Monday, February 08, 2010

5 Years in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 9:25 PM
Last night was the "final" curtain call (for the time being...) on the Pasadena Playhouse main stage. As readers of this blog and followers of the theatre scene in L.A. know the last 10 days have been a whirlwind at Pasadena Playhouse. The fact that such a venerable institution is forced to shut down is a major setback to the arts in Pasadena, the greater L.A. theatre community, and of course to many an individual associated with the institution. Furious has been caught up in what will surely prove to be a major course-changing event in our company history. What's next? Can our show "Men of Tortuga" (2 weeks into rehearsal when the harsh and swift news of the Playhouse's fate came down) continue as planned? Is staying in the CHT (as we'd prefer) even possible? We hope to have answers within the next two days. Whichever way this turns out, the events of the past several days have made me reflect on our time at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre and at the Pasadena Playhouse. 15 productions in 5 life-changing years. A few random, but important highlights?

Fall 2003- We're called into a meeting with Sheldon Epps and Lyla White at the Playhouse's offices on Lake St. The pitch: "What would you think about taking residence in our second stage? No strings attached. Rent free." I remember it as an out-of-body experience. Too good to be true. We'd been homeless for a year (opting not to produce until we found an ideal situation). Several months later, we had a key to the stage door, and started rehearsals and a low-budget mini-renovation of the space. The Playhouse never got enough credit for how bold a move this was.

2004 - Labor Day weekend. The ensemble moves in. We are going to rip out the existing 140 seats and 10ft. deep stage, at least triple the stage depth, and remove all the seating replacing the old seats with some from our old space. We are doing this while rehearsing Scenes from the Big Picture by Owen McCafferty. It has a cast of 21 and 43 scenes of Belfast life. We want to start big, make our mark. The big idea was to completely change-over a theatre space, and produce a giant play without staff and real budget all in 6 weeks or so. Almost all of us still had day jobs. Foolish? We ran into major electrical problems as we hit tech. This show nearly broke us. In the final days before opening, we slept in shifts on the floor of the lobby fruitlessly trying to "make the lights do what we were telling them to", finish the program, finish the set, the sound design, etc. Melissa Teoh, ensemble member and set designer, went to Target and bought everybody toothbrushes and toothpaste---no one had been home to brush their teeth. I remember too changing clothes in the lobby multiple times as the next day's rehearsal arrived so that the guest actors wouldn't know we'd been there all night and the following day. In the end, it turned out well enough. And while we certainly survived the show, we had little time to recover. Another big idea was that we would produce 4 plays in 9 months. At that time, everybody worked on every show. It was the same 10 people swapping responsibilities. In the end, we opened 5 plays in about 12 months. We slowed down in subsequent years. Quality of experience over quantity.

2005 - We had to lobby to get the rights to the first L.A. production of The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute. Sheldon Epps helped out with a phone call. This was the first time we experienced the leverage that our Playhouse relationship would give us. Also, as our second production at the Playhouse, we had not recovered from the stress and strain of our over-reaching first production. The Shape of Things went extremely smoothly. I remember a significant moment during tech rehearsal when we were standing around (several of us) calmly discussing which gel color to use for a a scene. We had figured out how to get our lights to do what we told them to do, and things were calm enough where the subtlest change in color mattered--we had stopped just trying to survive, and were enjoying ourselves.

Summer 2005 - We started getting paid. The show happened to be The Fair Maid of the West, but the significance is that it was the production on which everybody top to bottom "got paid". Not much, but something that felt significant. This was possible because our more visible position at the Playhouse had helped us attract an impressive board of directors, who knew how to fund-raise, and of course our rent-free situation allowed us to allocate funds to the artists instead of rent.

Quality over Quantity - We only produced 4 plays between 2006 and 2007, two per year. Each production wound up on multiple best of the year and awards lists, and 3 out of 4 plays earned awards for their playwrights.

Blackouts - Ever since our arrival into the space, it's been slated for an imminent renovation. And it needs one. Periodic blackouts have been part of the experience of working at the theatre. See here and here.

Guns - Contrary to popular opinion, no one has to die on stage in order for a play to get a Furious production. However, there have been several gunshots fired in the Carrie Hamilton in the last five years. For two memorable misfires, see here and here.

Staff - In 2007, we took the leap and were able to hire 3 of our ensemble members to staff positions (a full-time general manager, and two part-time positions). We've been able to maintain our g.m. position, but the tough economy forced us to cut one of our part-time staff jobs last year. Still, this was a milestone.

The switch to an AEA contract - we had operated on an Equity "waiver" agreement since our first production, but each year we increased the actors' stipends, and began paying for rehearsal (which is not required by the 99 seat plan). In 2009, we moved to a contract and intend to remain on one whether at the Carrie Hamilton or elsewhere.

Kids, lots of kids - There are several couples in Furious. When we began at the Playhouse, there was one Furious baby. A little over five years later...10 Ensemble offspring. And while they have made life better for us all I think it's safe to say, they've also made the act of producing theatre...trickier. In other words, no more sleeping on the floor of the theatre. See "Acting and Motherhood, also here and here.


Blogger SUMMA POLITICO said...

Well, as this is a theater blog I thought i'd leave you some handke links, which complex includes three devoted to his plays, also a lecture thereon.


and sub-sites
[moravian nights discussion, etc]

the newest:
bpth have the psychoanalytic monograph
[the drama lecture]
[dem handke auf die schliche/besuch auf dem Moenchsberg, a book of mine about Handke]
the American Scholar caused controversy about Handke, reviews, detailed of Coury/ Pilipp's THE WORKS OF PETER HANDKE, the psycho-biological monograph/ a note on Velica Hoca/ open letter to Robert Silvers + NYRB re: JS Marcus..

With three photo albums, to wit:
[some handke material, too, the Milosevic controversy summarized]

Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society
This LYNX will LEAP you to my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS:
"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben]

9:13 AM  

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