Gathering Round for One of Shakespeare’s Eeriest Texts

It is known as “The Scottish play,” “Mackers,” “The Scottish business” or “the Glamis comedy.” With a play where so few are willing to utter its name, you would think that it would remain buried under the Bard’s lesser known works. But “Macbeth” is more popular than ever, with adaptations like Sleep No More re-imagining the tale in a 6 story warehouse to Alan Cumming’s recent one-man-show, a decent into madness set in an insane asylum. And still companies are able to find new ways of telling Mac’s universal story of greed and guilt – one of which is CityShakes undeniably unsettling production here in Santa Monica. mac1

Director Brooke Bishop sets the show in the round, emphasizing the show’s ceremonial roots – from the ever-plotting witches to the individuals who ban together to unseat Macbeth from his newly-found power.  The production’s site-specific location, a storage garage behind a stark empty art gallery, also aids in the creation of an ominous air surrounding the text.

Smartly constructed with a cast of seven, perhaps the most compelling aspect of the production is the use of suggestion. Swords have bases, but no blades. Children tinker with toys offstage, but are never seen. These powerful “absences” both underline the swift decline of Macbeth’s sanity (particularly in his “Is this a dagger” soliloquy), and make Macduff’s loss all the more heartbreaking. It also featured some truly thrilling cast-made auditory soundscapes that could have highlighted other earlier moments as well.

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A ceremony that shouldn’t be missed, this Macbeth breathes life into the age-old text with its crafty ways.

To see it: “Macbeth” plays Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm through Nov. 22, and Saturdays Nov. 9 and 16 at 8PM, at 1454 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90401. For more information, visit www.CityShakes.org.

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Brecht on Anxiety and Lighting a Bomb in the Theatre

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In John Willett’s compendium of some of Brecht’s most important critical writings, the editor helps to outline the theatremaker’s development of his style. Each letter and article allows for a further glimpse into Brecht’s take on Epic Theatre, acting, and the alienation effect for which his works are so renowned.

On anxiety, Brecht aptly points out:

“In his obscure anxiety not to let the audience get away the actor is immediately so steamed up that he makes it seem the most natural thing in the world to insult one’s father. At the same time it can be seen that acting takes a tremendous lot out of him. And a man who strains himself on the stage is bound, if he is any good, to strain all the people sitting in the stalls.” – From Berliner Börsen-Courier, 1926

Around the same time this article was written, Brecht was insisting on a new type of audience engagement in the form of what he called “ ’smokers’ theatre.” The audience would puff on cigars and look on as if taking in a boxing match, therefore developing a more detached and critical outlook than was possible in the ordinary German theatre. Smoking was verboten in theatres at the time.

He posits:

“That in a Shakespearean production one man in the stalls with a cigar could bring about the downfall of Western art. He might as well light a bomb as light his cigar. I would be delighted to see our public allowed to smoke during performances. And I’d be delighted mainly for the actor’s sake. In my view it is quite impossible for the actor to play unnatural cramped and old-theatre to a man smoking in the stalls.” 

Forever pushing the boundaries of what theatre was “allowed to be” at the time, Brecht paved the way for many in the modern day interactive and absurdist theatre realms. Brecht on Theatre is a delight – like sitting down for a rare and illuminating coffee-date with Brecht himself.

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The Fab Four Take on the Bard

Just in case you weren’t sure if the Beatles were iconic enough…Turns out in 1964, they also tried their hand at Shakespeare. Because, why not.

Here they perform the mummer’s play from the second half of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the famous lovers and the wall story.

Genderbending Like Nobody’s Business

Was lucky enough to catch one of my favorites, Alan Cumming, in his tour de force performance as every single character in Macbeth.

Set in an insane asylum, we find our haggard, somewhat lucid hero being led into his new cell by two doctors and kicking off the 90 min monologue with “When shall we three meet again?”

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Out of all the characters he embodies, Cumming’s Lady M is absolutely revelatory. Seductive, manipulative, controlled and vicious, he brings new life to Macbeth’s power-hungry wife.

Thankfully, NYT documented a glimpse of this performance in the video below:

Starting the Experience at the Door: Theatrical Hors D’oeuvres

You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening –  best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.

The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths. IMAG1951

Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.

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Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.

You Have to Move On/ Il Faut Avancer

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Theatre du Chatelet, renowned Paris institution headed by Jean-Luc Choplin, recently presented Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s award-winning and heartbreaking SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Lucky for those of us that weren’t able to hop on a plane to Paris during its run, the production was filmed and broadcast by Mezzo TV. And now, this new version is available to download for free, albeit for a very limited time.

The original Broadway production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, directed by James Lapine, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, was similarly filmed and quickly became a staple in the collector’s canon. For those of you who haven’t seen any of the original cast, or for those that could always use a refresher, enjoy the two duetting on “Move On.”


In this number, Dot appears to her great grandson (that of her lover George Seurat), also named George, who is struggling with his art

Look at what you want,
Not at where you are,
Not at what you’ll be-
Look at all the things you’ve done for me

When Worlds Collide

Next project on the slates is a musical entitled The Pokemusical – which promises to be a ridiculously fun romp as 90’s nostalgia takes the stage. 

Thrilled to begin telling this story to those that knew and loved the Pokemon craze/those that ask Polka-what?

Looks like we’re not the only ones who are fans of the mash-up. Pokemon Fashion blog PokeXFashion slams the world of high fashion into the slightly more animated one as pocket monsters hide surreptitiously behind models or grab the limelight instead.

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Even more at PokeXFashion

Shakespeare’s Rocking Out

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The brilliant team behind Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is at it again. Director and bookwriter Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman have collaborated again on a modern musical retelling of the Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. From the sound of this track, released yesterday on Shakespeare’s 449th birthday, the show promises to be a contemporary romp and a love letter of sorts to the inimitable writer himself.

It will take this stage this summer as part of the free Shakespearefest that descends upon Central Park’s Delacorte Theater each year. From the Shakespeare in the Park notes on the show: “Romance, revelry and enchanting music ignite in this contemporary yet lovingly faithful musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. The King and his best buds decide at their five-year college reunion to swear off the joys of women. But when four cute, clever girls from their past show up, they’re forced to reconsider all of that nonsense! Smart, sexy, outrageous, and irreverent, LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is a madcap celebration of true love and coming of age.”

AreYouaManClick above to listen

Tis The Season of Gatsby

With Luhrmann’s adaptation about to hit the silver screen, there’s no better time to revisit how others have retold Fitzgerald’s classic American tale. At once a novella about the power of hope and a prophetic story of the end of an era, the The Great Gatsby is still considered one of the best books in the canon of Western literature.

The book exploded off the page in Elevator Repair Service’s marathon retelling. A man in an office sits down, begins reading the book, and 8 hours later (a few intermissions and dinner break included) you emerge from the theatre having utterly steeped yourself in the text. All 180 pages of it.

Take a glimpse of the piece through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway, as Gatsby’s lavish parties transform a dull office setting. The actor who plays Nick, Scott Shepherd, has memorized all 49,000 words of the text.

READ this line, read THIS line, read this LINE

A young Ian McKellen works through a line from Merchant of Venice in the RSC’s Playing Shakespeare from a few decades past.

The director seen here, John Barton, was asked to write a book about his robust knowledge of the Bard but promptly refused, stating that it was impossible to talk about Shakespeare without having living, breathing actors available to demonstrate the subtleties and poetry of the text. The result is a party full of some the acting greats taking apart classic texts piece by piece and uncovering centuries worth of subtext in the process.

World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Belarus

Theater was made to push the boundaries, but what happens when your country wants to maintain those artificial limits? One theatre group in Belarus has made a commitment from allowing their home to silence their (powerful) voices.

Belarus Free Theatre is an underground theatre group that operates primarily in secret, holding unofficial rehearsals and free performances in small private apartments, cafes, or wooded areas. Seen as theatrical vigilantes at constant risk of persecution, they constantly change their venues and have no specific theatrical home. Members of the theatre have been attacked by the police and held for their participation in the Belarus Free Theatre activities. The stage director and other associates were fired from their jobs at state-run theatres for their involvement in the movement.

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Being Harold Pinter at the mid-April 2007 conference Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter, in England

The group was established in March 2005 by human rights activist, playwright and journalist, Nikolai Khalezin, and Natalia Koliada, a theatre producer and Khalezin’s wife. The group’s mission was to resist the overwhelming pressure and censorship of Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenka.

As the only modern theatre force in the country, the government is challenged by Belarus Free Theatre’s commitment to performing uncensored works. All other theatre is state-run, allowing the country to dictate the programming, resulting in a stale version of theatre which cannot appropriately discuss all aspects of contemporary life. The guerilla theatre group pushes for its creative freedom daily, risking their own security for the promise of truth in art.

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Belarus Free Theatre in the short play by Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, one of the 12 featured in ‘Eurepica. Challenge.’

On 22 August 2007, during the Free Theatre’s première of Edward Bond’s theatrical piece Eleven Vests, Belarusian special forces stormed a performance in a private apartment in Minsk, and arrested actors, directors, and audience members. The founder, Khalezin, has now unfortunately become accustomed to these surprises, stating that the police would regularly burst into performances with machine guns in order to demonstrate power. At this point he does not fear for himself, but does notice that it is taking its toll on those who have never been arrested before. He’s afraid that these brave audience members won’t come back. Regardless of the pressure, the show resumed the next day in one of the private houses outside of Minsk. Police took video of the event from the forest.

The next few years were moderately less tumultuous but on December 19, 2010, fifty thousand citizens took to the streets to protest what they believed to be the rigged election of Alexander Lukashenko. More than a thousand of those were beaten and arrested, including Artistic Director Natalia Koliada, along with other artistic figures.  At the Belarus Embassy in London, Ian McKellen and a number of leaders from the artistic community protested the arrests, bringing international attention to the issue. Natalia Koliada was released, while Nikolai Khalezin went into hiding, where he remains.

The turmoil  has been worth it for those in the ensemble, almost all of whom have served time behind bars. Notable playwrights (Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Václav Havel, and Arthur Kopit) have supported the Free Theatre, with Pinter himself  so impressed by their biographical work [Being Harold Pinter] that he gave the troupe rights to perform any of his plays for free. 


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Artist Check-In: Theatre Director Doug Oliphant

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We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Doug Oliphant, an LA-based theatre director, movement director and fight choreographer who serves as Artistic Director for Drive Theatre Company.  He’s directed full productions of 44 Plays for 44 PresidentsBluenose, his original show There is Truth, Love is Real, Christopher Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation, as well as music videos for 44 Plays for 44 Presidents co-author Karen Weinberg and alt. rock band Sleep Well.  At the Kennedy Center, he was awarded the 2009 regional and national SDC Directing Fellowship Award for his achievements in the American College Theatre Festival.  Doug received his BFA in Theatre at Central Connecticut State University, studied theatre at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute and the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy (Russia).

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What was the impetus for the great move out west? What was intriguing about the LA theatre scene vs. that of the East Coast?

There were many reasons that prompted my great move out west.  Growing up, I would travel with my family in CT to visit my family in Gilroy/San Jose, CA every other year, and California always had this vacationland/dream-like aura about it.  And of course, when you live in CT, there’s no real difference in your head between SoCal and NorCal (I’m much wiser now).  So there was the childhood dream-fulfilling about moving out here going into the decision.  But another major factor was the group of friends I had already out here.  While I was in college, I took a trip one summer and spent four days in San Francisco and four days in LA to just hang out in both cities, see theatre in both, and as best as I could, evaluate which city I’d rather live in/make a living in.  I LOVE San Francisco, but after my four days in LA where I spent a good amount of time on the beach, amazed by the endless stretches of sand (people in CT fight dirty just to get a good spot at the beach), the dedicated bike trails along the beach, the playground-for-adults at Santa Monica Beach, etc…  Plus, I was staying with an actor friend of mine, who I could watch leaving for an audition and hear his stories about his career thus far…that was inspiring to me.  I liked the vibe. I liked the fact that things were more laid-back, and that I–as the very intense/focused person I am when I’m working on something–could excel with my driving work-ethic.  Add to the list the beautiful hikes I took while there, the pet-friendly environments, and the fact that it was on the opposite side of the country as where I grew up and LA was looking pretty appealing.  Though I do love NY, I think we’re better off just as friends.  I liked the idea of LA having a smaller, underground theatre community that I could integrate into, making myself a bigger fish in a smaller pond while still having that pond be filled with amazing talent with which I could collaborate.

When did you decide that making theatre was going to be your life? What led you to this decision?

I knew that making theatre was going to be my life in March, 2011.  That was when I was 100% sure–when I specifically decided that I want to pursue a theatre directing career as my primary career goal, and that all other interests and talents would fall into secondary categories around it.  For the first year or so I lived in LA (Aug. 2009 – Dec. 2010), I was trying to actively pursue every one of my interests and advance a career in each of them.  Those pursuits included acting in theatre, film, tv, commercials, performing utility stunts and parkour in the entertainment industry, directing theatre, film, music videos, choreographing and performing fights, and movement through all mediums.  And it was exhausting.  By the time March 2011 rolled around, I took a great trip to the beach (so glad I moved to this city!), sat on a bench overlooking the water and wrote out all my thoughts on what was most important to me.  That’s when I really came to terms with my passion for directing theatre, and after that point it felt like a giant weight had lifted off my shoulders, and I started making visible progress now that I set just one direction to head in.  Clarity in one’s life, like when you’re telling a story, is soo important.

Tell us a bit about your time with the Eugene O’Neill Center’s National Theatre Institute. How was your time there formative to what you do now?

If it wasn’t for my tendency to always try to do more than I’m capable of, my time at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute would have been the deciding factor in my devotion to a life in making theatre.  I attended the program the second semester of my junior year in college, and entered the program confident that I was going to be a professional actor for the rest of my life.  Before going there, I had never directed (I thought that was for old people who were either failed actors or had serious Type-A personalities) and never knew that any actor movement beyond traditional dance techniques existed.  The program consists of 14 weeks, where students from colleges across the country come to the O’Neill’s campus, a simple, multi-building farm-turned-theater center.  During those 14 weeks, you work 7 days a week, starting at 7:30am with a warm up and ending your final class at 10pm, before then working on homework.  Two of those weeks are spend abroad, and I went to St. Petersburg, Russia where my classmates and I studied at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy.  There’s never any time for anything, so you’re always under extreme pressure.  You’re constantly creating, as an actor, director, designer or playwright.  You don’t have time to think, let alone sleep, and your only support system are the other students, so you’re taking a whole additional class on collaboration.  The system inevitably makes you experience some of your highest highs and lowest lows in theatre, perhaps even in your life.  I’ll never forget one scene I was acting in, from a classical play called The Rover, which one of my closest friends from NTI was directing and I wanted so badly to give him a great performance.  But I’m horrible at memorizing classical text, and you’re only given 3 days to prepare for each scene presentation, and come the day of the performance, I still couldn’t get my lines to stick, and the more I was aware of it, the less I remembered.  Right before the performance, one of the O’Neill staff members came as the audience was filing in the room, and she had a camcorder!  I asked if she was going to film it, and she said, “Yes, we want to start documenting all the work you guys put up!”  I was so mortified…and we performed the scene, and I was horrendous, I forgot all the lines I was having trouble with, I was never even close to “in-character” and was never so disappointed in myself for letting my co-actors, director, and entire class down.  Just one of many, many vivid, life-changing memories during my time there.  On a more positive note, on one of the last days of the semester, all the teachers gather in a room to give individual reviews on each student.  It was a day dreaded by most, where teachers no longer have to be kind and encouraging to you, but would speak the cold truth of how they felt you did that semester and where they see you excelling in the future.  I went in not sure what would be said, and was surprised to hear among many other positive things that every one of my teachers felt I’d make an excellent director.  “Keep directing” was the message they all spoke at one point or another, and it was largely from the confidence I got from them that I did exactly that.

Betty's Summer VacationBetty’s Summer Vacation

You were selected as the national winner of the SDC Directing Award in 2009. What was the process like applying for the theatre festival associated with the award and how did that experience shape the way you approach theatrical directing?

Before that semester at NTI, I had never directed.  After, I directed several scenes, a 1-act staged reading, and received support from the entire faculty to keep directing–and of course, I really wanted to and was thrilled by this new-found passion.  So first thing I did after I finished NTI was return to my school (Central Connecticut State University) and spoke to my adviser about what I could do to direct as much as possible in my last year before graduation.  Among other things, she gave me permission to direct a one-act play in the fall semester.  So I set out to find a play to direct, and ended up talking to a friend of mine who also had permission to direct a one-act.  We flipped through a bunch of different plays together, before he came up with an idea where if we find a full-length we like, we could each direct one act in a two-act play.  He pulled out Betty’s Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang and pitched it to me.  Before this, as we were both actors in the school’s BFA Acting program, we were encouraged to act in each other’s play.  So in looking at Betty’s, we decided I could play a character that only appears in the second act, he could play a character that dies before the end of the first act, and we could each direct the act we don’t appear in!  We pitched the idea to my adviser, got approval, and put up the show in the lobby of our theatre department in September 2008.  The faculty of our theatre department loved it and told us they would pay to enter the production into the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and nominated my friend and I for directing.  With that nomination, you were then eligible to submit yourself for the regional festival directing competition, which involved you writing a cover letter on why you’re interested in competing in the festival, your resume of past work, and two letters of recommendation.  So I submitted and was one of three total who were accepted in a record-breaking year of submissions.  Those accepted then had to prepare a scene.  A selection committee at the Kennedy Center chose five different plays and a specific scene–or multiple scenes–from that play, and the competing director had to choose one, cast it with actors from their school, rehearse at their school and then take the scene up to the festival to be performed in front of a panel of judges.  We also had to keep a director’s notebook, noting specifics about the story, character arcs, scenic elements, time period, etc. and logging our progress, reflecting back on each rehearsal.  I chose Quake, by Melanie Marnich and after much rehearsal, brought the scene to the festival and had it performed/judged.  I, and the two other directors competing adjusted our scenes and presented them one last time in an open-to-the-public presentation.  Then at the end-of-week ACTF awards ceremony, I was announced the winner (horray)!

So then after winning the regional festival, you head to Washington D.C. for a week and the Kennedy Center and where you compete with the winning directors (there were 9 of us) from around the country.  This time, we were asked to prepare two things.  One was assigned by Ming Cho Lee, a quite legendary scenic designer who asked us to present a portrait gallery of the characters in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.  A portrait gallery in this context asks you to look through photographs of people, via magazines, the internet, etc. and find people who seem to best portray each character.  The other assignment was to give a 3-minute pitch on how you’d direct the opening scene (with the 3 witches) of Macbeth.  This was assigned by SDC member John Dillon, and in my pitch I set the world in 2009 (the year, then) or perhaps the slightly distant future in Afghanistan/America, where right before the play, Osama Bin Laden was be killed by Macbeth, and Macbeth was then deemed a national hero.  The three witches were representatives of the press who were planning on planting false ideas of fame into his head in hopes of his corruption…all for the best news story.  This would make the witches, in fact, not magical, but real people, and Macbeth’s downfall truly tragic, as he never wished for all the fame that came upon him for loyally serving his country.  Besides that, I took workshops with a variety of other artists in the industry and was given a great window into the professional world of theatre.  At the awards ceremony at the end of the week, I was announced the winner and received $1000 from the SDC, associate membership into the union, and fellowships at the O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference and the Kennedy Center in the summer.  The O’Neill fellowship was obviously so great as I just was there as a student, now returning on fellowship from the Kennedy Center for directing…which I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the O’Neill.  Needless to say, that place has a very special place in my heart.

Quake (in rehearsal)Quake in rehearsal

How did your company Drive Theatre come about? Who did you collaborate with to make it a reality?

Drive Theatre Company came about in October 2011 when I sat down with my friend and fellow young director Tim Koch and expressed my feelings of frustration in not directing enough.  I was concerned that I was spending too much time assistant directing, associate directing, production coordinating, movement or fight choreographing, but not enough time actually in the director’s seat, seeing your vision out from start to finish.  In particular, there was an Ira Glass quote that made its way around Facebook that went like this:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners.  I wish someone had told me.  All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.  It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.  And your taste is why your work disappoints you.  A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit.  Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.  We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.  We all go through this.  And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.  Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece.  It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.  And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s gonna take a while.  It’s normal to take a while.  You just gotta fight your way through.”  

THAT is why I started Drive Theatre.  Where it will continue from here on out is evolving, as Tim ended up moving to NYC when he got an assistant director job on Broadway, but producing a lot of work remains my personal mission with the company, so that by the time I’m in a position where I’m directing somewhere with a lot more visibility, I won’t fail from lack of experience and have it cost me my career.


44 Plays for 44 Presidents44 Plays for 44 Presidents

What kinds of shows does the company produce? What is it about these kinds of stories that speak to you?

To quote our mission, “Drive Theatre Company produces bold American plays that explore what it means to be an American.”  Now, that doesn’t just mean that we do patriotic plays, but rather we do plays by American playwrights and look to examine different aspects of our culture, what makes us a country, what are our problems, how can we laugh at them, is there hope, etc.  That’s the umbrella we’re operating under for content, but HOW we operate is also in our mission, “We support and encourage our artists in their pursuit of national theatre careers and endeavor to collaborate with like-minded companies in Los Angeles and major cities nationwide.”  44 Plays for 44 Presidents, our first show, was a part of a national festival where over 44 other productions from around the country happened this past election season.  Through the offerings of the festival staff, we were connected through Facebook, Twitter and emails to these other productions, and I personally had contact with people from many of those productions.  As someone looking to further my freelance career through this theatre company, it’s my mission with Drive to never produce a play that stays no larger than the production itself.  That doesn’t mean we only produce when we can be a part of a festival, but it might mean we look forward to doing co-productions with other companies, do some kind of residency in another city, find a play we feel passionately about producing, identify its themes, and find a common pre-existing event, facility, or company that we can team up with to share business and take away something larger than what we have to offer ourselves.  This all comes from my desire to NOT start the next Steppenwolf.  There are a lot of other small theatre companies in LA, and many of them are great, I’d love to work with them!  But I have no need to try to create my own rival company, producing a full season of shows when that’s being done already by so many wonderful LA theatre artists.

Why theatre?  What can theatre do that other art forms cannot?

Theatre is the epitome of storytelling.  If we can all agree that a good story can change the way we do things, the way we live our lives or the way we look at the world, then a good theatre production can do just that, while at the same time bringing people together and connecting with them face-to-face.  The magic of live performance can never be created through film or television.  Other forms of art are so solitary, no other brings people together in the full-communal way theatre does.  And for me as a director, to be able to sit in an audience while actors genuinely connect, revealing deeply personal truths in serious or comedic contexts, and being present with a whole audience that’s being affected by that…it’s just the best.

What are the challenges of running a theatre company?

The challenges of running a theatre company…ha!  There’s many, from the bigger issues of why this theatre company?  Why now?  How are you different?  Why should a donor give you money and not someone else?  To the practical issues of simply how do I raise money?  How can I keep this company sustainable?  Where do I see it going in 5 years?  Who’s a part of this other than me?  What’s the trade-off for them?  What compromises will I have to make to keep everyone happy?  How do I find new plays?  How do I develop an audience and then keep them engaged, coming back for more?  How do I keep people donating?  This rental theatre sucks, what’s a better one?  Why do all rental theatres suck?!  *sigh* the list goes on 😉  That’s why you gotta love it!

Sources of inspiration?

Ira Glass is the biggest one, I’m influenced by a wide array of theatres, artists, nature, MUSIC, successful friends, unsuccessful friends and much more.

Down in the Face of God (movement direction)Down in the Face of God

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the arts and theatre?

To anyone who would like to pursue a career in arts or theatre–DO IT!  I heard far too many times from guest speakers in school, “If you can do anything else [other than theatre], do it” and it’s the worst bit of advice I’ve ever heard.  For the love of life, do it.  Too many people live life with regrets, all the what-ifs and if-onlys…and that’s the worst.  Say you want to start a theatre company but have no idea how to fund-raise…give it a shot anyway!  If it means something to you, do the research!  Talk to people!  If you want to give acting a shot in the industry, but you’re not sure if the crazy auditioning and getting shut down all the time lifestyle is for you, take a year of your life to do exactly that as best as you can, and if by the end of that year you’re miserable, not sure of who you are anymore, what you believe in, if there’s any hope left in this world, then stop!  Don’t do it anymore!  Do something else, and rest easy knowing that you did it and learned it wasn’t for you, rather than staying safe by never trying and always wishing you had.  One of my close friends from Connecticut set out to be an actor, graduated with his theatre degree, went to NYC and joined a bunch of improv troupes.  Worked a bit in film, joined SAG, and after a few years, realized he wasn’t happy, and loved his girlfriend a lot more than he loved the business, so he left NYC, proposed to his girlfriend, they got married, have a kid, a dog and a house in CT and are completely happy.  He went for it, realized he loved something else more, and changed paths, no regrets.  He inspires me.

Thanks Doug!

Travelogues: The Charm and Craziness of Coney Island

As part of preparations for See Rock City and Other Destinations, a musical travelogue about people’s stories at various American destinations, we’re talking to real folks about their travel experiences around the U.S. Giving people a taste of others’ authentic, fun, and hard-to-believe stories one interview at a time.

Today, we’re talking to nouveau-Brooklynite Abigail’s visits to the age-old wonderland of Coney Island.

abigail bridge

I’m Abigail. I’m a graduate student in creative writing and book publicist, and I moved from Wisconsin to Brooklyn in 2009 after taking a two-month trip around the country on Greyhound buses. I love travel and languages, and I studied in Spain and Japan as an undergrad. So far, the highlight of my travels has probably been learning how to ride an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then lying on the ground as it walked over me.

What inspired your move from Wisconsin to Brooklyn?

Brooklyn felt like where I needed to be. To quote Calvin & Hobbes, “They say the secret of success is being at the right place at the right time. But since you never know when the right time is going to be, I figure the trick is to find the right place, and wait around.”

 What was your first experience with Coney Island?

My first trip to Coney Island was with a few close friends who had all moved to the city after graduation. I loved seeing the glimpses of olden-day carnival Coney Island, and the experience of walking along the boardwalk eating a corn dog from Nathan’s. We spent the day taking turns lying on the beach and braving the water, which was still freezing because it was so early in the summer.

nathans

 How did your trips there change over time? 

I think it’s more accurate to say that the feeling I get from visiting Coney Island and putting my feet in the ocean has stayed constant — even though the past few years of my life have involved a lot of flux. Since I’m from the Midwest, I wasn’t used to living close to an ocean — and in most of New York City, it’s strangely easy to forget how close you are to the water. I recently moved further south into Brooklyn to Bath Beach — just a few subway stops away from Coney Island — so I’m hoping I’ll begin to feel even more like it’s “mine” now that I can get there in less than 15 minutes on a bus or train.

 Strangest thing you ever saw at Coney?

I’m not sure if I could pick just one. Every year, Coney Island hosts the Mermaid Parade, which typically involves a lot of glitter and naked people. So, basically like liberal arts college. I’m kidding. There are so many amazing costumes: mermaids with octopus pasties, transformers, giant birds, circus performers on unicycles. I recommend Google-imaging “Mermaid Parade” if you’re not at work.

mermaid parade

Off-season photos of Coney look like a deserted wonderworld. Have you ever visited when no other tourists were around?

I have! I remember one unseasonably warm day in early March a few years back, and I decided it would be fun to go out to Coney Island by myself and take a walk along the beach, and maybe go for a swim. I got there and immediately realized that I had totally misjudged how cold it would be with the wind, but because I didn’t want to feel like I’d made the trip for nothing, I sat on the beach and read, even though it was freezing. There were maybe two other people on the beach, and it felt almost post-apocalyptic.

Do you think America will always have nostalgia for its beachside communities (Coney, Atlantic City, etc.)?

America loves nostalgia. I don’t think it’s necessarily specific for beach communities, though I think there is something special about places that simultaneously encompass two different worlds (one for the people that live there, and one for the tourists). The coast is also a place where fun and danger can easily meet, so maybe there’s a glamour factor in that, too.

eatup

How does Coney Island play into the modern day notion of New York? (Escapism, a much needed retreat, danger zone, etc.)

I think it’s a place where there’s tremendous tension between the old and the new. This is true for a lot of New York, but it seems especially palpable on Coney Island.

Any other fascinating finds in NY that you would recommend folks visit if they’re near the city?

My favorite thing to recommend to visitors is the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free, you get to be on a boat, and you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty. My biggest recommendation, though, is to spend some time people-watching. New York has the best people-watching in the world.

coney sunset

All photos courtesy of Abigail. Thanks!

Join Along for the Road Trip

“Americans have always been eager for travel, that being how they got to the New World in the first place.”
– Otto Friedrich

Thrilled to be working on See Rock City and Other Destinations, a musical travelogue that tells the stories of folks across the U. S. of A. This show is made up of a set of short vignettes, small American plays that attempt to answer the questions of what are we seeking and what holds us back from realizing the things we want. It’s told through story songs and feels akin to a particularly good episode of This American Life on NPR.

Today we’ve started our Meet Rock City series to allow folks to meet the cast and wanted to share the fun with all y’all.

MeetRockCity(click to visit)

These folks are an incredibly talented bunch that are telling these honest stories in some inspiring ways. And while the show keeps up the pace with its humor, the takeaway seems to make us question our basic anxieties or fears – of connecting, of missing out, of seeking, of believing or no longer being able to believe.

Welcome to the journey. Glad to have you along for the ride.