Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Over at The Hollow last night was our first time without scripts, and everyone did pretty well with that. Sure, there were some hiccups, but no disasters, and that's always a good thing. Still, we have a long ways to go on this production, and the next few rehearsals will really tell the tale. I'm happy to report, though, that I did see a play starting to emerge last night, and that is exactly what I was hoping for at this point. We're painting the set this weekend, and starting to pull in the props and costume people as well, so it's starting to look very much like a show on that front.
By the end of the week I'll have some more to tell you about the shows that will form our weekend of programming at the Elora Centre for the Arts on March 14th and 15th. I'm still researching, writing and generally sorting out what these shows will look like, as well as how they will tie in with our final open space in the Elora season on May 2nd and 3rd.
And as for the summer, that's coming along really well too. I'll be talking about it a lot in the next little while, and it looks like we're going to be able to schedule an audition day for the summer shows sometime in April, so keep your eyes open for that. I'll be sharing a lot of our promotional work with you as well, in keeping with my goal of having a successful summer season.
So that's the plan, anyways. Stay tuned.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Personally, I'm always quite happy, as an actor or a director, the closer we get to opening night. It's the producer in me that gets progressively more stressed out as time runs out and things still aren't ready, but usually I'm much more comfortable with how things are coming on the acting front. Really, by the time you get to tech week the only way an actor can really cause Armaggeddon is if they don't know their lines, and while this is a constant fear on any production, I will go out on a limb and suggest that it won't be a problem on the The Hollow.
With a cast of twelve enthusiastic men and women the parts are reasonably evenly divided, so that makes less for everyone to learn. On top of that, I have a good core of "veterans" - people I've worked with before, so I know what to expect from them, and there are also some people that I've never worked with before but who have worked with other companies I am familiar with, so I know that they will be ready in their own time in their own way as well. That just leaves the "newbies" - people I have never worked with before, and I'm happy to report that they too are coming along quite nicely.
Up until now we've been just working on very small chunks of the show every night. But as of last night we finished the "blocking" part of the rehearsal process - now we've looked at every part of the show at least once, in a considerable amount of detail. Now it's time to move to the next step, the "working" rehearsals, where we start to get some polish, timing and finesse, where an actual performance starts to emerge. We'll be working with progressively larger chunks of the play from here on in, so people will get a chance to see the entire play start to come together, as well as see how they fit into it. This is very important for an actor, to learn know that they are not labouring away in obscurity, that their role in the larger narrative is very important.
We have actors that I have only seen once or twice over the past four weeks - some people are still struggling to remember everyone's name! So I'm glad that we'll have a chance to get more people together. Perhaps there will even be a few "team-building" activities thrown in some night - there are a ton of theatre games that directors have been using for year to get actors to open up to each other, to feel more comfortable in rehearsal, to bond as a cast.
The next four weeks will be the most hectic in the production, if I have anything to say about it - I'd rather be busy now than in tech week, so the more we can get done now the better on the tech front we'll be. This will take some of my time and energy away from rehearsals and the actors. But I think we've got a great base established, and my process from here on in will be more about helping the cast bring this show to life than anything else, a task I think they are quite ready to take on.
See you at the show.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
It used to be that I was in that building seven days a week, sometimes for as many as 100 hours a week, "back in the day." But now, with the daily demands of running my own company taking up so much of my time, it's a rarity if I get into the theatre more than three or four times a month, and usually only then to drop something off or for a meeting, so I never get much beyond the lobby.
However, the "Grand Old Gal" is still very dear to me. It's the building where I learned to make theatre, and where I learned a lot about life and the crazy things people say and do.
I noticed a good deal of things on my walk-about: a few loose sound cables that I picked up and put away, some old lighting stuff that needs to be taken apart for supplies, a couple of cobwebs up above the lighting grid onstage that I should get rid of the next time I'm working up there. It was all sorts of little things like that - things that no one else would necessarily notice or even think to do something about, but by attending to them now someone's life will be made easier down the road.
The next time someone says to a rookie kid "go get me two 25 foot XLR cables" there will actually be two 25 foot XLR cables on the hanger that says "25 foot XLR cables." The next time someone needs the headsets they will all be working and in their proper place. There will be one spare cube-tab the next time it is needed.
I'm going to try and go into the theatre a little more often from now on, just to do those little clean-up and maintenance-type jobs. It's not that it's necessarily my responsibility, but all the same it's what I can contribute to making the building a better place. I'd welcome anyone who would like to assist me in these endeavours and learn about the exciting world of technical theatre production, but there's a whole host of things that people can do to improve the state of things at the Grand. Maybe you'd like to volunteer as a usher, concession person, or box office assistant? Or perhaps you've got friends and neighbours that think they place closed down years ago (we still hear that quite often, actually), and you could set the record straight for them. You could work on one of the shows by joining one of the many groups that put on plays at the theatre (like Grinder Productions! hint, hint), or maybe you could bring in an event to the Grand yourself! The theatre is an excellent venue to host any number of events, like lectures, conferences, product launches, general meetings - perhaps you or your employer are looking for a large space at a reasonable rate for something special. If you run your own company, a night at the theatre is perfect way to say "thank-you" to your customers, clients and employees - just ask about booking a "corporate night" with one of the user groups.
That barely scratches the surface of all the things that people can do to improve the Fergus Grand Theatre - and I haven't even mentioned things like lobbying or fundraising - bringing in the big dollars - but there are people out there who are working on that too.
The theatre turns 80 years old this year. It's already had a very long and illustrious history. But I think the best is yet to come, and the years ahead will be some of the most fun and rewarding ever. This would be a great time to jump on board.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
First and foremost, we have selected the seven shows that we will be producing this season. As long as the royalties people don't rain on the parade then we shouldn't have a problem getting any of these shows from the page to the stage.
The Ennotville Library has been getting some repairs done this winter - look for new windows, draperies and other improvements this summer.
We have begun to assemble the promotional materials that will form the backbone of our summer marketing campaign. We have a "Groups and Tours" kit that we will distribute to bus tour operators, senior's centres and many, many other locations and organizations in the next few weeks. Our season brochure is in the final stages of development as well, and this will be what we will use to conduct our season subscription campaign. And finally, we are putting together a media kit for our friends in the print, radio, television businesses. All this, combined with a revamping of our online presence, will become the raw materials that all of us can use to get the word out about the summer season.
And it's going to take a mammoth effort. I want this to be the summer that Grinder "breaks out."
My goals for the season are three-fold.
First, I want us to generate at least 100 season subscriptions by opening night, June 12th. If you think about it, that's only 50 couples - not an unreasonable number, but it will still take a lot of effort. With a season pass at $70 per person for many people that represents a significant investment of their summer entertainment budget.
Second, I want at least one group (of ten or more) for every matinee this season. Again, if you think about it, that's only 15 groups - certainly we can do that, right? But most groups are made up of seniors, and with a weakening economy even a $12 ticket (while still far, far, far less that the group rate of any other theatre company, like Drayton) could be cause for hesitation.
And finally I want all 60 performances this summer (48 in Ennotville and 12 in Belwood) to be performed for an audience taking up at least 20% of the theatre's seating capacity. Again, that's an extremely modest aim - 10 patrons in Ennotville and 30 patrons in Belwood and we've hit 20%, and most theatre's run their budgets with the expectation of a 40% house - but even these numbers are going to take a good deal of work.
I think this is going to be our best summer ever. We have some great people lined up already, and more are coming on board every week. We have seven great shows that audiences will surely love. There's an enthusiasm, an excitement in people's voices (not just my own!) around the upcoming shows. Yes, it is going to be a challenge, a huge challenge, selling tickets, and it's a job that very few people really like doing, but I believe that it's going to be worth it.
One day soon I'll have all the summer documents ready for posting on the blog. And as the winter and spring go on I'll be devoting more and more space here to summer preparations.
But until then, stay warm everyone. Summer will be here before you know it.
Monday, February 18, 2008
So far I've avoided wading into the political arena on this blog - there's enough of that out there, and I don't want anyone to think for a second that Grinder Productions caters to the whims of one political ideology more than the other - conservative or liberal, left of right, all are welcome at this company - that's they way it has always been and the way it always will be as long as I have some say in the matter.
I've even avoided the temptation to comment on the blood-sport municipal politics in Centre Wellington. There's enough hot-heads hurling f-bombs at our counselors and ill-considered letters to the editor already.
However, as I was on the top of a ladder yesterday fixing some rigging at the theatre as the rain from the leaking roof poured down around me I began to worry about all this political commentary.
The Fergus Grand Theatre has been the source of much political commentary, to be sure. The debate about whether or not to even keep the building open was long, lively and at times even a bit frightening. To be sure, the current municipal council, as well as the previous council, both endorsed the theatre as a viable, vital part of the community. The case has been more than made for the economic, cultural, and tourism-based benefits of a live performance venue in a community, and the efforts of the Fergus Grand Theatre Volunteers (as well as various user groups) to raise money for the purchase new equipment has been one of the greatest success stories since the theatre came into the township's hands after the collapse of the resident professional company in the summer of 2002. The theatre enjoys the full support of the township administration, who have gladly accepted the burden of an extra facility under the auspices of Parks and Recreation.
The Fergus Grand Theatre is a success story for Centre Wellington: the community inherited a mess and has turned it around. Now if only they could get the roof fixed...
The building is turning 80 years old this year. It is still in very good shape, but will require some capital repairs in the immediate future, as well as down the road. And I am not going to use this blog as a forum to call for these repairs to be made - the people who can make this happen are ready and willing. What I am calling for is for everyone else who may have a minor quibble about the costs involved to tone down their rhetoric just a touch. Let's keep it all very civil, and let's keep in in perspective. The costs are small, and they will pay dividends down the road. If we do nothing, it will cost us more down the road. If we were to close the theatre and have no suitable replacement venue (and it Centre Wellington there is nothing that even comes close) the net loss to the community in jobs and economic input would eventually cost us even more.
I guess in the end all I'm saying is please be nice to the "Grand Old Gal." And certainly, make you come and see a show for yourself before you make any judgements. Talk to Alan Argue, the operations manager, about how far we've come. Talk to the people who use the building. Talk to me. This is not my theatre. It does not belong to any one person. It is our theatre. We all have a responsibility to take care of it for the benefit of our community.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Despite the aches and pains, though, I do enjoy building sets for shows. It's one of the real "crafts" of technical theatre, one of many in fact, but one that I have always admired. I've been fortunate enough to work with some true master carpenters over the years - people who have taught me a lot about how a set should come together. And while I don't profess to have the same level of skill as some of these people I always try and take a little bit of their wisdom with me as I head into a build, and it has gotten me through many a rough patch.
On Monday I may have more to say on how the build went, and I think that in future postings I'll talk more about the "craft" of theatre, because I think it's one of the more overlooked yet most rewarding aspects of this crazy business.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
One of my girlfriend's favourite songs is Brooks and Dunn's Red Dirt Road. A wonderful story about coming of age in the bible-belt and beyond. It's a very uplifting tune, about the power of one's roots, but also about how you can use the strength and comfort of those roots to take you anywhere and acheive your dreams. The entire Red Dirt Road album is autobiographical in nature, (here's a great bit of bio on B&D and this album) and while it's steeped in the language and experiences of the American South it's easy to draw parallels between the experiences of two singers growing up and our little theatre company coming of age.
In the case of the Ennotville Library it does sit on a more-or-less Red Dirt Road (it is where the blacktop ends), and it has been there that many of Grinder's most telling moments as a company have transpired. Slowly but surely a core of people are gathering, people for whom this company does feel like "coming home," be it onstage, backstage or in the audience. We have given many people some wonderful memories that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
For a well-worn battle-axe like me that's something that I didn't really expect when I started the company - the bonds that would be forged across rehearsals and performances. And it's not just the case with actors and crew. Someone told me a while back that I now have "Grinder Group-ees" who eagerly await our next show or season coming up. It is quite a humbling experience to see these bonds being made (and, sadly, occasionally broken), but taken together they point to a "setting down of roots" for the company.
I do my best to cultivate these roots, and to plant new roots where I can. And that's where you can help me out. Grinder went from a tiny, insignificant speck on the Centre Wellington Theatre scene to the area's largest theatre company only when I began to actively and regularly welcome new people to the Grinder experience. We will only grow further if we are constantly on the lookout for new faces, so if you've had a great time either at one of our shows or by working on one of our shows then pass the word along! This blog is a great way to introduce people to the company, but there's also our website, newsletter, Facebook page, and of course our shows! The Hollow is coming up in another month. It's an excellent introduction to live theatre in general, and even though it's not strictly a Grinder event, to our company in particular. I've put the poster here before, but here it is again. It's got all the info you'll need:
And oh yeah, there's still a few other shows coming down the pipe!
But more on those later on. It's Valentine's Day. Go be with your someone special. Or if you're on your own this Valentine's Day, don't despair - your time will come.
Until then, may it be a pleasant drive down your own Red Dirt Road.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Fortunately, though, if you can survive this experience (or are lucky enough, as I was, to have a reasonably pleasant introduction to theatre) you can begin to take the monsters with a grain of salt, and learn to live with their behaviour. Still, that thick skin comes in handy.
But it can also be a barrier. Besides being able to deflect criticism, a thick skin also makes it harder to accept praise, especially when in the past that praise has been criticism in disguise. Now a little praise is, of course, essential to ensuring long-term well-being. It's not something you can manufacture yourself (unlike criticism), you have to be praised by others. And you can even spot praise that is "agenda-based" - someone wants something, so they will praise you in order to get it.
In the past 24 hours I have recieved comments both of glowing praise and damning condemnation. Do I accept one and throw out the other? Or do I reject them both? It's been a paradox that theatre people have been wrestling with since the ancient Greeks (Euripides made a comment about it while in rehearsals one time, I believe).
I choose to accept both points of view, but with a qualification. The praise was well-considered and undeniably earnest - no hidden agendas. The criticism was unpleasant but, in context I should have expected it. The qualification: I will neither let the praise go to my head nor the criticism go to my heart. I will take away only the factual portions of both points, so that I may consider them. If I agree with the praise I will re-inforce what I'm doing already. If I agree with the criticism I will make a change. In any case though, I have removed the emotions entirely from the equation. The emotions of the commentators are their own, for better or worse they need not become mine. As for my own emotions, I will save those for when it is my turn to praise or critique.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
The reason I mention this trivial, ironic sidebar to Canadian history is that it could just as easily be applied to our situation here at Grinder Productions, or even more generally to the entire theatre community in Centre Wellington. We are the ones sleeping with the elephant - and that elephant is Drayton Entertainment.
For any of you who have been living under a rock for the past ten years Drayton Entertainment is one of the biggest success stories in Canadian Theatre. The company started off in the tiny village of Drayton and has now grown to six venues in 4 communities, with an annual attendance averaging 220,000 patrons. Just this past week it was announced that the company will build yet another venue, a massive performing arts centre in Cambridge, which will also function as the new administrative and production hub for the empire.
The key to Drayton's success (at least in my opinion) is a combination of pragmatic programming, excellent sponsor stewardship and, most importantly, an economy of scale. With venues spread out across the province the company is able to produce a show at one theatre, give it a several week run, then ship it off to another theatre for several more weeks, then in some cases on to a third for an even longer run. This allows them to amortize production and rehearsal costs, as well as maximizing a show's earning potential - advantages that no other theatre in Ontario (to the best of my knowledge) enjoys. To be sure, there are "co-pros" - where two theatres work together to mount the same play in one venue, then move it to another, but in this case the costs (and any profits) are split between the two companies on a pre-arranged basis. Only at Drayton does a single company get to reap 100% of the profits from a given show.
Whatever the reasons, Alex Mustakas and his team have done remarkably well, and proved that live theatre can still be extremely viable in the 21st century, despite competition from film, TV, the internet and other emerging forms of entertainment.
So we're sleeping next to the elephant. Okay, so the elephant is dancing. The Jitterbug. What can we, Grinder Productions and our fellow local theatre companies, do in the face of such mind-boggling success?
Well the easy answer is that there are no easy answers. As much as we would like to be the only ticket in town and exist in a vaccum that simply isn't our reality, and if it weren't another theatre company it would be TV or Facebook or high gas prices or something else that would be used to explain away empty houses. And trust me, when it comes to empty houses, I've heard just about every conceivable excuse.
And I've said this before. Not my words, and I apologize if they're a bit crude but I heard them on an old cop show years ago, and it sums up my attitude on this matter perfectly:
"Excuses are like butts; everyone's got'em, all of 'em stink."
In other words Stop Blaming Drayton. No theatre ever succeeded or failed because of what was going on across town, it's what happens here, what we're doing, that matters. If the Drayton experience is better than the Grinder experience then it's our fault, not theirs (though I have heard some say the Grinder experience is better than the Stratford experience - not that I'm letting it go to my head).
Grinder's motto is "Theatre that Dares to be Different" and for me that translates into many things, but one of them is that we dare to try harder, to do better, to not look for excuses but for innovations, to take the little we've been given and use our creative energy to turn it into something that meets and exceeds our larger, more affluent competition. This is not a pipe dream; it can happen, I've seen it happen, I've made it happen.
Join us at Grinder productions, and let's make it happen again together. You never know: one day we just might be the elephant.
Monday, February 11, 2008
It's very, very cold out here in Grinder country today. Very cold. January, February and March have to be the three worst months to try and make theatre in this country. It's hard to get people out to see shows, the weather is always questionable, and of course, something as simple as a warm place to rehearse can even be a challenge. It's enough to have forced the bulk of Canadian Theatre to give up on the winter months - the height of theatre in this country comes during the summer, and, in fact, that's when this company is at its busiest as well. Nevertheless, we shall slog on through the snow until spring, but not without some of those "sharper, more considered" decisions, brought about by repeated battles with frostbite, snowbound cars and frozen water pipes.
First off, we're going to post-pone the "Dating Disasters" and "Laughing out Loud" events until March, combining them with the "Vintage Gut-busters" show at the Elora Centre for the Arts March 13th - 15th to create one "super-weekend" of love and laughter. With any luck by then it will a bit warmer, and it will be possible to get someone out to see these three great shows.
By that time as well we'll also have a lot more to tell you about the upcoming summer seasons in Ennotville and Belwood, including how you can get a season pass to see all seven of these shows for just one low price.
And finally, of course, there's The Hollow, March 27th - 29th at the Fergus Grand. Again, that's what I do in my copious amounts of spare time, direct Agatha Christie murder-mysteries. It really is a great show - it's still early but I have a hunch that it will be our best Agatha Christie yet - we have a great cast and crew, and we're having a blast in rehearsals.
So with any luck it won't be another seven days before I make another posting - tomorrow sounds good to me. One thing that would really be cool is if you, my readers (whomever you may be) put in your two cents worth on these postings. Feel free to comment on this or anything else you see on here. Maybe there's a show you think Grinder should do, or you've got the next idea that will "fill the theatre!" (Just to warn you, I get on average about one of those a week and so far no golden eggs) or you just want to say hi. Whatever it is, I'm always ready to hear you out because I figure that since you've heard me out the least I can do is return the favour.
Stay warm, everyone.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
I'd like to talk to you today about another little "side project" at Grinder Productions.
As you may know, I've written a few plays over the years. Some of you may have even seen these creations, or heaven forbid, actually had to act in one!
For those of you who haven't had the experience of attending one of my plays, don't despair. Thanks to the folks at lulu.com, Grinder Productions is now in the publishing business!
If you go to my storefront at lulu you'll get to preview the scripts of such past Grinder shows like Home Farm, Muzzle Blast, and All My Sins Remembered, as well as my indispensible manual for producing plays, Tech Theatre 101. All are available for sale, either in print or as a download. I encourage the downloading option - it's more environmentally friendly, and, ironically, it's both cheaper for you and more lucrative for me, as lulu.com includes it's printing costs and commission in every item sold.
Well, I have to go now, but I was hoping to tell you all about Dating Disasters, the next event at Grinder Productions. For that, I'll have to refer you to my trusty assistant, Charles Dabernow Schmendiman. He's the big-eyed tabby cat you've been seeing around here for the past little while (he's also on my Facebook). From time to time he'll have some news to tell you, so just click on him to listen to him, in his sultry British accent, tell you about our next show.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Okay, so this isn't strictly a "Grinder" event, it's being hosted and organized by the Elora Centre for the Arts, but still, since I'm the instructor for this one it still counts. The workshop will cover all the aspects of Improvisation in the theatre. We'll do a lot of theatre games, "trust" exercises, and work our way up some situational improv games and activities. Please wear comfortable clothing you don't mind getting dirty!Improv was one of my first loves in the theatre business. It really takes very little in the way of special skills or knowledge, just an open mind and a willingness to say "yes, let's!" This particular workshop will be divided into two groups, a morning session for kids aged 10 - 16, and an afternoon session for everyone 17+, but really, Improv is something that people of any age can excel at. I've actually watched children as young as six years old playing improv games and more than keeping up with much older children, and some of the best improv I've ever seen has been done by seniors, who, ironically, often find it easier to let go of their hang-ups and inhibitions than younger people.And Improv skills are by no means limited to the world of theatre. Many large corporations, organizations, even sports teams use many of the same activities we'll be using in the workshop to help build trust and friendship within their membership, to foster creative thinking, improve public presentation and social interaction skills, and build morale. I can tell you from personal experience that some of the closest bonds that I have ever formed have been on projects where an extended period of time was devoted to Improv techniques and group activities, and even now I will often incorporate a couple of improvisational activities into a rehearsal process, sometimes to tackle a specific problem we're having, but quite often just so that the cast and crew have a chance to look at what their doing in a fresh context, and to see their fellow company members in a slightly different light.The cost is $25 for ECA members, and $35 for non-members, which I'm told is very, very reasonable for a workshop like this. To take register please contact the Elora Centre for the Arts at 519-846-9698 or via e-mail at email@example.com, and tell them you saw it on the Grinder blog!
You knew this was coming, didn't you? For weeks you've been hearing me talk about this "Dating Disasters" idea and wondering just what it is. Well it's an un-Valentine's Day treat for everyone who's ever been stood up, dumped, duped or otherwise humiliated in their quest for the perfect match. What we are asking is for everyone to tell us (in 500 words or less) their best romantic "Horror Story." It can be about a blind date that went horribly wrong, or an ex's unique annoying habits, or how you fell for a horrendous pick-up line that turned out to be true. It can be anything, as long as it's disastrous. It doesn't even have to be true! We're asking people to submit their stories via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, February 11th. We'll judge the entries and invite the 10 best to come to the Elora Centre for the Arts on Friday, February 15th to read their story live and we'll let the audience vote on who deserves the title of King or Queen of Dating Disasters.
Thursday, March 27th to Saturday, March 29th - The Hollow
As I've mentioned before, in my copious amounts of spare time I am directing an Agatha Christie murder-mystery. Actually, this show is by far the largest of all the events we have coming up (even though, again, it's not strictly a Grinder event), and one of the largest events of the entire theatre season in Centre Wellington. The first performance of this show is already sold out, and tickets for the other two nights are selling fast, so I would advise people to get their tickets now, as there is a very real chance that the entire run could be filled by opening night. And it's a great show to catch too. This is the third year I've directed as part of the Agatha Christie Revival Showcase, and it is one of the shows I most look forward to in a given year. As a director, it's one of the most complex projects that undertake, and it provides me with an excellent challenge. Christie's work is solid gold, to be sure, but she was well aware of the possibilities that live theatre afforded her, and she made ample use of these possibilities in her work. She left it up to the director, designers and actors to add their unique touches to her plays in order to make them leap off the stage and into the minds of the audience. We've only just completed the first week of rehearsals, and already I can tell you that I'm having a blast. It's been a long time since I was in the rehearsal hall directing a play, and I'm finding, much to me relief, that the ideas, the connections, the fire, the absolute rush I get from directing actors, it's all coming back to me once again. I leave rehearsals not exhausted but exhilarated, and as we go along I'll try and find as much time on the blog as I can to devote to how this show is progressing along.