Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Directions




I write this as I'm sitting on the dock in Rosseau, whiling away the hours until I can pick up the world's greatest wife (who looks simply ravishing in a poodle skirt, by the way) from her company's annual meeting.

Cottages dot the shoreline. A young family fishes on the next dock over, and then a loon's call echos over the water. You don't get much more Northern Ontario than this.

Even though I'm far from home, noticeably exhausted and have narrowly avoided not one, but two wet and runny bombs from the seagulls periodically swirling overhead I'm oddly enough in a largely peaceful state of mind. Large bodies of open, calm water seem to have that effect on me, as does the quiet majesty of the boreal forest that seems to rise effortlessly out of the granite.

A par of mallards land just behind me, and begin foraging along the shore. A pair of loons surface just a few feet from where I sit. A blue heron glides over the water, disappearing in the instant she lands in the foliage on the opposite shore.

This is a peaceful place, on the dock, and it's made for a peaceful place in my mind. I don't think I've been this tired but still this happy since I walked down the aisle (which if you're keeping score was one year ago this past Sunday).

So what does all this inner and outer tranquility have to do with Grinder? Everything.

Up here in the clear northern air there's nothing but pure, honest truth. The truth about Grinder is that it isn't the runaway success it should be, can be or deserves to be.

In 2010 we've been plagued by people quitting shows, either just before rehearsals begin, or just after, and we've been unable to interest enough actors in being in our shows.

In 2009 we were plagued by poor attendance. I was very, very hurt when one actor I'd worked with before told me they wouldn't do a show with me again in a different venue because "you don't get enough people there for it to be worth it."

In 2008 we finally gave up trying to do shows at the Fergus Grand Theatre, a building that I've put 15 years of blood, sweat and tears into, because we simply weren't selling enough tickets to be able to risk a contract in Centre Wellington's premiere live performance venue.

In 2007 we ruined some lives.

In spite of our failures, we've had some victories too. We raised a little money for the cancer centre at Groves. We've paid thousands in rent, to the Township of Centre Wellington, to the Elora Centre for the Arts, and perhaps most importantly to the Ennotville Library. We've given many young people their first taste of theatre, be it acting, directing, or in a design/technical capacity, and we've inspired some of these young people to pursue professional careers. A few of these young people have even already found some success on the professional stage, screen, catwalk or behind the scenes.

And yes, two people met, became friends, fell in love and got married. Perhaps that is the most amazing victory of all.

So this is the paradox I've been struggling with: how can our victories (however numerous they may be) justify the shame and hardship of my entrepreneurial failures? I've spent most of the last year grappling with this problem in one form or another, and I'll admit I seriously considered giving it all up, and going and spending the next 40 years of my life making money doing something I hate, like everybody else.

But here on the boat dock it finally starts to make a little sense. I usually take Grinder's failures solely as my own, since on some level, no matter what actions any individual may take, it was ultimately I who agreed to them coming on board. Yet I usually see Grinder's successes as belonging to everyone, because I know that no matter how hard I may work putting on a show is a collaborative effort, and the most successful shows are most often those with real collaborative efforts from all involved.

What I realize now is that my attitude may be politically correst but it is pragmatically flawed. If success is collaborative then so is failure, and if I allow everyone to cherish the victories then I shouldn't wallow alone in the agony of failure and defeat.

I can't do it all alone. But what I can do is change how things are done.

So here's my idea. Grinder Productions is going to move from being a community theatre company to a sem-professional theatre company. What this means is that from now on everyone working on a show (as an actor, director or major production personnel) will sign a contract, and they will be paid a portion of any profits generated by whatever show they are in. They will be paid even more if they meet a series of "qualifying criteria" - basic expectations of professionalism like learning lines and showing up for all rehearsals. How much money each participant makes ultimately depends on how many people are involved in a given show, and how hard they are willing to work to make it a success.

So that's the new plan. We'll try it for the summer and see how it goes. I hope it will solve some of our biggest problems and make our shows more fun to be in. And yes, to be honest, I hope it will finally mean that I can earn a living wage from this, and meaningfully contribute to my family once again. And maybe by the time my 2nd anniversary roles around it won't take Lake Rosseau in all it's splendour to make me feel at peace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope this works out for you - and for the community of aspiring actors.