Thursday, December 17, 2009
It's that time of year again, a time for reflecting, a time for giving and a time for looking ahead. Bear with me as I touch on subjects that aren't specifically "Tech Talk" but do impact what I do and will serve as a platform for future segments.
As I reflect on the past year, the first thing that comes to mind is how difficult a time it was for Theatre Charlotte, as well as many other arts organizations and non-profits. In the past year, we saw a significant drop in contributions to the ASC fund drive which in turn impacted nearly every group that the ASC supports. Theatre Charlotte, already dealing with financial challenges and bare bone production costs, had to yet again slash its meager budget. The challenge has been to continue to meet and surpass audience expectations without letting them know that you are working with every scrap of wood that can be found and that every cent spent from the budget could be the last one. As a former boss said to me,"It's like making chicken salad." On the plus side, I still have a job, my wife still has a job and we both have a place that allows us to do what we are passionate about.
Also looking back, I see the dream of moving this great organization to a better place all but come to an end. Upon taking this position, the staff and board of directors were a buzz with ideas and expectations of moving into a new facility that would take this 82 year old organization into a new age of community theatre and ensure its longevity and stature in the community. Exciting for me, a chance to be a part of something special and put my name in the history book of this organization. A real boost for my career...not so fast. I remain optimistic that we can turn the corner and establish longevity for this theatre, perhaps right where this building currently sits. I also think about the new faces I have seen on this stage over the past year, all of the volunteers that I have worked with and the patrons I have met and I am glad that we have a place to call home. More on that in a minute.
Finally, I look back and think about the past year on stage. While the building continues to fall to pieces around us, we have managed to produce some outstanding theatre. One highlight that comes to mind is The Full Monty, a monstrous undertaking technically, a risky show for this community theatre but a hit with audiences and it set a new level for what we can do here. While not as much of a financial success, I also have to rank Woman in Black up there as a highlight of what I have been able to do here. This past year has also brought us a fantastic partnership with the Charlotte Film Society and introduced our community to some great events at Theatre Charlotte, like our Wine, Chocolate and Murder Mystery on Valentine's Day, our Junior Cabaret event that showcases some of the best young talent from near and far, New Year's Eve Celebration and our musical movie series highlighted by The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
So now is also a time for giving. By this time, I think most people are probably sick of being asked to give, give, give, so I won't dwell on this too long. This past year, and I can probably speak for the entire staff when I say that, we have made a lot of sacrifices to get us to this point. We have given up benefits, pay and days off to make sure that we and people in this community have a place to do theatre. In return, I have been given friendships, too many laughs to count and moments that have brought tears to my eyes. This truly is the gift of theatre and the arts and if you don't think that your donation (no matter how big or small) counts, you are mistaken. The gift of theatre provides our children, grand children, friends and neighbors a chance to express themselves, a chance to try something new, and an opportunity to make friendships that last a lifetime. For two hours, actors, technicians, volunteers and patrons come together as one to create a once in a lifetime experience that will never be duplicated, no matter how many times a show is performed. That is the beauty of live theatre!
Now, as I look ahead into the unknown, we will continue to face tough decisions and challenges in the upcoming year. My hope, my goal, is to inspire and challenge myself and others to not let the economy be an excuse any more. To take the bull by the horn and make something happen. There is tremendous opportunity out there and we need to embrace it. If you are reading this, then you probably already support Theatre Charlotte and what we do, so to you my challenge is to introduce new people to the experience here. Convince your friends, family, councilman, teachers, financial advisor, whoever it is you come in contact with, convince them to invest in theatre. Turn them onto the experience of live theatre and let them know how important it is to have a community theatre, such as ours, in this city you call home. Have a safe Holiday season and see you in 2010.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Now it is no secret that our building is old and has seen better days (more about that in a different segment). It is also no secret that this theatre was built on what used to be a slave cemetery. Rumor has it that all but one body was found when the cemetery was relocated to another neighborhood close by. I can't say that this is true or not, but it has been said on more than one occasion. Let me also say at this point that I have never seen nor heard evidence that makes me a believer of the paranormal. I find the ideas and stories interesting and entertaining but I guess for the time being you can classify me as a skeptic. I can also say that in the three years I have been working here, I have never seen or heard anything that I would classify as unexplainable. Again, this is an old building with a lot of history and stories.
All of that being said, here are some events that have been reported and experienced over the past few weeks. The odd creak and bump has been reported by no less than three people during rehearsals at night and by a staff member during the day. One person described noises "like footsteps" walking across the stage. At the time, there was no one else in the building.
Having been here for three years, there are noises and subtleties of the building that you learn along the way. I know that there is a light switch backstage that upon turning on, makes a loud buzzing sound that can be heard on the other side of the stage. Somehow it is connected to some sort of panel downstairs in the basement causing it to make noise, don't ask me why it's that way. I can't explain what would make the noise quieter one day. Whatever the reason, I appreciate the quiet now.
For those who are superstitious and familiar with theatre lore, you know about the "ghost light." Every night at the end of rehearsal, a light is plugged in on stage for practical safety reasons, but also because it is considered bad luck for a theatre to "go dark." Some may say it is also a courtesy to the spirits in the building. One night last week as we wrapped up our dress rehearsal, our crew head, John, plugged in the light as usual and we locked up and went about what was left of our evening. The next morning when I came in, the ghost light was off and it was still plugged in. I checked the bulb, thinking it had burned out but that wasn't the case. It has since worked fine and I can only recall this happening one time in my tenure.
Speaking of lights, our stage manager has had two light bulbs blow up at her station backstage. Two bulbs, two different fixtures. We also had a headset stop working suddenly, one minute it was fine, the next it wasn't.
Finally, on Monday morning of this week, I arrived and started going through my list of "to dos" from the previous night's rehearsal. I was onstage and Nancy and Jackie were in the front office. Suddenly, there was a loud crash followed by some sounds I can only describe as "rustling." Nancy was quick to come into the auditorium, thinking I had fallen off a ladder. She said it sounded like it came from on stage and from where I was at, I said that it sounded like it came from the light booth. I figured that because of all the rain the night before, part of the roof had collapsed or something fell on it. As it turned out, a stack of soda and water in our storage room had fallen over on the floor. A stack of soda that no one was near and had been that way for several days.
There you have it. Chalk it up to an old building, everyday stuff or maybe The Woman in Black.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
There are a number of things that make community theatre special, one of those is opportunity.
In seeking crew for Seussical, I had a response from a new volunteer who said I don't know the first things about theatre. But she was eager to help and willing to learn. When Meghan came into the theatre for the first day of tech, she didn't know upstage from downstage and by opening night she was moving scenery around with the best of them. Many theatres, even in this small community, would turn up their nose at someone who doesn't know their Stage Left from their Stage Right. Here we offer opportunity and the chance to learn from people who have been around the block a few times.
Of the crew on this show, only three have worked a mainstage production here, the rest are rookies! You have to start somewhere and for many people in this town, it has started at 501 Queens Road.
Having a great crew starts at the top with our Stage Manager and works its way down. With Sabrina at the helm, I knew that we would be okay with a young crew that could learn from her experience and learn how to do things right. Throw in John Spinoso(Run Crew Head), who has a knack for moving around heavy objects such as toilets, urinals, couches and people, all without being seen, and I knew we were in good shape. In the absence of our sound designer, I turned to another Theatre Charlotte vet, Jonathan Rast, to cover for him. Jonathan has been a staple behind the sound board for us and does what it takes to achieve excellence.
So now we come to our rookies. Meghan, whom I mentioned earlier, has come along way in a short time on this show and is a perfect example of the volunteer experience here. Come and you will learn.
The Winn sisters, Abby and Emily. Both have helped on previous Theatre Charlotte events, but never a mainstage production. Emily was quick to volunteer to help backstage on this show and has done an outstanding job. Her dedication is second to none and her enthusiasm is what makes this job so rewarding. Maybe it was Emily's excitement that gave Abby the bug, I'm not sure, but she jumped on board as well...literally. With loads of new state of the art lighting equipment brought in for this show (thanks to our Lighting Designer, John Hartness), Abby runs all the lights with the push of a button. Sounds easy, but it takes concentration and good communication skills. I confess...I don't even know how to run this light board. It doesn't stop there, because you can also find Abby backstage during Intermission and after the show helping the rest of the crew clean up and set up for the next performance. I've also noticed the sisters singing and doing some of the choreography in the show. Might we see them on stage in the future?
Speaking of newcomers, how can you get any newer than Charlotte who moved here just a few weeks before the show opened. She didn't know anyone, didn't know how to operate lighting equipment and anyone who has moved to a new city and new school knows it can be overwhelming. I think it is safe to say that she has made new friends and found a home here. That is the "community" in community theatre. Welcome to Charlotte, Charlotte and welcome to Theatre Charlotte, Charlotte.
Community theatre is also a family affair. We were fortunate to have the support of the parents of our Jo-Jo to run follow spot on this production. The Newmans gave up the best seats in the house night after night to sit in the light booth and see the show and their son from the peanut gallery. Again, no experience prior to Theatre Charlotte.
There you have it. Six reasons why you can volunteer at Theatre Charlotte without prior experience: Meghan, Charlotte, Abby, Emily, Mr. Newman and Mrs. Newman. My hat is off to all of you, you have each done an outstanding job on Seussical (no small feat considering the complexity of this show) and I hope that you will share this experience with others.
Next up, The Woman in Black. Enjoy a glimpse of what's to come...
Thursday, September 17, 2009
My experience volunteering at Theatre Charlotte has been nothing but glorious! From my first audition to performing on stage…it’s become a home away from home. There’s such a talented and passionate group of people involved with Theatre Charlotte. These people pour their hearts and souls into each and every production and put in hundreds of hours of hard labor.
Performing is only one way that I volunteer at TC. I have also helped with the painting of the sets and striking the sets. I’ve become pretty good with a power drill thanks to theatre. In fact, after The Full Monty, Emily Hunter and I had the job of holding onto the urinals used in the bathroom scene while Chris Timmons unscrewed them from the wall…I have photos of this magical moment and it is hilarious!
It’s truly like working with family when you do a show here. Speaking of family, one of my most favorite things to come out of my volunteer experience with Theatre Charlotte is definitely the life long friendships that I have made. I moved to Charlotte from Orlando 11 years ago and was miserable here until discovering theatre. I am very blessed to have found my new ‘family’ and to be able to share my passion with such incredible people. It’s a wonderful feeling to see so many people give their time to the theatre to bring Art to Life!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
We kicked off this plan with a New Year's Eve Celebration. A $35 per person event which featured Theatre Charlotte entertainers, Vito Abate as the emcee, tons of delicious food provided by Board members headed up by Michelle Gutt and Scott Miller, a silent auction, a live feed from Times Square, an open bar with beer, wine, and wassail, and a balloon drop and champagne toast at midnight! This was an incredible event and we absolutely plan to do it again so be on the look-out cause tickets are limited and, if last year was any indication, they'll go fast!
Next, we held a Valentine's Day Murder Mystery Dinner Party called "Wine, Chocolate, and Murder." We weren't sure what to expect from this - we had never done a murder mystery and we weren't sure if people would come to Theatre Charlotte on Valentine's Day. But, they did! We crammed 134 people into our little lobby! The event was a ton of fun and something that we plan to do again on Saturday, February 13, 2010!
A few weeks ago we held our first Junior Cabaret. We had 20 kids ranging in age from 9 to 17 perform on stage. Some sang, others danced, some played instruments. We had a few cabaret tables on stage and held a colorful, sugar-filled candy reception afterwards. The kids seemed to have fun and they were all incredibally talented! This is one that we are looking to do again (possibly as early as Spring 2010!)
Events coming up include:
Lunch with The Cat in the Hat next Saturday, September 19th, and a Sing Along version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie after the October 16th just do it.
What was once one big Gala is now lots of smaller events - something for everyone, every budget, and every interest.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The research for this show was the most fun I have had as a director (and this is my 72nd production). Chris and I read the 20 or so Dr. Seuss books that are incorporated into the show. We researched the production history of "Seussical" and the life and times of Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. We wanted to make certain that when the curtain opened, the stage would resemble a page of one of his books.
The show was not particularly successful on Broadway and after it closed, the authors, composer and lyricist massively re-wrote it--cutting songs, adding songs, changing lyrics and changing the focus of the show. It is now so much better.
It is a deceptively hard show to mount. About 98% of the script is music--either songs or dialogue underscored by music. And the dialogue and lyrics (much of them right from Dr. Seuss) are mostly underscored. This is not a collection of Dr. Seuss stories set to music, but rather a brand new story, mainly combining "Horton Hears a Who" and "Horton Hatches the Egg" into one through-line, with a element of many other Seuss books.
The production team--Lisa Blanton as choreographer, Ellen Robison as music director, Chris Timmons as set designer, Jamey Varnadore as costumer, John Hartness as lighting designer and Steph Johnson on props--began to work on the show back in June. And what a terrific team this has turned out to be! All the elements have blended together to re-create the magical world of Dr. Seuss on the Theatre Charlotte stage.
We have selected an energetic, talented cast from the 84 people that auditioned and they have worked long and hard, learning the choreography, the songs and staging. I am so proud of everyone connected with this show.
"Seussical" is a show for everyone--folks of all ages--for all who have loved Dr. Seuss.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
September usually marks the beginning of a new season here at Theatre Charlotte. Its generally a month full of excitement, anticipation, and sometimes even panic!
Here are a few of the shows we have opened the season with in the past...
20 years ago - Follies
15 years ago - Assassins
10 years ago - The Boyfriend
5 years ago - Cabaret
All the excitement that surrounds the opening of the theatre season usually results in a few great stories. Stories that are still being told at Theatre Charlotte include the tale of a "wardrobe malfunction" in Cabaret, the panic of a missing actor that almost resulted in a stage manager having to play the part in drag (also during Cabaret), and the horror story of scenery for Act Two being painted during Act One of Barnum!
Take a moment to share your favorite opening night story below...
Friday, August 28, 2009
I get to see my ideas, my dreams become reality. What starts as words or sketches takes on life here. These dreams become pieces that can be seen, touched and shared with others. Four weeks ago, my dream was in the shape of a small scale model, and now it is full size. In two weeks, the dream will be complete and the show will open (Seussical: September 10 for those keeping score). I often don't sleep at night just thinking about the final product.
Yes, it is a lot of work. Often back breaking and exhausting and although the dream lives only for a brief moment in time, it is worth it. Long ago I accepted as part of what I do, that it only lasts for a short time before it becomes a picture or a memory. What a privilege to make it there!
So much will happen between now and the next time I write here. In that time, one set will have been completed and another started, auditions will have come and gone, rehearsals will have begun for The Woman in Black, collaboration on A Christmas Carol will be under way, the roof will have leaked in some new places and old ones, hundreds of volunteer hours will have been logged, many new faces will have walked through the doors for the first time (hopefully the first of many times). Throw in a few special events, Charlotte Film Society movies and many sleepless nights laying awake...dreaming.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
For instance, the other day a lady called in and yelled at me -- hollered! -- that she "HAD ABSOLUTELY NO WAY OF GETTING IN TOUCH WITH US!"
"Why, whatever do you mean?", I said, sweetly.
She asked when the theatre had moved. I told her that we hadn't and that Theatre Charlotte had in fact been here at 501 Queens Road since the Mayflower, more or less. "WELL, WHEN DID YOU CHANGE YOUR PHONE NUMBER??" I assured her that our phone number had not changed. It is true that about a year ago we dropped a secondary line in an effort to cut costs, but the main office number has always been 704-376-3777. I believe this number was issued to us by Alexander Graham Bell himself.
I think it is important to note that we can also be found online at our website, theatrecharlotte.org, and the websites of carolinatix, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, and the Arts & Science Council. A quick check will most likely show our presence on Facebook, MySpace, FacePlace, Twitter, Chatter, Yammer, Blather, Google and Bing. Also the phone book, pages both yellow and white.
In the words of Dr. Seuss's Whos on their clover, "We are here, we are here, we are here!" Right where we've always been. So call us. Come on in. Come see our shows! You know where to find us!
Friday, August 21, 2009
Hi. I’m Stuart! I moved to
A lot has been said and written recently about the state of our economy and its effects on the arts. It’s no big surprise that arts organizations in
I have a degree in statistics, so when asked to guest blog, I knew immediately that I wanted to put my day job to use! So, let’s crunch some numbers, shall we?
The 6 shows this year will require, at a minimum, 83 actors, 18 techies, 360 ushers, and 180 concessions people. Let’s look at a breakdown of the hours to cover these volunteer positions…
· 83 actors * 12 hours a week * 6 weeks = 5,976 hours (not an exact science :) )
· 3 techies per production * 6 shows * 12 hours a week* 3 weeks = 648 hours
· 6 ushers * 60 performances * 2 hours per performance = 720 hours
· 3 concessions people * 60 performances * 2 hours per performance = 360 hours
· Other misc. hours – 5 hour work day per production * 15 volunteers * 6 shows = 450 hours
· GRAND TOTAL = 8,154 hours (and counting)!
Over 8,000 hours at the bare minimum! And that’s not even considering the countless other hours put in by the board of directors and volunteers to plan and coordinate other events throughout the year.
Needless to say, if TC paid for these hours it would be crippling to the budget. Just paying the minimum wage alone would cost the theatre over $59K!
So, come. Entertain. Build. Paint. Pour. Guide. Organize. Have fun. “
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I was thinking what I should write about in my first blog ever: how bad the economy is, how challenging fund raising is, budget cuts, reduced salaries and on and on. But, I thought, who doesn't know the economy is in pitiful shape and thus fund raising is hard, forcing budget cuts, etc.? So, I decided to push through the dark clouds for the silver lining. Hmmm. Silver lining....hmmm. Oh, I know--Theatre Charlotte is still here! We are here and we are about to embark on our 82nd season! Pretty good. Our tiny, but mighty, four-person staff is intact--poorer, but still working hard and still dedicated to creating those outstanding theatre opportunities that are mentioned in our mission.
We have close to 550 active volunteers. Now, there's a silver lining! As a community theatre, our reason for being is for volunteers. And we have some good ones--performers, set builders, props people, crew members and ushers. And our volunteer pool continues to expand. We had 84 people audition for our opening production of "Seussical" and we have a cast of 35--all volunteers, with close to three-fourths of them new to TC (including my 4-year old daughter who will be playing the elephant-bird hatched by Horton the elephant at the end of the play.)
It took us awhile to put it together, what with performance rights for a couple of shows being withdrawn, but we have a great Main Stage season: "Seussical," "The Woman in Black," "Biloxi Blues," "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Smoke on the Mountain." "The Woman in Black" is the most recent addition to the season. The North American rights to the other play we had selected and advertised were withdrawn and we were told we had to pick a different play. We wanted something scary because that slot opens Halloween weekend. I read "The Woman in Black" and it is really scary--far scarier than what we had initially chosen. So, still silver lining stuff.
No offense to other set designers and tech directors in the area, but we feel we have the best one in Chris Timmons. Talk about silver lining--not only is he a terrific designer and very cool to collaborate with, but he can put great stuff on the stage for very little money. Now that's what I'm talking about--silver lining! I have directed 72 plays and have worked with some good designers, but Chris is at the top of the list and, by far, the most fun to work with.
I am not slighting the rest of our brave little staff. I will praise them in future blogs. So, there you go--silver linings. Oh, and our season ticket sales are really good (putting on my ED hat--of course they could always be better) and the donations from our loyal patrons are strong and we have every reason to believe they will continue that way.
We at Theatre Charlotte have much to be thankful for in the midst of all this economic and political turmoil. This mess has made us more creative, more innovative and even better at borrowing good ideas from theatres around the country. So, my ramblings for this week have come to an end. I hope to hear from you and remember--theatre entertains, engages, inspires and unites community. Support all your local theatres!
Friday, August 14, 2009
So, what can you expect to find on the Theatre Charlotte blog? Is this just another attempt to get you to buy tickets and donate money? Well, yeah, but the real goal, the true mission, of this blog and of Theatre Charlotte as a whole is to engage, inspire and educate our community through theatre. So, we've put together a "blog series" that we hope will be engaging, inspiring and educational.
We'll have monthly posts from each of Theatre Charlotte's staff members - Executive Director, Ron Law; Technical Director, Chris Timmons; Executive Assistant, Nancy Wilson, and me, the Director of Development. These posts will give you a little more insight into the day to day operations of TC, the production process, and all the weird and fascinating things that happen when you spend your days at Theatre Charlotte.
Other regular contributors to this blog include Theatre Charlotte history buffs, including Pat Heiss and Bill Brown, will take you back in time with "This Month in Theatre Charlotte History." Also, Vito Abate will ask you to just do it with his monthly posting about his monthly themed reading and performance series.
Finally, the blog will feature special guest bloggers including the director of each TC production who will fill you in on what's happening with each upcoming show and a different TC volunteer each month who will tell you about their TC experience.
Our blog will also feature regular surveys, photos, and other fun extras!
So...Subscribe! Follow us! Share your comments! Enjoy!