Friday, October 10, 2014

Updated Venue

Please note the change of venue. We thought we would be one of the first productions to inaugurate a new venue in Durham, but red tape being what it is, that is not to be. BUT, we're enormously pleased to be back at Common Ground again!

Common Ground Theatre
4815B Hillsboro St.
Durham, NC


For the third year in a row we will be opening the new year at Common Ground. I'm really pleased we're going to be in a great place we like to call home, and we have something special in store for you in the staging of this particular show that you'll have to see to appreciate.

The process has begun. More updates soon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Announcing: The Caretaker by Harold Pinter

Citizens of Earth:

I am proud to announce South Stream Production's third annual show: The Caretaker by Harold Pinter. 

The show will be directed by Jay O'Berski, stage managed by JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell with the following cast: 

Mick:  Ryan Brock
Aston: Brook North
Davies: John Honeycutt

When:
January 2-4, 8-11, 15-18.
7:30 PM, Sundays at 3:00PM

Where: 
Common Ground Theatre
4815B Hillsboro St.
Durham, NC

I am thrilled with this lineup. Choosing The Caretaker was an interesting process. John and I were kicking around script ideas for a while. One of the scripts we were considering was The Caretaker but, while I really liked the play and the writing, I have to admit that I was simply... well confused and a bit intimidated by it. While we were in the process of kicking things around, I happened to mention to Jay over email that we were considering the script, but "I don't know if I even get it. I'd need a director that could really help us figure it out." To be honest, at the time I was fishing for recommendations for other plays. Jay is such a well known artist and busy with his own company (the excellent Little Green Pig) that I didn't imagine he would be interested. When he said he would be willing to work with us on the show, John and I made our decision then and there that this was the show we would do. 

Ryan Brock will be returning to our company as a cast member. I loved working with Ryan as a director last January in Seascape, so I'm excited and honored that he (1) likes us enough to come back, and (2) I get to share the stage with him. 

I'm also happy that JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell will be joining us as our stage manager. I've never worked with JaMeeka before but I'm looking forward to it. It's great to work with friends and people with whom you've collaborated before. It can foster a certain comfort level that allows experimentation. But if you stick only with people that you run the risk of being too comfortable, of getting stuck in the same tricks. Having new people in the room adds something to a show you can't get any other way. And make no mistake about it, a stage manager is very much part of the creative team.

So, after you've eaten all the Christmas cookies and drunk the New Year's champagne, when you're ready to start your New Year with something a little more nourishing, a little more substantive, make plans to join us for our show. I think it will be a rewarding experience.

NOTE: This post was updated to reflect the fact that we will be performing in Common Ground.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

On Saying No.

I've been holding off on writing this post for a while, but it's been ruminating, and I think it is about time.

The incident that prompted this thinking is not something I'm particularly proud of, but I think it ought to be said simply as a mea culpa.  Basically, I accepted a role in a production, and then, after the cast list was announced, I withdrew. Let me state: this is very bad form on my part.  You should not do this unless you feel you absolutely must. The proper thing is to either accept or reject the role as given.

That said, I wanted to talk a bit about why, what I learned, and maybe some of the larger lessons one might take away from it.

So, saying no... First, for actors saying no is really something we don't like to do. We spend so much time scrambling, auditioning, hoping to be cast. To actually get cast is an achievement! How can you say no? And it's nice to be offered a role after an audition. It's flattering. Even if it isn't the role you wanted. So while it wasn't the what I was hoping for, on the call I thought "well heck, why not, I'm not doing anything else." But in the 24 hours or so between when that call happened and the announcement of the cast, I really started to feel conflicted. When the cast list was posted publicly, I wasn't excited. It felt like an obligation more than an opportunity. And I felt bad about that too.  Eventually I decided if I really felt that way, I ought to withdraw and let someone else have the part.

If I had stayed in, would I have gotten over it? Sure. I wouldn't have spent the whole time pouting. If you know me that's just not my nature. Would I have had fun? Almost certainly. I really enjoy the creative process, and building a show with dedicated people. But... and here's the thing: there are other ways to have fun right? I mean, I didn't do the part... and I still had fun in that time. I just wasn't doing it in a theatrical context.

And I think what it came down to is: as actors, the ONE thing we have control over is our choices. That means our choices in a scene, our choices in our delivery, in our character, but also WHAT shows we decide to do. Which roles to take on. And ultimately, there's only one you, and how you choose to use your time matters. And acting in a show isn't the only way to grow as a performer or as a person. I was able to take a class (several classes actually) I might not have otherwise done. It was great. It pushed me to grow as a performer. I also did a lot of physical work on myself (that's exercise thank you, mind out of the gutter) and especially yoga. I think yoga is almost a must have for an actor. When you act, your body is your tool, and being in touch with your body, where you are in space, and practicing stretching, balance, and flexibility is taking care of your tools.

Ultimately, while it was somewhat embarrassing, I learned something from this experience. I want more than just having fun. I want more than to simply pass the time in good company. I want to grow as an artist and a performer. That means I want roles that challenge me. Now this doesn't necessarily mean "starring role" (though that doesn't hurt). It means situations, productions, collaborators, and roles that push me out of my comfort zone. That make me work. This could be a challenge like working with a new (to me) company. It could be working a type of character I don't do often (or at least recently). But ultimately, if I don't feel like a part is going to challenge me and make me grow in some way, then it's not right for me.  There's only one of me, and if the goal is growth, well there's more than one way to do that right? You are a valuable thing. Value yourself and do what you love. Make art. And don't apologize for wanting to grow.

That's actually the fun of South Stream. It came out of "well I want to do this play, so I could either hope someone does it, then hope I get cast, or I could just do the damn thing." And with Seascape: I'd never directed before. No one is going to come to me and ask me to direct. But you know what? I wanted the challenge, and I knew I could do it, so I gave the job to myself. And I don't mind saying, it came off pretty damn well. I'm proud of that work. And I feel the same about our show in 2015. It's a really challenging script that I've wanted to do for quite some time. And I'm excited to bring it to you. What is it you ask??

Well that's a different post.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Coming Soon...

If you come here regularly (and you probably don't) you will have noticed a new look to the website. We've moved out the Seascape background and the Seascape show logo is back in the "Past Productions" area. The look now is... different yes?

This isn't the final look for our next show. Daniel Ira McCord, our wonderful graphic design friend, has agreed to help us again to produce a poster/look for our 2015 production. When we make a formal announcement we'll adjust the look and feel to match his art. But for now I wanted to give you maybe a bit of a flavor for what's coming. Southstream's Facebook wall has changed too.

We DO have the rights for our next play, but I'm holding off on a formal announcement until we have our cast in place, but it's coming soon, so stay tuned.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Deserve's Got Nothing To Do With It

I think this has been bubbling up lately. Every so often it comes back around.  Money and Theatre.  What got me thinking about it was a post from Devra, and another post from... someone, and then the meeting about the (possible) new Carborro ArtsCenter.

There are a few standard variations on this one. Artists deserve a living wage. We shouldn't do work for no pay, you don't expect a banker to work for free. Bakeries don't give away bread, we shouldn't give away theatre.  Etc...

The basic thrust of it tends to be that people feel they ought to be compensated for producing/performing/ creating art. Because it's hard, it takes skill and training, because it's important to a community.  Let me assure you it is all those things and more. It's heart and faith and being willing to expose yourself (sometimes your physical body, but more importantly your psychic self, who you are in an honest way) which takes incredible commitment. It takes hours upon hours of rehearsal and line study, not to mention set building, lighting, etc... It takes a lot of work to make it look like it's easy.  But just because something is hard doesn't mean you get paid to do it.

Let me preface this by saying in a societal "ought" yeah, it would be great if artists (theatrical performers the only group I can speak of, being one) were paid a living wage.  I would love nothing better than having a full time job creating theatre.  Creating good theatre takes a whole team of talented, dedicated people. People with really amazing skills and training.  And I would love, LOVE for each and every one to get paid what they are worth.

But that doesn't happen, and it WON'T happen, and people just need to get over that and decide if they are willing to create and share art anyway. Even if they know that the hours they spend will get them much less money than working at McDonalds. And it's not because it's not deserved, it's just the simple economics of theatre.  Our last show was at Common Ground, which holds (in the seating arrangement we had) 56 people.  Even if I sold out all 11 shows at the maximum full price ($16 per seat) that would be a total of less than $10,000 ($9,856 to be exact).  That's with NO critic comps, NO cast member comps, NO student/senior discounts and NO kickstarter discounts.  There are venue costs, set costs, costuming costs, then we have a graphic artist, and promotional help (kickstarter video), ASM, and THEN we have cast, director, SM and designers.  We had probably 150 hours of work between rehearsal and performance (not counting work outside of formal rehearsals and work calls).  Federal minimum wage as of our production was $7.25 per hour with no benefits. That would work out to $1,087 for each actor, the director and SM. Even if we max out revenue (which won't EVER happen) there is NO way we can pay even minimum wage, no benefits and still cover costs.  Now of course bigger venues are bigger, higher ticket prices, etc... but those spaces come with higher costs too.  Theatre just doesn't scale. The reason that TV and Movies pay money is that they can show it to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions at once, over and over again.  Theatre just doesn't and can't ever be that way with the exception of a few places (New York and London principally in the English speaking world, plus touring companies) where people will go specifically to experience live theatre and where you can rehearse a show for 6 weeks and run it for 6 months (and even then it's a precarious business).

Theatre then, is charity. Sometimes it's the charity of foundations businesses and philanthropists who donate money to regional theatres to enable them to pay actors a living wage. More often though, it's charity of actors, designers, back stage hands, spot light operators, etc... who do what they do because they love it. Because they like being in theatre and sharing it with people. Because story, creating, re-enacting, sharing story, is one of the most human things we can do.  Other animals cooperate and specialize, other animals use tools, but no other animal (as far as we know) will create and share story. And theatre really is a democratic art form.  Honestly, all it takes is an empty room, a story and a group of actors willing to put in the work.  As long as you're not trying to make a living at it, the costs can be quite small.  Small enough that I and my partner can afford the up front costs.  Small enough that if we fail, if we lose money, we don't have to declare bankruptcy.  So we do it, and we love it, and we should keep doing it, but unless you are selling toothpaste or fighting a giant robot, chances are you will ALWAYS be engaged in a charitable endeavor. Most likely it will be you donating your time, or perhaps you will be one of the lucky few whose performance is a gift to the community of from a wealthy patron or business concern. But art, theatre at least, is simply not a for-profit business.

Now I want to be clear again about what I'm not saying. I'm NOT saying artists shouldn't be paid, or that they don't deserve to be paid.  When I produce, I pay my co-artists as much as I can because their contributions are valuable and ought to be valued. I'm not saying that art isn't important, or that performance skill and training are not valuable. I'm just saying that "deserve" has got nothing to do with it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Unified Auditions: Why You Should Go, Or Shouldn't

So, the big unified triangle audition day is tomorrow.  Judging by how fast the slots filled up there is a LOT of interest this year.  I will be attending again this year on behalf of Southstream, so I wanted to write a quick word about what it is and what it isn't.

First, let me say about auditions generally: I really like what Taylor Mac wrote here. I'm not crazy about auditions in general, either as a producer or as an actor.  And let's be honest, I know a lot of people in the area.  When I'm looking to cast a role, I am probably going to invite people I know or have seen on stage to work with me (that's one of the reasons I go to see so much theatre). I think it's more respectful to the actor and the process.

That said, if you only stick to what you know, your circle will never expand.  As many shows as I've done and seen, I haven't seen everyone, new people come to town, etc...  You NEED a way to find new people or you wind up ossifying. Unified is really a great way for me to see who else is new, to think about new options.  I didn't cast anyone from unified last year, but I did call someone back based on it (the actor's schedule didn't fit with my show).

So: why do unified auditions?  Jaybird describes them as a "one minute headshot" and that's a pretty apt description. It's not about getting cast in anything. It's just about being seen. It's "saying hello." So if you are new to the area, or if you haven't worked with many of the companies here, it's a great way to introduce yourself.  It can also be a good opportunity to show you've grown as a performer.  If you feel you have really learned and grown and can express that, it's a nice opportunity to let that show.  Notice, I am not saying "if your resume looks better" because honestly, no one is going to look at your resume until after the audition. If you get my attention, that can be a nice bonus, but it's your growth as a performer people want to see.  It can also be a nice opportunity to show a new side of yourself.  If you are always cast as the heroine and you want to play a villain or a clown, bring it!  Finally, it can be a fine thing just to remind people you are still around.  Most people last year really were quite good. You never know when someone is going to want to cast someone your age/shape/race/youness/etc... and stopping by is a good way to remind people you are an option.

So, why should you NOT go?  Don't go because you feel obligated.  Don't go if you are just going to do the same thing you did last year.  Don't go if most people in town already know you (well you can, but you don't need to). Don't go if you expect to get feedback or get cast in something.  Most people are just looking. Sort of a memory bank so I know what is out there. Heck, maybe I'll get an idea from some cool people I see and change my mind about the play I do... Who knows?

Really and truly it's an honor to watch auditions.  Everyone last year was so good.  I know that's cliche bullshit, but really, maybe 5-8 bad auditions out of 80. You people were damn good!  And know, KNOW that everyone in that room is loving you and wanting you to nail it. And if you don't hear something it's not because you weren't great, it just means you didn't fit in a particular show.  So relax, have fun, and break a leg!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We did it, but not alone.

Wow.  We did it.  Ten performances, something like 450 people in attendance, amazing reviews, enthusiastic audiences and a very happy director.  What a show, what a run, what a great time.

But we didn't do it alone.  I want to say thank you again to everyone who helped us along the way.  I will probably miss someone, though I hope I don't.

So, John and I did Copenhagen last year.  It was really a great success that far exceeded our expectations. We really were just hoping to break even, and maybe entertain a few people, but we had large and enthusiastic crowds the whole way. It was a lot of work too, but a few months after we closed, we started kicking around plays for our second show.  We read a number of scripts, and we eventually settled on Seascape.  It was a play I loved and I knew would be perfect for John, and John liked it too.  The problem was, it was a much bigger undertaking.  The set was going to be more than 3 chairs.  And the costumes... yes the costumes.  We absolutely could not have done it without the help of many people.

Thanks to John McIlwee (the last person to direct Seascape in the area) for the encouragement and the perspective.  Thanks to my parents for the encouragement (as always) and for bringing driftwood in the car all the way from Florida for me.

Thanks to the design team.
Todd Houseknecht - Set and Lights, the hardest working man in local show-business. Todd came up with the plan for that great dune, and his garage still has the paint spot from painting the canvas to prove it.  Todd worked all day for two days with me to put that thing together. His effort and dedication (and tools) helped make that set happen.
Shannon Clark - Costumes - I mean, really.  Those costumes were amazing.  I knew going in I needed GOOD lizard costumes, and boy did he deliver.  I actually asked Shannon for a recommendation on the assumption I couldn't afford him. When he said he was interested I jumped at it.
Will Mikes - Sound - Sound was a much bigger element of the show this year.  Those ocean sounds under the entire show were great, and the airplane effects had to be good.  They were.  A critical and under appreciated aspect of theatre.

Thanks to our friends that provided rehearsal space.
Tina Vance and Hope Community Church - Thank you for helping us again this year. They're rapidly becoming major patrons of local theatre.
Kevin Ferguson and Cardinal Gibbons High School - Thanks to you too.  Being able to use your theatre space while school was out was a great help.  
Let me tell you that if I had to pay even $10/hr for rehearsal space, this show would not have made money. Rehearsal space is a HUGE contribution.

Thanks to our publicity and promotion team:
Daniel McCord, who designed another amazing poster.  Having a key art/image/font is SO important to start creating messaging.  From the first facebook post and blog post to the last poster we printed, the same "look" tied everything together.
Jason Bailey for shooting our kickstarter video, and Patrick Campbell for editing it AND for shooting those promotional pictures. If you saw a review of our show with a picture, it was taken by Patrick.

Speaking of Kickstarter, thank you to all our backers!  The kickstarter raised enough money to cover the costumes and set, wow!

Thanks to our stage management team.
Kieth Bugner, our fill-in stage manager who stepped in for a rehearsal incredibly seamlessly.
Our ASM/Lizard Wrangler Michelle for stepping in and helping with make-up and props for the show. That lizard makeup you saw was really a collaboration between Michelle, Sam, and Shannon.
Our amazing Stage Manager Andy Hayworth.  Last year he was our director and did a great job, so he got a promotion.  Heh.  Seriously, the stage manager does twice the work and gets half the credit compared to the director.  Having a good SM is key to a good production, and Andy is a damn good SM.

And thank you to an amazing cast.
Thank you for sharing your gifts with me and with our audience.  Each of your performances was just fantastic.  I loved working with such a talented cast.  It really made my job easy.  Thanks for making me look good.
Ryan was so amazingly solid throughout the rehearsal process, and that lizard walk, the staunch physical presence was believable and intimidating.
Samantha brought a great physicality, and such an aware emotional presence to Sarah.  She was always so very present, thinking, reacting, I learned so much from you.
Julie, wow, really, again what can I say? She drove the first act with her energy, but also her emotional range in a way that I found gripping and funny night after night.
And John... he gave a great performance as always, the love and warmth he brought to Charlie made his longing and eventual change make sense.  It hit home every night. But more than that - my partner in production, I couldn't and wouldn't have done it without you.  WE DID IT AGAIN!  It feels great John. Thanks.

And finally, thanks to you.  We do this, rehearse and rehearse, create stories and hone them until they're real, to SHARE them.  Without you, without having someone to share these stories with, it isn't theatre.  So thank you for bringing these stories to life with us.  It's been a great journey.  To everyone who helped make it happen - thank you!

We're off to other things.  John will be appearing in Wit with Justice Theatre Project.  Ryan will be in Arcadia at Deep Dish.  Samantha is teaching trapeze at Cirque de Vol.  And Julie is spending some quality time with her couch and the Jay Hawks.

Me, I'm off to New York for some auditions.  But I'm planning to spend some extra time being thankful for all these people, and for the many blessings in my life, something I probably don't do enough.  Thank you.