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Who are you? Erika Geller
What do you do? I’m a Founding Co-Artistic Director with The CoLab Theatre Company, an actress, a playwright, and occasionally a waitress.
Where are you from originally? Pittsfield, MA
How long have you been working in Boston? I’ve been working professionally in Boston since 2009, but I’ve been experiencing theatre here since 2005.
Why do you stay? Love that dirty water. This city has a feeling about it that speaks to me.
What’s your earliest theatre memory? When I was about 9, I was in a production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. All I remember were the lights. It was terrifying.
What’s your first theatre memory in Boston? My roommate and I went to see Spelling Bee – the production was so full of joy that I didn’t want it to end.
What was your first job in the theatre? When I was 16, I interned at a summer stock company in my hometown. I worked with the stage manager. I was so jealous of all of the actors! It was an important experience because it taught me where my heart belongs.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had before a show? My parents and I went out to a meal at Legal Seafoods. Rare tuna steak, seaweed salad, mashed potatoes, and a glass of pinot grigio! Yum!
What’s your favorite rehearsal snack? Apples. Or Twizzlers. 🙂
Do you eat before you go on stage or do you wait until after your performance to eat? I’ll eat something small before I go on stage, usually yogurt or fruit or pretzels. Usually I’m too excited to eat anything more!
If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be? I want to put butts in the seats. So many people are nervous to attend because they are unfamiliar with live theatre. Most theatre is accessible to the “everyman” (and woman) but they just don’t know it. We need to market it that way.
What kind of theater excites you? If the actors are enjoying themselves on stage, I’ll be excited in the audience. If the playwright put a piece of their heart in the script, I’m excited to speak their words. Show me a group of people who love their craft, and I’m on board.
What advice do you have for artists just starting out? You don’t have to take every piece of advice given to you. Listen, thank the advice giver and do what you feel is right for you. In the end, you have to be the type of artist you want to be. Keep pushing, and you’ll get there.
The Boston Theatre Conference focused on the lively, lush and local aspects of our theatre community. What do you think? We have all of the right puzzle pieces, but we’re still figuring out how to put them together. The border pieces are in place, but we’re looking for those pesky squiggly pieces that go in the middle of the picture. The only way we’re going to finish the puzzle is by trying new things and learning each time a piece doesn’t quite fit perfectly.
YOUR TURN! Write to us here!
by Marco Paulo Carneiro
How well are we doing at knowing our patrons? Many of them were with us the week before, and they’re back to see our show a second or third time, this time with friends. Are we doing enough to remember them, and truly say thank you for their support? Are we recognizing their continued contributions and applause, their commitment to our work through the good and bad times? Some of them are what allow us to exist (especially for we Fringe-ers).
There is so much (necessary) talk about what we can do to create an interactive experience for our audience. But how far can this go if the audience doesn’t feel they could comfortably fit in with us at a mixer, post-show talk or even in a piece of interactive theater? We should know our regulars. Remember their faces, remember their “orders,” try to remember their name and make sure they know who you are. Find out what their needs are, what would make for a better patron experience. Invite their thoughts in person. Online forums and discussion boards are invaluable, but I guarantee they will feel like they are literally part of our team if you take some time –make some time- to get their views right there in the theater. And feeling like a team member leads to dedicated patrons who are just as excited for the next production as you are. They might not be the hotshot reviewer you want to impress, but their insight and opinions -especially when they start contrasting past, current and future plans for repertoire, facilities, etc- are incredible ways of knowing if what we’re doing is clear and consistent with our mission and vision; their opinion is a way of knowing if we’re having an affect at all. They wield incredible sway power within their own communities and can help make or break the public success of our work, even if the success isn’t what we’re after. They help keep us grounded so that we don’t overlook the basics. And all of that makes for the beginnings of a great foundation for dialogue-driven community.
In the end, knowing our patrons is all about the community we’re all building together with each passing day of readings, productions, exhibitions and conversations. Knowing them gives us feedback, provides us with loyal support, and allows us to keep growing in our Boston community. The more we know our patrons, the more they’ll want to know us. So please, take some time to remember who gets the extra-toasted bagel. It could be the best thing you’ll ever do to help keep the homegrown movement alive.
I’m not the first person to compare theater with church, and I know I won’t be the last. The similarities are too obvious. And I also know I’m going down a dangerous road here. Church can make some people squeamish. I’ll be the first to admit that the topic makes me squirm a bit. There are so many of us who are not accepted by churches. There are so many of us who have given church our best, like affection to some crazy lover, and despite the fact that we tried and tried, it just didn’t work out. And it makes us kind of sad to finally admit it, and close that door.
But again, the similarities between the theater and the church are just too noticeable. The stage as an altar. The audience as congregation and the actors as celebrants. Vestments become costumes and the rituals, well, become the rituals: On one side you have a clanging bell telling the congregation to get its sorry self together, it’s time to gather, and on the other you have flickering lights in the lobby. And then there’s the script—the story that never changes is no different from the liturgy.
And who of us in the theater haven’t at least once (having been the first to arrive or the last to leave) paused, and did nothing more than listened to the quiet of the space, and for some reason felt something touch us inside? Like you might in a church.
So, with all the talk lately about how local theaters need to build community, I wonder if we shouldn’t ponder the church a bit more. Just recently I was at the Provincetown Theater for its playwrights’ festival. Again, all the similarities that I noted before were there. Plus one. A very important one. Not three minutes into the first offering (oh boy, there’s another similar word) the lights went out. This was a big blackout, covering all of Provincetown. And while electricians threw switches and spliced wires somewhere out in the night to restore power, the little community comprising both theater professionals and their friends and family in the audience that was gathered in that darkened space tapped into something I can only describe as love. They sang songs (including This Little Light of Mine), joked amongst themselves, and one realized that this moment was just one of many more to come that bonded them all together.
It was eminently clear they weren’t there just for the plays.
And I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I think so many of us go to the theater for more than the play. The play is like the communion that we all share but we also like the whole event, from breaking bread before the performance to seeing friends.
What we as theater professionals have to do is figure out how to convert. Figure out how to save souls. Churches advertise salvation, sure, but I’ll bet three-quarters if not more of the people on their knees every Sunday are not much more than Fish on Friday Catholics. They cherish belonging to a community of like-minded people as much as anything.
I guess what I’m saying is theater companies have to start thinking more like churches, giving more to the community than just Sunday service. Club Passim in Cambridge is an arts organization that is successfully doing this. It’s not just a music venue, but also a music school offering a wide range of classes and workshops, and it’s also an archive and library. I think theater companies have to open themselves up more to the community, and think about what it needs, rather than what we have to offer. Then there’s a better chance that our audience base will grow.
By Christine Toohey
In mid-September, I attended two opening nights in the same week. Monday night was Boston Marriage at New Repertory Theatre, and Thursday brought a punk-rock version of Romeo and Juliet by the Independent Drama Society. As you may expect, the Boston Marriage opening was greater in scale (bigger audience, better production values, better food), while Romeo and Juliet was edgier (mohawks, stamped hands, exposed fluorescent lighting). Both openings, though, had same exciting energy. As theater professionals, we love to go to the theater on opening night–partially for the free food and drinks, but mostly to meet people and discuss the show. We love being part of the action.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to build an audience who is invested in your company, who feels the same excitement going to the theater that we feel on opening night. For a small company like IDS, it’s easy. Yes, we advertise, send out press releases, and hand out flyers, but the biggest reason people come to see our shows is because they know someone in the production; most of our audience are friends and family of actors, designers, or staff. We can make audiences feel like part of the action simply by inviting them to stay for a reception with the cast and crew after the show is done.
At New Rep, it’s a little harder. Yes, audiences will come see a show if it features an actor they know, but usually that’s not enough to fill our houses. We have to build a reputation for consistency, for electrifying, compelling, and poignant productions, so audiences will come out to Watertown even if they don’t know the actors or the play. We also hold post-show talkbacks and behind-the-scenes tours to give audiences an exclusive opportunity to learn about the show and the company. Perhaps more importantly, as Rachael Donnelly said so eloquently in her post a few days ago, we strive to build personal relationships with New Rep patrons, so they feel a closer connection to their theatre.
What about you and your company? Why do people come to see your shows? What connects your audience to your company? For that matter, why do you go to the theater? What makes you feel connected to the theatres with which you work and play?
We’re not the only ones talking about a Slow Theatre Movement! From time to time we’ll repost from the blogs of others who are exploring a Slow Theatre Movement. This post comes from http://yourtownperforms.com/
“Growing Local”- Not Just for Tomatoes
by Craige Hoover
There’s a supply-side reason for the success too. Farmer’s have found that selling their foods locally yields a higher financial return per acre than going through food distributor. Plus, the farmers are able to grow much more diversified crops, which is better for their soil, requiring less fertilizer, which means amore organic product. It’s touchy-feely for the farmers too, as selling to the folks in their community turns out to be far more personally rewarding than loading it onto a semi-truck.
Does any of this sound familiar? The entire point of this blog and my work is to try and convince people that the arts can and in fact, should be “grown locally.” It’s kind of remarkable how neatly the comparison fits. In fact, I’m going to rewrite the above paragraph as a hypothetical story about the arts, substituting the subject of the article in italics.
One of the Sunday morning news shows did a feature story on the recent spike in the number of local performing arts groupspopping up around the country. In fact, the number of weekly or monthly performing arts events in this country has almost doubled in the last year. As it turns out, people get a kick out of taking in locally produced theatre, dance, music, and visual arts. Not only are there cultural benefits, but there are community benefits as well. Attending local arts programs supports localartists, and the performances themselves have become a community gathering ritual that people look forward to each week. Sure, the programs aren’t perfect, but that is a welcome trade-off for knowing exactly where the programs were created, knowing the artists personally, and that he or she used great care in its cultivation.
There’s a supply-side reason for the success too. Arts organizations have found that selling their foods locally yields a higher financial return per square foot of performance space than does a giant performing arts center. Plus, the organizations are able to feature a much more diversified array of programming, which is better for keeping their programming fresh, their artists busy, and requiring less subsidies, which means more sustainable product. It’s touchy-feely for the artists too, as performing for the folks in their community turns out to be far more personally rewarding than for a dark sea of strangers.
It’s kind of eerie, isn’t it? It also makes perfect sense. Returning to the neighborhood scale is a movement that is not localized to the development, retail, and farming industries, it’s a cultural-wide movement that has only just begun to take root (pun intended).
Please watch the video below produced by Theatre Communications Group on “why/how/if theatre matters in America. The STAGE MATTERS video captures artists, theatre leaders, patrons, educators, corporate executives and politicians around the country as they emphatically speak about the value of theatre and challenges we face in an ever-changing environment.”
Watching it, I found it obviously relevant to our discussions on this blog, and I urge you to share it with your friends and fellow theatre professionals and supporters.
Speaking of a slow arts movement starting to take shape here already…I’m sure many of you have heard about the “Shirley, VT Plays Festival” happening now at the BCA that celebrates 3 plays by the very talented playwright Annie Baker, all of which take place in the fictional town of Shirley, VT. The Huntington Theatre Company is producing Circle Mirror Transformation, SpeakEasy Stage Company is producing Body Awareness, and Company One is producing The Aliens. Click the link below to watch an exciting WGBH broadcast hosted by Jared Bowen that details the festival and each of the plays! Hearing the directors talk about the process of collaboration with one another is so inspiring and definitely relates to this idea of a Slow Arts Movement. Enjoy!