Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6th, 2011 by kellinewby

What had we been worried about before?  What had we been angry about before?  What had been the things that stuck in our craw, that raised our hackles?  What were the promises made or not made and who were the people who had better things to offer us?  What could we say and not say?  What did we know and what did we officially  know?

Yesterday we had to ask a new question: how does someone thirty years old and exploding with life not wake up one morning?

I met Mike Grogan working on Baby with the Bathwater with Mill City Productions.  He and I were a two person team in a short but hysterical scene set on a playground.  We would sit back stage in our track suits playing intense games of SORRY! until it was time for our scene, and like divas, we would assure everyone that we would raise the level of the show with our performances.  It was really his performance, though.  All I had to do was not laugh.   His character seemed, at first, a normal parent.  But as the scene progressed, he became a hysterical, pill-popping, conspiracy theorist that I was trapped on a tiny park bench with.  He went big and bought into the character 100%.  I never saw him do otherwise.

Rehearsals would be one third working, one third laughing, and one third recovering from laughing.  If it wasn’t the scene, it was something else.  He had a new cell phone that was all the rage at the time, a bright red Razor, that he was proud of, but it kept breaking.  Every rehearsal he had a new story about how he had to fix the phone in some absurd way.

At one point, ribs sore and eyes watering, the director told us we needed to focus and run the scene.  I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind.  Mike took a big breath and turned into a cartoon of a satire of an acting exercise.  He puffed his cheeks and shook his face so that his lips flapped with a duck noise.  He splayed his fingers and shook them around his head like a conjure man.  He might even have said “Focus, focus!”  Someone once said that he could do gymnastics with his face.  It’s true, and I saw it at close range.

At first I thought he must be kidding, but after a few seconds it became clear to me that he was focusing.  His aerobic, farcical dance was drawing all his energy in and channeling it.  What could one do but laugh?  I said, “Mike, your focusing unfocuses me!”

Mike was also part of my original Redroom crew.  I wrote skits for him.  He was part of a group that trusted each other completely.  We had very little rehearsal, brand new material, and a new show every week.  He was always funny, always present, and always had your back on stage.

Tonight we had board meeting.  We talked about exciting opportunities, bold initiatives, and cold, hard realities, but my mind wandered back to the first item on the agenda, added yesterday afternoon.  Mike Grogan.

The Empty Space

Posted in moving on March 1st, 2011 by kellinewby

With all this searching, we’ve had to ask ourselves over and over what makes a theatre a theatre?

I walk into every space we look at and feel like the little bird in the children’s book that asks a wide array of creatures “Are you my mother?”  Some of the creatures are absurd choices; does the little bird really think the truck could possibly be its mother?  But there I am standing in space after space with wide, curious eyes saying “Are you my theatre?”

When I come home and think about it for awhile, my mind goes back to grad school.  Well, the good part of grad school: the books.

It reminds me of Peter Brook’s seminal treatise on modern theatre, The Empty Space, which I find myself returning to again and again.  In it, Brooks opens with:

I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage.  A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.

Later, in a chapter titled “The Rough Theatre,” he gets into a discussion of the kind of theatre you find anywhere.  “Salt, sweat, noise smell: the theatre that’s not in a theatre.”  He continues on to write:

I have had many abortive discussions with architects building new theatres–trying vainly to find the words with which to communicate my own conviction that it is not a question of good building or bad: a beautiful place may never bring about an explosion of life; while a haphazard hall may be a tremendous meeting place.  This is the mystery of theatre.

Over and over in he book, he asserts that a theatre is not a theatre because of curtains and lights and chairs with nice fold up seats.

It reminds me of Konstantin, the lead character in the Seagull.  Throughout the play, Konstantin argues passionately that we need “new forms” and Act One features a play he has written.  Before the performance, he describes his makeshift stage on the shore of the lake in this way:

Now this is what I call a theatre!  A curtain, two wings, right and left, and then nothing.  No set.  Empty space.  The curtain rises and all you see is the lake and the far horizon.

We saw another space last week.  It had a Grail Shaped beacon at the top of it (forgive me this one Monty Python reference).  The building was colder inside than out; it has gone unused so long that the cold has soaked into the bricks and plaster and held it there, but there was a big group of us and we all saw the same thing.  And we all liked what we think it can be.

Tonight at a board meeting, the term “blue skying” was tossed around.  We blue skyed the most recent grail candidate.  We had  seen it as an empty space, literally stripped of everything that had made it what it was before.  The walls bore scars throughout in the shape of what had been there.  There were piles of trash left by the workman who had ripped everything out.  In other places, hangers still dangled in wardrobes and odds and ends lay in dusty piles on the floor, as though the previous owners had scooped all the garments out in a bear hug and run as fast as they could from the men with the sledgehammers and crowbars come to empty out the space.

We shuddered in our coats and clapped our hands together for warmth.  Juliana and I crawled through every nook and cranny but I saw the look in her eyes.

New Forms.  Empty space.  Blue sky.  And then, nothing.

She was asking the space, “Are you my theatre?” and so was I.

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Questing

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.

What We Do

Posted in About Us on February 15th, 2011 by kellinewby

It came up in conversation.  Again.

The public perception is that we don’t do much.  That we’re closed most of the time.

Whenever someone says this to us, we get defensive–we do lots of stuff!  We just don’t always have the door open/lights on!  We work at night!

The fact that we still have our Christmas display up in February doesn’t help our side of the argument, and all of our excuses about having day jobs don’t get communicated, so, after our reaction, we decided to do something.  We’re working on a webpage redesign so that when people say “what do you do?” it will be easy to find the answer.  There will be a calendar, too.  We’re also working on a “who we are” section so that people can see that when the theatre appears closed during the day, it’s because we’re teaching, running after school programs, doing PMP, etc.  If people think we don’t do much, it’s our responsibility to show them otherwise….

Which leads me to Comedy Night!  After the Alley closed, the comedians were left with no place to go, until now.  This Friday, the 19th, is the kick off with stand-ups and RBIT performing.  In March there will be two nights–open mic night and then the double bill comedy night.  We’re also starting up a music night that will run every month.  And we’re working on the Seagull.  And hosting PMP.  And hosting BART.

Keep an eye out for the webpage updates!

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 three

Posted in moving on January 25th, 2011 by kellinewby

Part three.  Take four.

Yes we are moving.  Probably.  We don’t know where.   Yet.

This has been a difficult post to write.  The board has informed me that it is a political document (thank god for having real board members!) and so the details, the wherefores and whos….it becomes the most public statement of what is going on, and we had all agreed not to do a press release,  to just let word of mouth take it.  Also, the situation evolves daily as our dear Treasurer goes to meeting after meeting and we regroup to figure out what exactly is going on with the new information he has collected.

It is also difficult because how we feel about moving changes on a daily basis.  And I guess that’s where I’m going to keep this–with feelings.  In fact, I’m going to talk about my own life, and then try to draw parallels.

My husband and I live in a house that we love very, very much.  It is warm, insulated, has many updates (as the real estate people say) and a lot of personality, in a good way.  It has parking and a yard, which is hard to come by in parts of North Adams.  But it is small, and it feels even smaller now that we have a baby who is starting to walk.  And it has all these cool features that suddenly feel a lot like  baby death traps (a loft that is accessed by ladder in the middle of the nursery).  We’d like to move to a bigger house that’s closer to where we work.  We’d like  a little less yard.  We found some places that fit the bill, and we’re really excited about them, but we’re terrified too.  We really, really like our house.  It is a warm, warm house, which means a lot during these cold winter months.  We have fixed so many of the things that will need fixing in a new place.  When we think really, really hard, we can fit two kids into it (though reality may prove otherwise).  So I wake up every day with a different feeling about selling the place.  But there is a “for sale” sign in the yard.

It’s like that with moving out of 57 Main.  Some days I think “12 years!  The company has been there 12 years!”  Some days I pop out of the stage and walk to my favorite stores, visit with the proprietors, leave a poster, buy something and think about how great it is to be down town.  To be part of down town.  And the space is so familiar, so intimate.

But moving opens up possibilities that we would never have in the current place–like a space for child care, wings for the stage.  We’d be starting at 0 with dust and grime, so cleaning he space wouldn’t be a fight against several years of neglect and the theatre will feel clean.  Actually clean.

It’s made us think a lot about what we are doing in this community.  What we want to do with the theatre.  Moving means we can’t just go on as we have all these years, coming up with great ideas, doing a third of them, living hand to mouth, hoping that the things we want to communicate are being communicated.  A new space means a new plan.  We get to start over and shape a space to our needs.  I get really excited about all this rethinking (and about a baby room at the theatre!)

But then, sometimes I wake up and think there’s no place like home.

This morning I told my students that plays are about choice, about decision and action.  They happen at a moment of crisis because the stakes are high and things need to happen and the characters make those things happen.  It’s the most exciting part about theatre–with an actual audience sitting there in real time, on real seats,  a play must move forward.  Every scene, every action, every word going forward, forward.

Forward.

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.

Coming soon…

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23rd, 2010 by kellinewby

Details for On the Verge–including dates, locations and a backstage look at what goes into a production!