Ladder Against the Wrong Wall?

So if you have read my recent entries (and lets face it, there haven’t been many) you will know that my theatre is currently working on a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses.

The director has been trying to assuage my concerns about the money we are spending to keep the water separate from the wood floor and the electrical lines by confidently telling me that if we can’t sell a show with a 30’x25′ pool of water, we can’t sell anything.

Problem is, I fear he is right.

We certainly have “a gimmick” that the musical Gypsy informs you that you must have. Two separate news stations have come out to film the show and the entertainment writer from the largest newspaper on the islands wrote a feature story. When one of the news anchors was editing the story, women were looking over his shoulder with interest because the clips featured very good looking bare chested men engaging in a spectacular water battle. The anchor of the most watched 6 o’clock news commented on air at the end of the segment that ticket sales would probably skyrocket after that clip.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. First performance we didn’t even fill half the house, the second performance we filled fewer seats and the third performance we slightly out sold the second. The next three performances have less than 40 seats sold between them. I expect sales will pick up as we approach the dates, but I don’t foresee any problem getting tickets.

It is difficult to blame the small audiences on lack of exposure. I did quite a bit of paid advertising along with the free coverage we got. My thoughts turn to three tough questions Ben Cameron (Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group) posed that the Artful Manager reprinted
“-What is the value of having my organization in my community?

-Harder: What is the value my group alone offers, or that my group offers better than anyone else? Duplicative or second-rate value will not stand in this economy.

-Hardest: How will my community be damaged if we close our doors and move away tomorrow? ”

I am in a position to do a lot of good in the community and a new window of opportunity opened just today. However, there seems to be a bit of mounting evidence that paying a lot of money to fly and house people from the Mainland and other countries is not providing value for the community.

By the same token, for the last three years, there hasn’t been anyone really concentrating on educating people about the value of the theatre in the community. I am not talking about convincing people they ought to love us because we are illuminating them in their ignorance. Rather, I mean giving us the same value in the community as the corner store, the firehouse and the Little League field. Become a place were people gather and look back at it as a cornerstone of their lives.

I am already seeing the possibilities as members of niche communities are coming forward offering their assistance to spread the word about upcoming performances.

Like everything else I write about in this blog that is a work in progress…we shall see.

Art 21

I just came across a PBS program I was briefly introduced to when I was interviewing around for my current job. Art:21 Art in the 21st Century is a PBS program that, as you might imagine, looks at art in the 21st century.

I have actually not seen the program. Unfortunately, as Drew McManus learned in regard to the Keeping Score program featuring the San Francisco Symphony, the program doesn’t get much air time. It seems like another of those great gems that gets hidden under a rock.

The website however does have a lot of resources and allows you to see snippets of the programs. It offers lesson plans and other educational resources for teachers. It also presents student art projects that were created in conjuction with the program themes.

This is sort of a nice guide for teachers I think because it gives concrete examples of projects that have emerged from the lesson plans PBS provided. Even if the lesson plans were generated after the fact by the teachers who lead classes to create the projects, I know that teachers often like to have concrete examples to go along with their lesson plans. It is interesting to see the directions different schools went with different projects.

Although PBS doesn’t play the show that often, the website does offer the opportunity for people to have screenings and residencies and even provides materials to publicize the event. If an organization is interested, they can use these materials to support/complement projects of their own.

Water, Water Everywhere

So my next production is an in-house show, Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman. She adapts Ovid, not Kafka so there are no giant cockroaches on stage. There is, however, a giant pool of water. Water being a great metaphor for change is really appropriate for the production.

The technical worries on the other hand…

The set is essentially a 30′ wide by 25′ long pool of water on two levels. The depth ranges anywhere between 6″-9″ to 24″ in one spot. Water is interesting to work with for a number of reasons, the fact that it is pretty damned heavy, being one of them. The weight bearing capacity of the stage was a real concern.

Of course, another concern is that water will find any opening it can and leak out. The pool liner is one continuous piece which prevents that problem. However, since the change of depth of the pool is fairly extreme and localized to a small area, the aesthetics of a heavily creased liner is a little bit of a concern design wise.

Another discovery we made was that despite our best guesses about how far water would fly during the fight scenes and how much would be displaced when people entered, the water flew farther and ran over the edges and splash guards we had in place. Fortunately, because it was designed to overflow on to the lower level anyway, there wasn’t a big flood. Unfortunately, because the pump hadn’t been installed, the rehearsals had to stop while the water was bucketed up to the top level again.

Needless to say, the show really lends itself to exciting press releases given that there are Greek gods and heroes as well as the Greeks’ very definition of spectacle in the form of the big ole pool of water.

I am just dreading 2-3 years from now when things start warping and rusting…

Some people will say that this retreading of stories is an indicator of how desperate Broadway is to stay alive.

But from my point of view, this is what was always exciting about Greek myths when I first discovered them as a boy. And it also seems better to retread the classics which have the potential of being rediscovered whereas a successful retread of a Disney movie just encourages that company to push for extensions of copyright. (And a really creative adaptation of an out of copyright work like Ovid’s just goes to show how extensive copyright protection may indeed stifle creativity!)

I will let folks know how it all ends up.

Presenting Plus

Wow! Four entries in a week! It is amazing how much more ambitious I feel when I only work 10 hours a day instead of 11.

Anyhow, I thought I might do a reflective entry on some recent experiences. I think I wrote it somewhere in my blog, but I can’t seem to find it at the moment, that one of my biggest priorities for visiting performers is to make them feel comfortable. They are many miles from home, you may be stop 18 on a 30 stop tour. They are tired and perhaps grumpy. The best thing you can do is have everything they need available when they arrive to set their minds at ease.

This seemed even more true now that I am here on Hawai’i. We just had the Flying Karamazov Brothers perform at the theatre and they were really great. However, they were trying to bring a show they did on the Mainland to Hawaii. This had to have caused some angst because they had a great show with fabulous props and now they were faced with having to scale it down and take it with them to keep the costs practical for their island hosts. On the mainland it is a simple matter of tossing things in car trunks or the back of large trucks or buses. But that ain’t gonna happen with 2500 miles of water between you and Hawai’i.

To their credit, they did a great job of bringing their gear and clothes in the same bags and then shuffling it all around on departure so each piece of luggage would be under the 70 lbs limit of the airlines. (Which underscores our need to have scales it seems). There were a couple simply things they forgot which we replaced and a couple things we had they decided they liked so much, they integrated into their show. (Watch for a little mop–that is ours!)

Despite my less than total knowledge of my resources and abilities of my crew, I think I did a fairly credible job of keeping them happy throughout their visit. Hopefully, I will be able to hire an assistant soon so I don’t have to do the credible job alone. It just taught me that I have to anticipate needs even more than usual because the circumstances of people’s arrival may vary and imagination might have to be employed to replace things not readily available on our island kingdom.

I did get an unintential opportunity to be part of the show. I waited in the wings to give them leis during the curtain call and got the cue to go out from their company manager. Only they started running off stage away from me. I break into a run saying “Wait, wait…” holding the leis outstretched. By that point, one of the brothers shouted back that they were coming back out, which they did for another curtain call. The audience loved it though as did most of the crew because it was one of those things you just couldn’t have made look as good if you planned it.