Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Should Independent Theatre Be Illegal?

This post has been on my mind for a while. Lots of things have been circulating on social media related to this topic, but I think this article is what made me really want to say something. It was circulated by a number of folks, and generated some discussion, but it kind of drove me crazy. The actual headline of the article is "Should the Minimum Wage Apply to the Arts" but to me it really should have had the title of this blog post. Because that's what it would mean for my art form.

Look, I want to pay people. I would LOVE to pay people. I've already addressed this topic on this blog here. Maybe I should leave well enough alone, but I wanted to give people an idea of what I'm talking about.

Our more recent production was a huge critical success. The audiences loved it, and every review was glowing. It was a good show. And we lost money. Even borrowing everything we could for the set, including flats, platforms, and a lot of furniture out of my home, cutting as many costs as we could, there is a certain minimum cost associated with a show, especially if you want to put on a quality production.

Here's what that looks like (I'm rounding off a bit to make the math easier to follow):

Venue: $3,250
Royalties and Scripts: $1,160
Props: $260
Costumes: $230
Set: $290
Posters/Programs/Handbills: $170
Food for volunteers (load in/strike/set painting): $175
Total: $5,535

Our total revenue (including $544 of extra contributions from Kickstarter over/above ticket price):

So we lost about $1,015 WITHOUT paying our actors anything. We decided to give everyone a small check to say thank you for their work because we felt it was the right thing to do. If we had to pay people minimum wage it would be impossible. I would never have done a show.

Now you might say: well, you need to raise money. If you can't raise money to pay people from donations, you don't have the resources to put the show on in the first place. I see that point. But think about what you are also saying:

Only people who know enough people with disposable income are allowed to make this art.

Is that really what we want to say?

I admit I've struggled with these ideas personally. I really want to respect people's time, and I value the work that people put in to make my shows happen. I would love to pay people more. And frankly, I could spend more time trying to fund raise. I could formally organize South Stream as a 501(c)(3). I could hold fundraisers and ask for donations and corporate sponsors. But honestly, I haven't because what I want to be is an artist, not a fundraiser. I work a regular job. I have a limited amount of time after work. I could spending it trying to raise money, or I could spend it in rehearsal. And frankly, if I HAD to raise the money. If it was ILLEGAL for people to come together and volunteer their time on a collaborative art project, well, I wouldn't do it.

And it's not just people like me, who are disinclined. It's also people who are disenfranchised, displaced, and disadvantaged.  Are they not allowed to make theatre? Am I?

The truth is, there is simply no money in independent theatre. Independent theatre is made with donations. Usually it's those of the actors and directors, the set designers and the props finders, the people who donate countless hours to make a show come together. Sometimes, it's the donations of wealthy people and corporations (and the hard work of people who write the grants and make the phone calls to make that happen). But there simply isn't enough money in the actual product to make pay anyone. So when people complain that they aren't paid for the theatrical work that they do, or they make analogies to bakers giving away bread, I mean, I'm right there with you! I agree, with your point! But also... I just can't pay you. It's not like I'm sitting on a pile of money and keeping it back from you. The money I paid to my performers (who were worth every penny and more) came from reviewing documents, not from the audience.

Should independent theatre be illegal? Yeah, I hope not. Even if it was people would still do it. Because even though you can't make money doing it, you also can't stop people from doing it. All you need is a script, a cast, and an audience. That can happen in a church basement or a public park or an abandoned lot. It can happen on a soccer field or a slum. As long as there are stories to be told, people will tell them. Not for money, or for fame, or for power, but because it's one of the most human things we can do.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Every night, as we were waiting for the places call back stage, I turned to Olivia and said one word:


And I meant it. Grateful for the space, for the audience, for such a wonderful scene partner and cast, for health, for just being there about to share this story with people. Grateful. So grateful in so many ways to so many people who made it possible. This list is incomplete. It must be of necessity. I am sure I will forget some things. But I wanted to express my gratitude to some folks publicly here.

First, I have to give a huge thank you to all our supporters on Kickstarter. Without your help, and especially those of you who gave a bit extra. Our Stringers, Editors, and Publishers, without you we would have been in a pretty big hole on this one. I love theatre, and I don't mind the fact that I'm probably going to contribute as much financially to this show as most. But your help really makes this possible. And I'm very grateful to you.

Now, on to the personal thanks. I have thanked some of these folks already in a separate post, but it bears repeating.

Michelle and Josh at Sonorous Road. Thank you so much for being amazing hosts to our little show. Incredibly supportive and helpful at every turn, I hope the space continues. Raleigh needs it and it couldn't have better stewards. They even shot and edited our kickstarter video!

Kevin Ferguson and Cardinal Gibbons High School. Wow. For three years you have made the single biggest contribution to our bottom line. Rehearsal space. if we had to pay even $10 an hour (a fairly nominal sum) for rehearsal... our budget would have had a huge hole in it. Your unwaivering support for our little productions have really made them come to life.

Thanks to the other companies in the theatre community that helped make this show happen. To Cary Players for letting us use their flats and warehouse space, to Theatre in the Park for letting us borrow props and furniture. And thanks to NCSU for letting us borrow the baby bump!

Thanks to some special people. Jeff Nugent for painting the platforms so I could sleep and doing so much behind the scenes. Thank you. Thank you to Elaine for your amazing help with load in. We would have been in very bad shape without you.  Ami Kirk Jones for helping us get the great "distressed concrete" look for the walls, we would have been on a very grey set without you. Jason Bailey, thank you for helping with the photography and graphic design. We needed you a couple of times on short notice and you came through. Thanks. Mario Griego, thank you for your work on makeup. It can't have been easy disfiguring your daughter like that every night.

Thanks to our designers. Nora Kelly on props. WOW. You put in so much work to get the props just right. I really appreciate it. We were so lucky to have you help us. Will Mikes, thanks again my friend for helping with sound. It's always great to work with you. And Todd... well what can I say. The hardest working man in local theatre. Todd has helped us put together every show we've ever done, and we'd be lost without him.

Thanks to two amazing people who were our running crew. Alyssa our ASM - this show could not have happened without you. Someone who knew what she was doing each night because she made a check list and rehearsed each scene change. And not just the scene changes, but the work that happens before and after the show. Especially the making of coffee. Always making coffee. And Betsy - thank you so much for taking this on. For being there night after night. For putting up with our craziness. I'm so glad I met you on Deathtrap, and I'm so glad you agreed to work with us on this show.

Thanks to our director Andy. You have been a good friend for a long time, and I'm so glad to be working with you as a director again. You got a lot of praise for this show in the reviews, and let me tell you, it was well deserved. Your eye and your ear and your passion for this story and this journey made it ring true. I'm so grateful for all the work you put into this.

Katie - thank you for being a wonderful actor. Always present, always willing to throw yourself into the moment. And thank you for being such a strong supporter of this show from the start. I knew I wanted you for this part because you... well you were perfect for it, you're a great performer, AND you are a great person and fun to be around. And when you're building the cast of a 4 person show that's important.

Olivia, thank you for ... well for everything. For being a good friend, an incredible scene partner, and sometimes a reality check. For reminding me what I can and cannot control, and for when it's time to "turn off the producer brain" and just be present. Thank you for insisting on that presence. And for your trust, and for building a bond of trust with me that allowed me to give a more honest performance.

And John ... we did it again! Not as financially successful, but I am so, so, SO proud of this show. I loved it every night. Thank you for working with me. Who knows, maybe next January it will be show #5.

Until next time. I am. Grateful.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Show Information!

(this post will remain at the top of the blog until the show closes, for more recent content scroll down)

Available through Sonorous Road box office. GO HERE!!!

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT - Thursday, Jan. 14, Student Special
Tickets only $8 with a valid student ID (AT DOOR ONLY, NO PRESALES)

Where (click address for Google Map):
Sonorous Road Theatre
209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh

That's on Oberlin Road between Cameron Village and the NC State Bell Tower. Here's a map:

The first three weekends in January! Yes, that means we open January 1st!

Show dates and times:
January 1 & 2, 7:30 PM
January 3, 2:00 PM
January 7-9, 7:30 PM
January 10, 2:00 PM
January 14-16, 7:30 PM
January 17, 2:00 PM

There is a small lot at the theatre. There is also additional parking on nearby streets and in the lot at 2270 Hillsborough Street. Here's a map:

More about the play:
Wikipedia page for the play.
New York Times review of the 2010 Broadway Production.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Reviews Are In!

We don't do theatre for reviews. We do theatre to connect with an audience, to have a real immediate and honest moment of art with our fellow people. That said, good reviews are good because they can convince more folks to come out and be part of that experience.

And boy howdy did we get some good reviews!

Roy Dicks gave us a great write up in the News and Observer and had plaudits for the entire cast.

Byron Woods in the Indy gave our production 4 stars

Triangle Arts and Entertainment gave us not one, but two great reviews. 

Followed by this one which I believe was posted by Robert McDowell but I believe was written by Kurt Benrud:

Finally, Allan Hall weighed in with more praise at CVNC.

I may at some point go through and try to pull some choice promotional bits, but suffice to say: 5 out of 5 critics agree, it's a good show. But don't take their word for it. Come see it yourself!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

It Takes A Village

New Year's Eve. Here we are. And what a big day it was for us. Final Dress!  Thanks so much to the folks who came out to our invited dress on New Year's Eve. But I want to take a minute to reflect on this project, and especially to thank those that helped us this year put this production together.

Our theatre community is incredibly supportive and co-operative. There's been some talk recently about local theatres needing to work together more, and I suppose there is always room for improvement in that area, but I'd like to recognize the many theatres and theatre-folk in the area who helped make our production happen.

First, I have to say a huge thank you to Cardinal Gibbons High School, and their drama teacher Kevin Ferguson. They provided us with rehearsal space, which is huge. HUGE huge. Without having a theatre to rehearse in it is very difficult to put on a show. Cardinal Gibbons has a great facility, and Kevin's philosophy is that it should be used as much as possible. If his program isn't using it, he provides space to others. This is the embodiment of the cooperative spirit of our community.

Second, a thank you is in order for Cary Players. They let us borrow the platforms and flats to construct our set. They also let us use their scene shop to paint and store the flats before we loaded in. Itinerant companies like mine can't afford to invest in creating flats and platforms, the basic infrastructure of set building, because when you produce one show a year, what do you do with that stuff? Being able to use this material and the space to prep it in is an enormous help.

Third, big thank you to Theatre in the Park for letting us borrow props, furniture items, and Jeff Nugent. Larger theatres in the area serve as store houses for things like furniture. Some of the stuff on the set is from my house, but there's a limit to what I can bring. TiP is the reason I'm not sleeping on an air mattress!

Fourth, theatre folk. We had huge help from the hardest working man in local theatre (along with Jeff) Todd Houseknecht, our tech guru. We also got enormous help from Elaine Petrone (who helped us re-rig the lights and generally was a huge help at load in). Elaine works all over the triangle including RLT, NRACT, and Forrest Moon Theatre. And our sound tech, Will Mikes, in addition to being a great friend is a veteran of local theatre in the sound department (you have heard him at TiP and Theatre Raleigh).

Finally, but certainly not least, huge thank you to Sonorous Road. Michelle Wells has gone above and beyond simply renting out a space to us. She and her husband Josh have been incredibly welcoming of us and have helped us every step of the way, from filming and editing our kickstarter, to helping us set up sound to just answering a hundred questions that come from producing in a new space. They love local theatre and have done everything they can to make our production a success. Having Sonorous Road is a great asset to the theatre community, and I certainly hope they succeed in the new year.

So Happy New Year everyone! And if you resolve to see more local theatre in 2016, why not start day one? We open the show New Year's Day!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Our Backers!

This is up on it's own tab up at the top of the page, but I wanted to make a post too.

HUGE thank you to our Kickstarter backers who helped make this show possible! These donors gave above and beyond what was required for a ticket because they care about the show and want to bring it to you. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

Without the help of these people we wouldn't be bringing this show to you.

Kristie and Kevin Clarke
Lane Liston
Chris and Diana North
Jeanne Sellers
Al Tran

Joseph and Venus Bradley
Jon Finkel
Del Flack
Gabrieal Griego
Benji and Gene Jones
David Klionsky
Diana Cameron McQueen
Elaine Petrone
Ken Walsh

Debra Kaufman
Dan O'Mahoney-Schwartz
Chris Pikula
Kim Romero
Matt "Catapult" Wang

Thursday, December 24, 2015


You did it!

Our Kickstarter has made it's goal!  Thank you!!

I really am humbled by all the support you have shown us. I hope we can live up to your expectations!

If you got a ticket on Kickstarter, we will be sending you an email soon.

If you did not, tickets are available at the Sonorous Road Box Office HERE!

Thank you again, we couldn't do it without you.