The Greenwood Flood & the Patient Patrons

From overhead, a news-chopper shot

From overhead, a news-chopper shot

As if it couldn’t get weirder around here, the water main at N. 85th Street and Greenwood Ave broke about 6:00 PM last night, flooding the intersection, running down the blocks (north and west), rising above the sidewalks and lapping against the sides of the buildings. It looked like high tide!

Miraculously, it didn’t come all the way up to Taproot Theatre’s front doors about 200 feet west! But the water supply to the block was turned off — and we had a performance at 7:30. While calling the box office manager for instructions on refunds/exchanging tickets and imaging how to tell the audience lined up at the front door that the show was canceled . . . the water was turned on (at 7:10). Discolored, but the bathrooms would be usable and the fire sprinklers would work in case of another type of emergency that I wouldn’t dare type or speak aloud. (I’ve acquired a sort of Voldemort / Biblical plague kind of fear.)

Lots of water!!!

Lots of water!!!

For the record, our thanks go to the very patient patrons who stood in line, hoping that Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming would indeed proceed as planned. Since this was the first show of the extension, we were eager to get going — and very appreciative and flattered that patrons were so patient with the disruption and confusion. Not to mention the TV news trucks, police cars and the battalion of  utility trucks, backhoes and workers. Did I mention that a car ran into a tree at the intersection too? So more police and a firetruck were summoned, sirens blaring?

Kudos again to the staff that was scrambling to figure out to improvise bathrooms for the patrons at the Fred Meyer store. And for actors and crew that stood by ready for whatever happened.

They don’t cover this stuff in theatre classes…

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming: danger in the aisle & extension update!

SOTMH_H_316First, off Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming is extending two weeks, and we’re thrilled. The theatre has been packed with happy toe-tappin’ people and the reviews have been strong. Plus, I’ve stood in the back and seen audiences of all ages laugh and clap the the cast. But. The greatest joy has been watching our seniors who lived through the 1940s and know these old hymns!!Their lips move silently as they quietly sing along and their faces shine with recognition and memories.  When Art meets Life, it’s often magical.

Secondly, I’ve known that Theatre is Dangerous! There’s always the chance that something will go wrong, that an actor won’t show up, scenery will fall over — after all it’s “Live” and anything can happen. Right? Well, with all respect to the parties involved . . .

It’s not often that the on-stage, backstage and front of house team work as seamlessly as last Friday. But this was amazing!

A woman seated in the area to the house-right of the stage became ill about half-way through Act I and vomited on the floor in front of her . . . during Denise’s (Candace Vance) monologue, or “testimony at the little Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church.” Staying in character June (Jenny Cross) exited to Mervin’s office to get napkins (towels, anything!), Denise kept talking and then the two of them placed the napkins over the mess while Denise proclaimed, in character “…and where would the church be without women?!” (Cue audience laughter and applause.)

Backstage action: Jenny was talking with Stage Manager Debbie Evans, about what to do next, as the mess was also . . . pungent.

After the next, immediate song, Rev.  Mervin Oglethorpe (Kevin Brady) suggested – in character – the congregation (i.e. Audience) take a break – and in came Bree (House Mgr) with Gabe (Box Office guy) to clean up and PineSol the floor (fortunately the non-carpeted area) and swap out chairs ASAP. After a 5 minute brief break, the show continued. Like nothing had happened!! By all accounts the audience loved the show.

My personal THANKS go out to the cast (Candace, Jenny, Kevin, Edd, Theresa, David and Brent) the crew (Debbie, Kristi and Amarra) and the Front of House/Box Staff (Bree and Gabe) for maintaining the show, cleaning up rapidly, being so attentive and compassionate with the poor lady and caring for the entire audience.

What is worth writing about, other than the terror and dark-humor of the event? First, that the cast felt compassion for the poor woman and her family while maintaining the show for the other 200 people. And second, that cast, crew and front of house/box office staff worked — improvised as quickly as possible and in a unified manner. Both are reflective of character qualities, not just by-the-book / management-imposed behavior. Again, my thanks go out to the staff, crew and actors – and to the audience members whose patience was also deeply appreciated.

PS: Although I don’t know who the ill person was, we’ll follow through and make sure the woman is okay. And if they’re up to it, offer tickets to another night.

Pay What You Can Night at “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” and “the arts aren’t real jobs”

Part of the line up of 217 people coming to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 16th.

Part of the line up of 217 people coming to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 16th.

We have a Pay What You Can performance for every production at Taproot Theatre, and this is the line that greeted the cast as they arrived at the theatre the other night. The actors were a) thrilled, b) freaked or c) both to see the eager crowd standing in the heat waiting to get in  — an hour before showtime to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.

These PWYC performances are close to our hearts, as they are a blessing to people who – for many reasons – can’t afford a regular ticket.  Seniors, whole families, the unemployed, people with disabilities, students … you name it and I bet they’re here. Many of these people are regulars too, showing up for the serous, thoughtful plays and the lighter comedies and musicals.

After we completed the post-play discussion I was walking toward the lobby and was stopped by an older woman with a walker. “Thank you for doing these performances…” she said and went to to explain how TTC’s PWYC shows were important to her and the only way she could afford to attend live theatre.To the left I saw another woman in a wheelchair, and in the lobby another with a walker. On the sidewalk were a mix of seniors, high schoolers and others. For whatever reason, these people couldn’t afford a ticket – but got seats at this show and were thrilled by the performance and thankful for being able to attend!

...the rest of line  - going around the corner and another 100 feet or so!

...the rest of line - going around the corner and another 100 feet or so!

To those who say that the arts aren’t real jobs or don’t matter, how do you feel about extending affordable access to people who can’t otherwise attend the Arts?  (I’m reacting to some ill-informed comments to a article on NEA funds flowing to arts organizations. ) IF Taproot Theatre were to get any of these arts-stimulus funds (and that’s a very big IF), it would help us fill the seats with groups (with a small group discount) and people paying full price too — all so that we can afford to have these PWYC shows, provide compelling stories onstage and earn as much as possible. The jabs of  “artists should get real jobs” doesn’t begin to understand the commitment of our staff, artists, technicians and staff who earn a pittance after investing in college and grad school. Nor does it recognize that a society is so much more than commerce, money and consumerism – but it includes softer things that make us fully human like the arts. In our case, in addition to wanting to tell the stories that matter and encourage us, or performing plays in hundred of schools that counter violence and bullying, and teaching kids about theatre and responsibility … we’re committed to being as accessible as possible to our audiences and community.

And although government support to Taproot Theatre is only about 1.6% of our annual budget, it acts like a seal of approva” and opens other doors at foundations and corporations. And like the biblical “widow’s mite”, we’re thankful for anyone who want to help us serve the public.

Catching up: fun shows, connecting with audiences, & the demographics game.

We closed Around the World in 80 Days a few weeks ago – with a lot of lessons learned.

Around the World in 80 Days, Lt to Rt: Nolan Palmer, Ryan Childers, Alyson Scadron Banner, Andrew Litzky, and Bill Johns.

Around the World in 80 Days, Lt to Rt: Nolan Palmer, Ryan Childers, Alyson Scadron Banner, Andrew Litzky, and Bill Johns.

Now we’ve just opened Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming and we’re building on successes.

Around the World in 80 Days

Around the World in 80 Days, Lt to Rt: Andrew Litzky, Nolan Palmer, Bill Johns and Ryan Childers.

For one, our “Under-25” campaign to capture the interest of the under 25 year old market surged and nearly tripled the average number of those tickets sold per play. I’ll credit the “Pizza & Play” package (every second Thursday of each show), the in-roads made to younger bloggers (even high schoolers) who loved the show and young attendees who used to attend with their families. (Kudos to the Marketing team)

We also had a 90-sec YouTube clip that hinted at the setting seen in the second photo. How do 5 actors do 34 characters, and ride on trains, a sledge, ships…and an elephant! Creating anticipation for the show’s theatricality was very much a key to its success. (Kudos to my awesome Designers & the Marketing Team!)


Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Lt to Rt: Brent Ashton, David Anthony Lewis, Theresa Holmes, Edd Key and Candace Vance.

Now we’re off to Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant NC, in October 1945 for a night of song and celebration with the Sanders Family Singers in “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.” Traditional hymns meet bluegrass via banjo, mandolin, guitars, piano, string bass, accordian, washboard and tamborine. The setup is like a very traditional Saturday singspiration service with announcements, testimonies, medleys, solo songs, prayer requests and greetings.

Smoke-Homecoming will likely attract a huge body of people who love bluegrass and old time gospel music. Offhand, that sounds like a reversed trend from 80 Days! So are we gearing up for the over 60 if not over 70 year old theatre-goer? Or the odder “church-attending / hymn-loving / theatre-attender” niche? Is this Good, Bad or does it even matter?!

My hunches…

1. Subscribers know what’s coming and will love the show. They’ve already bought into the whole season and trust us to select shows that will engage them. Plus, in our case this is the third and final part of a trilogy about the Sanders Family Singers. Our folks love this exceptionally talented and quirky family as if they were real family!!

2. After subscription sales are done, virtually everything else is a marketing effort to find people who want to see the play you’re offering now. Don’t talk about the next one, don’t talk about the last one: they want to know if THIS ONE is what they want to see tonight. So while the demographic goals are important – especially in attracting the next generation of theatre-goers – if  Smoke sells well to people over 60 yrs old that’s great!! With every new audience member or repeat attender there is the opportunity to win a fan for the next play(s). But you need to get them in the door first and show them a great time. Then, trusting us to attend another show will follow.

3. What sinks in to the attendee’s mind and heart and soul? Why is this worth the time and money? It’s just a story enacted in the dark over the course of two hours while you sit with a couple of hundred strangers. Having directed both 80 Days and Smoke-Homecoming I’m placing my bets on two things: Wonder and Community.  By Wonder I mean the bit of awe and magic we experience when presented with excellence, story and joy (like 80 Days) or beauty, celebration and spirit (like Smoke-Homecoming).  These aren’t any more or less attractive or mutually exclusive according to an arbitrary demographic category, but the story or theme in each play may have an easier time attracting one group over another. When confronted with Wonder we are smitten with ideas and emotions that force us to think, discover, confess or celebrate. By Community I mean that we need to leave our homes, workplaces and caves to be with other seekers, family-members and fellow-citizens. We need to be reminded that we all have much to learn and to share. Theatre is a safe zone to become aware of people unlike ourselves and to leave with deeper understanding, compassion and respect for others.

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Lt to Rt: Theresa Holmes, Candace Vance, Brent Ashton, Kevin Brady, Edd Key, Jenny Cross and David Anthony Lewis.

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Lt to Rt: Theresa Holmes, Candace Vance, Brent Ashton, Kevin Brady, Edd Key, Jenny Cross and David Anthony Lewis.

So, in a perfect world a ton of 16-25 year olds will turn out for Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, and a gazillion seniors will turn out for the next hip, edgy rock musical we do (sorry, nothing in mind, but you get the point).  People who care zip-zero for old time hymns or church will love Smoke and tap their toes to the great music. And men will turn out in droves for Enchanted April in the fall, even though its mostly about four British women on vacation away from…Men! But the real point is that a good theatre experience is greater than entertaining escape from reality … it’s a wondrous adventure to places and realms we need to visit with eager co-passengers.

80 Days, and then some more

Reports from the Rehearsal Room:

In rehearsal: Bill Johns/Detective Fix and Nolan Palmer/Passepartout.

In rehearsal: Bill Johns/Detective Fix and Nolan Palmer/Passepartout.

1. Saturday’s Designer Run went great! I take it as a personal complement that the cast did very well – and  some members of the design/technical team were grinning>>  and still had their heads spinning (17 dialects…150-200 sound cues…300+ lighting cues…33 characters!). Good Times and Adventures for everyone!!

2. Two of our actors and I spoke with the host of an Arts program on KING-FM (our classic music station), about the show and she was very excited. Even wants to do a follow-up interview with the costume designer and the dialect coach; she was very intrigued about how we’ll pull off so many quick costume changes and multiple dialects.

3. Just got off the phone with a writer from Seattle’s Child, who’ll write an article promoting the play as a great outting for families with kids 10 yrs+.  She was very taken with the adventure story appeal of the material and the theatricality of the production. That’s a good sign:  we want a lot of people enchanted by the very idea of the play … and then mob the theatre for tickets!

4. The cast is moving off-book this week, always a week of brain-strain for the best actors. It’s a wonderful, fun and mutually supportive cast (Ryan Childers, Bill Johns, Andrew Litzky, Nolan Palmer, and Alyson Scadron Banner), and I can’t be thankful enough for a great stage manager too (Anne Hitt). In a few days we’ll add all of the rehearsal props and constumes — fun times!

More to come!!!

Around the World … with Taproot Theatre’s staff and friends!!

Pam, Scott, Peter & Lisa Nolte at the Trevi Fountains, Rome. (2005)

Pam, Scott, Peter & Lisa Nolte at the Trevi Fountains, Rome. (2005)

Here’s a link to a special Taproot Theatre photo slide show of the staff’s trips around the world. We’re starting a site to celebrate the next show here, “Around the World in 80 Days” by posting our own travel snapshots. Watch for the soon-to-launch opportunities for our audiences to submit and post their travel photos too!

Having a lot of fun in rehearsals. Today (May 2) was the designer run through, a complete run, or “stumble through”(!), so that they can anticipate how the various costume, scenic, prop, light & sound designs will all start fitting into the whole play. Always a bit frantic and loads of fun: you must have a good sense of humor on a day like this!! Again, the cast and designers are so committed to making a great show and great event for the audineces, that it makes all the work a lot of fun.

We open in under 2 weeks… Oh boy!!

Next up: Around the World in 80 Days!!

Rehearsing "Around the World in 80 Days"

Rehearsing "Around the World in 80 Days"

Began rehearsals last week for this adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, using 5 actors for 30+ characters, “select” costume pieces, a fairly simple flat stage, and a steamer trunk+2 chairs + 2 crates and a short stool. The rest is…MAGIC! and a lot of dialect work, quick changes, sound effects etc and the story comes alive.

We – the cast, designers and marketing team – reviewed the lost or blurred concept of “foreign lands and mysterious people” in an age where I can see anywhere with Google Earth, I can video chat with someone in Africa and the web keeps me updated on the most obscure news from around the world. 80 DAYS reminds us of a time when we truly were clueless about other cultures (and too superior as well), and traveling the globe bordered on insanity and danger.

And not to be left out, the very setup of Mark Brown’s adaptation celebrates Theatre’s ability to tell a rippin’ good story and capture the audience’s imagination, sense of adventure and funny-bone. A gazillion dialects and character changes, leaping from ship to train to elephant to… the people in the seats are in for an Adventure.

BTW, it’s a very fun and funny cast: Ryan Childers, Bill Johns, Andrew Litzky, Nolan Palmer and Alyson Scadron Banner (the sole female in a rowdy cast of guys). I am blessed with a cast that laughs easily and works hard.

More to follow in the coming days!!

Theatre: Local & Responsive or a Commodity via the “WalMart” model

Several theatre manager-friends and I have met up about every month, some of us for 7-8 years, for a glass of wine (pint of stout, margarita or…) and some lively chats. Often a topic returns for our monthly rant: the seemingly brainless actions of theatre boards and leadership to redraft their theatre’s mission and “brand”. The effect is usually another theatre with a mission and repertoire that looks like several other theatres in town, and the hiring of artistic leadership, designers, directors and actors from someplace else (usually New York City), or depending on non-resident artistic leadership to care about the fate and hopes of Seattle audiences and Seattle-based theatre artists. Ta-daa: another theatre is re-born with zero-uniqueness, and a rapidly diminishing distinction (call it “Love” or loyalty) in the hearts and minds of their own ticket buyers and donors!

I’m linking to a blog here that calls this for what it is: “The Wal-Marting of the American Theatre.” In Scott Waters’ blog, he aptly draws the parallel between Wal-Mart’s Benton Arkansas headquarters as the brain trust of the nation’s consumer choices, and NYC’s unfortunate effects on what it means to be a professional theatre actor/director/designer etc. He writes:

“Instead of local arts organizations run by and staffed by artists whose lives are made within a specific community and whose artistic vision is informed by that community, Wal-Mart Regional Theatre and Touring House imports generic artists from NYC to do generic plays for a short run after which they depart never to be seen again, taking the community’s money with them.”

Seattle, Denver or Atlanta…I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim that resident theatre artists have stayed in their communities because they care, because they have loyalty to their neighbors and because they want to be a part of the local conversation between theatres and audiences. In cities like Seattle, where the market for film or television work is slight, the mid-sized theatres and the freelance actor/designer/director community display a profound loyalty to one another. And, to our audiences who “get it” about each theatre’s mission, attend our plays and support us with their donations.

My money is on theatres needing to get smart very fast in this economy and mobilizing the very capable talent in their backyards. Audiences will also rally – not for a guest appearance by a soap actor – but for their local, prized and normal theatre artists.

The NEA Stimulus package is not a “bail out”

The Christmas Foundling

The Christmas Foundling

There’s been unnecessary and uninformed criticism of the National Endowment for the Arts $50 million dollar share of the ginormous $700 billion dollar bailout. Such a teeny slice of that pie to whine about…none of it going to private companies, and none of it enriching CEOs with private planes and limos.

Let me give you a few ideas to ponder. (By the way Taproot Theatre Company, where I’m the producing artistic director, has never gotten an NEA grant so we’re ineligible to apply.) Here we go:

1. The funds do safeguard real jobs, and mostly under-valued (i.e. underpaid)  jobs. In the theatre world, most of my actor, designer and technician friends cobble together a scant living from short term jobs (including acting roles), teaching and odd jobs. It’s a scramble. Every theatre (or dance company, museum, orchestra) worth its salt is doing everything possible to fairly pay its people, short-term employees/guest artists and permanent staff. And permanent staff are radically paid below the market rate of private industry.

2. The grants assist us in surviving this economic storm. At the end of this tough economy, do you want a city with its museums, zoos, orchestras, theatres, ballet/dance companies decimated? We do need our industries and schools to survive, but we also need the vital ingredients of a healthy, whole society including the Arts where we learn about living, ourselves and one another.

3. We use those funds to keep the doors open to people in need …NOW. Again, all the arts organizations I know are thinking of ways to stay affordable and accessible to people during times like this. Free shows, “Pay What You Can” shows, discounts for students and senior citizens, deals for university and under-25 young adults – we recognize that people need a night out to laugh, cry, ponder, celebrate, reflect and connect with others. Actually we’re always doing that (!!) but in these anxious times people need a renewed if not urgent access to reflection and diversion. (In Taproot Theatre’s case, we’re still running without a patron saint/major grant picking up the tab for most of these efforts. We’re on the line to raise $750,000 to balance the books in 2009.)

Around here – Seattle  – I know one of our largest theatres is cutting their budget by a third. Most are laying people off, mandating unpaid furloughs and cutting programs. As one of a cadre of mid-sized theatres, my peers have trimmed budgets, leadership have taken unpaid weeks off, and more. Planning for 2010 includes small shows that we hope also “sell” well, but small shows means fewer acting jobs too. In case you miss my point here: we, non-profit arts organizations, are accustomed to cutting budgets, squeezing every bit of value out of a buck, and still working to extend ourselves and missions to be a good thing in the lives our audiences.

So, if anyone around you trash-talks the NEA funding, tell ’em to back off.

Time for fun: PIZZA+PLAY for $10!!!

We’ve been wanting to create opportunities for young adults to become theatre-fans, not just of Taproot Theatre Company, but to discover and enjoy a lifelong appreciation for the fun and engagement of live theatre, period. This Pizza & Play combo night is a step in creating a good time at a play – with friends and great Romio’s Pizza too. (Thanks Romio’s in Greenwood for your support too – you guys are awesome.)

College students and young professionals (18- 25 years of age) get your grub on! ttc-pizza-play

Come enjoy an exclusive Taproot Theatre event just for you! Free Pizza from Romios ( and a $10 ticket to see Gee’s Bend (


Thursday, February 5, 2009
6:30pm – 9:00pm
Taproot Theatre
Greenwood Ave N. & 85th Street