Archive for category Slow Theatre

Heart, Head & Hands: Food/Theater/Community Part 2

by Candelaria Silva-Collins, copyright 2011

The audience is there, we just have to build it.  I will share a few ways that I have built appreciators In both my dedication to home-cooking/breaking bread with others and in bringing people to theater.

Invite people – consistently, frequently, in a variety of ways.

I invite people to meals cooked by me at my home regularly.  A lot of the invitees have been surprised because they are not my friends, they are acquaintances.  Nearly everyone comes.

I never go to theater without a companion – from performances at Huntington Theatre, by Company One, Wheelock Family Theatre, Speak Easy Stage Company  and the African-American Theatre Festival (to name but a few) – I bring someone with me.

Inform people

I share recipes and theatre reviews & information both informally through emails and more formally through blog posts.  If I like something, if I find something provocative or interesting, I share it.

Throw the net widely/reach beyond usual comfort zone

When I was Director of ACT Roxbury, I informed broad networks of people about our events.  I didn’t presume to know who would or would not be interested in our events and initiatives.  I didn’t let geography hamper me.  So I invited Roxbury residents, residents of surrounding communities and people in the metropolitan area.  I participated in the Multicultural Committee of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to inform visitors about the plays we produced and the Roxbury Film Festival, for example.

Organizations like StageSource, Underground Railway Theater, and Bank of America Celebrity Series were open enough to have events at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, coming outside of their usual territory to meet the audiences we attracted.  Similarly, we hosted events featuring Roxbury-based artists in other communities including National Heritage Museum (Lexington) and Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (Boston seaport).

Collaborate

There is strength and expanded capacity in collaborating with other organizations on joint projects and in promoting each other’s events.  No organization is ever the only game in town.  No organization ever has an exclusive hold on or right to an audience.  People like variety, choice and to try new theater and food on for size.  We have to make it as effortless as possible for this to happen.

Educate and Nurture Future Audiences

Exposing children to well-prepared food and excellent theater prepares them to get hooked on these kinds of experiences.  We have to create future audiences and artists by going into the schools and community centers where young people are.

And don’t forget adults. Go to where adults are – community organizations, churches, gathering spots like restaurants, hair salons, and the Super Stop & Shop in the South Bay Mall, for example.  There are communities of seniors who would relish the opportunity to attend theater. (I work with Door2Door to the Arts to bring senior citizens to arts and cultural events using the vans that were previously mainly used to transport them to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping.  In one year, we have brought seniors to nearly 50 events!)

Affordability/Marketing

In addition to the pay-what-you-can performances, ticket give-ways, discounts to community organizations, and ticket discounts through Bostix, we need to empower venues and staff to aggressively market unsold seats in the moment.

We need to pretend that no one knows who we are and what we do and inform them through public theater in places like South Station and Copley Square.

Food and theater connect people in a world where many people are becoming more comfortable with the remotely connecting through electronic portals than face-to-face. We all need food, we all need art in real time and actual space.

Holla!

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Heart, Head & Hands: Food/Theater/Community Part 1

by Candelaria Silva-Collins, copyright 2011

A good meal, like a good play, requires the best ingredients no matter how straight-forward or complex it is.  As an appreciator of live theater and home-cooked, food, I see the connection between these two life-affirming, life-sustaining entities.

Food, slow food, lovingly home-cooked (and locally source when possible) requires a lot of collaborative efforts.  I cook with the memories, cooking lessons, and history of meals tasted and meals cooked coursing through my hands. I learned to cook by being in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother.  I refined those lessons through pouring over cook-books, recipes, cooking shows and videos.  I count on the farmers and their staff, the grocery stores and farmer’s markets to bring that food to me.  I rely on the hungry mouths of children, husband, friends and family to appreciate my artistry.  My cooking means nothing without appreciative (or even just hungry) mouths to eat it.  There has often been theatricality in the rooms where I’ve dined, especially with family.

Theater, too, is a collaborative art.  It springs from the imagination of the playwright and all of those who nurtured a love for language and stories in that playwrights’ mind.  The playwright needs the director and stage manager and crew and the actors, of course, the actors who are the spice and heat and utensils that bring the play to life.  An unseen play is an empty vessel indeed.  Theater needs audiences to experience, appreciate (or denigrate) the food it provides.

Meals and theater spring from, reinforce and invigorate community.  Food is sustenance, a necessity that can be elevated to an art and is most special when delivered with love.  Theater is sustenance, necessary to souls and intellect.  Both are repositories of history and hope and visions for the future.

Great food and theater are cultural mirrors that yearn beyond the particular to achieving universality.

In this age of multiple appointments, rushing and busyness, quick food and quick entertainment have more adherents, it seems, then slow food and real theater. Yet there has always been and will continue to be a desire for food and theater that have been well-crafted.  This desire is not just the province of afficiandos  – it is bubbling throughout society.

About the author:

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a Facillitator, Consultant, and writer living in Boston, MA.  Follow Candelaria’s blog  Good and Plenty or visit her website www.candelariasilva.com .

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A Necessary Theater

By Megan Sandberg-Zakian

I feel very lucky to be part of the greater Boston theater community, and especially right now as Stage Source asks us to respond to Diane Ragsdale’s call for arts organizations to “stop selling excellence and start brokering relationships between people and art.” Considering Ragsdale’s words, I am reminded of the words of one of our great American humanists, John Dewey, who warned of the dangers of separating “art” from our daily lived experience.  In Art as Experience, Dewey wrote that as recently as a century or two ago, and certainly before that, bowls, chairs, and other everyday objects were both artful and useful – a necessary part of daily life. Stroll through any modern museum and you will see those same objects lit up in glass boxes. Museums, Dewey offers, are a tool for separating art from experience and making it a memorial to the rise of imperialism and capitalism, thereby introducing both the idea that art is separate from experience (and that, as an elevated cultural sphere, it is expensive). Dewey writes that those who care about art must think in a more holistic way:

“Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications. The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish… In order to understand the meaning of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and conditions of experience that we do not usually regard as esthetic.”

To artists, art always seems necessary, because it is our life and our livelihood, and because we are usually surrounded by others who value the work that we do. But what happens when we assume that our work is valuable, is positive in some kind of larger sense? Of theatres which give away tickets to underprivileged kids, or whoever, in an attempt to give a new audience the gift of the theatre, director Peter Brook writes: “Behind all attempts to reach new audiences there is a secret patronage – ‘you too can come to the party’ – and like all patronage, it conceals a lie. The lie is the implication that the gift is worth receiving. Do we really believe in its worth?”

Brook’s answer is no – that when we hold “Art” apart from daily life, and deem it “good,” when we forget that the mountains are the earth, we uphold a deadly separation, a division which “can never change so long as culture or any art is simply an appendage on living, separable from it and, once separated, obviously unnecessary.” In The Empty Space, Brook asks:

“Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a superannuated oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties?”

As someone interested in making art that is more than “an appendage on living,” I feel a strong responsibility to answer these questions – and to live up to the answers, imperfect and constantly shifting as they may be. Otherwise, how can I in good conscience continue to spend my personal resources of time and energy on the practice of theater-making? How can I vote for politicians who promise to spend our communal resources on the arts? How can I ask a private foundation to underwrite my work, when it has the option to lend its support to affordable housing, environmental protection, or progressive education? If I cannot say why the work is alive, vital, rather than an old monument, then why should I be surprised when audiences treat it like a quaint custom? Most crucially, if I cannot say why this work is necessary, how can I ask audiences to pay for it and sit through it?  Questions inevitably lead to more questions, but we must “point articulately” (as Anne Bogart says) to what we believe in if we want it to be seen, heard, valued… and, perhaps, in some small but critical way, incorporated back into the realm of experience, the realm of necessity.

Dewey (writing in 1934), Brook (in 1968), and Ragsdale (in 2010), all warn us against using “excellence,” or a myth of elevated aesthetic purity, to separate the mountains from the earth. No matter how beautiful or well-made this kind of art is, it is not actually necessary. All of us – artists, arts organizations, funders, critics – need to closely examine our assumptions about what makes “excellent” art. How do we resist the entrenched hierarchies (is a play at a senior center less “excellent” than a play at Lincoln Center?) and the economics that follow them? How do we appropriately assess a “slow art” movement?  In the slow food movement, a tomato gains cache for being organic and locally grown as well as for being delicious – in other words, both process and product count in assessing excellence. The tomato becomes more meaningful, more worth eating, because of where it comes from and how it was made. Can our theater critics begin to ask some of these questions?

I am inspired by companies that make it clear that excellent art, like an excellent tomato, is best made through an ethical, caring, and visible process – like Washington D.C.’s Liz Lerman Dance Company, with it’s groundbreaking non-hierarchical artist/administration model and its demonstrated track record of creating “excellent” concert-quality works in collaboration with non-dancers in community settings, the healthy, sustainable theater-making at San Diego’s Mo’olelo Theatre which includes paying everyone a living wage and investigating less toxic, lower environmental impact avenues to design and production, and the Twin Cities’ Ten Thousand Things, which gathers the most in-demand actors in the region to perform Shakespeare and other sophisticated texts in non-traditional performance venues such as homeless shelters and prisons. All three of these companies have received the highest acclaim for the quality of their artistic work, and all are eloquent in their belief that their work is as good as it is because of their “slow-art” process, not in spite it.

Here in Boston, I am inspired by Company One, whose smart and gutsy productions of contemporary plays have won them local fans and, recently, national acclaim – they are, certainly, “excellent.” Behind the scenes, Company One is quietly redefining structures of non-profit arts administration, underlining the inseparability of aesthetics and politics, and almost singlehandedly developing and supporting a new generation of young artists of color in Boston.
I am excited by the slow-art challenge – to make theater that points articulately to what we believe in, that seeks a more holistic definition of “excellence,” incorporated into rather than elevated from our daily lived experience. The resulting performances will be like a truly fantastic tomato – not particularly pretty, surprisingly magical, and absolutely necessary.

About the author

Megan Sandberg-Zakian is a director, writer, and educator based in Providence, RI. She can currently be found in Cambridge directing Underground Railway Theatre’s production of Derek Walcott’s “Ti Jean and His Brothers,” or online at megansz.com.

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Slow food and slow theatre: metaphors and rethinking audience’s role.

By Anita Lauricella

I sometimes think we approach developing audiences in the way some of us were taught to eat our vegetables.  The issuance of a rather stern “eat the broccoli its good for you” married to an assumption that this knowledge would make me want to “friend” broccoli.   In theatre we develop friends and work on “education” through talk backs, reviews and program notes with a similar faith. We build opportunities that assume that if you only understood why this is wonderful you would come back and bring your friends.

The Slow Food movement has moved past this one dimensional approach to encouraging an appreciation of food.  Education, appreciation and connoisseurship are key aspects of the slow food movement.  But what is interesting to me is the message that says it is important to know how the food got to the market.  The slow food movement stresses demystifying the food production process.  They want us to know where and how the food was grown and how it got to the food stand or grocer.  Not only do they want us to know; they spend time developing a compelling narrative.  I buy local because the story of factory farms disgusts me and the story of the local farmer down the street is so compelling.

If the local audience can look behind the curtain and into a theater’s “production” process will they value and appreciate the performance?  I think I do feel more intrigued when I have been given a “back stage” view.   I appreciate a peep at the creative process and wonder if this feeling is shared by other audience members? For me this taste is the impetus for learning more; staying for a talk back or checking out a review.   A colleague tasked with developing some supporting educational panels was invited to attend and comment on rehearsals.  She loved it, but was it too much?  Did her knowledge of the director’s intent or the actors’ trials ruin the mystery that is part of the theatre experience?   Not in this case but maybe sometime; currently I know more than enough about Spiderman.

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The Road to Mindful Theatre.

Slow movements are about, well, slowing down.  Mindfully approaching life and, in our case, the creation of art, audience, and community.  For me, the road to mindful living began with my child.  The first time she sat in grass: the way she curled her fingers around the blades of green life and grinned.

The sun shone like a fairytale, and the very air seemed to breath laughter.

It was only a minute, but in my memory it lasts for hours.

Tiny knuckles.

Blades flexing and crossing.

Sun dappling across her knees.

It took a child to make me slow down and choose a mindful life: notice the flavors of my meals, the bumps under my feet, the tightening around the eyes as my friend launches herself into a daunting scene, the inhale through the nose of a playwright before she pitches her story.  As it turns out, I like living slowly and mindfully: seeing people and life as valuable, essential, beautiful and whole beings.

Those of us wrapped up in theatre (or, really, any non-profit sector) can forget the value of approaching each other mindfully.  We are so wrapped up in interpreting and improving the world that we lose sight of the very community in which we create.  Tech week happens at top speed with people losing sleep and eating too much pizza.  Actors miss family holidays for auditions.  Artistic Directors skip their breaks in favor of mini-meetings.  Administrators eat lunch staring at a computer screen.  Our love becomes our work, our work becomes our life, and suddenly we are losing sight of life.

Theatre as an art is inherently slower than our lives today.  One scene is far longer than what we watch through media outlets.  We arrive 20 minutes early, lounge in our seats, and wait for the lights to go down.  We don’t leave without, literally, applauding triumphs.  What might the creation of theatre feel like if we all slow down like our audiences?

We get to converse and create for many times longer than we do now.

We get to take an intermission.  With no goal other than to stretch our legs and eat.

We all, literally, applaud each other for our triumphs.  Every day.  Take the time to see the triumphs.

Feel the time…Feel our breath…Oh, wait, isn’t that an acting exercise?

I think I rather like the sound of it.

Theatre as Mindful Living.  Life as Mindful Theatre.

SerahRose Roth is a director, actress, educator, and mom to a precocious preschooler.  She is the Producing Artistic Director of GAN-e-meed Theatre Project and a student at Boston University’s Institute for Non-Profit Management and Leadership.

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What every high school musical should have.

Part of creating a slow theatre movement involves engagement.  Not just engagement of audience, but engagement of prospective theatre artists.  It starts at a young age.   The Producer’s Perspective’s Ken Davenport talks about exploding the high school musical experience to help inspire and inform the next generation of theatre artists.

Originally posted by Ken Davenport via The Producer’s Perspective 11/2/2010

FP8800~High-School-Musical-Posters

I spoke to a group of educators earlier this week at the beautiful John Engeman Theater in Northport and I was asked what I thought we could do to increase student participation in the arts.

I hemmed and hawed for a few moments as I  thought back to my high school production of Anything Goes and I thought . . . how could we have had more students involved?  And how could we have more students from the other side of the cultural tracks involved?

And then I thought . . .

Why doesn’t every high school musical have a Producer?

I’m not talking about the kooky drama teacher that lets the students call her by her first name or the parent that did some summer stock in college, I’m talking about having a student serve as the Producer of the show.

Think about it . .

You could grab a kid who might not even be thinking about a career in the theater, but instead he or she might be planning on and attending business school.  What better way to learn about business than to do it?

By putting him or her in the Producer seat, he or she could learn about fundraising (they could organize fundraisers through Kickstarter, or old-fashioned but always beneficial car washes, etc.), or marketing (someone has to design the posters), revenue management (how much are we going to charge for seats and who counts the money and pays the royalties), and yes, what is the budget of a high school musical and how do we make sure we don’t go over that budget?

And most importantly, this Student Producer could be in charge of making sure all the departments were communicating effectively, which we all know is an asset in any industry.

Are you going to hand over the financial reins to the student?  No, not entirely.  But a Student Producer could certainly sit side by side with a Faculty Advisor and learn a heck of a lot, valuable resume experience, and gain exposure to the arts without having to sing or dance.

But wait a second, why stop there?

Why not have a Student Press Rep?  Someone has got to schedule interviews with the student newspaper, public access cable, local radio, and so forth, right?

What about a Student Marketing Director?

A Student Casting Director?

Yep.  Every show could have all of them.  This is my advocating that any position that exists in the commercial theater should also have high school equivalents.

What will this do?

  • Increase participation in the arts from students who might not normally participate.
  • Inform students about several different future job opportunities that they would never know even existed.  (I didn’t know what a Company Manager was until I worked on a Broadway show.)
  • Help train future Producers, Press Agents, Marketing Directors which strengthens our overall industry.
  • Give students a valuable resume credit for college applications, and future job applications
  • Sell more tickets to the shows, since you’ll have people focused on press, marketing, etc.  And we all know that the bigger the staff, the more tickets you sell to relatives, friends, etc..

If you can’t already tell, I love this idea.

You know why?  Yes, because it accomplishes all the bullet points above.  But the real reason I love it is because . . . it doesn’t require a grant from the state.

It’s free.

And, for those students that do sign up?

It’ll also be fun.

And that’s how you develop future theater professionals and audiences at the same time.

About the Author

A Sturbridge, Massachusetts native, Ken was a child theatre actor who moved behind-the-scenes as a Broadway production assistant while he attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  He  is a Broadway and Off-Broadway producer. To find out more about Ken visit http://www.theproducersperspective.com/ .

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Can I impact the community?

By Troy Siebels

From my position as head of a performing arts center in downtown Worcester, at first glance I’m on the periphery of “Boston Theatre Conference 2011 – Home Grown.”  On the periphery of Greater Boston geographically; and on the periphery of “home grown” as well, as most of what appears on our stage are national touring productions that arrive and leave in trucks and buses.

The slow food movement is about resisting the Big Mac, whose ingredients arrive on a truck from points unknown; in favor of the family restaurant or kitchen whose ingredients come from the local farmers market.  So speaking for a theatre whose performances arrive on trucks from points unknown, who am I to contribute to this discussion?

For me the key lesson to be learned from the slow food movement is the importance of making connections between our performances and our community.  The performance I don’t create though, so it’s not so easy for me to have a great deal of impact on it.  So can I impact the community instead?

Community doesn’t mean the same thing today that it meant to our parents.  The digital generation and the explosion of social media have connected people in one way while driving them apart in another.  I’m much more likely to have a meaningful conversation with someone thousands of miles away, through Facebook or email; than I am to have that same conversation with my neighbor.  The same conversations that happened at corner drugstores in the 1950’s, in bohemian enclaves in the 1970’s and at raves in the 1990’s continue to happen, but they now cross geographic and cultural borders in a way that makes chat rooms look like sewing circles.  A community, today, is self-defined and self-selected; a group that assembles around a shared interest, opinion, need or desire.

Maybe what I need to do is to create community around my theatre and the works we present; to find those with connections to our performances, with less than two or three degrees of separation from those performances.  And I don’t mean just relatives of the performers; but those with personal connections to the story that inspired the script, or to a theme that the show explores.  If I can find those ties, maybe I can create a community that’s already predisposed to connectivity?

Another thing about community today – we receive and process information differently.  We don’t sit in front of the television and watch the news – we “click” to add a comment, or we Facebook, blog or tweet about it.  We are a part of the news today in a way that we weren’t as recently as 10 years ago.  I believe that theatre needs to engage its audiences in the same way, to give theatergoers opportunities to connect in a deeper and more meaningful way with those that create the work, or to be a part of its creation.  We like to say that the audience is an actor in the show; that every performance is different because of the ways the audience reacts; so is this really that much of a stretch?

It will be interesting to look back in a hundred years or so to see how the social media revolution has changed live theatre, an industry that is by definition built around the proximity of the viewer to the performer.  I choose to believe that there will always be a need for shared cultural experiences and deeper engagement; and even a theatre like mine, with shows that roll in on a truck, can make those connections and create those opportunities for engagement, if we focus on finding and building our community.

Troy Siebels

Executive Director

The Hanover Theatre, Worcester

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