Posts Tagged Whistler in the Dark

Whistler In The Dark’s Meg Taintor Talks About Community

I talk about community a lot. About getting artists and lovers of art together and starting conversations about the work that we’re doing: how it is, what it needs, how it could be better.

In fact, last summer, I was being interviewed for a preview piece in the Globe about the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston‘s upcoming FeverFest and the reporter interrupted me at one point to tell me that all my talk of “getting the community together” and “getting the conversation going” wasn’t actually going to make it into the final piece that she would run, because it felt too touchy-feely. Which is odd, right? That the idea of community-building and talking about the work being done in that community has the faint smell of patchouli attached.

I didn’t end up giving her that much more to work with, because what has always excited me about FeverFest and what excites me about the Alliance itself is that very idea: that something crucially important happens when people who make art in a city come together in a room to talk about and support the art being made. And that the conversation that starts in that room continues into other rooms and other theatres and takes on a life of its own.

True to her word, not a sentence about that idea made it into her article.

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I grew up outside Boston, coming to shows in the city throughout my childhood and teenage years, but I hadn’t lived in the area since high school. So when I moved back to the city and founded Whistler in the Dark Theatre six years ago, I had no community here: I didn’t really know anyone. And I’m kind of pathologically shy about meeting new people, so finding a way into the community that was here was daunting.

So, I took a different approach. If I didn’t know the people making the art, I could at least familiarize myself with the art. So I went to dozens of plays – not nearly as many as Larry and Barry, but a lot – and I got to know Boston through the work that was being done. And then, slowly, I started asking people whose work I respected out for coffee, to talk about the work and the city and the community that I was discovering. Those conversations helped shaped the niche that Whistler carved for itself – our place in the ongoing artistic conversation became clear through watching and listening to what the other companies were choosing to present, and how they were choosing to work.

The process that I went through, of meeting this city’s artists through the work that they do, is what our audiences do every time they walk into one of our theatres. And from my experience of our audiences at Whistler, if we give those audiences the chance to deepen that moment of meeting, they will. Our audiences are generally smarter and more curious than we give them credit for being – if we can find a way to include them into our work beyond simply sitting back and appreciating it, they will.

So we, like many of the other theatres in the city, have been doing just that: a more approachable presence online with Facebook and our blog (we’re still figuring out what that whole Twitter-thing is about…); Friday and Saturday night post-show receptions in the theatre where we encourage the audience to stay and share a snack and a drink with us and talk about the show; semi-monthly new-work readings followed by moderated discussions between the playwright and the audience. And now, when I greet our patrons in pre-show, or talk with them after the performance, or respond to the emails I get in the mornings after shows, I feel like my community of collaborators has expanded out one more circle to touch all the people who choose to spend an evening with us in the theatre, working with us to understand the play we’re presenting.

The next step, the one I’m so curious about now, is how to make that conversation one that our audience wants to continue long after they’ve left the theatre – one that expands out not only to bring in more audience, but that sends our audience members on the same journey I went on – of exploring the full range of Boson theatres in an expanding circle of knowledge. I know my audiences will and do see shows by our close collaborators, companies like imaginary beasts or Mill 6, and often shows by other companies in the Alliance, thanks to our new cross-promotional program insert, but how do we engage in the audience on a city-wide level, not just theatre by theatre?

This is an exciting time to be in Boston. The emergence of so many new small and fringe companies, and the growth and development of our midsize theatres mean that we have more artists working and more artists engaged in the process of making this town a more exciting place to be. The Small Theatre Alliance of Boston is fostering conversation and collaboration among the emerging artists in the city. And the Boston Theatre Conference aims at focusing our attention on continuing to open up the conversation to include and empower our audiences.

I so look forward to getting in the room with you all in February, and talking about art, and life, and collaborations.

Meg Taintor is the Artistic Director of Whistler in the Dark Theatre. She is also a proud founding member and the President of the Board of the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston, an organization dedicated to fostering the growth of small theatres and emerging artists in the Boston theatre community.

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Why Boston?

by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary

When Stage Source’s Stage Page comes out, I get giddy.  I have this ritual of first circling all of the things I know I want to see and then I open my calendar and make my plan for the next 2 months or so.  This quarterly practice of mine isn’t just about keeping my schedule up to date – it actually pumps me up for the months ahead.  Since graduating from BU in 2008 and joining the staff at New Rep, I have had the privilege to attend many different kinds of theater in many different venues.  There’s a certain amount of theater that I see because “I should.”  Don’t get me wrong, I can get excited about obligatory theater too, but the majority of what I see is because I love theater, and specifically I love the theater here in Boston.  I am constantly inspired by other people’s work.  I have watched actors, designers and directors grow and change over the last several years and there is something thrilling about that.  During New Rep’s General auditions I can sometimes forget I’m there in some kind of “official” capacity and just get wrapped up in the work happening in front of me.  It is truly a wonderful experience.  I am still in awe when I run into people like John Kuntz, Anne Gottlieb, Scott Edminston, Ronan Noone, Kate Snodgrass, Will Lebow, Ben Evett, Nancy Carol, Karen MacDonald, Paula Plum and many others.  Their work has such an impact on me.

We have so many amazing and talented people that have chosen to make Boston their artistic home and this number continues to grow.  During the Stage Source auditions, my favorite moment is  when a brand new, just moved to town, actor shows up, totally nails the audition, and you feel the joint excitement in the room – like we all know the next “get me…” person has just arrived.  It’s happened every summer I’ve been here.

Over the last year I have tried to challenge myself to get off the beaten path and see more fringe work.  Sometimes the bigger our subscriber base and budgets get, the more afraid we can be to take the kind of risks that some of the fringe companies are taking to uncover all kinds of important, powerful stories.  Whistler in the Dark is flying this year!  How awesome is that?

I do what I do because I have to.  Quality people exist everywhere.  So, really for me, the “where” in what I do has to do with where I want to make my life, and who I want my community to be.    I stay here because this area is big enough to continue to surprise me yet small enough to still feel like my home.

Bridget Kathleen O’Leary received her MFA in Directing from Boston University.  She is the Artistic and Education Associate at New Repertory Theatre and lives in Watertown with her husband Chris.

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by Marie Polizzano

When it came time for me to graduate from the Boston University School of Theatre in May 2007, it seemed like the only question to be answered was, “New York City or Los Angeles?” Most of my classmates were dividing themselves between those 2 cities to pursue their acting careers. LA for those interested in film/TV, and NYC for those interested in theatre.  It seemed like there were no other options. The idea of staying here hadn’t even entered my brain as a possibility.  Until one day in late August, when I had started packing up my apartment in preparation for moving to NYC in September with most of my other classmates. On this day, I got a call from the New Repertory Theatre, who offered me a part in their “On Tour” production of The Crucible.  I had auditioned for them earlier in the summer.  “Ok!” I said, “I’ll do it!”  I accepted the job and was thrust into rehearsals at the end of September.  We were touring schools by the second week in October, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience from which I learned so much. I got to work with an fantastic ensemble of talented actors, I was learning so much from the dialogue we had with our young audiences, and the gig paid well!

By the time The Crucible closed, my “network” of theatre people in Boston had grown tremendously. I had met and worked with many talented actors, and as a result met a lot of their fellow Boston actor/director/producer-friends.  I already felt like I was a part of a community.  One job led to another, which led to another, and before I knew it I had performed in 3 touring shows with New Rep, auditioned for at least a dozen other companies in town, and formed lots of close relationships with fellow actors, directors, administrators.  Because Boston is a smaller community of artists, I found it easy to build a network here. Everyone is so supportive of each other’s work, and you start to see the same faces at auditions time and time again. I loved how quickly I was able to feel integrated into the community of such talented artists here. And I am proud to say that I am a Boston actor.  In the 3 years since graduating, I’ve had the experience of working with vastly different companies on very diverse shows, I’ve earned both my SAG and AEA cards, and I feel very inspired and challenged by the work I’m able to do.

The fact that we are talking about a Slow Arts Movement is so exciting to me, and is already something that we are starting to do here in Boston without even realizing it, I think.  The Slow Arts Movement is a way for us to reach out to the community and help develop cultural taste and appreciation.  How can we create art that is sustainable,local, and accessible? How can we inform our citizens of why doing so is essential to our well-being?  I hope that by coming together to consciously implement this awareness in our city, we can deepen and make even more rich and lasting the wonderful arts community that is already here.

About Marie Polizzano

Marie is currently working with the Huntington Theatre Company through November 14th, performing in Circle Mirror Transformation as a part of the “Shirley, VT Plays Festival.” When that closes, she’ll have a short break before beginning rehearsals with Whistler in the Dark Theatre on The Europeans, which will open in February.

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