Friday, September 17, 2010

2010 FringeNYC Round Up

In the Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing (see how handy it is for theater companies) Dave Sim wrote about comic book conventions:

The basic point is that you can go to a convention, set up your table, and sit there obviously hating everyone and everything within sight, assuring yourself all the while that your stuff is just too good for these lowlife fan boys; or you can decide to take a few positive steps toward creating a core following that you can build on in the years to come.

This is true of Fringe Festivals as well. In 2009, Jennifer and I spent so much time worrying about our show that we kind of missed the whole experience of the festival. We ended up seeing only a handful of shows: Jack and the Soy Beanstalk, Ukrainian Eggs, The Boxer, Scattered Lives, and Viral. Since Jennifer was the lighting designer for Ukrainian Eggs, I’m not sure that it an optional viewing experience.

This year Playlab NYC did a much better job participating in the Fringe experience. I took a couple days off of work to be able to take in more of the shows at the festival. Jennifer volunteered so much that she ended up being named an Honorary Volunteer Staff Member at the closing night party.

Between us Jennifer and I took in nearly double the number of shows from last year. We might not have put much of a dent in the 197 titles available, but we are getting better.

So what did we see? Well…

As You Like It - BAMA Theatre Company

I’m a sucker for Rosalind; she has all the wit of Hamlet without the angst. The BAMA Theatre Company presented such a straightforward production of Shakespeare’s text that I wouldn’t have thought that it was a Fringe show at all. With eight actors and one trunk of costumes and props, the show was very well acted and cleanly directed. The actors, who came out of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival together, worked well as an ensemble. Usually when I see As You Like it I fall for the Rosalind and the others disappear into the background. The BAMA Theatre Company presented me with a Rosalind who was a part of the company as a whole and many of the other characters, including Celia, had their moments to shine.

Bagabones - Jonathan Nosan

Jonathan Nosan is a contortionist who presents audiences with a collection of vignettes that explore confinement. The whole show is presented in around and on top of a black box that Nosan’s assistants roll around the stage. The sound design was amazing and many of the images from the show I will never forget.

Energy Man - Hope Theatre, Inc.

This was the biggest disappointment of the shows I saw at this year’s festival. I felt like it was a bait and switch on the part of Hope Theatre, Inc. Based on their postcard and blurb, I believed I was going to a Fringe show about comic book heroes and instead got a Sunday school sermon about how being a good person isn’t enough if you haven’t accepted Christ as your savior. I had such a visceral dislike of the moralizing of show that I contemplated leaving at intermission, but since the house was only a quarter full I decided to stay.

Good Good Trouble On Bad Bad Island - Endstation Theatre Company

In this well conceived children’s show, a good good girl finds herself challenged by the ruler of Bad Bad Island to complete a series of impossible tasks in order to be allowed to journey home. The script and the production are destined to travel the country in a van like a TheaterworksUSA production. The script could use one more draft, especially at the end when it suddenly turns into Aesop’s fable of the lion and the mouse for little reason.

The Great Galvani - The Magpies

The Chicago based company, The Magpies Project created one of my favorite shows at this year’s festival. Presented as two short monologues, it hit a few of my sweet spots, dime museums, carnies, circus freaks, and a mash-up of historical research and fictional biographies. The opening monologue was about a Bearded Lady who had an encounter with the artist Toulouse-Lautrec. In the second and longer piece we meet Luigi Galvani Junior, the fictional son of an 18th century physicist who was himself an inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Running of only half-an-hour long, I was glad I paid for a $5 participants ticket. I’m not sure I would have been as happy if I had spent $18 for the show. It seems as though the two monologues are just fragments of a larger show. Perhaps The Magpies cut back on the show in order to easily get it to the Fringe, but I was left wanting to see more. And isn’t that a good thing?

The Hyperbolist - bang-bang-fou!

As much as I had hoped to get to it, Jennifer saw this one alone. She tells me that it was a collection of little Buster Keaton inspired movies, and live puppets, and even a flea circus all performed by Joe Mazza. The evening was built around an investigation of Love. Jennifer was enthusiastic about the show and Joe Mazza as a writer and performer, feeling that he seemed like a good fit with Playlab NYC’s sensibilities. Sorry I didn’t get to it.

Magical Exploding Boy - Chicago Physical Theater

This mime/clown show was written and performed by Chicago artist Dean Evans. The Magical Exploding Boy presents a variety of little stories including: an evil doll with mind control powers, an amoeba struggling for life, and two men in a fistfight. I had a great time, but felt that a number of the pieces were strong enough to warrant a whole show, especially the finale of an astronaut battling a killer plant in outer space.

The Order of Blattaria, A Kid's Guide to Survival - Arimaw Productions

This was my favorite show of the festival. I liked it so much that I brought Jennifer and Edison back to see the show the next day. Built around the conceit of a summer camp orientation, the three main performers have collaborated on a show that plays to each of their strengths: bug knowledge, bubbles, black light puppetry and sing-a-longs. These men have clearly worked with a lot of children and are great at keeping people engaged. Michael Ari Wulffhart as Dr Z in particular is wonderful at teaching while being entertaining. The show becomes a little disjointed, but with a little more focus it could easily end up as the Beakman’s World of the Discovery Channel.

Stripes: The Mystery Circus - Wayward Productions

Sarah Hayward, the writer and star, built the show around one woman’s audition to get into the circus. She reenacts eight different circus acts including a Two-Headed Lady and Burlesque dancer. The character of the Two-Headed Lady was very inventive and funny - the highlight of the show. The character is so iconic that Hayward features her in all of her publicity materials. Unfortunately the character is the first one out of the gate, and the rest of the show never lives up to the image of a woman wrestling with herself.

I could easily name another twenty shows that Jennifer and I had talked about seeing, but time runs out fast.

Stray Observations:

  • We seemed to be drawn to shows that were coming out of Chicago. Hyperbolist, Magical Exploding Boy and The Great Galvani were all from Chicago, as were a number of shows on our wish lists that we just never could fit in.
  • I found myself watching a lot of shows that were a collection of vignettes as opposed to a whole story.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What We Eat: Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing

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

Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing
by Dave Sim

Earlier this year I attended a meeting of the Off-Off-Broadway Community Dish where Nosedive Productions Co-Artistic Director and Blogger James Comtois mentioned that the book that he and his partner in crime, Pete Boisver, used as their bible for theater producing was the Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing by Dave Sim. As a lapsed comic book reader his comment had my immediate attention. At the time the various editions of The Guide were out of print and as much as I wanted to read the book I couldn’t seem to get my hands on a copy. In June of this year Dave Sim published a new edition of The Guide, and I picked up a copy in August.

The June 2010 edition has been updated and expanded, and it is no doubt very different from the slimmer original 1997 book. The 1997 version was expanded from Dave Sim’s Notes From the President column found in issues of his Cerebus comic. I don’t know if it is just inflation or if the new book is significantly different but the original cost $4 and the new edition is $18!

I’ve been through The Guide twice so far, and it turns out that Dave Sim’s advice about self-publishing comic books does, as Comtois suggested, translate very easily into self-producing theater. But the truth is that The Guide probably translates very easily into any one of a number of self-starting enterprises – blogging for instance.

Of course, when approaching the book for theater it is necessary to do a lot of word substitutions. For example: Self-Publishing = Self-Producing, Penciling = Playwriting, Inking = Directing, Publishers = Venues, Conventions = Festivals (at least in Playlab NYC’s case), and an issue of a comic book = a single show.

Some of the lessons in producing that can be learned from Dave Sim include:

“Don’t spend money that you don’t have. Do only what you can comfortably afford to do.” (From page 13) - Amen to that. Jennifer and I would certainly like to spend more money on our productions, but at the same time we are not going to incur any credit card debt to pull it off.

“Enjoy creativity, first, last and always for its own sake. If it isn’t fun, find a new way to do it that is fun. Satisfy yourself every step of the way.” (From page 15) – My reaction to that is a whole different blog entry for another day.

My biggest A-HA! was found on page 96. It not only sums up my reaction to participating in FringeNYC, but in trying to put up shows in an over saturated market like NYC. “It’s a very large crowd and each [theater company] is a unique as a snowflake. In a blizzard that’s a small consolation for the individual snowflake.”

I highly recommend the book to any would-be Off-Off-Broadway producers out there. A lot of the comments in The Guide are common sense I suppose, but it is nice to be reminded of it every now and again. The book is filled with thoughts about needing to overcome your own inertia, creative dead ends, and the pitfalls of relying on other people’s help. I would be curious to hear from any producers out there what they made of the book.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dada Interview with Johnson Chong

Johnson Chong (who does not seem to be known as "Bob" by those in the know) was with Playlab NYC's first production, The Tempest in June 2008. Johnson is playing a Dada newcomer, Zachary Hicks. Zachary in turn is playing the man of the hour, the Velvet Gentleman himself, Erik Satie.
The remaining members of the Altoona Dada Society don't know much about Zachary. He answered an online ad looking for new Anti-Artists, and he makes his stage debut with them in The Velvet Gentleman.

The members of Playlab NYC could not be happier to have Johnson back with us. During our first rehearsal we asked him to participate in our little Dada Interview.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Johnson: Dada is the Virgin Mary, virtuous and holy

2.) What was Anton Chekhov’s shoe size?

Johnson: 10.5

3.) Do we like you?

Johnson: I think you like me. But we can never be sure of these kinds of things. I hope so.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Johnson: Shree mata amreetanandamayee, god, mom and dad, patanjalee

5.) Describe the show with either a biblical passage or a passage from Shakespeare.

Johnson: "All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

Jacques, As You Like It Act 2, scene 7,

6.) What are we having for dinner?

Johnson: There is no God.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dada Interview with Molly Garber

Our relationship with Molly Garber predates Playlab NYC, having been a part of The Red Door Theatre Company's production of Macbeth, directed by Kevin P. Hale. Since then she has been a part of The Tempest and Perfectly Natural. In The Altoona Dada Society Presents the Velvet Gentleman, Molly plays ADS member Eileen Crispin and artist Suzanne Valadon.

Molly is one of Playlab NYC's Lab Assistants. The Lab Assistants are associate artists of our company. They are our sounding board, our advocates, and our ambassadors. Molly has done a wonderful job being all three for Playlab NYC, and we might be lost without her.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Molly: Dada is a hidden question.

2.) What was William Shakespeare’s shoe size?

Molly: obviously the man was compensating for something... 7

3.) What shouldn't we know about you?

Molly: I love chocolate covered raisins but not Raisinettes.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Molly: My influences are Peter, Paul, and Mary.

5.) Explain the show using only the names of exercises and alcoholic beverages

Molly: Reverse downward facing dog.

6.) What fish did you see today?

Molly: Mamma Mia

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dada Interview with Trevor Dallier

Trevor Dallier is the sound designer for our upcoming FringeNYC production. Jennifer Wilcox and Kevin Hale first encountered the wonderful sound stylings of Mr. Dallier earlier this year when they attended Wide Eyed Productions' Noah's Arkansas.

Playlab NYC is very happy to have Trevor working as part of the design team for the show. The Altoona Dada Society Presents The Velvet Gentleman is sure too be our most complicated sound design so far.

In addition to being a designer Trevor is also an actor. We conducted this interview via email as he was wrapping up a successful run in Henry VI, Part 3.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Trevor: Dada is abominable. The way they handled it could have been a little more graceful. And we all know if there hadn't been cameras around, they would have done even less!

2.) What did William Shakespeare taste like?

Trevor: I'm thinking he did not taste much like soap. I would have to say that he tasted like someone who has gone through numerous tech's without air conditioning and without showering. Maybe the most accurate description would be: "sweat."

3.) What shouldn't we know about you?

Trevor: Well, that's none of your business.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Trevor: The people and groups who have granted muse to me are: Mojo Johnson, Tom Hanks, Ness, mom, WEP and Seymour Hoffman.

5.) How would you explain the show in three gestures to Playlab NYC's four-year-old Props Artisan?

Trevor: "Piano playing gesture," "eyes covered gesture," "spinning in circles."

6.) What is your Altoona Society Name?

Trevor: That's a tricky question. I would like to say it is black and white, but there some grey area. You obviously have the King of the Jungle, the Lion! But what about the elephant, who never forgets? I even want to throw out any type of primate, most likely the ape or the chimpanzee, who are most like their human brethren. "But what about creatures of the sea?!" you might ask me. Well, the whale, with it's varied, beautiful and extremely complicated language certainly deserves note, as well as their smaller, air-breathing counterparts, the dolphin. In conclusion, please ask someone else. Perhaps a biologist? Or a marine biologist?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dada Interview with Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith is the stage manager for our upcoming production The Altoona Dada Society Presents The Velvet Gentleman. She comes to us fresh off of her stage management internship at The Juilliard School.

We expect great things of Nicole, which is why we coerced her into taking part in our little Dada Interview.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Nicole: Dada is an open mind and the belief that anything is possible.

2.) What was Anton Chekhov’s shoe size?

Nicole: Twelve.

3.) Do we like you?

You only work with people you like so I hope!

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Kent Sorensen was my 1st drama teacher. He let me learn to be a Stage Manager on my own. Nature, love, the human world, emoveres

5.) Describe the show as a flavor of Ice Cream.

Mint Chocolate Chip. Refreshing with a hint of pleasure.

6.) Why do I keep hearing Billy Joel's "Captain Jack" everywhere?

Nicole: Sometimes all you need to do is relax and go with the flow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dada Interview with John-Patrick Driscoll

The Altoona Dada Society Presents The Velvet Gentleman is John-Patrick Driscoll's first show with Playlab NYC. J.P. is playing Altoona Dada Society member Ben Killcoyne.

Mr. Driscoll came highly recommended by Loss of Breath alum Erik Gratton, so if this comes to a bad end we will blame Erik.

We think he must have enjoyed this Dada Interview more than most of the cast because it took him days to get us his answers.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

J.P.: Dada is correct.

2.) What was William Shakespeare’s favorite color?

J.P.: Red.

3.) Do we like you?

J.P.: Not yet, you should start in about a week or two.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

J.P.: Robert Downey, Jr.

5.) Explain the show using only names of exercises and alcoholic beverages.

J.P.: Bourbon, absinthe, scotch, sit ups, side bends, stretches.

6.) When in the course of human events?

J.P.: Three pickles.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jennifer Wilcox reading at The Soundtrack Series

Back in April we wrote a little bit about Sean Williams' and Dana Rossi's Soundtrack Series at Waltz-Astoria.

Each month Sean and Dana gather six writers to present an exciting mix tape of ten-minute monologues about "the memories, stories, or tirades triggered every time they hear a particular song of their choosing."

In that previous post Kevin wrote about the series that, "Jennifer and I have both talked about being inspired to reflect on the soundtrack of our own lives. Who knows, maybe we'll end up with a monologue of our own."

Well that time has come, at least for Jennifer. If you are in the Astoria area this coming Thursday, July 29 at 8:00, please come out to cheer Jennifer on at The Soundtrack Series #6. She will be reading a monologue she's written about how the Jane's Addiction song "Jane Said" takes her back to a 1991 road trip to Niagara Falls.

There's no cover, but there is a $10 minimum purchase. It's a coffee shop, but you will find beer and a very tasty sangria.

The Soundtrack Series #6

July 29, 2010, 8pm

Waltz Astoria,

2314 Ditmars Boulevard

N/Q to the Ditmars stop. Between 23rd and 24th Streets

We hope to see you there.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dada Interview with Robert Leeds

Robert Leeds ("Bob" to those in the know) is returning to FringeNYC with us having appeared in last summer's Professor Ralph's Loss of Breath. Bob is playing Altoona Dada Society Anti-Artistic Director Frank Rector.

We are very happy to have Mr. Leeds back with us, as long as he refrains from improvising soliloquies from Macbeth during performance. We decided to test his patience by conducting a little thing we are calling our Dada Interview.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Bob: Dada is windowsill.

2.) What did Anton Chekhov taste like?

Bob: A cherry orchard.

3.) Do we like you?

Bob: That should correctly read: Do we, as you? And as I, you do.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Bob: Osar Wlde, Dorothy Parker, P.G. Woodhouse, Ra Gershwn, Ole Porter, Stephen Sondhem, and Marel Mareau.

5.) Describe the show as a flavor of Ice Cream.

Bob: Rocky Road.

6.) Is the sky blue? Why?

Bob: 42.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dada Interview with Lisa Altomare

UPDATE: It appears that Lindsey Lane has started blogging!

Lisa Altomare is joining us at Playlab NYC for the first time. She is playing Altoona Dada Society member Lindsey Lane. Lindsey Lane is the Broadway veteran of the ADS, having appeared in Your Own Thing, Rockabye Hamlet, and Merlin.

Lisa on the other hand was most recently seen in Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws , part of Target Margin's Unknown Williams Lab. She has played the role of Mrs. Dilber in the McCarter Theater's A Christmas Carol for four seasons.

We sat down with Lisa at the first day of rehearsal and picked her brain with our Dada Interview.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Lisa: Dada is only when I am alone.

2.) What was Henrik Ibsen's favorite color?

Lisa: Gray. (But really - pink.)

3.) Do we like you?

Lisa: Obviously, I'm exceptionally lovable.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Lisa: My ats and dog.

5.) How would you explain the show in three gestures to my four-year-old son?

Lisa: Happy Face! Clapping Hands! Tumbling!

6.) Why is the sky blue?

Lisa: Pudding with raisins!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dada Interview with Jon Steinhagen

Jon Steinhagen is a good friend of Playlab NYC. Artistic Director Kevin P. Hale first met Jon back in 1998 when Kevin helped produce a workshop of Emma & Company at North Shore Music Theatre. Kevin went on to direct the New York premiere of the Judy Freed and Jon Steinhagen musical adaptation of Edna Ferber's short stories at the Wings Theater in 2001.

Since then Jon and Kevin have collaborated a musical based on Charles G. Finney's The Circus of Dr. Lao. Last summer Playlab NYC produced a collection of some of Jon's short plays, Perfectly Natural at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. In December 2009, with Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), we produced a twenty hour reading of The Arresting Dilemma of Mr. K, a musical written in collaboration with John Sparks.

We recently emailed Jon, who lives in the Chicago area, a little dada interview to get a some insight into man who created the Altoona Dada Society.

1.) Finish this sentence: Dada is...

Jon: Dada is Turner & Hooch.

2.) What was Anton Chekhov’s favorite color?

Jon: Blood red.

3.) What shouldn't we know about you?

Jon: My private life from February 1998 thru August 2001.

4.) Tell us who your influences are without using the letters "i" or “c”.

Jon: Wyll Eno. Neal Symon. Eyerah Gershwynn. Rynne Groff.

5.) Explain the show using only names of exercises and alcoholic beverages.

Jon: Running in place/absinthe/running in place/absinthe (repeat for 18 more cycles).

6.) If you could medal in any Olympic sport, what would it be? And if not, could you medal in a new Olympic sport that you created, and if so what would that sport be?

Jon: I always pay special attention to anything with a 4 and a 7.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Welcome 2: The Re-Welcoming

At the beginning of May, Playlab NYC props artisan, Edison Matthew Hale while trying to hide from his father under the kitchen table pulled on the tablecloth and smashed Playlab NYC's laptop on the floor. Along with the death of the computer was the death of the website, and by extension the Playground blog.

As I always say, "Mary Kay Sara Sarah."

In the six or so weeks since then, Playlab NYC managing director, Jennifer Wilcox has been hard at work trying to rebuild the site. One of the decisions that we made during the reconstruction was to move our blog off campus and into a account.

Our new account, being a part of the cutting edge will allow, comments from readers (assuming that we have any), and a wide variety of other features that modern day blogs have, but our old Playground did not have.

We hope to have a lot of new entries soon, and will make a better effort to keep you apprised of all the goings on at Playlab NYC.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Altoona Dada Society is coming to Cherry Lane

When you produce at FringeNYC you get your venue assignment in mid June. One thing that they ask though is that you not release the information for another week so that the festival has a chance to hear from people about any possible mistakes about the listing.

Last week we got our venue assignment for The Altoona Dada Society Presents "The Velvet Gentleman". This year we are going to at 38 Commerce Street, performing in the Cherry Lane Studio.

This is what the Cherry Lane Theatre's website has to say about history of the 60 seat black box space:

Prior to its present incarnation, the 1,000-square-foot space housed a restaurant in the 1950s that was built and managed by the Carroad family, who once owned and operated the entire block. The yard behind their building at 44 Commerce Street served as an outdoor eating area for the restaurant during spring and summer, and the Cherry Lane boiler once served all the properties on our stretch of Commerce Street. The restaurant, which had a floor dotted with gold-plated fleurs-de-lis, also served as a late-night gay club in the 60s and 70s.

Arnold Warwick, a tenant at 40 Commerce Street since 1950, claims that the Carroad family evicted an old sea captain in order to create a public ante room where our current lobby is located. Kim Hunter’s children, who grew up in the building, tell the story of an excavation next door at 36 Commerce Street in the late 50s that not only revealed an underground river, but also thousands of turtles.

At last year's FringeNYC, we performed at the Connelly Theatre. We couldn't have been more excited about the assignment, the Connelly was the perfect venue for Professor Ralph's Loss of Breath. Even the review for the show on commented on the space saying:
While many FringeNYC shows may end up in spaces that add little to the play onstage, Loss of Breath is different. In the old Connelly Theatre, with its faux ornate fixtures, small balcony, and rounded proscenium, it is easy to feel transported back to an age when Loss of Breath-style comedies played out on stages across America.
One of the drawbacks that we experienced at the Connelly was that it was very hard for us to fill the 99 seat house. (I can't image how shows assigned to the Lucille Lortel manage to get asses in the seats, but they do it all the time.) The truth is that we never did fill the house and the audience size didn't begin to pick up until the last two shows.

The Cherry Lane Studio on the other hand has a 60 seat house. I am optimistic that with a larger cast size and fewer seats that the actors will see fewer empty seats during the run. Only time will tell.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making an Icon: The Velvet Gentleman

One of our favorite things at Playlab NYC are the wonderful graphics that Robert Ullman has been providing for us for every production.

During the last year, in which we have been working THE VELVET GENTLEMAN, we have been using Suzanne Valadon's 1893 portrait of Erik Satie. Valadon and her portrait figure predominantly in Jon Steinhagen's script so it was a natural choice.

Once the show was accepted into the Fringe this year, we got in touch with Rob and sent him a couple of different pictures of Erik Satie so that we could get started.

Our hope was to generate a graphic that represented some kind of Rob Ullman style riff on Suzanne Valadon's painting. Because Valadon's portrait of Erik Satie appears in the show as a character, our first idea was to have a graphic that suggested René Magritte's 1947 oil painting The Liberator.

Below is the first sketch Rob sent us of Satie as The Liberator.

It looked exactly the way we had imagined. Seeing it on the page, our fear was that it would be too much like our portrayal of Valadon's portrait on stage and perhaps it was too literal a take of an image for the show.

Sticking with Magritte, we pointed Rob towards The Dangerous Liaison from 1926.

The idea was that instead of the woman, it would be something like a Magritte's recurring image of the faceless man in a bowler hat , hiding his face behind the Satie portrait.

The feedback that we got when Jennifer and I passed the image to a couple of friends was that it looked like the silhouette was too similar to the portrait, and perhaps the clothing needed to be more contemporary. With Satie formally dressed in the picture, but with the man holding the picture to be in a t-shirt and jeans or possibly shorts. A more casual look.

Once we saw the sketch above we were sold. The image seemed to convey the idea of the fringe festival itself, with theater being presented on hot August New York days.

Our final request was that Rob would add a circle to the background of the figure. The other images that Rob had created for us were framed in a circle. While we didn't want the man with the portrait framed inside we were eager to keep the circle in some form.

In addition to a black and white illustration, Rob has always provided us with a color version. The color image is evocative not only the Suzanne Valadon painting but it is a wonderful contrast against the simple background.

We really do love having Rob's work on our website and marketing.

Thank you again Rob, for your all your help.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Soundtrack Series

On Thursday April 22, I went to the third edition of Sean Williams' and Dana Rossi's The Soundtrack Series at Waltz-Astoria. (Between this evening and Coffee Black Productions, I feel like I only see theater in coffee shops these days.)

On the third Thursday of each month, six writers present a ten-minute monologue about "the memories, stories, or tirades triggered every time they hear a particular song of their choosing."

Back in February, Jennifer went to the first evening with our friend Kate Erin Gibson. Unfortunately, we missed the March evening because it fell on the same evening as our Intellectual Property table reading. Jennifer also had a great time that night, talking about our friends in the area who would really enjoy the format.
Hosted by Dana Rossi, the monologues I saw represented a great mix tape of music and writers. Ben VandenBoom, Tabitha Vidaurri, Kate Spencer, Kevin R. Free, Tammy Oler, and Sean Williams.

I'm a wallflower, and I tend to feel like an outside in my own circle of friends. Before the show I did manage to speak briefly to a gentleman who told me that he was the owner of the Munch Cafe. He asked if this was a karaoke thing, I told him that I wasn't sure what to expect but that I didn't think there would be any singing. What we got was an evening of reminiscences about a variety of experiences, car accidents, trips to London, and may other topics that ran the emotional gamut from depression an humiliation to triumph and just out and out laughter.

There was a ten-dollar minimum, and while I have no problem paying for a wonderful evening of entertainment, I have to admit that it is hard for me to find $10 worth of tea to drink. (Mind you Waltz-Astoria sells sandwiches and desserts, but I had arrived having just had dinner with my family.) A few tall cups of tea into the evening, and with a full bladder I ultimately just handed one of the owners the rest of my money and told him, "Let's just say I spent ten dollars."

I measure the success of a work of art mostly by one question; does it provide inspiration? I am able to consider our show Perfectly Natural a success because an audience member told me that not only did he have a good time, but that his wife left the show talking about being inspired to return to acting. By that standard, The Soundtrack Series is a tremendous success because Jennifer and I have both talked about being inspired to reflect on the soundtrack of our own lives. Who knows, maybe we'll end up with a monologue of our own.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the Works: The Velvet Gentleman

On Tuesday we gathered again at Theatre Row Studios to read and discuss the latest draft of Jon Steinhagen's The Velvet Gentleman: Being the Unusual Life of Erik Satie.

A year ago when we had our first table reading, the script had a cast of eight. This latest version has come down to a more manageable group of five. Back with us were Ted Schneider, Molly Garber, Bob Leeds, and Jonathan Wiener. New to the mix was actress Dale Soules. Also on hand to provide her thoughts was Jess Hooks.

I cannot begin to articulate how excited I am to have this group of artists reading and discussing the show. When working on an independently produced show you have to be prepared for inevitable casting challenges. People get paying acting jobs or become unavailable for a variety of other reasons. It is a fact of life and there isn't much you can do about it. But for at least this evening I had assembled exactly the group of people I would want to take right on to the stage.

The script still has stripped away the interaction of the theater company performing the play. It had been my hope to build this troupe from the ground up with the cast. I saw that based on the discussion after the reading with the actors that I could spend a year fleshing out the Altoona Dada Society. I am afraid that I haven't the skill as a director to accomplish this, and am going to have to change my approach to the material.

Jon Steinhagen has become increasingly enthusiastic about creating the cast of characters that make up the small town Dada Society. The plan now is that he is going to spend the next couple weeks working on the group dynamic, creating scenarios that will play out around the edges of the performance of "The Velvet Gentleman." Jon had worked out a short introduction to the show where we meet the Dada Society's members and find out a little about the origin of the show. We didn't get to read the introduction out loud because of the animated conversation after the table reading.

We will be hearing from the New York Fringe Festival in the next couple weeks so the next time everyone gets together we should not only have a new script, but we should know if we will be asked back to participate at FringeNYC for a second year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What We Eat? Building the Successful Theater Company

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

Building the Successful Theater Company

by Lisa Mulcahy

I don’t think I am the intended audience for this book. Fifteen years ago when I was just coming out of a small Ohio college, I might have found a lot in Building the Successful Theater Company to inspire me. Today though, I found little in the book that was useful.

Lisa Mulcahy has complied her book from interviews with the heads of fourteen different theaters from around the country. The companies offering practical advice and from the trenches stories include Steppenwolf Theater Company, The Pasadena Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Jean Cocteau Repertory, Bailiwick Repertory, New Repertory Theatre.

The whole book follows a structure that Mulcahy sets out on on page two.

“So, what makes a theater company successful? Primarily, the formula for success is a combination of a sharp artistic focus, a smart objective business viewpoint, a fully operational venue, and a big-picture plan.”

I don’t think she spends nearly enough time exploring the development of a theater’s mission statement. A successful mission statement is difficult to create, and is important for finding board members, programming shows, and raising money. She talks only in very broad terms about fundraising, suggesting that companies hold fundraisers. What she does spend a a great deal of time talking about securing a permanent home. This is a fine goal I suppose, but we’re independent theater producers in New York and it is not likely that Playlab NYC will ever be in a permanent home. It honestly isn’t even a long range goal, although my managing director might disagree.

The seven and a half years since the publication of the book have been very hard on some of Mulcahy’s “successful” companies. The Jean Cocteau Repertory dissolved in 2007. Bailiwick Repertory Theater closed in September 2009. The Pasadena Playhouse closed in February 2010 and is looking into filing bankruptcy.

The book seems to be written for a young people who have no experience in the day-to-day realities of regional theater, young people who dream of establishing a theater in their small town. I would like to see a volume that was focused on building successful independent theater companies, with interviews from successful companies like The Civilians, Les Freres Corbusier, Keen Company, or Vampire Cowboys. That would be a practical from the trenches book that I could recommend.