This So Called Disaster, part 2

Posted in Running the theatre, The Seagull on January 17th, 2011 by kellinewby

When last we left off, Frank had just convinced me that we should do The Seagull.  He wanted to set it in the present in the Northern Berkshires and maybe even play around with the gender of some of the characters.  We spent a week or so on the phone brainstorming and getting more and more excited.  Meanwhile, play suggestions kept coming in.  I realized, at that point, Frank had not convinced everyone else.

So why not The Seagull?

One e-mail from a concerned artistic committee member mused:

My only trepidation is that I don’t think it will attract much of an audience.  Especially the local uninitiated who might be intimidated by this type of play.  And to be honest, the Seagull is, well, very depressing and a bit full of itself.

But it’s such a funny play, Frank and I kept saying.  Well, not the end, but it’s funny and we’re going to make sure it’s funny and not dreadful, staring, boring Chekhov.  It will be the Chekhov that Chekhov wanted we he sent the actors little notes telling them not to do what their director, Stanislavsky, was telling them to do.

Truth was, I was a bit afraid of all the things the committee member had pointed out.  I think Frank was too.  We’ve all seen or done really, really boring Chekhov.  I was on the running crew for a production of Three Sisters and had to listen to those women whine about wanting to go to Moscow, but not try to go to Moscow, for three weeks.  I also saw a Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Seagull in London that lost half of its meager audience at intermission.  The RSC, for God’s sake!

The board, who had been excited about the prospects of raising awareness about Alzhiemer’s with Memory of Water looked at The Seagull and asked how we could reach out to the community with a play about self-absorbed artists.

So, why The Seagull?

Here’s my take on the situation.  I’m hoping I can get Frank to write a post as well.

Most importantly, we have a director who loves the show.  He thinks about it in every spare moment, talks about it with everyone he meets; it creates a certain energy amongst everyone working on the show.  It doesn’t feel like work to be part of that kind of show.  In the past, we have tried finding directors for scripts that we liked, and while the shows themselves turned out well in the end from an audience’s perspective, things went less smoothly leading up to the show but it’s a really big commitment to put up a production when you’re not getting paid and neither are any of the other people helping you out.  It’s just different when there’s a fire in your belly.

And even though the show is about self-absorbed artists at a surface level, emotionally it’s about something we all feel, especially lately.  There are four main characters.  The first pair is an established writer and successful actress who take their success for granted.  The second pair is two young people who aspire to have the same kind of success.  They think about it, and strive for it, and talk about, and the fact that they have relationships with these successful artists creates a false sense of possibility.  Their jealousy and the disappointment resonate for anyone stuck in a part time job with no hope of being hired full time, or for young people entering a workforce that is not as secure, stable or hospitable as it was for the generations before us.   It’s about people who want success and acknowledgment very, very badly because they think it’s the answer to all their problems and frustrations.

So Frank and I went before the artistic committee and argued that this was a great script, that actors would come out of the woodwork, that we would make sure it was funny and alive. We have months to rehearse, so all the actors will be reading many translations and we’ll be doing structured improvs.  By the end of the conversation, they were excited, too.

The board’s Treasurer came along to the meeting to remind us about budgets, etc. (we get so very excited talking about projects that we can forget about budgets, etc.) and because he said we had “landlord issues” we needed to discuss.   I thought “landlord issues” meant we needed to repair something immediately, or the rent was going up, some small disaster that is always expected and unexpected all at once.  I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

The Seagull, he informed us, will be the last show we do at 57 Main St.