Going Rogue

Posted in Midsummer, Running the theatre on June 23rd, 2011 by kellinewby

There are two stories to write at the moment.  First, the tale of saying goodbye to the hold space.   Second, the story of where we go from here.  Ever the optimist, I begin with the future.

“Let’s go rogue!  Theatre without walls!  Our children will be running around at our feet as we perform.  We’ll be like hippies!”

It’s been my refrain for months.  I’m sure my friends are fairly sick of this line of thinking.  It continues.

“Instead of jumping up and down trying to get people into our theatre, let’s go to where the people are!  They can eat sandwiches and lounge around and we’ll do a show for them!”

It’s an old idea: a traveling troupe of players goes out and about, sets up shop, does the show, and moves on to the next.

But we need a show.  And the show will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

When I said we were “going rogue,” my gentle readers probably didn’t think of a fairly overproduced play that’s been around since the late 1500’s.

Wendy and Lex will be directing a small cast in fun, traveling production of a show that is both fun to see and fun to be in.  A show that will change with every audience and every new setting.

Where will it show up?  Now that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

For the next few weeks, we will be chronicling how the show comes together.  Stay tuned.


Posted in moving, Running the theatre on February 24th, 2011 by kellinewby

This is a quest.  We find guides who lead us to strange new places.  We are looking for a grail.

The steel door had been painted crayon red and, though it had a normal-looking lock, it still had a door handle much like I imagine fortresses have with built in bars.  Our tour guide pushed it open and revealed another big mill space.  We’ve seen a lot of big mill spaces, but this one was warm.  This one didn’t smell of—anything.  We separated into our interest areas.  Ed went to the walled in area that might serve as an office.  Juliana walked around looking up, down and around, taking in the whole space.  I admired the old shoe boxes on a rack near the door.   David went for details, tugging on one of the many dangling extension cords.

“What was this space?” Lex asked.

“A sweat shop,” David joked.

We know to look at the roof, at the windows, to find the fuse box and the emergency exits, to see if there’s plumbing, to see if there’s a place for a wood shop, for props, costumes, and actors.  We know to ask about the heat–is there any?  Is it loud? Are there sprinklers?  Is there handicap accessibility?  These things are boring details.  These things are important, but sometimes we can lose ourselves in the wonder of the space.

We know now that these old buildings spiral off into strange worlds and we find ourselves on the set of a post apocalyptic movie–giant abandoned rooms stuffed with artifacts of a culture that is long since gone.  The people who lead us through these spaces sometimes discover new things, new rooms, new doors into these old worlds.  Sometimes they know about these rooms and are thrown off by our non-space related questions and curiosity–what was this place?  Do you know what that thing is?  Do you think we could rig this structure to do something completely different?   These places are full of stories and all these doors and hallways are branches leading us to new worlds over and over.

As theatre people we are part scavenger, always looking for the details that pull a show together, the bits of things, especially Juliana and I–a set designer and a props person.  In a sprawling basement below Main Street two weeks ago, she and I wandered deeper and deeper into the unknown and found a stash of things left behind from decades of tenants–a Yhatzee box from the 50’s, a pile of Rolling Stone magazines from the 1980’s.  The room was warm and dry.  We navigated the uneven floor with light from a cell phone.  We passed a land of abandoned toilets, bikes, and window screens.  The basement smelled of dirt and oil and dust.

The rest of the party called to us from above.  They had found a new staircase, followed a door and found themselves on the other side of a wall in a huge room full of refrigerators.   Juliana and I found our way up and joined them and stared at the wall that we could punch through to make more room.  It changed everything about the space for us.

But it wasn’t a revelation.

Deep down, we all know there isn’t a grail; there are many.  There’s going to be something good and something bad about each place we find, and we will have to weigh the pros and cons of each one. There won’t be a moment of discovery that solves all our problems and answers all our questions.  We find dead ends, regroup and try a new path.  We get inspired.  We get disappointed.  We get e-mails telling us about a new location.  We start to dream again.  Maybe there is a grail.  Maybe this is the one.  Friday at 2:00.  A new lead.  A new guide.  A new world.

The same quest.

With Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

Posted in RBIT, Running the theatre on February 5th, 2011 by kellinewby

How does a theatre grow?

A board member suggested this topic to me the other night, and the nursery rhyme has been in my head ever since.  I looked it up to get all the words right and discovered the little ditty I’ve been half reciting to my son is not about a lovely little garden, but instead about Bloody Mary torturing people.  Lesson one, always do your research.

Growing a theatre.  It’s been something we’ve been talking about for four years.  We talk about having fancy cocktail parties to woo potential board members.  At these hypothetical parties, we give a polished presentation of all we do.  We talk about going to SPARK events and creating more youth workshops and being a bigger presence on Main Street.  We know that’s what you need–a real board, connections, and something to offer the community that plays to our strengths and its needs.  But in the past, we’ve gotten distracted by real life, by jobs and kids, and also by the details of running a theatre and paying the rent.  We dream big, but we live hand to mouth.

But we just got another new board member.  Another non-artist, “real person,” as I call our new additions.  He was talking about North Adams at the meeting, but what he said applied to the Main Street Stage as well:

We enable ourselves by not moving forward.  We need to use what we have.

We have a space.  We have a community.   We have people outside the company that love our space and need a space for their own projects.  So…

  • We’re starting with a Comedy night two times a month.  It will begin on Feb 18th and feature a double bill with local stand-ups and RBIT.  In March, we will add in an open mic comedy night that will be free and open to all.  Stand-ups can start there and work their way up to the night with RBIT.  There used to be something similar at the Alley.  They want comedy.  We want community acts.  Beautiful.
  • We’re working on music.  We may have found someone, not us, to co-ordinate regular music nights.
  • We’re working on regular children’s entertainment.  More details to follow.
  • We’re asking you–what do you want?

Back to Lesson one: always do your research.  What do you want to see at the Main Street Stage?  Please, leave a comment or send me an e-mail.  We want this stage to better serve our community, but we can only guess what you want until you tell us.  We’re listening.

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.

This So Called Disaster, part 1

Posted in Running the theatre, The Seagull on January 12th, 2011 by kellinewby

There’s a documentary of a Sam Shepard production titled This So Called Disaster...that I often show my students to give them a sense of both one of our great living playwrights and how theatre works.  The “disasters” in the case of the production are minor and are mostly related to Sean Penn and Nick Nolte not getting along, and Woody Harrelson not really knowing how to be a theatre actor.

Poor Sam Shepard, I sometimes think, all these famous actors falling over themselves to be in the play he’s both writing and directing that seems to have no budgetary limits.  But then one looks at the plot of the show–Shepard trying yet another way  to deal with the damage caused to his family by an abusive, drunken patriarch.  He promises in an interview that this will be his last play about a drunken, abusive patriarch.  As the interviews continue, we learn that the actors are dealing with various personal tragedies–debilitating sickness, dying family members, dearly loved children that are more than a couple hours away by plane ride.

In the end, despite all the odds that are (or are not) stacked against them, the play comes off to tremendous success.  Perhaps the title means that all human stories and collaborations are a series of small disasters that, when taken as a whole, when shaped by a common goal, can be turned into something great, hence “so called.”

There’s another show I love because of the way it deals with theatre and humanity: Slings and Arrows.  The lead character, Geoffrey Tennant, is a disaster most of the time, but each time it seems that the show cannot go on (and he is incapable of separating the show from his own life, something that his sometimes-girlfriend can’t stand) he declares that the best things happen just as the string is about to snap.  It’s television, so most of the time the magical theatre music kicks in and everything rights itself and becomes transcendent.

So why do I write about this here on this blog?  Well, we’ve been presented with a series of challenges recently that we are turning to our advantage and I keep coming back to these two films.

Four years ago, as I was first getting involved in the company, we got together and read a script that we all loved.  We have spent the past four years trying to find a director for it, to no avail.  Then, after On the Verge, Frank,  a former company member resurfaced and, inspired by OtV, declared that he would like to direct.  We handed him the script we’d been carrying around and…he loved it.  Loved it.  He gathered together a crack team of designers who met in November (the play is scheduled for May) and they all loved it and had design concepts.  We planned a second meeting.  We scheduled auditions.  It was just the sort of energy we needed after the disappointing turn out for On the Verge had disheartened us.  The board loved it; the show is about the effects of Alzheimers, so we were going to try to find a way to raise money and awareness for local organizations.  I proudly announced the show at the first weekend of the Red(and Green)room and bragged about how prepared, how ahead of schedule we were.

Then, one week after I announced the show, Shakespeare and Co. announced their season.  Yep.  They were doing the same show.  Which explained why we had never heard back about the rights.

We went through all the stages of reaction–disbelief (of all the shows in all the world, this one?  This fairly obscure one?), frustration (but we’ve done all this work, waited all this time…why don’t they stick to Shakespeare), denial (what if we just do it anyway….) and finally, acceptance.

So Frank, the artistic committee, and everyone Frank knows sent lists of plays.  In one of his early e-mails he wrote “Why not Miss Julie or The Seagull…something classic?”  It was one of many, many ideas.  I helped him sort through the suggestions.  It was a week of long phone calls, constant e-mails and a lot of wikipedia dramaturgy and then, just when it seemed there was no answer, that we’d never find a play that spoke to him, that worked for our space and our company and was about something that mattered, he called me.

“I have this crazy idea,” Frank said.  “Why not The Seagull?”

We hashed it out–Chekhov is scary/boring/you are not allowed to do it wrong/there are so many places to go wrong/it needs men/so many people have had bad experiences with it….and on and on, but throughout he threw out ideas, and so did I.  We both agreed to re-read the play and see what we thought.

Years ago, we decided to choose between Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest.  We all wanted to do the Tempest with masks and movement training and (etc., etc.,), but when we had a community workshop to test the waters, the scenes from R&J just worked.  Magical theatre music worked.  We all left that afternoon, sat down with a Complete Works and a glass of wine and realized it was crazy, but why not Romeo and Juliet–if we did it right.  And we did do it right, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been in.

So why not The Seagull?

Work Day

Posted in On the Verge, Running the theatre, Theatre of the Mommies on October 4th, 2010 by kellinewby

Juliana, our set designer, looked a little sleepy.  She was sitting on the couch in the lobby, coffee in hand.  Her husband lounged nearby, as did Todd, our tech director.  It was ten o’clock on a Sunday morning and time to start building the set, which included taking down the Baltimore Waltz set.  The day was going to be full of hard, dirty jobs.

“No baby?” Juliana said, obviously disappointed.  “I wanted to squeeze him.”

A normal mother might have been shocked–shocked!–that someone would ask why she’d left the baby at home for a theatre workday, but it had only been a week since Lex and I had scrubbed the theatre clean for Gypsy Lane, she with her angelic 2 month old slumbering in his car seat and me with my beefy 7 month old strapped to my back.  I hate to clean the basement and she hates to clean the refrigerator, so she vacuumed around a bucket seat and I scrubbed spilled soda and wondered who had put all those half-eaten bags of pepperoni in the fridge and left them there while my papoose babbled away and occasionally reached for something I really didn’t want him to have.

We spent the day working.  I had to go back and forth between home and the theatre for my baby.  At one point I came back and the walls were being painted black by two sets of parent/child teams, one which boasted a four year old.  He was painting and making R2D2 noises (which are much higher pitched than you’d imagine).  In the lobby, Don Jordan (the director of On the Verge) and Juliana were having an intense meeting figuring out the last details of the set.  It’s going to be a highly interactive set, so a lot of the blocking depends upon the set, and vise versa.

At the end of the day, we were filthy and we hadn’t quite gotten everything done, but the actors were fitted for costumes, the old set was down, the measurements had been taken to plug the backstage “pit of dispair,” and an office had been set up in the window of the theatre so that Ed can do daily office hours in full view of the public.  We’ll finally look open.

Speaking of “open,” On the Verge opens in just under two weeks.  Better get back to those props.

Theatre of the Mommies–Board Meeting

Posted in Running the theatre, Theatre of the Mommies on July 7th, 2010 by kellinewby

Things are also moving forward with our strategic planning.  Last night we met at the stage and even turned on the AC–something we don’t usually do unless we have an audience.  We had to get a meeting in before Lex has her baby to start implementing our plans.  Downstairs, 3 children were going through the costumes, putting together a play that we kept putting off.  On stage, Lex shifted around constantly and kept her Tums nearby while I paced around trying to keep my baby happy even though we were meeting dangerously close to bedtime, but we both stayed in the conversation.  I nursed, put the baby in a sling, took him out of a the sling, put him on his tummy, rocked him and still discussed past grant writing attempts.  Eventually the baby did fall asleep and I put him down on a pad on the stage to slumber through discussions about the blog and the Wilco Weekend plans.

Every ten minutes, the kids from the basement would emerge with more costumes on–breast plates, gowns, crowns, cloaks, flowing hippie shirts–and annouce that the play was nearly complete and they needed the stage.  We kept saying “soon” or “ten more minutes.”  It held them at bay.  The 9 year old caught on to what we meant and did her best to keep the 6 year old and the 4 year old in the basement, but eventually the 6 year old said, “It’s been more than ten minutes.”  She insisted that they needed to build a set before their production.  We suggested that they choose all their props.  That got them back into the basement.  Lex’s 4 year old followed the other two around carrying his sword and wearing a crooked  muscleman breast plate, going up and down the stairs after them.  I’ve jokingly referred to the kids as the young company, but it’s becoming less and less of a joke.

The kids let me  sneak out before the show began.  It was a fighting play, they said, and not suitable for babies.

Mommy Redroom is on and we are back in the theatre with our new additions.  Somehow it’s all different and all the same, just like at home.

Collaborating the night away

Posted in Running the theatre, Theatre of the Mommies, Uncategorized on July 3rd, 2010 by kellinewby

There are a lot of arts organizations in North Adams.  A lot.  Three theatre companies.  2 mills full of artists.  Dancers.  Writers.  Performance artists.  Photographers. Sculptors. Painters.  How does one survive?

Being a theatre artist, I smugly believe the answer lies in my own particular poison: collaboration.  One of my favorite musicians, Amanda Palmer, said that she ended up doing music rather than theatre because to do theatre she has to organize 20 people and with music she just needs a piano and an audience.

I’m not saying anything new here, but I am seeing things from a new perspective.  You see, I have this baby now.  And Lex will have a baby in the next couple of weeks.  Having me away from home at bedtime simply doesn’t work for my son. However, bedtime is prime theatre time.  How do I run a Redroom and rehearsals for a Redroom when I need to be home at 7:30?  It’s an exercise in problem solving, no doubt.

But it’s not just people with babies, people with jobs and lives need to find a way to fit in volunteer theatre.  The show we’ve planned for September is going to be broken up between two directors to fit in a couple of summer vacations.  It all works out for the best–each director will work with his/her strength.  And, as I am one of the directors, we also have to figure out the best way to make sure my baby is happy.  We have been a highly collaborative theatre company for the past several years, but the upcoming months are going to put it to the test.

One person will cast the show, another begin the rehearsal period and a third will bring it all together for the end.  We are on the verge, as it were….

Theatre of the Mommies

Posted in Running the theatre, Theatre of the Mommies, Uncategorized on June 24th, 2010 by kellinewby

This afternoon Lex and I tried to write a grant. In the other room, her three year old played loudly with his dragon castle play set. Lex tried to find some comfortable position, a near impossibility at 8 months pregnant. My sweet little 3 month old slumbered angelically in his car seat. Just as we opened our laptops, he opened his eyes. And he started to cry.

Here we go…

We got through the history of the theatre in 500 characters or less and the mission statement, but my baby was not interested in grant writing (or eating, or having his diaper changed…). We did what we could and called it a day.

A year or so ago, Lex and I met with an MCLA arts management class. Because we were both there, no one was available to watch her little guy, so he was part of the presentation. The instructor laughed and told her students that they were getting a real look at life in the arts as we took turns chasing him around and talking about how to run a theatre.

And it’s true. Our children are a huge part of our lives, and so is the theatre, so finding how they overlap is an interesting, challenging juggling act. For the past coule years, there’s been only one theatre kid, so we could all take turns covering for babysitting during rehearsals and meetings, but now there are two and there’s another on the way. All boys. Now there is a baby I nurse during breaks in an audition, that I walk around and rock during a board meeting, who gets passed around and loved at a company meeting. He fits into the life the theatre the way he fits into mine.

It seems only fitting, then, that as my first big project back, I work on a motherhood Redroom. Stayed tuned for details.