Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Money for nothing and your rehearsal space for free?

Over the last year Connor and I have been engaged in research with the Austin theater community with a focus on resource sharing. We divided our areas of research up into: stuff, space, and staff (or people, things, and places). With each area we did interviews and surveys and national research on other models of sharing that we may be able to borrow ideas from.

In our “space” research I talked to people around the nation, to find out what everyone else was up to, and Connor surveyed the Austin community to find out what peoples needs and wants were here in our home town.

Connor discovered that people primarily felt that the community needed more rehearsal space above all else, but it wasn’t just rehearsal space people wanted. They wanted free rehearsal space, with air conditioning, sprung floors, mirrors, space to leave your belongs, etc etc etc… the list of rehearsal space desires was quite long. As Connor shared the list with me I thought, “Yes, yes, yes, I want these things and need these things too! Rehearsal space is a nightmare to find in Austin! We need to do something about this.” Simultaneously, as an administrator who runs a venue, I found myself questioning why people think they should get this space for free?

There seems to be this sense of entitlement amongst artists in my community. I do believe, hence the Scenic Co-op, in sharing resource. I do believe, also the proof is in the pudding with the Co-op, in affordable resources. However, I may set myself apart from the larger community in that I don’t think free is a feasible option.

My admin brain wanders to questions like “who will pay to build or refurbish this rehearsal space? And who will then take care of it? And schedule it? And clean it? And shouldn’t we pay the person who helps to keep the place nice? How do we find that money? How do we pay to keep the lights on and the A.C. working?” I think that this money has to be found amongst the people who are using the space. This sort of entitlement goes beyond the rehearsal space conundrum, and when I was in my early twenties nurturing my own fledgling company I also thought “you want me to pay what for that?” about pretty much anything from performance venue to costumes and on and on and on… as I have grown up, my understanding of how expense producing theater is has grown up as well.

All that to say, there are a lot of young and inspiring artists in Austin and these artists are poor AND these artists are bringing some of the most exciting work to our city. Scratch that, these artists are bringing some of the most exciting theatrical work to our entire field, on a national level. So where is the balance? How much should these artists have to pay for a rehearsal space? Especially if that cost ends up being a deterrent to the creation of the work?

Currently Connor and I are launching a membership system for the Scenic Co-op. Participating companies will be expected to pay a low annual rate and in exchange they will have access to the full Co-op stock. So far, we have had a lot of companies interested in signing up but no one is jumping up and down about it. Primarily because up until this year the Co-op has been 100% free for a large amount of Austin area new works theater companies. In the long run though, we need a little give back from these companies if the Co-op is going to sustain. We need to pay staff. We need to keep the tools working and in top shape and to keep our stock up to date and in good condition.

I don’t write this because I have answers, I only have questions… how do you get your money for nothing and your rehearsal space for free?

Jenny Larson

Salvage Vanguard Theater

Scenic Co-op

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Connecting to Writing through Theater

Having been in the New Orleans school system for a number of years now I know that students struggle with one thing more than any other: writing. Many low-income students in charter schools here just don’t have much experience writing, and feel intimidated by the process. It’s tough. It’s especially tough to get students to write creatively and openly when they feel unsure about their skills. As we know, the creative process is hard if you feel worried and nervous about how you’re going to be judged.

For YO NOLA, I’ve been having my students try out their hands at some playwriting, and they have really taken to it. A few of the students went home to continue the writing process there, and returned later in the week with freshly written work. It’s nice to see them connect to writing, and I think part of the reason for their enthusiasm is dialogue. They hear all sorts of interesting dialogue at home between parents, at school between peers, in the classroom, etc. Playwriting is a way for them to record this dialogue and to be creative with it. I have a full pile of plays about cell phones, bad classroom behavior, missed assignments, bad clothing, and on and on.

However, I really want them to go further, and here’s where the struggle comes in. Saying to a student, “use your imagination” has proved to be useless in my experience. It hardly ever results in a more imaginative product; just students feeling like they’re doing something wrong but unsure how to fix it. Like any artist, students need some fodder from which to be imaginative. As part of this quest to add to their writing repertoire, I’ve introduced something called “See, Think, Wonder.” Students look at a photograph, and have to write down three categories of things:

-Things in the photo they see and can point to.

-Something they think might be happening in the photo

-What do they wonder about? What questions doe they have about the photo?

Once students have brainstormed a whole bunch of see, thinks, wonders, they circle a question or thought of particular interest. This thought then inspires a short play. It’s an interesting process, and one that I’ve found creates some fun plays. Here’s the first few lines of a play by Sabria, who was inspired by a photo of a fog covered bridge I brought in. Her ‘wonder’ question was, “I wonder if there are birds on that bridge.” Then she wrote this:

Crow 1: Look, there is bird seed on that bridge.

Crow 2: Let’s go get some.

Crow 1: This is great.

Crow 2: Let’s tell the others.

Crow 1: Okay.

Crow 2: Our feet are stuck!

Crow 1: Wait, no they’re not. (tries to remove feet) Okay we’re stuck!

Crow 2: I knew it we’re going to die. Whoa is me, why , why!

Crow 1: Zip it earl.

Okay, that’s it for now. Happy Holidays all!

Chris Kaminstein

YO NOLA Teacher

Southern Rep Theater