Monday, March 31, 2008

The Adventure Begins Anew

Greetings one and all!

As I sit down to write this it's about 11am on Monday, March 31st. We closed The Hollow last weekend, and I'm still very tired, both physically and emotionally. I usually don't crash quite this hard, but this show has been something different for me.

It's been a very long, often challenging journey, bringing The Hollow from an idea tossed about in a meeting to a massive undertaking involving scores of people. All in all though, this has been a very good rehearsal process for me. When I started, I was feeling pretty low, and now, though I'm quite exhausted, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm proud of this show. I'm proud of the efforts of the cast, crew and everyone involved. Thank-you, everyone, for your time, efforts, patience and excellent work.

Too bad there's no time for resting on laurels...

As I'm sure you're all aware, the next big project for the company is the summer season, and today is the day I start working on that. The summer is the final step in the "restoration" of Grinder Productions, the completion of a rebuilding that has been going on over the past few months. I firmly believe that by June 12th, the opening night of our first show, we will be back on track, a leading player on the Centre Wellington cultural scene.

There's already cause for excitement. We gave away a pair of season subscriptions at the Hollow on Saturday night as part of the intermission draw. When the prize was announced a noticeable murmur went through the crowd. They got excited, and quickly found their ticket stubs. That's what they call "buzz." Two years ago a season ticket to Grinder Productions wouldn't elicit such a response. But now, Grinder's got buzz.

Buckle up, everyone. This rocket is about to blast off.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Actors Beware! It's H - E - Double Hockey Sticks Week

Well here we are. Tech week for The Hollow. In my book "Tech Theatre 101" (for sale right now on!) I refer to tech week as "move-in, load-in, get-in, lift-in, production, production week or hell week" and those are all pretty good monikers to describe this part of the production. For everyone involved, this is by far the most stressful time in the production (except maybe for the actors - they seem to worry more about opening night).

On the surface, tech week doesn't seem like much: we just move from the rehearsal hall into the theatre, put up the set, do any finishing touches, and add in the lighting, sound and other elements, and run the show a few times. It sounds disarmingly benign, doesn't it?

But tech weeks are so much more. This is where the screaming happens. This is where the tears most often flow (and sometimes the blood, too), where marriages and friendships are destroyed, careers ruined, reputations smeared. It's where those who have promised the moon often fail to deliver, and someone else has to step in to save the day. It's where people doubt each other's abilities, where panic soars to ridiculously irrational levels, where fantastical dreams come crashing into reality.

For all their late nights, hard work and inane offstage dramas, tech weeks aren't always that bad. Quite often this is where someone steps up and shows that they are capable of something great. Where discordant people come together for the sake of a greater good. And sometimes, this is where the magic happens.

I'm going to be very busy this tech week. But I hope it will be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Theatre Ideas: On William J. Baumol and the "Cost Disease"

I found this on an American Theater blog (notice the change of spelling - that's how they do it in the USA).

This is EXACTLY the same problem that has completely destroyed the viability of live theatre in Canada too.

And it gives me hope for the success of Grinder - we have never fallen into this trap. We are about "the language, not the stuff."

Read on...

Theatre Ideas: On William J. Baumol and the "Cost Disease"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lights Up

The Fergus Grand Theatre passed a bit of a milestone last week, and although now one was around to witness it, the significance of this event will be felt by every group that uses the theatre from here on in.

On Wednesday, March 12th, at 5:30 pm, I walked into the theatre with the final new lighting fixture that was required to complete our "front-of-house" lighting plot. This means that from here on in most if not all of the face light, ie, the brightest, most important fixtures used to illuminate the performers, will be coming from new, powerful, energy efficient fixtures. For those of you who want the technical terms, there are now 15 zoom ellipsoidal reflector spotlights, 10 SL 23/50's and 5 SL 15/32's providing state-of-the-art lighting capabilities, and dramatically enhancing the buildings' value to its users.

There are two reasons why this event was so monumental. First, it solves the "lighting crisis" that has plagued the Grand for the last ten years. The old fixtures that were providing front-of-house lighting were getting so far beyond their useful life expectancy that their reflectors were literally melting away. The amount of light that was hitting the stage was dropping so low that all creativity, all esthetic lighting design considerations had to be thrown out the window simply for the sake of getting enough light onstage to see the actors clearly. And even that was getting nearly impossible, so these new lights were in no way a "luxury purchase" for the theatre: this was an emergency.

The seond reason this event is so monumental is that it was funded entirely through the efforts of the Fergus Grand Theatre Volunteer committee. This small organization, through providing front-of-house services and concessions services to events at the theatre, has raised the ENTIRE cost of purchasing these new lights. At approximately $600 per fixture that's $9000 worth of new equipment for the theatre, without it costing the taxpayers of Centre Wellington a single penny!

And that's not the half of it. Over the same period of time as the lights were being replaced the volunteers have also purchased new microphones, speakers, cables and a litany of other equipment large and small for the theatre, sometimes through their own efforts, and sometimes by partnering with a user group, business or community organization.

As a user, I'd like to thank the volunteers for all that they have done to improve the quality of our productions at the Fergus Grand Theatre, and I encourage other user groups and individuals to do the same. True, the township may pay the bills and take out the garbage, but it is because of the volunteers that we have a truly useable, viable theatre building today.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Polishing 101

We've just finished our 3rd time through The Hollow. From here on in we'll be running the entire play all in one evening, so the rehearsal process is almost over. Once we move into the Fergus Grand next week it's a whole new ball game, so this week will be the last chance we have to perfect the show before we add the lighting, sound and other technical elements.

I, for one, am very happy with where everyone is at this point. Most of the lines are down, blocking is being remembered with about 90% accuracy, and we're nit-picking on the details, which means the major difficulties of script analysis and character development have been largely taken care of. It's a credit to this cast: they have really worked hard and pulled together to make this happen.

Things are also finally starting to look promising on the technical side of things as well. After getting off to a great start the tech side of things flagged a little over the middle period of this show, but now we've got the sound largely finished, the costumes down to pretty much a search for accessories and jewelery, and the props, though still a little farther behind than I would like to be at this point, are well on their way to being completed by the end of the week. And the set is already built and ready to come into the theatre. It's even painted, and there's not a lot of shows that can say that at this point.

On the publicity front we're selling tickets left, right and centre. There are posters going up all over town, and it seems like every night our publicity girl has organized another interview or TV shoot to help us promote the show. Now I know you all already have all the information about this show that you need, and you've probably already got your tickets, right? Well, just in case you haven't, here's the poster one last time:

See you at the Show!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Long, Rocky Road to Spring

There's an old Syvia Tyson song, "Travelling Light Down a Long Rocky Road." I think I've already used that particular metaphor to describe this winter at Grinder. It has been quite a struggle, to say the least, and while we all eagerly await the coming of spring I for one will be more excited than usual to see the snow melt, and put this cold, terrible season behind me.

Grinder Productions has survived the winter, I'm happy to say, but just barely. With few productions and no audiences it's been very difficult to keep motivated. I would like to thank the few dedicated people (I won't mention any names, but you know who you are) who have helped me get through this difficult time, keeping my spirits up through long nights in empty theatres.

Now for the bad news...

I'm not going to be able to produce "Laughing Out Loud" this weekend at the Elora Centre for the Arts. There is simply no way that I can justify the expense of renting the ECA for even one day if I can't guarantee that I will be able to make enough to cover the rent, and with only myself as a performer there's no way I can make that guarantee.

But there is light at the end of this tunnel...

As soon as I'm finished with The Hollow I'll be able to focus all the company's resources on getting ready for the summer.

The month of April will be spent building sets, getting the technical elements of the shows ready, and selling 100 season passes. We'll also be actively pursuing group and tour operators during this time too, and hopefully selling out some of the matinee performances. We'll be holding auditions for the summer in April as well, and the last week of April we'll go into rehearsals for Farmer's Daughters, and the summer season will be officially underway.

I'm sure some of you think I'm just a fanciful day-dreamer, that there's no way this is ever going to work out, and that by this time next year I'll be working in a cubicle or asking you if want fries with that.

But I have faith in this company, and what it is capable of. About a year ago at this time, the company was well on its way to the top. Then something awful happened, the details of which I won't share out of consideration for those involved. It nearly destroyed Grinder, setting off the chain reaction of misery, depression and box-office failures that has led us to this winter of discontent.

Finally, though, the wounds have begun to heal, and a new foundation for the company is being laid, and with the people, the shows and the support that are now coming into place I have hope that we will be back on our way to the top once again very soon.

The snow is melting on the long rocky road.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Rehearsal's the thing...

It was Hamlet who said it, but if you want to "catch" someone's conscience, or anything they don't normally show you, then certainly a play is the perfect place to do it. We've just finished our second "go-round" with The Hollow, and have finished working out most of the kinks in the blocking.

I'm breathing a huge, huge sigh of relief now that it is becoming clear that everyone has survived the "books down" fairly intact - the lines aren't perfect yet, but they are coming along very nicely, and no one is floundering hopelessly. Learning lines is one of my few strong suits as an actor, so I have to work extra hard to find sympathy for people who are having difficulty, even if I don't understand why it's such a big chore.

Now we move into the "polishing" phase of rehearsals. We will start to run bigger chunks of the play, and I won't be stopping and starting, we'll just bust on through and do a notes session at the end, where I go through the things I'd like to address. We'll get through the play in just three rehearsals this time around, and then we'll start running the entire play in a single night.

For actors who know their lines I think this is one of the times in the process they enjoy the most. The tedium of me nit-picking about blocking and stage business is largely over, and they get a chance to get a feel for how the show flows from one scene to the next. I enjoy it because I become more of a listener than a talker in rehearsals, responding to what the actors bring to their roles rather than me suggesting what they might like to consider.

Our publicist tells me tickets are going pretty well for this, so if you're thinking of coming to the show you had better get your tickets soon. I don't say this often about a show, but if you don't call ahead there is a chance you might not get in. Tickets are $15 each, and the performance on Thursday, March 27th is sold out, so it's just the 28th and 29th at 8pm that are still available. The Fergus Grand box office is 519-787-1981.

Notes to follow...

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Great Grinder Challenge

I have been called out.

While I was at the Fergus Grand yesterday I somehow got into a conversation with one of the theatre's regulars about Grinder Productions and my plans for the summer. This person (who shall remain nameless, but for the purposes of this blog we'll call her "The Cat Whisperer") wanted to ascertain how I was going to be able to pay for my shows this summer, as much of the expenses involved will have to be paid well in advance of opening night. I informed her of the three goals: 100 season subscriptions by opening night, a group for each matinee, 20 patrons for every performance.

"Fair enough," she said. "Care to make a wager on that?"

Well I'm not usually a gambling man, but The Cat Whisperer is not usually a gambling woman, so I asked her what she had in mind.

"You get 100 season subscriptions by opening night of the summer season, or you look for a part-time alternative source of income."

Leave it to The Cat Whisperer to go straight for the jugular. This is a make-or-break proposition. To reach this goal would put Grinder on a solid enough financial footing to get through the summer, even if the other two goals fell short, and put us well on the way to a successful fall season as well. To fail would be the beginning of the end, as any other, more lucrative source of income would make Grinder Productions an expensive hobby, one that would be harder and harder to justify as time went on, and eventually I would have to abandon the whole enterprise as so much youthful foolishness.

So I thought long and hard about it, then I reached out, shook her hand, and accepted the challenge. I'm going to put a couple of tickers on the blog here so you can see how things are progressing. To be honest, I don't know if I will be successful or not. I guess that's the nature of a real challenge, to take on something where the stakes are high and outcome far from certain. But I think it's high time I took a leap of faith.

The challenge is on.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Help - I need somebody...

My apologies to the Beatles, but a I really do need somebody!

But not for any romantic interludes (I have the world's greatest girlfriend for that). No, what I need is for someone who's a member of the Linked In community to give me recommendation and bring my profile up to 100% completeness!

For those of you scratching your heads right now, Linked in is a social network for managers, professionals and other business leaders - a high-class version of Facebook. Basically, the way it works is that you are "referred" to people through the network by other people on there that you know or know someone you know. It's a great way to get connected with fellow people in a given industry and find people you went to school with. I've been told it's an essential place to be for someone in my type of position, so I'm investigating all the possibilities it has to offer. When you first register they search your address book for anyone who's already a member of Linked in, and those are the people with whom you start making connections, but who's to say that everyone who reads this blog is on my e-mail list!

(Hey, I can be hopeful, can't I?)

But if you're not on Linked in, there are still a few ways you can still be a "somebody" for me.

Are you Facebook? Then friend me! The Grinder page (though it's in my name) is at 182 friends and counting, and I often put announcements about shows, newsletters, auditions, etc in my status, so it would show up in your newsfeed.

I have a page somewhere on Myspace too, but that has been sorely neglected since I joined Facebook. Perhaps one day the two sites will merge?

Of course, there's this wonderful blog you're all reading. Feel free to make some comments! I get a few from time to time, but I would love it if something I said here actually sparked some discussion, so don't be shy.

There is one other way that you can be a somebody for me as well...


I have "Laughing Out Loud" coming up on Saturday, March 15th at 8pm at the Elora Centre for the Arts. It will be an evening of light laughs and entertainment, admission is simply a pay-what-you-can at the door. I would be thrilled if somebody, anybody would come out and see this show.

I know it might sound a tad pathetic, but it's been months since Grinder has had an audience too large to count on your fingers, and that been what's made this a very long, tough winter for me. As a creative person I thrive on being able to engage with all of you, either as an actor, a director or even a producer. Theatre isn't about the performance, it's about the audience, and I need to engage with an audience, a substantial audience, sometime soon or I will go crazy.

So, is there anybody out there who can give me a hand up?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Snow Day

It's a snow day in Centre Wellington.

I was scheduled to go into the Grand today to run tech support for one of the Wellington County Museum's "Theatre for the Schools" shows but, alas, the busses were canceled, and with them a day's work. So instead I'm here, blogging about theatre for children.

Every year the Wellington County Museum brings in four professional touring children's shows. These shows feature professional adult actors and are produced by various companies, brought together under the auspices of Prologue, a performing arts organization that promotes the groups and gets their promotional material into the hands of teachers and others, who then book the actual shows. Most often these shows are performed in schools throughout Ontario, and sometimes individual companies embark on national or even internation tours. These companies may be the closest thing remaining to the "travelling players" of Shakespeare's Childhood.

In Centre Wellington, the Museum has an ingenious approach to booking these shows. Rather than taking a show to the schools, they bring the schools to the theatre. The actors love it: they get to perform in a real theatre for a change, instead of on the floor of a gymnasium. From an economic standpoint it costs the schools less: perhaps only one or two grades will benefit from a given show, so it's cheaper to just send them to the theatre than to bring a show in for only a small portion of the student body. The kids love the field trip, and most shows have a "theatre 101" component built in, so they learn how to behave in a theatre. The theatre gets the rental revenue for the day, which though it isn't much still contributes to the operating expenses.

While all this is undoubtedly very important I think that the greatest benefit of these shows are the effects they have on the kids themselves. Never mind what the politicians, teachers and naysayers in their ranting and raving have to say. Live performance does something to you, no matter what your age. It lifts you up, in makes you think, it reminds you that you are not alone in the world, that you are part of a larger community. And the better the show and closer to capacity the theatre the greater that effect can be. Most often these shows are very, very good, and most of the time they are sold out, with a full house of little people, their eyes glued to the action onstage; laughing, cheering, booing, screaming, engaging with the experience. You can't put a price on something like that. I can say with a fair degree of confidence that nearly every child in Centre Wellington has been exposed to live theatre at the Grand by the time they are in Grade Three.

So will that introduction translate into a lifetime love of the theatre? Probably not for all those kids, of course, but perhaps a few of them will catch the theatre bug. At the very least, though, here's what I hope: I hope that these shows will help to foster in the children of this community an understanding that live theatre is a normal, fun, perfectly acceptable part of life in Centre Wellington, something not just to be tolerated but to be celebrated.

You may think I'm being a bit overdramatic, but there are still too many grown men and women in Centre Wellington and beyond who cling to negative stereotypes about what theatre is and its positive impacts on the community. Some of those men and women occupy positions of considerable importance in this country (a few even run for election now and then). Producers and artists can lobby, lament and lolligag around waiting for Canada Council grants all they want and it wouldn't make a lick of difference to these people. But when their own son or daughter comes home from school and tells them what an awesome time they had at the play today, then they just might understand.

Snow days. Gotta love 'em.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Information Centre is now open

Hello again everyone,

If you'll look to the right of this posting you'll notice that I've added a links list to this blog, the Information Centre. This is where I'll be putting links, documents and other important sources of information that you may wish to look at from time to time. I have started off by posting here some of the essential marketing materials for this summer.

First off, there's the season brochure. This is something that you can print off, send to everyone on your Facebook, e-mail list, whatever, and generally use as a reference point for what's going on this summer at Grinder, including how you can get tickets. Got a program to stuff? Then try the season flyer - it's got three copies of the season arranged on a single page, so it can be printed off, copied, and cut into thirds if you need a lot of paper copies of the information.

Are you looking for information about booking a large group or bus tour? Then take a look at our Groups and Tours kit, specifically tailored to your needs, but still containing all the information that's in the season brochure.

Finally, if you or someone you know would like to write a news story about the summer or Grinder Productions, either for a newspaper, periodical, online publication, radio or tv station or any other media outlet then please take a look at our Media Kit. It's still got all the information of the other publications, as well as suggestions for some of the amazing stories that could be told this summer.

I've also put a link to the website on there, for future reference, and I'll be putting on the March Newsletter as soon as it is completed too. That's all for today, though. Talk to you again tomorrow, weather permitting.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I'm back... again

Hey everyone!

Sorry for the silence!

I've been covering at the Fergus Grand in the box office for a few days, so I haven't had a chance to get online and make any postings!

One day, I'm told, the Fergus Grand Theatre will get an internet connection, but I've been hearing that for years now, so I'm not about to wait with bated breath on that one...

Anyways, there's been a lot of stuff that has been going on over the past few days. This past weekend we got the bulk of the painting finished for The Hollow, with all flats and risers basecoated, and now all we have to do is to apply the texture coats. Rehearsals are also coming along well, and we've been getting a lot of good publicity things lined up, so tickets are starting to move quite well.

Over at Grinder proper I've got a rough script assembled for "Laughing Out Loud" our show March 15th at the Elora Centre for the Arts. I'll have more to say about that show as the week goes on, but the big focus on my plate is, already, the upcoming summer season. We've got a lot of things falling into place for this already, but there is much more work to be done. In our next posting, I'll introduce some of the materials that I would like to offer to you to help us get the word out about our summer season.

Well, at least that's the plan. Who knows, perhaps tomorrow I'll be pulled away again for another week!