Friday, February 26, 2010
Monday, February 08, 2010
5 Years in the Carrie Hamilton Theatreposted by Damaso Rodriguez at 9:25 PM
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.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
A Note from Sheldon Eppsposted by brad at 10:23 AM
I read a story once about the great painter Pablo Picasso. Apparently there were many times when, in the process of creating one of his great works of art, he would find himself frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, or somewhat defeated by what was in front of him as he painted. This could happen either at the beginning of the process, or after many weeks or even months of work on a painting. At those moments he sometimes found that the best, though sometimes difficult choice was to toss the problematic canvass, and in his words, “Begin again.” Though this could be painful to do, it was by starting with a clean canvas that he was able to get past whatever the challenges were, get the painting that he wanted on to the new canvas, and as a result, create some of his most successful works of art.
Pasadena Playhouse is a great arts institution. We are fortunate to consistently create valuable works of theatrical art with such artistry and skill that -- when we are truly blessed -- our work can touch on greatness. The Playhouse is also a vital community service organization which trains young artists and new audiences, and opens the minds of thousands of young people to the power of the arts. Both of these tasks, creating great art and serving our community, are at the very heart of our mission, and we fulfill that mission with admirable expertise.
However, there are entanglements, obligations, and literal burdens that the theatre has been saddled with for many years that are the result not of what we do in the present, but of poor and misguided decisions in the past. While we have been able to move forward in spite of those challenges over the past decade and come out shining artistically, the fact is that a tsunami of events has now caused these challenges to feel insurmountable, and in fact impeded in a severe way our capacity to do what we do best. Our ability to function incredibly well as a theatre company attracts substantial resources from sales, from contributed income, and from government and foundation support (not to mention a high level of respect and admiration in our field). Unfortunately, far too often those resources must go to obligations created in that nefarious past, rather than to the support of the current art on our stage, and the valuable activities that make us vital right now.
The proposed reorganization will have its own set of challenges, questions, and complications to work through. But it is a way to “Begin again”! This could well be a means for us to expunge the burdens of the past and move forward with a clean canvas. If we can do this properly, with determination, with the pride and dignity that we deserve to display, this plan could well give us a valuable fresh start and allow us to focus our full energies on what we do best. It could give us the valuable opportunity to get back to the pure and valuable joy of creating theatrical art devoted to the promise of the present rather than the burdens of the past. Imagine the possibilities.
-- Sheldon Epps
We'll continue to post news here about the Playhouse's situation as well as what it all means to the future of Furious.