Monday, January 31, 2011

Anticipating the Final Results...

Happy New Year!  We can't believe it's been a year already in this process.  The final focus group to present a business plan/proposal for the APA Talent Agency has been scheduled mid-February.  It has been quite a process and, as coordinator extraordinaire Ming Lo compiles and analyzes the year's worth of findings, all at EWP are very excited to see what questions are answered; what new questions need to be sifted out; and what the final conclusion/consensus will come from the community.  Is it a Yea for an ethnic-specific agency?  Is it a Nay?  Is there another model that we need to explore more?  After seeing the range of our research, what will be the feedback?

We look forward to sharing more after the final focus group in a couple of weeks...

Into The Classrooms At Last

January is upon us, and we’re actually present in the school. After such a long build-up, it’s so exciting to really be getting going.

Before the holidays, students were given applications to take home, and upon return in January, they scheduled interviews; which began this past week.

We are still dealing with the logistical twists and turns that come from working with a school that must really make funds stretch, while being ambitious about their academic programming. (But is it really any different in not for profit theatre companies?)

It’s interesting working with kids at this young age. Fewer of them have developed a specific interest in theatre (compared to work with high school students who have had more time for this focus to develop). In fact, there was one instance where a young man confessed he had only checked a box saying he had interest in acting at the urging and orders of his mother. But for the most part, there is already a real sense of excitement building from the kids. We’re going to have some tough choices narrowing down for the class size – but we should end up with a great group.

Being in the school, we get exposure to the strict atmosphere that is intended to keep kids in line, and focused on their studies. These are kids that are coming from a neighborhood that has been underserved for a long time – and they are being pressed to take school very seriously. And while Yo Nola requires a real commitment, we think that it might be just what these kids need – to get into a room and really play together. Playing with a purpose, and with defined goals, for sure – but creating something that comes from their hearts.

We are loving it!
More in February as classes progress.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Are Organizations Ready For This?

We had a very interesting discussion with project advisor Terence McFarland, Executive Director of LA Stage Alliance.

LA Stage Alliance is the go to resource for local theatres and thus is a great partner for us on this project to discover more about how we might identify and partner with other local Los Angeles theatre companies to provide “real world” professional training experiences for graduate theatre management students. Since LA Stage is a service organization they often work with a whole variety of theatres on a range of issues and opportunities.

Terence proved to be an invaluable resource as expected, offering to facilitate our talking with selected theatres directly and also asking lots of great questions about our idea. We got into a really meaningful conversation about “organizational readiness” to serve as a host for a graduate student: What infrastructure and capacity does any organization need to create a meaning and mutually beneficial opportunity for both the theatre and the student? Our initial thinking was to pair students with “small theatres” imagining that smaller theatres would have the most need and create the most opportunity for substantive work. But, Terence encouraged us to not just consider size (what did we mean by “small” anyways – number of staff, number of productions per year, budget size, size of facility) but to also think about things like – the presence of a leader at the organization who could serve as a management mentor, the theatres ability to offer an advanced learning environment, and their interest in nurturing new leaders not just having some extra hands to help.

Terence also offered an idea for further exploration: LA Stage Alliance has partnered with the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles to establish a prototype Hollywood Art Retention Project (HARP) that seeks to assist arts and cultural organizations to remain in Hollywood, and to bring organizations back to the area. The CRA/LA retained the services of LA Stage Alliance as the lead consultant to conduct in-depth facility and organizational needs assessments. Terence suggested that this project might be of particularly interesting to graduate students as it looks at involved theatres from a strategic vantage point, considering core organizational aspects such as long-range planning, budgeting, and organizational leadership. Could CTG place graduates as support staff in the CRA/LA projects? Would this type of internship be interesting to people studying arts management?

LA Stage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization empowering artists and engaging audiences since 1975, is dedicated to building awareness, appreciation and support for the performing arts in Greater Los Angeles strengthening the sector through audience engagement, community building, collaborative marketing, professional development and advocacy. LA STAGE serves over 500 arts organizations annually, 300+ dues-paying member organizations comprised of professional, educational and community-based producing and presenting performing arts organizations, with the remaining groups coming from the broader arts and culture community.
-Patricia and Leslie

About to take off

Why is it that when more time appears to be available less gets done? I’ve found it hard to post on this blog this month even though Pillsbury House Theatre doesn’t have a show opening for another month and a half. This has been a month for strategic thinking and, surprisingly, strategic thinking fills up as much time as is available to be filled.

Add to that the fact that we’re more than 2/3 of the way through our first Cultural Community Hub Institute—so it feels as though we’re perched right on the precipice of something—either a great fall or a really nice trip through the air. That sense of anticipation rather than accomplishment also makes it hard to think of what to say this month.

I can briefly touch on some of the ideas that have so far come about from the heads-togetheredness that has been happening here.

1. Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning, our building is packed with people waiting to take advantage of the Integrated Health Clinic (acupuncture, massage, etc.). Rather than just staring into space, six employees from different programs in the building are putting their heads together on what kind of artistic programming we might create and offer in what is essentially a clinic waiting room. It’s a captive audience. We should take advantage.

2. Last Monday, the Day Care presented a Martin Luther King tribute with singing and dancing on the Pillsbury House Theatre stage for the parents and surrounding community that was so wildly successful they have plans to do arts-related presentations with the toddlers every three months now. One of our resident artists was instrumental in motivating and assisting the Day Care Instructors in making this happen.

3. In a small coffee shop down the street, one of our resident artists has organized a bi-weekly open mic where teenagers from our youth program can present some of their work AND she’s called in her peers, some of the very spoken word and hip hop artists in the Twin Cities to serve as both guest artists and guest judges. So, youth in the neighborhood get to share their work publically, see incredible and successful artists in their field perform, and get feedback about their work from those same artists—all while chilling at a coffee shop on a Friday night.

All of these are just things that a bunch of people around this building have started to think about and make happen simply because they’ve been challenged to integrate the arts with the social service mission of our Pillsbury House’s parent organization Pillsbury United Communities.

Does it sound like I’m bragging or something? I don’t mean to be. I’m just kind of amazed—and I don’t think we’ve even really begun to do all that we can.
Here’s one idea that I especially like just for its simple unpretentiousness and fun. Not every idea has to reinvent the wheel:

4. During our Cultural Community Hub Institute, we kept hearing the refrain that employees were amazed at all the different work that was being done around them by other employees—that they didn’t know about. If only they knew. . . So a few staff members and resident artists are developing the idea that our monthly building Staff Meetings will be “hosted” by a different program in the building and that program will be responsible for entertainment and information around what they do with the arts and in the building. Food, exercises, demonstrations, whatever they feel they need to do to be good hosts. Sounds like a simple way to make staff meetings much more enjoyable while also connecting people in a way that is sure to be effective down the road.

. . .I think. . .

As I said above, we’re in the process right before take-off right now, so we’ll see over the next couple months how each of these develop and how we evaluate and define success with each endeavor.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Observe, Teach, Record.

As the after-school residency at Fairview grows and develops, we are starting to see the students take to process, and we are getting better and better at the process of capturing student growth via assessment measures. Assessment in the arts feels tricky to me because so much of what we do feels intangible/unmeasurable. I attended a lecture this fall by Ellen Winner who stressed that the arts HAVE NOT been proven to improve test scores. We’ve got find ways to measure what the arts DO improve, which Winner argued is scientifically proven to be student’s levels of empathy. Knowing this, and doing lots of research and study in the past year (including attending TCG’s Education pre-conference on assessment), we have developed multiple measures for tracking student growth in our residencies.

When we can have an observer in the room, we do. Often times, it’s me. And, while I personally have a hard time not jumping up and joining in, if I observe I can write down student quotes, note behavior, and track attention and understanding. Also, our teaching artists submit forms to us via google docs every week after class, so we can track goals, attendance, participation and engagement. Additionally now armed with our flip cams, we can also capture on video the student’s work and track progress week after week by visual documentation.

This past week was the first week with our Education intern, Elise Walter, joining us. As a recent college grad, she is learning first-hand about assessment in education. We had her join in with the students, and reflect on what she was able to assess from her interactions:
At Northlight’s most recent visit to Fairview Junior High School, I was given the chance to play: I was the twenty-third student. I worked in groups, did scene-work, and reflected with the twelve- and thirteen-year olds. During scene-work, I listened as my group outlined their ideas. We rehearsed together, at one point urging one of our fellow group-members to go further in her characterization of a scary, nasty spider. She laughed, blushed and gently shrugged off our suggestions. At some point during rehearsal, or perhaps while watching her classmates perform before her, something changed. When our turn came, she went for it: her body, voice, and face were totally and fearlessly engaged as a spider. I watched her surprise herself. To me, it was a profound indication of how much this student had gleaned from the residency thus far.

I look forward to posting more about how we track and then talk about student growth as we move forward. It is a topic that is on the minds of a lot of arts educators as we have to more vigorously defend our work, and I hope that it’s something we can do in a way that shows folks outside of our community what we do and how it’s effective.

--Devon de Mayo, Director of Arts Education, Northlight Theatre

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ideas are the new currency, or at least their packaging is

In case you have been in a coma for the last decade I thought I'd let you know that the power of mass media has recently shifted in favor of the little guy. By making production (video camera to shoot and a computer to edit) and distribution (free youtube account) affordable and accessible to everyone, the corporate control over what images we see on a daily basis is lessened to a great degree. Now being heard isn't a matter of WHO you are (as in - I can afford to pump commercials down your throat on broadcast television) but more of WHAT you have to say.

To me something like this is the perfect example:

This guy has a video that is only 1:30 long. It's the only video he's ever posted and it's on the topic of a fairly well worn debate. And nearly a million people have seen it.

The interesting thing is that the content of the video, the "idea" if you will, is not what drew that many people his page. It was the packaging of the idea. By synthesizing his whole concept down to one sentence "Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene" he was able to penetrate the white noise of the internet and actually connect with people.

So yes, the idea has to be good. But you also have to be able to package it in a way that communicates that. Which isn't always easy, but it's still a whole lot better than having to spend enormous sums of money.

And that's why Dad's Garage Theatre is so passionately exploring these new opportunities to have our voice be heard through our Do It! project.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

From David Adjmi ( Superlab #4):

Every playwright has at least one play in a drawer, possibly one he or she goes back to every now and again and thinks "Oh, maybe this could be something."Some plays exist in a kind of miasma and it's very hard to break them out of that. In 2005 I started 3C as part of a writing intensive at MCC theatre. I wrote the first draft quickly, in four or five days, and we did a reading, and it was an extremely thorny, undomesticated and odd play. And that became my play in the drawer.

I did a few readings of it over the years, but I knew it wasn't ready to be sent out and so I left it alone. So I do credit Superlab with saving my play from the orphanage of abandoned plays and letting me play around and figure it out. A week before rehearsals Jackson came over my house and we read the play together and I took notes and asked her some questions -- mainly about actions and obstacles.

My dramaturgy can get very conventional when I do rewrites, but it's good, because the plays themselves can be rather maniacal. I did an enormous amount of rewriting that week. I cut ten pages from the play and drastically changed what was the ending. When I came into rehearsal that first day we had no ending -- the play just kind of stopped.

During the first reading we got to the last page and, instinctively I just stopped the actors after a line in the middle of the page. Later I thought, "I think that's the last line of the play." I called Jackson and said, what do you think? And she loved it, and that's the last line of the play and I love it too. Most of the next four days involved sculpting the action of the main character, and building his arc. Some days we did it with the actors and sometimes we'd send the actors home and I'd sit with Jackson and my assistant Kelly and we'd talk it through together and I'd take notes (or I'd make Kelly take notes -- I can be bossy!). Then I'd go home and work in the rewrites all the next morning. Then I'd bug Maria Striar and Adam Greenfield. Then I'd bug the actors.

We all had an enormous amount of fun coming up with dirty lines for Marin Ireland in a particularly louche and silly scene. I don't think I've ever written so much or worked so hard in a development process. I just managed to get an enormous amount of work done. I felt so relaxed in the process and you can see it in the rewrites -- they feel so organic and alive, and I'm really proud of that. When one feels pressured in a process like this the rewrites get really mealy and stiff and perfunctory and blah, and there was none of that here -- it was a blast.

From Janine Nabers (Superlab #3)

I have been working on my play ANNIE BOSH IS MISSING on and off for a little over a year now. When I got the e-mail from Adam and Maria that the play had been selected for SuperLab I was thrilled that I had been given six days to work with some of the best artists in New York City to get my play into the shape I wanted it. And boy, what a glorious six days it was.

I moved to NYC in 2005 and enrolled as a playwriting MFA candidate at The New School for Drama. One thing that was so incredibly valuable about my experience as a student was being in the room with an amazing director and smart actors as they examine the words I’ve written over and over again. The six days of SuperLab sucked me back into that same creative vortex: rewriting until the early morning, coffee breaks and “aha” moments, living off cough drops and Airborne, throwing a rewrite out and then finding it in the trash and putting it back in, quick food runs to Lenny’s, actors discovering things in the play you never imagined, countless discussions about when and where and if there is an act break, Adam and Maria’s outstanding dramaturgy, director Davis McCallum’s hilarious play reenactments and laughter… lots and lots of laughter.

The week I spent with Playwrights Horizons and Clubbed Thumb was a tremendous one because every single day was devoted to my particular process. I happen to be a writer that puts a ton of pressure on myself so I managed to accomplish quite a bit of rewriting each night when I went home. But then again, that’s how I wanted it.

All in all I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. For a playwright who hasn’t had a production yet, SuperLab allowed me to get a sense of what the early process of that stage would be like. The week went by so quickly yet the work and relationships that were built were extraordinary and for that I am forever grateful to Playwrights Horizons and Clubbed Thumb. At the end of my six days I sat in the back of the room and ate awesome cookies while hearing my rewritten play read out loud in front of an audience. I always twitch when my work is being read aloud. Always. But this time I didn’t. I just ate the awesome cookies and smiled. Both Davis and I did. That’s how happy we were.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

From Andrew Dolan (Superlab #2)

As a relatively inexperienced playwright, wrestling with play #2, I feel like a blind

prospector who struck gold with SuperLab. Smart, experienced, congenial
theatre folk giving you their know-how, facilities and $200 to boot for script
development; yeah, I’ll take that, please.

I suppose my prickly play, The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King, was a
good fit. It provokes and challenges in the downtown manner while (mostly)
portraying the articulate, uptown Chardonnay set in a naturalistic, witty manner.
Most importantly, both the Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons people
“got” it.

You’re always pressed for time in theatre. The swift, professional manner of the
casting process erased any doubts I may have had about potential conflicts
between the two institutions. Everyone on the same page. “This is good.”

The question is asked: would I like a formal reading with invited audience at the
end of the workshop? You bet. Can’t make people uncomfortable with your play
(while entertaining them, while entertaining them!) if there are no people.

The Work.

Play cast. Director (Hal Brooks) chosen. Discussions had. We settle in for a first
read. Adam and Maria share thoughts afterwards. To my surprise, Maria has
trouble with what I would characterize as the more stylistically “downtown”
ending of the play. Indeed, in the weeks preceding the lab I had toyed with
scrapping the funky ending; going for pure naturalism.

But hearing the cast read (and working on it over the 6 days) I abandon that
idea. I see Maria’s (and others’) concern: the tonal shift plays too heavy. It’s not
“earned”. I agree and decide to earn it. I set it up MORE- double down on the
conceit- working backwards to layer in hints of stylistic changes to come.

Some of these changes I integrate into the week’s work with the actors. Others
in the revision I hand the next month. The end result is both more “theatrical”
(downtown-y?) but makes for a more coherent, integrated evening of theatre.

Other improvements include significant cuts to the script along with the addition
of two direct address monologues by the two characters who previously had
none. I’m very pleased with all the changes.

If platitudes in the blogosphere constitute the quintessence of cheese then my
apologies to all. The SuperLab teams from both theatres helped improve my play
profoundly. The script is tighter, clearer and less disjointed (or rather, no longer
disjointed). On a practical level, as my agent sends it out for consideration, it’s
got the imprimatur of two of New York’s finest theatres and that can’t hurt.

I only hope, and indeed expect, that the other SuperLab playwrights had as
much good fortune as I did. My eternal gratitude to Maria, Adam, and everyone
who played along.