Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I’m afraid in so many ways


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Patrick Shearer.

 I want to thank Nat Cassidy for his terrific posts on the topic of theatrical horror.  I'd certainly planned to write about other things (well, truth be told, I wasn't quite sure WHAT I was going to write about this week.  I was just gonna wing it until a topic of interest popped up,) but the serendipity of having such a terrific opening sortie on a subject so near and dear to my heart cannot go un-remarked upon.  It was funny to read Nat's "Monsters and Murderers" post because it was like he was describing my childhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles (even down to having Stephen King in one hand, and Shakespeare in the other).  I know for a fact that we weren’t the only ones, Nat.  So if our dear readers are done with the horror thing, feel free to move along until next week.  We won't be (too) offended. 

I should start by telling you, I’m afraid.  

I’m afraid in so many ways, and always have been.  There were nights growing up when I’d sit on the beach, in the dark, when the sky and the ocean melted into a single mass, into one enormity, and the sheer weight of it terrified me.  And then I’d grasp the immensity of the earth itself by comparison and I’d start to shiver, and then the immensity of space would blow my mind, shorting out my semantic circuit entirely, and I’d just be a tiny quivering mass of tiny jelly on a tiny little beach somewhere in Southern California.  

And that feeling excited me.  

It wasn’t just big philosophical concepts that scared me, either.  (It’s just easier to share that one, cause it makes me seem smart or something, instead of like a coward.)  I was afraid of BOB.  You know, BOB from Twins Peaks?  Scared the holy crap out of me as a young teen, and I still can’t believe they broadcast the final episode of the series on non-cable television.  Those last thirty minutes, man.  Those last thirty minutes.  

I used to have nightmares ALL.  THE.  TIME.  They were awesome.  They were ridiculously coherent.  And they were terrifying because they were real.  I had a dream about a decade ago that looked exactly like that scene in Inception where the ground and the buildings tilt up into the sky?  Except I actually heard the sky (the motherfucking SKY, people) rip open, and when I looked up I could see the street on which I was walking, and could see myself looking back at me, through that enormous tear in the fabric of reality, and I thought with calm, complete certainty: “This is it.  This is the end of everything.  The laws of physics have become no more than suggestions.  And I have to/get to see it.”  

That was right before I woke up sweating, and shaking.  

I’m REALLY afraid of getting into a situation like that guy in 127 Hours where that boulder trapped his arm and he had to cut his arm off with a pocket knife.  (I’m also afraid to go and see that movie because I might throw up or pass out, like all those other people who saw it.)  Can you imagine?  Knowing that you’re going to die unless you do something SERIOUSLY drastic?  And then thinking, “Well, I do have my Swiss Army knife, and it’s got a saw blade on it.  But after I cut through the flesh, and the fat (which, anyone who’s ever eaten a gristly steak will know is not easy to cut through, especially one-handed), AND the muscle -- if I can remain conscious and not drop my knife down this chasm -- will it still be sharp enough to cut through the entire bone?   But then, I have to go through the muscle, and the fat, and the flesh on the other side all over again.  Or I could just sit here and die.”

I probably won’t be seeing that movie.  

But chances are, I’ll be watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Again.  In the fairly near future.  

It honestly doesn’t surprise me that people sometimes look at me funny when they see my work, or when I tell them what I’m reading or what I’m watching.  I made a short film last year for a friend’s Halloween short film festival.  He told us to push the envelope, so I tried.  To me, my little film was about a romantic couple, and the intensity of their attraction and their passion for each other overspilling the limits of human expression, and how terrifying it is to feel like that.  Of never being able to entirely express yourself, or to feel entirely satisfied.  And of two people trying desperately to reach satisfaction.  

Some people got stuck on her cutting him open and crawling inside of him.  Hey, that’s okay, too.  I’ll go for the gross out.  I’m not proud.*

It wasn’t real, and it’s pretty obviously not real, but I hope it touches on something deep, something visceral and expresses that thing in a way that words couldn’t quite achieve.

When I was young, it was in attempting to face all these debilitating fears that I watched horror movies, and read Stephen King, and Peter Straub, and Ramsey Campbell, and Clive Barker, and Shirley Jackson, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Anne Rice, and H.P. Lovecraft.  I never liked roller coasters, but I loved
Fright Night.  And that led to The Exorcist, and on and on.  Adults thought it was weird, and looked at me funny, and gave me the third degree, and I was eventually cornered into finding an explanation for why I liked these things.  It happened late, but I’m told that’s better than never.  

I was one of those sad sacks that actually caught
The Blair Witch Project early, before the hype, before anyone even knew anything about it.  I knew from the first frame that this wasn’t ACTUALLY found footage, but it didn’t matter.  During those last 10 minutes or so, my friend and I (at the tender age of 21, far too old to be acting like this) had our arms wrapped tightly around one another, literally shaking in the oppressive dark of the theater. Neither of us slept that night.  We were both mildly tramautized.  H.P. Lovecraft would have called people like us “of a sensitive nature” and the prime audience for weird tales.  

But that night, driving to a coffee shop because neither of us could face being alone, the shadows had never been darker or more impenetrable, and the street lights had never been brighter to my eyes.  

And that’s why I’m attracted to these dark subjects.  Because after you’ve spent some time down there in the dark basement of human imagination, when you come back out you tend to appreciate the light a little more.  The happier stuff -- which I just find to be cloying under different circumstances -- becomes tolerable, and even welcome.  It makes me feel glad to be alive.  It’s the most tried and true way for me personally, in this day and age, to experience what I believe to be actual catharsis.  

And despite everything else, the experience of fear is still as sharp as it ever was in most of our population (for good or for ill.)  

I’m a big fan of genre, but I think this kind of horror is beyond genre, as Nat and some of our commenters have noted.  I think it gets to the essence of who we are as a species.  As the great bard Terrence McKenna has said, “We have one foot in angelhood and one foot in the identity of a carnivorous ape, and the tension between these two on a global scale is excruciating.”  Horror is about staring into the face of the carnivorous ape and accept that it's you, and I’m so grateful to be able to do that in front of a live audience.

There’s something very important about being locked in a dark room with the human ape.  

Tomorrow, we can talk about the dangers of making the ape dance...

*10 points if you recognize that quote.  


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Patrick Shearer


We are thankful to Nat Cassidy for his fantastic blogs last week.

We are so happy that Patrick Shearer will be our guest blotter this week.

Patrick Shearer is an actor, director, producer and sound designer.  He's the co-founder of "The Blood Brothers Present..." series, an annual Halloween horror show designed for the stage.  He's been an Artistic Associate for the last 9 years with Nosedive Productions, a Manhattan-based theatre company founded by James Comtois and Pete Boisvert, and has proudly worked with the likes of Vampire Cowboys, Gemini CollisionWorks, Piper Mackenzie and Third Lows Productions.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

What is Horror?


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Nat Cassidy.

Holy crap, there’s a veritable Thanksgiving cornucopia of delectable thoughtfood in the comments section of that previous post. Thanks, gang! If any new readers are just checking this blog out for the first time, go read ‘em now—you won’t be disappointed.

What I had originally planned on doing with this follow-up post was respond comment-by-comment, but there were so many excellent ones, frankly I think that’d take too long and the week is already over! Suffice it to say, the common denominator of what everyone had to say seems to strike straight at the heart of the matter: just what is horror, anyway?

Does it include so-called thrillers, like Alexis champions, such as the works of suspense playwright Frederick Knott (Wait Until Dark, Dial M for Murder)? What about, as playwright James Comtois brings up, the horrifyingly existential works of Beckett? Or the insane lovestory Bug by Tracy Letts? Jeff Wills brings up The Pillowman, and Martin McDonaugh’s other works could easily fit in there, as well. And DL touches on classics like Woman in Black and Dracula. Are all these works “horror?”*

I say, wholeheartedly, yes! I’d even raise it to “hell, yes” if I’m feeling salty. And to those plays, I’d add myriad others. I, like reader gleep-glop, dream of a world in which genre no longer matters, partially because my genre is so often maligned, but especially because, as far as I’m concerned, every story worth its salt has some element of horror in it. You name the most mundane, contained, plainspoken story and I guarantee you can find at least one thing within it wherein a character is literally terrified of something happening. And if the author’s goal is to in any way make his/her audience feel that fear? You got yourself some horror.

So, then, what do we mean when we talk about horror? Is it a genre, a mood, an effect, a tactic? In the end, it’s all of these things. It’s an essential element to being alive—perhaps the essential element. Being afraid is what keeps us paying attention. It’s what kept us around long enough to reproduce back when our biological experiment was in its initial stages, and it’s what, to this day, prepares us for our own inevitabilities and keeps us sane enough to keep going. And, as Andrew Bellware comments, all drama is about conflict.

Granted, when we talk of horror in genre-terms, it’s implied that there is a little bit of abstraction going on, that the conflict is being made manifest by some usually external agent, but if it’s written well and honestly, the only difference between a “regular” story and a “horror” story is whether or not an audience is willing to take that leap of disbelief and buy into the emotional reality of something other, something abstracted, something unheimlich existing. And, when the lights go down and we’re in the dark, whether it be in the theatre or in our own bedrooms in the middle of the night, that leap of belief should be easy to make.

And, so, I’ll close this post with a question: what’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen on stage, and why? Was it a “boo!” moment, or something slower and more lasting? Let us know what it was and how it affected you.

Here’s mine—and keep in mind, I’ve seen oodles of horror plays and horror movies, and have read more horror literature than is probably recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, and thus I have a pretty high shock threshold . . . but what I’m about to describe fucked me up good and proper.

Here goes.

Exit the King.

I was lucky enough to score some tickets for the opening night of Geoffrey Rush’s performance in the recent Broadway production of this play. I’m a big fan of Rush (the actor, not the band) and Ionesco is one of my favorite playwrights, so needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity. For those that didn’t get a chance to see it, it was an absolutely spectacular production, and Rush’s performance might be the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen (and I saw the Ninja Turtles’ Coming Out of Their Shells live show in the early 1990).

So, what made it so horrifying? Especially to someone so inured to monsters and violence and shock tactics? Despite Exit the King being an absurdist comedy with a generous application of slapstick, Ionesco is literally wallowing in every human being’s fear of death, and while watching his royal cipher slowly come to terms with letting his body go, there were literally times when I wanted to scream at the performers onstage, “Stop! I get it! I don’t want to play anymore!” So real was that sense that one day, too, I’d have to make those mental accommodations. The crushing reality of mortality was made manifest in ways that were every bit as effective (if not more so) than any Freddy or Jason or post-Cat in the Hat Michael Meyers. And there I was in a room with hundreds of strangers, some of them mind-boggling rich celebrities, some of them poor as dirt like me, and all of us were essentially being told for two hours straight, “You’re going to end.” The crisis was so real that it almost had weight to it. It was terrifying. And it was enjoyable as hell.

And if that ain’t the beauty of horror, I don’t know what is.

*Let it be said, I’m grossly paraphrasing these comments—they all had wonderfully deep things to say, so read ‘em and comment back—keep the conversation going!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Monsters and Murderers


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Nat Cassidy.

This Sunday, I found myself, as I often do, thinking about horrific things. This time around, it was, “How should I get this old man in the park to stab his already-dead best friend with a tree branch?”

I’m working on a new playscript, you see, and I was sitting on my couch, Rob Zombie’s lamentable Halloween remake playing unnoticed in the background, trying to think of an effectively theatrical, but still psychologically honest, method of solving my problem. This thought was interrupted by another: “I should spend some time this afternoon getting off-book for Dance of Death.” Dance of Death is a Strindberg play written around 1900 in which a caustic married couple psychologically tortures a visiting relative, quite possibly because they are, as the text implies, psychic vampires feeding off of misery.

Now, I ain’t saying I’m a Strindberg here, but there is a connection. The theatrical landscape is littered with the macabre. Since time immemorial, the stage has hosted ghosts, murder, insanity, torture, vampires, demons . . . it’s all pretty deliciously dramatic fare.

So, let’s talk horror, eh?

I know, this seems like a more appropriate conversation to have had a couple of weeks ago, towards the end of October (that one time of year we’re actively encouraged to turn up the heat underneath that covered pot of nastiness we keep on the backburner of our consciousness), but hey, with so many of us staring at that looming, awkward family gathering towards the end of this week, now seems as good a time as any to talk about what scares us, doesn’t it?

And, frankly, it’s always a good time for me. I’m a bit of a horror junkie, to put it mildly, and anyone who’s read any of my scripts can probably attest to that. Growing up, if there was a book in my hand (which there always was), it was an incredibly safe bet to guess that it was authored by either Stephen King or William Shakespeare. I read both authors equally voraciously, although for some reason, when adults saw what I was reading, I would get an approving nod or a condescending sniff, depending. Ghost drives young man to brink of madness and causes him to incite the deaths of everyone around him? Enriching and edifying classic. Ghost drives middle-aged man to brink of madness and causes him to chase his family around a deserted hotel with a Roque mallet? Pop trash at worst, a morbid phase at best.

When you call something “horror,” it seems, you’re just dismissing it as genre—that dreadful diminishing epithet reserved for the things that apparently must squirm underfoot of critical esteem—it’s not high art. If something expresses a desire to disturb, especially with any sort of supernatural or supernormal catalyst, even if it’s asking probing questions about the human condition, it has to take two steps back in the Respectability Roll-Call.

However, theatre seems to be, at least somewhat, an exception to this bias. As I already mentioned, there’s a longstanding tradition of ostensibly horrific works in the theatre. And, even though the term “horror” is still kept at a distance, these days, thanks especially to the independent theatre community, there is no shortage of legitimate theatrical works that explore the realities of monsters and murderers and darkness.

This excites me to no end. As much as I love a good horror novel or movie, nothing strikes harder and cuts deeper than a good play.

So, for this first post, here’s a question for you: what do you think the role horror plays, should play, and is to play in the theatre? After all, it’s one of the—if not the the—most bankable genres of movies and literature (and now TV, what with Walking Dead and True Blood). Can commercial theatre be rejuvenated by embracing a darker, more objectively monstrous side? Or, on the other hand, given the ubiquity of productions by playwrights ranging from Aeschelus, Shakespeare, and Webster, to Pinter, McDonaugh, and McPherson, is that maybe what’s helping keep theatre alive?

I’ve got loads of theories and could talk about ‘em ad nauseum (theatre is ritual and thus more in touch with the primordial; humans are psychologically pretty scary and plays are inherently probing), but I wanna hear yours. Then maybe we can delve into more specifics as the week goes on.

Because who says we need to limit our journalistic love of horror to just a few weeks in October? And because Lord knows it’ll get us all in the right mindset for dealing with our loved ones come Turkey Day.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guest Blogger of the Week: Nat Cassidy


We really want to thank Jon Stancato for being our guest blogger last week.

This week's guest blogger is Nat Cassidy.

Nat Cassidy is an award-winning writer, actor, and director, and a sandwich-winning musician. Raised in Arizona, he moved to NYC in 2004 and has since appeared onstage in close to 40 productions and workshops at venues such as 59E59, Classic Stage's East 13th Street Theatre, Cherry Lane, The Public, Theatre Row, SoHo Playhouse, 45th Street Theatre, Dodger Studios, PS 122, Barrow Street Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Source, The Gallery Players, Theater1010, The WorkShop, and a whole bunch of others. As a writer and director, two of his scripts were nominated for a combined total of five IT Awards in 2009, including Outstanding Production (THE RECKONING OF KIT & LITTLE BOOTS, Engine37/The Gallery Players), Outstanding Full-Length Script (THE RECKONING OF KIT & LITTLE BOOTS), Outstanding Director (Nat Cassidy, ANY DAY NOW), Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role (David Ian Lee, KIT & LITTLE BOOTS), and Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role (Elyse Mirto, ANY DAY NOW). ANY DAY NOW, a three-act kitchen sink drama about the beginning stages of the zombie apocalypse, won for Lead Actress and is now published in the 2010 edition of NYTE'S PLAYS & PLAYWRIGHTS anthology. KIT & LITTLE BOOTS, a metaphysical buddy comedy about Caligula and Christopher Marlowe, took home the award for Full-Length Script and is due to be published by United Stages in the coming months. Nat's other scripts include PIERCE, a four-act ghost story set in the White House in the 1850s; I AM PROVIDENCE, a one-man show about theatre vis a vis Lovecraftian horror (coming to Manhattan Theatre Source this March alongside Greg Olvier Bodine's adaptation of THE HOUND); a new stage adaptation of John Fowles' THE COLLECTOR; and GOLDSBORO, a William Inge-inspired dark comedy about a family of cannibalistic nuclear mutants. Nat is also a singer-songwriter with three albums of original material and has performed at such venues as The Knitting Factory, Pete's Candy Store, Roots Cafe, Arlene's Grocery, Mo Pitkin's, Galapagos, and others. More info: natcassidy.com


Friday, November 19, 2010

You get what you need!

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Jon Stancato.

There’s an alarming statistic that’s oft thrown about: there are nearly 1,000 theatre companies in operation at any given time in NYC. Let’s assume that a quarter of them have already called it quits but have remained on the books like so many Japanese centenarians. Let’s assume another quarter will, alas, not likely make it to their second production. That leaves us with 500 active professional companies, all scrambling to carve up the same pie, at a time when performance spaces are turning into condos, traditional media coverage is either losing relevance or word counts or both, presenters are finding their own resources too strapped to offer much to presentees besides space, and recession-weary audiences may be less than willing to count “supporting indie theatre” among their charitable priorities (or even their frivolous luxuries).

Bleak, eh?

We all want the Times review(s) and the sold-out houses (packed with donors!) and the chichi venues and the fancypants presenters. But what do we need? What do we really need to feel like that to which we’ve dedicated our lives to is a profession, not a hobby?

Here’s what I need:
1. I need to keep making theatre until I die (or until it kills me).
2. I need to have complete freedom to tell whatever stories I want to tell as an artist
in whatever aesthetic I choose
3. I need people (both collaborators and audiences) to understand my work and
find value in it.

Three simple things. So instead of aspiring for the same generic pie piece that everyone else is clawing for, I tried to find a path which could guarantee these needs. And, after 8 years with my brethren at Stolen Chair, I think (fingers tightly crossed!) we’ve laid the groundwork for them to be realistically achieved. In 2009 (with the support of many many people but most importantly The Field and its ERPA grant), we launched PlayGround, the country’s first Community Supported Theatre program, an innovative new play development model (adapted from Community Supported Agriculture) which offers audience-investors a “share” in Stolen Chair’s entire journey creating one of our original works. Our PlayGround members join the fray when the “new play” is merely a title and research packet, following the roller coaster of highs and lows as we figure out what the material means to our collective and prepare it for its world premiere. And as we attract wider audiences interested in such an experience, we can project to a not-too-distant future when our new play development process will pay for itself. Of course, that might not happen…but at least we’ve found a “path” (one specific to our company’s needs) worth pouring our efforts into.

So, if all goes according to plan, I’ll have everything I need: a sustainable platform to create and share the work I feel compelled to create. Am I going to stop sending press releases to theater[at]nytimes.com? Nope. Give up on our “Spring ask”? Niet. Forego invitations to the city’s most powerful presenters? Non. Resist the temptation of $3k+/week space rentals? Nit.

Because at the end of the day, I still want what you want. But I also want you to get what you need. Figure that out…then set up the programs and infrastructures necessary to secure it. We had to take nearly 16 months off of producing in order to do that. That’s okay: theatres were still waiting to take our rental dollars when we returned and there will still be butts willing to plop down in our seats. So…go forth!

Oh, if you wanna get a peek at this here PlayGround us Chairs have concocted, join us for the free launch of the program’s second year this Sunday, Nov 21 (7pm, Space on White). Freely flowing wine, food, and theatrical discussion. In the words of those creepy not-twins from The Shining, play with us….

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Guest blogger of the week: Jon Stancato


We would like to thank Stacy Mayer for blogging for us last week.  We wish her the very best of luck and want to hear about how it is going.

We are so excited to announce next week's blogger, Jon Stancato.

Jon Stancato has been called "one of the most daring and imaginative directors of his generation" by Martin Denton, NYtheatre.com.  He has co-created and directed all of Stolen Chair's productions since he co-founded the company in 2002. With Stolen Chair, Jon pioneered the concept of Community Supported Theatre, offered through the company's nationally-recognized membership organization, PlayGround. He has trained with Joseph Chaikin, Thomas Richards &the Grotowski Workcenter, Anne Bogart and the SITI Company, Kabuki master Isaburo Hanayagi, as well as in the techniques of Jacques Lecoq.  He co-choreographed (with Tula LaGams) burlesque acts which have appeared at Galapagos, HyperGender, the Slipper Room, and Howl. Jon teaches commedia dell'arte, clown, found-object puppetry, bouffon, and other physical theatre techniques throughout the tri-state area, and he is the master teacher for the NYC Student Shakespeare Festival.   He holds a theatre Studies BA from Swarthmore College.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Finding Inspiration


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Stacy Mayer.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I am looking for inspiration anywhere I can find it.  I signed up for a Palo Alto library card and I ride my bike over there and just see what pops out at me.  Last week, I picked up a DVD about Garrison Keillor, the creator and host of A Prairie Home Companion.

I watched this documentary and I felt inspired.  Not because he defied all odds.  But because he was doing precisely what he loved to do. A Prairie Home Companion is recorded live in a historic theatre in St. Paul, MN and has been playing for 30 years. 

He paved his own path, a small town boy from Minnesota who moved to New York to become a writer and found himself doing his greatest work back home.  Ironically he quotes Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled.  He said he has no desire to follow the road less traveled but instead wants to be a part of the group.  That’s exactly what he does with his show.  He combines musicians, actors and writers and brings them all onstage in this cacophony of entertainment.

That’s what I was trying to do with Manhattan Comedy Collective.  I would bring stand up, sketch, solo shows, musical acts and put them all onstage for a hilarious evening of theatre hosted by me.  I loved working with groups of different people.  I loved introducing people to each other and making connections.  I loved performing and making people laugh every week.

Garrison suggests that every week he does something that he is hardly qualified to do but because he keeps trying to make it better, it gets there.  It’s that passion that creates great theatre. It’s created with love first.  If you make art with love, success will follow.

In San Francisco, I am starting with what I know from my past experiences.  But I can’t know what will happen in the future until I put myself out there.  I don’t know what I will discover until I do it.  And if I do it from my heart, I can’t fail.  That’s the idea.  It doesn’t mean it will be easy. 


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Living In The Past


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Stacy Mayer.

One of the people I talk about in my one-woman show is a Buddhist meditation instructor.  He’s awesome and when I decided to move to San Francisco, I asked him what I should do to further my meditation practice.  He suggested that I look into the Shambhala Center out here.  So I did!

Last weekend I attended the level one training at the Silicon Valley Shambhala Center.  One of the concepts that our instructor spoke about is how we look at the past as if it’s in front of us and the future is facing our back.  Everything that we have accomplished, experienced, failed at, is all right in front of our face.  It’s that past that is keeping us from moving forward in life.  It’s the basic reason that you felt so free when you were in college but now you feel limited and rigid.

I’m trying to keep an open mind since I have moved here.  I really am but I can’t help but notice that I’m holding back a little from working with people simply based on fear.  If I were fresh out of college, I wouldn’t hesitate to attend the Theatre Bay Area Regional Auditions in February.  But now my thought is, “eh is that really something I want to do?” 

So instead I do…eh?

Even though some parts of my past are holding me back, it’s also what’s keeping me moving forward.  In the short month I’ve lived here I have met with a producer, an artistic director and a Bay Area actor.  All of these meetings were arranged by colleagues I had in New York.  Each meeting has led to more meetings with new people. 

Your past is how you make connections.  And using those connections helps your future.  Heck, many of you reading this could be a connection.  That’s why blogging and comments are so great.  It puts you out there. 

I am completely open.  And it’s that openness that will propel me into my future.  Even if right now, it’s still facing my back. 


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Starting Over


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Stacy Mayer.

Moving to New York is tough.  It takes time when you move to a new city.  Connections don’t happen overnight.  You have to patient.  Blah blah blah.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  I have to keep reminding myself that when I first moved to New York, eight years ago, it wasn’t easy.  I had already been performing in Chicago and I couldn’t bare the idea of “starting over.”

That’s when I became a producer. I would create art myself.  And I did pretty well.  I founded Manhattan Comedy Collective.  I was an ensemble member at Emerging Artists Theatre and curated their solo play festival. I had connections all over the city and I was always performing.  I was a success.

And then I decided to move…again…to San Francisco. 

The excuse is that I moved out here for love.  But I have a feeling there is something else. I am still a performer, producer, writer.  But where do I start in this new city?

Once again, I don’t feel like I can start over.

So what do I do?  I know what I don’t want.  I don’t want to start another theatre company.  I don’t want to take beginner level acting classes.  I don’t want to audition for theatres where I don’t even know if it will be any good.

So what do I want to do?

I remember taking a job at The Jekyll & Hyde Club on The Avenue of the Americas, like many New Yorkers just to get my Equity card.  I planned on working there for three months tops.  But little did I know, most of my closest friends and collaborators would come from that job.  Over half of the Manhattan Comedy Collective were people I met there.

So I’m keeping an open mind.  Inspiration is where you least expect it, right? Oh that’s a good idea.  Maybe I’ll do that? See what happens.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guest Blogger of the Week: Stacy Mayer


We want to thank Cathy Bencivenga for taking the time out of a very busy opening week to give a glimpse into her theatre creating experience.

We are so excited to announce next week's blogger, Stacy Mayer.

Stacy Mayer is an actor, writer, producer that recently relocated from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the founder of Manhattan Comedy Collective, and curator of Emerging Artists Theatre’s One Woman Standing Festival. Her solo comedy about funerals has traveled to the Hollywood and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and enjoyed an extended run Off-Off-Broadway. Stacy earned critical praise for her performance in the Off-Broadway comedy, The Play About the Naked Guy and has performed and trained at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Upright Citizens Brigade (NY) Second City (Chicago) and Improv Olympic (Chicago). She is the host of Blogtv’s featured comedy show, Stacy & Friends and can be found on the IT Awards website co-hosting the backstage interviews at the 2010 ceremony.  www.stacymayer.com


Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Companies


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Cathy Bencivenga.

I wish I had had time to dive a little deeper this week, but opening was more of a time suck than I thought it would be, and at the risk of getting soap-boxy, I had an insane two show day of crazy patrons and technical difficulties.

But, I think I have managed to thoroughly introduce you to my two companies, TACT (The Actors Company Theatre)
and The Internationalists.

I mentioned the other day that I had the unique situation of having one company run by actors and one company run by directors. I know of many collaborative Indie companies run by mostly slashies (actors/directors/writers, etc) but these are two of very few companies that I know of created and run by such specific subsets, and I think in both cases it highly defines their working methods.

Similarly, I mentioned how each company operates outside the typical OOB world. For The Internationalists, it's under the radar, producing mostly short runs or web based events, often not utilizing a showcase code or AEA actors so that we can avoid video recording or development process guidelines. With TACT, we float in the world between OOB and OB, competing on high levels with more limited resources than most of our peers.

Both companies are also tied strongly to very specific, highly motivating missions and maintain a constant eye to producing at the highest level of quality for their means.

Ultimately, it's all of these qualities that gives each of them their identities within the vast NYC theatre landscape. And, I think in that they are great examples of what the indie community has to offer that is interesting. Particularly working at Theatre Row over the last 5 years, I have seen a lot of companies come in and out around us that for the most part are indistinguishable from each other, getting lost in a sea of "similar." And if I have any message for my theatre making peers out there, it is to do something different, distinguishable.

As a final piece of shameless promotion - come see The Memorandum and/or participate in this awesome workshop http://theinternationalists.org/ira.html.

Also, a big thanks to Shay and Morgan and the rest of the IT folk for having me this week. If not a constant blogger, you've certainly turned me into an avid "Full of IT" reader. 


Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Gray Area of New York Theatre


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Cathy Bencivenga.

TACT (The Actors Company Theatre) was founded in 1992 by a group of mid-career actors with the mission to do rarely seen plays of literary merit. 18 years later, many of the original company members are still involved and TACT maintains one of the few groups in the city with a repertory company of actors.  I have the unique point of view of having one company that consists of all actors and another that consists of all directors.

For its first 14 years, TACT existed primarily as a reader's theatre doing concert performances (think Encores!, which debuted the same year) of lost gems in three or four performance spurts. Having built up a hefty subscriber and donor base and looking to delve deeper, TACT began doing fully realized productions in 2005. Since then, we have become a resident company in the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, presenting two six week runs there each season.

In the beginning we produced on a modified-by-concession seasonal showcase in which AEA allowed us to set a firm fee to the actors instead of a percentage of income, and after two seasons we moved on to the newly created Transition contract. While not perfect, the Transition contract is an answer to the difficulties companies were having stepping from the showcase to an LOA. It is a 3 year tiered contract that allows for lower weekly salary in exchange for less rehearsal hours and total performances and still restricts to a 99 seat house. I highly recommend it to companies looking to move past a showcase code.

While on contract and therefore officially "Off Broadway," TACT exists in a gray area of New York theatre. Ticket price and audience-wise we compete with major Off Broadway companies several times our size, yet because of our theatre size, we don't qualify for things like the Lortel Awards and barely run long enough to get real word of mouth momentum going.

Last night we opened The Memorandum by
Vaclav Havel. A quintessential TACT play, Memo is a quirky satire on bureaucracy gone mad that hasn't been seen in a major NY production since its 1968 premier as part of the inaugural season at the Public Theater.  We had some bad luck in the room, namely the losing our lead actor two weeks ago when he was hit by a car, but the production has pulled together well and has had respectable reviews trickling in all day. 

Now that I've given some background, for my final post tomorrow I'll talk a little bit about what The Internationalists and TACT have in common and how they relate to the OOB community. 


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Interactive Global Theatrical Community


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Cathy Bencivenga.

Well, I'll start out by saying hello and introducing myself. Hi there, I'm Cathy, and I'm both very flattered and very excited to be your guest blogger for the week. As my bio succinctly points out, I am, like most of you, a filler of many positions. Mainly, but not exclusively, those of General Manager for TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, an Off Broadway company now in its 18th season of presenting rarely seen plays (www.tactnyc.org), and Managing Director of The Internationalists, a collective of directors from around the world (www.theinternationalists.org). As a representative of these two separate and distinct organizations, I thought I would split up my posts this week and spend some time discussing my thoughts on each.  My goal is to ultimately land on what makes such different working environments actually pretty similar, and how they relate to the OOB landscape.

Thankfully, Amanda's post on World Theatre Day left me with a beautiful segue to discuss The Internationalists. We came together in the summer of 2007, when our members met while participating in the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. It was clear that there was a craving for more opportunities for artists of different countries and cultures to work together, and we set out to create a more, "open, sustainable, and interactive global theatrical community." The challenges to creating an international company were both extensive and immediately apparent - communication first. It's hard enough to communicate when you're across a table, much less across an ocean, but we had time differences, language barriers, and varying technologies all in our way. Then of course there's the legal stuff - visas, unions, and dun dun dun... money.

That said, I think what could be deemed the biggest challenge has ultimately become our driving force: our vastly different points of view regarding how "theatre" is defined. Does it have to be in one place? At one time? Does it have to have an audience? Does it have to be live? Our different theatrical backgrounds and cultures have given us (even those from the same country) a huge span of opinions and perspectives. In my previous experience, no matter how differing our taste or techniques may have been, there was a general consensus of format. There was a script, a stage, audience, set, lights, etc, etc. But with The Internationalists is presumption is not the case. One of the most enlightening moments I've had was when our member Dina Keller from Germany explained to us that she had been trained never to consider the audience when developing a piece of theatre. This was a revelation to me that boiled down what I think is the most basic element of how Dina's style differs from other directors in the collective, and I constantly revisit it when experiencing Dina's work.

Likewise, our heavy reliance on internet to communicate with each other has led us to find ways to incorporate internet technologies in the work we do together. For instance, the last two Novembers, we've presented an event called "Around the World in 24 Hours" in which we initiated and/or curated 24 continuous hours of international programming. With events some occurring live in NY, some streamed in live from other countries, and some prerecorded, the entire 24 hours was then streamed out for mostly online audience. In 2009 we had hundreds of viewers tune in from over 60 countries.

Given these goals and challenges, our creative output, more often than not, doesn't fit into 16 performance run of a showcase. We present mostly mini-festivals and one night events. This year we are forgoing the 24 hour element of the Around the World Festival in order to focus on a direct exchange between New York and Germany (to be presented at Surreal Estate on November 13).

I've rambled for a while, so I'll wrap up, but I can't end this blog without another little plug for World Theatre Day. We've hosted events in NYC for the last three years and were thrilled to join forces with the rest of the coalition last year to help spread the word. As Amanda discussed, WTD is an easy way to acknowledge and celebrate the vastness of the international theatre community.