Friday, October 31, 2008

Updated: Scripts for sale on Lulu.com

Just a quick reminder that you too can own copies of the original scripts that have been produced at Grinder Productions over the years. Just click here to go to our storefront at Lulu.com, where you can purchase both downloadable and paperback versions of such works as Home Farm, Muzzle Blast, and All My Sins Remembered, as well as our newest addition - Farmer's Daughters. It's also the place where you'll find Tech Theatre 101, a comprehensive technical manual for production managers and anyone else charged with the task of making incredible theatre on incredulous budgets. As time goes by I'll add more and more scripts to the store, including some that we have never produced at Grinder, but are great shows nonetheless.

Just one more way we make theatre that dares to be different.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Living the Dream

I haven't been linking you to as much stuff as I was before (shady copyright laws, and after all, isn't this blog supposed to be where I spout witticisms?), but some people in the theatrosphere (blogosphere of theatre blogs, for the uninitiated) seem to think this guy has a point.

Do you think so? Personally, I think he's oversimplifying things a bit - it's not just about making art or making money, and there are several ways that the creative process can be monetized. Nonetheless, it's given me some food for thought.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Confession

I have a confession to make.

I was at a show (the title of which shall remain anonymous) a little while ago, and when I was there I did something that I've never done before - I went home at intermission. Yes, that's right, I did the rudest, most inconiderate thing you can do when you come to a show. It may look like a victimless crime (you've already bought your ticket, and really, who's going to notice one empty seat after intermission), but the fact that you can insult the production without the production even knowing about it is, in my estimation, one of the most cowardly, uncouth insults you can hurl at a given show. It means that you've formed an opinion of the show without even giving it a chance to play out (who knows, maybe the second act was much better than the first), and since there's little time to count how many seats are still full after intermission the producers of the show will likely never realize that you were disappointed enough to leave.

I don't know how rampant the desertion runs at Grinder Productions. I know there have been a few, but most of these losses slip by me.

I'm quite ashamed of myself for what I have done. But now, at least I know how the people who leave my shows feel, and I have some idea of what it takes to drive them to that point.

There, I've confessed. Now when am I supposed to start feeling better?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Historic Discovery has been made!

Check this out, click here. Very, very cool indeed. It seems they have discovered Shakespeare's original playhouse. Not the more famous Globe Theatre, but the original building, simply called the "Theatre," Thus establishing the name "theatre" as a place to put on plays (the word itself is from the Greek, Theatron, which simply means "seeing place."

Now, if only they could un-earth a copy of the Mauritanian King Juba's multi-volume history of Greco-Roman theatre that would be something spectacular indeed!

ECT presents You're Lucky If You're Killed

It's not a Grinder show, but we're helping out on it! An important show for Remembrance Day. Check it out.

http://www.eloracommunitytheatre.com/Season/Lucky.html

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Week that Was

Well, I'm back.

It was a very long week, with two shows in production simultaneously. I'm proud to say that we came through both shows relatively hassle-free: kudos to all the people working on both shows who put in the time, effort and professionalism required to make these two events happen. While neither The Innocents nor A Bench in the Sun played to packed houses I'm happy to report that the combined box office returns of these shows means that Grinder will continue to live to bring another show to the stage. I'll have more to say on our upcoming shows in the days and weeks ahead, so stay tuned - the Grinder odyssey continues - and there's something even bigger coming around the corner...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Coming Events - No Postings Next Week!

I won't have a chance to get online to post next week because things are so busy, so I thought I should let you know now what's coming up:

A Bench in the Sun: October 23rd, 24th and 25th at 8pm, 2pm matinee October 25th.
Elora Centre for the Arts
Tickets available by calling 519-780-7593, or clicking on the "Buy Tickets" link here on the blog.

The Innocents: October 23rd, 24th and 25th at 8pm, 2pm matinee October 25th.
Fergus Grand Theatre
Tickets available by calling the box office at 519-787-1981.

Note that both shows go up at the exact same times! That's why I'll be too busy to write blog posts.

I hope to see you at both - but how can I be in two places at once!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I'm used to melancholy. I have no problem admitting that my life has been more failure than success, and that my early years were a very uneven time in my life - the usual joys of childhood coupled with inexplicable despair. I'm sure that were I child today I'd be quickly jacked up on ritalin or whatever other quick-fix pharmaceutical they are throwing at whatever I might have. In any case, if I did suffer from any ailment (a good chance of it - apparently over 70% of people working in the arts have a diagnosable mental condition - go figure) then I was left to suffer through it as best I could. Hence, I got used to melancholy.

Fast-forward to adulthood (whatever that is) and suddenly I find that I can move beyond the things that made me unhappy when I was younger. Indeed, I have accomplished much: an education, published works, a career (albeit not a lucrative one as of yet), and I wake up every morning with no one to answer to save for my audience. All that, and the world's greatest girlfriend. It's true, I do have much to worry about - just ask anyone running their own business and you'll get a laundry list of concerns, almost all of them about how much money is going in and how much money is going out, and I do worry about these things. But for all my concerns, things aren't nearly as bad now as they used to be. In fact, most days I have no reason not to be downright happy with myself and all that I have.

But I'm used to melancholy. Being sad is an excuse to procrastinate, a place to hide from the world, a way to overlook the obvious flaws one could remove to improve oneself. It is an easy place to get comfortable in.

I wrote this post today because I was feeling melancholy for no apparent reason. Yes, I have much to be sad about - two shows with no marketing budgets would be a good start - but I also have much, much more to be happy about, to take pleasure in. Writing this posting, working on my company, that's the easy part, and it makes me feel good while doing it. It's just the forcing myself to start down that road of productivity that is hard. Thanks for your indulgence while I made that leap.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Update - A Bench in the Sun

For Immediate Release

The Grinder Productions/Stage 4 season at the Elora Centre for the Arts is back for another year, this time with a delightful romantic comedy about falling in love and aging gracefully—or something like it.

A Bench in the Sun opens October 23rd at the Centre, and runs to October 25th. It features two “grumpy old men” Burt and Harold, living at Valley View Gardens, a retirement home with “No valley, no view, and a lousy garden.” Burt is the loveable curmudgeon, quiet, moody, dressed in pajamas, and happy to be simply left alone to read his newspaper. Harold, on the other hand, is flamboyant, impeccably dressed and can’t go a minute without doing or saying something to get Burt’s goat.

The two men both have a history behind them, something in their past that they have to get cleared up, but neither one of them is quite ready to confront the other just yet. Luckily, into the picture comes Adrienne, a once very famous actress, now retired, but still very attractive. Burt and Harold fall for her instantly, and the battle to win her favour ensues, with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to sabotage each other’s efforts.

In the end, the result is hilarity for the audience, with an undertone of charm and sincerity that will warm your heart, the perfect night out for lovers of all ages. Tickets are $15 each, and are available by calling 519-780-7593 or by clicking on the "Buy tickets" button right here on the blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Lone Ranger Rides Again

It's a bit of a stretch to make it through the week these days. You see, the world's greatest girlfriend works a fair distance away, so the only time I really get to see her is on the weekends. We tend to charge each other's batteries, and I'm always feeling pretty good by Sunday night. But then she's gone for another 5 days, our contact reduced to strictly professional (rehearsals) or just a brief phone call, so as not to use up too many minutes on the cell phone. Usually by Friday I'm not a pretty sight.

It's had an effect on the company operations too - I find I now tend to be at my most productive earlier in the week, and after about noon on Wednesday (which it is as I write this) I don't find I come up with anything particularly profound, and I'm better served by tackling the more mind-numbing aspects of this job (re-arranging the office drawing is likely next on the list).

This has been one of those phone call only weeks. It reminded me of just how far we have come in five years at Grinder Productions, how much the company has grown. For while I may have a mountain of tasks in front of me that are none-too-pleasant, and while I may only be at my best when I'm feeling good, the fact that we're even at the point where these things can happen says a lot. Five years ago I didn't know how I should be spending my time, or what jobs were going to be more difficult than others. I certainly didn't know how much certain things were going to cost (both in terms of dollars, social capital and personal friendships).

I don't pretend now that I know everything, or that I know less now than I thought I knew then. I have learned. I have grown, and so has the company. Grinder is now more than just one man with a crazy idea. It's a fun, exciting movement that gives meaning to dozens of lives, and the numbers are growing every day.

If that doesn't keep me going until Friday night then I don't know what will.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An interesting read

I found this posting on the Theatre Ideas blog out of the US. A must-read for anyone who thinks that the only reason to be in theatre is to become a famous star. Politically, it's a little too far to the left for me, but still, please check it out - this is a much more reasonable, rational post than some of the other diatribes I've been reading lately.

http://theatreideas.blogspot.com/2008/09/teaching-alternatives.html

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Call for Volunteers - Set Building

Grinder Productions is assisting with the Elora Community Theatre production of Dr. Norman Craig's You're Lucky if You're Killed this November at the Fergus Grand Theatre. On Saturday, October 18th at 1pm we are have a set building and painting day at the barn. I would love to have as many Grinder people as possible out to this event, as well as several ECT people from the cast, as this is a great opportunity for members of each group (and some people are members of both groups) to get together, get their hands dirty and build a cool set for a very important community project. No experience necessary of course, but if you have power tools feel free to bring them along. There'll be plenty to do, don't be shy.

Saturday, October 18th. At the barn. 1pm. E-mail grinder@grinderproductions.org for more info if necessary.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Forging ahead - How Grinder will survive the Armaggeddon

There's days I wish I were wealthy enough to play the stock market. These are not those days.

No matter where you look, there's more and more doom and gloom about our immediate collective financial future. Now I'm not a financial expert, and I don't know exactly how bad things are going to get, or what outcomes we can expect from a prolonged recession. I do know that we have a business to run, one that is, at least on the surface, particularly at risk of falling through the cracks of a crumbling economy. I thought it would be a good idea to let all of you know that we do have a plan for ensuring Grinder Productions can weather the financial storm, and to tell you a bit about the strategies we are undertaking to ensure we continue down our path.

Our plan consists of many things that we have already been working on. We'll continue to look for ways to reduce the number of male roles in our shows, so as to capitalize on the substantially larger talent pool of women at our disposal. With fewer people being able to afford to have the time to act, male and female talent pools are likely to shrink even further, so it makes sense to draw more heavily from where we have the best chance of casting our shows in a timely fashion. This may also extend to more onstage opportunities for youth and children as well: we're a heckuva lot cheaper than playing hockey.

We'll also continue to reduce the number of "purchased" shows that we do. As this past summer demonstrated all too clearly, name recognition counts for little or nothing anymore. It's what a play is about and who is in it that puts bums in seats, not the name of the author. While we won't eliminate previously-produced works from the canon completely (that would drive even the most hardened of TV sit-com staff writers off the deep end) it's clear that original works are a viable option at Grinder, and that these shows can make money.

We're also reducing technical rehearsal time, working closer to acheiving two tech days for every show in each of our venues. I'm not entirely thrilled by that (especially as regards the Grand in Fergus, where the tech is much more elaborate), but with rental costs well over 50% of our budget (over 80% if there are no royalties costs) it is essential that we are only in the theatres as long as is absolutely necessary.

We're going to continue to ramp up marketing efforts, a process that has been going on for quite a while now, but will become more and more focal, especially over the winter months.

These are some of the things that we are going to do. Notice that I do say "we." Grinder Productions is not the extension of one man. It is the cumulative efforts of over 300 actors, directors, production people and volunteers, not to mention thousands of patrons over the years. The people of Grinder come from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life, and our greatest successes have only come when we have worked together. Our greatest failures have only come when I have worked alone. We're going to have to work together to keep Grinder afloat in the months ahead. So talk up the company, tell everyone you know how much fun you had at your last show, and how much you're looking forward to your next one. Come on out and see shows yourself, and bring your friends. If there's a night where you're the only people in the audience you'll know just how badly we need your support. And most of all, do not give in to the doom and gloom surrounding us - things will improve over time.

These are the days when we show what we are truly made of.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Art Wars: Declaration of Neutrality

There's an election going on in Canada right now, in case you hadn't heard (I don't know how its possible not to see it, but I guess some people miss it). Somehow, in an odd twist of events, the arts community (and its funding) is on the political radar this time around.

All I want to do is to make sure that you are aware that funding for arts and culture is a significant component of this election, and I want you to examine for yourself the policies proposed by the various parties. Each party has different views and ideas, and this election represents a choice for those of us involved in all levels of the creative industry, about not just what we will receive in the way government support in the months and years ahead, but also the exact framework that such support will be delivered in.

It is not now, and has never been, my perogative to use this blog as a forum for political discourse. If I want to espouse a political viewpoint, I'll start a political blog. So I'm not going to tell you who you should vote for in this election, nor will I even go so far as to tell you who's policy on funding the arts has gotten my vote. I will simply tell you to get yourself informed, and to vote.

As my father once said, if you don't vote, you can't complain about who gets elected. I, for one, intend to make sure that I reserve the right to complain.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Undressing the Aging Ballerina - Marketing and Naked Theatre

Some years ago I read a review of a one woman show, the name of which long escaped me, about a ballet dancer and the incredible physical toll a career on pointe took on her body. Act 1 featured the writer/performer in her tutu, and her tales of a life in ballet seemed genuine enough. In Act 2, however, the costume was removed, and the audience was confronted with the naked form of a woman who had given her life to her art, and was able to see, in horrific, graphic detail, the scarring, the deformities, the anorexia and many of the other quite disturbing health problems this particular form of dance can give rise to.

(I don't know whether or not this particular ballerina's experience is the exception or the rule, so please don't colour your view of the ballet based on my admittedly limited experience with it - perhaps the sort of issues that were allowed to develop twenty years ago are no longer tolerated today)

Theatre is much like that poor dancer. She is old (older than ballet, opera, the printing press - predating almost every entertainment medium) and there are plenty of scars all over her body, of conventions forced upon her over the centuries.

Did Shakespeare wish that the women in his plays could actually be played by women, not pre-pubescent boys? Or did the knowledge that a few boys with little experience was all he had to work with lead The Bard to craft works where the majority of roles were for men?

What effect did the 18th century theatre manager's desire to make a few extra bucks by selling "premium" seating on the stage have? These seats were often so numerous as to make significant encroachments on the playing area (and in those days the casts tended to be much larger as well), so one can't help but feel the quality of the performance was adversely affected.

Did the rise of cinema in the early 20th century (with radio and television following close behind) serve to make theatre better by enabling creative visions made possible by the new media, or rip the heart out of it by drastically draining the pool of actors, production people and audiences?

Like the ballet dancer's tutu and pointe shoes, these developments have been external to the theatre, imposed from above (either by religion, politics, science or the almighty dollar) and have been intended to reconcile performers and performances with socially acceptable, socially possible, socially profitable circumstances of the given time.

Well here we are now in the 21st century, in a time of unprecedented social, economic and ecological awareness and upheaval. In the 21st century the aging ballerina has been undressed - the craft of production being reduced to "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amateur Theatricals" (no kidding - look it up!) and the act of production now no more complicated than pressing record on your camera phone and uploading it to the net. Pretty much anybody who wants to can make all the theatre they want.

Okay, now here's the part you're not going to like: I don't think this development is a bad thing.

I don't think I have a problem with every Tom, Dick and Jane in this world wanting their 15 seconds of fame. I think we've got enough problems (war, poverty, disease - I could go on) that there seems no point in saying that we, the people who make theatre for a living (or try to!) are any more entitled to drink from the cup as anyone else. After all, isn't theatre, at its core, an excercise in inclusivity, a way for a community to be formed around a common vision, a vision which, while it may be led by one or more individuals, is an expression of collective will?

So thanks to YouTube, pretty much anything goes in the way of performance, and pretty much anyone who wants to badly enough can perform. Thus, theatre is socially acceptable (finally, ironically), and socially possible.

It is that third pillar, profitability, where we run into difficulty.

Sadly, you can dress up the ballerina all you want - she's still too old to dance, at least not in a way that will make people come out in droves to see her. Theatre, with all its historical trappings and misappropriations for the gains of others, cannot continue to thrive as it exists today.

So what can we do?

Enter the naked theatre.

The naked theatre gets rid of all those conventions from the past. It looks beyond what has been done before, asking instead "What can we do now?" Why promote a show if no one is going to care about the publicity? You're just wasting your time. Why not simply ask people who have a vested interest in the show to simply buy a ticket (exactly how I haven't figured out just yet - that's the topic for another posting).

Why buy a show that was a hit somewhere else? What makes you think it will be a hit here? Whatever you think, you're wrong - unless there's more behind your desire to bring a show to the stage than the fact that some critic wrote three words in a review that got reprinted on the back of the acting edition.

Why would you do a show you hate just to bring people out, if you haven't got an ironclad guarantee (and I'd get that in writing - on a piece of paper drawn up by your lawyer) that a large number of people will actually come to it? Wouldn't it be better to do a show you love and have no one come to it than a show you hate and have no one come to it?

Marketing the naked theatre means not marketing. You can't market theatre any more. I don't think you can market anything, really. It's just a matter of time, I believe, before all "traditional" advertising (print, radio, TV, even on the internet) is a thing of the past. I don't know what will replace it (maybe more product placement advertising like in movies, or advertorials, but I don't think either of those work very well either - I'll leave the next big leap up to someone else), but I don't think we need to wait around in the theatre, dropping exhorbitant amounts of money on advertising campaigns that don't put any butts in seats.

I'm going to write a new theatre Marketing manifesto, mostly for myself, but I'll share it with all of you. Like the book Punk Marketing Manifesto (highly entertaining, by the way, I recommend it to anyone), this will make possible the "unmarketing" or "antimarketing" of theatre, in such a way as to be financially successful. I think it's going to take a complete and totaly review of how we do everything around here. I think it's going to take The Naked Theatre.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No post today - just come and see ART!

Come and see Art. Elora Centre for the Arts. Just come. You'll love it. It's Art.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Art Opens Tomorrow Night!

There are still some tickets left for this show, but get them fast! The fickle nature of the festival crowd means this could go viral. $15 each, available at the Elora Centre for the Arts, online at www.sensationalelora.com, or you can try your luck at the door. October 3rd and 4th at 8pm, October 4th at 2pm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October Newsletter

Newsletter now available on website. Get it here.