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The Invisible Sh*t (whose name is fear) That Holds You Back

It’s funny how much stuff can affect you. I’ve talked (and written) about this incident a lot – a journal entry when it happened, an essay in college, a blog post now – but sometimes seemingly innocent things blindside you with their importance, and this experience clearly has become (for me) a bit of a meditation on the nature of fear and, darn it, if I’m not still learning from it. Here’s the latest I’ve come to understand:

My alma mater. Go Camels!

Many years ago I participated in an outward bound-type of outdoor orientation program before starting college — a sort of pre-orientation orientation (sponsored by the school) to my freshman year. You know the kind of trip – take a bunch of about-to-be college students, take away their watches (so they’re on “nature’s time”), pile them into a bus, drive them up to the woods (hmmm, this is actually starting to sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but it wasn’t like that, I swear), hike them into some remote location, teach them to build lean-tos (no tents for these overprivileged teenagers), and have them participate in a randomized selection of outdoor activities that are meant to foster self-confidence and bonding – activities like caving, and white-water canoeing, and rock-climbing. I LOVED IT. No kidding, the trip was amazing! I remember being excited and exhilarated, and, yes scared, but that fear manifested more as excitement and exhilaration than as fear. The thing is that with the rock climbing and the caving I definitely had those moments of “oh shit, I’m totally gonna die” and that was super scary but the feeling was very recognizable as fear. I could look at it and say, “Nope! That ain’t going to stop me! I am DOING THIS!” and, you know, I did it. I climbed the rock. I paddled the canoe. I plunged into (and emerged from) the cave.

(SIDEBAR – I should mention, if you’re anything like me, these particular caves were not the kind of caves you picture when you think “cave.”

Less “ooh look at this spacious cave we’re ‘exploring’…”

 

And more “Holy Crap, these are two enormous slabs of rock that have been here with this tiny space between them for, like, since the dawn of time, what if they choose right this exact second to shift?”

You know those wide open spaces where you stand around with a group and say, “ooh look – stalactites, stalagmites.” No, siree, Bob! This was more of a wedge-yourself-into-very-tight-spaces-between-two-enormous-prehistoric-slabs-of-rock-hope-you’re-not-claustrophobic-and-if-you-weren’t-going-in-you-will-be-coming-out-oh-and-by-the-way-it’s-freezing-wet-and-super-muddy-caving-with-a-capital-C-CAVING kinda thing.)

 

Yup, this…

 

But, I digress. In the end, whether caving or rock climbing, the fear was clearly, you know, FEAR, and so, it was (well, not exactly easy to disperse but) at least identifiable as fear and therefore face-able. But then came the high elements course and the fear I experienced during it was a whole different animal. It was invisible. It wasn’t identifiable as fear. It was more easily named indifference.

“What’s a high elements course,” you ask? Well it’s a sort of obstacle/ropes course, about 50 feet in the air, suspended from trees.

An example of a High Elements Course

This is that wire walk thing I was trying to describe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays you’ve seen things like it on American Gladiators, and other shows of that ilk, but at the time I’d never even heard of such a thing, let alone been expected to participate in one. These courses can be constructed in different ways, but basically, it’s a series of challenges comprised of logs, ropes, and wires suspended in the air. This particular one had an incline log, a balance beam log, a wire walk thing (two horizontal wires – one about 5 feet above the other – suspended between two trees) where you walk on the bottom wire and hold the top wire for balance, a series of ropes hanging from a wire between two trees where you had to cross from one tree to the other by transferring to each rope (Tarzan style), and, lastly, a platform with a trapeze (which, spoiler alert was too far away to reach even if you really jumped for it).


Staples in the trees between each challenge…and a sense of how high up the course is.

For the whole course you’re belayed (harness and safety ropes) and you traverse the course with your teammates yelling encouragement from the ground. Sounds great, right? What could be scary about that, right? I mean, how could it be scarier than rock climbing or rappelling or white water canoeing, right? Even 50 feet in the air, in the rain with all the surfaces slippery as all get out, right?

Wrong.

See, here’s the thing. I didn’t think I was afraid at all. I just had zero interest in doing the course. What it boils down to is that all of the other challenges – the rock climbing, the caving, the canoeing, hell, even the zip lining, I had heard about before. I was ready for them. I was expecting them. They were “things people did.” Even if it was just to face the challenges of nature, or just to get an adrenaline rush, all of these things were things that made some sort of sense to me. Yes, they were man’s attempt at conquering nature but in a practical way – “I need to get from here to there but there’s a cave, or a river, or a mountain in the way so I’ll crawl through that cave, or canoe down that river, or climb that mountain.” I mean that makes sense to me. But this? This arbitrary man-made construct suspended 50 feet in the air? Uh yeah, that made exactly zero sense at all. Especially in the rain.

So, when it came my turn to do the course, the guide was all, “Jessica, you’re up.” And I remember just thinking, “nope. I’ll pass.” I think I even said, “nope. I’ll pass.” When he insisted, I explained (very rationally, I’m sure) that I just didn’t have any interest in doing the course. He said, “there’s no reason to be afraid,” and I was shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you) that he would even consider it. “I’m not scared,” I said. “I just don’t see the point.” I was, no kidding, 100% certain that I was not afraid at all. I told myself I was indifferent. I told myself it was pointless. I told myself it was an arbitrary man-made construct and there was absolutely no reason I needed to participate in it. I was pretty self-righteous about it too, to be honest.

I told myself that if I was scared, I would feel, you know, scared. So, I resolved not to do the course. In the end, I was, in fact, the last person in my group to do it. And the only reason – the ONLY reason – I even stepped foot on that first log was because my guide (whose name I can’t remember but who I do remember was ridiculously cute in a Teva-wearing, “no outdoor challenge is too much for me” kinda way) asked me to just try the first challenge as a “personal favor” to him. So I did (because I never could resist doing a personal favor for a cute guy) and by the time I was up the log I realized that there were only two ways off the course – either freak right the fuck out and have to be lowered down to the ground like a goat in a sling (sorry, Jurassic Park reference), or just finish the damn course. And, not wanting to be the goat I just finished the damn course.

And here’s what I discovered at the end when I was leaping off the platform to grab the too-far-away trapeze. Number 1: I was absolutely sure that I was going to catch it. Number 2: harnesses hurt your crotch like a son of a bitch when they catch all of your weight. And, Number 3: there are all kinds of fear.

Sometimes you see your fear coming. Sometimes, you grab your fear by the throat and wrestle it to the ground. Sometimes, you outsmart your fear by consciously pretending it’s not there. And sometimes, it really feels like it’s not there. It masks itself as indifference and with that indifference it’s really easy to just ignore it and move on to the next thing. BUT, here’s the danger with that, and, by the way, here’s the point of this entire blog post (way to bury the lede, right?): If you think you’re indifferent to it and you ignore it and move on to the next thing?  Yeah, in the end I’m sure it will be fine. That next thing will be great and you’ll move along a little less brave and none the wiser BUT, you’ll miss it. I will say that again because it’s important – You. Will. Miss. It.

You’ll miss that big, beautiful, juicy, amazing, life-altering, wonderful feeling. Because, even though I didn’t catch that trapeze (and even though that harness hurt!) for that millisecond, when I jumped, I was SURE I was going to catch it. I was absolutely POSITIVE it was in my grasp. I knew it was impossible AND I knew I was going to do it. I believed wholeheartedly in that – in the possibility of the impossible. And even though, in the end, I didn’t actually catch the trapeze (because, big surprise, physics always works) that feeling never went away. From that moment on, that feeling turned out to be a new truth for me: The impossible isn’t just possible it will happen. If you push, and you try, and you believe, and you face your fear – IT. WILL. HAPPEN. And, I would have missed it. I would have missed that lesson, that understanding. And I never would have realized that fear is insidious. Fear can stop you not just cold, but also kinda lukewarm. You need to guard against it and you need to be vigilant because that thing you’re calling indifference? Yeah, most of the time, it’s just fear in indifference’s clothing. Don’t let it stall you. Don’t let it stop you. Don’t let it rule you.

So what does all this have to do with production? I mean this is a blog post on a production company’s website, after all. Well here’s the deal…this job is hard. This industry is hard. We work and we struggle and we face our fears in the hopes of success and wealth, yes, but also because we are compelled to tell stories. We’re compelled to reach people. If we could do anything else in the universe with as much joy as we do this, we absolutely would. Hands down! No one – NO ONE – would choose this if any of us had a choice. I mean there’s no two ways about it. This struggling thing? It sucks. But it’s also who we are. And when something comes up professionally, you think, “Oh, big scary thing. I’m knocking that puppy down.” I think we all do that. But, what I’m saying here is, sadly, that’s not enough. Because sometimes the big scary thing isn’t big and scary at all. Sometimes we look at it and think, “yeah, I’m just not interested in that right now. I’m going to go watch reruns of West Wing instead.” And that’s the danger. We get lulled into that place of, “but I’m tired. I’ve been doing this for years with varying degrees of success, and I just want to binge-watch Netflix right now.” I hear you. Believe me. And you want to watch West Wing for a day, a weekend, hell even a whole week? Go for it, you deserve it. BUT, after that day, that weekend, that whole week, I am telling you – Put on that harness, hook up your safety ropes, do the favor for the cute guy, and just Get. On. The. FUCKING. Course. Here and now, I promise you it will be worth it. I promise you that you will be rewarded for it. In fact, I promise you – I PROMISE YOU – that if you climb up that first log and you get onto that damn course, in the end you will jump for that trapeze with all that you are and you will float down from the trees KNOWING for a fact that the impossible is yours for the taking.

And so, for now, I leave you with two of my favorite motivational memes:

You CAN do the thing…so just go do it.

-Jessica

On Being Thankful…

Ok, so, just a short-ish post in honor of the holiday just past; and because I’ve never met a list I didn’t like, here’s a list of nine things I’m particularly thankful for this year:
1)   Farm Story – of course this tops my list, not just because my life has been so occupied with the show for the past 6 months and continues to be so, but also because it was such a profound, life-changing experience. I won’t say a whole lot more about that here because, dude, I kinda already covered it in a previous blog post but truly – I can’t imagine my life without this show and I’m so thankful to be a part of it. Which leads me to…
2)   Terri Coduri Viani – I am so thankful to have been friends with Terri for the past 20 years. I have been lucky to have had her as a roommate, a partner in creative crime, a friend and truly, as family. I honestly don’t know who I’d be if she hadn’t come into my life and I don’t know where I’d be now if Terri hadn’t trusted me with her words and her world. Our friendship and partnership? Honestly, thankfulness doesn’t begin to cover it. I love you, my dear!
3)   Farm Story Cast – Again, I’ve mentioned these folks in previous posts, but as if it wasn’t clear before, after watching the rough cut over Thanksgiving, I was once again struck by the fact that we truly have one of the best casts in TV. The work that everyone did on Farm Story was nothing short of extraordinary. But even more than the work they put in, I’m thankful for the heart that each and every one of these guys brought (and once we sell it will continue to bring) to this show. And, here I do need to call out, my directing muse, my girl, my friend – Julia Haubner Smith. It took me a while to find you, hon, but damn, am I thankful that I did!
4)   Farm Story Crew – And, as I said above about the cast, the same goes for my crew. Such a fantastic group of people who hustled and humped (and in some cases are continuing to do so) to get this show made quickly and well and yet for very little money and taking very little time. And again a specific call out to my eyes and ears, Alex Payne and Tom Zaccheo, respectively – my boys! I’m so so so so thankful to have found you two and don’t know what I would do without you both. Love you guys!
5)   GTTP – My dear darling little island of a company. We’ve been through a lot these past few years – from an idea that started in my living room in Brooklyn…to a company that is now run out of…my living room in a different part of Brooklyn. We’ve done 11 mainstage productions, 1 workshop production, and one television show! We have just begun a monthly reading series, have our first of what will be an annual holiday event in the pipeline and 3 mainstage productions scheduled for next year. I’m thankful beyond words for this particular “engine that could.”
6)   Audience – very slowly, over the past few years, GTTP has been building an audience. They come see what we produce and they pony up the cash when it comes to donation drives. They are the reason we exist and are able to do what we do, and I’m truly thankful for each and every one of them – each and every one of you.
7)   The Work – When I was around six years old, I decided I wanted to be a director. I didn’t really know what a director did, but I knew that’s what I wanted to be. As I got older and realized the intricacies of the job, I knew that my six year old self was completely right. Directing is not just what I do, it’s who I am. And I’m so so so thankful that I get to do the work. Being paid or not (though, yes, I’d love to cross that “always getting paid for your art” line).  I’m so so thankful that I get to challenge myself and try new things and learn and get better and always always always come alive and be the most “me” there is, when I do this work.
8)   Friends – this category really fits in with number 10 because (as you all know) I think of friends as family, but I’ll go ahead and put this here. I’m so thankful for the friends I have. They have supported me and been there for me and encouraged me and in general been the best friends a gal could ever want. Without them I’d be lost.
…and finally, last but not least:
9)   Family – I know, I know, I have waxed rhapsodic about this topic ad nauseum, but no list of what I was thankful for would be remotely complete without my family. In fact nothing in my life would be complete without my family. My parents, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, my other in-laws, my nieces, my nephews, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, my husband. They. Are. My. Everything. I am so very thankful to have them all and truly truly truly don’t know where I’d be without them.

Some of the aforementioned friends and family at our Thanksgiving Dinner… 

So, that’s a quick list of what GTTP will be thinking of and thanking the universe for this season. So, from us here at GTTP to all you out there, we hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and we wish you the best for the rest of this holiday season!
See you at the theater!
-Jess

Confessions of a TV Fanatic…

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 FarscapeThirtysomething, 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.

State of the company…address(?)

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).

21 – number of active ensemble members currently in the company

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 blogfollow 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.

-Jess

From the Rehearsal Room – THE SANDMAN’S COMING actress, Lantie Tom

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.

The Sandman’s Coming opens Thursday, October 24th and 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.

Lantie Tom is a physical, character actor, mask and puppet designer, and educator. For more information:maskspuppetry.wix.com/deadlanguage

From the Rehearsal Room – TSC’s Composer – Dede Booth

This week we have a guest post from Dede Booth, the composer and sound designer of The Sandman’s Coming, which opens October 24th. Tickets available now!

When Molly Ballerstein first approached me to compose the music and sound design for The Sandman’s Coming, I was intrigued as well as feeling those good kind of nerves that make you feel like when you don’t know what you’re doing but know that in the end, you will own and be proud of whatever product has been achieved. I had only ever written vocal/lyrical music before; progressive rock and pop metal to be more specific, so approaching an instrumental score of music was slightly new territory for me. The timing could not have been more than perfect to accept this challenge though. I had been dealing with a vocal injury and was exploring new ways to make music while my voice was recovering. Taking that instrumental journey by composing for the theater seemed just what I needed.

I approached the writing and recording process differently than I would’ve with my band’s music. Normally I write the song’s “blueprint” on my acoustic guitar and once the idea’s are all flushed out, I track a demo and begin writing around that initial idea. This time, I produced and arranged the music simultaneously to the writing. Some times this meant approaching the music in a somewhat improvised way, laying everything down in one take and producing and layering with multiple instruments at the same time. Other times it was experimenting with an idea that I had stored away in the back of my mind for months (or years even!), and playing around with how I could manifest those ideas and make them fit within the context of the Sandman story. Another difference is that I tend to record all the tracks that a particular instrument is being used for and go through each instrument at a time; so basically recording each song at the same time (all the guitars, then all the drums, etc.). For this, I did one song at a time. So I’d track a guitar part, mix it down, then track another instrument, and so on until the piece was finished. I enjoyed this process very much. In fact, I think I learned more about production and got what I wanted to achieve sonically by doing things this way.

Instrumental music is an interesting challenge for me. My lyrical music is existential in nature, and many of my songs in the past have touched on the theme of addiction. Additionally, I happen to hear my compositions through the imagination of movement. It may sound odd, but music is very visual to me. So I felt completely comfortable and connected to putting myself into the elements of Sandman. The challenge then came from being able to convey the emotional elements I try to do through my lyrics, and achieve the same emotional outcome through instrumental music. I wanted to put myself into each character’s role and really give each sound or melody or rhythm that characters’ personality. I wanted the music to symbolize each character so that when viewers heard a certain guitar sound or piece of sound design they could recognize that sound as being The User or The Heroine or The Watcher. When I listen back to these pieces, I think I was able to do just that.

It’s been interesting working on this music and visualizing the direction of the play while working solely in Boston and not being present at rehearsals. In a way, it forced me to dig deep into this play and put myself into every role and every movement this piece conveys. The Sandman’s Coming has been an incredible opportunity for me to grow artistically, challenge myself musically, and open my music up to other mediums of listening and experience. I’m honored to be a part of it and am looking forward to where this experience will take me.

Dede Booth is a Boston musician/producer, music therapist in training, & mental health advocate. To learn more about Dede and her work, check out her website here or follow her on Twitter here.

Four weeks down…and ONLY ONE to go!!!!!

…and so it begins…

When I was little and still thinking I would ultimately have to have real babies (as opposed to the theater babies that my shows always are) I remember asking my mom what pregnancy was like and she answered “long”. I said, “but it’s only 9 months, right?” (Seriously, my 7 year old brain couldn’t really process 9 months, I mean to me – I thought years were long, months were short). And my mom said, “nope, first of all, technically pregnancy is 10 months, not 9, AND it feels like 9 months and a year! That last month goes on forever!” Of course then she said, “and yet, there’s still never enough time.” Again something my 7 year old brain couldn’t process (too long but also not enough time) so off I went to make my Barbie dolls re-enact scenes from Sesame Street. Ok, ok, I know, you’re all thinking why is she telling us this story? I thought this was a theater blog. I’m getting there, hang with me.  Whenever I go into a tech week I always always think of my mom saying “9 months and a year…and…never enough time.” As an adult, of course, I totally understand how something can be both things-too long and too short-and every time I do a show, as the first performance approaches, I feel that pressure – too long/too short – building in my entire system. Now, at last, I get to the point. Tech week is about to begin – my own final month/year of pregnancy with this particular show-baby.

So, for everyone keeping track, here’s a quick recap of this past week. The week began with the last of the scene work. It’s always amazing to me how the closer you get to the end of the rehearsal process, the more you find in the work. All of the actors start to come off book and as scripts leave hands and actors are free to really connect and communicate on stage, the discoveries start to flow. The moments come together and the show really starts to take shape. We spent the first half of this week finishing scene work. On Thursday I also got the chance to work individually with the actors who have monologues during the show-a chance to really delve and play with those moments. On Friday we did a line-through with the actors (basically everyone sits in a rehearsal room, and runs the show for lines. The stage manager, in our case, the luminous Molly Ballerstein, is on book and at the ready when an actor calls “line” to feed them their text and we cruise through the show). In my experience a line-through right before tech can be extremely helpful for getting everyone ready for the runs that are about to begin…and then, and then, and gentlemen and then…(sorry, a little PIPPIN moment there. I promise, that review is coming soon. ANYWHO I digress (big surprise, I know)). And then! This past weekend we jumped in to run-throughs. Finally we got a chance to see if our running time is anywhere close to the run time we quoted on all of our promotional materials (turns out it is) and we got to see a glimmer of what the show will be.

It’s also during this last week before tech when the slow hand off of the play begins. Although, as a director, I am of course needed through opening night, this subtle shift in control and responsibility starts in that last week before tech where, with each passing rehearsal the show becomes less and less mine and more and more the actors’ and Stage Manager’s production. As producer and director I’m always still up to my ears in the production until the end – it is not a rare occurence that I’m at every single performance, but officially, I start handing my baby over to others to let it find its legs. It’s always an exciting time in the life of a show (and also a teensy bit sad).

So, now, we head into tech week and I get back to that pregnancy story-too long and yet too short. So, for those of you not particularly familiar with theater…how to describe tech week? Organized chaos? The definition of chaos theory? Chaotic? (Are you sensing a theme?) I can’t speak to what it is like on Broadway, or even Off-Broadway (though I suspect, that though there’s more money in those worlds, it’s not that different from the off-off-Broadway environment) in low-budget, independent theater it’s like this: You remember finals week from school? The lack of sleep, the intense studying, the feeling like at any moment some little thing will go wrong and you’ll ruin your entire future in one fell swoop? Remember the fear but also the exhilaration that a screw up, as bad as it would be, would launch your life in a totally new and unexpected direction? Remember the stress building up so much that sometimes you needed a primal scream or two to get you through the day? That’s amateur hour compared to tech week. Pfft. Child’s play. And the director/producer keeps all the plates spinning; makes sure all the decisions get made – God I love this job.

My tech week will (most likely) look like this:

It will begin with load-in. VERY early in the morning, I’ll make my way to the space and open up the theater and get my first good look since we booked it. I’ll realize exactly how big a playing area it is and start to envision what the final

The hat in the foreground as the owner of the hat (Molly) hangs lights in the background (on the ladder – I guess less backgound than mid-ground).

product will actually look like. If possible, I’ll sit for a minute, on the stage, by myself, before anyone else arrives, and just soak in the empty-theater-ness of the place – that feeling of potential magic that an empty theater practically oozes. Then, I’ll meet up with the tech director and start unloading the set from the truck. Soon after that, or during that, some helpers will arrive, as will the order from the lighting rental house. We’ll hang lights, and put set together and throughout the day we’ll prep the dressing room, and clean the space. The costume designer will drop off costumes and the projections designer will start testing images in the space. We’ll have some sound tests of the speakers and slowly but surely, an empty open space will turn into the world of Bella’s Dream. And then we’ll do it all again (well not the unloading the set part, just the turning the empty space into Bella’s Dream part) the next day. Tuesday, Molly and I will test out every set piece and walk the pathways of the show for safety – as a director, I’ve always said, I won’t ask any actor to do something I wouldn’t feel 100% safe doing myself and as a stage manager, Molly would say the same so only after we test everything and know it’s safe will we hand set pieces off to actors. We’ll also glow tape the crap out of everything so that the backstage looks like the game grid from TRON. Then, Tuesday night, the actors will arrive and we’ll have our first walk through of the show in the actual space. Wednesday will be a long tech day, doing recordings and filmings for elements that are featured within the show, costume fittings, and general tech stuff before we start to really look at the lights and hear the sounds and see the projections, projected larger than life on the screen. Thursday is our cue to cue. For those not familiar with a cue to cue, it is exactly that, it is the whole show but just going from technical cue to technical cue. It is an absolute necessity but usually a hard and tiring day for all. Friday will be run throughs, Saturday will be run throughs and dress rehearsal and then Sunday – we’re off to the races with our preview!

…and in the end, though everything will somehow get done, none of it will happen exactly the way I’ve planned or expected – it’s the nature of the beast – and I’ll have to shift plans on the fly…but, either way, Sunday night, we will have a show…speaking of which, have you bought tickets yet? Preview tickets are only $12! All other tickets $18. Be sure to pick up your tickets ASAP – only 15 performances.

So, yeah, that’s tech week. I’ll do another blog post as soon as I can to let you all know how it went but the best way to know for certain is to come see the show. See you at the theater!

 

Three weeks down and (Holy Good Lord) two to go…

That’s right folks – we are only two weeks from opening (two weeks and 4 hours to be exact). Actually, technically, our first performance is our preview on June 16th (special discounted tickets available here) so really we have less than two weeks until we open but the official opening night is June 18th.

I can’t believe that we’re already done with three weeks of rehearsal. This has been an incredibly exciting week. We did our first run though on Saturday which allowed designers to really see what we’re doing with the show. I’m so please I managed not to cause any heart attacks, particularly from Sam, the Lighting Designer, as he realized exactly how much of the very large playing area I’m using and therefore he will need to light. He took it like a champ, truly. :) And Amanda, Costume, and Andre, Projections also were able to see, respectively, how the costumes would need to move on the actors and dancers, and how and when the actors and dancers would be moving in front of the projection screen. But for me, the most exciting thing was to see the whole show, from start to finish, as I haven’t seen it (or at least haven’t heard it) since our very first read through a whole 3 weeks ago…And it’s extraordinary to see it come together, (if in fits and starts considering it was our first run through) and more importantly see how it will come together over the next two weeks as props, costumes, sets, and other tech elements begin to get added in.

For anyone not interested in my musings about the directing process – feel free to skip this and the next paragraphs. For everyone else, enjoy: Recently I was accepted to an SDC Symposium on Play Directing, which will be happening a week from Monday and as part of the symposium, I was asked to send in a bio and think about my directing style and that exercise gave me the opportunity to try to observe, “what exactly it is that I do when I direct.” It was a really interesting exercise for me. It turns out I do in fact have a method, it’s just so ingrained in how I do this whole theater thing that I never realized it was a method. I already talked about my process during the first week of rehearsals which is usually a lot of discussion and some improv centered around who the characters are and what their relationships are to the other folks in the play. And then we move into blocking and that’s really just me figuring out where exactly I want everyone to go on stage. Sometimes that’s instinctual and sometimes it’s not but it always eventually comes. The really nice thing about blocking is that usually, when it doesn’t look right, it also doesn’t feel right for the actors and before I say anything about it they sort of self adjust – or stop what they’re doing, look me in the eye and say “dude, this is crazysauce – not gonna work,” and we fix it together. So the blocking and character stuff is usually pretty straightforward. Kind of the utility work of the process. But scene work? Ah, scene work is where the magic happens. Scene work is the art…at least to me.

When it comes to scene work, turns out I have a method here too but this method is a little different (or maybe it’s not. Sidney Lumet has a famous line that I absolutely love and agree with: “directing is like sex. Everybody does it, but you’re not quite sure you’re doing it right, and you’re always curious about how other people are doing it.” It’s totally true, so maybe my method isn’t different at all but whether it is or not, this is how I do it.) Basically, I have the actors do the scene and I observe it. I ask them how they’re feeling with it. If it feels right to them. And then, if it doesn’t feel like it’s working for me, I change something. Usually working outward from the periphery characters in to the main character in the scene. Basically, I just keep changing things. Kind of like throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Shifts, adjustments, suggestions, notes, until the scene starts to take shape. Usually I see something. One of the many times through the scene I see that spark and know in my gut – “ooh, that! Do that!” and then I usually jump up and down a little and actually say – “ooh, that! Do that!” Somewhere during that process the final scene really takes shape. It’s amazing to watch it happen. And, although it always follows a particular format, it’s different every time because each actor and each role and each experience is always different from whatever came before. The other thing is that, with all this work, even when it’s Right-with-a-capital-R, things will change, things will continue to grow. Because, theater is organic. Theater is alive. Theater changes with each performance and each experience. It’s one of those things I love soooooo much about theater. And it’s a joy to be a part of.

But, I digress (I seem to do that alot but then again, I guess that’s kind of how blogs work, right?) ANYWHO…so THIS WEEK, we will continue with scene work and we’ll have a chance to do nitpicky fixes of moments that aren’t quite working but by the weekend we’ll be into full run-throughs and our chance to fix major moments will be over. It’s fast. Every show I marvel at how fast it goes. But I digress aGAIN. Monday, S**T gets real! – we load in to the Flamboyan at CSV and the sets and costumes and lights and sound and projections and everything technical starts to come together. Tech officially begins and though I’m hoping I’ll find a way to do the “4 weeks down…1 to go” blog post – I’m saying it now, don’t hold your breath waiting for it. It will most likely not come until the night before we open. :)

Also, there’s still two weeks left on our Rockethub campaign. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far and for everyone else out there be sure to check out the sight and join the Bella’s Dream family. Get cool rewards, watch the awesome teaser video (put together by yours truly – I know, I’m so modest), read updates on the project from me and Dana Boll – (multi-hyphenate extraordinaire) playwright, choreographer, actor and co-producer and support the show even before we open.

Speaking of opening night – TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW!!!!! Be sure to snap up your tickets as soon as you can. They’re selling like…well not quite like hotcakes…but what’s the next fastest seller? And, if the $18 ticket price is a bit too steep, keep in mind there are discounted $12 preview tickets available for June 16th at 5pm.

See you at the theater!

 

Two Weeks (and a BBQ) Down…

It is hard to believe that we’re already two weeks into rehearsals for Bella’s Dream. I feel like I blinked and went from “oh, the play is MONTHS away” to “OMG, the play opens in 3 weeks!” This week has been extraordinary! We spent the beginning of the week finishing our character work/discussions. I was reminded, once again, that there’s never enough time. When I was scheduling the “one-on-ones” with the actors – sometimes an hour, sometimes 45 minutes – I would think to myself, “oh, there’s no way we’re going to find an hour’s worth of stuff to delve into with this character(s). Man was I wrong. Every discussion was interesting and engaging and showed the depth of these charcters and each actor’s process of understanding them. Add to that that the majority of the actors are playing multiple characters and there was a LOT to discuss.

In addition to the one-on-ones we also had meetings/rehearsals with pairs or small groups of actors, which allowed us to discuss the relationships these characters have with each other and what they mean to each other. On a show like this, with many, short scenes, an enormous cast, and multiple actors playing multiple characters, I find the discussions incredibly helpful for finding a way in to the show.

After character discussions were done, we dove in to the blocking. Having the full ensemble at rehearsal and starting to figure out where everyone is going on the ENORMOUS stage? Well, it is alternately, exciting, moving, thrilling, frustrating, and, to be honest, exhausting. After all, it’s 14 bodies to move around an atypical space with some visual obstructions for some members of the audience. I’m still not sure how I’ll make it work, but this team is so amazing. Giving, and experimental, excited and really REALLY fun! Throughout the process it’s been so exhillerating to find those little moments when what I had in my head translates into a goose-bump inducing moment on stage…then again, sometimes it’s only through putting the actors on the stage that the I realize the moment I had carefully choreographed in my head looks like crap and I have to start from scratch. What I’m loving with this group though is that in those moments, when my initial thoughts turn out to be not-so-brilliant and I throw it out to the cast and say “this is what I’m trying to achieve” it’s just wonderful to see them jump in with suggestions – to all put our heads together to “solve it.” I was going to say, “It’s moments like that when I truly love my job,” but honestly, I can’t think of many times when I don’t truly love this job.

A word about warm ups – I’ve been doing something new on this show and actually leading a warm up circle at the start of most of the full ensemble rehearsals. Normally, I just let the actors warm up (or not, whatever they prefer) on their own time, but with a cast this large I’m finding it’s great to get everyone moving and shake out the cobwebs together. It also seems to be a nice bonding tool and it builds energy and it acts as this really nice sort of line of demarcation between the world we’re in every day and the world of Bella’s Dream…Oh, and also, it gives us, as the production team, the opportunity to thank our Rockethub donors for their contributions!

Speaking of Rockethub, have you checked out our preview on the Rockethub site? No? Oh my goodness, let me be sure to give you the link: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/24082-bella-s-dream We’re cruising along with our fundraising and are already 30% funded but we could still use your help. Please check out the video, read the production updates, support the show and/or tell your friends. I’ve said this repeatedly on my Facebook posts but it bears repeating here – as I do with most of my projects, I see this show as a very special, unique little family and I want our audience, our supporters to be a part of that family. So, please join the Bella’s Dream family. Donations at any level will help us make this show everything it can be!

Ok, plug over. But I digress, where was I? Right, warm-ups. Although I don’t usually lead warm ups, on this show, it’s been really fun to watch the actors explore movement and sound expression within the warm-ups and it’s led to some great discoveries that filter down into the rest of the rehearsal process…oh, and I can’t thank Stevenson Carlebach enough for introducing me to the theater game “Pass the Trash”. So, Stevenson, if you are reading this – THANK YOU!

Friday night we had our second full production meeting. Brian, our set designer, brought out the scale model of the set (no pictures folks, sorry. Come on, y’all know how spoiler-averse I am. I want it to be a surprise) and everyone jumped in to discussions about what will be where and power supply issues, and how do we light the stage, and where does the projector screen go, and what are we doing with the costumes, and on, and on, and then an amazing thing happened – Dan, our technical director, kept us all on task with simple statements like “Ok, that’s what set needs. Moving on to Lights.” It is an absolute thrill to see this team of talented, amazing designers and technicians doing their thing.

A sad note: our original costume designer had a family emergency and needed to drop out of the project. After frantic emails to all of my theater friends, I was able to find the amazing, Amanda Jenks, an extraordinary costume designer, who was available to step in to take Scott’s place. Scott has been wonderful helping get Amanda up to speed and continuing to help the production where he can (all I’m going to say is The Caspian Sea and y’all will see what that means when you see the show) and Amanda has been amazing about just jumping in and running with it. We were very sad to lose Scott but so thrilled to have Amanda, and her assistant Maria, stepping in.

Although we didn’t finish blocking the show (that’s for this week), we rounded out the week of rehearsals with a little Memorial Day BBQ. And though this was not strictly a Bella’s Dream affair, members of the cast and crew came to party it up, eat the delicous grilled foods, the vegan coconut macaroons (don’t let the “vegan” fool you – those things are awesome!) and kick back and just socialize without much talk of the show. If only we had the time, I would seriously round out every week of rehearsals with a massive BBQ in my backyard. It was such fun.

For the week coming up, we have lots planned – we finish blocking the show (actually, we’ll be doing that in about an hour so I should probably go get ready for rehearsal) and then we jump in to scene work. I usually try very hard not to give any sort of acting notes in blocking rehearsals. Since, for me, blocking rehearsals are really about, “this is where you enter the stage and this is where you exit,” it’s not important to delve into, “are you going to do the line like that?” kind of discussions. That’s for scene work, which I’m so excited to begin!

So, two weeks down and three to go…and I can’t wait to see what this week brings!

Tickets for Bella’s Dream are on sale now on our main page: www.goingtotahitiproductions.com

See you at the theater!

 

BELLA’S DREAM in production now…

It’s official! We have a performance space, we have a crew, after next week we’ll have actors – in other words - Bella’s Dream is happening.

So, I know that it’s been up on the website and I know that I’ve mentioned it to a bunch of you but now that the space has been finalized and the ticket website is up and running, I can officially announce that Bella’s Dream will open on June 18th (reduced price preview performance on June 16th) and run for two weeks at The Flamboyan Theater which is part of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational center on the Lower East Side (107 Suffolk St.). We are deep into preproduction now – auditions are next week (actors check out the listing on Actors Access or playbill.com for details on submission). Also, as I mentioned above, tickets are officially on sale! Go to our ticket calendar here, for tickets.

My intention is to be posting a lot more now that we’re in production and I have lots to post about…of course, now that we’re in production I’m not sure I’ll have time to post a lot so this is a nice little experiment, but, you know, I’m gonna give it the old college try.

Keep an ear out here and on Facebook and Twitter for more details and feel free to get your tickets now. :) Did I mention? Tickets are on sale now!

 

Learning to Release it with Love…

So, it’s time I talked about that green eyed monster…and no I’m not talking about this guy  from Monsters Inc…although, come to think of it, he was a green monster and he had an eye but the eye was aquamarine so technically he’s not a green eyed monster so much as he’s a green, aquamarine-eyed, monster…but I digress. No, the Green Eyed Monster I was talking about, of course, is jealousy. I have to say, although I can get pretty jealous in my personal life (I mean I am a Scorpio after all) most of my jealousy is confined to the professional world. And, I gotta tell you, it’s a bitch. I mean it. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue being jealous of people I don’t know personally who have ridiculous success who doesn’t deserve it (insert any Kardashian name here). Although honestly that’s less jealousy than disdain. And I don’t mind getting on my high horse about people who have ridiculous success AND talent – dude I get jealous and snippy and generally rant-y about Lena Dunham like you wouldn’t beLIEVE (then again, I have yet to see Girls (what? I can’t afford cable let alone HBO) and am basing my entire opinion about her on the movie Tiny Furniture (which I hated) and an interview she gave in EW magazine), but I respect that she’s talented and self confident and completely without body issues so I’m good with her there. I just absolutely get jealous that someone so young and talented is getting heaps of acclaim and money and opportunity and pretty much everything I’ve been struggling for for like 20 years and seems not only not phased by it but in fact as if she was entitled to it all along. Of course, maybe that’s my problem – I’ve seen it more like something I would love to have but not something I was “entitled to” per se. Maybe I should just wander around completely self entitled. I’m sure that would make me a sought after party guest.

ANYWAY, I digress again because I’m not even talking about the people I don’t know who are wildly successful. Who gives a crap about them. I’m talking about that jealousy that rears its ugly head instinctively even when it’s the successes of people I love. You see, I have people in my life – loved ones, friends, acquaintances, who I genuinely care about and yet, when I hear about one of their successes (especially in the entertainment world) my immediate instinctive thought is not, “OMG that is soooo great for her/him” nope it’s “ugh, why can’t stuff work out that well for me?” And not ONLY do I initially think that, I think it in the most whiny, irritating voice in my head that it is possible to create. Forget about the fact that my very next thought is always, “OMG that is soooo great for her/him”. Forget that my heart swells with pride as if I had something to do with her or his accomplishments. Forget that I have been known to turn actual cartwheels of excitement in honor of someone else’s accomplishment. I just can’t seem to get rid of that green eyed monster.

And so, as I witness this behavior, I’ve been wondering a lot lately whether it is the nature of the artist. We spend so much of our time seeking approval. And though we may play a good game – honestly in most aspects of my life I could give a crap what people think of me – when it comes down to my art, I want to be loved. I want to be applauded, I want to blow people away. I wonder, is the jealousy ingrained in us creative types? It is a pretty competitive business and I’m not a compteitive person. I just want to do my thing and make a living at it. So maybe, the fact that it is so competitve makes me subconciously see other people’s successes as taking something away from me. But, the thing is, I don’t believe that’s true. I honestly believe there’s room for all. We make our own fate. I believe it, I know it. So why, oh why, do I consistently react with jealousy even if it is just in my own head? Because I really hate it. I mean really really hate it. I want to just be that zen person who never has a bad thought about others but who just honestly generously reacts to the success of others. Maybe I just need to keep making more of my own success so that I can kick back and rest on my laurels and not even notice the laurels of others. Or maybe I should just start ignoring all of the people I love – no, I don’t like that option at all.

So, instead  I’m trying to change it. See, I’m too smart to think that I can change my immediate emotional reaction to something just by saying “don’t feel that, Jessica.” That’s like saying, “gentle reader, don’t think of an elephant.” What happened? That’s right, you totally thought of an elephant. No, I’m not going to change it like that. Instead, I’m trying to accept that those feelings are a part of me. As much as I don’t like it, it’s true. Pissy, jealous, petty, snippy, instinctive emotions are as much a part of me as they are a part of anyone else and to pretend they’re not there only makes them fester and grow. So, I won’t ignore them and I won’t pretend I don’t feel them. I will just acknowledge them as my crap and no one else’s. In the end they’re completely one sided they come from me and only me and actually have nothing at all to do with the friend or loved one who has accomplished so much. I’m sure at their core those emotions are driven by fear so, after looking at those feelings, acknowledging them as my own, I then have to release them with love. Because they’re a part of me, they’re mine, and if I don’t want them, only I can get rid of them. “Goodbye jealous feelings. You ain’t wanted here no more.” I don’t know that it will make a difference but I sure am gonna try…and if that doesn’t work, I just need to find a way to genuinely collaborate with each and every talented person I know.

:)

For those of you not aware, that “collaboration with with each and every talented person I know” is going strong as ensemble member Dana Boll and I co-produce Dana’s play with dance: Bella’s Dream which will run through June with Yours Truly directing. Details and tickets will be available soon.

 

 

Perseverance (The Importance Of)

Disclaimer: I couldn’t come up with a good picture that really went along with this post. Sorry, just a whole lotta words and heads up, a couple of them are naughty…

Except for the occasional theater review, you may have noticed GTTP has been a little bit absent from the Blogosphere. (I’m sure you’ve all been breathlessly waiting for an explanation of where Jessica and GTTP has been). Well, lucky you, I feel like it is time to explain my absence. My other blog post today is all shiny happy with very exciting updates and, if you’d like to read that go ahead and skip this post entirely and see the shiny happy post here (ah the joys of simultaneous posting). But for those of you brave enough to embrace the darkness (heh. How ominous does that sound?), here’s the deal.

As you know from previous posting, last year was a bit of a crazy year (in a good way). GTTP (and in this instance the GTTP I’m referring to is yours truly) was up to its ears in productions. Starting with my directing gig at The Secret Theater, I went directly from directing The Day Job by Julia Blauvelt, into co-producing Cat Lady Without A Cat by Carrie Keskinen and then into directing and producing Jane Austen’s Persuasion by Laura Bultman, and right into directing and producing In The Ebb by Camilla Ammirati at the NY International Fringe Festival. Let me just say, that for as crazy as the schedule was, there is nothing quite as awesome as going from gig to gig to gig. It gives meaning to your life (or, in this case, my life) and it’s wonderful to know that you’re devoting all of your time and energy to the one thing that you know – completely know down in your boney bone bones – you were put on this earth to do. So that? Was awesome! …end of post.

Heh. Ok, not end of post. There was a downside. And here it is, gentle readers. Just because I know that I was put on this earth to direct (and produce) it doesn’t mean the universe recognizes it. And there was this tricky little thing with going from gig to gig to gig…and it’s that same tricky little thing that plagues all of us “starving” artists. That’s right, folks. Say it with me. Money. In that, there is none. No that’s not true. I have the most AMAZING supporters, which is to say all of you. I am WELL aware and INCREDIBLY appreciative of the way all of you have pitched in with money, time, encouragement and general support over the years. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as saying, “huh, how am I going to come up with x amount of money for this show?” and then checking Rockethub and seeing that x amount money has showed up from donors. It is a wonderful and amazing thing. But, unfortunately, for what I’m trying to do, it’s not enough. Don’t get me wrong, I know your hard earned cash is exactly that and you need to give what you’re comfortable giving and I’m not trying to imply that your generosity isn’t appreciated. No, on the contrary, it is EVERYTHING and it is a perfect launching off point. But, what I’ve been realizing, the longer I do this, is that we need more and we need bigger. Money and audiences, that is. In order to get to the place that I might one day make a living at this, we need to make that jump from small company surviving on individual donations into a company that makes its money through grants, or corporate sponsorship, or investors or all of the above…we need to jump.

This need was particularly noticeable last fall when I was hoping we were making that jump. I finished The Fringe Festival, completely ready for one of two things to happen, either – some variation of the pipe dream – someone of influence, someone with money, would have seen In the Ebb and decided he or she wanted to be GTTP’s patron or I’d get a directing agent who would launch me into a world of gigs for which I would get recognition and get paid a real salary and that salary would, in turn, enable me to subsidize my GTTP work or we’d get so noticed and so well reviewed that we would be instantly skyrocketed to fame and success (or at least to a budget level that would allow for a decent salary for all involved) and I’d get help in making GTTP really happen – OR – (more likely) I would go back to my 4 day jobs for 4 months, make some money, expand the ensemble, and come back in the spring for our next show, which would be a contributing factor to that jump happening, like now.

But here’s what happened…nada. No, that’s not exactly true, I did expand the company and we are now an ensemble of 28 artists and technicians and you can read about that in the other blog post (you know, the shiny happy one). But, except for that, nothing happened. No pipe dream, and no day job (there just wasn’t much work for me last fall). So I spent a few months trying to figure out what I should have done differently and what I could do differently in the future to make sure that that jump I was talking about earlier, would — no, will — happen.

Because, here’s the thing, I’m tired. I mean it. It’s exhausting to keep pushing, to keep going. It’s tiring to keep telling yourself, “no no, it WILL happen.” Leading up to Fringe, (as I have with every single production) I REALLY tried not to get my hopes up. I really tried not to let myself even imagine the pipe dream stuff. I REALLY REALLY did (and in my family when you say “really really” you can not lie). I kept telling myself, “Jessica, pipe dreams don’t happen in real life. This ain’t an episode of Smash. If you want something to happen you need to put in the work. You need to keep pushing. You need to persevere and, in the end you need to MAKE it happen. Because no one is going to give it to you. No one is going to do it for you.” I can’t tell you how many times over the past five years I’ve told myself some variation of exactly that. Seriously, it’s like a daily affirmation. Because you need to keep that pipe dream shit in check. So I stomped down on any of the, “but maybe what will happen is Steven Spielberg will be in NY and decide he wants to take in a Fringe show and he’ll see In the Ebb, and he’ll think, “wow, this show is something! This director is SOMETHING! Let me see what else she’s got!”" I stomped down HARD. At least I thought I did.

What actually happened though – Deep down, way way down deep, there was this Little Dreamer who just kept holding on to that pipe dream. Eyes screwed shut, shaking her head, knuckles white with holding on so hard, she just kept whispering, “I know all of that stuff Ms. Strong Realistic Conscious Mind. But you’re wrong, because I’ve been doing this for awhile and sooner or later, pipe dream has to happen. Sooner or later something’s going to give and the end result will be pipe dream. I know it.” It turns out that Little Dreamer is kind of an asshole, because what happened in September, and then October, and then November, when I realized that no manifestation of pipe dream was actually going to happen, I shut down and crawled into a state of hibernation. I didn’t realize it at the time, when I kept telling my friends and family, “yeah, I’m a little bit blue, but really I’m fine” that I was lying. It turns out that I wasn’t just a little bit blue, I was a little bit broken.

And it turns out I needed the last five months (WOW, I can not beLIEVE I wasted five whole months) to let that stuff work itself out. So that’s where I’ve been…that’s where GTTP has been…working stuff out. Sometimes, working stuff out looked like watching crap TV shows on my computer while playing video games on the TV. And sometimes working stuff out looked like playing on Facebook. And sometimes working stuff out looked like reading the final book of a fantasy series 20 years in the making, but whatever form of escape it looked like, it really really was working stuff out, because just within the last few weeks? I feel better. I feel eager. I feel recharged. I have to do lists and tasks and half started projects (which I rotate through daily) all over my desktop. I’m not really sure what I did to fix it, or heal or whatever, but the one thing I did do, as I sat there thinking, “Geez, Jess, you have GOT to get working again. You have to update your blog. or Work on your next project. or Get a new fundraising drive going. or SOMETHING!” The one thing I did do was listen once again to that Little Dreamer who said, “wait. Not yet. Lick your wounds. Heal. Listen to the dream again. Find the strength to keep going.” Because, she may be an asshole, and she may be melodramatic, but also? She knows of what she speaks.

Keep going on this journey. It will be worth it. Keep going on this path. There are rewards to come. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. So I will. You wanna come too?

 

Additions to the GTTP Family and What’s Next…

So, here’s the shiny happy post that goes hand in hand with the dark, Where-has-GTTP-been-for-the-last-5-months-post I posted here.

A couple of exciting announcements

First off – new ensemble members

When you get a chance, head on over to our About Us page, you’ll see some new folks. GTTP has expanded its ensemble. We’re now 28 strong, with actors, designers and technicians. It is very exciting to be working with such a wonderful team. And, since this talented team is always working (whether with GTTP or others), be sure to check out our Off The Island page which updates what our ensemble members are working on outside of GTTP.

Bella’s Dream a new play with dance by Dana Boll

Ensemble member, Dana Boll, has written and choreographed a beautiful new play with dance based on the true events of her grandparents escape from Poland in 1939. After a staged reading at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, GTTP will proudly present the world premiere of this deeply personal and moving show. The play will run for three weeks at a theater on the lower east side of Manhattan. Details and tickets will be available soon on our home page. Also Dana, as co-producer, writer, choreographer and performer, will be blogging regularly about the production process, here; and I, as director and co-producer, will be blogging (less regularly but still regularly) about the production process here.

GTTP makes the transition to Film/TV

There has been some discussion in the backrooms of GTTP about expanding into the world of film and television. What I can say about the outcome of those discussions is that GTTP is planning on expanding into the world of film and television. Everything is moving, irons are in the fire and we will hopefully have an update in the next couple months that will be less cryptic. To be honest, I wouldn’t have said anything about it but I’m sooooooo excited that I couldn’t keep it entirely under my hat. Seriously, I could never be a spy. Don’t get me wrong, I can keep a secret but I can’t contain my excitement when I have a secret I’m going to keep. Hence the announcement.

Within Arm’s Reach

Some of you may wonder what all of the above means for our original adaptation of Ann Napolitano’s novel Within Arm’s Reach. Never fear. It is still happening. In fact, in my other blog posts, I talk about the various projects on my desktop that I’m currently working on and Within Arm’s Reach is one of the major ones. We will need to hold off until this fall or early winter but it is happening and we continue to be very excited about it. If you want to grab a copy of Within Arm’s Reach so you can see the challenge GTTP has given itself, or Ann’s other equally beautiful novel, A Good Hard Look, be sure to visit her webpage.

 

So, yeah, it looks like that’s our season. Bella’s Dream in June. A film/TV project hopefully in September-ish. and Within Arm’s Reach in December/January 2013-14. Along the way we’ll be updating the main page of the website as well as this here blog. We hope you’ll keep checking back!

We’re looking forward to an exciting year and we’re looking forward to you joining us on the island.

The 5 Stages of Post-Show Grief

*Yeah, I picked a House picture because I like Hugh Laurie and it has the 5 stages listed. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this post…

 

Ok, so as I believe I mentioned, I was expecting post Fringe to be double whamm-ied on the whole “my show is over, what am I doing with my life” thing. Usually I have a good 1-2 months of depression after a show but because I did Persuasion and In the Ebb back to back with no depression down time, I figured I was due for a good 2-4 months of blahs. And, guess what? I was right. So the last three months have been a bit on the tough side for me. Add to that the fact that I turned 40 during that time and yes, it’s been a rocky few months. But! There’s good news on the horizon, Fringe ended on August 26th so I am well past the 2 month mark and am pretty sure that I’m passed the worst of the doldrums. I spent this weekend feeling motivated and I have jumped into planning for what promises to be a really exciting year for GTTP. So that is good news and, in the next few weeks, you will be hearing about lots of exciting things happening on our little island.

However, during these last 3 months, I did a lot of thinking and I realized that even this post show thing follows the 5 stages of grief. Because, although thankfully, it is not the same as losing someone you care about, a show ending is its own little death. You know there will be other shows and you know you’ll have fun again, but that show, with those people, that exact experience is gone forever and will never come again…and that, ladies and gents? That’s super sad. So with that in mind, here are the five stages of grief in the post show world…

Denial – “No, the show isn’t over. It’s not gone. I’m fine. We’re all fine. The cast and crew is doing a party tonight and we’re going to get together once a week forever and it’s going to be exactly the same.”  Or, even better, “We’re going to do a revival of this exact show with this exact cast and crew and the fun is never going to end!”

Anger – “How can this be happening to me? How DARE the show has ended! Those bastards (yeah I don’t know which bastards I’m referring to) have never understood my art! Why does this always happen to me?”

Bargaining – “I’ll do anything to keep doing this show. If I promise to really appreciate it this time, it can keep going right?”

Depression – “This sucks. I’ll never do another show again…”

Acceptance – “It’s going to be ok. There will be more shows and it’s time to get started on the next one.”

What I’ve found to be particularly difficult is the depression stage. For me, the first 3 stages happen relatively  quickly (like a couple of days) and the acceptance stage happens in the blink of an eye but the depression, that’s what really gets you. Because it’s not just that you feel sad. I mean sadness is definitely a part of it, but you start to feel unmotivated and if you’re not careful, you spin into this emotional space where everything you do or consider doing seems futile. Because, you know, you ain’t curing cancer, folks. You’re just telling your little story. Don’t get me wrong, I think story telling is important. OBVIOUSLY I think story telling is important – I mean I have devoted my career to it and it is something I’m really good at so yes, I think it’s important. But, in the midst of one of these post show depressions you can’t help (at least I can’t) but think:

Hmm. So I struggle and I fight and I rehearse and I plan and I raise money and I make it happen and I do a show.

And people like it.

And then it ends.

And I’m right back where I started.

It’s kind of like the Tetris game to end all Tetris games. I mean, ok, I got the highest score I’ve ever gotten, but in the end the board will in fact fill with little pieces and the game will end and I’ll just start it again. And you can’t help but have that moment when you think, “so why even bother?” And it becomes really hard to push yourself to jump into the  next project – even if it’s something you’re excited about. Even if it’s something you’ve been wanting to do for months on end. And that’s why for me the depression is the hardest and longest stage. Of course, invariably, there comes that moment when it hits you that the reason you bother is because it does matter. It does make a difference. You affected someone (sometimes a bunch of someones) with what you did. No, you didn’t cure cancer but you entertained and you made someone think or laugh or cry or all three. And that does matter. And, if these are the skills you were blessed with then it is an affront to nature to not use them.

I still remember the first time I did In the Ebb with GTTP. It was our first show and it was the first of my post show depressions that my husband (not yet my husband at the time) witnessed firsthand and I remember saying something melodramatic and silly to him like, “why do I even bother? It’s not like I’ve done anything important.” And he said, “what are you talking about? You entertained people and moved them. You introduced them to this beautiful language, to these amazing performances and characters. You helped bring these concepts and ideas out into the world. This idea of the Never. This character of the Waterlogged Woman. You brought them to life and now, for everyone who was involved in the show and for everyone who saw it, you made these little changes in how they see the world. How can you think that’s not important?” Well, along with making me decide I wanted to marry him, my husband showed me  things from a different perspective. No, my stories are not going to save lives but I believe, for the short time we’re on this earth, what matters most is how we affect other people and whether the cast, crew, and audience are big or small, all those people are affected by what we do. Recognizing that is what usually pulls me out of these post show slumps. Of course, it can’t be forced. You can know it in your head but if it takes a month (or four if it’s post back to back shows) to know it in your heart than that’s what it takes. All you can do is all you can ever do – hang in there and take the ride where it takes you.

Ten things I learned doing The NY International Fringe Festival…

Ok, so I have owed my trusty readers (hi, Mom!) a post for about a month now. I do apologize for being so absent from the blogosphere but it turns out Fringe took a lot more out of me then expected and when the past few Mondays rolled around I just didn’t have it in me to compose something witty and exciting for a post and so I didn’t … I actually did start 4 different posts and if I could figure out a way to back date them I would totally post them but since I can’t I’ll just say they started like this:

POST 1 (that didn’t get posted) – so, we’re about to open In the Ebb at HERE Mainstage and I can’t wait for you all to see it.

POST 2 (that didn’t get posted) – so, we just opened In the Ebb at HERE Mainstage and I think you guys will love it!

POST 3 (that didn’t get posted) – so, the reviewer from nytheatre.com didn’t get it. Though he thought In the Ebb was beautifully written, Camilla “has a poetic soul” and I have “a true talent for staging”, he thought the show was boring and he didn’t find the themes universal or connectable (yes, I made up that word but that’s the gist of the review – fear of loss apparently isn’t a universal theme – oops, I guess that makes the worrier in me a bit of a freak). ANYway, I would have said in the post (had I gotten around to posting it) that I would be worried that the review would have kept folks away, but I can now say in hindsight that we had decent audiences (not Jane Austen’s Persuasion sized audiences but decent all the same) and everyone I talked to seemed to love it so, to quote Mrs. DiSalvo in Act II – “I guess we did ok.”

POST 4 (that didn’t get posted) – so, the reviewer from California Litereary Review TOTALLY got it. Now THAT’s what I call a review. I found this one much more reflective of the work we did on stage. Though there were a couple of typos in the review (Saul Steinberg instead of Stewart and Ian DeNio instead of Ien) I felt that this reviewer actually got what we were saying. He caught the beauty in the words and the performances, and he ALSO understood Camilla’s humor finding much of the play “extremely funny even as it peers into the abyss.” I do wish that the people who “got me” were the only ones who also got to review me, but again to quote Mrs. DiSalvo, “you don’t get to pick.”

which brings me to this post:

POST 5 (that WILL get posted) – So now Fringe is over. It has been such a whirlwind. Going from Persuasion directly into In the Ebb is not necessarily the way I’d recommend doing the Festival for the first time, but on the flip side, it was nice to just go from show to show instead of hanging around waiting for my next project to begin. It means I completely bypassed my “post show depression” after Persuasion. Of course that could also mean that I’m due for a double whammy on the depression front now that In the Ebb is over, but hopefully I’ll slide into something else really exciting – like adapting Within Arm’s Reach for the stage. Anywho, here’s what I learned in Fringe:

1) Before you have a cast, reading the play out loud at a very slow speed is NOT going to give you an accurate representation of how long the play will run in performance.

- Fringe requires you to give a running time in your application, and though you still have time to change that after you get accepted to the festival, the date when you do have to give them a hard – set-in-stone – run time will most likely be at least a month before you’ve cast the show, let alone done a first run through and have an accurate sense of the run time. I had originally thought the run time of the two one acts (one fewer act than the first time I did this show) would be 75 minutes INCLUDING a 10 minute intermission. I discovered 2 days before my tech that we were running about 95 minutes WITHOUT an intermission. That was a weekend of frantic cuts trying not to cut scenes but still lose 20 minutes from the show. One day, I vow that I will do this show in its entirety.

2) A certified Flameproofer is your best friend!

- Fringe requires that all set pieces be certified flameproof. Although my set was stuff that was most likely already flameproofed (Ikea chairs and rehearsal cubes) I needed proof and that means tags from purchase (which ain’t an option since I purchased the chairs years ago for use in the first production of In the Ebb). One option was to cart the stuff out to New Jersey and have the Fringe-recommended vendor test the stuff and if it wasn’t fireproof then I could leave it there for 3 DAYS – yup DAYS – and then head back out there and pick it up. Then I found someone who was Manhattan-based and let me tell you – finding someone who can come to you and flameproof your set and give you a certificate proving that it’s flameproofed is a whole helluva lot better than having to cart your entire set out to Jersey.

3) Get yourself some good, talented, reliable friends.

- Throughout the years I have connected with some people who I can’t imagine stumbling through life without. Sarah and Ian, for example, not only said I could borrow one of their DINING ROOM chairs for a WHOLE MONTH, they didn’t bat an eye when I said I would have to chemically treat the chair so that it was officially flame proofed. When I asked if I could rent his rehearsal cubes for 3 weeks, Richard was all “why don’t you just borrow them” and, Jen, once again, offered up the Chevy Blazer to be used and abused for whatever I needed, which it turned out was a lot of set, prop and costume transportation.

4) Work with talented people you trust and love – again and again and again.

- My crazy talented sound designer, Ien DeNio, crazy talented lighting designer, Sam Gordon, crazy talented projections designer, Zeljka Blaksic, and crazy talented company manager, Carrie Keskinen, all re-upped with GTTP and I literally could NOT have done this show without them. Their talent, skill, and professionalism made this show work! And their ability to roll with the punches (see Number 6) meant that we were able to function within the stressful time-compressed world of Fringe.

5) Make sure you cast riDONKulously capable and talented actors who work well together!

- I’ve known for awhile that I’m pretty good at casting. I can usually see in an audition what an actor will be capable of and I usually have a sense of whether a group of actors will work together well. It’s a wonderful thing, a real honor, to get the opportunity to bring together 7 strangers and watch them, through rehearsals, turn into a family. This most recent family included: Crawford M. Collins, Leah Gabriel, Mary Goggin, Michael Komala, Stewart Steinberg, Montgomery Sutton, and Lisa Crosby Wipperling.

6) Hook up with a group that is calm under pressure and be ready to figure out technical aspects on the fly…

- So, for those of you who don’t know, the way Fringe works (in fact the way most theater festivals work) is that you are really assigned only one chance to be in the venue before your show opens and that chance is your tech rehearsal. In the case of Fringe, your tech rehearsal is only 2 times the length of your running time (see point #1 in this list and the importance of determining that run time well in advance of rehearsals) and you must must must run through the entire show without stop so that the Fringe folks can time you (with a stopwatch) and know for certain that you’ll fit in your allotted time. Since tech for a normal show is usually at least 3 days and often as long as a week (it’s called Tech WEEK for a reason, folks) having only 2 and a half hours in the venue to tech your show can make for a tricky situation. Add to that the complication that, because of Fringe scheduling, our tech day was actually a full week before our first performance, there was a high amount of stress on that particular 2.5 hours. What’s more, because we were the first group to tech in the space, we spent what should have been our hour and 15 minutes that was set aside for a cue to cue (where we actually go through the entire play just looking at and listening to each lighting, sound and projection cue) figuring out why the projector wasn’t working and how lights in the theater (whose layout we were supposed to be given in advance but weren’t) were going to run our lighting design. SO, having the cast and crew that I had – a group of people who just went with the flow and didn’t pull any diva crap (though it was well within their rights to do so) and just buckled down and did the job – what’s that Friday Night Lights phrase – “git ‘er done” – well this group GOT ‘ER DONE!

7) Get assigned the prettiest venue at the festival and luck out on the awesomest, chillest, terrific-est venue director on the planet.

- So, as a Fringe show, you get no say in the venue you’re assigned. Basically, the festival organizers have to figure out how to get 187 shows into 19 different venues for at least 5 performances each in a 16 day span. Each venue has to be technically capable of sustaining each show (does a show have projections, does it need fly space to drop set pieces in and out, does it need a proscenium arch, etc.) They also have to account for scheduling issues (for example, is the production company coming from Japan and not arriving in the states until 4 days after the festival has started). It’s a lot to juggle, so basically what you get is what you get and you make due. Well, somehow, I lucked into the most beautiful venue. HERE Arts Mainstage is a theater that if I were just renting, I honestly couldn’t afford for years to come. It’s a 99 seat house with a stage so big that an actor actually has to cross it (like take several steps) when moving from stage left to stage right, instead of just turning around. And the lighting grid allows for different areas of the stage to be lit while other areas are in darkness – giving actual areas of playing space instead of having the whole stage lit by default because the stage is so big that once you turn on a light you see everything. And then, as if the performance venue weren’t enough of a gift from the Fringe Gods, we were lucky enough to get assigned a venue director (a liason (supplied by Fringe) between the production company (in this case, GTTP) and the theater) who was amazing, supportive and super chill. I can not say enough good things about Christian De Gre, Artistic Director of Mind the Art Entertainment, who, while being such a terrific venue director was also overseeing his own production at the festival. The only bad thing about working with Christian, was that the nature of Fringe meant I didn’t get any time to just sit and chat with the guy – a problem I hope to remedy soon.

8) 15 minutes is a both a lot longer and a lot shorter than you think it is.

- So, because there are 187 shows in 19 venues in 16 days, on any given day, you are never the only show performing in your venue. What that means is that there is often as little as 30 minutes in between shows. Because 15 minutes before any given show has to be spent getting audience in and sitting down and 15 minutes after any show has to be spent getting audience out, as a production company you only have 15 minutes to bring everything you need into the space before and clear everything out after. We were lucky in that our set pieces (my trusty ikea chairs and our 3 rehearsal cubes) were being shared with other shows in the venue so we were able to leave them in the space, but all of our props, costumes and, you know, 7 actors, had to get in and set up in the 15 minutes before and taken down, stored and out in the 15 minutes after. I did purposefully keep the set as minimal as possible, but that first time, in tech, when we literally had a stopwatch on us, the chaos of setting everything up and taking everything down was nervewracking…then again, it turns out that even that first time when no-one knew what they were doing (“someone grab that chair and stow it”, “who grabbed the ice tea”, “where did the nun’s veil go? Do you have it?”) we were done and out the door in 6 minutes, so we got really good at running that load-in and load-out like clockwork. Again, it helped that I had the cast and crew that I did (see points 4 and 5 above).

9) Simplify more than you think is possible and then simplify some more.

- So, as I mentioned above, we only had the 15 minutes to get in and out and our tech rehearsal was…not as thorough as I would have liked, and…the script was longer than I realized. In the end we cut a lot – from lines in the script, to number of props, to complexity of set design, to lighting, sound and projection cues. And just when I thought, “I can’t possibly cut more, I can’t possibly make it more minimal,” I went through a whole other round of cuts and, to be honest, it was still an amazing, wonderful, vivid show. I always go back to that first time I saw Patrick Stewart do A Christmas Carol on Broadway – one guy, a chair, a table, a stool and a podium – he created a world that we as the audience got to live in for a couple of hours. It really is true that if the writing is there and the performances are there, you really don’t need anything else. This world ofIn the Ebb, was vivid and alive even without matching chairs and that one additional sound cue or lighting change. The audience still got it (well, except for that one reviewer but you can’t win ‘em all, right?) and it was still a captivating – Tahiti – Production.

10) When you’re at your most certain that everything will fall to s**t, it somehow all works out.

- My favorite, favorite, favorite quote about theater comes from the movie Shakespeare in Love. The exchange goes like this:

Henslowe: Allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Fennyman: So what do we do?

Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Fennyman: How?

Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

If I have learned one thing in my years in professionial theater it is the truth of that exchange. It’s not that you don’t do the work and it’s not that you don’t plan and prepare and rehearse, but in the end you have to trust in the magic of theater because how imminent disaster turns into live performance is truly a mystery but, no kidding? 99 times out of 100 it really does…and on that hundredth time? Well that’s what you plan and prepare and rehearse for – Anyone can have an off day.

Oh, and along those lines I also want to quote one more movie for point number 10.5. This one from Galazy Quest – “Never give up. Never surrender.” In other words, in this case, I mean:

10.5) Perserverence is everything.

- There are so many times in this business when it would be so easy to just say, “that’s it, I’m outta here.” It’s a tough business, which so far, has not paid any bills for me (and thank you to the people in my life who support me in all different ways (emotionally, spiritually, physically and monetarily) and allow me to continue doing it – I literally couldn’t do it without you), and so often it would just be easier to throw up your hands and walk, but I swear, it’s worth it. You struggle, and you strive and sometimes you fail but sometimes you succeed and every once in awhile, someone comes up to you and says, “are you involved in this production? Well, I just want to tell you, that was WONDERFUL! I was so moved.” Or you’re sitting in the audience watching a show you created and an audience member who you don’t know, who is not connected to you in any way shape or form, who walked in off the street, and spent his hard-earned money to see your show, he starts to applaud and gets to his feet to give you a standing ovation! And in that moment you want to cry because all is right with the world, because your life makes sense and what you’ve been put on this earth for is absolutely 100% crystal clear…of course sometimes they don’t clap at all, sometimes they come up to you and say, “I didn’t get it” – you want to cry then too but for a whole different reason. But no kidding, if you stick with it, you’ll get used to walking away from the latter and you’ll be able to fully appreciate the former. I say this a lot but – no kidding – never give up. never surrender…it’s worth it in the end.

 

One Week Down…

…and one to go. We’ve had an INCREDIBLE week at The Secret Theatre. The show has been going really well and the production is really coming into its own. My baby’s all grow’d up.

Ok, so here’s the part of the blog post where I get personal. Are you ready? Here it is: So, I don’t have any children of my own. Although I have a pretty decent maternal instinct, and I love my niece and nephews more than anything, I probably won’t be entering into motherhood (which is probably a good thing because, you know, no college tuition bills for me). The thing is, I think I get my fill of parenting with my work. Being a director (and a producer) is like parenting a child who is growing at an accelerated rate. Each and every thing I’ve directed has been, at least for the time I’m working on it, one of my babies. A baby that is born, grows up and moves on all in a matter of weeks – months at the most. And for those weeks or months I’m working on a show, that show is more precious to me than anything else in the world.

Every show starts the same way, you look at all the possibilities. Each show, like a newborn baby, is a blank slate just waiting to be imprinted on or impressed upon. Anything can happen. He can learn to love the color blue or she can learn to hate broccoli. She can become an astronaut or he can drop out of school to follow his favorite jam band around the world. For me it’s the same way, he can tell us about a woman in Cairo in the 1920′s (DREAMERS OF THE DAY) or she can show us a cantilevered house in upstate New York (SKIN FLESH BONE). She can bring us to a real estate open house (FULL DISCLOSURE) or he can take us to Regency England (PERSUASION). But whatever path the show takes it’s bound to be full of expected outcomes and completely unexpected surprises. Each show gives me something different, just as each child brings something different to his or her mother’s table. You watch that baby full of promise take its first steps out into the world and with each step it grows stronger until one day it’s strong enough to walk away from you. For a real parent it’s the goodbye you say when you drop your baby off at school and know nothing will ever be the same again. For me, it’s somewhere around the midpoint of a run. There comes a moment when you just know it’s not yours anymore. That moment when I’ve watched my baby walk away from me – strong and proud but not mine. Now my baby belongs to the cast and to the stage manager, to the running crew and to the audience. I just have to trust, as I watch it find its way without me, that the hands I give it to are good and solid and that while I held my show in my hands, I laid a strong enough foundation in its upbringing for him or her to find a way home.

…and I’m left with the realization that I have only one bittersweet choice ahead of me. It’s getting close to time to say goodbye to this baby and start again with a new one – it’s time for a new show to go on…so I’ll move on to In the Ebb with auditions this week. And I’ll start raising my newest baby, but, in the meantime, I won’t forget this one and I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the week goes on…I mean, who are we kidding, the baby may be growing up but it’s not going to college in Minnesota or anything. It is still right down the street from me, at least for another week. ;)

There are still 7 more shows of Jane Austen’s Persuasion to be seen. Join us at the Secret Theatre this week…before this baby walks away for good.

And, before you celebrate our independence from the British, celebrate the British themselves. Join us for special 1/2 price 4th of July matinee tickets – All seats $9! Go to the ticket purchase page and enter the code “4JUL” to take advantage of the reduced price tickets.

Loaded In…

Before I get into this week’s post, I wanted to just thanks everyone for showing up at our girst gala last weekend. It was a fantastic event filled with food, wine, live music, good company and great dancing…or, at least, enthusiastic dancing. :) And thank you to all of our sponsors. The event was a success because of your generosity!

So, now, on to tech week.

Day started with a realization of how to make a stale bagel taste almost fresh. Here’s how to do it*: Take your stale bagel and microwave it for 15 seconds. Flip it and microwave it again for 15 seconds. Take the bagel out of the microwave, cut it and toast it to desired done-ness. Put whatever topping on it you like and though it has a little bit of that rubbery texture, I challenge you to notice a huge difference between it and a fresh one…that being said, you have to start with a good, high quality bagel. Don’t grab one from dunkin donuts and expect this to work.

*this only works if you like toasted bagels.

Alas, but I digress. No actors today so we just focused on load-in, which went really well:

Costumes came first and have been set up on their rack, ready to be tried on and adjusted at the costume parade tomorrow.

Laura and I cleaned out the backstage and set up the audience into it’s performance configuration (we’re doing something a little different with the seats and we needed to test it out today.) Test went well, looking forward to bringing in the actors.

Sam arrived to start the lighting hang and focus. I’m always amazed watching lighting designers scramble up and down ladders as if there’s nothing remotely uncomfortable about being 15 feet in the air.

Then came Zeljka. We tested the projector and went over notes to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s getting exciting, people.

Jane came around 5 to pick up costumes that need repairs and alterations and we went through costume stuff together. Tomorrow, she’ll have a new batch of alterations to contend with but we should be in pretty decent shape.

After Jane, in came Ien. She buckled down with Qlab to start getting the cues loaded in. We were doing really well until the speakers turned themselves off, so that’s a problem for tomorrow, definitely.

And finally, Becky arrived, most of the set pieces in hand.  We tested out some paint for the set and got the pieces in place.

All in all, a VERY productive day.

Looking forward to the costume parade and the movement work with Dana tomorrow…not to mention the advances each department will make in their individual techs. And with that…to bed I’m away.

Will try to post another update tomorrow. It’s wild to have so much time for tech…wild and wonderful…but I guess tech is just one of those things – no matter how much time you have, you always want one day more…

Ok, so regular posts will now happen on Mondays!

Yeah, after missing my self-imposed deadline for blog updates last week and almost missing it this week, (and who are we kidding this barely even counts as an update. It’s not at all up to my standard of fun, witty, interesting and theatrical posts. I mean it’s really just an administrative post to say I’m going to do this differently in the future, AND, it’s STILL only on time by 11 minutes), I have decided to push my “blog update deadline” to Mondays (by 11:59pm). So, starting tomorrow, expect blog updates once a week…posted on,wait for it, Mondays! Ta Da! It’s all part of the plan.

Seriously…what was I thinking picking Sunday nights in the first place? I clearly was not thinking at all. Growing up, I used to HATE Sunday nights. The weekend was over, school started the next day. I used to perpetually get a stomach ache on Sunday nights…Come to think of it, that continued well into adulthood. I don’t think that actually stopped until I got off of the regular 9-5 job carousel. Once I went freelance, my Sunday night stomach aches were a thing of the past, so clearly, Sunday night deadlines = bad for Jessica…WHAT was I thinking indeed?!