rights (licensing), and we all moved onto other things shortly after. I continued to read plays with friends once a week for a few years. I got an apartment with a big living room and a donation of 20 chairs, and we were able to make it a little more official after that.

Erin Cronican, TSP Co-Founder

I don’t know that many people really set out to create a theatre company on their first show. With ours, we were getting together informally every week. It was a lot of fun. We’d get some wine and chat afterwards. I had no plan to take it anywhere. Then a woman I knew approached me to create a multifaceted art company. I was going to head up the theatre wing. There was also a film wing and an internet and television wing. As far as I know, those wings didn’t go much of anywhere. Neither did the theatre wing, really. We called the organization, "The Social Zoo." It was the only name we could agree on.

At first, we were going to work on a production of THIS IS OUR YOUTH, but we didn’t have any money. As I became closer with the woman in charge, she convinced me to write a play as a fundraiser (not the best idea in the world, by the way). I did. And we did raise some minimal money with a reading of it. Most importantly, we gained a lot of community interest.

I had a friend at that time with the same birthday as me, and she was very sad that she wasn’t going to be performing for the first time in her adult life on our birthday. I suggested we read a play, THE CREDEAUX CANVAS. We did. After the reading, one of the people reading said he wanted to produce it. We decided that would be the first production for The Social Zoo.

Within a week, both that producer and the woman running things got in a huge fight as we went to scout theatre space, and both of them backed out of the project. I had already made commitments to three friends and was excited. I’d already done most of the work. I decided to push forward with rehearsals.

I pulled a friend from class to play the missing role - and it turned out to be luck that we were working together. The company accidentally became a company about the process of our work. Both he and I were working based upon Lee Strasberg’s rehearsal work, and everyone else in the company wanted to learn what we were doing, so we all just worked that way. It was a blast. The play was all about the art world. Our director, Lillian Wright, and our lead actress, Anna Marie Sell, happened to be models at an art studio, and they talked the woman who ran it into giving me 20 free drawing lessons. I went to a museum every day to observe and practice. We rehearsed for a few months. We ended up getting free rehearsal space from a guy that came into my restaurant a lot (I'm a server for my day job), who left the country to study abroad and said we could use his centrally-located, $4,000 a month apartment for two months if we’d just clean it up. We did. He left the biggest mess I’ve ever seen. He was very rich. I also ran into another patron of that restaurant on the street one day, who ran a Shakespeare reading group every Tuesday night at the bar, and she offered me her brother’s bike. He’d recently died. I fixed it up, biked around, starved, and paid for most of the first show with Lillian and Anna Marie out of pocket.

About a week before we were set to open THE CREDEAUX CANVAS, The Social Zoo fell apart. The two other people running it didn’t like the fact that we’d moved ahead without them. But they offered to help us with the transition if we wanted to remain as a company. One of them was a graphic designer and offered to make a logo for us. Lillian, Anna Marie and I decided to call the company The Seeing Place, and Erin agreed to make a website and marketing materials for us all super quickly.

Brandon Walker (left) and Anna Marie Sell (right) in THE CREDEAUX CANVAS (2009)

THE CREDEAUX CANVAS was a success. We made money. We did a second engagement production. We had to recast one role, but it wasn’t a problem. We made money on that, too. People got excited. Everyone I knew wanted to be part of what we were doing. We started working on THIS IS OUR YOUTH again, but didn't end up getting the rights. We ended up producing my first play, WHEN WE HAVE GONE ASTRAY in rep with HOT CRIPPLE, written and performed by a friend from my class as well, Hogan Gorman. Two very kind people in the company offered to produce the shows, and they put up most of the money for them.

Heather Lee Harper with Brandon Walker in WHEN WE HAVE GONE ASTRAY (2010)

First plays are always a funny thing. The play started out well. It was very raw and very engaging. It was also five plays in one. As I edited and cut, I destroyed the play more and more. Luckily, the acting and the production made up for the basic structural issues (for the most part). It was probably unadvisable to have written an onstage miscarriage into the play. New playwrights, as I was then, think of a climax as being a big dramatic exclamation. Really, the whole story is the story of the climax. You start at the latest point that makes sense. I learned that the hard way.

Hogan Gorman in HOT CRIPPLE (2010)

Our sophomore shows were difficult. We went from a group of friends to a theatre company practically overnight. I became the leader at that time practically by default. I was the one heading up all the work, and all of a sudden I was in charge. When we brought in new actors, directors, technicians, designers, they all treated me and us as though we were employers all of a sudden. I guess that technically we were, but NYC Showcases (and really any early productions of a theatre company) are a labor of love. It was disorienting for quite a long while. We almost broke even on that rep. We ended a little in a financial hole. This company really has existed on the backs of many of us not taking stipends and putting in our own money. At that time, there were no administrative positions for actors in the company. All of us happened to be actors, but we were a group of self-producers.

I think the largest driving factor in the company during that first season, and even well into the second, was the recession. By the time we were performing the second set of shows I'd lost my job, was on unemployment, and I was really just trying to make art with people as a diversion to all of the difficulty. It worked out.

Season One Achievements:

• In September of 2009, The Seeing Place's inaugural show, THE CREDEAUX CANVAS, sold out it's first run, prompting a second sold-out run of the show. Playwright Keith Bunin enthusiastically attended the show, a coup for a brand new theater company.

• In February of 2010, The Seeing Place produced Hogan Gorman's one woman show, HOT CRIPPLE, which was attended by Perigree Trade Publishing, resulting in a book deal and major distribution in 2012.  

To help The Seeing Place produce its 10th Season, please consider making a tax deductible donation. You can make monthly or one-time donation here:

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Nominated for Three NYIT Awards!

Congratulations to the cast and crew of The Seeing Place's "The Maids" for our three 2019 NYIT Award nominations:

• Outstanding Revival of a Play
• Outstanding Ensemble (Erin Cronican, Christine Redhead, Gaia Visnar)
• Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Gaia Visnar)

Click here to donate to The Seeing Place so we can continue to produce critically acclaimed independent theater!