Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Wonder of Theatre

from Todd Eric Hawkins, Managing Director 

For my 12th Birthday, my family took me to see The Man of La Mancha at the University of Oklahoma. It was the first time I experienced live theatre. I remember very few details about the events that led up to stepping into the lobby of the theater, but from that moment on everything is etched into memory.
The theater was the most beautiful place I had ever been. The red carpeted lobby that curved around the back of the theater, the chandeliers that hung majestically above my head as we waited to be seated. There was an excitement in the air. I watched as people began to fill the lobby, I listened as they reconnected with friends and talked about their lives and the people they knew in common.

When we entered the theater, my Grandmother asked me to find our seats as she handed me the ticket stubs. I walked up the side of the aisle looking for the letter E and then walked along the long curved row of seats until I found the numbers on the tickets. The crowd was pouring into the theater as we sat down. As they entered, the noise from the lobby became a whisper. The kind of hushed speech I heard at church on Sunday mornings. 

As the lights began to dim and the orchestra started to play, I was overcome with a sensation that I had never felt before. I felt as though an electrical current was shooting through my body. My Grandmother would later recall that at that moment I sat on the edge of my seat and stayed there for the entire performance, as if I was trying to “be up there with them.” 

Whatever I thought I wanted to do when I grew up before that night vanished from my 12 year-old mind. I was being summoned to the theatre. 

It would be 14 years before I experienced that sensation again so fully, the day I arrived in New York City for the first time. 

I flew into LaGuardia Airport filled with all of the stories of danger that my parents had instilled me. As the cab crossed the Triborough Bridge and headed down the FDR, I thought it was the noisiest, dirtiest city.  Why would anyone choose to live here? Then the cab turned off of 50th Street onto Broadway and Times Square came into view. Suddenly, I was home. 

I spent that evening ignoring my parents’ advice and walking the streets of Times Square, stopping to read each billboard and picturing my name in lights. I passed Tommy, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Phantom of the Opera, and Angels in America. 

The following day I had an audition for several regional theaters through my college program and I had purchased a ticket to a show—my first Broadway show—for after the audition to celebrate my success. A success that would unfortunately never happen, not the way I had imagined anyway. 

I performed my monologue from Division Street the next day for a panel of two judges. In order to go forward to the actual audition you had to receive a yes from both judges; I got only one. I was devastated. 

That night I drug myself to the theater to see Cyrano: The Musical. I took my seat and waited for the show to begin. The lights dimmed and the overture began. Suddenly, as the music began to swell the name Cyrano began to be written on the scrim as if it were being hand written by Cyrano himself. The signature ended with a long stroke of the pen across the surface as the scrim began to rise. Suddenly, I was no longer a bitter and depressed 26 year old, I was 12 again. 

The power of theatre is that it has the ability to uphold, tear apart, and reassemble how the viewer thinks, feels, and, in some cases, behaves. Theatre has always acted as a bumper in my life, continually pushing and steering me on my journey and shaping me into the person I am today. 

I proudly accepted the role of Managing Director at Theatre East as a way to make sure that experiences like mine are available for others. Together we will work to provide a platform for our community, allowing them to experience the power of theatre that changed my life.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

 from Judson Jones, Artistic Director

Gestalt. It’s one of my absolute favorite words. It's a German word that basically means that the whole cannot be derived by a simple summation of its parts. For me, this isn’t an example of how theatre can work, but instead how theatre should work. A few years ago a group of artists, members of our business community, and supporters gathered in a room to ask a question. That question was: 

Can we build a theatre company whose commitment to community, whose commitment to operating in a transparent and inclusive manner, whose commitment to the incredible power theatre possesses, is matched only by the commitment to producing earnest, catalyzing, provocative, needed, and great work?
While it has not always been easy, and we haven’t always succeeded, this continues to be our goal. The success of this company—our educational and community programming, past and future productions—is not due to the work of any individual, but to the work of many.

I’m constantly fascinated by the process of putting a production together. Everything about it. From selecting the script (or the script selecting you)…to assuring the playwright you won’t destroy their play…finding the space…hoping you can afford it…bringing on the director, supporting their vision…hiring the creative team and hoping the designers get along…the director leading the creative team to his or her vision and then being brave enough to let them run with it…finding your cast…hoping you find them…trusting that you’ll find them…being so thankful when you finally find them…doubting every decision you make…production meetings….staff meetings…marketing meetings…board meetings…meetings about meetings…publicity…unions…realizing that, while you have 10 bottles of wine for the opening night gala, you need to frantically run to the store immediately after curtain because no one brought a corkscrew…all of this, and ultimately hoping you have the budget to pull it off.

And you do all this in the fervent hope…to share a moment. All of these people working together, giving of themselves, their craft, working around the clock, hours of rehearsals, months of planning…hoping to create a single moment. A single shared moment with you. Why? Because it is in that moment we are closest to the gods.

I believe that.

TomOppenheim, Artistic Director of The Stella Adler Studios, lauded Theatre East at our first benefit with the following words: "I see there a mirror that reflects exactly the vision of a sane theater that Harold Clurman calls for. They have beautifully articulated alist of values, which are sound, noble, and creatively potent. They sing of the theatre providing a communal experience, connecting us to the world and each other, catalyzing critical thinking, educating us; they insist the theatre be accessible and, like Harold Clurman, see it ultimately as a civilizing force." I told Tom then that we did not deserve such words, but I hope we can earn them.

All my very best,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Natural Producer

from Joseph Mitchell Parks, Associate Producer

My parents got me involved in the theatre at the age of 8, and as I look back I can see the signs of a future working as a producer even in the beginning. I had a sense of wonder and must have overwhelmed the  producers of the show with my many questions about the set, costumes, lights, etc. ... At the age of 12 I began working with a local community theatre in Dallas in which I was the youngest member of the company and I wanted to soak up all the information I possibly could from my mentors of the time. I was always fascinated by the production process and always wanted to be one of the people making the decisions about the shows.

My fascination continued in my undergraduate training in which I had the privilege of working with members of Anne Bogart’s SITI Company. Each company member, in addition to their many talents as actors, were integral parts of the producing process of the show. Anne’s Associate Ellen Lauren is one of her principal performers in addition to her work with Anne on a producing level. I knew then that was the kind of artist that I wanted to become. I did not want to be the kind of performer who sat around waiting for opportunities to come, but one who went out and made them happen with other artists that I respect and admire and more importantly to work on projects that were important to me. During my training I also worked on work study in the box office and was able to get experience in the financial business of working in the theatre. Our professors at St. Edward's University were also professional Equity artists who often shared the stage with us, so it was always clear to me that you need to wear many hats to have a full career in the theatre.

When I moved to New York five years ago I knew I wanted to find a home working with  companies that I cared about. As the Associate Producer of Theatre East I have found just that. My passion for classical theatre is also fed by my work with The Acting Company as the Producing Assistant and Resident Company Manager. With them I have had the opportunity to go on two national tours, understudying many tracks in one of them, and have learned everything I know from the great co-founder Margot Harley, who started the company in 1972 with the late John Houseman. My involvement with these two companies has shaped my life here in New York. I have also been able to work with Shakespeare NYC and produce independently.

I feel like I am exactly where I should be in my life and that this is only the beginning of my career as a Producer and I am so glad it is with a company like Theatre East.

All the best,

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Reluctant Producer

from William Franke, Director of Development

Each time someone asks me how I got involved with Theatre East, I preface the story with "I never wanted to be a producer because I knew how much work it was." Whenever I'm in a production or on a set, I can't help but be aware of how many people it takes to realize the finished film or play, how much effort goes into it. And I just wanted to focus on my acting.

Of course, if you've met the folks who founded Theatre East, you'll understand how easily I was drawn in. I first met Jud & Christa back in late 2005; we'd been acquainted a little while when they invited my wife, Jody, & me to attend a show they produced (pre-Theatre East) called HARVEST. We were so blown away by the quality of the show on all levels that when they told me a little while later that they were forming Theatre East with Joseph Mitchell Parks & some others, my enthusiasm bubbled over. I kept foisting upon them all these ideas I
had been storing up over the years of things I would do if I were to be a producer (which I wasn't). Eventually they were compelled to ask me to join the company and, later, the staff.

While there is something to be said for producing as an avenue to creating your own opportunities, the real driving force behind Theatre East that keeps us going is creating opportunities for the community. For example, our Educational Outreach program The New Rites Collective. Thanks in part to the insistence of
Raquel Almazan & Sean Turner, we started that program much earlier in the evolution of our company than I would have thought possible. To be honest, I also wasn't sure if the world needed another theatre company's educational outreach program; but when I saw the impact it was having on the students who took part, for whom it unlocked an understanding of themselves they might not have arrived at otherwise, I realized that it was an essential component of how Theatre East can help give back to the community.

The same is true of the plays we produce. To paraphrase Wallace Shawn*, we believe the third act of a great play takes place in the bars & coffee shops after the audience has left the theater and continues to discuss the play. We hope to take it even further and produce plays that get our community talking & investigating not only the play they've just seen, but the deeper issues the play raises; plays that serve not only as topics for spirited discussion, but more as springboards to conversations about even greater matters that affect our community.

Of course, all of this is even more work than I ever imagined it would be. And yet, it's invigorating to collaborate with such committed people on work that is even more important than I initially envisioned. I hope you'll help us realize these goals by being a part of our community, whether it's at our mainstage shows, at our monthly 3rd Monday Mixers at O'Lunney's in Times Square, our Neighborhood Reading Series, or any of the places & spaces in between. We're all in this together.

Support Theatre East

* click here for an essay by Wallace Shawn that is an interesting read
(but not the source of the paraphrased quote)