Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Launching Northlight On Campus with a Supportive Faculty

Our after-school portion of the Northlight On Campus (NOC) collaboration with Fairview South School in Skokie started on Monday, Nov. 15 with 25 students participating.  We are offering the program on Monday afternoons which is lovely because it’s the early release day for students.  This means that (1) there are no other after-school activities that day, and (2) teachers are required to stay on campus that afternoon. So, we are in a position to have the undivided attention of our students, and the ability to have teachers drop in and visit us.

A bit of background on the program: We wanted to give an underserved suburban school free theatre programming that would impact every student in grades 6-8 over the course of 2 years on campus.  The reality of Fairview’s situation – and it is a common reality for a number of junior high and middle schools in our area – is that the school has not had any theatre programming for students in over 15 years.  Also, their students filter into a high school with a very strong theatre program, so their 8th graders are arriving as freshmen unprepared.  We wanted to make sure that there was exposure to professional theatre and opportunities for students to get involved in theatre arts on campus.

Off the bat, what surprised me about Fairview was the interest of the teachers.  I met with five teachers and the principal before we started the program, and they were all encouraging of our collaboration.  They asked how they could get involved and if they could observe our teaching artists to learn from their work. The level of kindness and curiosity on the part of the faculty is humbling. We are forging important relationships not just with the students, but with the faculty, and that is incredibly rewarding.  We had three teachers and the principal observe the first day of NOC.  It was the best kind of observation.  They were there to encourage and support the students.  The teachers proudly pointed out students who needed this outlet for their creativity. I did not anticipate that the lack of theatre programming had not only been impacting the students but the teachers as well.

I look forward to seeing how this relationship develops with such engaged teachers.  It has become a new goal to create more opportunities for teachers to get involved in our programming.  I have not worked with a school where so many faculty members are eager to collaborate with us, so I want to make sure we seize this opportunity.  

Monday, November 29, 2010


More than once this holiday weekend I winced at the cynical attitude toward new work floating around online, theater critics and award panelists shrugging and declaring a dearth of good new writing. The promotion of adventurous new work has ever been an uphill battle, an achingly familiar topic of countless conference break-out sessions and drunken rants at the corner bar but this is a weekend of thanksgiving, and to contradict the crossed-arm nay-sayers I feel an itch to write that there's much to be thankful for, and tops on my list is working with Clubbed Thumb on SuperLab, which is now up and running and hitting its stride.

SuperLab got some attention in the press a few weeks back, which is nice, but what wasn't really acknowledged is what makes this lab series particular -- what makes it, ahem, super. I mean, theaters develop new plays all the time, and separately from one another Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons produce more developmental workshops than we do together. What makes this program new is the way it strengthens the relationship between two theaters who share artistic values and a devotion to advocating new American work, but who far from share a budget category or an infrastructure. Maria Striar has eloquently compared us to the "ibis and the hippopotamus," a symbiotic relationship found between two totally divergent animals. I feel like this collaboration highlights a functional pattern in our theater ecology: a theater dubbed "downtowny" and a theater dubbed "uptowny" sharing notes and working toward the same goal.

Perhaps the mindmeld that Maria and I have developed is reflected in the fact that we never once discussed that SuperLab is a writer-driven program; we both assumed it would be so. Each step of the way, we're taking our cue from writers, shaping each lab around the moment-by-moment needs of a writer's process. At the completion of our first SuperLab, Madeleine George's play SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND, I left with a stride in my step. Maria's blog entry describes the work we did in the room, to which I would only add that part of the success of this first go, in addition to seeing sharp, lovely play get even sharper, lovelier, we saw a great alchemy take shape between two theaters. This collaboration can only fly thanks to our staffs working side by side: Alec Strum and Kelly Hires from the PH literary department; Lisa Donadio and Alaine Alldaffer from the PH casting department; Diana Konopka, Maria's cohort and left brain at CT; and Sarah Krohn, who's helping with casting on CT's end. We're also blessed with Ann Thayer, SuperLab's Project, tirelessly acting as the liaison between both companies and each creative team.

In the last month, we programmed our next three labs. In December, we'll be spending time with Andrew Dolan's play THE MANY MISTRESSES OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, directed by Hal Brooks, and also Janine Nabers's play ANNIE BOSH IS MISSING, directed by Davis McCallum. In January, it's David Adjmi's 3C, directed by Jackson Gay. As I type this, we're in the middle of casting and designing these labs.

For these people, for these plays, I'm thankful.
--Adam Greenfield

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Back from the road

Well I just got back from the first ever Dad's Garage Euro Tour. The show, Kill The Dog, was running simultaneously in Atlanta and on the road. It was a wonderfully successful tour (you always know it was a good outing when you can gather up a handful of invitations to more festivals for next year) and it got me thinking about our online project.

Kill the Dog

Whenever we tour it's like we get this brief window of opportunity to connect with other artists and companies and audiences, and then it's over. The room for deepening those relationships is narrow. Our online presence should be seen not only as a tool for cultivating our own audiences at home, or recognition of our company nationally, but also as a means of maintaining a connection with all of the wonderful folks we meet on the road.

I'm not sure exactly how we can make sure that our online content is getting seen by these people, that's something to keep musing on. But it struck me that we now have a way of exposing our international colleagues to a much larger slice of our work and that interaction should only lead to stronger relationships.

Musings from Project Coordinator Ming Lo...

Our endeavor is to determine whether it makes sense to set up an Asian talent agency in Los Angeles.  To that end, we are interviewing people in the industry, both one-on-one and in groups.  Truth be told, all projects want to morph and expand.  Human nature can’t resist diving into nooks or crannies, or jumping onto another path that might be a bright new idea.  And in fact, the brainstorming, the new ideas, are a critical part of the process – I mean, there might be a gem of an idea lurking in some dark corner.  Still, the challenge is to always ask, “Is this useful?  Does this take us in the right direction, toward answering our original question?”

For example, the original idea was to determine whether it made sense to set up an Asian agency.  Then there was the thought, “Perhaps we should really be setting up a management company,” which is a very valid question.  Then we had a focus group conference call, and another idea came up – “Why don’t we set up a national online database for Asian actors that acts as agent for such actors across the country?”  Both very good ideas.  But now the execution problem.  If you think about it, this is actually three different business plans, three different business models. There’s some overlap between the agency and the management company ideas, but that would mean running two different financial models.  And the national online database is an altogether different animal.  Don’t have time to run three financial models.  But, you still have to make some effort to answer the question.  Hmm… perhaps we run three very rough models, not as much detail in each.  But that would be very back-of-the-envelope, and would the back-of-the-envelope be accurate enough to be useful?  Okay, that falls into the TBD pile.  Also known as, Tune in Later To Find Out. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Austin Scenic Coop Forging Links

Austin Scenic Coop Forging Links:

New Works Community, Mellon Foundation, Sustainable Theater Project

The last month or so has brought some exciting news. A coalition of Austin theater groups and artists has formed to carry out a research and development project very similar to the one the ASC is engaged in with TCG support. Its aim is to determine the best means by which the Mellon Foundation can support the production of new work in Austin. The Scenic Coop is participating in this effort.

Some background: last year the Mellon Foundation contacted members of the Austin theater community with a suggestion. They had identified Austin as one of three cities known as an incubator of new work (not an exhaustive list by any means, just three smaller scenes with that reputation), and wanted to support that effort. But how do you throw something substantial behind such an ephemeral notion? The Foundation’s suggestion was “You tell us.”

So, a variety of theater folks with a focus on creating original works began to meet and discuss this. Areas of specific study were named, including Audience Engagement, Resource Sharing, Communication, ways of dealing with Austin’s geographical and cultural isolation, sustaining suitable living standards for arts workers, etc. After some many months, a proposal was drawn up, thanks in large part to the diligence of Katie Pearl and others, and the Foundation agreed to it. The result is an 18 month long process of compiling info on the needs, opinions, suggestions, warnings and potential of as many Austin artists as possible.

Clearly, in the area of Resource Sharing, the ASC dovetails perfectly with the New Works Community’s proposed goals. I have been attending meetings and am preparing for a retreat in January to coordinate the launch of the NWC proposal’s next phase. This process has brought the ASC to the more acute awareness of the community, and the feedback I have received has been eye opening. Among other things, I have begun to think of the possibilities for sharing non-material resources. There is such a lot of work involved in dealing with physical materials that it is possible to forget that resource sharing is as much a creative conversation as it is an organizational undertaking.

In the meantime, the Coop’s inventory-taking is complete and a database is being built. The website is inches away from being published, and we continue to provide materials for a variety of projects, though on that front things are oddly slow the last few weeks.

A meeting with Salvage Vanguard Theater’s Artistic Director Jenny Larson and the heads of the other organizations which headquarter at SVT’s space has yielded a plan to expand the storage capacity of the Coop, enabling us to begin taking donations again (we’ve been at capacity for a few months). The new area is directly behind the stage of the large theater at SVT, and will house foam, hardboard and marly for use by dance companies, as well as a general stock of elements and some of the taller pieces that have been wedged into the shed and existing storage bays. There’s a roll-up door too, which means that we can take things that won’t fit through a standard doorway. Wow. Cool.

Anyway, I guess that covers the latest action. Off for now,

Connor Hopkins

Friday, November 19, 2010

Superlab #1 recap

Here's my take on our first Superlab:

Madeleine was very ready to get to work on her script. She knew both what she wanted to work on, and what schedule she preferred. We worked for a few hours every morning, so she could use most of the day for revisions -- in fact one day we changed the schedule hours before, because she realized she wanted more time to write. She did not want/need a big, public presentation at the end, so it was just our literary staffs in attendance, more or less. She brought in many new pages every day, and did a good amount of on-the-spot editing, especially of a particularly symphonic scene. She added scenes that addressed filled in some gaps, prompted by actor's questions; the scenes were remarkably elegant and economical for brand new material. Adam and I attended the first and last readings, and popped in and out of the other two sessions, sharing thoughts. We were lucky to have such a strong cast, with faces familiar and new to both organizations. The final reading was a wonderful event and showed a script in great shape; it provoked a number of realizations that will lead to an even leaner next draft.

I've asked both Adam Madeleine to share their thoughts. Those will be coming up...


I will continue with stupid punny subject headings for some time, I think. Helps me ease into the discomfort of the blogging.

The preceding blog material was highly collaborative -- press release was shuttlecocked back and forth over the course of a few weeks, and the Times piece was born from a rapid fire email Q and A we had with Patrick Healy (Adam and I were literally hunched over a shared computer, taking turns, editing out loud). CT's associate director Diana Konopka having observed Adam, Madeleine George and I huddled together at times, pointed out that it's unusual for a process to have two literary/dramaturgical respondents involved. Adam and I have each separately worked with Madeleine in some depth and brought the ease of that history to our conversations with her, both together and individually. The relationships will configure a little differently in each of the following projects. Will this double attention be an asset? Or will we make our playwrights' heads pop off? I guess that remains to be seen, but good to be aware of it.

Southern Rep announces YO NOLA

Southern Rep, in our 24th year of bringing New Plays to New Orleans, is thrilled to announce the pilot program of an innovative arts and life-skills educational opportunity for a diverse population of traditionally under-served youth.

YO NOLA (Youth Onstage New Orleans, LA), will be a youth theatre company that is run via a free after school program, aimed at kids ages 7 to 12.

Each YO NOLA member will serve the company in multiple, rotating rolls, responsible for the running, operating, and creative output of this junior theatre company. Along with daily mentor supervised operations (including meetings with staff, board, and topic specific committees), members take classes in acting, writing, directing, design, stage management, marketing, fundraising and theatre business management. The company will produce original works, created by the ensemble, which will draw on current events and peer issues, as well as classic literature, fairytales and myths.

This exciting program will be lead by our newly hired Arts Education Director, Gamal Chasten. Gamal is a founding member of the performance troupe UNIVERSES and is a singer, songwriter, poet, actor and educator. Gamal has been working in arts education with high risk and underserved youth for ten years, with students ranging from grade school to graduate school. He has worked closely with incarcerated youth and done workshops across the United States and abroad. The workshops have ranged from introductory creative writing/poetry workshops to performance, theater, ensemble work, and acting. As a Program Director in New York, Gamal worked with the Department of Juvenile Justice. While at the Bronx Council on the Arts, he acted as the primary liaison for arts programming.

Gamal will be blogging about our practice sessions, and keep you updated as we begin work with our first YO NOLA class in January. The kids are going through an application and interview process, in an effort to create the environment of a professional theatre company from the very beginning. We're so excited to be getting started!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Clubbed Thumb's SuperLab featured in New York Times Arts Beat

Clubbed Thumb recently announced the launch of SuperLab , an innovative new play development program. A series of collaboratively curated play laboratories, SuperLab will support the creation of bold, risk-taking new works by living American playwrights.

The announcement was picked up by the New York Times Arts Beat, read it here:

Theater Groups Team Up to Help Playwrights Develop Works

Read the full press release announcing SuperLab here:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who will play my part?: Supporting the next generation of arts managers

As part of Center Theatre Group’s (CTG) work with emerging artists and arts professionals, we administer the Richard E. Sherwood Awards Programs. The Programs include the Sherwood Internship, a six-month, paid position offered to emerging and early careers arts professionals. The Sherwood Intern works to ensure successful administration of the Sherwood Award application and selection process. Last year, as we searched for the 2010 Sherwood Intern, we struggled with finding the right fit. We came across lots of candidates who had the right academic know-how, and artistic interests; but most had no real arts management experience. Through much searching, we ultimately found a great Sherwood Intern (so great, in fact, that last week we added her to our Education team in a permanent, full-time position), but the dilemma really stuck in the craw of our Education and Community Partnerships Department Manager, Patricia Garza.

Patricia is a 20-something arts manager with MFA/MBA in Theatre Management from California State University, Long Beach. And, as her degree implies, Patricia possesses that ideal 21st century combination of a right and left brain that function at equally high levels and in tandem. Patricia lamented, “Why don’t more arts management programs include work away from academia and campus? How are people supposed to make the transition from school to work?” And, as is her style, she offered, “Wouldn’t it be cool if CTG could connect emerging theatre managers with job experience.”
I don’t know…would it be?

So to give credit where credit is due: the notion for this investigation started with Patricia. But she really got me thinking. So much of our work in education focuses on building the audiences of tomorrow, and to a lesser extent the artists of tomorrow.
But what are we as theatre professionals doing to support the arts administrators of tomorrow? And is that our job?

Through TCG and MetLife, we now have the time and opportunity to investigate this idea with our Think It! Grant. Over the course of this year, we will embark on a research project, working with colleagues from the Los Angeles theatre and arts administration community. We will gather the opinions of academic chairs and graduate students. And we hope to collect lots of perspectives and voices, including yours:

If you are an arts administrator/manager…
Where and when in your life did the critical school-to-work bridge happen?

If you are a graduate arts management student…
What kind of program would help you get where you want to be?

If you are an academic chair or professor in an arts management program…
What kinds of real world experiences would complement the training you are providing?

If you are a theatre professional…
What role do/could arts management graduate students play in your work?

We are just starting our journey and would love to hear from you.

Next Steps: Broadening Our Perspective: Meeting with Our Project Advisors:
Terrance McFarland, Executive Director, LA Stage Alliance
; Angela Milanovic, Technical Assistance Programs Manager, Los Angeles County Arts Commission; and Terry Wolverton, Consultant.

Leslie K. Johnson
Director of Education and Community Partnerships
Center Theatre Group

Center Theatre Group’s education and community partnership programs are organized under three broad strategic initiatives:

AUDIENCES – helping audiences of all ages discover theatre and its connection to their lives

ARTISTS – investing in the training, support and development of emerging and early career artists and arts professionals who are the future of our field

ARTS EDUCATION LEADERSHIP – working to improve the quality and scope of arts education in Los Angeles County

Our exploration of how and whether CTG could/should develop a graduate level intern program supports the second strand of this work. To review our entire Strategic Design for Education and Engagement, please visit Center Theatre Group's website here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Anthony Runfola Reflects on Sustainabilty, Design, and Planning

How does sustainability affect design? Throughout the grant, I have always been of the mind that an artist should never have to compromise their design for sustainability's sake. You can only ask an artist to go so far with scenery made from tires or recycled plastic water bottles. And if reduce, reuse and recycle is the mantra of the green movement, I am finding it more and more difficult to work "reduce" into the artistry/sustainability equation. So where does that leave us?

The initial impetuous for this grant was to investigate alternative materials. We found lots of great options, but so far none have been cost effective for the average budget. Speaking to manufacturers about buying in bulk or creating a regional co-op in an attempt to lower the per-sheet price hasn't proven feasible either -- the reason we are told is that the process of harvesting and making wheatboard or bamboo plywood is so expensive at this point that there isn't much latitude in the pricing.

Scenic co-ops are great up to a certain point. But at Childsplay, I don't think we've ever needed a "standard" 4'X8' flat in the time I've worked here. Our touring productions are so specific in their requirements that even we can't reuse most of the sets, ourselves.

Many theatres have started to hire one or two designers to work for an entire season. This certainly seems like the beginning of reducing the amount of materials that go into a set. So...is sustainable stagecraft all about the planning? How do we change our thinking enough to be creative and sustainable?

-- Anthony Runfola, Childsplay Production Manager

Current Musings from Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda

Hi A-ha! Followers,

It’s been an interesting process from inception to this point in time. Ming Lo our chief researcher for our talent agency project continues to interview people. Our referrals along the way have been great resources. We have another interview this coming Monday with a man named Jerry Velasco. Jerry Velasco’s resume reflects his persistence in achieving his goals and has been successful in different careers including: producer, publicist, arts advocate, union organizer and as a personal manager. I like his mantra, “If you believe in what you are doing, you will achieve your goal. Si se puede!” (Yes, we can! Hm sounds familiar) As an Advocate for the Arts, the labor unions and Latinos in the Entertainment Industry, his work has brought tremendous hope and encouragement, especially within the U. S. Latino community. The reason I’m excited to talk to Jerry is because at one point he wanted to open a Latino specific talent agency and I’m anxious to find out why this didn’t materialize. This was many years ago so times and attitudes have changed.

On September 27 we had a teleconference with various artists, entertainment execs and community people. Ming Lo moderated the conversation. This was an opportunity to hear from potential actor clients as well as those who might hire our talent. Some of the issues addressed? Who would the agency benefit the most? Newbies, mid-career, veteran actors? Would an online national talent directory be more beneficial? Would there be a conflict of interest with East West Players (EWP) with regard to casting our mainstage productions? Would casting directors look at EWP agency as marginalized talent population? What would be the incentive for agents to stay? What are the benefits of being an all APA agency? How do people feel about non-Asians being represented? And what are the possibilities of partnering with another agency? As expected questions opened doors to new questions, new challenges and new opportunities!

Overall some of the conversation I found predictable. I went in thinking that while the agency would be a great place to cultivate new emerging talent, it would be a challenge to have veteran artists cross over. Why would anyone want to leave someone who was doing a great job for them (although actors are notorious for changing careers many times during their lifetime)? As predicted a recurring response that continually emerged was that the agency would probably best serve younger artists embarking on their careers. No surprise to me. The great idea that sprung from this response? Why not consider partnering with a bigger, well known and established agency that you can feed your artists into once they outgrow our agency? That was truly an A-ha! moment for me! This could be a great symbiotic relationship provided we find the right match. If I knew an agency that had a relationship with a well known and established agency and there was potential that I could one day make the leap to that agency…would I become a client? You bet! I don’t know how common this is in the agency world but it does exist. (Of course, Ming brings up very practical concerns on the feasibility of exploring these new ideas, given our time constraints and resources; but I will let him speak to that in his blog.)

My stomach is grumbling so I’m going to grab some lunch. I do look forward to letting you know how our conversation with Jerry Velasco goes so until next time…bye for now!

Marilyn Tokuda, Arts Education Director, East West Players