Creating Theater When the World Seems to be Falling Apart

Last weekend was supposed to be the closing weekend for “The Trip to Bountiful.” Our season is designed that after that “March” play– we have a break in our season that allows us to beginning planning for next season and gear up for our busiest time of year–the summer.

Like I said, that’s what was supposed to happen. Instead, two weeks ago theaters all across the United States begin to shut down, suspend productions, and in some cases close them all together, in reaction to the pandemic that is attacking our country. We didn’t want to close–but we had too. We had to for the safety and health of our country, families, patrons….everyone.

This was an incredlbly difficult decision. Why? Because we still do not know how long and what disasters will have occurred when the rainbow comes out at the end. I wish I had dollar for every time I’ve said, “If I only knew…” my whole life. Well, if I only knew….then I could make the decisions a artistic director needs to make. Decisions about how to create theater when the world is falling apart.

First of all, you might be wondering exactly what is a artistic director?

Artistic director: the person with overall responsibility for the selection and interpretation of the works performed by a theater, ballet, or opera company.

In my case, I also have the responsibility to create budgets and vision for the paths we are going to take during the year. This is the time of year I start to make those decisions for the next season.

Panic sets in.

How in the world am I supposed to do that if I don’t even know if I will be able to open the doors of our theater before the end of the summer? My thoughts spin in my head like a tornado. “Do I postpone auditions? Are we going to be able to hold camps? Should I rearrange the season? Should I change shows that we finish the year with? Should I contact the royalty companies now or later? How is this going to hurt us fanancially? Can we survive at all? ” And probably other thoughts as well.

Where do I even start?

  1. Keep thinking and keep creating. The second you stop then the very artist inside of you will stop as well. Even if you don’t know when you’ll perform again or what tomorrow will bring. Just keep creating. How? Maybe it will look different because your safe theater isn’t open, but find another one! Write. or take a lesson, or give one. or read on-line to entertain others. Overshadowed has chosen to open it’s vaults and let others see past shows. Whatever you do, please just do it!

2. Keep Planning. This is a difficult one for me. I feel like the calendar is moving all over the place and I can’t make a decision or decide anything because my target keeps moving. But, I must keep planning. If I don’t have “the next step” ready then we will be behind on everything for the rest of the year.

3. Think about finances. This is a bottom line necessity all the time. God has always been very gracious and has blessed Overshadowed in so many ways. Honestly, this might be the toughest battle we face. Because we don’t know when we are going to re-open or if we will have to permanently cancel part of our season then we don’t know if we will have to reimburse part of the money we have collected up front. In this time of crisis that would be devastating. So, decisions have to be made to keep us going? How do you keep a theater company going when the theater world has stopped? We make decisions based on the future. Do we add something to our fall season? Do we spend less money now? Do we take this time “off” to make sure we inform others of services we have to offer? Classes? Rentals? Original scripts? My mind is searching for ways to help our communities but have services to offer others in the future. I’d like to think, that we will come out of this better because we’ve had time to think differently….time will tell. The one thing I know. This was God’s company when we started. It’s God’s company now. It’ll be God’s company tomorrow.

4. How do we get the name of our company out to people who would be interested? And in this case, how will we KEEP our name in the minds of our current patrons. Entertainment and theaters are going to take a hit along with everyone else in this crisis. We aren’t sure how long it’s going to last, but I want to be there when it’s all over. Small decisions have deep impacts on people. There is a science to marketing that I am not good at, but I do understand that people need to hear the name of your company over and over before it starts to sound familiar and even more times before it becomes something they are willing to check out. So, we are still sending out our weekly updates. We are also offering the link to one of our shows each week. (If you aren’t on our mailing list contact me and I’ll send you the link to one of these shows.) We are also trying to creatively market the people of Overshadowed and past memories. I really appreciate, Jessica Means, who is heading up all of that! She is so creative and is doing such a fabulous job!

5. Keep your tribe around you. Folks, we need each other. We might be bunkered down alone, but that doesn’t mean we should hibernate. FaceTime, text, call, email, zoom….there are many ways to reach out. Keep talking. It will help us stay motivated and maybe even appreciated and sane in the end!

My thoughts have gone back to the stories I heard about WWII and the times families would sit around and listen to the stories on the radio. Do you know what that teaches me? That when times are tough sometimes we need to shut out the world and give voice to hope and laughter and joy and see theater that becomes a means of comfort. We need breaks in times of sorrow and sadness. We need a connection between communities.

I’m thankful for theater. I hope it never dies.

One last thought that I have been clinging to. I was reminded of an old gospel hymn. “I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please take time to share this if you know someone it might encourage. Thank you!

Until next time!

And the Oscar Goes To: Part Two or Are You Sure You Really Want To Do This?

When I last wrote I had no idea what our world was going to look like just a few short weeks later. I wish I could go back to a time when our biggest worries were what we were going to have to eat for dinner or which movie we were going to see. But time wasn’t on our side this time and instead our world is in complete chaos. If you aren’t worried about if you are going to get the virus, you are probably worried about your job, or how you are going to survive for the next eight weeks without going stir-crazy.

I wish I could say that I’m not worried, but that would not be true. I know that God holds us in His hands, but my reasoning and anxiety constantly argue with me and I have to continue to purposefully focus on God. In some strange way though, that’s a good thing, I think. We are supposed to keep our hearts and minds on Him and maybe…maybe this is necessary for us to humble ourselves and pray…pray for God to heal our land. Not just from sickness, but from lack of faith and from having other gods that we put before Him. Whatever the case, pray, my friends, and know that our God is faithful and His promises are true. Search for Him and you will find Him.

When we discussed Judy I talked about the real life Judy Garland and the troubled life she lead. I ached for Judy, but then I started to think of others.

Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Marilyn Monroe, Freddie Prinze, Mark Salling, Kate Spade, Whitney Houston, Prince, Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Believe me, that is barely a drop in the bucket for the names you will find if you start googling this subject of famous people who have chosen sucicide or fought addictions or depression.

Is the rate of suffering from depression, anxiety or substance abuse higher if you are famous?

I have no idea. I haven’t studied this and in no way do I claim to be an expert.

However, these things I do know:

  1. We are more aware what happens to a person of influence because the news and social media keep us informed. Honestly, that might be part of why people who stumble across stardom have anxiety. They can never get away from us…the people who have the need to know every detail about them. The constant reporting can make it seem like the rate is higher than instances in the rest of the world.
  2. Stars and entertainers usually have the means to afford substance abuse more than the average person. We all know that money brings the ability to have many things–this particular ability can ruin and destroy even the innocent. These things are addicting, friends: they can ruin your life, your family, your pocketbook, your future. I am so thankful that I have never had that temptation.
  3. Really talented performers are able to tap into their emotions at a deeper level than most people. That is part of what makes their portrayal so brilliant! They are able to emphasize and pull reality from things they learn about or even have experienced themselves.
  4. They have to be”on” all the time. High stress environment and a demanding schedule seems to be a risk factor for the rest of the population. What about stardom? Pressure. Pressure. Pressure to perform at high levels added to the fact that they can never get away from it. Reporters, photographers, fans. How can they ever just let down, relax and enjoy life? There are many that are just searching for a way to escape! Think of what we enjoy by being able to enjoy places like Disney World? Liz Taylor among others solved that by having to rent Disney Land to herself after the park closed!

I don’t think I realized that the cost of Fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. –Julia Roberts

Let’s say that all the factors above don’t really cause addiction or depression. I’m pretty sure they at least make recovery harder.

Why do I say all of this?

I’m afraid. I see more and more people who have their eyes on the “prize of stardom.” I’m just not so sure that it’s the prize we sometimes think it is.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you! Please take a moment to like or share or follow me!

Until next time!

Fun=Theater. (Is it the Same for Everyone?)

 

When I decided to start a community theater I will confess I had no idea what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong. I had been directing plays/musicals for over twenty years. f67c7ab1-8c7b-475e-9ee8-05316d29e0fcHowever, that did nothing to prepare me for the difference in attitude in both audience and cast, as well as all the work that went into marketing and so many other areas. I naively thought that the people who came to see my church and high school productions would be excited about a Christian theater and would follow me to that venture. I quickly learned that Overshadowed Theatrical Productions had no name recognition. Quickly, my number one focus went to marketing. I began to feel stress for my new “product.” My desire never changed though. I wanted to provide professional type theater in an unconventional non professional way.

My goals, desires, standards never changed, but I soon discovered that the rest of the world either has the same problems I do or they are not bothered by things that I wish I didn’t have to tolerate.

The question is this? If you apply rules, standards, restrictions to a production experience–does it take the fun out of it for the performer?

Fun: it’s a word frequently thrown about in non-professional theatre circles. Fun. When someone asks why you are willing to put so much time into a production the number one reason is: “It is a lot of fun.”

And believe me, I agree. Putting a show together and performing it to a live audience is an experience like no other. Pure magic.

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Backstage look at curtain call from a recent production of Newsies

However, there is so much more than fun to the process. I don’t want to scare anyone off, but theater is hard work, especially to anyone that is going to devote their life to this field.

I will write more about this in a separate blog, but we amateur theatre artists always struggle to be recognized. It takes commitment to stay up late rehearsing and memorizing lines and creating character development. Most people have full-time jobs that they still work hard at, but of course, we as an audience don’t see that part of it.

I actually love that theater is hard work. I love that when you pour yourself into a character you are exhausted at the end of a show. It is a rewarding experience to pour yourself into a process like that. Is it hard work? Maybe. Time-consuming for sure.

Maybe it boils down to the reason why you participate in theater. Some do it for fun, some do it professionally, and some do it because they believe in the show or purpose. Isn’t it true that most of us will put up with almost anything if it is for something we love?

I love that theater brings people together. We make new friends and create something that lives. The danger is when some people treat the show as a hobby or something they are just doing for “fun.” Tensions sometimes arise when people have to work hard to cover for what some of the cast isn’t bringing. t is wonderful that community theatre brings together people with various levels of experience, but it is hurtful to the whole production when cast/crew treat the show as something secondary which does not deserve their full attention.

Please remember this: being paid or volunteering should not affect the quality of the work you provide. I think when the work suffers it is because we see ourselves as inferior when we don’t get paid, or don’t get the reviews or awards. Do not settle, but always push yourself to achieve more than you thought possible. Mediocre? Never! Let’s shoot for the top!

When producing a show, I think about the audience. What do I want them to enjoy, learn, feel? If I think about the cast instead, then we become a group of divas and honestly, become a little selfish. Sometimes we have to put personal thoughts aside to put on the best show possible.

Is theater fun?  Yes! Exciting, creative, rewarding and fun! Theatre is all about creativity, exploration, and play. It is exciting, enthralling, and, yes, very fun. It is also hard work and commitment. Let’s stick together and make each show better than the last. Someday we might get the recognition, but until then, the show must go on!

I’d love to hear your comments or thoughts! Please take the time to follow my blog or to share it with others!

Until next time!

Reba

 

My Top Ten Love Stories for the Stage

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to take the time to talk about some of my favorite love stories in theatre and why I like them so much. I’ll start with number 10 and move up the list so that your anticipation can grow!

10. On almost everyone’s favorite love story list (stage, screen or book) is Romeo and Juliet. I mean, Shakespeare created such a great model that when you speak of couples it’s almost like it is a coined phrase. If you don’t love someone like Romeo and Juliet loved then perhaps you aren’t in love? It is such a tragic story and teaches so many lessons of honesty, loyalty, feuding, that it is impossible not to be touched in some way by this wonderful story.

9. Cyrano de Bergerac. Also, a beautiful tragedy. I feel frustrated that Roxanne can’t see that it is really Cyrano that is writing the beautiful poetry she loves. I love that Cyrano wants Roxanne to be happy and loves her so much that he makes Christian into the man he thinks Roxanne can love. By the time Cyrano allows Roxanne to discover that Cyrano is the man she truly loves – he has been mortally wounded. Another love story gone horribly wrong.

8. Ragtime. Oh, how I wish this musical didn’t have such strong language. I believe the story could be told just as well without it, but sadly permission to change the language is not given so I won’t be producing this show anytime in the near future. This show is an epic love story. It is a love story with America (the good and the bad) and music and the passionate love of dreaming! It contains one of my favorite musical songs, “On the Wheels of a Dream.” If you haven’t heard it–trust me, find it and listen to it. It is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. (especially if you know what happens after they sing this song.)

7. The Phantom of the Opera. This is simply one of the best love stories of all time.  This story is set in the 1870’s Paris Opera House. The Phantom is a musical genius who prowls around with a mask hiding the disfigured half of his face. Even though he has been imprisoned by his disfigurement he feels love and even compassion for Christine. When she falls in love with Raoul, the Phantom’s heart is broken and he turns into a jealous, furious “monster.” It is a wonderful story of how love can conquer all or destroy. The music is haunting and beautiful. It is a timeless genius masterpiece.

6. Les Miserables. Unrequited Love. The song “On My Own”  makes me feel all the feels, after all, haven’t most of us had unreciprocated love sometime in our lives? Eponine and Marius are the couple that never was and how we ache for Eponine all the way to her death. The love stories play out on many levels throughout this celebration of human spirit. There is a reason it might very well be the world’s most popular musical.

5. Cinderella.I grew up watching the 1965 TV remake of this wonderful musical that was written for television. To me, there was no better Cinderella than Lesley Ann Warren. She was pretty, but not so pretty that it put my hopes of one day being a Cinderella out of reach. I loved “In my Own Little Corner” and I felt like I could also be “whatever I wanted to be” and, like Cinderella, it was ok to dream. Cinderella has a magical love. It is a fairy tale that makes most of us want the knight on a white horse-love at first sight kind of love. And honestly, that’s kind of breathtaking. (As a side-note I don’t like the modern version. For more on that read my review here: https://fromthewings.org/2018/05/01/rodgers-hammersteins-cinderella-changing-the-fairy-tale/)

4. West Side Story. Romeo and Juliet revisited. The tragic tale of two gangs that cannot mix with each other until Tony and Maria meet each other and fall madly in love. They defy the wishes of all their families and friends and commit to love each other for life. Oh, the power of love–it makes you believe that all things are possible. I won’t give away the ending, but since I said Romeo and Juliet you might get a hint.

3. Steel Magnolias. This story revolves around Truvy’s Beauty Shop. Everyone in the town gets their hair done there. When your hair is being dyed and cut you can bet some very strong friendships are being formed. This story is a love story between friends, and mothers and daughters. These bonds are powerful, life-sustaining and unexplainable. I wouldn’t give up the experience of playing Ouiser for anything. Life-altering.

2. Wicked. Most people might say that this is the story of Fiero and Elphaba. I believe it’s the story of a powerful friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. These two strong women meet and are instantly at odds because the pretty blonde just doesn’t understand the green-skinned girl. Yet, they each open their hearts and allow the lessons of the prejudice of the world change them “For Good. ” It is very rare that there are two female lead parts that are so brilliantly written for the stage. This one makes me long to be able to sing like Elphaba who does happen to sing my theme song. (Don’t we all want to Defy Gravity?)

1.Showboat. Anyone who knows me would have to know that this is my number one pick. It is the show that made me fall in love with theatre. I have seen it numerous times and have read the book and play just as many.

I love:

the love story that the show people have with performing

the love that Bill has for Julie that he would sacrifice his future by joining Julie’s race

I love that Magnolia loves Gaylord so much that she fights for him even when he is ruining her life

I love the way Old Man River soars and the love affair the people on the river have for the Mississippi.

My all time favorite musical song, “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine” (in fact I sing it to my granddaughter-with a few words changed) comes from this beautiful love story.

If you haven’t seen some of these make sure you search them out. If you have, I’d love to hear what you think! Please take a moment to comment, share and like!

In the meantime,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn: A Theater Review

Based on the 1942 film featuring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, the stage adaptation of Holiday Inn makes some vital updates (for example, cutting the film’s blackface number), while satisfying those of us who love old musicals and including songs like “White Christmas,” “Happy Holiday,” “Blue Skies,” and “Cheek to Cheek.”

Michael Mahler stars as Jim Hardy, a musician who leaves New York and show business to settle on a farm in Connecticut. He proposes to his song-and-dance partner, Lila Dixon (Kimberly Immanuel), who accepts him (seemingly reluctantly) and promptly leaves for a touring gig with the third member of their original trio, Ted Hanover (Will Burton). While Lila and Ted dance their way across the Midwest to Las Vegas, Jim embraces the farming life with the help of lively jack-of-all-trades, Louise (Marya Grandy).

Events collide when some of Jim’s New York friends come to visit as he is discovering that the farming idea is well….a disaster. How do any performers cope when they are in a crisis? Well, of course, they decide to put on a show!  Jim hatches a plan with his newfound friend Linda Mason (Johanna Mckenzie Miller), a charming, reserved schoolteacher ( who once aspired to be a performer). They decide to open the farm each holiday, bring in Jim’s performer friends, and put on a show!

Costumes

I must say, I have never been disappointed in the costumes at Marriott’s; however, this time I was. As you know, wherever you sit at Marriott’s you will be looking at some of the performer’s backs at least half of the time. It would seem to me that it would be very important for the actors to look equally good from the back or front. Unfortunately, it was quite distracting to look at Michael Mahler who’s pants were…hmmmm….baggy. The Valentine’s dresses looked great until the girls turned around and we saw what looked like a huge decal on the chest of their dresses. The Easter dresses were ok, but the Easter bonnets, which were designed to be over-the-top, lost the class that I think that song usually demands. Overall, I would give the costumes a C-.

Set Design and Technical

One of the things I love about Marriott’s is how effortlessly the set pieces move in and out. The cast is always brilliant as they push the pieces on and manage to do it in character. This show is no different.

One of the highlights is the piano. Since it is so much a part of this singing and dancing trio it becomes a central part of the design. As Michael Mahler is such an accomplished musician it is a delight to see what he brings to his character as he skillfully plays.

The other pieces fit the story perfectly. I loved the ladder that rolled around as different characters climbed on and off of it. Masterful use of the space and props/set pieces.

Acting/Singing/Dancing

I must admit I wasn’t fond of Michael Mahler as Jim. I know I shouldn’t compare to the movie, but growing up seeing Bing Crosby in this part it was hard to listen to Mahler’s voice. I felt he was a bit cheesy in his portrayal and I wanted him to be smooth and in control. Also, Will Burton as Ted wasn’t exactly a Fred Astaire either. I wanted to like Ted, but be angry with him for his lack of friendship and loyalty towards Jim. Instead, I didn’t like him at all.

But then, Linda Mason, played by Johanna Mckenzie Miller, and Louise , played by Marya Grandy, walked on the stage and all was well. Grady was brilliant, charming, funny and brought an incredible amount of energy and life to the stage. Miller made us believe she loved Jim in such a way that I ended up wholeheartedly loving it.

The dancing ? Wonderful! If you haven’t seen clips of the tap number with jump ropes then you can’t imagine how breathtaking it is! Hands down a showstopper. Denis Jones deserves an A for his wonderful choreography that brought this story to life.

Favorite Line

Ted Hanover : “Every now and then it’s a good idea to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

Conclusion

I mistakenly thought that this show would be too much like White Christmas. I was so wrong. I smiled most of the time. I loved the music, dance and love story. It made me remember the movies of my youth and just plain made me happy.

If you can get a ticket. Go. You won’t be disappointed.

HOLIDAY INN runs through January 6 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL 60069. Tickets are available at 847-634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com.

I’d love to know your thoughts! Did you see this production? Please take a moment to comment and share this post!

Until next time!

It Not Just about the Award

It’s almost November.

What does that mean? Every bit of news has something to do with how I should vote–why I should vote–or who I should vote for. I do believe that’s important. It’s one of the privileges of being an American that I treasure.

What does that have to do with theater? Well, we vote in theatre as well. Just think of the awards….the Emmys, the Oscars, the Tonys. Many of the winners are voted on by a group of their peers.

The past week I realized that Overshadowed qualifies for a regional award. They are called the BroadwayWorld awards.

BroadwayWorld is the largest theatre site on the internet. It covers Broadway, the West End and spreads to 100 US cities and 50 countries worldwide. It boasts of 4.5 million monthly visitors and delivers Broadway and regional theater news, interviews, reviews and more. This company has their own awards–anyone can vote. You vote for your favorite theaters, favorite shows, favorite actors/actress, favorite directors and more.

One of the most common conversations I have with people is when they question why Overshadowed’s shows don’t get reviewed. They ask me how we’ve been in business for 15 years and they are just hearing about us now.  The perfect example of this was after our last production of “A Tale of Two Cities.” We had a troop of people who decided to reach out to local critics… such as Dean Richards and Chris Jones (as well as others.) ( I would like to give a shout out to Dean Richards who was kind enough to respond to the inquiry and explain why he couldn’t make our show. Thank you, Dean!)

Sadly, Overshadowed cannot seem to get noticed. Do we want to? In my heart there are  times that I wonder what life would be like to qualify for a Tony or other such award. At the end of the day, I know that it isn’t the praise of man that makes something a success. Still, recognition means something.

The site of BroadwayWorld with their 4.5 Million viewers who regionally might say, “Overshadowed’s “On Golden Pond” wins Best Play–well, that is a pretty big deal.

As I was pondering this I was asked if it really means anything since it’s done by the people who know you instead of a critic. I say 100 percent, “Yes!”

Here’s why:

  1. We want you, our audience, to enjoy every moment you spend at our theatre. We hope that we are giving you great moments of sheer joy and delight. If you take  time to nominate us and then perhaps vote later–we would know we are succeeding.
  2. Marketing is difficult and expensive. This might be the singlehandedly best way to get the word out about “this little theatre that could.”
  3. Let your voice be heard. Do you like the kind of shows that are winning awards these days or perhaps would you like to have a say to tell the world that family friendly still has a place in the industry?

Now, I know I’m not giving you a lot of time to make this happen and I also know that the form takes a little bit of time–perhaps fifteen or more minutes; but I’m asking you to make time to nominate us.

Here are the rules:

  1. Today is the last day to nominate any production.
  2. Only shows within the last year can be eligible.  Our qualifying shows are: “I’ll Be Seeing You”, On Golden Pond“, “Sleeping Beauty” (Best Theater for Young Audiences production), “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”and “A Tale of Two Cities.”
  3. Make sure you vote under the RESIDENT NON-Equity category.
  4. There are so many different fields under each show and you can vote for up to four people. If you need to know who qualifies–please ask and I will help you out.
  5. Here is the link: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/2018nominations.cfm

Thank you in advance. As always please follow this blog, comment and share! I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Until next time!

Worship Wonderings

Personal ponderings while preparing and reflecting on worship expressions & other faith matters.

Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews

Maggie Rowe

this is an archived blog

The Producer's Perspective

Ramblings about all things theater from stage to screen

Stephanie Howell

bloom where you're planted

Daily Joy

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." -E.E. Cummings

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