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GTTP just completed the first episode of the independent drama television show, FARM STORY, an hour-long pilot about three New York City forty-somethings who trade the bustle of city life for the gentler pace of rural Chicken, Virginia. Once there they search for happiness, for fulfillment, and for a place to call home.
Last week I had the opportunity to see the opening night performance of Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of Whale Song or: Learning to Live with Mobyphobia by Claire Kiechel. Now, anyone who reads my blog, (and anyone who knows me personally) knows that I consider Tongue In Cheek a kind of unofficial sister company to GTTP. And, I absolutely love TIC Artistic Director, Jake Lipman, as both a director/actor and as a friend. I first met her, through former GTTP Ensemble Member, Kiwi Callahan (thanks, Kiwi), who said, “I just auditioned for this company and the artistic director is someone you should totally meet. You guys will get along so well.” Turns out she was right. You see, not only is Jake extraordinarily talented, what she does with TIC often serves as a blueprint for what Molly and I want for Tahiti. In fact, on Whale Song, GTTP took the opportunity to embed Molly Ballerstein into TIC for the production as she acted as Assistant Director/Stage Manager for Whale Song and Jake got the opportunity to see all those amazing qualities of Molly that made me drag her into the Co-Executive Director position here at GTTP. Yup, we’re all one big family in theater.
One thing, Jake, we need it to be clear that Molly is on loan to TIC. You can’t haver her permanently.
Anywho, where was I? Oh, yes, TIC productions – I make it my business to see everything I can that the company produces and I am never disappointed. And so, it will I’m sure come as no surprise that Whale Song was no different.
A quirky, funny, little show, Whale Song follows pre-school teacher Maya (TIC regular, Shelley Little) on a quest for answers following the death of her father (Brady Adair) in a whale tank at Sea World. When a humpback whale begins circling the island of Manhattan, Maya refuses to believe it’s all a coincidence.
As usual with TIC shows, the production is incredibly enjoyable. I always look forward to Jake’s inventive staging and her ability, as a director, to play with tone so that the audience is laughing one minute and crying the next (more on that in a minute). The set is simple but elegant, and the sound design gives the show a life that helps carry you out of a small blackbox theater in Manhattan and into the mind of the character Maya, whether she’s in her pre-school classroom, or her apartment living room getting absorbed in the constant news reports about the humpback whale circling Manhattan.
As expected Whale Songwas very funny and (what should also have been expected) extremely poignant (when will I learn -
always, always, always bring tissues to a TIC show, because though the company’s mission is to provide thought-provoking comedies, and though they accomplish that mission really well, (and I’m always going to have more than one good ol’ fashioned guffaw), for me it seems “thought-provoking” = “Jessica will, in fact, be crying her eyes out before the show is over,” so yeah, tissues would have been a good idea.
The six actors in Whale Song were natural and delightful throughout the show. Jake, playing local TV news reporter, Calista Grey, nailed that “perky on air news personality” at the same time she gave the character the edge that was needed to needle and spar with Ms. Little’s Maya Swan. Tracy Willet (as Sarah Swan), Matt Sydney (as Shep the motherf*cking drummer), Jared Shirkey (as Mark), and Brady Adair (as James Swan) all did a lovely job with multiple characters, creating a vibrant world peopled by interesting folks who intersect unexpectedly throughout the show.
But, while talking about performances, I must call out one particularly extraordinary moment in a play filled with really lovely ones, and here it is: if you have not seen Jared Shirkey, play drunk, you have not heard Mozart as it was meant to be played. In other words Mr. Shirkey plays a brilliant drunk. I honestly thought the dude had downed a bottle of Jack Daniels before the drunk scene and only afterhe appeared in the next scene – stone cold sober – did I realize the extent of his genius. I’ve seen good performances of drunk characters…I’ve even seen good drunk performances (yup as in drunk actor performing) but I’ve never, on stage, seen such a realistic and spot-on portrayal of a drunk character. Even if there was nothing else to recommend this show, I would tell you not to miss that scene, but, as I believe I made clear above, there’s a lot to sing about (yeah, I know. I totally went there)
with Whale Song. Catch it while you can.
Whale Song plays through November 8th at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. More details go to www.tongueincheektheater.com.
Ok, so it’s been about a month since the bulk of our filming finished and this virtually-impossible-to-write blog post is getting written today if it kills me. Why “virtually-impossible-to-write,” you ask? Because putting this experience into words is ridiculously hard. Thus far this has been the definition of indescribable, but for my loyal readers, (hi mom!) I will try. Before I really begin, a status update:
The SHOW is not yet done, not nearly done. Yes we have 99% of the show shot. BUT, number one – 99% is not 100% (we still have a couple of inserts and establishing shots left to film in NY), and number two ”principal photography is done” does NOT mean “the show is done.” There’s still all the post-production work to be done – color correcting, scoring, title sequence, ADR, music…oh, and, you know – THE EDITING! And THEN, after it is finished, after it is put together, and the production work and the post production work are done – for real and for true – Terri and I still have to find a network or production company that wants to fork over the money to make the next five episodes (or better yet – the next five years of episodes) and then, when that happens, we need to start the whole production process all over again for episode two. BUT!!! We’ve come this far, and Peeps? This is a pretty far way to come. So here and now, I will attempt to relate this experience – shooting my first TV show…
A quick disclaimer before I go into more specifics: I have a terrible memory. I remember things in snippets and moments but not as whole experiences (for all I know this is how everyone remembers things but it always seems slightly disconcerting to me that I can remember the smell of the ferns in the grove on my wedding day in the exact moment I said “I do,” but can’t remember what I did last Thursday night – like, the entire night is a blank to me, and I wasn’t even drinking, wait was I?) This is why I take so many pictures and why the invention of the smartphone camera was a blessing for me and a frustration for my husband – “put the phone away and experience the moment,” he says. “But I want to be sure I can remember the moment!” I say. Anywho, that memory thing coupled with the fact that I’m a born storyteller – always editing and embellishing the actual experiences of my life so they make a better story – means you’re not going to get accurate reporting from me BUT, you’ll hopefully get a good story. So! Here’s the story (or at least some of the story) of the Farm Story shoot:
There were so many unreal and amazing parts of this experience, so many moments where I couldn’t process at all the immensity of what we were doing. Don’t worry, I know we are just making a television show, not curing cancer or anything, BUT! we are making a television show! I mean, not a little home movie on a camcorder, a real honest-to-god TV show. With a cast of 14 and a crew of 20 and a bunch of locations and a production van and a picture car and 2 kids and a dog and a cat and a rooster named Leroy. And that is huge (not the rooster). In fact, it is so surreal to me that while we were filming I had a moment where it hit me and I stopped, dumbfounded, in the middle of a residential street in Staunton, Virginia. I actually stopped dead as it hit and said out loud, “holy good lord. We’re making a TV show.” (To which cast and crew around me were like, “uh, yeah, where have you been for the past week?”)
But, you see, for the eight months leading up to the shoot, I had been in producer/director mode. For all of Pre-Production, I was in head-down, producer “triage-the-problem” mode. You know, just getting it done. And for the last two weeks of pre-production, and the first week of filming, I was in head-down, “figure out what I want artistically, explain it to the cast and crew, and figure out how to get that filmed” mode. Basically, from January to September, I never had a chance to stop and realize that this was a big deal in my life and so, on that Saturday afternoon, on North Market Street, in the middle of Staunton, Virginia, the realization took hold and physically forced me to stop and observe what was happening – even if it was just for a second. In fact, it was such a strong feeling that I was briefly unable to function (it felt like what I imagine it feels like to be gut punched, but without the pain) as everyone around me did their thing – set up the lights, put the picture cars in place, touched up makeup and hair, held reflectors, prepped microphones, wrangled the kids, and just generally got ready to film the scene. And I looked around and saw all these people and I thought to myself, “holy shit! These people are here because of Terri and me and NO ONE else! WE did this.” And it was overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong, the moment passed pretty quickly – within 30 seconds I came back to myself and we got on with the business of making the show but seriously, Guys, it’s been surreal. Well actually surreal and not at all surreal. And here’s the thing, you know how you have those moments where you have two contrasting experiences at the exact same time and you’re not really sure how both can exist at once but they do and you go with it? Well, that was what it felt like to make Farm Story. It was simultaneously new, and exciting, and unbelievable while also being normal, and comfortable, right, and even…kind of mundane (in the most exciting sense of the word.) While we were in it, in the day to day-ness of it, it was just sort of ordinary. It just felt right and comfortable to crawl out of bed at the buttcrack of dawn, stroll downstairs, meet up with Alex (Director of Photography) and Tom (Sound Mixer) and go over the plan for the day. To find Julia, or Logan, or Eric (my lead actors) in hair/makeup and chat about the scene we were about to film. To swing by craft services and grab myself a banana. To basically just move through the set, and the day, as the director. It felt natural, and comfortable, and completely, totally, utterly right.
So, let me set the scene – If you like Farm Story on Facebook or if you follow our blog (which, if you don’t, what’s stopping you? Get on that, People!) you know that the entire shooting process started off with a day of shooting in New York City. In addition to our skeleton crew – Alex, Tom, Kelli, (Script Supervisor), Jen, (temp 1st AD), Molly (Production Coordinator), Noah, Lucy, and Will, (our three New York PA’s who, sadly, weren’t all able to make the trip. Only Noah was able to go to Virginia for the main shooting), a few friends acting as extras, and four principal actors. The shoot was an exciting and crazy day, but, in the world of filmmaking, kind of a short one.
Short or not, though, there is something ridiculously exciting, indescribable even, about shooting on the streets of NYC. The last time I was actually shooting on a main street in Manhattan was way back in my production assistant days on NYPD Blue and Godzilla and US Marshalls (yes, mom, everyone has heard the story about Tommy Lee Jones scolding me) and back in those PA days I promised myself that I would not set foot on another Manhattan movie set unless and until I was either in it or the director. I kept that promise to myself. On Farm Story, we filmed a scene on the subway, yup, the NYC subway system! We filmed a scene in front of Terri’s and my old apartment – a scene with two picture cars, no less! And the most exciting – we actually filmed a walk and talk scene, with two actors crossing 5th Avenue, at 40th Street, on a Saturday afternoon – we were a little clump (two actors and six crew-some walking backwards) crossing a ridiculously busy NY city street – don’t worry, Mom, we crossed with the light. But seriously, I still can’t believe we got the shot!
And then the next day, most of those folks who were on the NY shoot, piled into a 15 passenger van and a 12-year-old Subaru and drove for 7 and a half hours to arrive at our, as-yet-unseen destination – a beautiful 18th century brick farmhouse on 27 acres of land. We arrived, we had some dinner, we went to bed, and the next morning we were up with the sun to do some work.
What followed from there is a blur of filming the likes of which I had never experienced before. 12 hour days at locations all around Staunton, sometimes as easy to get to as the yard of the farm house (because we were, you know, filming in the yard of the farmhouse) and sometimes requiring us to pile back into that trusty 15 pass and head the 20 miles to hit the locations in Staunton proper. Speaking of Staunton proper, while there we filmed in: a diner, and a motel, a bookstore, an office, a beautiful house (see the North Market Street gut-punch above), a downtown apartment, and an impromptu traffic jam. On the farm we filmed in three different bedrooms, two kitchens, a dining room, a library, a living room, a screened in porch, two hallways, a patio, a lawn, and backdoor steps. We filmed in the sunshine and in the rain, on a dusty dirt road and in a dried up corn field. In vehicles and out, at all hours of the day and night. And, although we averaged only 12 hours a day we managed to stay on time and on budget, and I still don’t know how we did it. Our lunches each day were delicious – good, fresh, well prepared food – but our dinners? Our dinners were sublime…
And now I come to the thing. The thing that I talk about ad nauseum, the one thing that everyone who knows me knows about. The point I’m trying to make, the feeling I can’t fully describe, the thing that this blog post is really about: Family is important to me. It’s like the Most Important Thing. It’s what it’s all about. Not only the family you’re born into, but also the one you choose and, if you’re lucky, the one you create. On every project I do, I try, as much as possible, to bring family members I’m actually related to along for the ride but whether the blood family is able to join in or not, I always always always look to build a family on each show. It’s one of the reasons I use the same people over and over. It is, in fact, the reason I do this crazy theater/film thing. It’s why I started a company — so that I could have this whole little family whenever I work on a project. It’s what it’s all about. AND, when Te and I first talked about Farm Story, we talked about building a family that would create this show. A group of people—a cast and crew—who would work together and live together and eat and drink together. We wanted our meals to be family meals – to the extent that Terri and I both wanted the dinners to be prepared by our parents and local “friends of the production”. We wanted home cooked meals. Yes, we wanted it to be, as Tom said, “a professional thing we’re doing here,” but we also wanted the group to bond as family.
And you know what? It totally worked. All of it. The filming, the living, the eating and drinking together. The parents making a few dinners and the local friends making the rest. The late night storytelling, the early morning coffee dash. The massive breakfast prepared by cast, crew, mom, and dad on the day we didn’t start until 2pm, the scary-clown-movie nights that found everyone watching, shouting at the screen, the birthday party on set at 1AM. And the meals – while we were in Virginia, at the end of every shooting day, we gathered on the screened-in porch of the main house and we ate together. We got to know each other, we processed the day, we played cards, we razzed on the PA’s. We laughed, we cried, we worked, and we even got a chance to play a little, but most of all, we became a family.
Hopefully that family will continue. Like I said above, now comes the hard work of editing and getting the show out there so you can all see what we did. Now comes the hard work of selling the show so that we can do this all again with these wonderful people (most of whom I. Did. Not. Know. A year ago!) Now comes the hard work of making a living at day jobs because Terri and I both put that whole “I need money to live” thing aside while we did Farm Story (thank you John and Rob for that).
So the next step is to get it out there and the first step towards that is Austin. Again, as you may have seen on Facebook, the Farm Story script got accepted to the second round at The Austin Film Festival, entitling Terri and me to participate in special panels and workshops. And we’ve put together a trailer on the off chance that the acquisitions person from AMC or Netflix says, “oh, I LOVED your script. Do you have a trailer of what you’ve made?” So, tomorrow afternoon Terri and I are off to Austin. We’ll attend our first film festival. We’ll network and shmooze. We’ll hopefully set up some meetings and hopefully move the project forward. But whether something major happens there or not, we will now focus all of our energy on finding a way to get cameras rolling on episode two. And, until the day comes when cameras do roll again, I will hold in my memory twelve glorious days and nights in the Shenandoah Mountains and…
The hot cramped rooms, particularly the Brooklyn bake
Hearing walkie talkie “chatter” on my set thanks to the Zello app
Bonding with my tribe
Homemade biscuits and gravy
A chinese fire drill
A soy field at dawn
Red elfin ears
An unplugged phone ringing
Wagon Wheel on the radio
A downright freaky doll
Mountain mist in the morning
Dinners on the porch
A broken down Subaru 2 hours from our destination
Tiny rooms with too many people
“Terri, you gotta hold my movie”
Star-filled nights with too much wine
and long busy days with not enough sleep
And I will forever be humbled by and never fully able to express what it means to me that friends and family far and wide (and a few strangers) ponied up forty-five thousand dollars so we could make this show; that local crew jumped on board for very little money and absolutely no glamour; that actors, both local and not, found their way to Staunton (by car and train) to sleep on a rented bed and do their work, sometimes for as little as a few hours; that Terri’s parents and my parents each traveled more than 500 miles to stay respectively in a guest room and a two star hotel room (that they got kicked out of for a day of filming), AND to cook a few dinners for 30 people; that sisters and nieces and nephews gamely participated in this insanity; and, last but not least, that Tom, Alex, Molly, Noah, Julia, Logan, Eric, and Sulekha all got in the motherfucking van not for the promise of riches or luxury or fame; they got in the van with virtual strangers, for a 7 hour drive because they trusted this script and they trusted my ability to get this done; because they trusted me, a person they didn’t know well (and in some cases didn’t know at all). They all enthusiastically just said, “yup, I’m in!” They became a family and they forever changed my life in the process. Thanks, guys. You’re the best!
Ok, so this is a long post. Like, a really long post. Sorry about that. But it turns out, when you’re talking about your passion, it’s kinda hard to keep it short. Feel free to jump to the links and/or skip to the end (that’s where the really important stuff is, anyway.) -Jess
As many of you know I have been a television fanatic my entire life. In fact, my life is defined by the shows I watch now, was watching then, will be watching tomorrow.
There are the shows of my childhood that I watched religiously with my sisters – Quincy, Eight is Enough, 240-Robert, Simon & Simon, St. Elsewhere, Remington Steele, Riptide – the list goes on and on and on.
Then there are the shows I watched on my own as I got older. In junior high it was Miami Vice – I still remember the conversations Colleen and I had at our lockers about Crockett and Tubbs.
There are the days in high school and early college where I was obsessed with Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. (And yes, I’m well aware of the Northen Exposure episode that did an homage to Twin Peaks.)
The night during freshman year college spring break, when I had come home from a bad date in an awful mood and my dad had known the only thing that would pick me up – a Star Trek The Next Generation marathon where we watched a full videotape of 6 episodes, long into the night.
The ER fanaticism (particularly in those early seasons) when my aunt called with a family crisis during the ER season finale and I not only didn’t pick up the phone until the commercial break but when I did pick up, the first words out of my mouth were, “Aunt Irene, you know it’s the season finale, why are you calling NOW?” (yup, that story is legend in my family – most of the time I’m a very good niece, I swear.)
After college I had moved on to The X-Files and there was the taping mishap when, during Jen and Kelley’s rehearsal dinner, thinking I was safely recording the season finale, I left the television unattended, went to the dinner under the tent in the backyard and discovered (days later) that halfway through the episode someone, (who shall remain nameless), had changed the channel to a Red Sox game! Not even the Yankees! Not even the post-season! As you can imagine, in the days before dvrs that was a rough one!
There was Highlander and Gilmore Girls and Due South and Farscape; Thirtysomething, and I’ll Fly Away, and Party of Five, and Chicago Hope. In recent years it’s been The Wire, and West Wing, and Friday Night Lights, and Doctor Who, and Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, and Orphan Black, and Justified, and ANYTHING from Joss Whedon. There have been shows that barely lasted a season and there’s been that old stalwart, Law & Order that lasted for 20 and of which I never missed an episode. There are dramas and scifi, and action adventure, but there’s comedy too: Newhart and Cheers, and Friends, and Sports Night and Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family, and Happy Endings. There’s even an animated show here and there - Aqua Team Hunger Force and Family Guy, I’m looking at you (though admittedly, I’m not nearly as obsessive over animation.) The shows go on and on too numerous to name them all, but the one uniting factor for all of them has been my obsession and family, and friends are all used to me starting out conversations with “That reminds me of this one scene in…”
When I get hooked on a show – I watch it all, in order – I do not miss an episode. Yes, there are the shows I have a casual relationship with – I’ll drop in, enjoy an episode every once in awhile, but those are rare. There are even the shows I hatewatch (again dropping in and out of them), BUT if I’m committed, I’m committed and I can’t let them go. My love for my shows defines moments of my life and Holy Good Lord, the things I’ve seen on TV! It is true that I place my defining career moment – that moment when I knew I wanted to be a director – as my first viewing of a film (Star Wars, to be exact – yes, when I was like 6). But if that was the moment I new I wanted to be a director, the moments that honed that realization, and cemented that decision; the moments where I began to really understand what a director is, and what kind of storyteller I wanted to become, those moments are too numerous to keep track of and stretch through decades of capital M Moments of television where a TV show blew me away, made me excited, made me think, made me laugh out loud, made me cry, made me who I am (warning, spoilers abound in the bullet points below):
- when the camera goes slo-mo in that one episode from Highlander when Richie realizes what he is now;
- when Carter comes into his own and takes charge of the ER in a crisis;
- when Bob Newhart wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette at the end of Newhart;
- when Buffy whispers her guidance to Dawn before she takes that leap;
- when Picard joins the poker game;
- when Lorelai realizes her feelings for Luke;
- when CJ gets the goldfish from Danny;
- when Niles’ ironing his pants turns into a 10 minute, absolutely brilliant bit of farce;
- the kaddish for Uncle Manny in Northern Exposure;
- the Galactica falling through the atmosphere of New Caprica;
- the lawnmower in Mad Men;
- the goat fight in How I Met Your Mother;
- Jayne’s hat in Firefly;
- the locket in Farscape;
- the chair flip in Alias;
- the bullet in Fringe;
- Doctor Donna
Moments on top of Moments on top of moments that have moved me and stuck with me but more than that made me stop and think “wow, I want to be a part of that! I want to be responsible for these moments for other people.” Honestly, it’s why I’m a director – for the moments.
So, why am I telling you this? Why now? Why wax rhapsodic about my TV obsession on a theater blog? Well here’s the thing you may not know: this company was never intended to only be about theater. If you watch the music video I made a few years ago, you’ll see I titled it a “Going to Tahiti Production”. You see, I LOVE theater (obviously), but from the beginning, I never intended for GTTP to only do theater. Always always always I have been finagling, to make a film or, better yet, a TV show. So finally we come to the point… finally, the television obsession and the directing thing are starting to collide. Finally I’m making a TV show. To say that it’s a dream come true doesn’t begin to cover it…and honestly, it’s also not accurate, you see, the dream can’t come true – I can’t make the show – until the money is in place, and, though we’re going strong we still have a looooooooooong way to go with that. BUT, I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.
“But it’s a web series, Jess. Didn’t you just film a webseries that’s in editing now and is supposed to be released in the fall?,” you say. Well, yes, I did and it is, and it will be. And yes, technically Farm Story is a web series in that it will first air on the web. And it being a web series allows us to afford to make it. BUT, Terri and I have big plans for this little series. You see we’re not making it like people normally do a web series, we’re making it like a regular ol’ tv show. What we’re doing is filming our very own tv pilot – an hour long drama for a six episode first season. Yes yes yes, it will be distributed online first. But after that, who knows? We have the first 3 episodes written. We know the arc for the remaining 3 episodes. If all goes according to plan, this won’t be a little project. This will be the first season of a multi-season story. If all goes according to plan, this is the next 3-7 years of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, GTTP is not abandoning theater, not even close. In fact, Molly will be doing a workshop production of a new “beyond words” theater piece this summer. And GTTP will have a full production slate through the 2014-15 season (in fact, stay tuned for announcements about that) BUT, GTTP is growing and branching and every day getting closer to the production company I envisioned when I first started out.
The reason I’m making such a big deal about Farm Story, (and you can read all about the development of the project and all the latest happenings on our Farm Story blog) is that this show is our biggest endeavor yet. Our biggest budget by far (50K). A completely new medium for us. Farm Story is a completely crowd-funded, donation-based show (that’s right every dime for this show is coming from donations from y’all). This is locally-grown TV. No big Hollywood studio yet. No big Hollywood money yet. Everyone on this project is either working for peanuts or volunteering, Terri and my folks are cooking some of the meals – are you beginning to see the picture here? We literally can not make this show without the support of all of you. So, I know I’ve asked before but now I’m going to ask for more. This is one of the most important (and terrifying) things I’ve ever done. So, whaddya say? Wanna help us make a television show?
So, with that in mind, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to Farm Story and be a part of this revolutionary, locally-grown TV thing we’ve got going on here, go to the donate page of goingtotahitiproductions.com for instructions; OR, if you want to donate through our crowd funding site, RocketHub, and get rewards for your donation, go here. Truly truly truly, EVERY little bit helps. And, if you can’t donate right now, please spread the word. I also highly recommend checking out the video on the Rockethub page, where you can learn even more about me (as if you need to after this blog post), Terri, and the project; not just because I made the video and I think it’s a damn fine l’il movie, but because I think it conveys the spirit of what we’re doing.
So, yeah, basically – Theater is cool. Going to Tahiti Productions‘ new theatrical season will be announced in July/August. TV is cool. GTTP is making a show. We need money and support to do it. Jessica is a crazy television junkie. Thanks for reading.
Going to Tahiti Productions is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for charitable purposes of Going to Tahiti Productions must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
And every year, as the weather starts to warm and we have those first real days of recognizing that the winter is truly over (though this year, I don’t entirely believe it) and the allergies start acting up for real, I can’t help but think of a particular commencement speech. It was not actually the speech delivered at my graduation. To be honest, I don’t even remember who spoke at my graduation, let alone what he or she said. No, this particular speech was over ten years before my time and was one that, until the wonders of being able to look up just about anything on the internet, I had only ever heard about second hand from my mom:
In 1980, another dad got to play a special role in his daughter’s graduation. I don’t know if he actually handed his daughter her diploma, but that graduation, Alan Alda delivered the Connecticut College commencement address. His daughter was in attendance, graduating from the school and he not only delivered a beautiful speech that could have applied to each of the graduates present, he also managed to make it a personal bit of advice from a dad to his daughter. The whole speech is beautiful and powerful (why else would my mom still talk about it almost 25 years later) and can be read here. But there’s a particular passage that I feel applies today. Towards the end of the speech Mr. Alda gave his daughter, and all of her fellow graduates, the following advice:“I want you to have chutzpah. Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don’t doubt yourself. Whenever you wonder about yourself, look up at the stars swirling around in the heavens and just realize how tiny and puny they are. They’re supposed to be gigantic explosions and they’re just these insignificant little dots. If you step back from things far enough you realize how important and powerful you are. Be bold. Let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. Move with all of yourself. When you embark for strange places don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. They may laugh at you if you don’t discover India. Let them laugh. India’s already there. You’ll come back with a brand new America. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”
I can’t even with this. No, I’m serious. Did you read that? I know it’s a long passage, but this isn’t just an excuse for me to avoid coming up with a long blog post of my own. It’s important. It’s powerful advice from a successful man about a crazy, competitive, unpredictable business. But it’s more than that – it’s poetry, man. It’s frakking poetry. I feel like I want to claim this as a manifesto for myself and for GTTP.
Because, here’s a little secret, Gentle Readers – it’s all true. You need to be bold. You need to not doubt. You need to let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. You need to move with all of yourself. You need to NOT LEAVE ANY OF YOURSELF SAFELY ON SHORE. It’s about the leap. It’s about being brave. It’s about embracing the unknown. It’s about having the nerve, having the chutzpah. It’s about leaving the city of your comfort and going into the wilderness of your intuition. It’s about hard work and risk and NOT QUITE KNOWING WHAT YOU’RE DOING. It’s the only way you’ll find greatness. It’s the only way you’ll find yourself. And, it’s what we’re doing here at Tahiti. To be honest it’s what we’ve been doing all along, but now, we’re about to do it in a bigger and scarier way then we ever have before. Not only are we about to make a television show – yup, an honest-to-god tv show, but we’re also about to exist in two mediums simultaneously. Next week, I will head down to Virginia for a pre-production meeting with my UPM (that’s Unit Production Manager to the non-film folks), my Associate Producers and my Writer/Co-producer, as well as our first big fundraising event, and our first official location scout with our Locations Manager. And, while I’m off gallivanting in Virginia and prepping Farm Story, Molly will take the reins here and start prepping her next project – a theater-beyond-words piece derived from the music of Camilla Ammirati and text of Alexis Roblan.
And, yup, that means I’m about to give up a bit of control (yes it is actually that hard for me to even conceive of such a thing, despite the fact that I couldn’t have chosen better hands to leave GtTTheater in than Molly’s). GTTP is about to have its first theatrical show that I will have very little involvement in. Although I’ll be around and consulting and I’ll still be blogging about and talking about it, it really won’t be mine at all. It’s time to let the GtTTheater fly without me for a bit – don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m done with theater, not by a long shot – in fact, come October, I’ll be back in the rehearsal room with Molly for our Fall show – but for the next few months, I will be taking a bit of break to focus on television and as Farm Story moves forward, and Molly takes the reigns of our newest theatrical adventure, we will try to follow Mr. Alda’s advice. We will be bold. We will be brave. We will have chutzpah!
Disclaimer – despite what this may look like from the first paragraph, this is a review for Tongue In Cheek’s production of their original play, Buffalo Heights, and, spoiler alert — I totally loved it…
After/Since Within Arm’s Reach ended, I’ve been thinking a lot — and I mean A LOT — about what we, as GTTP, do and where we fit in the off-off-Broadway landscape. I believe I have mentioned here before that it’s always tricky to get an audience, to get butts in the seats — not just because we’re a small company who can’t afford to hire a big PR firm to get the buzz going but also because we focus on original work. And though we do great stuff, it’s unknown stuff so we don’t have the built in audience of a production of Guys and Dolls, or West Side Story…or, if we’re talking plays, The Glass Menagerie or Our Town. You see, I didn’t start GTTP just for the fun of it, and Molly (now that there’s a Molly) and I aren’t doing it just for the heck of it. Partially we’re doing it because we have no choice — we’re directors. And if we don’t have a project we have trouble functioning in the world but also, we do this because we want this little theater thing we do to become, if not a profitable enterprise, at least a break even enterprise. And, as Annie Savoy says in the film Bull Durham, “baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” And I feel that way about theater and GTTP — theater may be a passion, a necessity, a religion to us practitioners, but it’s also a job. We want it to pay our bills not just our souls. So, when I think about all of this and I think about the complexities of finding an audience and reaching out to the universe (especially the NYC theater-going universe) I inevitably think about competition. I think about other theater companies that are like us, who do similar things to what we do and it’s very easy to tip into jealousy and envy and it can sometimes be hard to enjoy watching what others do (even when it impresses me) if I see them as competition. Then again, as self-centered as it sounds, I always know how impressed I am with a production if my appreciation busts through that mask of jealousy and envy and I walk away from it just loving what I’ve seen…
Which brings me to Tongue In Cheek. As I have mentioned before, Tongue In Cheek Productions is a theater company that I love. In the past few years I’ve seen 3 shows from TIC – Our Town, The Mistakes Madeleine Made, and How I Learned to Drive, and I’ve been impressed by all of them. In many ways, I think of TIC as a sister company to GTTP. TIC is a small company that’s been around for more than a couple years but fewer than ten. TIC was created by and is run by a woman, Jake Lipman. They use a core ensemble of players but also uses outside actors on a by production basis, they also won a Puffin Grant, and, a lot of their set pieces are from Ikea. I also think of Jake as a friend. I love her directing and her acting and I’m always excited to see what she does. However, with all those similarities and more, up until recently the company differed from GTTP in one key way — TIC focused on revivals. That changed with their most recent production, the original piece, commissioned and developed by Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, Buffalo Heights.
Buffalo Heights is a new comedy which follows new teacher, Fran, on her first semester teaching French at Buffalo Heights High. When controversy erupts at the school, Fran (Jake Lipman) encounters unexpected adversaries and allies.
To be honest, although I always enjoy TIC’s work, I was wary about seeing Buffalo Heights for a couple of reasons — #1) You know, this isn’t what TIC normally does, what if it wasn’t any good and I had to find something to tell Jake after the show — “uh, that was interesting” — without saying, “yeah, stick to what you know.” or more likely #2) What if it’s amazing and it’s better than what GTTP does and it’s incredible and brilliant, and now TIC decides to abandon revivals all together and only do original works and become direct competition for GTTP and what if they do it better than us and what if nobody wants to see GTTP anymore because TIC is doing the same thing but they’re doing it better and what if my jealousy ruins my friendship with Jake and I, and they, and we, and, and, and, after all this is our little pond, what if there isn’t room enough for both of us and, and, and… (as you can see, I can spiral out of control pretty easily).
BUT guess what happened? I saw the show and it was awesome. It was witty and fun and thought provoking and surprising. First off, the show was wonderfully performed (as I’ve come to expect from TIC shows). Jake (as Fran), was terrific as the outsider character entering an unjust community and finding herself in the middle of a fight she hadn’t expected. Shelley Little was hilarious balancing the officiousness of an ambitious school principal with a desire to still be a friend to Fran. Joe Mullen, as the hapless security guard, effortlessly crossed the line between sweet and innocent and totally skeevy (I mean that in the best possible way), and then back again. Nina Leese was fun as the local congresswoman so focused on the politics of her career that she is blind to the behavior of her own daughter. Allison Lemel found a perfect level of obnoxious, self centered teenager when portraying the “running for Class President” Piper. And Matthew Whitfield was fantastic, rebellious and lovable, as the reformed stoner student who dares to enter into competition with Piper. But, of course none of this is a surprise. You see Jake is one of those directors who knows the best way to make her job easier is to cast well — and she always delivers.
And then there was the play itself — devised by the TIC Ensemble cast with playwright Adam Harrell, Buffalo Heights is really funny. Again, as expected from a TIC show, I found myself laughing out loud throughout the show. But, more importantly, as a person who has seen A LOT of theater and film and television, and so is not often surprised by where a plot goes, what I really enjoyed about Buffalo Heights was the fact that during the show there were several moments where I thought to myself, “oh, this is that plot line” or “oh, so if we’re coming from here, we’re going to end up there” and? I was wrong every time — which was awesome, surprising, and downright fun.
So, here’s what it boils down to: #1) Go see Buffalo Heights. #2) Much to my surprise (yes, I’ll admit to my petty jealousies), I hope this is only the first of many original productions from TIC, because seriously, they know what they’re doing! (Again, this is not acutally a surprise, it’s just, wow! Good stuff all around! I love their revivals but it turns out I love their original work too. And, most importantly, #3) It looks like seeing Buffalo Heights set off a little paradigm shift in my mind when it comes to comparing myself and GTTP to other companies of our ilk, to seeing ourselves in competition with them and others, and here it is — you ready? So, not to get all hippy dippy or anything, but… THERE IS NO COMPETITION! I don’t mean that in the sense that one of us is so much better than the other that it blows the other one out of the water but I mean this as an actual, literal — there. Is. No. Competition! It’s so easy in this business to see everything as a competition — “but that’s our money”, “that’s our audience,” “you can’t be good too because then those same people will go see your shows and not mine”. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The sandbox is big enough for us all to play in — especially, when it’s Tongue In Cheek that we’re talking about — and, when it comes to TIC, I’ll even share my shovel and pail…look, Ma. I’m growing.
As many of you know, I recently moved from one part of Brooklyn to another. Finally, with Within Arm’s Reach done for now, and with The Jane Games entering the editing phase, (and so taking less of my time), I’ve begun to unpack. And, as part of that unpacking, my ridiculously supportive (and super patient) husband requested that I sort through the 5 bankers boxes worth of memorabilia that I have moved from place to place over the past 10 years (in all fairness the 5 boxes started as 1 very small shoebox) and get rid of that which I “can’t remember the origin or emotional significance of.” Turns out, there was a lot to discard…but it also turns out sometimes being a packrat pays off. Especially when the stuff is from before the days of regular email, Facebook, and smartphones recording immediate photographs of every event. So, yes, I discarded a lot (like, 4 bankers boxes worth) but I also found some beautiful treasures, one that I want to share…
Some of you know of my Uncle Johnny, the artist who inspired me as an artist but also the inspiration for the name Going to Tahiti Productions (you can read that story here), and some of you actually knew him when he was still alive. He was a pretty cool guy — though not a talkative one (like me, he didn’t really enjoy talking on the phone, though, on occasion when we got to talking about a movie or book that we liked (or hated) the conversation would be animated and would go long into the night) — but letter writing was pretty much how we communicated. I would periodically send him a long letter about what I was up to and he would send me a card or a book or a note back to check in. But, whatever the letters or cards or notes or books contained, he always had some words of wisdom from an older artist to a younger. It didn’t matter that his medium was paint and mine was actors. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t making money with his art either, and that he knew that struggle wasn’t easy. It didn’t matter that he was 3000 miles away and we, East Coast Family, rarely got to see him. There were always encouraging words…we were always going to Tahiti.
So, while going through the memorabilia boxes, I came across this note card from Uncle Johnny. It doesn’t have a date and the envelope with a postmark is long since gone (even in my packrat ways, I did find a way to throw out envelopes from people who’s addresses I already had), but I think it’s from the mid-late 90′s. The note starts off, in response to a letter I sent him, “I…hope you are working 20 hrs/day and living off of adrenaline, intuition, and the euphoria that is show business/production.” And continues, “yes; bizarre, surreal, weird, monsters, religion, love: It must be Art.” Judging from that, I think I (and he in his response) was referring to the first movie I was a PA on in the city (ah, my days as a Production Assistant…another story all together). So that would put it in early ’96, after Atlanta but before I was officially living in the city. But, I digress…
I must have been philosophizing in my letter to him, because he goes on: “I also see that you have turned your predicament into philosophy (more Art, I’m so proud of you). Getting paid is the next evolution – no pay, some pay, now and then pay, low pay, little pay, more pay, steady pay…” The man knew of what he spoke. And then, this:
“Give the best you have, always keep learning, grow with each project, hang tough, Dream, reach beyond the reachable, be true to yourself – good things will happen.”
So, GTTP is following Uncle Johnny’s advice. After Molly’s current directing gig, I, Salome, she’ll be jumping in to Tahiti’s next show – a beyond words theater piece that is, right now, just beginning to take shape. And me? I’m jumping in full force to Farm Story, GTTP’s first foray into television. Regular updates are happening, well, regularly, here – primarily from writer and co-producer, Terri Viani (and occasionally from me), but basically, what you need to know is: our production calendar is set, crew interviews start tomorrow, fundraising is about to begin in earnest, auditions will start in late June, and, if all goes according to plan, cameras will roll on September 6th! It’s big…who am I kidding, it’s HUGE! It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. It’s new. It’s crazy. It’s television. It’s what I’ve been dreaming about. It’s utterly terrifying. BUT, I’m jumping off the cliff. I’m taking Uncle Johnny’s advice – I’m giving the best I have, learning and growing with each project, hanging tough, dreaming, reaching beyond the reachable, being true to myself…Get ready, folks, because here come the good things – Uncle Johnny said so.
Now that it has been a month since Within Arm’s Reach opened at the Secret Theatre, I feel like I can finally post my wrap-up without conveying with every word my stress about the show (I swear it was written long ago and not today). I didn’t want to pass the stress on to the audience or cast…or that is my excuse for this taking that long to post.
Those of you that know me are probably wondering: “Why so stressed, Molly? You’ve been working in theatre with multiple titles for the same project for nearly ten years now.” Perhaps this is true, but this is the first time I’d attempted to have four titles for a show. Although, Jess and I had always talked about me coming on to her “baby” project of Within Arm’s Reach as co-adapter and co-producer, by the time we had an audience I was also set and costume designer. That being said, stress was abundant in my life for this production as there are not enough hours in the day.
The entire process start to finish was very quick. Jess and I really didn’t get our hands dirty with the adaption until January and we opened in mid-March. Did I mention I’ve never adapted a novel into a script before? What would I do without Jess? It’s a question I asked during this process qite a bit. Adapting was a process that I had a love/hate relationship with at the beginning. Currently, those of you who saw our last production The Sandman’s Coming know this, I’m in a place where my biggest theatrical interest is exploring story telling without an abundance of words (or what I’m starting to coin as Beyond Words Theatre). Within Arm’s Reach was words, a lot of beautiful words. It was daunting to say the least. It was fascinating to learn the parts of the story that Jess was very drawn to verse what I was.
Fast-forward through casting and I suddenly realized, “Oh, right. I’m designing. Maybe I should start that.” It’s been a bit since I’ve costume designed a piece that I wasn’t also directing (I originally went to university for costume design), so I was thrilled to jump right back in with this. Jess and I have worked together in so many ways, however, I can’t say I wasn’t nervous for our first director/designer show. Made even worse by the fact that I was designing the set as well as costumes. Part of what makes Jess and I a great team is how differently we work. The rest of our design team got this a lot during tech. What’s the verdict on Jess as director and me as designer? I would happily design for any show that Jess directed!
Within Arm’s Reach brought out one of my initial reasons for getting involved in theatre. The community of artists that is formed during a show, however fleeting, is beautiful. From late night/early mornings painting the theater with Jess, to character chats with the cast, to listening to Ien morph the sounds of children; we had a truly wonderful group for this one.
This is all to say that sometimes, stress and being in a slightly uncomfortable situation end up creating a product that, at the end of the day, you are thrilled with. Of course though, it’s not ALL about me. Within Arm’s Reach would not have been the same without the wonderful cast, crew, donors, and audience we had and I can’t say THANK YOU enough to everyone involved. But, really, can I sleep now?
Disclaimer: Any grammar/spelling mistakes were made to keep John on his toes!
I know I’ve been a bit silent on the blog lately…the combination of temporarily shifting the blog posts to the Rockethub page and the end of the show itself (followed by the post show depression that always accompanies that) have lead to a real dearth of posts here on our main blog. But, fear not, gentle readers. I’m back and with me so are the blog posts. SO, let me do a little wrap up on Within Arm’s Reach, and then I’ll get to what’s next.
As far as the wrap up is concerned, Within Arm’s Reach was a dream. Despite, a short tech (and a tall projection area), a big stage (and a small budget), too many technical cues (and too few technicians), a large cast (and a tiny dressing room…(I kid, the dressing room was nice sized for the group and had its own bathroom)), but seriously despite a bunch of things that seemed like they would be stumbling blocks to getting the show off the ground, the performances soared. I’m going to take a moment here to pat ourselves on the back (and then I’ll return to the modest, humble, Jess that I know you all love) – Molly and I did a damn fine job with the adaptation – capturing the spirit, mood and characters of the book. And, across the board, the cast was superb. They took these characters and ran with them, creating a moving study of 6 months in the lives of the McLaughlin Family. The designers, again working with very little time, (and even less money), brought the world vividly to life and did so with smiles on their faces. And directing this bunch – cast and crew – was a pleasure from top to bottom. I will also say that though there were stresses (there always are during tech) and though there were a couple of all-nighters (that’s to be expected with a 3 day tech) the tech “week” for Within Arm’s Reach was quite possibly the smoothest and most enjoyable I’ve ever experienced. And, because I can’t resist, I’m just going to mention that this was an all female creative team…short on time and money and absolutely no (zero, zip, zilch) strife…could it be the all female group? I leave it to you to be the judge…
So, yeah, the show went beautifully. We’re putting together a real photo array, but, in the meantime, for those of you who didn’t get a chance to see the show, below is a selection of production stills…
Do I wish we had had larger audiences? Yes, as always, yes. Do I wish we had been able to bring in a bit more money with the show? Again, yes, as always, yes. But I also know the world we’re in. I know that original work on the stage is tough to bring an audience to. I know that low budget means there isn’t always money for the massive publicity push of a larger show and so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing (the slowest of slow builds) and know that if the work is consistently good, eventually the audience will find us, and keep coming back…that and know that our next big payday we’re hiring the marketer of all marketers to get more butts in the seats!
Alas though, now this show is ended. The props have been stowed. The set pieces are safely ensconced in Molly and my apartments. The costumes have been cleaned and stored. The bills have been paid. …and the depression has set in for real…so now what? Now, Molly and I strategize about what’s next. While we are both working on projects separate from GTTP – Molly, on a workshop production of I, Salome by Joseph Samuel Wright and me on The Jane Games, the web series by Jennifer Teska and Laura Riley, that I’m directing (on which I’m about to jump into the editing stage) – we’re also planning what’s next for GTTP. As always, GTTP is moving forward – onward and upward to the next project. And that next theatrical production will most likely be a new movement/theater piece from Molly, hopefully to be performed in June and for me, I will soon be jumping (and taking GTTP with me) completely into Farm Story, GTTP’s first foray into web series production. If all goes according to plan, we will start filming in September. In addition to that, Molly and I are looking to do another round of workshops and hopefully a reading series of new plays. Stay tuned for details!!!
And, once again, because I didn’t say this yet in this specific blog post – THANK YOU, ALL!!! Thank you for supporting GTTP! Thank you for coming out to see our work. Thanks to everyone who made it out for Within Arm’s Reach. Thanks to everyone who donated on RocketHub and directly. Thank you for being a part of the GTTP Family. Without you all, GTTP would be nothing and me? I’d just be directing traffic…and seriously? That’s one thing I have no interest in directing.
Yeah, I know, I just couldn’t help it – I mean that title just called to me…and I will totally use it again and again and again…
In all seriousness though, I wanted to give a quick status update on WAR!
UPDATE ON CAST
As often happens in showcase productions we had some changes in our cast during the first week of rehearsals. We now have a new Gracie, a Lila switcheroo, and a new Woman 1. The new cast is as follows:
We were bummed to lose two cast members but are so excited to have Lucinda and Erin joining us. So, we’ve now had a full cast and crew for about a week and a half and in the next two weeks we’ll be doing a whole “Meet the cast and crew” dealio on FB or on the blog (haven’t decided which yet) so you’ll get a chance to know everyone a little more before seeing them on opening night.
UPDATE ON REHEARSALS
We’ve spent the last two weeks doing script revisions and table work. As far as script revisions go, I am now cautiously optimistic in declaring the script “pretty much locked”. Yeah, I’m not going to say it is hard-core-locked-down-and-there-won’t-be-a-single-other-change (I’ve learned that lesson before), but I’m confident in saying that there shouldn’t be any more major changes. As is the case when you’re workshopping a show, there’s always the chance in rehearsals, as the show gets on its feet, that adjustments will get made and changes will happen; and I’m fully expecting that to be the case here. However, the likelihood that we’ll cut an entire scene or add a new four page monologue, diminishes with every moment that passes. As far as table work is concerned, this is one of my favorite parts of the rehearsal process. For those of you not familiar with table work, this is a time in rehearsal, where the actors and director and stage manager (and if you’re lucky the writer) sit around a table and talk…yup, it’s glamourous stuff, folks…but seriously we sit around the table and discuss the show – who are these people? what are their weaknesses? what are their strengths? what do they want? what are they afraid of? how do they relate to each other? All of this is a crucial part of what the show will be and this, at least on a Jessica Ammirati directed show, is our first chance to discover the answers to those questions. Today, however, we get on our feet for the first time and we start to block the show. Another favorite part for me…who are we kidding, they’re ALL my favorite parts.
UPDATE ON TICKETS
It’s official, tickets are on sale now!!! I repeat TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW!!!! You can purchast tickets here, or you can call 866-811-4111. Only 12 performances so be sure to purchase early to be guaranteed a seat.
UPDATE ON PRODUCTION
So, postcards are being printed. Props are being purchased/built. Set pieces are being purchased/built. Costumes are being gathered. Projections are being filmed and created. Sound and lights are being designed…the show is beginning to come together…and…in order to pay for all of this, well, number 1 – did you see? TICKETS ARE ON SALE!!!!! and number 2 a Rockethub campaign is about to launch. More details shortly, but I will say, we’re looking at some fun rewards and a generally fun campaign. And, since this show is all about family connections, we hope YOU will join the Within Arm’s Reach family.
Ok, that’s it for now. More updates to follow…
Ok, so when you think of Tahiti, you don’t think of trudging through the snow and the cold or of hunkering down around the heat of the computer screen to type your little heart out with numb fingers. No. No you don’t. You think of beaches and tropical breezes, drinks with umbrellas, and palm trees . . . alas, in wintery New York it was definitely more of the former than the latter, including a snowy day of callbacks where we trudged through the show to see a bunch of very talented actors (who also trudged through the snow – THANK YOU AGAIN, those of you who came and read for us on Monday) read. Anywho, as I said in the title of this post, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Tahiti…
Not only did I just get back from an amazing location-scouting-meet-the-community-Farm-Story-pre-production meeting in Virginia last week, not only am I about to jump back into filming for The Jane Games, but I also just held auditions and callbacks for Within Arm’s Reach and we have cast the show. That’s right folks, we are full steam ahead with WAR (and, yes, that is how I will be abbreviating it because it takes a lot less time to type than the full title and I will be typing it a LOT in the next couple of months. Besides, it’s a family drama so in a way it is about war . . .) So, three updates follow and then I’ll get back to the business of the 3 productions I have going on.
#1) Terri and I, in discussing the logistics of Farm Story, decided that it made sense to film in and around Staunton, Virginia. The script calls for rural and small town locations and Terri, who’s brother lives in VA had seen this wonderful area that offered the promise of everything we need. So, we decided to go down there and check it out. And as I mentioned above, last week I returned from that trip – a four day Virginia visit, during which Terri and I did location scouting, met with some locals and generally got a feel for the area. Check out the last two posts on the Farm Story blog to hear all about what our Virginia trip accomplished and what’s next for Farm Story. It’s really starting to heat up, it’s all very exciting and we can’t wait to have you join us on the web-series-production journey.
#2) This weekend, I jump back into The Jane Games. We have a day of filming on Saturday and then four days of filming next week, and then another few days during February and March . . . and then of course, we go into the editing room. I’m excited to jump back in though by late next week, I might need someone to just shout out the title of the project I’m working on before I step into whatever I’m doing each day, just so I can keep it all straight and not talk about the changing structure of family through the generations when I’m shooting a web series about Jane Austen or launch into a full description of Farm Story themes when we I’m up to my ears in table work on WAR.
. . . which brings me to . . .
#3) Within Arm’s Reach – so, as I mentioned above, we held auditions and callbacks for WAR this past week and I’m THRILLED to announce that we have a cast and a crew. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be doing “Meet theWAR Team” posts but in the meantime, I’ll just get the names out there:
Within Arm’s Reach - Cast
Within Arm’s Reach - Crew
Although Molly and I have been working tirelessly on revisions for the adaptation, we really jump in to production on Thursday of this coming week, when we hold our first read-through. As usual, once we really begin there will be much more to report but, in the meantime, I wanted to do the official release of our production image (see above) and our WAR aviatrix (see below), courtesy, as usual, of the every-amazing Christine Diaz:
Ok, I don’t have a lot of time because it’s been a long day and I still need to pack for the Virginia (Farm Story location scouting) trip, but I did want to just get out a quick blog post. I will do a longer/joint Farm Story blog post about this but I did want to take a minute and talk about the amazing week I’ve had directing a web series.
As many of you know, a few weeks ago I was brought on to direct the web series, The Jane Games. The show is an imagining of 6 Jane Austen heroines brought to modern times, who are competing on a reality dating show hosted by Jane Austen herself. The scipt is pretty hilarious and it’s gonna be really fun for the audience, but that’s not what I wanted to post about. What I wanted to post about was what I’ve learned so far directing the show.
Now, as you know, I’ve directed a fair amount of theater in my time in NYC, and I’m pretty confident in my abilities in that arena, but I have much less experience directing film. I have made a music video and a 16 minute short film, but I’ve never done anything that could be considered long form and, though each episode of The Jane Games is only about 5 minutes, there are 22 of them, and they do follow one complete story arc, so this has been quite an education. And I don’t just mean that about learning the logistics of being on a film set (some of which have started to come back to me from my PA days in the late 90′s – ah, remember that time Tommy Lee Jones scolded me and I snapped at him? Yeah, good times) or learning the art of knowing how to get the stuff you want on film so that you and the editor can build the show you want to build in the editing room later. And I’m not talking about the education of how you direct – how you talk to actors, how you tell the story, how you skew the characters’ and story arc to show your idea, your “vision”, turns out all of that stuff is actually the same whether it’s film or theater (and it was amazing to me, that about 15 minutes into the first day, it just felt normal. It was just directing – (directing with much less rehearsal time than I’m used to) – but directing all the same). The education I’m actually talking about was the tiny miracle that came with this experience. You see, I’ve gone through my life, particularly my adult life, knowing I was born to be a director – theater, film, tv, whatever – but it’s really hard to go through life knowing that and yet not having had the opportunity to really test the “film, tv, whatever” part of that statement.
So, now that I have seen the footage we’ve shot so far and now that I’m starting to picture the very funny and fun narrative we’ll be telling, I can actually say (with some real knowledge of the fact) that I was right. Turns out I was born to do this. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a relief, a revelation and…an education.
Like it says above – Happy New Year, people of the interwebs!
I hope you all had an amazing holiday and are looking forward to jumping in to 2014. Yup, 2014! Still having touble believing it’s 2014 . . . Anywho, now that we at GTTP have taken a nice break (as evidenced by our lack of blog posts for the past couple of weeks), we are hitting the ground running and jumping, feet first, into the new year. And we have an announcement to start off our year with a bang:
We are over-the-moon excited to announce that we have booked a performance space for Within Arm’s Reach and that performance space is . . .
That’s right, after a year and a half of Manhattan performance spaces, GTTP will be returning to The Secret Theatre in Long Island City. We have missed the little (actually not so little) theater across the East River that we consider our 2nd home (the first home of the company of course being the living room of my Brooklyn apartment, which is, quite honestly, not nearly large enough to mount productions), and we are absolutely thrilled to be getting back there. For Within Arm’s Reach we will in The Big Secret, which is a performance space that will be familiar to anyone who saw Skin Flesh Bone. Production load-in will happen on March 17, 2014 and, assuming all goes according to plan, we will open on March 20th (yup, you read that right, a short 3 days of tech…).
Speaking of Within Arm’s Reach, script revisions are moving along (Molly and I are meeting tomorrow for round number 3) and we’re in the process of assembling our crew. . . Stay tuned for more announcements as we move from pre-production into auditions.
So, that’s what GTTP will be up to as we kick 2014 into high gear. We hope the start of your 2014 is equally exhilerating.
So, I know the State of the Union Address usually comes in the beginning of the year, but I figured, (so as not to detract from the president’s speech), I’d jump in now and give everyone the state of things on our little island.
Last week we had our (now annual) ensemble meeting/holiday get together at GTTP. Wine was imbibed, snacks were eaten, and great philosophical discussions about the nature of theater were held (actually we just talked about what the year had brought and what the new year would bring). Regardless, it’s been an exciting and active 2013 for us. Here, are a couple of accomplishments (by the numbers).
3 – number of shows GTTP produced in 2013 (Bella’s Dream, The Sandman’s Coming, and Cat Lady Without a Cat)
18 – number of actors employed in our shows during the year
23 – number of crew members employed in our shows during the year
3 – number of workshops held (directing, improv, audition)
1 – number of managing directors GTTP found to help run the company (yay, Molly!)
So that’s what the past year has held for GTTP. Now it’s time to sit down and ask, “where are we going” (or, as a favorite, canceled-too-soon, TV show would say quo vadamus – if you know the show, mention it in the comments and you’ll get a shout out on Facebook). So, where are we going? I’m glad you asked:
Cabaret – because of holiday travel plans, we’ve decided to move our cabaret from December 20th to a January or February weekend. Stay tuned for updates about our cure for the winter blues, our storytelling cabaret - GTTP Talks…Sex.
Within Arm’s Reach – everything is moving forward with our theatrical adaptation of Within Arm’s Reach, the novel by Ann Napolitano. We’re hoping to announce performance dates and space very soon. We’re currently in the process of holding crew interviews and Molly and I are deep into script revisions. Most likely we’ll be holding auditions in late January and will start rehearsals in early February. It is so exciting to see the play starting to develop…at least on the page, and we’re thrilled to soon be all-in on the production. More (many more) updates to come.
Social Media updates – some of you may have noticed we’ve started a regular Monday theater quote posting on Facebook, we’re getting better about weekly blog posts and we’re starting to run weekly Friday GTTP tweets. That’s right, my peeps, we are all over the interwebs. We’re also hoping to bring back the Tahiti Dispatches (our home grown, locally sourced, podcast), so like us on Facebook, subscribe to our blog, follow us on twitter, and keep a eye out for podcast updates.
Updated website – and, last but not least, speaking of our internet presence, in the next few weeks check back at the website for long awaited updates to the “About Us” and “Past Productions” pages. Molly and I are hunkering down next week to get the website all shiny and new for 2014!
Thanks, all! Stay warm out there.
In honor of Thanksgiving, this year, Molly and I decided to compile a little list of the 10 things we at GTTP are most thankful for. So, here goes:
10) Source Material – we can’t say enough about the amazing books, short stories, songs, images, interviews, poetry, nursery rhymes, myths and other source material that is out there to make theater from. The goal of GTTP is to create innovative and exciting new work, and we couldn’t do what we do without the ideas that come out of the great source material that is already out there.
9) Audience – that’s right, folks. I’m talking about you wonderful people who come to see our work, who look at the flyer or the facebook post, or the newsletter and say, “Oh, it’s a Going to Tahiti Production? I’m there!” If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Well, we at GTTP believe, that if we do a show and NO ONE is there to see it, it’s not the show we mean it to be. So, whether it’s 1 or 100 of you, you as our audience make GTTP what we are. THANK YOU!
8) Donors – in all fairness this really goes hand in hand with number 9 above because most often there is a fair crossover between these two categories, but, we did want to specifically remark on how thankful we are to all of you who not just come out to see the show but who also donate to the productions, the company, and the dream that is GTTP. THANK YOU!
7) Crew – I mean, this is how I found Molly…really does more need to be said? Whether it is designers who create the look and feel of a show, stage managers who make the show run, or interns and running crew who do those jobs that fall through the cracks during a show and yet still must get done, GTTP could not function without the wonderful men and women who crew our shows.
6) Actors – Molly and I are both directors, but honestly, without actors, we may aswell be directing traffic. We, of course, couldn’t do it without those incredible actors who choose to grace our stages, and for a brief moment, our lives. Thanks, folks!
5) Ensemble Members – Part of why we do theater is to be a part of a community – a family – of artists who understand what we do and why we do it. For Molly and me, GTTP ensemble members are the core group of that family. We are so thankful to have them in our lives.
4) Performance Space – Whether it is a proper theatre, the great outdoors, or someone’s living room, every show needs a stage. And, with space at a premium and so many theaters closing, it is so amazing to have a space for each show to call home. Along those lines, we’d like to have a specific “Thank you shout out to Shetler Studios and The Secret Theatre”. These two spaces have been invaluable to genetic code of GTTP and we couldn’t function without them.
3) Transitory Nature of Theater – As frustrating as it may sometimes be to look back at a performance and realize that there is no record of the event beyond some production stills (and the props and costumes that take up closet space in my – and my parents’s (sorry, mom and dad- I will seriously pick up those camel/stools from Dreamers of the Day any day now) homes), there is something truly wonderful about the fact that any given performance is just a moment in time and then, it’s gone. If you miss it you miss it, but if you were there, and you saw it, that moment has the potential to stay with you for the rest of your life.
2) The Excitement of “What’s Next” – As much as we love each project we work on, there’s always something new on the horizon (see number 3 above). For Molly and me, as the show gets handed off to the actors and the stage manager and they take it through the home stretch of performance, we, as directors, though sad to let go, are simultaneously excited about what next project we’ll be sinking our teeth into . . . And can’t wait to jump in.
But most of all, we are thankful that:
1) With all the entertainment options out there, with the movies and television and youtube and the interwebs and smartphones and everything, that, in the end, people still crave and love live theater. We’d be nowhere without that.
Thank you thank you thank you!
. . . and now we’re off to have leftover pie! Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
On November 3rd GTTP completed two kinda big deal things – one personal and one business – but both had an effect on who GTTP is as a company.
The personal first – Yours truly (aka, GTTP Artistic Director, Jessica Ammirati) ran the New York City Marathon. As many of you know, I was supposed to run it last year before Hurricane Sandy put a damper on those plans, and after that experience I wrote about “Art and Sports and the things they Share” and, as my facebook peeps know, I already wrote a blog post about the experience of running it this year which you can see both on my personal FB page and on the ING NYC Marathon page; BUT, in this particular post, I’d like to just mention a word about perserverance. As in: have it, believe in it, keep doing it (whatever “it” may be). You see, #1 – I don’t really like running. No, I swear. I’ve been training off and on for this marathon for 13 years (yes I said years! And, though much of it was the “off” part of off and on, for the past two years it was serious running-5-days-a-week training) and I DON’T ENJOY RUNNING. I enjoy having done the run. I enjoy that when I’m running I can eat pretty much whatever I want and I won’t really gain weight. I enjoy the way my body looks and feels because of the run. But I kinda HATE the actual run. I keep waiting for that runners’ high to kick in…uh, I’m still kinda waiting. And, #2 – I’m a slow runner – I’m from hearty Italian peasant stock so though I can keep going, I can’t really get there fast. At my fastest (which was the middle 2-13 miles of the marathon), I was running about an 11 minute and 26 second mile. So, you know, not nothing but not exactly record breaking speed. And then, after mile 13 I slowed down a bit, and from 13-21 I ran about a 12 minute mile. And then I slowed down A LOT for the last 5.2 miles. The entire thing took me 5 hours and 46 minutes (and 18 seconds) to complete. A long time. I mean, it was under the 6 hour goal I had set for myself but still longer than the 5 hour and 30 minute goal I had really hoped for. But here’s the thing – it was awesome! I mean it. The run, the marathon, the experience? The FIVE HOURS AND FORTY SIX MINUTES (and 18 seconds) OF SUSTAINED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?!?!? It was amazing. Hands down, freaking awesome, once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing here. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is (and I know it’s been said before much more eloquently than this but here goes): It’s worth it. Persevere. Keep pushing. Go after your dreams or goals or things you forsee for yourself. Or whatever you want to call it because most of the time it’s going to pay off. It can’t not. Not after you’ve put in all that time, work, energy, thought. 13 years ago, I had this wacky idea – “maybe I’ll run the NYC marathon” but more than that I had this thought – “I want to have this experience because I think this experience will mean something to me, will shape me in a certain way, will have an effect on the person I am.” And so I decided to pursue it. And, like I said, it was seriously off and on. There are whole years in there where I didn’t lace up a sneaker…but in the end, I had the experience I did because I wanted to do it, I prepared to do it, I pushed to do it. I persevered. And I did it. I did “___________” (YOU fill in that blank for you) and it was SOOOOOO worth it. When I was 10 years old, I had a similar thought, goal, dream, what have you – “I want to be a director” (it was actually when I was 6 that I first thought it but it wasn’t until I was 10 that I began to understand the thing I wanted to be and do was the job of a director). So, here I am 30 years later. GTTP is fives years strong and I’m doing this thing – this hard, exciting, scary, challenging, wonderful, life-changing thing. So I guess my whole point is…perseverence is cool, and I truly believe that, like gravity, it always works…
…and sometimes, that personal perseverance connects with someone else’s personal perseverance and you end up with a business accomplishment…which, of course, brings me to…
The business thing that happened on November 3rd:
GTTP’s Managing Director, Molly Ballerstein, completed the run of her first GTTP show, The Sandman’s Coming. Slowly this company that I envisioned in my living room 6 years ago is starting to grow into it’s future shape. You see, I never planned for GTTP to stay my baby. I always wanted a partner.
I was always hoping to find someone who would want to direct shows and help guide the company into the future with me. Yes, I want to direct but I want to direct as part of a family of artists, not out there on my own. And, with The Sandman’s Coming, GTTP has taken that first step into a new world. A world of LOTS of people’s ideas instead of just mine. A world of exploration, of partnerships and who knows what else. It’s an exciting step for us to take and an exciting way to do it. Because, guys? Seriously? Sandman was extraordinary. A movement theater piece that explored the nature of addiction, identity and human connection. That looked at addiction not in a sensationalistic way but asked instead, what do we do-how do we deal with additction when it isn’t sensationalistic? When it isn’t glamorous or tragic? When it is just a part of everday life – ugly, complicated, terrifying and banal – ordinary everyday life? Haunting and evocative, beautiful and moving, painful and transformative, this show stays with you long after the lights go down. Take a gander at a couple of the production stills above. We have more that we’ll be posting on the website shortly. The Sandman’s Coming was a truly powerful experience. And proof that GTTP is so lucky to have snatched up Molly as soon as we found her.
So that’s what we’ve just completed. Now, as Jed Barlet would say, “what’s next?” (Y’all knew I was a West Wing fan, right?) Because, in the end, you have to keep moving forward…ALWAYS. And moving forward we are with a couple of rather exciting events.
Cat Lady Without A Cat
That’s right. Once again GTTP is co-producing Carrie Keskinen’s hilarious one woman show - “A hilarious and heartfelt story of one woman’s journey from a painful divorce to her new life in New York. Finding a dead mouse in her apartment is the catalyst for letting go of her past and fears of becoming a crazy cat lady, and discovering her true self.” And this time around GTTP peeps aren’t just on the producing side. This time around, I’m Assistant Directing the show and Molly is Stage Managing. Because the show’s first performance was sold out United Solo Festival, decided to extend and add a second show. Join us on Saturday, November 23rd at 4pm for the additional show. The performance is at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street by 9th Avenue. Details and tickets available here.
December Benefit – GTTP talks SEX!
We’re currently planning our December Benefit – GTTP talks Sex! Ha, ha! Now you’re paying attention? Details to follow but for now, save the date – Before you head out of the city for your holiday festivities, we hope you’ll join us on December 20th at Shetler Studios for an evening of storytelling with the Tahitians.
Within Arm’s Reach in March
Molly and I are currently finishing the stage adaptation of Ann Napolitano’s beautiful novel, Within Arm’s Reach. From Library Journal (Starred Review) – “Narrated in six different voices, this stunning first novel explores the multigenerational dynamics of one Irish American family and exposes misunderstandings and broken relationships… Although this exquisite, skillfully written gem addresses serious issues – e.g., guilt vs. loyalty, the past vs. the present – the narrative remains hopeful and includes ample doses of humor and wit.” In the next few months you’ll be seeing a lot from us about Within Arm’s Reach. We’re settling on a performance space and a crew in the next couple of weeks and will look at holding auditions in January. The plan right now (of course dependent on things like “what space is available?” and “how much money can we raise?”) is for a two week performance run in March. Expect trademark GTTP elements – original storytelling and innovative use of lights, sound, set, projections, costume and movement. More details to come soon. And then more and more and more…
Farm Story filming
GTTP is thrilled to make this announcement: We’re about to move into the world of film and TV production! As a director I love love love theater but from the beginning I’ve also always wanted to direct in the film and tv world as well. So, why haven’t I, you ask. Actually I have a bit – I made a music video for Camilla Ammirati’s awesome song – The Ballad of Chicken McGann (which you can see on our GTTP Youtube Page) and I made a short film of Skin Flesh Bone – but I’ve never made a full length film or television pilot for a couple of reasons. #1) As you know, although theater ain’t exactly cheap, it’s definitely cheaper than film and tv production. In the past, thanks to all of you, we’ve been able to raise the budgets for plays but the starting budget for a television pilot episode is exponentially higher than your average low-budget theater production. So, we haven’t jumped in before. #2) I knew that raising the money for and actually filming a television pilot would take a LOT of my time – as in – all of it. And I didn’t want to abandon theater production while I went off to spend all of my time on a television show. #3) I’m not a writer. Though I’m a decent interpretive artist, I’m not exactly good with the creative writing thing. And so, I’ve never had a script that made sense as the first episode of a television show. BUT NOW – all three of those things have changed. (Actually #3 and #2 changed and that made me willing to jump in and change #1). So #3 changed with the entracnce of Terri Viani, a dear screenwriting friend of mine. She has written an amazing script for the pilot episode of a television series called Farm Story. As you know from previous blog posts we now have Molly on board so there went #2. She will spearhead the theater stuff while I flit off to film Farm Story (see the next paragraph for more details on that). And so, we’re ready to jump into #1 – the money. Going to Tahiti Productions will coproduce the television show with Terri’s company, The Writer, Ink Productions and I will direct Farm Story. All that being said, GTTP’s official involvement in Farm Story won’t really heat up until Within Arm’s Reach is nearing completion but, if you’d like to follow the progress of independent television production (a formerly unheard of field that, with the advent of the internet and inexpensive (but high quality) film/video technology, is now becoming more common), check out our Farm Story blog here. As of right now, (and, of course, dependent on fundraising) we are planning to film in New York and Virginia in late June/early July of 2014. Although we are THRILLED to be taking this step, as I said, this doesn’t mean that GTTP will stop doing theater. While I’m off rehearsing and filming the first episode of Farm Story, Molly will be here running GTTP and working on her own show…
…which brings me to another GTTP first – it’s an exciting 5th Anniversary year for GTTP! For the first time GTTP is commissioning a show. (We’ve hit the big time now, kids!) Molly is currently in discussions with a playwright friend to write a collaborative movement/theater piece that will feature original music and will hopefully run around the same time that I’m off filming Farm Story - so, late June/early July.
Workshops, classes and readings oh my!
And, last but not least – we were so excited about our last round of workshops and classes that we’re going to do it again. Stay tuned in January for class and workshop announcements. We’re also planning to launch our reading series starting in the new year.
We hope to see you at one of the many upcoming events as GTTP heads into the second half of our 5th anniversary season.
Today we have a guest blog post from Molly Ballerstein, director and writer of The Sandman’s Coming. Here’s what she had to say about the process of creating this haunting and beautiful show. Have you bought your tickets yet?
I’m going to be honest with you all, I’ve been trying to write this for weeks. It always starts the same: “I can’t believe it’s been over a year,” as this thought has stayed with me constantly throughout this second incarnation of The Sandman’s Coming. Now that we are half way through the run I’m practically speechless. A year ago I had a form of this story I wanted to share, a choreographer, and acceptance into the Frigid Festival guaranteeing us five shows. The Frigid Festival production yielded one THEASY reviewer to comment:
“The Sandman’s Coming is a highly ambitious and ultimately effective exploration that engages dance, media, sound, and familiar nursery rhymes in its storytelling. Theatrical, unexpected, and vivid, Sandman is important both in its topic and in its ingenuity.”
At the end of the festival I knew the story telling was not complete; I had heard a lot of great feedback from my New York writing premiere and was excited to embark on the refining process…in the future. A small break from The Sandman’s Coming led to me getting involved with Going to Tahiti Productions, which led to Jessica agreeing to co-produce The Sandman’s Coming for the fall and bring me on board GTTP.
limits. This had its successes and failures especially as the time crunch came upon us. It has also proven to me that in order to tell a story effectively everyone’s heart needs to be in it. To have the pleasure of working with artist’s that are invested in the story has been a journey and the longer I work on the show the more personal stories I hear about how addiction has affected the lives of my collaborators. I have worked with many amazing artists along the way and everyone involved in this process will always have a special place in my mind.
The Sandman’s Coming runs until November 3rd at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor. For tickets and further details go to:www.goingtotahitiproductions.com.
Molly Ballerstein is a New York City director, writer, designer and stage manager as well as being the co-Executive Producer/co-Managing Director of GTTP. You can follow Molly on Twitter @FedoraMolly.
I had a crazy realization the other day…in all my theater work, I have never been doing a show on my actual birthday. Rehearsals, possibly; theater classes certainly, but an actual performance? nope. That is ca-razy to me. Ok, let me back up a little…
Birthdays are a big deal to me. They always have been. When I was growing up I was usually awakened by mom, dad and the sisters outside my bedroom door singing happy birthday to me. I would emerge from my room and my folks would have put a few “morning presents” on the table with streamers and a rogue balloon or two so that I would have something to unwrap first thing. The presents were never anything major just little tchokes or something practical, like socks or tights or something – it didn’t matter what the gift was as much as it mattered that there was a little something for me to unwrap. Morning presents were always important – so important, in fact, that the year I was at the National Theater Institute my mother plotted with my roommate, Kat, and a few of my friends at NTI, Lynn and Cathy, to meet outside the dorm the evening of October 24th, so they could pick up the box of morning presents to smuggle into the room and under Kat’s bed so that after I went to sleep they could set up the morning presents. It’s always been a thing in my family. My folks did it with my sisters too. For each other, on their birthdays, my mom and dad leave little notes hidden around the house for the birthday girl or boy. To this day, if I’m visiting the house in Connecticut and I pull open the freezer anytime in late March or early April, I might find a post-it that says, “happy birthday! love, me” with a smiley face on it – a birthday note from my dad to mom. Or, if it’s late October/early November I’ll find a “happy birthday to you! love, me” post-it from mom to dad, in the bathroom medicine cabinet…point is, I was brought up with a healthy respect for celebrating the day you entered the world.
And, of course, I think it’s clear from reading htis blog, theater is a big deal to me too. Theater is holy to me. When I’m worksing on a show, even when it’s 2am and I’ve been working an 18 hour day, I’m at my happiest. I’m the most “me” I can be. Things make sense when I’m working on a show. SO, it was crazy for me to realize the other day, as my birthday approached and I realized I wouldn’t really be able to do any special birthday celebration on the actual day because I would be running box office for a show. Which means, I’ll be at a theater…my church…on my birthday…working on a show…does it get any better? The confluence of events that made that happen are amazing to me and the mere fact that, in all the theater I have done – and, honestly, it’s like 28 years of theater (almost 20 of them professional theater) the mere fact that I’ve never had a performance on my birthday? It’s astounding to me! And, now, I’m THRILLED to hit this milestone and discover (as if there was any doubt) that I’m truly in the right place. You know how they say you know your dream job when it’s something you’d do for free? Well I think the phrase should actually be “You know your dream job when it’s something you’d happily do on your birthday”. Looks like I found my thing…
And just another thing in the category of Crazy Coincidences That Add Up To TRUTH! How perfect is it that not only does my birthday fall during this production (I’m of course talking about The Sandman’s Coming tickets available now!) but Molly too will celebrate her birthday during the run of this show. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this. Celebrations shall abound!
Anywho, if you find yourself free this evening around 8pm, come on by Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street and join us for our second performance of The Sandman’s Coming. Tickets available here and at the box office.
Recently I had the opportunity to see Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, directed by Jake Lipman, at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. Yes, the same Shetler Studios where we’ll be opening The Sandman’s Coming on Thursday. In fact, How I Learned to Drive will be running right next door to us for several of our performances. Now you might think that would be a bad thing – why would we want competition? Right? But really it’s just such a wonderful coincidence of timing. You see, I LOVE Tongue in Cheek Theater. After Going to Tahiti Productions, they are, hands down, my favorite indy off-off-Broadway theater company in the city. I’ve now seen 3 shows of theirs - Our Town, The Mistakes Madeline Made, and now, How I Learned to Drive – and I am continually impressed with the high caliber of work that they do. And, the idea of having them next door to us while we are doing our run? Well, that’s just all kinds of good mojo and we theater people are very big with the mojo.
But I digress – this is a review so – How I Learned to Drive. I walked into the show knowing nothing about it…no, that’s not true, I knew the play had won a Pulitzer…I knew Jake was directing it…and, uh, I knew it had something to do with driving? (I mean, that’s in the title). But, seriously, I knew very little about it. I know, I know, you’re thinking – “but Jess, you’re a theater person! Of course you know How I Learned to Drive.” Nope. I knew nothing about it and, because of my whole spoiler thing, once I realized I was going to see it, I didn’t want to know anything about it. I just wanted to see it fresh. So I went into it cold – I had no expectations (beyond my normal expectation of a TIC production: that it was going to be an evening of good theater) – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Ok, for the spoiler averse, skip this paragraph: How I Learned to Drive chronicles the formative years of precocious teen, Li’l Bit (Jake Lipman), who yearns to get out of her small town and away from her dysfunctional family. The play tells the story of a troubling relationship Li’l Bit has with an older man; and, using driving as a metaphor, it explores issues of pedophilia, incest, control and manipulation. To be honest, the subject matter makes it a bit tough to watch and yet, in the hands of Ms. Lipman and her cast it was a thought-provoking, surprising, funny and, at times, devestating, show.
The cast was superb across the board but I need to single out both Lynn Berg as Uncle Peck and Ms. Lipman herself as Li’l Bit. First a word about Lynn Berg. This is a tough role, folks – a really tough role. It would be so easy for this character to come off as really skeevy and that’s it. I mean, the character is a full grown adult, in an incredibly inappropriate, (not to mention) illegal relationship with a young girl. But there was such subtlety to Mr. Berg’s performance. It’s not that you were sympathetic to him exactly (you know, read the previous sentence), it was more that, through Mr. Berg’s performance, you see Uncle Peck as a victim as much as a predator. And, you see genuine kindness and affection from Uncle Peck. You see why Li’l Bit is conflicted in her feelings for him. AND, you see something not easily characterized as sensationalistic or flashy. It’s instead just the easy grubbiness of real life situations that are complex and painful and confusing.
Mr. Berg has a capable counterpart in Jake Lipman as Li’l Bit. Her performance as well is subtle and powerful, funny and heart-wrenching. In her hands Li’l Bit is such a real person – a study in contradictions – strong and weak, old and young, knowledgable and naive – and you believe the conflict she feels in her relationship to this older, wiser, (inappropriately) affectionate man who clearly sees her in a way the rest of her family doesn’t. It isn’t cut and dry, it isn’t titillating and sensationalistic; it’s real and ugly and painful and confusing and funny and haunting and so so sad. And, as a director myself, I am truly amazed at Ms. Lipman’s ability to guide a production at the same time she completely merges herself into it.
The supporting cast – Michael Edmund, Holland Hamilton, Shelley Little and Joan D. Saunders are equally fine. Playing multiple roles who orbit Uncle Peck and Li’l Bit, each actor has the challenge of playing “Greek Chorus” members as well as specific characters and they all step up to the task with skill and grace.
The play is beautifully directed – actually it’s the best kind of direction – not noticeable. The pace is perfect and the show flows beautifully. It was so smooth that when I first sat down and realized there was no intermission, I was concerned. How would I sit through 90 minutes of, you know, talking? (I know, I know. That’s, like, what theater is. And I love theater, so why would I be concerned by it? And yet, I’ve seen so much…so so much…bad off-off Broadway theater (Hell, I’ve seen some bad on Broadway theater) that the fear of being trapped with no intermission, is a legitamate fear – it can be interminable). But, of course, in the always deft and capable hands of Jake Lipman, I had nothing to worry about.
The simple evocative set – an oversized picnic table and two benches – seamlessly becomes the front seat of a car, a dock at a fishing hole, a hotel bedroom – at the same time it gives you a sense of nostalgia for a seemingly simpler and easier time.
In the end, How I Learned to Drive is about a woman learning the rules of life the way some of us learn the rules of the road – from friends or loved ones, slowly, frighteningly, sometimes painfully, but always, in the end, on our own.
How I Learned to Drive runs through November 2nd. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm. All performances are at The Bridge Theare @ Shetler Studios (literally right next door to Theatre 54 where we’ll be performance The Sandman’s Coming - just saying). For tickets and further details visit the Tongue In Cheek website and don’t miss this terrific and haunting production.
Today we have a guest blog post from Lantie Tom, the actress playing the part of The Heroine in The Sandman’s Coming. Here’s what she had to say about the process of creating this intriguing and haunting character. Have you bought your tickets yet?
It’s a marvel when diverse artists identify a truth, and with love, honor the beauty with their labor. Soon after agreeing to collaborate on The Sandman’s Coming the first time, I became impressed with director, Molly Ballerstein’s refreshing take on addiction. It has been a gratifying process as she and choreographer Dana Boll have encouraged and assimilated the actors’ ideas into the greater narrative. The result allows us actors (Jill Rittinger and Luke Wise and myself) to show more range than the traditional play, and our improvisations have led us to find movements that are authentic to us and specific to our characters.
I felt that The Heroine required a compelling, dramatic, origin story (as any supernatural character does). I hoped to dissuade audiences from dismissing my character’s title as a convenient pun, so I dug through my research for information that would inspire heroic attributes. My notions, in conjunction with Molly’s version of The Heroine’s background have resulted in a character that I think illustrates some overlooked aspects of addiction.
I had the advantage of playing The Heroine in the play’s first incarnation, and the wealth of additional information available this time around left me wading through possibilities for reconstructing this character. Strategically incorporating choices from the first staging felt like reorganizing the garage – deciding which tools are needed, if and why they’re really indispensable, then where to put them, and lastly, where to put those shiny new tools! The result has been an invigorating discovery of how I understand and translate ancient, larger-than-life correlations between purity and corruption, the natural and the supernatural, saviours and lunatics, the sacred and the profane and love and abuse.
I suspect my relatively literal apporach to the symbolism in my lines in unusual. I am of the opinion that symbolism is affected through precision, so dissecting The Heroine’s lines felt like an exercise in cryptography. To her credit, our director has remained patient and curious while witnessing my process, and intervening when I lose my bearings.
The interplay between the text, and the universal languages of music and movement seem to have spurred this play’s dynamic evolution over a very short rehearsal period, and I’m as eager as anyone to see all the beautiful work that Jill Rittinger and Luke Wise – both of them skilled, truthful, generous actors – have put into this project. Returning audiences and new audiences alike will find The Sandman’s return to be an intriguing experience.