Category Archive: the ol’ gymkata

My life in Theatre

Oct 18

Making a Living From Art

Disclaimer: Just to make this clear right at the beginning: I don’t have a “right” to make a living doing what I love. I understand that I am privileged to even be making the attempt. My ability to make this attempt is partly an accident of birth, and partly a result of the sacrifice of others. I am aware of this, and, if successful, hope to “pay it forward” and help others do the same.

“Hey, let me tell you something kind of important.”

 

Most of you know that I do theatre. I consider it my full-time job, although I have a part-time job and take occasional freelance gigs in order to help make ends meet.

The arts economy has changed since I left theatre school. And, as far as independent theatre production in Japan goes, it’s changed a lot since I first came to Japan as well.
The upside is that the inter-tubes and related technologies have made it easier to make shows. We now have easy access to media assets (sound, video, text) and inexpensive ways of integrating them into our shows. We can advertise to potential audience members quicky and efficiently and do ticket reservations online.

The downside is that the competition is massive. Not just from other small groups like us, but from the huge media companies. Fifteen years ago, expats here were bored and somewhat starved for English language cultural activities. Sure, they could watch movies on bulky VHS tapes, but they had to at least leave the house to get them. Now, stimulation, vacuous or intellectual, is just a finger-push away.

The problem isn’t so much that people can’t be convinced to go and see theatre, but that they’re not looking for it. Most people these days have a surplus of stimulation, not a deficit. Add to that the marketing problem common to groups producing original works, that is to say that the shows are unknown, and you have some idea of where we stand. There is an audience for international theatre here, but it tends to be focused on groups who tour into the country (usually sponsored by a large media company or University). The problem is twofold: the audience doesn’t know about us, and if they did, they might value us less because we’re local.

YTG (Yokohama Theatre Group— my theatre company)’s goal is to develop the company name as the “star” of the show, rather than the title of the show itself, but that’s going to take time. To get attention from the general theatre-going public, the media, the festivals, and the universities, we’re going to have to build up a reputation, and the only way to do that is to keep creating and documenting our shows.

Until then, we’re stuck in a financial model that requires us to depend on friends and family, and from the arts communities that we’re associated with, both here in Japan and around the world. This means that the very people we should be giving free access to are the ones we rely on the most for support right now. I’m not going to bemoan this state of affairs, as I’m very much in favour of the democratization of media in general, but I think you can see the challenge we face, and the challenge that I, in particular, as an artist trying to make a living at making art, have.

So, for those of you who are supporting me, thank you. Thank you so much. Seeing your faces at the show, or your names on the list of Patreon patrons warms my heart. (And of course, thank you to those of you who have supported YTG in the past in one of our one-off crowdfunding campaigns.)

Hey, thanks.

For those of you who are not, no worries. But consider this: a small amount of support from each of you would make a huge difference to me. I’d be able to increase my artistic output and it would be available to you, either in the form of show tickets (for those of you who are local) or show videos (for those of you who are not, or who just miss a show). At the moment, I’m able to squeeze out one to two shows a year, plus some events, plus a podcast. If there was a stable base of support, I could probably create 3 – 4 shows per year, plus multiple podcasts, plus possible writing projects (several of which are currently sitting on the back burner). More shows means more stuff for you to see if you’re a supporter, and it also means more chances to get YTG shows into festivals, to get grants, and to get commissions. First, I’ll have a body of work I can show to festival directors and grants agencies. Secondly, I’ll have a repertoire of works to draw on should opportunities arise. (Not to mention that if I’m able to pay my collaborators, I’ll be more likely to keep them around and keep more shows on the ‘active’ list.)

If you want to think of supporting us as charity, that’s fine. YTG is a charity. We’re a registered NPO in Japan.

A still from “39”

If you want to think of supporting us as advance or surrogate ticket purchasing, that’s fine, too. At a certain level of support (currently $20 USD, but I’d like to see that drop), you’ll receive stuff: like videos, show programs, and the like.

For those of you not currently supporting my work, I want you to ask yourself this question: If Andrew was doing his shows at places and times convenient to me, would I pay to go see the show? If the answer is yes, then I encourage you to support my work via https://patreon.com/ytg .

For those of you currently supporting my work by coming to my shows, I want to suggest that supporting me via Patreon would not just get you cheaper tickets, but allow you to support me even when you can’t make it to a show or event due to bad timing. (And you’d get a video!)

Look, I’m not going to get rich from this. The first goal is to bring YTG into the black so that it can start paying off some of its accumulated debts and so that I won’t personally have to front the company the money for each show it does. Next, I’ll worry about making sure people get paid for their work. It’s great to work with our dedicated volunteers, and volunteers will always have a place at YTG, but despite the fact that it’s a charity, I see YTG as a professional company, which eventually means paying casts and crews.

Please consider supporting this NPO that I’m putting all my serious energy and resources into. As I said at the top, I have no right to make a living doing this, but support is going to make the difference between theatre being an expensive full-time “hobby” that produces 1 – 2 shows a year and me being able to ramp YTG up to a professional company that pays its artists and makes lots of great shows. Your support will help me get YTG’s work out there and seen by people who can help me take this to the next level.

Places you can find my work:

YTG website: http://ytg.jp
Patreon Page: https://patreon.com/ytg
Theatre Podcast: http://exit.ytg.jp

 

 

 

 

Looking into the future. Or maybe a chair.

Sep 05

A Plea to People Who Support Theatre

Photo by John Matthews

Photo by John Matthews

Some of you might be aware that I’m doing a show. This is true. You can see info about it here: http://ytg.jp/en/shows-en/upcoming-shows-en/494-fullgamut-en

As any of you doing small, independent theatre (especially here in Japan) know, we’re stuck in a financial model that requires us to build out from our friends, family, and the arts communities that we’re associated with, both here in Japan, and around the world. This means that the very people we should be giving free access to are the ones we rely on the most for support right now. I’m not going to bemoan this state of affairs, as I’m very much in favour of the democratization of media in general, but it’s still a fact of life for small-scale theatre and many other arts.

So, my plea is in two parts:

1. Please support me and the work that I do. Buy a ticket. If you’re not local, or you want more inexpensive access to our shows, events, and videos, join our Patreon campaign at https://patreon.com/ytg

2. If you are going to buy a ticket please, please, please reserve your tickets now! Don’t wait until the last minute! Don’t make me sweat until the show starts that the cast and crew will outnumber the audience. This is about the money, yes— I don’t want the show to lose money and stop me from doing the next one— but it’s mostly about not wanting to perform an amazing show that we’ve worked on since March to an empty house.

Look, I know we’re all busy people in Tokyo, but it means so much to have those bookings as early as possible. You can always email the box office and change your booking if you need to. Just let us know that you’re coming.

Oct 06

Wi-Fi On But Won’t Reconnect After resuming From Sleep

This happened after upgrading to Windows 10, but apparently any version above Win 7 might have this problem.

 

SOLUTION

  • Open Device Manager > Expand the Network adapters section
  • Right-click on the wireless network card > Properties > Power Management tab
  • Uncheck option Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power and click OK:

Nov 22

Up Shit Creek—Spare a Paddle?

I never got around to making the official announcement, I don’t think, but the Theatre company I run, YTG, became a registered NPO this past May. Yay!

 

My fiscal year starts September 1, which means that for the last few months I’ve been doing the taxes. I’ve had a neighbourhood friend helping me, without whom I would not have been able to meet the first deadline to file and pay taxes with/to three branches of government on October 30. I now have to November 30 to submit an annual report to the Yokohama City NPO office.

 

In some ways, this is easier than the tax stuff, and in some ways harder. There is a very specific format for this document and, of course, it has to be in Japanese, even if the group’s meetings take place and are documented in another language. I’m not saying that this doesn’t make sense, just that it’s hard.

 

Anyway, I’m at the point now where I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do, but what I could really use is some help from a fully bilingual friend. The line items for the budget and financial report portion are incomprehensible to me, and I need to turn around a quick translation on an activity report. Ideally, this would be someone who could come over and sit down with me to go through it all.

 

I can buy you lunch.

Aug 09

Unexpected Begging

I’ve been gearing up to start a crowd-funding campaign for a while for YTG, but my plan was to fund some rehearsal set pieces that we desperately need, or even one of our upcoming shows! Instead, I’m raising money to save a shed! What happened?!

 

The damage done to the shed.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, some idiot rammed a vehicle into the Yokohama Theatre Group’s storage shed and damaged one of the outer walls (see photo). The YCAC, on whose property our shed is located, removed that outer wall for safety reasons before contacting me.

 

Sadly, with the wall removed, it’s impossible to verify how the damage occurred or to evaluate whether the whole side needed to come off. In any case, what’s done is done. The YCAC is not interested in investigating further, and since we are essentially guests on their properly, I must defer to their judgement on the matter. That’s left YTG (read: me) holding the bag, financially. If you’ve been following me, you might have an inkling that I’ve been covering a lot of YTG expenses out of pocket for a while now, and even if I wanted to, I just don’t have deep enough pockets for this.

 

Save Our Shed

So, I’m reaching out to readers of this blog, particularly those who know me personally or through my Theatre work (those here because of the Wall of Shame may be slightly less interested) to go to the Indiegogo site, watch the amusing video I recorded yesterday (by myself, in the 37 degree heat with the cicadas chirping like mad in the background), see if you can pinpoint the moment when two pigeons start going at it, and, most importantly, give some money to help fund the shed repair.

 

Any amount over $10 will get you a perk, which is great, but the real point is to get this shed repaired so YTG doesn’t lose all the stuff we store inside it.

 

If you’re poor as a church mouse, that’s okay, just pass along this blog entry, or just this link: http://igg.me/p/198024?a=488241 <—that’s the link to the campaign. Please go there now and watch the video, which represents the “sweat” part of this campaign. The “blood” and “tears” are coming soon, no doubt…

 

Thanks!

Apr 15

Week of YTG

It’s been a busy week for YTG. Lots of promising developments, but if I am completely honest, I have to admit that’s all they were: promising. Nothing is in ink yet, and we’ve got a bunch of deadlines on the horizon.

 

***

 

I had my first interview with our third international intern. That went quite well, and I’m really hoping everything works out. However, even if all goes well, the internship will occur during the three hottest months of the year, so I am a bit worried that our northern European friend will melt. If his school agrees, I should be getting the paperwork quite soon, and then we can discuss dates.

 

***

 

On Tuesday, Mayu and I went to see a possible studio space. It was like a massive airplane hanger, but modern, insulated, and really nice. However, it was more geared towards visual artists than it was to Theatre, although the fellow who interviewed us at least seemed interested in what we do. It’s a government building, so we need to be vetted first, before we can even decide if we want the space. There’s also a few things that are unclear: whether or not we can run the Ytheatre School out of there (restrictions on access to the space); if we can have access to a big enough space to rehearse in (we were told we could rent a small space as an HQ and use one or more of the bigger spaces in the building); or if we can continue our tradition of occasional open rehearsals (the access problem again).

 

Also, there’s some questions about electrical outlets and such, but I’m sure those questions will be answered before we have to make our decision. The studio space question has been a monkey on our backs for a while now, so I suspect that if we get through the vetting process and the use of a larger space is included, we’ll probably go for it. Yeah, IF we get through the vetting. We went into that interview having no idea of what they were looking for from applicants, so we’ll see.

 

***

 

Grants! Thanks to Arts Commission Yokohama having TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WEBSITES, we didn’t find the updated grants forms until today (the Japanese version of the site linked from the English one is one year out-of-date). Deadline for the application is FRIDAY. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to require a full project budget as well as a performance date. This is going to be tight. Did I mention that all the forms are in Japanese? Whether this gets done or not is going to depend on the dedication of the Yokohama Theatre Ensemble members. Gambarou, everyone!

 

***

 

We’ve booked space for the final four weeks of the workshop (yay!), but only two of those weeks are currently set in stone (i.e. paperwork completed) (boo!). I was going to push Mayu to get the paperwork done this week (she’s our contact person for the Chojamachi space), but the grant stuff is going to have to take priority. So by the end of next week. Until this paperwork is done, though, I am going to be sweating bullets.

 

***

 

So there you have it. A lot of great things happening, a lot of promise, a bunch of deadlines, and nothing yet confirmed. That’s been my week.

Feb 06

Showcase #1 and a Non-Working Gun

Well, here I am in the rehearsal room again. I’ve mopped the floor, put on some Leonard Cohen, and am typing this while I wait for the floor to dry and the others to arrive.

 

The showcase on Saturday was a great success, not in any sense of having put on a polished show (although it did come out much cleaner than I expected), but in the sense that had an audience, and we seemed to engage most of them.

 

The show itself clocked in at 60 minutes, which is astounding, because when we rehearsed, it felt much more like 20 minutes, AND we cut the Satsuki-tan’s Brain  scene. The most successful part for me, however, was the 30-minutes discussion with the audience. It was exactly what I hoped for in the sense of feedback.

 

Even better yet, Emmy Nagaoka was there with a video camera and later sent me a rough transcript so we’ll actually be able remember what was said. I had meant to tape the whole thing myself, but someone who I will not mention, but whose name begins with GRAIG RUSSELL, forgot to bring my video camera. We managed to capture bits and pieces of video with my still camera, but a few key moments (including the end) are missing, since Canon cameras are limited by the SD card’s limit of 4GB per file.

 

The missing video might be for the best, since this gave me the idea of actually make a project of shooting some of the segments as they exist now so that we have more video content on the YTG website.

 

I was really impressed by how the whole group stepped up to the challenge. What we need to start reinforcing amongst ourselves, however, is that we need this kind of commitment all the time, not just when we have a public showing. That’s kind of the whole point of the ensemble. I want us to keep a sustained level of energy going into our rehearsals so that we don’t need to go into crunch mode when a show comes up.

 

That “crunch time” is the main reason I wanted to stop doing Theatre the old way. Sure, there will always be a little extra pressure on the week of the show, some of it imposed by the fact that, in Japan, you’re lucky to afford to get into the Theatre more than 24 hours before the day of the performance, but if the performance itself is ready due to sustained efforts beforehand, then a lot of the usual stresses are removed.

 

The Yokohama Theatre Ensemble, minus Mayu, who was stood in for by the weird guy behind us.Speaking of “crunch”, we also had an evening performance at the Yokohama Honda Gekijou as part of a group show. We took a subset of our material and modified it. It didn’t feel as good as the afternoon performance (a prop gun failed to discharge four times in a row, which kind of took the ‘oomph’ out of it, although Saori handled it like a pro and shouted “パン!” each time the gun didn’t fire), but it was still a great way to end a crazy day.

 

I’d woken up with a migraine, and had been unable to even eat breakfast. The headache had subsided enough by our 14:00 showtime to allow me to do the strenuous bits required for the showcase without absolutely killing myself, and by the time we were talking to the audience at 15:00 it was pretty much gone. By the time the photo you see above was taken (at around 20:30, after our evening performance), I was not only headache free, but RAVENOUS. So our day ended with a “cast party”, if you can call it that, around a table at the local First Kitchen, with us all eating something disgusting and fatty.

 

All in all, a very satisfying day that gave us a lot of information on how to move forward from this point.

Jan 31

Fever Dreams

We’re four days from the Yokohama Theatre Ensemble’s first showcase. Yikes. I’ve got a million things to do: memorize lines, find the flashes for my socks, buy a few props, memorize a song, create content for the show’s programme, buy the snacks for post-show party, email people directly to remind them about the showcase, send out a reminder newsletter about it, and, hell, probably five or six other things I’ve temporarily forgotten about.

 

I think I’ve also picked up that flu that’s going around. I’ve been headachy and nauseous since noon. I think I may be running a slight fever, and my stomach and  joints ache.

 

One of the things that’s been on my list for weeks, however, is a new blog entry, so I’m going to get that done right now, since there’s so much to cover. (Don’t worry, I’ll be brief: I want to hit the hay.)

 

We’ve had two incredible rehearsals with Tania Coke, who will be teaching the Ytheatre Physical Theatre workshop in March (this may be a one-time only thing—sign up now!). She’s helped us develop that moving screens piece that Mari and I first experimented with in December into something that involves five members of the ensemble (and in it’s final version will involve all six). It’s amazing how much easier the rehearsal is when she’s there to be our outside eye, particularly on a piece like, where my expertise is rather limited.

 

I’ve arranged for more outside eyes this week to help rush us into being ready for the showcase (and another show that same evening at the Yokohama Honda Gekijou! Graig Russell will be joining us tomorrow, and Nerida Rand on Thursday.

 

Friday is going to be a frightening night of pulling everything together, starting the set up of the space, and trying to finish early enough that we’re able to crawl back in on Saturday morning at 9:00 in order to prep tech for 14:00.

 

More when I have the energy again—maybe next week.

Dec 06

Bonenkai at the GekiSalon

Went to the Gekisalon bonenkai tonight at the Yokohama (Sotetsu) Honda Gekijou.

 

Mari and Takahiko were there as well: Takahiko in his normal capacity as a volunteer staff member at the drinks table (and his less-normal capacity as Santa Claus), and Mari as my wingwoman.

 

I did less mingling than usual: I had nothing to promote this time. There is lots of big news about to break, like the launch of the school, the date of the group’s first showcase, and the launch of the new website, but the former two are delayed by the struggle to find a space, and the third by the lack of Japanese translations. So: nothing to talk about, really.

 

Tonight was the last gekisalon of 2011, so it cost 1000 Yen instead of 100 Yen, and there was lots of food—most of which I couldn’t eat because it had meat in it. However, I still managed to come away from the event comfortably full. We’ll disregard that a lot of that filling-up was done with bread and dessert.

 

All in all, an enjoyable event. I just hope I have something to pitch by the next one on January 23…

Dec 03

Website Frustration

The new website for YTG is basically done. However, it’s still not live, because most of the content is still in English.

New Website Sneak Peak

The change of direction of Yokohama Theatre has meant that most of the content on the old site will not be moved to the new site. That means I’ve had to write new items, which I did, but it also means that those items need to be translated into Japanese before I launch.

 

So I’m trying to rope in everyone I know: my usual volunteer translator, the ensemble members themselves, and some family members too.

 

Hopefully this means I can launch the site mid-week next week and start directing people towards it.

 

If you’re bilingual and want to help out, drop me a line, though. The sooner I can launch, the better!

Dec 01

Back in K-S

That’s right, we were back in the space in Kanagawa-Shinmachi last night for our rehearsal.

 

I’ve been waffling on several things recently. Will we have some kind of showcase/presentation this calendar year? If we do, what will the content be? How much should that content be prepared and polished?

 

At the moment, I’m trying to figure out a way we can do a showcase for invited guests in the final few days of December. That means I’ve got to deal with venue and content.

 

For venue, we will probably rent the Kanagawa-Shinmachi space for the day.

 

For content, well, nothing’s ready just yet. The Elements piece is a no-go. For one thing, we haven’t had the whole group together for a long time now, and for another, the group needs a lot more training (probably guest training; I don’t really have the skills to train actors for physical Theatre) before that piece becomes do-able. We’ve started working on people’s personal stories, and have started running some improvs and Object Exercises in order to support them.In this rehearsal improv, Mari Kawamura enters her room to find it in a shambles.

 

I was doing the “Three Entrances” exercise with Mayu (just one entrance, though), to create the environment of her shared house in England—a location that features prominently into the story she wishes to tell.

 

Working on that showed me that, really, I need everyone in the group to do this exercise, so I’ll be assigning it one by one.

 

We then moved on to an improvisation in which Mari and Mayu dealt with the question of how to deal with a slob roommate.

 

It was a good evening of rehearsal. We got back to what, to me, were basics, but to them were new ideas. It showed me more clearly that with group being small these days, maybe it’s these things that I should be working on. It will be good practice for me, too, since I hope to be teaching all this stuff in the new year.

Nov 24

Rehearsal Space Woes

I’m sitting in a tatami room at the Katakuracho Kumin center, waiting for Mari and Takahiko to show up. Hiraku is on sabbatical until the two shows he’s committed to are over (my suggestion, since he was starting to look like he was operating on no sleep); Mayu is on training for work this week; and Saori has started additional classes on top of her work schedule.

 

Mari is later than usual because she’s just taken on an extra contract job.2011-11-24 19.06.08

 

When I got to the space, I thought we had the whole room. I was rather surprised to find two obaasan fussing around inside it after I came back from the toilets. They were using the sliding doors in the space to section off a square part of the room.

Then one of them started asking me if our group was going to make loud noises and could we not, please, because they were doing yoga. Huh? I informed her that we would do our best, but that this was Theatre, and that we were rehearsing, and I couldn’t make any guarantees. I’d told her we’d try, but we would have to at least speak at normal conversational tones.

 

This once again serves to illustrate the problem with not having a proper venue. It’s not simply the cost of renting spaces that is the problem: it’s the inflexibility of said spaces, and their unsuitability for Theatre rehearsals.

 

I contacted the real estate agent managing the building at Kanagawa-Shinmachi that we’ve occasionally worked in, courtesy another Theatre group. I once asked one of the guys in that Theatre group how much it cost to rent per month, and he told me 180,000. I thought about it later and realized I must have misheard him. He must have said 80,000. The building is so decrepit, and it’s totally unoccupied except for that group, that the number couldn’t be right.

 

It was. The next smallest room, at 43 square meters, would have cost us 230,000. The agent, very kindly, offered to bring it down to 200,000. I told him that he could call me when the owner was serious about actually having tenants. The agent told me that we were unlikely to do better. He may be right, but we simply couldn’t afford that. Even with the Theatre school running at full tilt, 230,000 yen would be pushing it. It might be doable if we were in downtown Tokyo and could rent the space out to other groups the way my friends at the Our Space rehearsal lounge do. But not at some po-dunk station halfway between Kawasaki and Yokohama, and not in a building in that condition. This is evidenced by the fact that we appear to be the only Theatre company that sublets from the group already renting the space there and the fact that the small amount they charge us in no way covers their costs.

 

If anyone has any suggestions about where to look next, I’m all ears. Next week, I will be visiting the Yokohama Arts Council to see if they have space tucked away somewhere, but I’m not terribly hopeful. What I really need is a private landlord whose sense of pride isn’t so bloated that he’d rather make 0 Yen rather than 30,000 Yen while he holds out for bubble-era prices.

 

As for today… I expect either Takahiko or Mari to show up any minute. Maybe we’ll do some quiet voice exercises or something. I might take some time and force them to write their biographies for the web site. Hmm….

Nov 10

A Change of Plan and a Creepy School

I’m quickly rushing to type this off before heading to tonight’s  rehearsal.

 

Last night, we met at Nippa (新羽) station on the Yokohama Blue Line and proceeding to walk to our rehearsal space. This was another new one for us, and it was about a 7 minute walk through darkened streets.

 

When we arrived, we weren’t sure we had the right place. There was a sign, but it wasn’t lit. There was no lighting on the path leading up to what appeared to be the main lobby. There was only dim light coming out from inside the glass-enclosed lobby area.

 

Nonetheless, there appeared to be no other way in, so we approached. As we looked in from outside, we saw a man in a yellow vest vacuuming the floor. Were they closing at 18:45?! Mayu thought for a minute that maybe this was a hospital, and not a Kumin Centre.

 

We went in and it turns out everything was fine, although we had to complete about five minutes of paperwork to register YTG with the place. After that, the old man behind the desk led us through the darkened building, up a flight of stairs, through a library (!) and into the “playroom".

 

What a great space. The room was huge. Half of it was a waxed hardwood floor, and the other half was dojo-style tatami (sprung tatami, I guess you’d call it). On top of that, the rent was only 450 yen, making it the cheapest space we’ve worked in so far.

 

The drawbacks: like all Yokohama city Kumin centres, they close at 21:00. And they are very anal about getting you out of the building BEFORE that (they start playing incessant music and making loud PA announcements from 20:45 on). We were out of the building at 20:59 by their own clock, and we still got scolded! Also, you can only book this room twice in any given month.

 

Enough about the space… what did we do?

 

Due to sickness and inflexible job schedules, we won’t have the whole group together again, so rather than work on any of the group elements pieces, we instead worked on a improv that we’d started on Monday as a joke: a re-enactment of trying to get a room that we’d paid for without the receipt. We focused on objectives and tactics work, and are now in the process of stripping the Tatemae off the characters without turning them into caricatures. That is the work that we’ll continue tonight.

 

Okay… off to rehearsal!

Nov 08

Back to the Grind

Last night was the first YT Ensemble Rehearsal for me in just over two weeks. I’d taken a break from rehearsals while my parents were visiting from Canada. It was also nice to give the group a chance to find a dynamic without me, as so far I’d been the only constant.

 

During my two weeks “off”, I was hardly idle, though. I was working on a new YTG website, as well as looking into a possible rehearsal space that we could rent by the month.

 

The group was also not idle. The first week they worked on their presentation for the monthly Gekisalon meeting, and in the second week, they continued work on our elements series.

 

Unfortunately, we had barely any working time last night. We were in a kumin (community) centre, and it closed at 21:00. I mean REALLY closed. Like we had to be packed up and out the door at 21:00. Also, Mayu (who had booked the space) had misplaced the receipt, which really put the staff’s noses out of joint. After thinking we’d solved the problem, they actually came and interrupted our rehearsal to make Takahiko do almost 20 minutes of paperwork!

 

We didn’t make a mess in the room, so we were planning to work right up until 20:50, and then change and exit. That plan also proved unworkable, because from 20:45 on, the centre kept playing loud end-of-day music and announcements over the P.A. system.

 

We’re back in that space tomorrow (Wednesday), but we’ll have the receipt this time, and I’ll try to be primed to make the best use of our time.

 

Our experiences at some of these Kumin centres simply serve to drive home the point that we really need our own space, ASAP.

Oct 17

What Happens When the Sun Comes Out

Sunday’s rehearsal started out as a bit of a disappointment. Due to some schedule adjustments to accommodate one member’s participation in another show, this was our last full-day rehearsal of 2011.

 

By the end of the day, two of the ensemble members had called in sick, one got stuck at work, and one showed up, only to run to another rehearsal after just an hour and forty-five minutes.

 

For the entire morning, there were only two of us (Mari and me). We ended up doing some voice work and started moving into some text work before lunch. (I need to remember to borrow some voice training books from YTG Voice for the Actor instructor Graig Russell… or even better, I need to borrow his brain.)

 

After lunch, Hiraku arrived and we moved into some movement work, although not the main exercises I had planned, since I need to save those for the whole group. Takahiko pulled in around 14:00, and then there were four of us. At this point, we finally had enough people to do what I consider the ultimate acting exercise: tag. I should probably write a whole post on tag and why it’s an incredible Theatre exercise someday, but that day is not today. For now, those of you not in the know shall have to scratch your head in puzzlement.

 

Hiruaku booked at 15:00, and I gave the remaining two members a few minutes break so I could sort out what to do with just the two of them.Mari and Takahiko practice their salsa.

 

I still had my list of exercises, and I chose several that didn’t require a large group, and we started again, this time on some physical Theatre exercises suggested to me by Utrecht School of the Arts grad and former YTG intern Jos Avezaat.

 

The last exercise we did was a breathing exercise, and it led to something that made the whole day worthwhile: our first spontaneously created scene since we started working together. I don’t want to say anything more, because I don’t want to ruin the scene’s effect when we eventually showcase it, but I will tell you that it involved Mari spending more than 40 minutes teaching and drilling some basic salsa steps to Takahiko.

 

So despite the rather iffy start to the day, and the difficulty shifting gears with people coming in and out, we accomplished something very important. The process we’re designing together allows for us to grab an idea or a promising tangent and run with it while it’s still hot in our minds, and today’s idea hints that although we’re still just feeling our way in the dark, maybe we’re on the right track.

 

I’m looking forward to having the whole group together again on Tuesday to pursue this new scene.

Oct 03

The Education of an Ensemble

Yesterday was the Yokohama Theatre Ensemble’s first all-day rehearsal (10:00 – 18:00). I had convinced ESL Theatre Project’s Lei Sadakari and voice instructor Graig Russell to come in and run some sessions for us.

 

Lei’s morning session consisted of a movement workshop, using group yoga poses and exercises to get us moving our bodies in new ways. Lei is constantly training overseas to learn new skills, so it was great to have her come in and share those with us. I am constantly surprised, however, about how I seem to be in better shape than the other ensemble members, despite being significantly older (and fatter) than most of them. Maybe they’re just pretending to be out of breath to make me feel better?

 

The afternoon session, run by Graig, was a voice class. He took the ensemble (and Lei, who stayed to participate) through the basics of making noise. I’ve been working with Graig on and off for a couple of years now. He was my assistant director on William Shakespeare’s R3, and helped with voice training on that show as well. Since then he’s come in to help out on other projects, and taught the first Ytheatre Voice workshop earlier this year, and he’s always done great work. It was amazing seeing him fly through yesterday’s training session, though. He’s really evolved his teaching style into something natural and engaging. I think he’s finally found the headspace of being a teacher; something that I have yet to master.

 

One problem we continue to have is tardiness and absence. There are still a few of us with commitments that predate the creation of the ensemble, but even these are sometimes communicated at the very last minute, and thus, we need to come up with a solution together to try to curb the absentee/lateness problem.

 

The kind of work we’re doing requires that we’re all present and ready-to-go, so it’s much more important to us than a normal group of performers working on a show. We’ll discuss this the next time we all meet, and I’m sure we’ll come up with a solution together.

Sep 27

The River is Wide

So the YTheatre Ensemble has started working on our first project. The first official project will still be Wall of Shame: The Musical, but we’re going to start doing a series of mini-projects to get us in the right headspace.

 

The first project is to expand the world that I and a bunch of high school students created for our 2009 Kanto Plains Drama Festival piece The Tribe of Dirt.

 

At the end of that piece, the tribe is led off by their new shaman to find a new life, and maybe a new element to base their culture on. I’ve given the ensemble the task of expanding on this, so we’ve started exploring the journey of the new shaman as he searches for the tribe’s new home and purpose.

 

Last night, we started working on the element of water, and thus did a lot of rolling around on the floor.

 

I find that I’m still having to do a lot of kickstarting of ideas with the group, since they’re used to being “just actors”. I will continue to work to make them part of the creative process. Last night’s stalling over some points of mythology and the archetypal quest have also convinced me that I may have to create a reading list for them.

 

Finally, here are some photos from last Tuesday’s “Opening Ceremony”, as I called it. After rehearsal, we convened at my house to drink some sake. I gave each of the “First Five”, including myself, a little packet of gold leaf that I’d bought last year in Kanazawa, and we sprinkled it into our cups to symbolize our collective wish for good fortune in our Theatrical pursuit.

 

Sep 11

YT Ensemble, Assemble!

The Ytheatre ensemble after our first rehearsal.

Left to right:
Hiraku Kawakami, Mari Kawamura, Mayu Cho, Takahiko Arai, Andrew Woolner (holding the camera)

The Yokohama Theatre Ensemble met for the first time as a unit this past Friday at the Kanagawa Earth Plaza (or Global Citizens Plaza, or whatever it’s called).

 

In addition to myself, the ensemble includes four brave souls: Hiraku Kawakami, Mari Kawamura, Mayu Cho, and Takahiko Arai. I say brave because we’re doing something different than every single one of us is used to while working on Theatre.

 

Normally when a group of strangers comes together in the name of Theatre here in Japan, we know a few things going in:

  • what show we are going to do
  • what the show will be like (style, content, etc.)
  • what the rehearsal process will be
  • when the show will be going up
  • what part(s) each person is going to play

The YT Ensemble knows none of these things. Well, we do know that our first show will be called Wall of Shame: The Musical, and that we hope to perform it for the first time sometime near the end of this calendar year. I’ve set that as the first show, because, firstly, I believe that it’s an important show to do, and secondly, I think that it’s important to have a first project in the pipe in order to prime our creative processes. In the future, we will be developing the shows together, as a group.

 

But other than the name of the show and the vague theme of journalism and the 3/11 earthquake, we know nothing. Not what the form of the show will be, not what the content will be, not even a running time. And that’s kind of the point.

 

So, that’s kind of scary. We’re creating Theatre without so many of the safety nets that we’re all used to. The worst safety net to work without (at least for me) is that of enforced relationships. With a scripted show, or a devised piece developed with a proper ‘director’, there are excuses to break social taboos. For instance, the script or the director will frequently dictate to you your in-show relationship with another character. If that relationship is intimate or hurtful, certain behaviours on your part are appropriate within the context of the rehearsal room. With people who have worked together for a long time, this becomes less of an issue, of course, but the five ensemble members have never worked with each other before. Moreover, we didn’t even know each other before forming the ensemble. I predict that we’re going to spend a lot of time, if I may switch metaphors, just breaking the walls we’ve all put up around ourselves. More time than usual for a cast.

 

I will post further as things develop, but I think the intimacy of the ensemble will be a recurring theme for the first little while as we try to figure out ways to break down the social walls between us. That in itself might make a good show someday…

Sep 08

The Dream I Stole From Sam

(mumble mumble) years ago, I was sitting in an apartment in Toronto, watching the real actors smoke, including Sam Rosenthal, now Artistic Director and General Manager of the Vaughn City Playhouse. This was a party of some sort (my memory is vague), possibly even the closing night party of The Diary of Anne Frank, my first semi-professional show and my first real show unconnected to an educational institution I was studying in.

IMG_1399-Edit

My eyes weren’t blinded: I knew that this show, in a grotty little Theatre called, appropriately enough, The Annex, was not a high budget affair. And though they seemed seasoned and wise to me then, the creative forces behind the show (the aforementioned Sam Rosenthal and his partner-in-crime Eli Lukawitz) were young and just starting out into the world of making Theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I knew this at the time, but I also felt inspired by their energy to create Theatre and so I spent most of my time hanging on their every word. They were really doing it; they were making it happen.

 

Eli and Sam were very influential on me just at the right time, much more than most of my university professors, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me by casting me in that show, and letting me see how a semi-pro company should be run (i.e. as much as possible like a professional company). I’ve held every group I’ve worked with since up to the standards that those two set for me, including my own casts and crews. But beyond that, something that Sam said that night at the party has stayed with me ever since.

 

He talked about how his dream was to run a rep company. Simple as that. Back then, I still pretty much wanted to be “just” an actor, although at that point, I think I’d at least narrowed it down to wanting to be a stage actor (i.e. I’d realized that I found film shoots intensely boring), so I probably nodded sagely, even though he was talking to someone else (Walter Young, I think1).

 

(In case you don’t know what a repertory company is, at its most basic it is a cast and crew that stay together for an entire season (at least) and perform several different plays together. If you want more detail, go look it up.)

 

In any case, at the time, a rep Theatre didn’t sound so great to me. Not bad, mind you, just not particularly special. But for some reason, I carried the idea with me over the years, and by 2001 or so, I’d basically stolen it and made it my dream. However, I ran into the problem that when you’re not paying them, actors don’t want to commit to more than one show at a time. Who’d have thought it? Well, Sam, obviously, which is why he’d been smart enough not to try it.

 

I realize now that part of the problem was that I was trying to do very conventional Theatre. Although my company was emphasizing original works and new interpretations of classical works, my approach to Theatre was still, in many ways, very conservative. With no money on offer, and able to get very little attention from critics, what did I have to offer actors? Basically, my Theatre company was one of the places to go to get something on your resume until a better job came along. Why would anyone commit for the long haul?

 

I closed up my Theatre to move to Japan, and when I started working with the Yokohama Theatre Group, I put the idea of a rep company aside. With the way that expats come and go here, a rep company was unthinkable.

 

And then I made The Tribe of Dirt with a bunch of high school students in about four hours one Saturday afternoon as part of the annual drama festival put on by some of the Kanto-area international schools. If you look that the video on the other side of that link, it’s rough, sure, but there’s something that happened that day that caused the penny to start dropping. Working on that show caused me to want to work on developing something wholly my own, in rehearsal, which led to my show 39, developed over three months of rehearsal with Kimberly Tierney. Doing 39, and the summer Fringe tour to Canada that went with it inspired me further, and by the time I got back, I was eager to develop more… which got me into trouble as I worked that ambition into the Tartuffe project I’d committed to the year before.

 

It’s now been nearly ten months since Tartuffe ended, and after much experimentation and farting about, I hit upon a possible answer to the question of “why would an actor commit to more than one show?”. The answer I hit upon was: an actor won’t.

 

Okay, but why would I? I would because I’ve come a long way since that night at the party, and I no longer think of myself as an actor: I think of myself as a Theatre Maker, as utterly pretentious as that sounds. What it means is that I want to be involved in the whole process of making new Theatre. I’ve known for years now that I want to do more than just interpret a playwright’s words in the way that a director wants me to: I have ideas that are too big to fit only into that niche. Which means I’ve been doing writing and directing. But what I’ve yearned for, and what Sam Rosenthal’s stolen dream has turned into is that I want to work with a group of people who want the same thing. Maybe they will want it in a more limited way than I do, I don’t know, but I want to find out.

 

The reason I’ve always loved Theatre so much is that I love collaborating with other people, and now that I’ve realized that the way I want to do that is much less conservative and more hippy-dippy than I had initially thought (owing more to the 1970s collective Theatre movement than to the rep companies of mid-20th century England), I think I may have found a way, if I’m really lucky and things go my way, to fulfil that dream I swiped from Sam.

 

1 No link there, by the way; he doesn’t come up on Google, and on Google images, searching [“Walter Young” toronto actor] brings up unrelated photos including Pennywise the Clown and Hitler.

Aug 27

The Ensemble

I was supposed to have my cast a month ago. It’s taken me a long time to set up auditions, get people to come to them, and then convince them to join.IMG_1399-Edit

 

Actually, the auditions are more for the candidates to evaluate whether or not they want to work with me than they are for me to judge their talents. Why? Because most Theatre people here aren’t used to the idea of a long term repertory unit, let alone one that is going to specialize in a type of collective creation. (I think dance people are, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

 

I’m asking the people to sign up to essentially commit for an indefinite term, an unspecified number of shows, and an intense (3 days a week) rehearsal schedule. I think we all will have the goal of doing this for a living, but for now, there’s no money in it. I am asking people to do this for the love of making collaborative Theatre. And that’s a big ask.

 

That’s why I’m not running the auditions to weed out people based on skill level. A Theatre producer friend of mine once gave me the advice, while we were casting one of the Amos Takes Hogtown shows, that I shouldn’t mistake enthusiasm for talent. Which is good advice when you have a 6 – 8 week, three day-a-week rehearsal process gearing up for a show that is going to get just one production. It’s less good advice when building an ensemble for a long-term creative project.

 

The fact is that someone can learn to be a better performer (indeed, one of the principles on which I’m founding the ensemble is that we all must always be open to learning new skills), but what can’t be taught is a desire to express oneself through live performance. That desire, that need, is what I am looking for.

 

What I’m keeping my eye out for in auditions is a flexibility of mind and a desire to jump right in and participate. So far, I’ve seen a lot of that. It seems like the kind of people who come out to this type of audition are already cut from that cloth. This is encouraging to me.

 

So, one more set of auditions on Tuesday, and I should have a company of between two and five people set up and ready to go by the end of the week.

May 16

A Class Act, Er, Acting Class

In real life, I run a 111 year-old Theatre company called YTG, which I am in the process of registering as an NPO here in Japan.The Beggar's Opera as performed by The Yokohama Theatre Group

 

The first half of the mandate of the company is to bring contemporary Theatre to people in Yokohama and Japan. To fulfill this mandate, we obviously mount shows, but we’re also trying to get a Theatre school off the ground. There are several reasons why the school is an important part of what we do.

 

Firstly, with our limited resources, shows can only happen a couple of times per year for the time being. This gap between productions causes YTG to drop out of public awareness for months at a time. Running workshops gives us something to publicize all year long.

 

Secondly, good training will empower and inspire students to go off and do their own projects, which will mean more Theatre buzz. I strongly believe that art begets art in a positive feedback loop. A city that has lots of active artists has lots of demand for art because everyone is aware of it. That is true for all the arts, but especially performance-oriented arts like dance and Theatre.

 

Thirdly, there is a dearth right now of Theatre artists who have both the need to create contemporary work and the technical skills to do so. The YTG classes are being designed to develop both of these requirements in the hopes generating future YTG company members.

 

We’ve had some problems finding suitable rehearsal spaces for these classes, so we’ve just got one coming up: Voice for the Actor. Voice_For_The_Actor_Spring_2011_Graphic_and_TitleBut what a class to start with. My friend and Theatre colleague Graig Russell has been working his butt off to write the curriculum for the class, and it’s going to be eight weeks of intense voice work. It’s not all the time I get to work with someone like Graig whose philosophy toward Theatre is so much like mine that it’s uncanny. Although voice work will always involve technical elements, what’s great about this course is that it doesn’t concentrate on technique to the exclusion of all else. Graig has really built a workshop that emphasizes the idea of the individual voice, so that each student will learn not something that’s standardized, but something that’s unique to his or her own body.

 

(And I’m not talking sight unseen here; Graig was my vocal coach on William Shakespeare’s R3 two years ago, and did some wonderful work with a number of my actors.)

 

Because we’ve had trouble booking space at YTG’s usual Yokohama haunts, this workshop will take place in Tokyo at the OUR SPACE rehearsal lounge. I’m so lucky that the management at that space are also good friends

 

So my job now is to sign up seven students to take this course. I’ve printed flyers and we’re sending them out to Universities; I’ve sent out the YTG newsletter announcing the class; I’ve notified a Yokohama English-through-Theatre school; I’ve sent email to my international school contacts; I’ve updated the YTG facebook page; I’ve tweeted it; etc., ad nauseum… Publicity is definitely the part of the job that I’m worst at.  I know that there are people out there interested in this course… the question is simply: how do I reach them?

 

Oh well, I’ll find the magic formula one day. In the meantime, I just need to keep plugging away. I really do believe that if I build something based on good, solid, ideas and ideals, that it will eventually generate interest. Art begets art and all that.

Feb 05

Respect for Acting

I’m currently nursing an intense headache while trying to come up with a curriculum for the acting class that I intend to teach in the spring.

 

To do this, I’ve pulled my Uta Hagan off the shelf and have started flipping through her acting exercises.

 

It’s amazing how much she and the also-late Michael Shurtleff (only found out today they’ve both died since I left Canada) influenced the way I thought about acting and Theatre.

 

What they wrote about is still useful for actors, even outside the context of film or the well-made play, but I think those ways of thinking hobbled me for a while as a Theatre-maker.  Actors should all be able to work technically, but playwrights and directors who focus solely on technique are limiting themselves.

 

My class will be a technical acting class, because I do think that’s where actors should start.  After learning how to play, they need to buckle down and learn discipline in their craft.  A lot of classes, especially here, where they are targeted at people who just want to have fun, neglect the discipline and concentrate instead on entertaining the students at the expense of education.

 

Anyway, I should stop trying to write this, and get back to my curriculum…

Nov 03

Tartuffe–4th Rehearsal

I’m constantly amazed by what a good group we’ve assembled for this show.  I’ve got a huge mix of people with lots of experience, and people with almost none, and they’re working very well together.

Tartuffe_image_1

I’ve heard from several people now that they’re still panicked about not having a script yet, so I gave another talk tonight, emphasizing that I’m not fiddling while Rome burns, but that even if we were working from a finished script, I’d rather not have given it to them at this point anyway.  I don’t want people memorizing lines yet.  This is a play, and we need to learn how to play together.

 

I would rather have a show with a few line flubs, where the actors know who they are, and what they’re doing, and what’s happening next, and in which they totally have bought in the world of the play, than a show in which people have memorized lines and are just marking things through.  I think, if compared side-by-side, this is what an audience would prefer as well.

 

After having said that, we continued the tactics/objectives work we started yesterday, and then moved into a Meisner exercise, courtesy of Jon Reimer (who teaches this stuff: http://tokyoplayers.org/?lang=1&page=58&mode=detail&event=38 If you’re in Tokyo, take his classes!), which deals with truth in acting.

 

I think his exercises clearly showed the idea that in truthful acting, emotion is a by-product of action.  (And yes!  This even applies to “stylized” acting, which is the same as “normal” acting, except that the rules of the world are different!)  This is really important to the framing section of our play (called the “1941 section”), because we’re striving for naturalism (although, of course, the stakes are high enough that people can be reasonably big without blowing the audience’s acceptance of the situation), and really don’t want to end up with anything that looks like self-conscious acting… or what my first acting teacher called “shmackting”.

 

Actually, that whole attitude is summed up by a story told to me by the great and intense Canadian director Paul Lambert.  I may get details of this wrong, but the point is the same:

 

One night, a relatively famous director who was guesting at the National Theatre School  was holding court in a bar.  All the young acting students were there asking him question after question.  After a long evening of this, and a perhaps particularly obtuse question from a first year, the director took a drag on his cigarette, and a sip from his full-to-the-brim pint of Carlsberg.  After he put the glass down, after seeming to consider the whole evening worth of questions, he said simply: “Just be there.  Fuck!”

 

Best advice for actors I’ve ever heard.  I wish this was my story.

 

Just be there.  Fuck

 

I believe that all the actors I’ve assembled for this show can be there.

 

Damn!  This show is going to be fantastic!

 

JustBeThereFuck

Oct 30

Tartuffe – Rehearsal #2

Well, we’re on our way.  I revealed the outline and the main ideas of the show to the actors after sending out the cast list (with final casting for both parts of the play).

 

I guess I should explain a little bit here what I’m doing so that this and future entries make a modicum of sense to people other than me…

 

The play opens in 1941.  When the audience walks into the Theatre, they will be confronted with a 1941 Japanese train station.  Through sound (mental note: need to recruit a sound designer) and dialogue, it will be revealed that this is February xth, at 23:30, and there is a blizzard raging outside.  The station is rural, but it is a major rail hub nonetheless.

 

A variety of people are trapped here: from foreign amateur actors, to a war widow, to a girl being sold by her family into factory work.  Between themselves, to pass the time, they decide to put on a play: Tartuffe.

 

Using items from their suitcases, they dress the station up to look finer and make themselves costumes.  The Station Master volunteers his gramophone for music, and they’re off!

 

The idea behind my production is the transformative power of Theatre, with a touch of the usual Tartuffe moral about blind faith vs reason.  Each of these individuals is changed somehow (maybe not obviously to the audience) by the performance of this play, and they all leave the station different from the way they were when they arrived.  (And, with luck, some of this will rub off on the audience.)

 

In any case, I gave the cast the whole breakdown of the show, including Tartuffe scene breakdowns, thus lifting the veil of secrecy that I’d unintentionally laid over the production.

 

I’ve also assigned research topics to each of the actors, which, in all the cases it was possible, I’ve tried to tie in with their 1941 character.  Presentations are next Sunday, and I’m really looking forward to see what they come up with.

 

We played some status games tonight, since status is so important in Japanese society, particularly in the era in question, and particularly across the lines of nationality and gender.

 

From here, we start working and developing  the 1941 characters.  Once that process bears some fruit, it will give me some options on how to attack the Tartuffe adaptation, which I’m trying to tie in as closely with what I’m seeing in rehearsal.

 

Getting excited!

Oct 05

Callbacks

So tonight I ran callbacks for Tartuffe, the production I’m directing this winter in Tokyo and Yokohama.  The people I called back were all definitely people that I plan to cast, the question is just placement.

 

The concept for the show is this:

 

A bunch of passengers, which includes the audience, are stranded in a rural train station during a snowstorm in early 1941.  A number of the stranded passengers are members of a Theatre troupe, and they decide they want to put on a show for their fellow passengers.  They recruit some people from among the other passengers, figure out casting, dress the station house up as a set, pull “costumes” out of whatever they have in their suitcases, and start to do Tartuffe.

 

So tonight, I put the callbackees through what a rehearsal with me might be like.  I’ve decided for this show that I want to do much more ensemble work; I felt that group unity was really lacking on R3, and I really want to build a strong bond between the cast members.  So we did a warm-up, played some games, did some physical Theatre improv work, and then did some show-related improvs.  Overall, I was really impressed with the group, their instincts, and their willingness to just go for it.  Casting is always very difficult, and I saw some good actors during the audition process who I felt unable to cast because I felt they were more talented as solo actors; more at home in a professional production in which people come in, rehearse their scene, and go home. The point is, I felt vindicated in my choices tonight.

 

There’s still a lot to do.  I’m missing three or four actors still: two Japanese men, one Japanese woman, and a Japanese teenage girl.  I can probably work around some of those roles, but I really would like to create a more realistic balance of foreigner to Japanese.

Sep 10

Victoria – Last Show

So it finally happened: the last show of the tour.

 

I went out with a bang.  The tech went smoothly; I rocked the show, I don’t know what else there is to write.

 

39 in Victoria

 

What to do except sum up the tour (at least for now)?

 

The Cons

  • Smaller houses than planned for
  • Disappointing financial returns
  • Some organizational problems within the various festivals (e.g. my previous post)
  • Probably cannot afford to do another tour for at least two years

 

The Pros

  • More than 400 people came to see 39 outside of Japan
  • Made innumerable and innumerably valuable Fringe friends in each city, some of whom I hope to collaborate with, in Canada or Japan, over the next few years.
  • Fulfilled a lifelong ambition to do a Fringe tour
  • Great enthusiastic feedback from almost all the other Fringe artists who came to see 39
  • Saw more than 35 plays over a four-week period; more than I’ve probably seen in my entire lifetime so far, thanks to free tickets from other performers
    • Out of those 35, only three or four were absolute stinkers
    • Out of those 35, about ten were brilliant and jaw-dropping

 

The pros, my friends, far outweigh the cons.  Thank you to everyone who was a part of the 39  2010 Summer Fringe Tour!

 

That includes the creative team, the stage crews, the techs, the Fringe volunteers, the Fringe organizers, our WONDERFUL AND GENEROUS donors, and, of course, my stalwart Stage Manager/Production Manager: Ramona.

 

Huzzah!

Sep 05

Fourth Show

There was some scheduling weirdness yesterday, and It’s Raining in Barcelona finished right when we were supposed to load in, leaving only fifteen minutes for both their strike and our setup.  Not their fault: like in London, there was some kind of scheduling SNAFU, but it’s a bit maddening.  I’m not an actor who is super precious with warm-ups or anything, but I do like to stretch the pipes (larynx, you perverts) before I go on, and this left me no time to do that.

 

That may be why the first bit of the show was a little loose.  However, I managed to pull it out of the fire, and we had our best audience yet (in size as well as responsiveness).

Our Victoria hosts, Jed and TJ, came tonight and at least told me that they enjoyed the show.  I had another couple of laughers, which was great as well.

 

My only complaint about the audience is that someone was drinking Starbucks in the front row (I’ve had a front row drinker in every show so far), and I had asked Front-Of-House to make announcement about that, and they hadn’t.  Otherwise, they were superb.

Sep 05

Victoria – Fifth Show and Fuck You

Fuck you, Victoria Fringe organizers.  Actually, you are generally nice people, and kudos on organizing such a great Fringe.  But you’ve hit this performer where it hurts: his house, and he’s upset.

 

For my other readers, let me give you some context:

 

So here I am, doing my show, and other than a disappointing opening night, am actually getting better houses than I did in Edmonton.

 

Two days before my fifth show, the Fringe announces that they’ll be running a fundraiser in order to help manage some of the financial problems caused by last-minute pulled funding.  Totally cool.  I’m down with that.  Performer and Fringe superstar Chris Gibbs generously offers to do a benefit performance of his show, Gibberish, at $20 a head with proceeds going to the Fringe.  Super!  Great idea!  Pats on the back all around.

 

Except.

 

Except.

 

Except that they slot this show in on Saturday at 8:00pm.  There are other Fringe shows on during that time, including mine, which is 60 minutes long and starts at 7:15.  I don’t think I need to say that this is considered a ‘prime time’ slot, and as such should be one of my better-attended shows.

 

Oh, did I mention that for two days, every single house manager was plugging the show to every single Fringe audience?  My house manager even plugged it to my Saturday audience, even though there was no way for them to make it at that point!  It was just salt in the wound.

 

Wound?  What wound?

 

I went from audiences of around 30 people (even at my late shows) to an audience of 9 on that Saturday night.  Other performers reported audiences being halved for their shows between 7:00 and 9:30 that evening.

 

I gave a pretty good performance, but an audience of 9 doesn’t have the critical mass needed to feed the fire, and the house was absolutely silent.  After working so hard flyering and schmoozing to build the audiences even to a modest 30, it was a huge, deflating, letdown.

 

Look, we know when we join the Fringe that we are competing against the other shows and performers.  But even my performance that was up against Martin Dockery’s juggernaut Wanderlust had 30-something people in the house.  The point is that the fundraiser had an important advantage that the other shows didn’t have: they had the house managers pushing it, and pushing it hard!

 

I think it’s obvious that I have no problem with the Fringe running fundraisers, but we performers paid money to be in this festival, and we had no idea that the Fringe itself would counterprogram us.  I think what they did was incredibly unfair and was essentially raising money for the Fringe at the expense of a number of Fringe performers.

 

I heard some grumbling from some of the other Fringe Artists, but I’m not sure if anyone complained officially.  I will certainly be complaining when I get back to Japan: this was a douchy thing to do.  If any other Vic Fringe artists are reading this, please let me know, either via comments or a direct message/email, if you will also be complaining.  I think a relatively large number of us were affected, and a complaint endorsed by all of us (maybe even copied to the CAFF) would be more effective than a lone curmudgeon complaining on his own.

Sep 03

Third Show

Another great, high energy show today, with an even bigger house than yesterday (at least from what I could see).

 

A few things marred tonight’s show, most of them to do with the show before us taking a fuck of a long time to load out and clear the dressing room for me.  Now don’t get me wrong, they were as nice as could be, but aside from being a cast of 20 which filled up the dressing room nearly ten minutes past the point that I needed to get in it, they made a mess.

 

The venue’s one backstage washroom looked like it had flooded and had fake blood and dirt on the floor; I had to mop it in order to use it without tracking fake blood onto our WHITE set.

 

Just as I was going to take my place in the wings, one of the zombie show personnel noticed a red spot on the ass of my white pants… it turns out that there was fake blood on the chair I’d sat on to put on my boots.  The two remaining zombie folk did their best to scrub it off my butt, but the result was still a red stain that was visible from the audience (an audience member mentioned it after the show), and it left a small red mark on the seat of the chair.

 

The UVic students who mostly people the zombie production were super nice, but I can’t tell you how stressful this was—I didn’t get to the wings until the house manager was actually making the announcement that starts the show, and was all too aware of the remaining pink stain on my ass.

 

Despite this, I had a great show and still adore all the super nice zombies.

Sep 03

Victoria – second Show

Running on two consecutive nights of 4 hours of sleep or less, and a whole day of zipping all over Victoria, I found myself standing backstage as the clock crept closer and closer to 22:00; our curtain time.

 

I’m still not satisfied with the first few moments of the show.  I think I had it at some point, but I’ve never felt good about it since we opened in Edmonton, after our July tour break.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not working anymore, and I’m not sure what to do to fix it.  But I did pump as much energy as I could into it, and I didn’t flag… not then, and not at any point in last night’s show.

 

I had thought the audience would be loaded with fellow Fringe artists; but it turns out no one I knew was there at all.  No matter: it kept me chugging through at full blast, despite a front-row sleeper mid-way through the play.  In general, the audience was responsive and attentive, and I felt I had certainly earned the applause at the end of the show.

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