Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sausage Gets Made, continued [All's Fair (Six Western)]

Part of COItc's pipeline for 2010 includes development of the new play All's Fair (Six Western), the recipient of a performance residency at Centrum (Port Townsend WA). Throughout the year, we hope to post the thoughts of various members of the development team, and track its progress.

Below, the playwright recalls some of the thought process behind the work.

Can anything fruitful be born out of spite? Because to be honest, the first spark of what became all's fair (six western) came in 2007, sitting in the darkened lobby outside our inaugural production, The Danish Mediations, thinking about how much Actor's Equity pissed me off.

Being my first time around as a producer, everything about the process was strange to my eyes: Why did the showcase code cap the production budget and number of performances? Why didn't the code demand that producers share box office proceeds with Equity members (something we nevertheless did)?

I avoided going in to performances -- even performances with only four or five audience members -- because watching half a dozen imprisoned actors forced to mouth my words was pure hell. Since I also worked the door, those duties provided the perfect excuse to avoid going in, settling the cash box (even scant audience numbers taxed my math-deficient brain), setting up (and eating) the concessions, etc.

Jason Updike (of COI podcast fame) plays, essentially, me with Jason Altman and Gary Patent in The Danish Mediations (2007).

There were long stretches where I lay back in the dark, waiting for the act break or curtain call, and wondered what we thought we were doing. Nestled in a black box theater carved out of a cluster of SoHo apartments, the Access Theater is run by a friendly and committed staff -- but it's a fourth floor walk-up from its nondescript entrance at street level. There were many nights when I wondered how it must have looked from the outside, everyone killing themselves to create this polished theatrical piece which we promptly hid from public view as best we could.

Group photo of COI West Chapter; Gary Patent and Fayna Sanchez, both now of LA, in COItc's inaugural production.

The image etched most indelibly in my memory was the sight of audience members arriving at the fourth floor landing: out of breath, sweaty, and weary even before the show had begun. It was an extreme case, but I thought it was a fit image for many audience members in independent theater: while usually not as efficient at burning calories, it's still not easy to follow a particular company or actor or playwright before they've landed in the more comfortable niche of established off-Broadway companies. Aside from those who are extremely committed to attending live theater (who, like the mildly autistic who chart regional trains for the pleasure of checking a schedule, I find charming and creepy in equal measure), it's work for an audience to attend a show. Most people are tired from their day jobs, confused by traveling to obscure venues, hungry for a deferred meal. And I worried that the payoff was too fleeting to justify the output of energy.

How, I wondered in the dark lobby waiting for intermission, could we change the model? How could I offer an audience a more comprehensive experience? How could we increase their return? I was starting to get an idea.

To begin with, I had to take the asinine limitations of the Showcase Code as a given. It was a red herring to start bitching about the restraints placed upon producers by AEA's profit- and job-killing restrictions; sure, they are both of these things -- but that kind of woe-is-me thinking is counter-creative, it just affirms navel-gazing laziness. It's here, it's the rules. I needed to get over it.

But how could I increase the return on an audience's experience while staying inside the restrictions of a four-week Showcase run of 16 performances and a (since-revised) budget cap?

The set had to stay the same. The cast had to stay the same. But something had to be different, so the only thing left was the script. We had to create a serialized piece that could be laid out over four weeks -- one new segment a week. At the same time, I wanted to avoid a live-action soap opera: the plot had to be contained, whether an audience member chose to view all four segments or only one, they had to have a satisfying theatrical experience.

Moreover, the experience had to be informed by the segmentation -- we couldn't have it take four weeks to do the play simply because of a high page count. I had no idea what kind of story would work, though...


No comments:

Post a Comment