Category Archives: faith

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.

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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 seattlepi.com 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!)

SOTMH_H_316

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.

Two Surprises: simple stuff makes Memories & Friends!

A few weeks ago, really on a whim, I bought several boxes of cookies from Trader Joes. After arranging them on a plate, I put on my namebadge (Scott Nolte, Producing Artistic Director) and welcomed our audiences to that evening’s performance of The Christmas Foundling at Taproot Theatre Company. It was so much fun, we continued it through the run of the show, alternating between me, our general manager, development associate and associate artistic director.

A week or so later I went to Big John’s PFI, a local Mediteranean food store that I’d read about. I walked in – it’s a lower level wide open space – and walked by two huge deli cases of cheeses and meats, and there on the left was a folding table with a nice lady with platters of cheeses, salami, prosciutt0, crackers and cookies. And Big John, smiling and with samples of his homemade Zinfandel.

Three lessons from cookies and zinfandel:

1. People love genuine surprises. People were coming to see a great show just like I was stopping by a great store with Italian and Greeks foods. The theatre patrons loved my cookies every bit as much as I gleefully enjoyed my cheese, prosciutto and zin!

2. Surprises multiply the pleasure of the intended experience. The experience grew to include the play and the groceries AND the delight of cookes and the zin. The experience became much more sensory! (For my patrons and for me!)

3. People are truly surprised when “the boss” greets them. Sheesh: I met the real Big John and he seemed like a generous, warm and big-hearted guy! For my patrons, who were met four key people in the theatre, saw the leaders caring enough to serve cookies to strangers and wish them well.

4. We, leaders of theatres (and great grocery stores!), need face-time with the people who choose to spend their time and money at our theatre. With a simple plate of cookies I got to say Hi, Thanks and Merry Christmas personally to a lot of people!! Big John has my shopping-loyalty and admiration because he grinned at me and offered me some of his own, handmade wine (and the cheeses and prosciutto were amazing too). I greeted both first-time attendees and long-term generous donors. Big John no doubt greeted long time customers and friends — and me, a first-time visitor and Italian-wannabe!

Take a chance on creating moments of surprise, hospitality and connection with your people and  communities. Make memories, make long term friends and patrons.


Post-election: still doing and seeing plays, living in Hope.

the quieter corner of my desk

the quieter corner of my desk

With the election behind us, we can return to the issues of the day (running a theatre, serving the public, creating wonder) and even enjoy television a little better (enough with the nasty ads already, I’m looking forward to the good old days of Budweizer, Hot Pocket and Preparation H ads).

For those of us in the not-for-profit arts arena, these are still very crazy and uncertain times. In our hearts we know that our patrons will desperately need hope, wonder, insight and community in this period of anxiety and fear. It’s our calling! But then my brain interrupts the reverie with cat-calls about How!?? – or rather how to pay the costs of serving the public. In the best of times, we scramble to raise the funds to cover nearly 40% of our annual budget (hovering around $1.6 m). Now, with uncertainty in the air, and retailers fearing the worst Christmas shopping season in decades, what’s around the corner for us performing arts organizations?

For now, I’d like to counter fear, the kind that would paralyze our calling, with a full immersion in Hope and the God-given belief in our calling. That in itself isn’t legal tender at the bank, but it puts us in a stable place of certainty and trust from which we can work diligently. It will inform our choices, or the prioritizing, if our funds don’t match our full vision. It will remind us of the reason we faithfully serve audiences, and do everything we can to honor the work of our actors, teachers, technicians, designers and staff.  And it will keep our eyes on the prize, running the good race to completion…since these days will pass and we’ll need to have not sold our soul or lost hope. Hope, Joy and Courage will be in demand!

On the other hand, this past week: I attended the annual meeting of ArtsFund with a co-worker and caught up with a lot of arts organization and corporate friends (while sampling cheeses, sliders, sashimi and wine at the beautiful, new Seattle Four Seasons Hotel!)…Pam and I attended a wonderful Image Journal event featuring Kathleen Norris speaking, with a reception and presentation of her new book, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (the book features many contributors including Luci Shaw and Eugene Peterson) … Peter and I attended a rousing HENRY IV at Seattle Shakespeare Company, an adaptation that combined Parts I & II into a single 3 1/4 hour event…and I spent Friday morning at the Fremont Abbey, an arts center in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, with its program director Nathan Marion. And I’m still reading “Tribes” by Seth Godin (almost done), The Art of the Turnaround by Michael Kaiser (nearly done) and Everything Must Change by Brain McLaren (hmm, ’bout halfway). And I’m watching Season Two of EUReKA and Season One of TORCHWOOD.

And I’m working on – as is every non-profit manager in November – yearend budgets and fundraising. Much to do!

“Susan and God” – nearing tech rehearsals

Susan and God, Lisa Perretti, playing Susan Trexel

Susan and God, Lisa Peretti, playing Susan Trexel

Actually we’ve just finished the third week of rehearsals, and the tech and dress rehearsals start Wednesday.

Susan and God is social satire by Rachel Crothers, a playwright who wrote and directed most of her 31 plays on Broadway from the late 1910s-into the late 1940s. The play is about Susan, a socialite who returns from Europe with a new found religious fervor who sets about straightening the lives of her other wealthy friends. Over the course of few months one summer, she dabbles in the lives of others…and loses sight of the goodness of her husband and teenage daughter. In practise, she invokes her beliefs as license to ignore those who love her. It’s a funny play, really (!!), with a Noel Coward banter that turns warm hearted as Susan discovers things about her friends, husband and daughter.

Rehearsals are going very well, with Lisa Peretti, Don Brady, Ryan Childers, Kevin Brady, Nikki Visel, Heather Hawkins, Alicia Anderson and Austin Case. We having a lot of fun with these characters…who wear tennis togs and riding gear then change into tuxes and gowns for dinner! No one seems to actually have a job, except the actor amongst them! Lots of fun for all.

Why this play? I’m enjoying the balance of social satire, several love stories at risk of imploding, and the mixed up invocation of faith as the free ticket out of responsibility. The cloak of religion for selfishness isn’t new territory, but Crothers has done an intriguing job of exposing sham religion and bringing about a series of personal revelations that bring Susan around to reconciling relationships and recognizing her own need for humility and love. And it’s funny too.  Should be great theatre too!

PS: We open Friday, September 26th — pretty soon!

The Olympics & Big River. Next: Susan and God

I’m pleased to say that our Big River got more gold medals than…the Russian Federation, and I think it was much better attended than some of those gymnastic meets I watched late at night. So, despite some mid-run angst, the show went very, very well and exceeded its attendance and revenue goals. We still have thinking to do in the coming years about marketing and connecting with our patrons and yet-to-be-patrons.  But having spoken with a woman on closing night who had attended 5 times in 7 weeks (!!), some of my confidence is restored in the general public’s need for fun, social engagement and wonder which theatre provides by the bushel.

Tonight we begin rehearsals for Susan and God by Rachel Crothers, a play written in the 1930s, and revived Off-Broadway in 2006 by the Mint Theatre and at Lambs Players (San Diego) in 2007. Social satire and comedy were Ms. Crother’s delights, and Susan skewers people who are self-indulgent … whose obsessions even with “good causes” validate neglecting one’s family. The play has several marriages, relationships and friendships that twist and turn according to the distractions of work, affection and religiosity. Interestingly, Susan’s daughter is aptly named Blossom: blossoms can thrive or fail based on how they’re treated. The play has a banter like Noel Coward, but has higher hopes for the characters’ marriages than comic fodder. Susan opens September 26th, and so we have plenty of time – I hope – to explore the play. More to come.