Sunday, June 14, 2015

Of Love, and Loss, and...Longtime Patrons.

Today was a sad day...
Today we said goodbye to a friend. His name was Dean. He and his close knit family have been patrons of ours since 2004. Every show, every year, this family shows up in force to support us, buying tickets and making donations of some kind. I'm talking fathers, mothers, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins...this is a huge and vivacious family.
Dean and his wife particularly enjoyed our yearly presentation of The Rocky Horror Show, for which Paper Wing Theatre is well known for.
Today, we showed up for Dean.
I don't know how other theatres do it; certainly there are many different ways to honor and thank the various audiences that come to see shows. But I know how we do it.
We hug patrons after the show. We embrace and take pictures. We throw big dinners in costume. We remember the individual patrons that support us by name.
And sometimes, we get to give back.
Dean was taken at the young age of 32 in a motorcycle accident that wasn't his fault. He had a wife and an absolutely adorable 18 month old daughter. And they just found out last week they were expecting another child.
It was all extra devastating.
We felt helpless...not exactly family, but friends, and saddened by the news; what could we do?
Then Dean's wife reached out to me. She asked me to read her part of the eulogy at the memorial service. I was honored to speak her words aloud, words that she said she couldn't get through. 
I prayed my voice would be clear and loud. It was. I prayed not to sob through it. I didn't.
It was my honor.
It was a gift to be able to do something for Dean and his family, after they have given us so much.
Actors from our theatre, even ones that barely knew Dean, showed up to support the family. I was proud of us...proud of our theatre family. And pleased to hear over and over how much our presence there was appreciated.
Longtime patrons were converted to extended family when Dean's father embraced me and said "Thank you for are family to us and to Dean."
What a privilege.
Good bye Dean. I know you will be Time Warping with us from the other side.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Our Gift to Playwrights.

Yours is an uncertain, ever changing job, isn't it?
You pour your hearts into your work, often times with only your own inner voice judging the words on the page in front of you. Sure, you may think it's the best you've ever written...but is it?

This is where we come in.

We invite you to submit your work. Any work. For free.

Our annual play reading exhibition starts June 28.

Paper Wing Theatre has spots open for its annual play reading exhibition, Sundays at 4pm, June 28 through August 9. Submit your play and you can have your work read aloud by Paper Wing actors in front of a live audience at Paper Wing Theatre FREMONT in Monterey, CA. The audience is invited to participate by offering their feedback. One play is then chosen by the company to be produced at Paper Wing Theatre in 2016. This is an EXCELLENT way to workshop your play and hear constructive opinions from an avid audience. Free to submit work. Send submissions to Deadline to submit work is May 30.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ten Things NOT To Do When Running a Small Theatre.

  Yep. That is EXACTLY what I am going to write about this week. Ten mistakes you must not make when running a small community theatre. Why should you read this and glean the tips from the following paragraphs? Because I am an EXPERT....and I have made every last one of these errors at some point in my career.
   You betcha.
   The funny thing is, when I opened this little company over 14 years ago with much less experience and even less money, it didn't even occur to be that perhaps I was a tad too naive. I was too busy romanticizing the whole "theatre ownership" thing to remember that I had no idea on how to balance my checkbook, let alone a business budget. I had the desire and the artistic talent, but was so unbelievably green when it came to what it would take to be an entrepreneur in the Performing Arts. I look back at that younger version of cheerful and positive and clueless, and I want to scream at her, "RUN! RUN! It's not too late to be an attorney! Go back to college! RUN!".
   But since I can't do that, I CAN put together a little list of things I wouldn't do if I had it to do all over again. And if you are reading this looking for tips to start your own theatre...may the muses be gentle and kind and bring you many happy memories and people to share them with, because they certainly are not going to make you rich with cash. But perhaps, if you are lucky and blessed, you will be rich with wonderful experiences.

Ten things NOT to do when running a small theatre:
  • Do NOT assume you must do it all by yourself because everyone is a moron.
I get it. They just don't understand how important the little X,Y,Z details are. Let's face it, no one can crawl into your brain and read the list in your head. And there will be things that only you can make decisions on. But which way to hang the toilet paper on the roll in the restroom ain't one of them. Take peoples help when they offer and be accepting of how they give it. I used to do EVERYTHING in my company from the directing and producing to the concessions and it was exhausting. Now that I am (a bit) smarter, I choose my issues to resolve and pass along the rest to someone else. Bliss. Bonus tip: Every person has some special talent or skill that can be used at the theatre.

  • Do NOT neglect your books/budget/money.
Take a simple finance class now...BEFORE you even think about opening a theatre. Learn how to make a spreadsheet. Use math. Know how much money you have (or don't have) at all times. Make sure every single show has a specific budget and stick to it. Don't rob from Peter to pay Paul. Keep your theatre checkbook balanced. If you cannot take a class, at least get a book on small business finance...and read it. I was mistaken in my belief that if I simply had enough heart, my shows would always be full and I would have plenty of money. I was wrong. These days, I watch the money like Scrooge McDuck. At least this way, I will have a heads up before the well runs dry. Bonus tip: You're welcome.

  • Do NOT believe that only expensive musicals will make you money.
Big, showy musicals are tempting because they will bring in more money right? Wrong. Wrong. Double wrong. Small theatres should choose small shows. It is way easier and affordable to do something smaller and do it well, than to invest beyond your means, hoping to have ticket sales cover you. ALL of the play publishers in the U.S. have great small shows, just perfect for a small theatre. Also, advertise on your website for local playwrights who want to have their works performed. Most original stuff is rough, but occasionally, you will get a gem...for about 20% of what you would pay the bigger playhouses. Bonus tip: Original Works Publishing in L.A. has some of the newest and freshest plays around and you can negotiate the cost.

  • Do NOT assume that you can ever take a break from promoting your company.
Vacations, weddings, funerals, sick better get used to being attached to your theatre's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Email, Chat, Messaging, Etc. for the rest of your natural life. If you let up on any of will lose business. No one in any kind of successful business ever said "You know...I think we've promoted our event enough."  Especially now when people have so many options for entertainment right in their hand via their phone. You want to be talking, tweeting, posting, and poking as much as you can all the way up to opening night AND beyond. Hey, I never said theatre was easy. Bonus tip: get a savvy social media volunteer to help you.

  • Do NOT forget to write down the rules of your company.
People will need to know what you expect of them. I am not here to restate my company rules; perhaps they will not apply to your group of monsters. But follow your heart and your head and make everyone aware of your demands and expectations. Once we got our rules together, people management and direction became a whole lot smoother. Before that, it was like herding cats. Emotionally fragile cats. Bonus tip: Get them to sign a copy of the rules for you to keep on file. Trust me.

  • Do NOT forget to follow your own rules.
Practice what you preach; it's fantasy to think you are "above the law", even if the laws are yours. Model the behavior you want from people in your company. Enough said.
  • Do NOT cry.
Sorry. I know it is incredibly politically incorrect to say this but it is so very true in theatre. If you have to command a stage full of dramatic actors, the last thing you can do is become emotional. If you do not have alligator thick skin, you will not make it in theatre ownership. People can be harsh, mean, and unjustifiably rude and your job is to not let it bother you. Cry at home...but never ever in front of your cast or theatre staff. Bonus tip: Don't yell or scream either...just makes you look like an ass.

  • Do NOT break your word.
Your word is your reputation. People may not remember everything good you have done, but they will never forget it if you make a promise you cannot or forgot to keep. Honoring your patrons, your actors, your crew and staff by following through will build an amazing theatre team. Never ever promise something you are unsure you can deliver; it is better to say no to a request than to falsely say yes. Bonus tip: If you can deliver, go up and beyond.
  •  Do NOT be afraid to let go.
You will be doing this a lot over the years. Actors come and go, and come back...and go again. They go to other theatres, other cities, and other artistic expressions. You must be ok with the fact that the only constant is change. You must also be prepared to let go of people who are not good for your theatre. Keeping bad karma around is a one way ticket to disaster. Best to release them back into their own habitat. Bonus tip: Letting go allows for new energy to come in. Embrace it.
  • Do NOT believe everything you read about owning a theatre.
You will find your own way. Listen to your gut and go with what feels right for you. Small theatre ownership  is a roller coaster ride. You will be exhilarated one minute and vomiting the next. You will struggle and soar. But it is never boring. Be smart and stay flexible and never give up if it is important to you. You have to do what's right for you and your little theatre. Bonus tip: Don't get caught up in negative thinking.

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - (William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Act II, Scene V).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Another friend

It's been a year since I've blogged about the theatre...mostly because I spent the bulk of this last year opening a new performing space at a new address (shameless plug: it's located at 2115 N. Fremont Ave in Monterey, CA), seeing my son through his first year of high school, and having a generic, all American, mental breakdown. So, you know, the usual stuff...
While having two performing spaces isn't new for us, being able to perform shows in repertory is. Shows going at the same time present it's own set of problems. For example, it can stretch an already thin cache of volunteers to it's breaking point. Two costume budgets. Two venue rentals. It can turn otherwise sensible theatre owners into rooster participants at an illegal cockfight.  It can also make investing into new show titles twice as expensive. Paying the rights for two shows in particular is a gamble and requires a whole lot of strategic thinking. Who will come to this show? What are we trying to say with this show? What is the deeper meaning of this show? Does this show fit with our brand?
Enter the fabulous play licensing company Original Works Publishing. If you are involved in theatre at any capacity; theatre owner, producer, dramaturg, director, actor, student, can only benefit from knowing who this small but mighty company is.
Unlike the big licensing companies, there is a small staff who remembers who you are and can make suggestions tailored for your theatre style. Jason, our contact person, is delightful and I've often found myself chatting with him about theatre for an hour, even when I just called to get a quote. Love that. It makes me feel like this company understands that we are all just artists trying to make a go of this theatre thing and we are working together to make it happen. Yes, the big guys carry the more well known plays, but I'm telling you....THIS company is where the magical gems lie. The fresh, the raw, the organic....plays so new and wonderful, I swear you can see the playwrights sweat on the pages. It fires me up. And the licensing fees are less than the big guys.
Over our 14 years in existence, we have worked with every one of the mainstream licensing companies, and have also done 3 plays total from Original Works. Our most recent production of theirs was the delightful and heartfelt, but slightly absurdest "Bad Panda" by Megan Gogerty. I love silly-with-a-heart plays. I love to laugh and this play was funny. It also took a non threatening view of gender and species identity, and just made you feel good. Our experience with this show and specifically with Original Works as a company was just great. As soon as we were licensed for the show, Megan Gogerty the playwright was following my tweets on twitter. That in itself is kinda cool, but what makes it really super cool is that this now gave me access to ask about scenes and lines in her play. You see, our job as directors is to interpret as close as we can as to what the playwright is thinking and feeling and to project that to the audience. So, imagine my delight in being able to get any questions about intent answered. And that's what you get from authors represented by this company. (FYI, I tried to contact Dramatist playwright Stephen Adly Gurgis once and...nothin', but that's for a different blog...)
I wanted to write about this because if it weren't for other small companies, small companies wouldn't survive. I want to shout from the rooftops how important cross support from company to company is for our very survival. Negotiating the expenses of a small theatre can be tricky. Thank the theatre Gods we found another friend.
Visit them here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Musings About Our Actors

 One of the things I love about our theatre is how much it feels like a family. A weird, sometimes dysfunctional and chaotic family, but a family just the same. As producer and owner, it is my job to navigate the current with grace and class and approach all decisions with professional leadership. And the other 99% of the time, I just do the best I can.
  I could write today about how I feel about actors missing rehearsals for reasons I deem ridiculous, irresponsible, frivolous. I could write about how frustrated I get when people blow off responsibilities. I could say how angry it makes ensemble actors in the cast when principles are absent or keep everyone waiting because there is nothing to rehearse until they show up. I could rant and vent about giving actors chances to shine and then feel like they sh*t on those chances, and choose to be lazy or busy. But I won't. Not today.
  Today I am choosing to focus on the good things that the actors in my company do. I am. I really, really, REALLY am. Despite all the drama and mistakes and poor choices, there are such golden moments that deserve mention.
-Like the transplant military actor  in the ensemble of "REPO, The Genetic Opera" in 2010 who had to leave after only one play to serve his country. His fellow actors have made sure that for every show since, his picture is somewhere in the show. On a name badge, or a nondescript framed photo on the set. They've even placed his framed picture in the shopping cart of a homeless woman character in "Avenue Q". The audience doesn't even notice, but the actors do. Then they take pictures and email him or post it on Facebook so he can see it and still feel part of the company of actors. 
-The way that the actors chip in to buy the first ticket on opening night. This is something our co-owner +Lj Brewer's Mom did for us on EVERY opening night, started way back when we were feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. She would drop by the theatre about an hour before curtain with money in hand and say "the first ticket is on me", and would give first patron in line free admission. This was done even after purchasing her own tickets. After she passed away, the actors in her honor started the "First One's for Frances" tradition and have done it for every show since her passing.
-The way every new actor is greeted and loved and accepted for who they are. I have seen the girl who felt so nervous her first show, who never thought she would fit in during her first production, reach out two shows later to another girl who she noticed was feeling the same way. And then in turn has blossomed and reached out to the next new actress. I have seen LGBT people accepted and loved and cheered for who they are, instead of judged and excluded. 
-That the actors write on the walls of the dressing room after each production. When I feel defeated, I go back there and read the thousand or so musings. It inevitably cheers and refocuses me. I realize that many theatres do this, but ours started when we took over our current space, after a former theatre had gone out of business. The walls then sported previous actors writings, not too many but enough to know how much they loved their space. My original plan was to paint the dressing room, and designate a place for signatures, but after our very first performance, which had felt unconnected and hollow, those actors and I decided to sign alongside these original writings. I don't think it's a coincidence that the performance immediately after that was amazing and felt whole. Now, even the ceiling in the dressing room has been signed.
-The way they support each other by buying tickets to see their fellows perform in other productions, even at other theatres. They show up to shows and performances to cheer their friends. Again, this isn't a Paper Wing Theatre exclusive, but it's heartwarming just the same, especially since the world has become a busy, distracting place.
These are just a few of the reasons the actors impress and make me happy. 

"You're a shining star, no matter who you are
Shining bright to see... what you can truly be
That you can truly be." 
-Earth, Wind, and Fire

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Comport Yourself Publicwise, Oh My Brothers..."

**No one I've given tickets to should get their panties in a twist over this. This isn't about you. I'm happy to say that all producers that have attended shows at my theatre have behaved supportively and for that, I am grateful.**

So, readers of my blog know that some pretty spectacular theatre shows are happening in Monterey, CA right now. (Quick side note, Pacific Rep. Theatre in Carmel just opened "Buddy Holly and Friends in Concert" and it's getting some wonderful feedback). While I unfortunately don't get to see everything playing due to needing to be at my own theatre, I do get the chance to see quite a bit, and that is largely due to invites and occasional complimentary tickets from fellow producers in the area.
I recently ran into one of the stars of "Buddy Holly..." and she generously offered me two "comps" to see the show and, as luck would have it, I happen to be able to go see it. Better still, my friend really wants me to see her perform. That's really very cool and I am super grateful... and that act of kindness got me thinking about these kinds of tickets.
I recall a colleague of mine who was rightfully angry at a fellow director because of their behavior after they had received such a ticket.
Apparently, after this person had called my colleague to get 2 "comp" tickets to a very big and popular show, they proceeded to trash talk the *free* performance all around our county. Their actions, of course, got back to my colleague, causing an unnecessary and uncomfortable rift between them. He was offended. I side with my colleague on this one because it is never nice, receiving this "sneaky criticism". More so, it just makes the offender look petty, selfish, and well...TACKY.
My Grandmother used to say "Good manners are for making people feel included and appreciated, not excluded and criticized."
If someone gives you a wrapped gift, you wouldn't unwrap it and then proceed to tell your friends what a crappy gift it was. And you most certainly wouldn't start criticizing the gift in front of the giver. And if you would, you need a crash course in etiquette.
Sadly, the offenders are not limited to just theatre people. I have many times given away free tickets in online contests, radio spots, etc, only to have the people show up and be extremely rude to my staff, complain about the parking, the weather, the seagulls on my roof, and just generally be pissy while holding $50.00 worth of free tickets. Or even worse, people who claim free tickets and never show up at all. Again, TACKY.
I am not talking about theatre critics who get paid to critique shows; clearly they can give their opinion freely. But unless you consider reviewing shows as your profession, it might behoove you to pay attention.

As a Public Service Announcement, I have decided to write a small list of "dos and don'ts" for the receiver of free tickets. Bear in mind that these are mostly for people getting tickets from directors and producers, but can easily be applied to people getting free stuff from anywhere.  They're called manners, my little Droogies....let's all use them.

1) If you had to call a producer, director, theatre owner, etc. to receive free tickets, go with the attitude of enjoyment instead of the attitude of "I wonder what will be wrong with this". You are obligated to find things you like about the production. You may find several things you don't like as well, but keep that to yourself. If you really need to bitch about what you saw, call your Aunt Millie in Texas or someone out of the area. DO NOT go running around town spewing your opinion unsolicited. If you did like the show, tell the person who gave you the tickets and thank them again. REMEMBER that YOU called THEM to receive the FREE tickets. Be grateful.

2) If you are offered free tickets by someone, the same rules apply. If the person asks you what you thought, (especially if they use the word "honestly") respond privately and be polite. Talk about what you liked more than what you didn't.

3) DO NOT march up to anyone involved with the production after and give advice, direction, criticism, a better idea, etc. No one wants to hear it. Even if your heart is in the right place, it is never appropriate and will only cause people to feel uncomfortable. Never say ANYTHING to the actors except "Good Job". If you can't say that, keep your mouth zipped.

4) DO remember that you are a guest and behave yourself. Be nice to the Box Office, the ushers, the concession workers. Let the paying customers complain. DO NOT complain about anything while seated for the show, even to your companion, because chances are someone who knows the person who gave you free tickets will hear you...making you later look like an idiot.

5) DO NOT be offended if your request for comp tickets is denied. Often, producers cannot afford to give up paying seats. Be pleasant if you are told no and DO NOT let this fuel your fire to bitch.

6) DO write a thank you to the person who gave you tickets, or better yet if you enjoyed yourself, talk about how much you liked the production publicly.

and lastly...

7) DO bring a paying friend if you can. That's just a nice thing to do.

In closing, just be a professional grown up and show a little class. It is much appreciated.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Summer of Theatre in Monterey

I have been feeling really great lately about my local theatre scene. There are three different shows playing in our small city of Monterey, CA. And we are all having record numbers in attendance.
At the small Wharf Theater, located directly on the Monterey Wharf, the historic crowd favorite "The Pirates of Penzance" is seeing a huge bump in attendance. The show is campy, funny, and, as I have written before, the cast is clearly having a blast performing in it. Granted, it isn't a perfect show; but it is enthusiastically performed and has a dynamite Mabel who can hit all of those Gilbert and Sullivan notes perfectly and without her head exploding.
On our local college stage (Monterey Peninsula College, our area's "big dog" theatre), we have "Les Miserables". I haven't had the chance to catch this yet, but the word on the block is that it is MPC Theater Company's finest work. Phenomenal  vocals, very well cast, excellent props and costumes, and professional directing. And it's "Les Miz"....a true crowd pleaser that has packed their newly remodeled space. I have only heard positive feedback and I really look forward to seeing it soon.
And on our own stage, Paper Wing Theatre Company, we are staging a modern version of "Macbeth". Record crowds and standing ovations abound. Bloody stage combat. Punk and Gothic influences. The acting is spot on, and the direction by Jourdain Barton is fresh and youthful and has breathed new life into Shakespeare.
Everyone's success makes me happy. I have been a huge cheerleader for all three of these shows. For some reason, they all go hand in hand. A classic musical, Shakespeare, and a Broadway hit.
It has become commonplace for small local theatres to be extremely competitive. The Monterey peninsula has ten plus theatre companies producing at least one production per year. That's a LOT of shows to foist on would be patrons. I cannot speak for other producers or directors, but that can make me a little nuts sometimes. Worried about sales and creating new patrons. Protective, selfish, and...competitive.
I have been guilty of not supporting my local theatres, afraid their success meant my failure. I have participated in my share of bullsh*t and I am not proud of that fact. And the reality is this: all of that negative and unproductive crap did not promote my theatre over others, boost sales, or positively impact our business. All it did was make me angry, a little paranoid, and a lot frustrated. So I decided to try something new.
I went to see some local shows and instead of looking at it with a directors eye, I chose to watch it as a patron. I noticed the bright spots instead of the flaws. I chose not to be distracted by the pieces and enjoyed the whole. And I had fun. I felt good.
The reality is that each of our theatres give something wonderful to the community. Speaking just of the three in production right now, I know that The Wharf Theater is firmly rooted in classic musical theatre, reminding us of beautiful bygone Americana, leaving patrons feeling good and smiling. Angelo has kept the doors open for many, many years and still runs the Box Office. I love that.
MPC is the launching pad for most of the actors in the area. They have an extremely strong Theatre Department and one of the most driven leaders I have seen in Gary Bolen. They have the budget to bring big, newer musicals to the stage and also create fantasy fairy tales in their smaller space. Watching them power through the displacement during their theater remodel, and still produce such quality, was seriously inspiring.
And Paper Wing Theatre? We bring an eclectic blend to the scene. Edgy and provocative shows, musicals, and performances. Something for everyone. I'm proud of our work.
I am done with feeling like everything is a competitive threat. I no longer see another theatre's success as taking something away from us. This summer of theatre here in Monterey has taught me a huge lesson about being supportive and positive. And I am grateful for that.