Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ask and You Shall Receive

We made huge strides recently in our research for this grant by actually talking with students! We gathered 12 students from our partner universities and advisors and talked with them about what their ideal internship structure would be in an organization. All the students were extremely enthusiastic and contributed so many great ideas!

Here are a few of the highlights:
• Students need to be paid for their work, especially at a graduate level.

Types of Projects/Tasks
• Students want project based work that serves the needs and increases the capacity of the organization.
• They would like to be supported with their tasks within a safe space to make mistakes.

Mentorship Opportunities
• It is very important to the students that their mentors are prepped through training emphasizing how to work with interns for the benefit of both the organization and the intern.
• Students would like ideally to have a comprehensive view of the organization, working in various departments first, then honing in on one specific area of focus.

Expectations and End Results
• What Students Want the Most:
-Access to the “players” in theatre companies and arts organizations.
-Understanding the politics and cultures of how different organizations work and decisions are made.
-Opportunities to mix and mingling with professionals
-Getting to know other interns—the people they’ll be working with in the future.
• Real Work Experience:
-Understanding use of real budgets, planning processes, and scheduling
-Being exposed to resources, product, and capital that really exist and mean something.
-Being placed in an environment where there are professional systems and protocols.
-Building a network.
-Making connections to larger community and national theatre trends.

A big special thanks to the following students for their insight and participation-your contribution to this research has been invaluable:
Hunter Bird, Lisa Dring, Mira Greene, Marisa Johnston, Jaeeun Joon, Chelsea Larkin, Yanda Li, Alex Lydon, Elena Muslar, Rachel Saltzman, Laura Swanson, Michael Vanderbilt, Erika Varela, and Ashley Walden

On a side note: Theatre Communications Group (TCG) had their annual conference here in Los Angeles and I was able to finally meet Mohammad Shatara, TCG’s Artistic Programs Associate who has been helping with everything to do with this grant so thanks Mo!

Here is a picture of him with Leslie and me celebrating TCG’s 50th Birthday out at the Music Center Plaza. Cheers to TCG for helping us to do this great research!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Post TCG conference buzz

I just got back from the TCG conference in LA. It was inspiring and educational, to say the least.

For me one of the unofficial themes that seemed to thread throughout the conference was the intersection of theatre with film/tv. I attended two sessions that explored the topic overtly, and the climax of the weekend was a conversation with Julie Taymor. Obviously she's an artist who has had huge amounts of success as a director of both live theatre and films.

It was heartening and exciting to see so many of the elements of our own innovation project bubbling up through out the discussions at the conference.

But like many of us experience, as soon as I returned home I was confronted with reality, ever challenging reality. For scheduling reasons I've had to push back production on our biggest DGTV project to date, which in turn affects the launch dates. It's frustrating but I'd rather get the cast I want for the project than release it at the planned time.

So I guess in the tug of war between artistic excellence and real world deadlines I've favored the former in this case. I hope it's the right call but only time will tell. What I do know for sure is that issues like this will continue to surface with increasing frequency as we strive to release more and more content on a more and more ambitious schedule. So I guess it's important for me to know how I want to handle it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unfinished business!

One last note, from our final Superlab participant, Erin Courtney:

Working with Maria Striar and Adam Greenfield on a Superlab of my new play Honey Drop has been the most productive development week that I have ever participated in as a writer. New play development is difficult because there are so many factors that must be “right” in order for true development to take place. Let me track in what ways this development process was so successful.

First of all, Maria Striar knew that my first draft of Honey Drop was not ready for a Superlab. I was sure it was ready to be rehearsed and contemplated in that format but Maria thought the draft was not there yet. Maria and I have worked together for many years, and we have recently been discussing my tendency to underwrite plays. Coming from a “less is more” approach, I often leave so much out of a play that the story does not get fully told and the audience is left wanting more, but not necessarily in a good way. So the first component in effective development of new plays is knowing when is the most beneficial time to be in a rehearsal room with actors and a director. I was sure Honey Drop was ready for a Superlab, but Maria could see it needed more time in the hopper. So I wrote more and a few months later I resubmitted the play to Maria and Adam. Both Adam and Maria decided the new draft was in a place that was ready for an intensive, collaborative, feedback oriented process.

The second effective practice that Superlab did so well is the ability to match the writer with a director who is experienced in new play development and who is the right aesthetic match for the play. In order to find the right director, Maria, Adam and I engaged in a conversation regarding my goals for the piece, the rehearsal approach that might best suit those goals, and they asked me to brainstorm what directors I had worked with in the past or what new directors I might be interested in forging a new relationship with. Maria, Adam and I were all interested in the work of May Adrales and we all felt she was the best director to work with on this project. Even though May has had a very busy season, she read the play in one sitting and emotionally connected with it right away. May and I had a long, very productive meeting where we discussed goals for the play. I expressed my fears about what parts of the play were pat or cliché, and she discussed the way she felt the play was emotionally true and places for further exploration. Like all good directors, she asked great questions and she listened intently to my answers.

The third element required for a great development process is casting. Playwrights Horizons and Clubbed Thumb both have an incredible relationship with talented actors who are experienced in new play development. I cannot over emphasize the importance of the actors’ input. artistic generosity and intelligence in this process. Casting this particular piece took quite a while but the Superlab team were able to cast a group of actors that Maria Striar dubbed “The All-Stars”. They are Bill Buell, Judith Hawking, Jenny Seastone Stern, Hannah Cabell, and Mike Iveson. All of these actors have a fearlessness in embracing new plays and a sharp eye for exploration.

The fourth step in a successful development is in the providing enough rehearsal time and space. Playwrights Horizon and Clubbed Thumb provided us with a great stage manager, Chuck Turner, a beautiful rehearsal space, copies of scripts and copies of new pages. We had planned to do an invited reading, but one of the actors had a family emergency. We decided to cancel that reading, but the Superlab team made it possible for us to schedule an extra rehearsal and a new date for an invited reading. This required extra time from the staff of both Playwrights Horizions and Clubbed Thumb, as well as additional money to pay an additional stipend to the creative team.

And lastly, there is the extremely important contribution of the feedback. Both Maria Striar and Adam Greenfield are two of the most experienced and effective dramaturges of new plays. They both have spent years listening attentively to the fragile birth of new work. They scheduled in plenty of time for listening, meeting with me, and then giving me time to respond in the writing. After the first read through, I asked for their feedback. Both of them gave me incredibly perceptive notes that I implemented during the week. After the week of rehearsal, they met with me again with a new round of notes and I wrote more. Then after the invited reading, we discussed the play once more and I am now in the process of integrating those notes. Their wisdom, their desire to take the time, and their ability to convey their thoughts in a useful manner are an invaluable asset to the completion of new plays.

I am deeply appreciative that I my play Honey Drop was selected to be a part of the Superlab and that each element of this process was so thoughtfully and professionally completed. Superlab is setting a new standard for quality play development and audiences and artists will benefit from their intelligent and passionate work.

Thank you,

Erin Courtney