Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is 'Literacy' the Right Term?

The Parking Lot where we put ideas that might deserve more conversation at a later time. You can see the big ideas sprouting throughout the day from "WIA – the Workforce Investment Act" to “What is diversity” to “Is ‘literacy’ the right term.”

Jane talking about the literacy center – Not trying to teach people to read, but to give them a positive experience with a piece of literature so they can go out and find meaning in what they read.

This was toward the antennas went up because we moved into generalities about Book-It’s work. I pushed for us to be specific, and to support our ideas with evidence. They said I looked more like a bull.

To close, here is an image of our original “Vision Exercise” that happened at the beginning of the grant. During a break we looked at what we imagined the literacy center to be back in November – we saw assumptions and ideas that are affirmed by the information that’s been gathered to date.

Two big things that came up at the very end of the retreat are:

  1. We need to talk more about our work as a theatre. Are we trying too hard to become something else? Does our theatre inspire literacy in our community? Or does it promote something else?
  2. What does inspire mean to us?

We are mid-way – Sha-woo...

--Gail Sehlhorst, Book-It

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

News from Childsplay’s Third Sustainable Stagecraft Summit

At our third Sustainable Stagecraft Summit, the participating organizations gathered to review our first two meetings and discuss what can be done to begin to fill the gaps between our desired sustainability and the resources that are available to us now.

Overwhelmingly, the theatres agreed that improving communication during the design process can improve the sustainability of our scenery and the personnel who build it. Working through Midsummer illustrated the great benefit of involving the technical director from the start of the process. However, it will require an understanding on both the designer/director and TD of why they are all in a room together. Some artists may resist the presence of production person so early in the process, while some TD’s might feel like they are there to squash ideas before they’ve had the chance to fully evolve. The real benefit lies in the TD understanding the design on a much deeper level, which could inform the decision making process once the scenic design gets down to “value engineering.” For directors and designers, the TD’s presence early the in process could help to focus ideas on what’s possible given the theatre’s production time line and budget.

It was agreed that any thoughts of sustainability go out the window as opening night draws near. How could the energy that goes into these final weeks be re-directed to the front end of the process? Would it help keep your design process consistently on time? Would this yield a more productive working environment during technical rehearsals?

It was noted that production timelines are often determined by the needs of the box office. It’s difficult to change one process without looking at all processes necessary to produce theatre.

The idea of a centralized depot or co-op (as our colleagues in Austin are creating [Salavge Vanguard]) came up several times. The question of the financial feasibility of such an organization came up each time. Operations, fee structures, and space were ongoing concerns. Because of the disparate operating budgets of area theatres it’s likely such an operation would be highly attractive to the smaller companies, while the larger organizations would get less out of participating.

What gaps should we focus on now?

Materials – the thought that spurred this project: let’s stop using trees on stage. We have discovered that several potential alternatives (Kirei Wheatboard, PlyVeneer) are being developed, but as of yet, we have not found a product that meets most of the needs of scenic construction. We’re confident we will find the right manufacturer who will be interested in helping us realize our goal.

Funding – there’s no doubt that using a sustainable plywood alternative will be more expensive. We need to find ways to convince our funders that sustainability is important. In Childsplay’s case, the irony of a children’s theatre with a mission of “imagination and wonder” that is mortgaging children’s futures through unsustainable practices was not lost on the group. We need to tie our requests for support to causes, “asking for the right thing, the right way”.

Conciseness raising – as we learned at the first summit, recycling our scenery was a much more achievable goal than we had been led to believe in the past. The Think It grant allowed us to spend the time to find “the right person.” In our next blog post, we’ll be taking you though the process of the first two sets to have been recycled in Childsplay’s 33 –year history.

-- Jenny Millinger & Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Modifying the Original Plan

After determining that the time parameters on the A-ha! grant were too tight to actualize our proposal as initially conceived, we reconfigured it into a development collaboration. We'll have a development residency at Playwrights Horizons with whom we will co-curate a series and will be in residence with our own development projects for the year. We will also use resources to travel and continue the growth of relationships started by this grant, with the aim of laying the groundwork for future collaboration.

-- Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is a Culturally Specific Talent Agency Too Risky?

The question of being too focused.

This past month Ming interviewed with the “nuts & bolts” folks: lawyers, financial auditors, etc. As he compiles his findings, we turn the musings of this blog to another thread that arose in his interviews so far: the idea that an APA [Asian Pacific American) specific agency may just be “too focused.” Take one interviewee (a director of casting). He compared the idea to investing in stocks. Ming reports his thoughts as follows, “…often, to reduce risk, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, you need to diversify.” So, would an APA specific agency be just that? Too focused, and thus too risky?

Another interviewee may just agree. This interviewee (an executive at a major agency who happens to be an ethnic minority and a supporter of East West Players) cites her years of experience in the agency trenches for these words of advice. “Information is power.” A mainstream agency may have more access to information (think: opportunities) simply by the nature of the range of projects that would come through their doors…er, or in these days, emails. So, would being APA specific, in fact, do our talent a disservice?

Of course, we have to pause at this; because the underlying implication is that casting directors will only turn to this agency for APA roles. It is a danger we have acknowledged; and one of the reasons we hope this model will also be an advocacy tool. Can we broaden this way of thinking? How can we also establish connections that will open lines to non-ethnic specific roles as well as deepen the quality of connections to APA roles?

One Answer: The talent. Another casting person advised: The key is to be selective [of talent] and to be clear with casting [directors] on whether a talent is ‘ready’ or still ‘developing.’ [See previous blog: It’s a relationship business. (duh)]. One network executive goes as far as noting that sometimes it doesn’t matter who the agency or management company is. What matters is that the talent [that they support or represent] ‘is committed to the craft.’

So, these are some of the questions now face…

Do we believe in the stock of APA talent? (Pun sheepishly intended.)

45 years of APA focused theatre may say something to that. (Incidentally, we ponder: What would people have said if our founders did a feasibility study on starting an APA focused theatre in 1965?)

Acknowledging that we face these unique challenges, how can we approach the modeling of an agency prototype to address (and thus mitigate) these issues straight on? This is to be answered in the next steps of our exploration.

We thank our interviewees thus far who have been generously candid, offered many wise words of advice, and helped us see more clearly possible obstacles.

--Lisa Tang, East West Players