Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sacred Spaces

 from Judson Jones, Artistic Director

So this post is a bit like the stew I made this past week: It’s a little bit of this and a dash of that. But I promise you there’s a rhyme & reason to it.

While spending time with family over the holidays, Christa & I found ourselves in the tiny town of Winona, Texas and ended up taking a tour with some family through the old forgotten high school. Winona is a small, sleepy town of around 582 people. I seem to recall dating a girl in my youth from Winona (or perhaps it was Mineola). Anyway, we were walking through the abandoned hallways when we came to the auditorium, now filled with debris, discarded desks, and dust of years past.  I love high school theatre. I'm not sure why exactly. Perhaps for the same reason I love watching high school football: You see a lot of mistakes and a lot of missed opportunities, but there's so much heart. As I walked through the old theater, you could almost see the audiences of the past. Hear their laughter. Feel their suspense. I sat in one of the old wooden seats and strained to hear the heartbeat of the old place.  You just don't see auditoriums like this anymore. Everything has become so utilitarian. Art, by itself, is no longer enough to deserve its own space. Art now has to be art-and. These once magnificent sanctuaries have been replaced by Cafe-toriums and the like. The works of Shakespeare aren’t enough. It can’t be just Horton Foote. It has to be Horton Foote and a Fiesta Station. Sorry. Wasn't my intention to get on a soapbox.

Back to the auditorium. I made my way through the space, across the stage—most of the boards rotted away by time—and found myself in the wings, right outside the dressing room. This is such holy place for me. I stood there, staring at the closed door, and could almost smell the pancake makeup. I thought of how many young actors must have stood there…waiting for the moment. The call for places has been made, but the opening music hasn’t begun yet. You hear the audience just beyond the curtain, people are rushing around, there’s electricity in the air that is palpable…and then there’s a pause. A beat. A divine moment. Everything goes quiet…and you breathe it in. This may not be the Nederlander, but to these magnificent souls it might as well be. As I stood there I thought of the countless students that stood in that same sacred spot. And I felt them. I felt their hopes and dreams, their passion, their love, their nervousness, their joy. And I cried. By myself. Just stood there and took in the moment.

Saturday night Christa and I went to see the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theatre Company’s production of Imagining Heschel at the Stella Adler Studio—a production I highly, highly recommend seeing before it closes on February 11th. I was again reminded of the holiness of the theatre: to see actors pouring out their very hearts and souls for the audience; to experience a designer’s work as it folds into this world that will become your journey for the time you are there; to hear the words that a playwright has labored over, sometimes for years, to make sure that every word, every bit of punctuation is perfect and needed; to realize a director’s work, the hours of planning and pacing and doubting, all in the hopes that this piece of art connects in some real way with those present. Oh, it is something to be revered. For me, there’s no other place like it on earth.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


from William Franke, Director of Development & Communications
Those of you who have been reading this blog & paying close attention will note that this post is a few days later than usual. Which is ironic, as I am usually the one cracking the whip to get those other jokers to turn in their blog posts (and then they turn in some great stuff, don't they?).

It's this state of affairs that has gotten me to thinking about the word "commitment" for a couple of days now. It does seem like commitment is a pretty rare commodity nowadays. Meteorologists change their forecasts; corporations push back their product launches; politicians renege on their promises; judges & lawyers adjourn court dates; blog posts come in a few days late...

But when I think about the theatre, I cannot help but be a bit proud at the level of commitment shown by all involved. Despite the bad rap that artists often get, their commitment is often the strongest thing going. When you go to the theater, that curtain comes up because all of the artists involved made a commitment—to put on that show, to share something with the audience who have taken the time, spent the money, and are giving their attention to the folks on stage. They made a commitment of their time, talent & energy months in advance (often for little pay) to design the lights, write the score & design the sound, craft the set, learn the lines, delve into the create this world to share with an audience for 90 minutes a night (and beyond the walls of the theater) meet that curtain deadline with a quality product worth sharing. 

There's a reason the old adage goes "The show must go on."

I'm not thinking about this only because I'm behind schedule posting to this blog, though. As those of you who follow us on the Facebook know, on Friday the 13th, a number of our staff & design team did a walk-through of the Peter Jay Sharp theater on west 42nd Street. Yesterday, Jud & Christa (our Artistic Director & Associate Artistic Director) returned to put down the deposit on the space—to make a commitment to presenting our next mainstage production there (that's a sneak-peek, first-time announcement for those of you reading this).

Over the past year or so, a number of you have shown your support—monetarily & spiritually—because you have seen what we do and you believe it is worth sharing with the New York community. In return we've made a commitment to keep putting community back in theatre and do so by producing a full season. I'm proud that we've taken this next step in honoring that commitment, and I look forward to sharing it all with you when the curtain goes up.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

do something

from Christa Kimlicko Jones, Associate Artistic Director, Director of Programming:  
Back in the summer of 2001, when Jud & I lived in Austin, we were producing with the dirigo group. At that time, the group bit off a huge project called The Gypsy Chain—a heartfelt new musical, with over 30 in the cast, new music, full band, book, the whole thing. We dealt with the largest budget we’d ever encountered up to that point. While there were a lot of immediate producing lessons learned during this project, there were also some personal major life lessons. During the project, we had a fundraising event (as you are wont to do) and we had the honor of the presence of the lovely Julia Butterfly Hill (the activist who sat in a tree for two years). I remember the exact moment I met her that night...I can only describe her as pure beauty. She walked up to us, barefoot, flowing hair, jeans & a baby-doll tee that said in lowercase letters across her bosom: ‘do something.’ I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she spoke. And all I kept thinking was "Hmm…do something." "How interesting," I thought, "that it is in lowercase letters. That perhaps, a seemingly understated act could actually mean something in the world." I remember thinking "Wow, she sat in a tree for 2 years. That is far from understated. That is HUGE." But the more I listened to her, the more I realized that perhaps she didn’t think that.  Perhaps she felt that it was understated. It was simply what she had to do. And then I thought "Yeah, whatever; there is NO WAY that I could do that!  SHE really did something.  She really made a bold move.  How can I even compare? What the heck am I doing? Plays? Geez. What does it matter?"

Every choice we make has an impact on the world. Every thought, word, and action has impact. Every time we make a choice to do something or not, to speak or not, we are changing our reality, changing our world. The question is not, “Can we make a difference?” but “What kind of a difference do I want to make?
Julia Butterfly Hill
It was that evening that I realized that while, no, I can’t sit in a tree for 2 years…I can produce theatre.  And that is something.  It is what I know to do.  I can produce a play that might help someone see the world in a new way…to perhaps think a bit feel…to inspire someone else to act as they might. As an actor, I can create a role as best I can so that a story is heard fully. As a teacher of the arts, I can help inspire others to find their voice and do their work as they might.  As an artist, I AM doing something. This is my activism. And I think that Julia would be proud. You know, I think that so often it’s easy to feel this way.  Like putting on a play, or making a movie, or acting in a play isn’t perhaps enough. Or that working at a law firm, or doing administrative work, or babysitting, or, etc., etc., etc., isn’t enough. Well, I encourage you to really think about it. It seems to me that if you are diving in and moving things forward and aiming to be the best human you can be (we all have our parts to play), that you are indeed doing something. Of course, we can always strive to challenge ourselves further—strive for excellence—and that, in itself, is doing something. Being an active participant in this amazing world is doing something.
So, as I write, what I am most excited about is being a part of bringing this next world premiere to New York audiences. In the fall of 2012, Theatre East will bring you Normalcy by Bennett Windheim. It's a story that asks great questions and provides few answers, hopefully sparking many diner, subway, and maybe even breakfast conversations. We at Theatre East will be doing what we do.  And we look forward to sharing it with you.  And hopefully inspiring you…to ‘do something’ too. 

Don’t deny the power of those little words.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Skating to the Puck

from Todd Eric Hawkins, Managing Director 
I recently heard a keynote address by Ben Cameron, Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  Mr. Cameron’s focus was the future of the arts. During the speech he made the following statement:

In looking to the future, I find inspiration in the words of two different thinkers: our 19th century American President Abraham Lincoln, who in his second inaugural address said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so must we think anew and act anew.”

And Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian ice hockey player who, when asked to account for his greatness, said simply, “I skate to where the puck will be.”
Mr. Cameron’s words struck me as profoundly relevant.

Theatre in this country faces a quickly changing landscape in which the consumer, that we all so desperately need to fulfill our missions, continues to change. From the emergence of the personally programmable electronic devices available in today’s marketplace, to television programs like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, consumers are getting more and more accustomed to having the ability to choose what they listen to and watch.

We as theatre producers are being challenged to find ways of making future audiences experience theatre in a new way. This is not to say that theatre in its current form will cease to exist, but rather to suggest that new audiences will require new ways of thinking about what we do. It will challenge us to look at theatre, not as a performance in a dark room at a specified time, where audiences are required to sit still for the duration of the show. Instead, we will need to look for more integrative ways of telling our stories.

The benchmark of success set by our predecessors, the major nonprofit theatres founded in the late ’60s and ’70s, is a level of achievement that anyone in this business would aspire to emulate. The next generation of theatre companies that rise to take their place will need to provide an experience that appeals to a new generation of arts consumers; theatregoers who have different expectations.

To meet to this challenge, theatre artists and organizations need to “act anew”; exploring ways to present our craft that will keep it vital to a new kind of audience.