I had a meeting with a playwright last night. I'm going to direct a reading for him for a new play The reading might be at the Dramatists' Guild. I believe I've done a reading there before right when I moved here, but I can't really remember, so if so I'm excited to get reacquainted. I think its going to be a nice blend of people that I've worked with and some new blood. We talked for a while about goals for this incarnation of the piece, and I think he's very much wanting to see it done.
I just got back with a meeting with Janet about God Bless You Mr. Scrooge. It was a very productive meeting. We set some deadlines, and made some budget decisions. She is taking all of the initiative – which I LOVE! A producer who actually produces! She’s also very receptive to my feedback and ideas. I feel like she’s going to be a great playwright to work with. I told her about some of my basic staging ideas, and she said that as long as the story is getting told that she’s ok with it. That’s exactly what I like to hear. She has a few casting ideas that I’m down with as well. Regardless of the quality (which will be fantastic I’m sure) I’m already very pleased with the professionalism of this show. She’s going to have me the new draft by Friday, which I’m very excited to read.
On a more personal note, I've been chiding myself a little bit lately. One of the scary parts of this new networking that I’m doing is that I actually have to go out and network with the “competition." I was at Ripley Grier the other day and I was laughing with some friends about how actors behave when they are waiting to go in and audition. It’s very tense. I remember I was in that space while Chorus Line Auditions were happening. I almost had a panic attack, and I had nothing to do with it, and even if I did, I’d be behind the table. You can see the people ACTING in the hallway to show everyone what a great job they’re going to do when they get in there, or the people listening to their ipods just to show how nonplussed they are about the audition and they are so sure that they are going to nail it. Everyone is sizing each other up. It’s awful. I remember thinking how happy I was that I didn’t have to do that. But I do. I don’t even get an audition. If only! I have an interview where producers who often know nothing about directing or producing are making a decision - also having no knowledge of what my directing skill actually is. Just on how good a game I can talk. A colleague of mine, Steve Wargo, coined the phrase, “the beer test” – which seems pretty self explanatory. A factor in casting is would you go out after the rehearsal with them? Then you can probably work with them. But I want a “work test”. A real audition. But I’m only going to get that for grad school, and I’m not willing to take that plunge just yet.
But I have a little twinge of jealousy if I’m not asked to do EVERY job that is anywhere near my sphere. I was walking with my dog Sammy yesterday, and for some reason, even more than usual, he felt the need to mark every tree, hydrant, pole, garbage can he came across. I laughed because that’s how I feel sometimes. Like I want to just pee on everything and scream MINE! I hear about another show - “Why didn’t they ask me?” Well, maybe I didn’t know anyone involved, maybe someone else was already attached to it, maybe they didn’t want a white male perspective, or maybe – just maybe they don’t like my work. That’s a little hard to swallow, but I’ve got to learn. And like a dog, I can be territorial at first, but once I know you I'll share my water dish and chew toys. But I'm working hard to eliminate that initial bristling in myself by reaching out and being open and genuinely excited for people's successes. Everything will happen in its own time, for me and for everyone, and there is more than enough success, glory, fame, love, creativity to go around. The world can never have too many artists. As I continue to meet people, I have to continue to tell myself this – that I don’t need to be constantly weighing my worth against others. As a community of artists, we should be supporting and lifting each other up. I want to network, but not to the extent where I have to be one of those auditioners at Ripley-Grier, with a phony smile underneath sharp fangs. These artists are fellow storytellers, and we have things to teach each other – and phrased a little more appropriately for my personal growth – they may have things I need to learn. If I am to succeed, that is the attitude I want to succeed with.
I recently had a minor pang of regret. This is not the first time I have felt this particular pang. I feel it every time I miss some one else's show. But then I get a pang of anger "well these people don't come see my shows! - so there!" Then I get a pang of guilt for thinking that because I do so much work - and much of it I'm sorry to say isn't that good! And I am not doing what I do just to impress my friends and relatives, though it'd be nice if my family would come a little more often. Reading this mom? Feeling guilty? And then I try to convince myself that they don't really care, because for the most part I don't really care...except when I do. Because on rare occasions I actually do good, or dare I say it great work, but then people get tired of coming to support my mediocre work and miss out on the great stuff. At this point I must give a shout out to my friend Tom Blanchard who comes to everything! If there were a contest or a 50/50 raffle for supportive friends (I'm not entirely sure how that would work but it's in the works) he would definitely be a semi-finalist at least.
But sometimes there is so much going on and you can't be two places at once, and sometimes you just want to go home play with the dog and watch Dexter. And sorry friends, but I'm pretty damn critical and so much of this stuff is so bad. And when you're getting toward the end of a pay cycle, and that $20 has got to carry you for 3 more days, (I have a real fear of my credit card - which many would say is healthy) I don't really feel like parting with $15 to see something that is going to make me want to scream, and because I know the people in it I can't leave so I have to sit through the entire awful thing and stick around after and smile and not get home until 11:30 on a Wednesday night. And I never get to see anything on Broadway because a) Can't often afford it except on special occasions and I'm not often getting free tickets anymore and b)I'm so busy doing/seeing other peoples things. I really couldn't tell you when I have more than one day off at a time to plan something. (see dog/Dexter comment) And this brings me from the pang of guilt to the pang of panic. HOW AM I GOING TO GET ALL THIS DONE? Which can only be solved by doing absolutely nothing. And Dexter wins.
This brings me to the philosophy of what I call "friend points". You get a certain number of friend points, and then after the points run out they stop coming to your fundraisers/readings/shows/comedy nights/cabarets/screenings/miscellaneous open mic nights. This is why I try to bank my points for shows I'm really proud of.
I am going to continue to really try with an open mind and heart to really "show up" as a wonderful old boss used to say. Because that really is the only sure fire way to score more points. The unspoken quid pro quo of the business. I've gotten a schedule together, of course the optional shows are the first to go as my schedule rapidly fills up again. But if on a rare occasion I do make it - now I will be armed with business cards. I am commited to being a more effective networker. (As I've said - hence the blog.) But I am not going to feel guilty for those Dexter evenings either.
Yesterday was the Left Hip Theater Festival. A beautiful fall day - but quite cold actually. I thought I'd get away with sporting my classic director blazer, but that was a mistake. I was freezing! I should have worn a coat. Luckily my actors agreed. We met at the park, but of course New York is filled with surprises, so there was a marathon going on so the group couldn't find each other. We didn't end up starting until about an hour late, and with one of my actors who was smart enough to bring a whole bunch of snacks, we started reading through the play. The playwright unfortunately never showed up. (It may have been all for the best...) After our initial 15 minute meeting, we decided to go to one of the actors houses to rehearse because we were all so cold. We read through the play about twenty times. We came back around 3:30, I got a pretzel, and we kept running it. I didn't really get to do too much except facilitate and throw in a few quick staging ideas. It was just too rushed. The show idea itself was very clever. The theme of the festival was "PG in the Park." So the playwright wrote a play about a relay race that was happening in the park, sponsored by the head of a company, an old woman, with her two old lady friends. So the protagonist is trying to impress his new boss, and therefore inviting his ragtag friends to have enough people to seem brave enough to run the race but not actually win, of course in actuality would've been a very easy feat. I liked this because it allowed for three distinct french scenes with unique interactions. However, of course the difficulty is the memorizing of lines. Once we got there, most of my - of course genius - blocking went out the window and most of the lines ended up being completely paraphrased. But after really getting only six hours to memorize, what do you expect? And, we got quite a few laughs, so what more can you hope for? I really enjoyed working with my cast, they all seemed to be very hard working, and talented. But we didn't win. Oh well.
This is where my recap ends and I'm about to get a little angry... I need to vent a little about the completely outrageous sense of entitlement that seems to stem from a certain area of this city (the park entrance we used was on East 79th St, you figure it out). While the show was going on, there was a family of sports loving folk who were playing in the park as well. This section of the park was quite big. But as children often do, they found themselves wandering over into the area that we were clearly using (there were chairs set up to designate the stage, and even an audience!) and kicking the ball into the space while the shows were going on, throwing other balls into the audience, etc. Eventually a few of the staff walked over to talk to the parents, to ask them to please ask their kids to move to another area. They did nothing. Another ball flew into the audience. We took the ball and handed it to the parents, and again they did nothing. In fact, as kids do, they got louder with each interaction. When we went over a third time, the father walked over, literally onto the stage, and yelled loudly for the boys to leave, several times, setting a fantastic example of respect for us. This sense of entitlement infuriated me. It was a complete disregard for the fifty people sitting right there! Pardon how allegorical I'm about to get me that is one of the most perfect examples of what is wrong with the world. People who think that only they, and perhaps their progeny matter. These people feel they can literally roll over people but as long as no one is in their way, there is no problem. I understand kids are kids, and they will test the limits as far as they can go. But the behavior of the parents is what really upset me. These kids are going to grow up with the values that they are somehow more important than everybody else, and not just one somebody else, entire groups of somebody else (i.e. the bums who do theater in the park apparently). That their kicking a soccer ball around is more important than the activities of an entire mass of other people. What happens when they pass someone that is really in need? What happens when these kids vote? I pray that this type of parenting is on the decline, and that we as a culture are teaching our children awareness, and interdependence. That you wouldn't have the money you have - alright I'll say it - you Upper East Side spoiled brats with 3 nannies and no communication skills. (OOH I'm getting so MAD even now!) without the millions of people working so hard to barely get by. That's what theater taught me yesterday, and it had nothing to do with the show.
A few years ago, I did a reading for the NYMF. It is a rap musical written by a father son team. It was produced by the same person who produced Unusual Suspects at fringe. There were quite a few problems with the production, through no fault of any one party - the bottom line it wasn't very well supported by the festival in general. In fact, the entire series was stopped after that year. No real publicity was done, and it wasn't really seen by anyone. However, the family had put a lot of money toward it, and we ended up with a dynamite cast. (There were some personal problems between them and the production team, but nothing major). In the end they were still very interested in seeing it go forward. I heard nothing from them for over a year, and I expected that the momentum had fizzled out. However, I heard from the artistic director of the York Theater recently, a theater known for producing a great many new musicals, and he was interested in mounting another reading of the production. I was put back in touch with the family, and we have begun rewrites.
It is an interesting process. They have never worked on a piece of theater before, and as a result, they don't completely understand theatrical conceits off the bat. They look at it with a filter that seems far more familiar to them - cinematic. Fast and many scene changes, and they rely a lot more on images (some of which would be impossible to do in a theater) rather than dialogue or song to tell the story. More fleshing out of specific character development is needed as well. Still, they seem very open to my comments, and after our first discussion earlier this week, I am encouraged and awaiting a new draft. We are looking to mount the reading in the latter half of January. This will be during the opera, so it will require some creative scheduling. Since it is a reading, there are a fixed amount of rehearsal hours, it may be best to take a few days off and rehearse during the day. That might also allow for me to have a cast of similar quality. Once get a little further along in our process, we'll begin to talk a bit more about the nuts and bolts of the production (including the big omnipresent question of budget...)
I had the prep meeting for the Left Hip (formerly Shotgun Theater) festival, which goes up tomorrow. I'm expecting the script tonight by 11:30! We meet tomorrow at 10:00 and we're a go at 5. Last night started with a little meet 'n greet, and then the actors did a few improv games with a great improv instructor I went to college with, Jason Surratt (who just got married, congratulations!). It gave us an idea of their characters, and gave us some inspiration as to how to proceed over the following 36 hours. There were a few old friends in the group, and it was good to catch up with them, as well as some people who I went to college with but didn't really remember (sorry Ryan). It was fun watching them work, and the writer came up with a really good idea to jam on today (or at least I hope so). I'm excited to see what he sends me tonight. I was paired with three great actors, all very different types, (2 guys and a girl, all different ethnicities) so that should be fun to play off of. It's supposed to be a nice fall day tomorrow, so regardless of the ultimate result of the show it should be a good time.
Yesterday proved to be a day filled with artistic synchronicity. I had a conversation with the Artistic Director of the Queens Players. The company has been working very hard for number of years, and I have had the opportunity to work with them for almost the last two. I most recently directed Shakespeare's As You Like It which I directed right before we went on vacation. He told me how pleased he was with the production in every aspect, and was excited to keep me involved as some major new growth is on the horizon for the company. They are opening a second space in their current building, and he seems excited to offer me another directing job early in the new year. Already things are looking to be very busy in the beginning of 2010. There are a few other projects coming down the pike which at this point are still TOP SECRET, but Im sure I'll be able to share some fun details soon enough. I have also been asked to help court some new playwrights for a reading series.
This is oddly enough, finding playwrights is much of what we discussed last night at our BTW (Beyond the Wall) meeting - the other company I work with, helped found actually. We as an organization have had quite a roller coaster ride. We came in to New York with big dreams of fusing mediums of art, and really saying something, having a big, important message - the usual feelings of the idealistic new-college grads. Our art will change the world! We did one fantastic play and commissioned a musician - Vaclav Havel's Largo Desolato. Then we realized that theater costs a lot of money! So we did what most companies (including the Queens Players) do - turn to the classics. We as a company have grown tired of that, and now, perhaps with a little more wisdom, are trying to temper our mission statement and attempt to go back to what we originally set out to do - create relevant art that comes from a multiplicity of mediums. We are in the process of finalizing our revised mission statement. Perhaps I'll post it when it's done? A disclaimer - well two: I still think theater should be relevant. And I think classics are wonderful, and I enjoy working on them.
We are choosing the art work now, and planning a fundraiser, where we let the audience help us choose specific pieces on which to base a "living vision book". That's where the playwrights come in. Upon watching this "vision book" we will send the playwrights out to write the play. Not an entirely unique concept, but a different spin on this process. I'm very excited about where this project will go, and will definitely be inviting everyone I know to this fundraiser. I want to get everyone excited about this as well, and get their input!
I then happened to have a fantastic idea with one of my favorite playwrights. I was introduced to her by another brilliant playwright friend of mine, Matt Johnson, and I directed a reading of one of her pieces with BTW a few months ago. It's a great piece and I'm excited to read her rewrites. She has asked me to direct the production of it at Columbia for her 2nd year project - not officially a thesis, but it sounds like it to me... in any case, I am very interested in doing it. However, the dates are March 5-7. I'm a little concerned that with the opera I won't be able to give it the attention it deserves. I think the play deserves more respect than that, so I'd have to turn it down. But I'm hoping the dates work out. She is really beginning to make a name for herself in the city, and I'm happy to say that I've worked with her before I have to pay for rights for her play. I also discussed with her both of the other big projects I had been discussing (BTW and the Queens Players). She seems excited about both of them. I'm hoping to forge some relationships with a number of the Columbia playwrights. But we ended up talking about a bunch of completely unrelated subjects (baby dramas, etc.) before saying goodnight. A great evening.
When I got home, I discovered that my Serse cast had been suggested by the producers. I had to go back over my notes from the audition, and was very pleased with their decisions. I knew that ultimately I wouldn't be making much of the casting decisions, one of the most important casting factors being a vocabulary that I am not well versed in (that of opera technique). I will bring my skill set to theirs to be part of an entirely different experience. The cast is not official, but I am anxious to say hello to them. But I will wait until it is announced.
All in all not bad for a Tuesday...
This all begins with Katie. Come to think of it she has been a big mover in my life, and oddly enough, quite by accident, at least as far as I know. She was telling us about this class she was taking to market herself as an artist more effectively. I have been complaining for quite some time about how I'm tired of my career not moving in a direction that made me particularly happy. That is - ridiculously slowly. Five years in the city, and though I believe that a positive reputation has followed me (for the most part), it hadn't been PRECEDING me all that much. The truth is I haven't been doing all that much to get myself out there and really do it from a marketing standpoint. This is quite simply one of many small steps to change that - so that one glorious day, I can quit my day job (which may end up being a little sooner than I would have predicted - though not of my own volition, rather a universe pushing me out of the nest so to speak.) and make my living actually being an artist! But my decision to really suck it up and do it (the blog, the website, etc.) couldn't have come at a more appropriate time, recent job insecurity notwithstanding. Or maybe withstanding. Who knows. In any case, this seems to be a time of great crossroads for me, so what better time than now to start letting the whole world know about all the intimate details of my life. But know this... I draw the line at twitter.
I came back from a wonderful vacation with some great friends recently, with absolutely nothing artistic on the horizon. Fringe and NYMF season were over, and the fall theater was beginning to ramp up. I interviewed for four jobs and in a wonderful twist of fate got all four jobs. I am working on two 24 hour "shotgun" theater projects - one of which actually is based on that name, in September and October. I was also, much to the chagrin of many of my Dickensian classicist friends, offered to direct a Pro-Libertarian production of A Christmas Carol. I really appreciate that though it moves away from much of the story of a man moved to charity that many love about the story, it asks many questions that will undoubtedly appeal to an audience that likes to have accepted points of view challenged. Finally, I have finally been invited to direct an opera. Many of my friends for some time have suggested that this would be a wonderful challenge for me. A different medium, that might be helped by an eye that is trained for storytelling, rather than traffic coordination between "park and bark" arias. Regrettably, I know little (or nothing) of the foreign languages, so I have to rely on music, with which in general I feel very confident. But I know very little of the nuances of the musical conceits of opera. It will be a whole new process for me, and a grand learning experience. The additional difficulty is that this a lesser known opera - Handel's Serse. Many of my friends who are opera singers know only the first aria, which isn't much help to me on a conceptual level, nor are there many English translations. So as of this point, I have been forced to rely on a mediocre wikipedia plot synopsis. But the two artistic directors are incredibly talented, and I am sure that with their support, I will be able to bring an exciting new perspective to this opera.
This surely will prove to be a very busy few months for me, where but two weeks ago, I had nothing to do. This will also surely prove to yield many exciting future blogs. It begins now with me trying desperately to put my life in order before the onslaught, the first gauntlet being Thursday with the first 24 hour festival. Feeling a little nervous, but very excited to get started with this new burst of productivity.