Today’s the Day!

art, Theatre Business

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Help ETC raise $3000 to help Change Lives Through the Arts!

You can help today by doing any of the following:

Today is the day! Educational Theatre Company is teaming up with DoMore24 to raise $3000 for their programs, and the first $750 raised will go to bring an ESOL afterschool class to a Title 1 Northern Virginia school.

You can help us today by:

… donating $12, $24, or $48 at our page on Do More 24,
… sharing this blog post with at least 10 contacts,
… ‘liking’ their Facebook account,
… following ETC’s twitter handle @community_etc , and mentioning and retweeting it using #domore24,
… following ETC’s youtube channel etconfilm,
…. and following their vimeo site etconfilm.

Thank you for all your help, blogosphere!

Help out a Great Local Theatre Company!

Theatre Business

ETC logoblu

So for the last two summers, my days have been filled working with a wonderful company called ETC, the Educational Theatre Company. They run a host of summer camps and year-round programs which offer excellent opportunities for children of all ages to take part in the performing arts in Arlington and Falls Church. This year, they are taking part in the United Way’s Do More 24.

Do More 24 is a one-day, 24-hour fundraiser encouraging donors to give to charities in the Greater DC area. At 12:00am on June 26th, the campaign will begin, and will run until 11:59pm that night. In that span, ETC is trying to raise $3000 to help support our various programs throughout the year.

These programs range from from helping students at ESOL schools build confidence through their Mainstage Residency Programs to collaborating with the community through our Creative Age courses with various senior programs. As we gear up for our intense summer season, we’re looking at over a dozen different camps, ranging from one to two weeks, with students ranging from pre-K through high school.

They’re an excellent program with the central goal of Changing Lives through the Arts. If you’ve got time this Thursday, spread the word, and help this excellent Arlington based organization reach its goal of $3000.

Transport Business Idea

Environmental Architecture, Plans

Having  just watched Chris Blaine’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” on freedocumentaries.com,  I’ve got a fun idea.

Based on the theories put forth in the documentary, the socio-political-economic situation of America is too wrapped up in profit to make a commercially viable vehicle built by a major domestic company.  As the film lays out, either through poorly conducted marketing or public near-sightedness, electric cars are not viable as profitable products.   By viewing the influence of Big Oil, we see that financial push from the large incumbent of energy is too strong to defeat in a market scenario.  Then, when looking at the nature of the car company itself, a lack of constantly replaced parts reduces the financial incentive to produce such a vehicle.  When looking at the nature of both the local and national government, the desire of the people, both rich and poor, allows the first three issues to show that government influence on a profitable company will not help create a more efficient car, especially with a four to eight year turnover in government policy creating inconsistencies.  As a profit driven endeavor, the electric car won’t work for an American market.

The solution, then, for an American made electric car, is to create a not-for-profit company.  This company, through donations, links to educational institutions, constant exposure, and creative problem solving, would generate a commercially competitive electric vehicle that is made without regard to the company’s profit.  Thus, the company would be driven on the power of an idea rather than on the promise of increased profits over time.

The issue with only making a car leaves the question of fueling stations.  This initiative needs to be taken in cities where the environment is a priority.  Using these as starting cities, the company could make contracts with local businesses -not necessarily gas stations, but parking garages, lots, and restaurants – to expand the range of recharging facilities.  Working with various industries increases the odds of support that cannot easily be bought – or rather, stretches thin the influence of large companies opposing such business.  As certain cities expand in their influence with a short distance car, more cities can be brought in, longer distance battery models sold, and the idea of the electric car industry expanded.

The benefit, even to detractors of the electric car, would be a city by city case study where the efficiency both of the product and the business of the electric car could be critically studied.

This company would be most effected by state and federal policy as a not-for-profit, so lobbying from large corporations would threaten it the most.

However, if a desirable conversion for a business model was needed, one needs look no further than the computer industry.  These products operate on an electric system and have constant profit and advancement.  The industry makes large profits continuously and continues to grow and expand.  Why should an electric car industry be any different from the computer industry?

Tying into an earlier post, the potential of wireless charging makes the electric car that much more viable.  If the ability to charge the car becomes wireless as well, we’d have a car that charges as it travels, removing the fear of loss of fuel in suburban towns and cities.

Anyway, that’s my response to the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?”  I think the more important question is: how can it brought back to stay?

Mask Work

Theatrical Process

I did a short mask class teaser session yesterday (a mask class workshop, if you will).  We worked with larval mask and hats, and then with found masks (gas masks).

For the larval exercise, we just stood in the mask, looking at the room.  Afterwords, we left the mask and got feedback. There were four of us and three larval masks.  The first of us to go chose a mask with a huge jaw and tiny eyes – a very simple mask at first.

His presence onstage totally changed.  I noticed every small motion of his shoulders, the way his torso moved.  The mask seemed at once curious, small, and lowly.  It reminded me of popeye or of a small child.  I could not get the idea of the sailor out of my head when looking at the mask.  Furthermore, the eyes- two small cut out circles – enthralled me.  They were such small dots but they stared so deep.

The mask I chose looked something like the clown Violator from Spawn (for those comic fans out there).  When I had finished with my mask work, my peers reviewed me.  They felt that the mask seemed to create a very sad character.  I remember that one of the eyeholes dug into my actual eyesocket a bit, forcing me to view the world lopsidedly.  My breathing really changed inside the mask (after all, one does need to breath heavier inside a mask).

Our last two members chose the same larval mask – one with a jutting forehead and a small slit for a mouth.

The first wearer was a girl, a good friend of mine who I knew to be a very responsible person.  What was interesting was that her mask was very angry at first, very threatening.  When she looked around the space and tilted the mask up, I saw a great deal of curiosity in it, and then when she came back to look at the audience, the mask was no longer angry in a threatening manner, but tight-lipped: it knew something we wanted to know but it wouldn’t tell us.

After she remove the mask, she told us that the mask pressed against her mouth, making her breath through her nose: an interesting correlation to the tight-lipped emotion the mask portrayed on her.

The second wearer was a boy, taller than the girl, who I knew to be something of a quiet but fun-loving sort.  On him, the same larval mask was simply distant, like a teenager at a funeral:  It was taking in everything around it in a detached manner.  As the mask looked around, it became more bemused and interested in the world around it, and returned to look at us in a sort of stupor, like one taking in information but not fully processing it.

What really hit me was how different this same mask was on two people.

Next, we worked with found masks, in the form of gas-masks.  We partnered up for this exercise, myself and the jaw-larva wearer going together.  I chose a circular one to see what it might help me convey.  Our instructor told us to be aliens – everything around us was new and strange.  We were to begin sleeping and awaken to find ourselves in a new world.

So we did.  And everything was very new: the lights, the piping of the batons, the room, and a staircase.  What I found fascinating was my partner’s body – I figured if we were alien’s we weren’t human, so the human form would seem strange to us.  After watching him move about for a bit, I decided to try motions similar to his.  I looked at my own hand, then at my ‘legs’ and my ‘feet’ and then I ‘stood.’  This felt crazy, like I was rising up on top of gears and pistons, coming up from a great depth and emerging.  My partner touched the back of his head after our instructor said something and I thought we had to end the excercise, so I remove my mask, only to realize my partner was still in mask, still in the scene.  I had become an audience member trapped onstage.  So I sat and watched him until he finished.

After our exercise, my peers pointed out that I had stood with a posture which I had never had before, I seemed to be a lot bigger, to have a much larger presence.  That being said, we (as aliens) had seemed to be children to the audience, and our instructor asked us that the next time we did mask work to remember to look at the audience in order to pull them in.

It was crazy looking at alternative ways of viewing both as an actor and as an audience member.  It really opened my mind up to the idea of masks!

On Acting

Theatrical Process

The hardest part about acting is not being oneself.  Certainly, it is impossible not to be oneself when one does something, but then, one is, often enough, not being oneself.  Often, people do ‘perform’ for other people, employees treat their bosses differently than they do their coworkers, friends treat strangers differently than lifelong buddies, a spouse treats their partner differently than their parents or their children.  Confucius had categorizations for various relationships among people, and Jesus of Nazareth stated “Give Caesar what is due to Caesar, give God what is due to God,” which implies two different relationships between different types of perceived authority. In light of all this social evidence of people ‘not being themselves,’ or at least putting on different airs for different people, the hardest part of acting shouldn’t be that hard.

The more appropriate way to phrase the earlier critique would be that the hardest thing about acting is know what comes from oneself and what comes from the character.  What parts of one’s acting are habit, for instance?  Is there a certain bias to the ‘neutral base’ that actors take?  Is there a given impulse which an actor often plays?  The better actors know themselves, the better they can make choices that create characters.

One excellent model for this process is Brechtian theatre.  It encourages actors to at once be themselves and play a character.  The character can be created through a series of indicative actions or ticks or gestures which give the audience cues as to the character.  The actor themselves can comment on the action occurring before them while still ‘playing’ the character.  While this may not always be the best ‘product’ for an actor to achieve, it does make for a good method of understanding what parts of performance come from oneself and what parts come from a character.

The danger of breaking down oneself into a series of understood actions is that one can lose self confidence.  If an actor is never themselves, then they must always reject their personal neutral in order to take on a character.  This is an unhappy extreme, even less happy than the extreme of always playing oneself, an extreme in which there is incredible self – trust and confidence.  A happy medium can lead to added growth both in an actor’s repertoire and in themselves.

Often, in Western Theatre, there is a drive to comprehend the text, and in various methods of script analysis, character can emerge.  In the plot of a play, actors can undertake a series of actions which reveal their characters.  However, this series of actions is not enough to fully convey a ‘real’ person.  The text alone, the lines and actions and subtext behind a verbal enaction, are not enough.  The voice does not only speak through the body, especially in a gaze centered medium such as theatre.

The whole person is viewed onstage.  The face, the hands, the feet, the legs, the hips, the back, the armpits, the groin: all visible, all judged, all symbolic onstage.  The way an actor can give more than just the plot, the method by which an actor can convey a deep and lasting story, is through the body.  How does a character carry themselves?  Does it have old injuries, fears, role models?  What do these conditioners do to the body and the way it is carried, where it holds stress, how it gestures, what way the fingers touch?  In this analysis of character, that tells back story through the body, actors must deconstruct themselves in order to realize what patterns that they, as people, carry by habit, rather than by choice.

To clarify: acting is not pretending to be someone else or to ‘make believe.’  While these elements become part of being an actor, the key to noun is the verb: act.  To take action, to execute a choice.  And so, before one can act, one must make a choice, and then carry it through with confidence.  For this reason, actors break down text into beats, actions, verbs, text and subtext, in order to choreograph their designated image.  So I say, the better an actor knows what they always do, the better they can make a choice that is not themselves.

To clarify further: no one is never entirely not themselves.  Even socially, people perform certain aspects of themselves.  Philosophically speaking, no one is ever anything more than an aspect of themselves, and so at all times, one is being a certain side of oneself, never the entire thing.  So it is with acting.  The better one can make choices, the better one can act.  So, what is a well-made choice?

A well made choice has a trigger, its verb, and an end.  This end becomes the trigger for the next choice.  Triggers can be anything sort of input: a visual trigger: an object, an action, an event, and so forth; an audio trigger: a phrase, word, or a sound; a tactile trigger: temperature, exhaustion, touch, pain; an olfactory trigger: any scent; or a taste trigger: any taste (this ties to scent). The trigger begins the choice.

Once the choice’s trigger has been activated, the verb must be enacted.  If a sight is repulsive to a character, they must react accordingly until they receive a new stimulus (external or internal).

The duration of choices can be long or short, depending on the set circumstances.  Often, a series of complicating circumstances may cause an initial reaction to be stifled and then covered, leading to a series of choices: reaction, revelation, stifling, cover, or: cover (until a complicating circumstance is gone) then react.

This rapid pace of clear choice changes demands that an actor both understand their own physicality and their own mentality: where does the person go as a reaction?  What are the person’s feelings about a stimulus?  What are the common choices the person makes as a reaction to given triggers?  How are the character’s physicality, mentality, and choices different?

It is important for these reasons to work on character from the outset.  While I recommend trying a series of characters and choices in order to find freshness and vivacity, I also recommend solidifying character early enough in the process for the physicality and mentality of the character to be easy to access.  Notice I do not say natural – the person is natural, the character is artificial.  The character should never become ‘natural,’ it will lend itself to the person enough.  The character should be easily accessed, however.

For helpful methods on character work and choices, as well as character awareness, I recommend the works of Konstantin Stanislavski and the acting method called Archetypes, based on the psychological work of Karl Jung.

Architecture and Art

Theatre Business

One huge problem for Theatre Organizations is Money.  I figure there are two answers to this:

Education and Going Green.

By Education, I mean training programs, outreach, and community involvement. In addition, working with schools ( or as part of a school or on-profit) can help earn access to various grants and/or scholarships for student employees.  Speaking of students, volunteer positions are also great ways to reduce budget and increase community involvement.

By Going Green, I mean planning and communicating.  There’s no reason a Theatre should have to spend a nickle that it doesn’t need to (on things other than art, that is).  I recommend viral marketing to cut down on mailing costs, online updates and posting for cast and crew to reduce printing expenses, and web databases for easier access and storage saving for files.  That being said, having hard copies of items never hurt.

I also refer to architecture in building structure.  There’s no reason a theatre should be built above ground.  Granted, perhaps local geology or geography makes it preferable, but if you want to save money, you can save on expenses for heating, and cooling (and land space) by simply building down rather than up.  Theatre is a naturally subterranean art these days: the needs of lighting require a space without windows.  By building down first, one can save money on site construction by putting parking above the theatre space.

Underground building isn’t all that is available.  Currently in DC there is a Solar Decathlon between around twenty universities, all working on building houses that cover the costs of their energy expenses over the course of the year.  This system allows them, in some cases, to store that same energy and sell it back to energy companies in their area.  These sorts of buildings would make for excellent above-ground reception and training areas for students, and, if the methods work well enough in energy storage, could help eventually store energy that would pay for the costs of theatrical technology.

Another method of going Green is communication, especially in terms of waste management.  I cannot stress enough the benefits of community involvement in waste management.  I have seen, at my college, whole set pieces get torn down and shredded because they did not fit stock requirements.  I think that with a few years’ communication work and developing relationships with local theatres and schools, that this waste could be reduced, perhaps even eliminated, through a system of trade, rent, and exchange (perhaps a rent/ trade credit program).  The necessity to foster such programs is open communication between multiple groups, which again brings up the idea of internet presence.  This is a fast method of communication which costs less than mailing and results in less paperwork and travel than driving around putting up fliers.

I especially encourage work with local conservation groups, art departments, music groups, churches and theatres – all entities which exist off charity and community and should all be working together to better the community.

To recap, my recommendations for the Theatre for reducing costs are:

  • communication and community outreach, especially for terms of waste management and storage,
  • internet use for publicity and paperwork
  • ties to education/programs for education/non-for-profit status that allows for access to grants and scholarships,
  • architecture that reduces costs of heating, cooling, space use, and light issues, perhaps working with underground theatres and overgrown 0-energy spaces.

Direction Ideas

Theatre Business

I have two big direction shows coming up in the next few months.

As I look ahead to them, I have a thousand thoughts spinning in my head.  Mostly, I want my actors to get the most out of the experience.  I know my first show will deal a lot more with product (I have 2.5 weeks of rehearsal for it) than with process.  My goals for that show are to have a lot of character work meetings with my actors before the ‘rehearsal’ period starts.

The second show will leave me a month and a week of overall rehearsal time, which is nice, because I want intense but fun rehearsals that, above all, help my actors grow.

I remember the first Second Season I did at the College made me very vulnerable in the process, I had to work like hell to find my character.  But I kept going, and I kept working through technique and character and old habits and reworking over and over.  And time and again, I had these revelations about the character.  And the experience was wonderful.

I want to give that to my actors.  What I think will do it more than anything else is structure.  Art is freeform, it is chaotic and divine and organic.  But it acts as a reaction to structure.  Deadlines, time constraints, and limitations create artisitc impulses and creativity.  Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

So, here’s my rehearsal structure for my later show:

Warm Ups: These will always vary day to day depending on problems from the day before, and will bring in a number of excercises to help develop character, technique, and relationships onstage.

Blocking: Give the actors end points, let them go, and fix as time goes on.  Tweak issues and go largely off of character based impulses.  This part will greatly focus on actor technique.

Character: Round tables that will focus on the text: what it says,  what it implies, what could make it say more.  Also, character backstories and histories, using dramaturgical notes for each character to help actors discover more to build on.  Also, excercises that devalue the text in favor of character improv and the character mindset.  This part will focus more on mental and emotional aspects of build.

Vocal Fixes: These will include text based scene and character work, where actors will be asked to bring in focus words, ladders, work on patterns of physical technique layered onto vocal technique with text.

The Three Rehearsal Rule: Scene by Scene: First rehearsal block.  Second Rehearsal Fix (semi off book).  Third Rehearsal Run (Off Book).  This should help actors get off book faster.

Body Fixes: These will be part of warm ups and character work.  What ticks are the actor?  What gestures are the character?  What are the character’s ticks?  Lead points? Relations?  Emotions? Triggers?  Where does the character’s power come from?  Where does the actor’s power come from?  Helping actors differentiate themselves from the character so they can make choices rather than fall into comfortable habits.

For the first show, many of these character elements will be worked on before the rehearsal process so that actors can review themselves before they get into the rather intense rehearsal process.

The first show will also be much more pre-blocked than the second show, of necessity, so character work will have to come before it so that the blocking can flow from work with the actors rather than be imposed on them.

These are just initial acting ideas.  As I work on my thesis for my second show, I’ll have more direction excercises to help the actors build scenes and characters.  I’m really looking forward to directing again. I really like seeing a scene build up from the ground and evolve in ways that are unexpected but still fit in with my overall concept.

What will be excellent in both cases is that the shows will both be comedies.  That means that each show will, of necessity, give off a good vibe.  Of course, comedy, like tragedy, needs a limit.  I’ll need to pick and choose comic and straight bits in each show in order to avoid sloppiness, but I think that will be part of the process with the actors (although doing my homework ahead of time couldn’t hurt)

The Role of Theatre

Theatre Business

So,

I am a United States Actor.  Having looked at both the artistic and business sides of the theatre, I have found some disatisfactory aspects to the field, especially in regards to how business coalesces with art.  I’ll put forth some positive (how it is) and normative (how I want it to be) statements here, mostly on the nomothetic (grand scheme) level.

Business Issues:

Community

Positive:

Pro: Introduces non-theatre people into a theatre setting, opening doors for people of all ages and potentially increasing the size of the industry.  Brings theatre to a community on its own terms.

Con: Has to appeal to the demands of an audience base, limiting show selection and artistic growth in favor of attendance.  Brings in volunteers at most levels and becomes, all in all, a social activity.

Normative:

Should allow for newer works by local artists as part of the community feel.  While it favors larger cast shows, it should also work with local schools (academic or extracurricular) to create a more creative, lively, community-linking season, not only on the social level, but also on the business level.

Educational

Positive:

Pro: Educates younger people as to the practicalities of theatre, allowing for various outlets for creativity.  Provides a setting where process is more important than product, and various processes can be studied.  Depending on the setting, it may allow for a broad variety of disciplines to be learned, or for intense technical training.

Con: Very few performances in this setting mean that the ‘product’ quickly ends the work, resulting in a short ‘buzz’ for performers, and an unrealistic expectation of repeated performances before a crowd, especially if students are looking to go into the commercial theatre sector.  At the College level, creativity on the technical side can be limited in favor of practical training, as can performing.  Limited by the teacher’s ability to teach at all levels, especially high school, where one instructor often has to teach all of ‘theatre,’ a massive amalgamative concept.

Normative:

Should link with local theatres for various credit ‘internships’ and ‘work study’ programs, increasing a tie to the community and allowing students to learn from professionals at most levels.  If no theatre exists in the area, the school should involve itself in a summer/winter/fall break/spring break/ week off study intensive, where students focusing in theatre get proper training outside their academic area.  In addition, programs with little funding for theatre should allow students to put on their own productions, with their own money, including fundraising aspects and advertising for performances.  This would better train students for real world experience and give them fairly reliable theatrical training regardless of the strength or weakness of faculty.  At the college level, theatre classes and productions should be tied into various feilds of study so that all students can learn more about the theatre tangentially, and so that students focused in the theatre can keep their focus while learning about more areas.

Regional

Positive:

Pro: A non-for-profit means of getting shows set up for a community with an overall theme that works for the community.  Higher production values, many touring shows and acts bring in a variety of performers.  Allows for loner runs of shows, works with touring groups.  Second stages/seasons provide more creative outlets while mainstages take on more popular works.  Often tie in outreach and educational programs in order to give back.

Con: Creativity is limited by audience demands, season subscribers have a hold on what can and cannot be performed, often at the risk of reducing artistic value.  Not-for-profit status often limits actor’s pay and hiring, working with unions as opposed to freelancers, requires much of their designers.  Not an educational setting, mostly about product.  The exception is in the area of education the organization chooses to present.  However, productions do not involve an educational mindset.

Normative:

Productions, especially at the second season level, should focus on educational aspects.  Tiered pay scales for performers and designers can relate to their level of skill and growth within a group: Regional Theatres should budget for a ‘troupe’ of both designers and actors with enough pay to sustain comfortable livelihood while still being a competitive process, encouraging growth rather than stagnation.  On the mainstage level, productions should focus on variety, not only of venue, but of message.  Progressive and Conservative arguments should be presented to audiences, and regional theatres should aim not only to entertain, but to inspire creative thought and discussion.

Commercial:

Positive:

Pro: Long runs, large budgets, potential increase of pay for more skilled workers and excellent benefits for first-show teams, tied to residuals and other rights.  Excellent production values.  Demand does not tie to local area demand limit, but to fundraising, advertising, and refining of a product, and reviews.  Encourages connections between regional and commercial theatres, either to develop a show until it gets to the commercial sector to take a show to tour after a run in the commercial sector.

Con: Shows often lack creativity, favoring large dance numbers, huge spectacle pieces, songs and thoughtless drama or comedy.  There are exceptions, though they are rare.  Highly values entertainment above education.  Really only located in New York.  Very expensive.

Normative: Should allow a more creative process in a larger sector.  Commercial properties should not be limited to one population center, rather, they should exist all over, using skilled fundraising to keep creative artworks flowing and allowing artists to focus on their craft (with decent pay and benefits).

Overall Normative: Educational Theatre in America needs better Business Management.  Students should learn through theatre how to operate their own companies, to encourage a more competitive industry as time goes on.  The commercial and regional theatre sectors are the best managed aspects, business-wise, but their are other outlets for entrepreneurial endeavors.  I don’t see why commercial theatre can’t work in other sectors, besides the heavy issue of tax.  People with enough business experience in networking, fundraising, and advertising, and managing, should be able to make a viable theatre almost anywhere.  That being said, I highly respect regional and not-for-profit theatre, but the limitations of a public company as being tied to government regulations and aided funding gives theatre a certain limit.  Historically, troupes were sponsored by a patron (which could include a state).  Perhaps this needs a revival today: wealthy backers acting as patrons for smaller commercial troupes around the country, encouraging progressive artistic modes and working to increase cultural awareness and progression.

Links to resources in the theatre:

The most reliable business site that I know of is the Theatre Communications Group, a communication organization linking various not-for-profit professional theatres. I highly recommend any theatre businessperson looking over their Tools and Research section.