Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Astoria Artists are Awesome

We’re working on the name...

Last Sunday I went to an artist meeting in Astoria. I was invited by Esther Palmer. She is the Artistic Director of Seen Performance. Esther has a great love of Astoria and this is where she wants to perform and create her art.

But let’s back up a day...

I was at the post office with Kevin and our son Edison. There was a couple behind us and they were there for the same reason we were. We were all turning in our fringe applications. Kevin noticed on one of the packages was labeled with it’s category ‘clown/masque’. Well there they were, and there we were. I wanted to wish them luck but somehow the New Yorker in me kept my eyes on my own paper and we went our separate ways that morning.

Anyway, I went to the AAaA meeting. This month’s location was at Waltz, Astoria. Wouldn’t you know it, the guy that was standing behind me the day before at the post office was there. His name is Jarred. He did actually send in a clown piece and a children’s piece. Within a minute of talking I find out he’s a puppeteer too. It was like Karma was giving me a second chance. We exchanged information and I do hope that we can collaborate on a project.

After Jarred and I networked, most of the conversation involved on how to find free space. I asked what’s the point of business giving up space out of their own generosity if you don’t have an audience. So it was agreed that this is a challenge... perhaps a festival or happening would be helpful. A way to show the area of Astoria that there are artists out here just bursting to be heard. This will not only invigorate businesses, it will help draw up an audience we can pool from for future performances.

We also discussed that Astoria Artists are Awesome needs another name. Is it the word awesome? Yeah, a little. We couldn’t decide really what to change it to. It was suggested by Jarred that Astoria Artists Society might be good because then it includes enthusiasts too.

I’m not sure if AAaA knows what kind of group they want to be, either a service group or a support group. Since it seems to be a gathering of all artists that a support group would be the right way to go. People are working on their projects but they want or need other people and here’s this group that encourages each other and points people in the right direction as needed. I think that’s what I got out of the meeting; I mean how random is it that I meet a puppeteer that I should have said ‘hi’ to the day before! That’s what I’m looking for. I hope this group the best and I hope it figures out what it wants to be. I look forward to the next meeting.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Leap Before We Look: The 39 Steps

At Playlab NYC we recognize like-minded artists when we see them. In that spirit we present Leap Before We Look. Wherein we blindly endorse a theatrical event right up our alley without seeing it first.


The 39 Steps is a farce based on Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film adaptation of John Buchan's 1915 spy novel. Using minimal resources for maximum theatrical impact, the cast of four plays 150 different characters, and simple trunks and chairs are pressed into service for getaway cars and train chases.

Adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow, the play is based on the original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon from a two-actor version of the play. Barlow is the creator and leading actor of the National Theater of Brent, a comedy double act that creates theatrical epics like Wagner's Ring Cycle with only two actors.

The first version of the play, with a cast of four actors, premiered in 2005 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Originally titled John Buchan's The 39 Steps, the show was revised again and opened at London's Tricycle Theatre before transferring to the West End. While playing at the Criterion Theatre it won the 2007 Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

The show opened January 15, 2008 on Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre's American Airlines Theatre, Ben Brantley in his New York Times review called the show a "frothy exercise in legerdemain is throwaway theater at its finest." Since then The 39 Steps has transferred twice: to the Cort Theatre on April 29, 2008, and on January 21, 2009 to the Helen Hayes Theatre. This production won two Tony Awards, and a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience.

Update: Since the original post the show moved again this time to Off-Broadway at New World Stages, opening on March 25, 2010.

It is because of the imaginative approach to storytelling and the playful nature of the show that we recommend Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What We Eat: Theatre on a Tabletop

Welcome to What We Eat where we take a look at the books, movies, and plays that have influenced the direction of Playlab NYC.

Theatre on a Tabletop: Puppetry for Small Spaces
by Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin

“We do small shows because it gives us the chance to pursue our wildest ideas free from the costs and constraints of big-scale, big-budget theatre production without the burden of having to coordinate dozens of production, crew, and cast people. Using tabletop theatre techniques professionally give us the means to administer, produce, create, and perform a show within our own small organization”

The above excerpt from Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin’s book Theatre on a Tabletop serves a permission slip for Playlab NYC to explore big ideas within our own small company. It is a needed spark of inspiration to carry us forward into our second year.

Using the term “Tabletop Theater” allows the authors to explore three different types of puppetry: toy theatre (a popular Victorian era children’s entertainment), found object theatre, and overhead projection theatre (a type of shadow puppetry). For each of the three forms, they provide a brief history, offer directions and diagrams for building puppets and theaters. Finally each section includes an excerpt of a script the authors have produced.

Theatre on a Tabletop: Puppetry for Small Spaces contains not only inspiration, but practical lessons informed by years of tabletop puppetry work by Fong and Kapin. There are diagrams, photographs, supply lists, eight “Basic Laws of Puppetry,” and a useful bibliography.

With a constant eye toward the classroom, the final third of the book shows what a powerful teaching tool tabletop puppetry can be. It includes outlines for workshops of varying length from two hours to two weeks, offering advice for each step of the development of a workshop production including: story boarding, design, rehearsals and presentations. There is also a short coda for puppeteers interested in creating professional tabletop productions.

It is safe to say that Playlab NYC will be taking some time to apply the lessons that Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin provide. More importantly it is their inspiration that we will take to heart.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Getting Aboard the Bandwagon: Blogs

Playlab NYC friend Harshman Grevelis announced a couple weeks ago at the Playground that he had created a blog called ADAPTIVE THEATRICALITY. I can’t help but notice that everyone has a blog these days. Not to be out done by Harshman, I have started two!

The first one I call TREMENDOUS TRIFLES.

It was created as a platform for me to explore and indulge my interest in tabletop theater. If you visit you will find photos of my collection of toy theaters. I also plan to use the blog as an excuse to create some "original" theaters. Eventually I think a clear connection will emerge between Tremendous Trifles and the work of Playlab NYC.

The second blog that I set up currently has the unimaginative name of THEATER MISSION STATEMENTS. As the generic name suggests, I'm not sure yet what kind of shape this second blog is supposed to take.

I've always been interested in Mission Statements, those short statements of purpose used by companies and individuals to not only let the outside world know who they are, but as a tool to check in with themselves, to make sure that they are on track with their goals.

My hypothesis is that the most successful theater companies are the ones that are very clear in letting audiences, funders, board members, and staff know what makes the company unique.

My goal is to create a dialogue that will allow me to discover what makes a successful mission statement for a theater company.