Wednesday, January 27, 2010

East West Players Project Launched

And we also have East West Players today explaining some of the goals of their project and why it’s such a relevant endeavor.

East West Players is excited to launch our Think It! Project. Our project will allow us to explore the possibility of starting an Asian Pacific American artist talent agency within the structure of our organization.

Since 1965, East West Players has been at the forefront of Asian Pacific American performing arts. Today, our programming includes mainstage productions as well as adult acting and writing conservatories, youth outreach, professional career development workshops for actors, and behind the scenes advocacy in the major media networks. An APA artist talent agency would combine our mission of supporting APA talent (beyond the walls of our theater) with reinforcing our organizational financial stability (by creating another earned income revenue stream). At first glance, this seems to be a natural evolution for EWP. On a daily basis, our Arts Education Director receives casting calls for film, theatre, and television projects for APA talent. Currently, she forwards requests to our network of APA actors and community members. Often, many new actors in our network book jobs and receive their early experiences because of her referrals and behind the scenes support. However, on the other end of the process, we notice that casting projects generally only come to EWP to cast for ethnic-specific roles. This limits the amount of experience our new actors are exposed to as they hone their craft. Thus, at first glance, formalizing an APA talent agency seems to be a natural evolution. It will allow EWP to charge a commission for work we are already doing AND empower us to actively send talent to audition for non-ethnic specific roles that other agencies may not otherwise make available to them.

Through this Think It! Process, we hope to confirm whether an APA talent agency in our nonprofit business model is feasible, by exploring the questions that surround business structure, market demand, stakeholder buy-in, etc. We have already confirmed a talented business consultant, Ming Lo, who will join the project as an organizational project coordinator. Ming (who brings to the table an MBA from Stanford University as well as many years working in the Hollywood industry) will work closely with Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda to reach an ultimate goal of creating a business plan by the end of our grant period (2/29/2011).

--Lisa Tang, Development Manager, East West Players

Intro from Clubbed Thumb

The round two recipients of the A-ha! program continue to move steadily forward with their projects. Today we have an introduction and update from Clubbed Thumb

Clubbed Thumb commissions, develops, and produces funny, strange, and provocative new plays by living American writers. Since its founding in 1996, the company has earned four Obies and presented plays in every form of development, including over 75 full productions. Clubbed Thumb is a groundbreaker, with an unparalleled track record for finding emerging artists and producing innovative new plays; a matchmaker, cultivating relationships between theater artists through our development and production programs; and an incubator, nurturing artists and their work, from first read-through to fully mounted production.

Clubbed Thumb plays range in form and content, but are always intermission-less, 90 minutes or under, with no history of production in NYC. They feature equally challenging and substantial roles for both sexes, are questioning, formally inventive, theatrical, and contain a sense of humor somewhere in the text.
For years, Clubbed Thumb has been contemplating how to get our plays, playwrights, and productions into more theaters across the country. In particular, I hoped there were ways to extend the lives of the productions of our summer festival -- the shows are rehearsed for four weeks, and fully produced, but only run for one week.

For the A-ha! Grant, I proposed first looking for a partner, ideally a larger theater, and with them, mutually choosing a play, its artistic staff and its cast. The play would be developed (as needed/desired), rehearsed and presented in a one-week run in our June festival and then in a longer run at the larger theater, some time in the following nine months. There is equal money for both productions, and money to ensure that both parties will be able to be present for the key decisions and processes. There is a good amount of flexibility in this project’s parameters, and the kind folks at TCG have told me that it’s okay if it fails—that is, we can take the risks necessary to truly explore the project, without worrying about disappointing the funders (how great is that?) The only thing that is non-negotiable is that both partners must commit to producing the play. The truly difficult thing will be finding a play that compels both parties and that fits in the partner theater’s season.

Clubbed Thumb has been hard at work over the last few months, scarfing down plays and talking to theaters, from a few blocks away to outside of the lower 48, from modest budgeted theaters to major institutions, about 30 in all. The conversations have been enriching, worth it in and of themselves. I feel like we are building relationships with a number of these theaters that will carry into the future, sharing plays, development resources and practices, and hopefully, future co- production possibilities will organically arise. In a post-holiday spurt of frenetic effectiveness we will be attempting to touch base in the coming days… with every one of them.

--Maria Striar, Producing Artistic Director, Clubbed Thumb

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wrapup from Mo`olelo

The Round 1 A-ha! projects are coming to a close - today, Seema Sueko from Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company reflects on their recently-completed A-ha! project. Read it... then download the green guidelines and score your theatre!

Farewell Think it, Do it
From Seema Sueko, Artistic Director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company

The Think it, Do it experience has been an incredible one for Mo`olelo, culminating in December 2009 with the completion of The Green Theater Choices Toolkit. This 24-page reference guide that rates the environmental impact of materials used in theater production can be downloaded from our website here:

After our last Think it, Do it blog post in August 2009, we received some terrific and detailed feedback on the initial design of the Toolkit and decided to replace the + and – ratings with narrative information on the pros and cons of each material. No product is 100% good nor 100% bad (ok some are 100% bad) for the environment, and so we realized that the narrative information could be helpful to designers and producers as they make their design choices.

Our hope is that this Toolkit can be used not only to help theater practitioners select better materials for their work, but also by manufacturers and vendors to see the development opportunity that lies before them for environmentally friendlier products. Ideally, as more theaters demand better products, manufacturers will create them and our demand will drive down the costs.

Mo`olelo rated our own 2009 productions against the Toolkit and learned that we still have tremendous work to do to make our productions more environmentally friendly. We discovered that we had achieved a "4" top rating in areas of Audience Interface (marketing and printed materials), Metals (reused), and Ceramics (reused); a "3" on paints (low VOC); a "2" on woods (MDO); and a "1" on Textile Treatments (rit dye). As we work on our 2010 productions, we will use the scorecard to make stronger production choices.

Mo`olelo's participation in the Think it, Do it program brought with it many unexpected opportunities, including participating in the CUNY panel on Theater and the Environment in April 2009, the LDI Green Day Conference in November 2009, and the TCG Fall Forum "Green Opportunity" Breakout Session in November 2009. At this last Forum, we learned from Charlie Deull, Co-Chair of Broadway Goes Green, that Mo`olelo's greening work which began in 2007 served as a valuable blueprint for BGA as they launched their efforts to green Broadway. In addition, they have posted Mo`olelo's Green Theater Choices Toolkit on their website and have heard from others in the field that they are using it, too.

There were a number of individuals and organizations who contributed their talents to the development of the Toolkit. Brown & Wilmanns Environmental, LLC created the green choices methodology and conducted the in-depth research on the materials. Scenic Designer David F, Weiner, Costume Designer Jeannie Galioto, and Lighting Designer Jason Bieber contributed their knowledge in their respective fields. Bob Usdin of Showman Fabricators provided helpful feedback throughout the process. And most importantly, this project truly would never have been completed without the funding support from MetLife and TCG. Mo`olelo had applied to a couple local funders in San Diego, however they had difficulty supporting a proposal that stood outside of the traditional funding boxes of "arts" or "environment." The A-ha! Program embraced the opportunity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Childsplay’s Sustainable Stagecraft Initiative

Today, Jenny Millinger and Anthony Runfola of Childsplay give us an update of their project so far…

Childsplay defines itself as an ensemble that creates strikingly original theatre (theatre that is curious, fresh, fearless, and empowering) and engages its community in exploring the intersections between artistry and learning. The impetus for this project came out of both the company’s longstanding frustration over the waste created in theatrical productions and the potential for treating sustainable design as an artistry/learning intersection for our audiences and ourselves. We also needed to walk the talk – after 32 years of producing plays that encourage social responsibility, the staff felt strongly that its stagecraft should embrace environmental stewardship.

This initiative is all about finding practical, realizable, and cost-effective solutions to making our design and production process more environmentally friendly. We want to explore solutions from a variety of perspectives: materials choices, design choices, and potential industry-wide practices. For example, rarely are products developed specifically for use in stagecraft – we usually adapt products made for other industries to meet our needs. We want to explore whether we as an industry have the buying power to encourage manufacturers to create products that meet our needs and are environmentally sensitive. A great example is sheet good lumber such as plywood. Through this initiative, we will begin looking for alternatives (particularly non-wood alternatives) that maintain the best properties of plywood (e.g. can be cut, can absorb paint, etc.) and that come from a renewable resource. We also know that a significant part of the solution lies in the stage design itself. We plan to bring together a group of designers to discuss alternative approaches to materials, geometric constraints, and other conceptual choices that could lead to a more sustainable product. Finally, we recognize that we are not alone in creating significant waste from our productions. We will look for potential partnerships across the performing arts to develop cradle-to-cradle solutions for production waste. Ideas include a central location for used scenery, props and costume pieces to be either re-dressed for other productions or disassembled for reuse/recycling.

We look forward to hearing from the industry of similar efforts and ideas that have either succeeded or successfully failed in your theatres. Please view this as an invitation to post your comments about your own sustainable stagecraft efforts – whether you are doing it or thinking it!!

--Jenny Millinger and Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

A-ha!: Refreshing the Process

As the new year is still fresh, we thought it would be a good time to RE-refresh minds on the program and introduce it to those of you who are newcomers to this blog. The MetLife/TCG Ah-ha! Program: Think It, Do It was created to encourage and foster creative thinking and action among TCG member theatres. A-ha! has two components: Think It grants (up to $25,000) give theatre professionals the time and space for research and development, and Do It grants (up to $50,000) support the implementation and testing of new ideas. Over 180 TCG Member Theatres submitted proposals for the second round of the program, and five of them received grants.

TCG is proud and delighted to present the second round of A-ha! recipients with a brief summary of their exciting projects. In addition, Jenny Millinger and Anthony Runfola of Childsplay give us an update of their project so far…

Visit us again to read more from this group of recipients while they share their process with the field as their projects move from thoughts to actions.

Think It!
Book-It Repertory Theatre will investigate the feasibility of a long-term partnership between Book-It and other non-profits to create a literacy-based theatre arts complex that nourishes their entire community.

Childsplay will convene experts from theatre design, manufacturing, recycling and sustainability to explore in depth strategies for implementing green initiatives (renew/reuse/recycle) in stagecraft.

East West Players proposes to develop an artist talent agency and diversity advocacy prototype, leveraging their theatre as a resource for performing opportunities and artistic career development and establish them as a resource for Asian Pacific American talent.

Salvage Vanguard Theater will undertake an exploratory process to develop and test a business plan for a production element co-op (scenic, lighting, costume) for small to mid-size companies in the Austin, Texas theater community.

Do It!
Clubbed Thumb seeks to partner with a larger theater to co-curate an upcoming production. Both partners will mutually choose, staff and cast a play to be produced at Clubbed Thumb’s June festival and then in a longer run at the larger theater.


Over the coming months, this blog will be updated with images, text, video, quotes – anything we can think of that might help the field learn from these projects. We want to share what’s working and what isn’t working.

Feel free to comment, email or interact with us and the recipients in any way you can think of! This blog is for you, the field!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Welcome back to the Aha! Blog

Welcome back to the A-ha! blog: 2010 edition! To start the new year, Hayley Finn from the Playwrights Center reflects on their now-completed project:

After launching our trailers on the website and sending DVDs of the trailers to artistic leaders across the country, we evaluated the initiative through surveys and conversations with theatre professionals. To recap, the goal of the project is to promote new plays by creating high-quality online video trailers. That means working from a treatment rather than recording a performance, and using a professional videographer, equipment, and editing to approximate a movie theater preview.

The response from our survey was for the most part very positive. Respondents called the project “an outstanding way to showcase the playwright’s work in such a short period of time,” “an excellent concept,” and “a succinct way to introduce me to a play.”

Some, however, felt that the trailers, shot on location in an apartment, a restaurant, and in New York City, were too far removed from the theater, and risked becoming their own short films. Similarly, some respondents felt that two to three minutes was too long for a teaser. And others wanted more of a sense of the narrative arc of the play.

We have been able to continue the project with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Our challenge for Round Two, then, was to maintain the visual excitement of the first three trailers while emphasizing that these plays are designed for the stage and fully capable of living and breathing there. We put some rules in place for the next five trailers: they would be filmed in our theater, be one minute long, and give the viewer an idea of the play’s plotline/themes, and style rather than focusing on a single scene.

We’ve got three of the five “Round Two” trailers on the website now, and the next two are coming very soon. Once we have all five up we will be launching another server on our website and talking with people about their reactions to this revised format.

I invite you to view the trailer at

We're so excited about the new round of Aha! Projects (you can get more information on them here) - keep an eye out for upcoming posts from this new group of recipients.