Blogs

On Runaway Boards

  • Posted on: 1 April 2009
  • By: Tony

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about runaway boards: how they take companies, buildings and decision making ability away from the poor artists who created it. The recent break up at ATC and the selling off of the Greenhouse are two recent examples, but it is a far reaching problem. Usually this is blamed on the 501c3 model, the corporatization of the arts, How Theatre Failed America, or whatever the latest target of blame is.

Now, there are a lot of problems inherent with the not-for-profit model. Those problems are usually accepted as a trade-off for funding and not having to pay taxes on revenue related to the core mission and activities of the organization. Corporate and foundation grants along with the occasional government buck is how many think of funding arts organizations. You have to be a 501c3 organization to be eligible for the majority of those sources--if you want them.

Far more important, and typically more steady, are individual donors—those who have a relationship with the organization and give money in support of it. A nice side-benefit for donors is a tax write off they get for their donation. Indeed, this is such a crucial part of funding for most non-profits that charities are often the most vocal opponents to changes in the tax code that would effect write offs for charitable contributions. Their thinking is that if people don’t get a write-off, they won’t donate.

Boards are legally responsible for governing an organization. If the board is made of corporate big-wigs, the organization will eventually reflect a corporate big-wig mentality. This is how a lot of large organizations function. Art is left at the door for the sake of the institution.

But how did we get there? How can a board run an ensemble off? How can they take away a beloved space? It’s quite simple really. They control the organization and its assets. They also have the power to hire and fire the leaders of the organization. The Artistic Director and Executive Director usually serve at the behest of the board.

Conventional wisdom will tell you that artists are too dumb to know how to run a business. That’s not true, but many don’t want to learn. Conventional wisdom will also tell you that most business folks are ignorant of all things artistic. While that’s not necessarily true either--few artists I know take the time to teach what makes this art, this organization, different than all the others. The keys are handed over without instructions, so people do what they know how to do.

Now if, for the sake of argument, artists can’t run a business and business people can’t make art—why would it make sense to anyone to have no artistic representation on the board? IE: "I'm sure that a season of The Odd Couple, The Music Man and that new Sarah Ruhl play everyone else is doing might get asses in the seats, but it has nothing to do with our mission or why we've been able to build this incredibly loyal audience that supported the building of the institution. If we turn our backs them, they'll turn their backs on us, and probably stop donating too."

Why would it make sense to anyone to have no business voice in the artistic endeavors? IE: "that sounds awesome. How do we pay for it so we can ensure the company doesn't go up in a ball of flames after this great production?" Some people do things better than others, but that is no excuse for willful ignorance of half of what it takes to make an organization run.

Usually, as an organization grows the artist/founders tire of the business end of it. They bring on folks to do it for them. After a while, they’ll step farther away and wipe their hands of all of that business nonsense so they can concentrate fully on the art.

The only way to ensure that boards and organizations do not run away is for artists and ensembles to have a say. There's absolutely no reason artists can't be on boards, or that bylaws can't specify that a certain percentage of seats on the board are reserved for ensemble members. But most artists do not want that responsibility.

Normally as an organization grows, boards don’t take power. It is willingly handed to them. If artists create an organization and then abdicate all responsibility for governing that organization, I don't see how that is a problem with the NFP model. Not that there aren't problems with the NFP model, there's a lot of them;  however, if the keys are handed over carte blanche, some responsibility for the car driving away needs to rest with those who handed over the keys. Abdication of responsibility will always have repercussions.

Directing the Director

  • Posted on: 31 March 2009
  • By: Jenn

I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :) I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :) I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :)I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :)I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :) I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :)I recently pretended I was an actor again, in a 10-minute play that Juan directed for Rubicon’s 2nd Annual Kassi Dallmann Short Play Festival.  I meant to write this then, but it’s amazing how time gets away from one… Ah well, “better late than never, I always say.” – btw, who DOESN’T say that???

It was very strange to be acting again.  I always forget how nervous I get now.  I started doing theatre when I was 5, and was primarily an actor until I moved here roughly 10 years ago (I’m 35, for all you nosies… good lord… sometimes I feel so young, and sometimes I feel SO old…!  I digress)  I was always the one who knew everyone’s lines before they did, could step in to a part at a moment’s notice (and did, on occasion) and who lived to be onstage, especially in musicals.  I moved here, found my passion for directing, and ditched everything I knew in favor of that gritty, in-your-face theatre that is oh-so-post-college Chicago.  I stopped acting for the most part at that time.

Now, each time I go back to it, it gets harder and harder. The lines don’t come easily for MY character, never mind everyone else’s.  I get terrible stage fright in rehearsals and performances.  It usually takes me a few rehearsals to get over the obnoxious non-stop talking that my adrenaline kicks into high gear and that comes back in time for dress rehearsals.  Baahhrrg… who needs it?

It was a bizarre and awesome challenge, really, to focus my thoughts simply on my characters’ part of the world of the play, and not to develop a “vision” of what the play would be.

This time was interesting as well, because I was acting for Juan, who I have directed 3 or 4 times…I was very aware of my comments; I wanted to be careful to make sure they pertained to my character.  I didn’t want Juan to think I was trying to direct his show.  I was aware of trying to listen to his vision and “act” accordingly.  I was so insecure about wanting to not only be a good actor, but to not be a difficult one actor.  I really trust Juan as a director. It was cool to see his different directing style, and I didn’t want to let him down.

There was a point when another actor had an idea that would completely change Juan’s concept. There was part of me that wanted to get all defensive and directory and say “Don’t do it, Juan!  Don’t let him change your vision!” How weird it was to have to think about wording my question so that it focused on my role in the whole thing… “If you go that way with your idea, it affects me this way.  If you stay with the original idea, it affects me this way.  Which would you like?”

And then there were performances… Gah… Usually I’m so confident.  I really know who I am as a director; it was crazy to get to performances and not want to screw up not only for me but because it would reflect badly on Juan… I don’t think I’ll act again anytime soon, but it was a fun and insightful experience that I hope Juan is glad he cast me  :) 

Go Out There and Be Somebody Else

  • Posted on: 31 March 2009
  • By: Adam

My producer is concerned about the dialects.

He asked me why I think they're necessary and I told him: the two characters, from two different parts of the world, connect and share their experiences with each other via a third language; common to both, but natural to neither. Behrouz doesn't think in English, he thinks in Persian. Irina thinks in Uyghur. Mutual adaptation facilitates their communication, and the result has its idiosyncrasies. To the listener, the byproducts of those imperfections are unique richness and musicality and there's nothing wrong with that.

I'm not staging Gladiator (if that's what you're worried about), with Joaquin Phoenix agonizing his way through faux-Brit just because his character's supposed to be the king of all the other kind-of-British people in Rome.

TA hasn't expressed a problem with the motives behind my position. He's very concerned that dialect work will get in the way of the acting work.

It's heartbreaking to concede it, but there is a valid point there.

In the Chicago storefront scene at large, I see three big deficiencies which sadden me. The first is makeup, the second is movement style, and the third is actors pretending they're other people on stage.

A shortage of makeup is easy to defend: stage makeup is expensive, needs constant replenishing, and anyway the stages are too small to make it necessary. Nobody believes or wants to believe that you (the actor) actually stabbed that guy in scene 3, and at four feet from the audience, the only deep sucking chest wound we can afford on our budget would smell like Hershey's and Palmolive anyway.

Movement style is a bit trickier. "But, Adam," you say, "I keep going out to see imaginative shows in which the actors create all sorts of inventive creatures through movement." I respond "don't count the goblinprowlers and the birdwomen," and if you've seen as much of this stuff as I have, you sadly nod, try to come up with a retort, and sadly nod again. People know the goblinprowler because it's not only easy, it's also a 'level' and Anne Bogart is made happy by it. They do the birdwoman because...I don't really know. I've never worked with a movement choreographer in Chicago. Nobody can afford one, for one thing. Fight choreographers are necessary because you don't want anyone to get hurt, and if there's a dance, somebody usually comes in to stage it and leaves. More dangerous to most directors, though, is that old crime of telling the actors what to do, which is not only bad for creativity but also bruises the poor artist immeasurably. Directors don't want to hear it when you say "Yes, the characters in the Misanthrope were trained to walk and stand a certain way. They were taught that experientially if not formally through living in a society that expected different things from a person." Unfortunately, I know what it looks like when you ask actors to rest on the laurels of their training and create. All the organic creativity you can foster does not guarantee a successful stage picture.

This brings me to that third little tidbit. I had similar conservatory performance training to a lot actors out there. I went to school more recently than some, but the majority of twenty-somethings I work with consider my education positively Smithsonian. I can understand that your eight acting classes focused on "finding the truth" in the work. I only got two semesters of stage movement (and one of those was really combat) and two semesters of dialects. I know that some folks get less. That doesn't mean it's right! That doesn't mean that being able to depart from your own corporal limitations onstage can be considered an elective! That doesn't mean I teachers aren't remiss when they don't address Acting 101 thus: "The job you are pursuing is that of the make-believer. If who you are and what you feel is interesting enough to satisfy an audience, you don't need to do plays or films or voiceovers...you can become a televangelist and make more money. What an actor needs to do is go out there and be somebody else. You are learning to be a liar. A bad actor is one who the audience knows is lying, but a really bad actor is the only one who thinks s/he's telling the truth up there."

Do you know how to tell that actors don't know this? It's one simple sentence which I'm sure each of us has said at least once:

"I don't think my character would do that."

In response to this, most directors either capitulate or spend scads of man-hours helping the actor search for a justification for the action the play needs. Seldom does a director give the efficient answer: "Yes, your character certainly does that. I know this because it's in the play. The play is a history of a fiction and you are simply a re-enactor of that preexisting record."

We (directors) never say that because we (actors) are always mortified to hear it. It's because we don't trust us with our work unless we know we really care.

And vice-versa. Still with me?

Why is so much emphasis placed on making sure creativity feels good for the artist and so little on making sure it feels good for the consumer? Why can't we say "you would be better at what you do if you had a broader arsenal of dialects and movement vocabulary and you stopped trying so hard to find yourself in the text"?

I want to see a world where acting teachers can compartmentalize that old sense memory and emotional recall stuff into a big box and label it JUST PART OF THE ART (does not allow user to fly). That little utopia, though, is contingent on an agreement to shrug off the timeless myth that Creative People Are Just Touchy That Way. We need to trust the artist with the truth that s/he's a liar. S/he needs to deserve that trust be being good at lying. We can graduate to that "lie which is nearest to the truth" stuff only once the first part's been established.

So, seriously, should I expect actors to be able and willing to speak in funny voices, walk in unnatural ways and throttle a swan without trying to rationalize what would catalyze themselves to throttle a swan? Should I be able to ask them to do all this convincingly? I think I should. The fact that so many can't or won't is institutional--I recognize that. The actor who knows and trusts enough to do these things has become the exception to the rule. Until the happy day arrives, I guess, we just have to work with exceptional actors.

The cast of Fucking Parasites, by the way, are exceptional actors.

On ATC/American Blues

  • Posted on: 27 March 2009
  • By: Tony

Wow. I mean wow.

Not knowing the inner-workings there's a lot that I could only speculate about. I do know that in the ten years I've been here it's only been about a year and a half that I've heard anyone talking about ATC. They were there, and folks knew who they were, but not a lot of interest was happening. I can't speak to the whole history, just since I moved here nine years ago.

It wasn't that long ago that I was hearing rumors about the organization being broke to near bankruptcy. But I don't know how accurate that was, even though it was from "folks on the inside."

I think there are a lot of issues that came to a head. Egos, misunderstandings about business models, difficulties in diversifying an established mostly homogenous group.

From the comments on Chris Jones blog, it sounds like folks are doing their best to make the AD sound like an egotistical asshole; however, the ensemble having a publicist send out press releases to announce you're leaving in a huff, sounds like egotistical assholes. So I guess that's a push . . .

I know a lot of people think a board should support the artists. The should only get lots of money for artists to play with and take care of that boring legal stuff, etc.

Adam makes a great point.

You decide for yourself which side you're on. For me, it's just a reminder of how complex the relationship can be between a Board and an artistic staff.

Wait a minute, I'm wrong, it isn't complex at all.

The Board of Directors runs a nonprofit arts organization.

The Board of Directors runs your arts organization.

So if that Board is composed of artists, then they run it.

If it's composed of grey haired old ladies, they run it.

So if a fight breaks out between an ensemble and the Board and neither side is willing to budge, then the Board wins.

Boards run organizations. It is as simple as that. The job of a board is not to provide a pretty playground and step away. They are legally charged with setting the mission, and running the organization.

Artistic Directors are hired by the board to oversee and steer the organization, but the board can hire and fire AD's along with raising all of the money they need to support the art.

So where does the ensemble fit in? Every organization that has an ensemble has a different answer.

If the ensemble is so motivated to run their own company, why was an outside AD brought in? Why wasn't an ensemble member running the company?

Twenty five years is a long time to put into an organization. But how long has it been since most of the members were active in the day to day business? (If anyone out there knows, let me know in the comments.) It's extraordinarily problematic. If you've built something you shouldn't just be pushed aside. If you've stepped aside, you should step aside. Fewer roles and less input is the price paid for stepping back

Most ensemble companies are created for the sole purpose of getting those in the ensemble work. Two things tend to happen. One, they burn out and the company folds. Two, the folks in the ensemble get really successful and move on.

Any healthy company needs to change in order to grow. A pretty common occurrence happens, much like founders syndrome. Folks use their blood, sweat and tears to build a company, then get tired of running it. They bring other people on to do that for them, but do not want to give up the reins. . . If the company starts to go in a direction that is different from their original vision, you start to get conflict.

I can't help but think, at the bottom of all of this was a basic question that everyone struggles with: how do you act if when deciding between what is best for the company vs. what is best for yourself? That is where most issues between ensembles and organizations originate.

In the case of ATC/American Blues it seems like both sides wanted to have it their own way. Now they can.

Seeing this all play out in such a public forum (which is what you hope happens when you send out press releases) I think of two friends of mine in college.

Craig and Stu coached a JV football team. They were awful. Trying to get the kids to do anything was a battle. The closest game was a 46-6 loss. At one point they were down 56-0 nearing halftime. So they threw out the playbook and just tried to have fun. See how that worked.

They drew up a play that had the line offset and stacked. From right to left it went: tight end, center, guard, guard, tackle, tackle, tight end, wing. The defense didn't shift which meant there were seven people on offense to block two defenders. 7 vs. 2. They tried it four times in a row, for a five yard loss, four yard loss, three yard loss, and a two yard loss. 7 on 2 and they couldn't make it back to the line of scrimmage. They had tried to get the kids to act as a team for months.

The next week, Craig and Stu showed up for practice and the entire team was stoned in the locker room. The stepped outside trying to figure out what to do. After a second of hesitation they did the right thing and turned them in for smoking pot in the school. The second of hesitation was because "it was the first thing they did as a team all year."

Women Can Write? Who Knew!

  • Posted on: 25 March 2009
  • By: Tony
 
The Alcyone Festival 09

Announcing The Alcyone Festival 09

Halcyon Theatre is excited to announce the lineup for The Alcyone Festival 09. For this year's Alcyone Festival, we play with the notion that women only write small domestic dramas, picking a theme as far away from that as possible: terrorism, the cult of martyrdom and its effects upon the innocents. The Alcyone Festival 2009 features six phenomenal writers from across the globe in rotating repertory.

For more info on these women, performance times and ticket information visit, us at halcyontheatre.org/alcyone09.

You can help bring these women to the stage!
By donating $5, the price of a latte,
you can help us pay for the cost of producing the Alcyone Festival this summer, showcasing works by these incredible women. And we'll give you a free cup of coffee the next time you come see our show! Just click on the globe on your right!



The Black Eyed by Betty ShamiehBetty
Four Arab women from across the ages meet in the afterlife. The group: the Biblical Delilah, a victim of the crusades, a suicide bomber and a contemporary architect, struggle to come to terms with their lives and their choices, in this surprising funny play that challenges traditional views on sex, family, and terrorism.

The Black Eyed is a Chicago Premiere



The Blessed Child by Astrid Saalbach

Women rule the world, and men are reduced to pathetic house-slaves. No children have been born for decades, and humanity faces extinction. Then a female servant gets pregnant, apparently by divine intervention. She gives birth to the blessed child, who is half man and half beast. The play is a grotesque satire about a generation of adults so obsessed by their careers, ridiculous alternative lifestyles, and the pursuit of personal growth, that they no longer notice their children.

Saalbach is the most popular Danish dramatist of her generation. This is the first US production of her work.



Bounty Of Lace by Susan MersonThe Alcyone Festival
In Tel Aviv, four women gather to drink tea while violence surrounds them in the streets. Judith, a young Jewish girl had an Arab lover, and is preparing to marry a Rabbi's son before her secret is discovered. The women try to escape to the beach for a few days and come to terms with the lives they've chosen.

Bounty of Lace is a Chicago Premiere



Fucking Parasites by Ninna Tersman

Forced to flee their homelands with their persecuted parents, two teenagers are in New Zealand seeking asylum. Playing with dirty toys in a detention center, they are forced to deal with the complex issues of immigration and lost hope. It is a coming of age story through the eyes of teenaged refugees.

Fucking Parasites is a World Premiere.



Heads by EM LewisBetty
A British Embassy worker, an American engineer, a network journalist and a freelance photographer are held captive in Iraq; as death draws close, each hostage must decide what he'll do to survive.

Heads is a Chicago Premiere



The Toymaker's War by Jennifer Fawcett Jennifer

In 1995, Sylvie was an idealistic young journalist who went to Bosnia to launch her career. Stumbling upon an isolated village of children, she met Milan, a young Bosnian Serb toymaker turned soldier, and his little sister, Lejla. Now, years later, Sylvie is a world-famous journalist being called to the Hague to testify in a war crimes trial. Her career in ruins and haunted by memories of the past, she must finally face what really happened.

The Toymaker's War is a developmental production.

 
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Help Me Out

  • Posted on: 25 March 2009
  • By: Tony

Could I ask a favor?

What writer's (or writers') work do you wish you were able to see more of?

Let me know in the comments.

Thanks,

Note: we've already picked our shows for next year do you don't have to worry about me poaching them--At least not for a year :)

Your Website (probably) Sucks

  • Posted on: 23 March 2009
  • By: Tony

I try and keep up with what other folks are doing. In order to see how we are faring, I subscribe to most of the companies blogs that I find. I get on mailing lists to see what folks are sending out. I periodically go through websites and see what other theatres are up to lately.

The League has a list of links to all the member theatres. I spent some time over the weekend going through them.

It is astonishing how many really awful websites are out there among Chicago theaters. (Thankfully, none as bad as this.) I know Kris has written about lame marketing, but a good website should be an absolute basic necessity for any company.

Ugly is one thing. Flash intros suck. But if the site's difficult to read, difficult to navigate and difficult to use--it's useless. (and it tends to make you look it as well.) If it's six months out of date, it's useless. It doesn't even have to be hyper-fancy. That's actually a problem with some sites. There's so much going on it cancels everything out.

A lot of folks don't even know what their website is for. Here's a catch-- what the website is for can change for different companies. Barrel of Monkeys is a completely different organization than Steppenwolf, Steep or The Artistic Home so it should have a different look, feel and purpose on it's website.

No website is perfect, but. . .Ten years ago many small companies couldn't afford to compete with the big boys. Nowadays, there is so much free software and free information on learning the basics of design out there that the only real excuse is lack of care.

What do you think? Which ones are the best and worst of the bunch (And why)?

Let me know in the comments.

The Return of the Box Office = Fail

  • Posted on: 20 March 2009
  • By: Tony

I was going to go see Twelfth Night tonight, they close this weekend. I know the lead; I know the director; I was pretty excited. On Sunday, I called to make a reservation. They didn't call me until yesterday to let me know they were sold out for the weekend. "Sorry."

I get that you're sold out. Good for you. Waiting four days to return a call when your show is sold out? Not so good. Now, I haven't seen anything up there to date. Can't say I'm probably gonna anytime soon.

Every study I've read shows that poor customer service will do more harm to repeat attendance than the quality of work. I'm consistently amazed at how many small and large theatres have their heads up their ass when it comes to customer service. There are many other things to do and companies to see, theaters can't afford to fail at serving patrons well.

Lemons into lemonade time: what should I go check out this weekend?

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