Category Archives: gospel music

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…

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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.