Monday, October 31, 2011

How can we create sustainable resource sharing and green theater practices?

The Scenic Co-op, through Salvage Vanguard Theater, is committed to creating more sustainable and green theater practices. The Co-op is a set-share program. Our main focus is the reuse and recycling of set pieces, tools, flats, etc etc. We are thrilled to be receiving the Do It grant this year. The grant from TCG will enable us to move into the next phase of the Co-op. We will begin "phase 2" in earnest in November! This next era of the Co-op will be the era of "paid staff." This is very exciting to us. For the past few years the Co-op has been 100% volunteer run, and this is frankly not sustainable. Long term volunteers quickly burn out. Thanks to the Met-life/TCG Ah Ha Do It! we will be able to pay a part time coordinator, a part time office administrator, and two technicians for the day to day rentals and upkeep of our stock. In November the first step for us will be to start creating really clear systems and structures for the Co-op and start to push our on-line presence. Hand in hand with pushing our online presence is the desire to build our membership programs. The memberships to the Co-op will ultimately help it become a more sustainable program.
In the meantime, Connor (Co-op leader and coordinator) and I have been thinking about the question "how can we create sustainable resource sharing and green theater practices beyond shared scenic elements?" For the past year we have been gathering information about what the Austin community needs and what resource sharing ideas other theater and arts organizations around the nation are practicing.
We have gathered quite an extensive amount of information and have lots of ideas on what the community needs are and what steps we can take to begin to fill these needs. In mid-November we will be going to a community retreat to talk about our research findings and to decide which ideas to move forward with. Some ideas include, developing systems for shared space, shared law services, and shared book-keeping...
This fall will be a productive and exciting time for the Co-op. We are very much looking forward to building stronger and more sustainable systems of sharing resources and staying green.
-Jenny Larson, Co-op leader and administrator, Salvage Vanguard Theater

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Education and Ensemble

Well, we’re done with our first week of classes as part of our YO NOLA (Youth Onstage New Orleans) program down here in the Big Easy and I feel invigorated about the 4th and 5th grade students we have in class. They seem to be imaginative, thoughtful, interested in theater, and totally insanely fun people.

This year YO NOLA is working with Success Preparatory Academy, which is in the Treme-Lafitte area of the city. Like so many charter schools in New Orleans, Success has taken on as its mission to improve student achievement, test scores, school behavior, intellectual ability, nutrition, world outlook, etc. etc. And in fact they’ve been having a tremendous amount of (ahem) success; the students are thriving in the school environment. However, partly because of budget limitations, there is only so much art that can be offered, and here’s where YO NOLA comes in: a theater program, run by a local professional theater, for a school that lacks one.

The usual craziness of the first week happened here: setting up norms, figuring out where to go for class (the room we thought we were going to use is no longer available for said use which means now we need to use a different room, namely the cafeteria), giving students a (super) basic understanding of the history and tradition of theater, and making sure they don’t eat their cheetos during class. By the way, a real life exchange:

Me: “Lionel, stop eating cheetos out of your pocket. Save them for later.”

Lionel: (holding up his orange-tipped fingers in protest) “I’m not eating cheetos.”

The nice thing is that I have students with incredibly active imaginations. Wednesday, they all made tableauxs with their bodies of a pirate ship; all of the groups interesting, all of them different. Kaytlin’s group decided they would stand over her as if she were the prow of the boat. Potential titles for this tableaux: “The Pirates Three”, “Redbeard takes over the world”, and “The KB’s” (so named for Kaitlyn’s initials).

Perhaps most importantly, I want to give the students an understanding of what it means to be part of an ensemble. How do yoau work together? How do you decide on one idea when there are many ideas in the room? How do you gracefully allow someone else to shine? These are difficult concepts, and yet key parts of being in a theater group. Scratch that. These are key parts of being human.

Looking forward to continuing to update you all on my adventures in the land of YO NOLA.

-chris kaminstein, YO NOLA leader, Southern Rep Theater

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Introduction to Perseverance Theatre

Since this is our first blog post on the Aha! Think It, Do It blog, it seemed appropriate that it be more of an introduction to Perseverance Theatre and our project.

Perseverance Theatre was founded in 1979 by Molly Smith (now of Arena Stage fame) in Juneau, Alaska, the state’s capital (and third largest city) at a population just over 31,000. The name comes from one of the gold mines that defined Juneau's early history, but it is also an apt name for a non-profit arts organization. It is important to note that there are no roads in and out of Juneau, it is only accessible by boat or plane.

Now in our 33rd season, Perseverance is the state’s flagship professional theatre with an operating budget around $1million, and this year we are launching a new initiative to help us serve more of our vast state. Starting in the winter of 2012, Perseverance will produce a second season in Anchorage. We envision a model in which productions originate in Juneau and transfer to Anchorage – 700 miles from Juneau as the crow (or Alaska Airlines) flies – for a second run, allowing us to not only spread costs across a larger audience base, but Anchorage’s location on the road system makes it an access point to the rest of the state.

This raised the question: What if we are able to use the economic engine of multi-city operations to support a statewide company of artists? Is it sustainable, and will it strengthen the artistic and financial health of Alaskan Theatre artists?

Over the next year Perseverance Theatre will hold a series of conversations with stakeholders across the state. In these conversations we will examine specific questions including: How do we identify potential statewide company members? What skills will a statewide company member have and how do they differ from our current Juneau company? How do we continuously engage artists throughout the year both remotely and in person? What types of training are desired? How would they develop a collective identity? How would they be compensated? These conversations will take place in 6-10 Alaskan cities ranging from the more urban areas like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, to the more rural and bush communities such as Homer, Nome, and Kodiak.

From these conversations, Perseverance Theatre will identify up to 10 representatives from various cities in Alaska and bring them to Juneau for a 2 day retreat. At this point we will present a digest of our findings from the statewide meetings. These will serve as the springboard for a more in depth discussion around the economics of the company, how many artists would be involved, how they would be identified, and how Perseverance would serve them through job opportunities and training.

Artistic Director Art Rotch and Director of Education Shona Strauser recently held the first of these conversations in Skagway (just up the Alaska Marine Highway from Juneau), but we will cover that in our next post.

We look forward to sharing our experience over the next year with you!

-Ruth Kostik, Producing Director

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Starting Year Two!

There is so much to talk about as we start year two of our Northlight On Campus education program at Fairview South School.  We have done a ton of analysis on the first year of programming including student surveys, teaching artist surveys, analyzing assessment forms from the year, discussions with the school principal, etc.  Many of the structural components we implemented worked well last year, but there are still some that need adjusting. But more on that next month!

In this post, I want to focus on one of the most exciting NEW components of Year Two…a playwright commission! This year, we will be producing a fully-staged show at Fairview with students who have never had a school play.  Not only that, but it will be a World Premiere commissioned for our Fairview students.  We decided to do a city-wide search for a play/playwright. Here is the call we sent out:

Northlight Theatre’s Education Department is seeking commission proposals for a play for young actors.  Northlight, in collaboration with Fairview South School, is embarking on its second year of the new Northlight On Campus program which engages middle school students in theatre arts after school.  We are seeking proposals from playwrights to adapt a classic story for young adults into a stage play for performance at Fairview South School in spring 2012.  We are seeking a playwright who is interested not just in writing a script for students, but also interested in working with those students and actively participating with them on developing the play.

Playwrights should have some familiarity with teaching, though no previous experience writing for young actors is necessary. Playwrights must be willing to work with Northlight Education Director and Northlight Teaching Artists on script revisions as well as spend time with students in rehearsals on occasion. 

Project Description:
Northlight On Campus brings theatre to Fairview South Middle School for the first time in fifteen years.  Northlight’s mission is to expose students to theatre arts through a variety of programs that allow students to see professional theatre, perform in theatre on campus, study theatre in academic classes and work behind the scenes.  In its second year, Northlight On Campus will add a full production for middle school students to its roster of activities.  Students will audition for the production that will be commissioned expressly for the students.  Students will be able to interact with the playwright and perform the world premiere of the play in April 2012.

We are looking for playwrights to suggest a novel, legend, or fairytale that can be adapted freely by the playwright. Please consider that the play should be no longer than 60 minutes in performance, will have only minimal design elements (mostly built by students) and should be able to accommodate 20-25 student actors.

We received a number of thoughtful and engaging proposals.  Clearly, the playwrights who put their name in the hat were serious about the idea of getting to write for students who had never done theatre before.  Here is the proposal we chose!

Show Description:
In RODEO, a young, spunky girl, Cody, wants to ride rodeo with the fellas.  Of course, she's laughed out of the ring.  No one knows she can ride just as swell as any boy cowpoke.  She doesn't quite fit in with all the young ladies of the town, and the cowboys hardly see her as a girl.  This makes it difficult for Cody since she is madly head over spurs smitten with Cab, the lead bull rider in the ring. But Cab is already smitten with the lovely Maimie who teaches first through sixth grade at the local make-shift school house.  So, Cody sets out to win the respect of the town and the affections of Cab by winning the major events in the county Rodeo, sponsored by her town.   She'll have to do it disguised as a boy, which makes it a mite difficult to flirt with Cab, but she finds unexpected encouragement from her family, good friends, her mule, and even Maimie.  What happens when the best cowboy in town .. is a cowgirl?

Playwright Bio:
Philip Dawkins is a Chicago playwright and educator. His play Yes To Everything! has been performed in Chicago, California, DC, New York, and Arkansas. Philip Dawkins’s previous plays for Northlight Theatre’s Education programming, EDGAR AND ELLEN:  BAD SEEDS and THE SKOKIE DETECTIVE CHARTER SCHOOL have both been published by Playscripts Inc ( and have now been performed all over Illinois, The United States, Canada, and Niagara Falls! Other plays include: You Gonna Eat That? (Healthworks), Ugly Baby (Chicago Vanguard / Strawdog Theatre Company), A Still Life in Color (T.U.T.A. Company), The Man with a Shattered World (Ethington Theatre), Saguaro(Estrogen Fest, Chicago; Estrogenius Festival, NY; 16th Street Theatre, Berwyn, Illinois; Painted Filly, Dublin); Perfect (The Side Project, Chicago), and Cast of Characters (Theatre III, Long Island),Dead Letter Office (Dog and Pony Theatre Co.), and The Homosexuals (About Face Theater). Mr. Dawkins is a Fellow of Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland and was a fall 2009 Playwright in Residence at the William Inge Arts Center. He is a founding member with Eric C. Reda of Chicago Opera Vanguard, and he teaches playwriting at Northwestern University and Victory Gardens. He also teaches Kung Fu to little, tiny, Chicago children. Hi-YAH!

We are so thrilled to work with Philip. I love this proposal because it is an underdog story, has great pre-teen themes, is a comedy, has a strong sense of genre, and has high theatrical potential.  In two weeks, we will head to campus with our playwright Philip and the teaching artists who will teach/direct this year to recruit students.  I look forward to hearing what the students think of the play. I will report back on that soon!
Devon de Mayo, Director of Arts Education, Northlight Theatre