Monday, December 30, 2013

Seascape Opens Friday - January 3!

Common Ground Theatre - 110 Brenrose Circle, Durham NC

(the mailing address is 4815B Hillsboro, but use the Brenrose address in your gps)

7:30 PM Friday/Saturday
3:00 PM Sunday
(please get there early, NO LATE SEATING)
We run Thursday-Sunday the next two weeks (Jan. 9-12, 16-18), 7:30 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM.


More Info:
Email -
Call - (919) 417-2477
... or check out the links on this website.

See you at the show!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tech Week

So it begins.  Today is load in and set construction.  This week is the week where we move in, build stuff, hang lights, and somewhere in there actually rehearse in the space.  It's going to be a long haul, it's going to be lots of work, but it will be work well worth it.  We open Friday, so get your tickets now!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


You did it!  Sometime during our rehearsal last night, we hit our funding goal.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Joyce was the person that put us over the top (thanks!) but thanks to every single donation, from $1 to $100.  Thank you for believing in us and helping us make this show come to life.

I hope you've been following us on the website, we've put up a bunch of pictures of the costumes, and they're looking great.  Thank you for helping pay for them.

Now we're funded, but the kickstarter isn't CLOSED.  We still have 4 more days of kickstarter.  The campaign runs through December 23 and you can STILL pledge for discount tickets and to get your name in the program until then.

Thank you again for your support and trust.  We'll be hard at work making sure we deliver on a show that will knock your socks off.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


No rehearsal tonight, just playing with the costumes and makeup.  Samantha's costume was mostly painted, so after playing around with the look we draped it over her (it isn't actually over her shoulders so it's poofing out kind of weird, but you can get a nice general idea with this photo.

Pretty amazing right?  We're so lucky to have Shannon and Samantha working on this show.  We also added an ASM/Lizard wrangler to our team.  Michelle Zaun will be helping our lizards with makeup and costume, and generally helping out on set once we move into the space.

I'm really looking forward to this show.  

On Awards

So tonight they're going to do a live reveal of the Indy's yearly best awards.  It looks like a lot of fun.  Stuff like this is a great way for theatre people to get together.  To reflect, to give people some recognition.  To give people that "non-monetary compensation" that is required to keep you going.

I am not here to bah-humbug this new live embodiment of a yearly tradition.  I am here, however, to add a note of caution, surrounded by a bunch of praise.

First, let us praise the Indy.  The Indy is dedicated to reviewing local theatre.  That's important.  That's huge. Why? because when you have theatre reviews along side movie reviews and music reviews it validates theatre.  It reminds people that there's lots of theatre going on in their area, and that it's an important part of the local cultural dialogue.  As important as the other forms of media we experience.  And that's worth quite a lot.  The Indy doesn't review everything, but it reviews A LOT of things.  And I'm of the opinion, as an actor, producer, and now director, that any review, even a bad review, is better than no review.  Give me a bad review and I can at least disagree.  But reviewing at least means that my effort was worth the time to take seriously and think critically about, and heck, it gets the name out there again, sometimes any publicity is good publicity.  Not getting reviewed, on the other hand, pushes theatre more and more into an obscure past time.  It makes it not a part of the cultural dialogue but a forgotten backwater, a lost art, a curiosity.

These days there are a few online-only publications, quite a few actually (CVNC, Triangle A&E, Boom!, Broadway World Raleigh) that provide pretty decent coverage of most shows, but the N&O provides only sporadic coverage, and mostly focused in Raleigh.  Having a print publication remain dedicated to theatre is really important.  While online reviews are great contributions to an ongoing conversation, from a producer's standpoint they don't drive a large amount of traffic.  Some people may log on to Triangle A&E or CVNC to see what's happening that weekend, but far, far more will turn to the pages of their local dead tree paper, or to the calendar section of their websites.  The Indy's (and Byron Wood's in particular) contribution to the existence and variety of the local theatre scene should not be understated.

Let me say also that the Indy has been publishing this best of in recognition of local work for years.  It's nice. All the local actors look it up when it comes out to see if they are on it, and to see who else is, and which shows.  Which shows we saw we didn't think deserved mention that got it, and which that deserved mention that got snubbed.  It's fun. We also use it.  I know more than a few theatre resumes include an asterisk and a note at the bottom about these awards.  And honestly that's nice too.  It's nice to have something that says "this shows someone other than my mom liked the show/my performance/my set design" etc... I should also say that as much as I may quibble with the picks, generally pretty deserving people get mentions.

All the above being said, I do want to leaven this with a little caution.  Critics write for their audience.  For the public, for their peers, for the community at large, but they do not write for the actors and directors, the set designers, the lighting designers, sound designers, etc... They are part of the conversation, and yes, we may learn from their criticism, but we don't do this for criticism and they don't offer it to please us.  And this, I think is the main point I have:

If you believe the good things someone says about you, you must also believe the bad things they say about you.

Think about it.  We like it when people say nice things about us.  Everyone does (we're human).  We feel validated and strong.  But when we accept praise, when we BELIEVE it, we are ceding power. If we value that praise, we are also giving the power to withhold their praise.  You can't say a bad review doesn't affect you if you have the good review, by the same reviewer, on your resume (well, you can say it, sure, but I don't believe you).

I would be lying if I didn't say I felt there is something a little unseemly about a critic hosting a party where basically a bunch of theatre people come and hear what he has to say about their performances over the past year, to see his judgement of them revealed live.  It seems ... well it seems a bit self aggrandizing of the critic and a bit fawning of the theatre community.  But I don't want to bah-humbug the thing.  It's fine.  It's normal. If I wasn't busy I'd probably go.  And it's not like we're not all going to read it tomorrow in the Indy anyway, so why not have a party?  I'm just saying think twice about patting yourself on the back for an award (or feeling bad if you didn't get one). Accept it graciously, put it on your resume (you've got a product to sell after all) but do it with a sense of perspective.

We create art not for the resume, not for the reviews, but because we must.  Because telling stories, sharing stories, breathing life into them and carrying them into our community has value to us and to our audience.

Now go have fun!  (oh, and tell me who won)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Last Week (sort of)

One week to go!

One week on our Kickstarter, and one week of rehearsal.

But the show doesn't open until January 3rd you say.  You have more than one week.

Well, yes and no.

This week is our final week in the rehearsal room.  Then we take a week off.  You see, there's this traditional holiday called "Christmas" you may be familiar with.  Yeah.  On Sunday Dec. 29 we load in to Common Ground.  Monday we tech the show (which really is a rehearsal for our sound/lighting elements).  The next day is December 31st.  There's another holiday that happens then, traditionally celebrated at night.  So there goes another day.  We get a day of rehearsals on January 1st, final dress on Jan. 2nd, then we open.

Theatre people know that your "tech week" is really as much or more for tech as it is for actors.  It's not about choices, or fine tuning performance.  It's about getting used to the lights, the costumes, adjusting to the space as it really exists instead of as it is taped out on a rehearsal room floor.

So in a very real sense this week is our final week.  This is the final week to tweak, to hone, to drill it into our heads so that it's ready to perform.  It's exciting.  It's nerve wracking.  It's fun.

Here we go.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Off Book!

Picture by mrmoneda via Flickr Creative Commons license

Yep.  It's that time every actor loves and fears.  Off book time.  We've run each act off book, tonight we put the whole thing together.

As any actor knows, one of the most frequent questions you are asked is "how do you learn all those lines?" The answer is simple, but not easy. It's just hard work.  All it takes to learn lines is hours and hours of study: reading your lines aloud at home, listening to the recording in your car, quizzing yourself with flash cards, and bothering your friends to run your lines with you.  You have to repeat and repeat the words until it gets to the point that you think about the idea, and the words you choose to express that idea, the words you want to use, are the lines you're given.  It's not fun.  It's not sexy.  But it's necessary.

Getting off book is it's own challenge.  Having the book in hand, even if it isn't used, gives an actor confidence.  They don't worry if they're saying the right thing because (a) they can always check, and (b) they're not expected to yet, anything they do up to off book day is being ahead of the game.  Once the books are out of their hands, even when actors know the lines they tend to get a bit more hesitant. Sometimes it's just being a bit quieter, speaking with less confidence, sometimes it's a small pause as the actor processes "is this the right line?" before speaking.  There's also less listening.  When you first go off book you are basically thinking about your next line the whole time, and just listening for your queue (well, that's how I am anyway, "what's my next line, what's my next line, what's my next line, OH, he said 'tango' here it comes!")

But getting off book is a critical stage.  I mean, yes, obviously necessary, of course.  But the physical freedom is just as important.  Being able to interact with your environment with two hands free.  To pick things up, to hug, to walk around on all fours if you're a lizard, these are critical elements of the character. And as I've become a more experienced actor, I increasingly appreciate the physical aspects of character in performance. I saw "The Best of Enemies" at Manbites this weekend, and I was really impressed by Lakeisha Coffey's walk.  Sometimes the physicality can bring a new aspect or a new understanding to the character, and that can't completely happen when you're carrying a book.  It also forces your eyes out of a book, and onto your fellow actors.  Making more eye contact, being more aware of your fellow actors and their choices, these are things that can't happen until you can pull your focus away from yourself, and place it on your scene and surroundings.  Until we're fully listening and looking, what actors call "present," real acting isn't happening. It's pantomime.

You don't get there all at once.  You get there slowly.  One step at a time. And this is just one step, a big one, but just one. And I have to say the cast is stepping out nicely.  I can't wait to share it with you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Warm Up Week

The weather is warming up this week... almost to Indian summer levels on Friday according to the weather forecast.  And we're warming up too.  Almost ready to put the books down.

We had our second run through (on book) today.  Less of a stumble through, more of a run through.  And I'm really pleased.  I can really see it coming together.  Everyone is more comfortable with their lines. They're feeling more, thinking less, starting to make eye contact, starting to listen.  It's beginning to happen: less playing, more being.  Becoming.  Just starting mind you, but it's clearly starting.

Yesterday, Shannon Clark and his seamstress friend Doris came to rehearsal, and we have pictures!

Pin the tail on the lizard.
The basic structure should be finished soon, and the lizards might be able to rehearse in costume by the middle of next week.  Having those costumes is going to help everyone so much in rehearsal.  You can't really become the character until you have his clothes, and with the lizards especially, their skin.  How they move and how the humans react will really come alive with these pieces, and I'm thrilled to have a strong team working on it.

So come to our show.  You can get a ticket through kickstarter here.  Do it now.  You won't be disappointed.
How can you resist?

Thursday, November 28, 2013


We're thankful.

Thankful for Rachel Klem and Devra Thomas and Common Ground for creating and maintaining an affordable venue for local theatre in Durham.

Thankful for Hope Community Church and Tina Vance for providing us a place to rehearse for free, we could not do this without you.

Thankful for an incredible cast, Julie, John, Ryan and Samantha, for lending your considerable talents to this production and for giving me your trust as producer and director.

Thankful for our great stage manager Andy.  If you want to know what a stage manager does "all the hard work" is the answer.  Especially at Common Ground... no "calling queues" there. 

Thankful for Shannon Clark, Will Mikes and Todd Houseknecht for lending their talents in designing the show.

And thankful for you.  For friends and family that support all these amazing people in every aspect of their lives that enable them to spend so much time working on this show.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kickstarter for Seascape is Live

It's gone live. LIVE! Mwahahaha!

Our kickstarter campaign for Seascape is now live.  See it in all it's glory here:

It's the best way for you to get tickets (and the cheapest unless you're a student or senior).  You can get tickets to any show.  And if you want to donate a bit extra to make sure Ryan has high quality scales on his costume, we'll thank you in the program itself.

I'm really excited about the show, but we can't do it without your support.  Please help us make this happen.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I come in peace

Last year we had the lovely Madira Hoffman designing costumes for Copenhagen.  But this show... this show has a bit more challenging requirements.  Seascape takes place by the ocean.  And there are some rather interesting characters that come out of the ocean to take part in the show.  Specifically, giant sea creatures.  And that means building costumes.

The amazingly talented and creative Shannon Clark is designing and building our lizards and we couldn't be happier.  He's taken a look at some previous productions, some actual lizards (including the Galapagos Sea Iguanas and the Komodo Dragon) and come up with his own design.  Here we see the first step in the process.  Ryan Brock has been fitted for the base of the costume.  Onto this will go scales ridges and a tail (a big tail...  he's proud of his tail).  We're lucky to have Shannon working on the show,and we'll keep posting pictures of his work as it comes together.  But to see the finished product... well you'll have to buy a ticket for that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

And We're Off!

Seascape had it's official first rehearsal tonight.  Usual first rehearsal stuff.  Calendar, talk about the set, read through the script.

It was great.  Great in that way that starting things is.  You see so much possibility, so many ideas forming. But it was also great in that way that first reads are.  It's such a reminder that a play is a verb not a noun.  It is a thing that happens not a thing that is.  When one reads a play at home, you can come to some ideas about a character, what is going on, why, but then you hear another person who has taken it in, has thought, and begins to breathe the character, and something completely different can come out.  Several times in the read through an actor showed me something I hadn't seen before.  Each time it was a discovery, like looking closer at a picture, noticing a fine detail.  I just love being surprised in that way, it's a magical thing.  The play isn't static, it's fluid. That very malleability is what makes plays so endlessly watchable.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to this show.

Friday, November 8, 2013


So, this post is about beginnings.  We will begin our rehearsal process Monday, and I'm equal parts excited and trepidatious.  I know this show is going to be great.  Our cast is great, our crew is great, our designers are great, and our director... our director has wisely surrounded himself with great people.  I'm really excited about the show.  We're just about to get started with actual rehearsals, but John and I have been working on it for months, trying to tie up the details and smooth everything into place.

But I want to talk about another beginning.  One more important to local theatre than the start of our little adventure on Monday.  You see, a new beginning is happening at our venue, Common Ground.  Last year we did a week at Common Ground and a week at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro (for various reasons, it worked out best that way).  This year, we're happy that we'll be exclusively at Common Ground.  Very happy, since we will have a set that will be a little harder to move than 3 chairs this year.  And Common Ground will be having a very special new beginning of its own.

As reported in the Indy this week, Devra Thomas is taking over Common Ground Theatre, and Seascape is going to be the FIRST show in the space under her guidance.

Now let me say up front that this caused me (and in turn I caused Rachel) a bit of consternation.  When I found out about it, my immediate reaction was "what do you mean Rachel won't be running Common Ground?  What's going on?  Oh no!"  But after several (yes several, I can be a bit of a panic, sorry Rachel) emails, and learning that Devra was taking over the company, well I couldn't be happier.

Rachel has done so much (SO much) for local theatre.  Let me say that the reason we produce at Common Ground is that it is a good space that is affordable.  Common Ground is cheap enough that you can fail.  You can put up a show, and have no one come, and it won't kill you.  That's the kind of cost structure you need for independent, experimental, or just plain community theatre.  Almost every other space we looked at (other than The ArtsCenter who were great co-hosts last year) was just too expensive.  In addition to being an excellent director and a hell of an actor when she's on stage, Rachel has kept Common Ground available, open, and .. well there as an amazing resource for the theatre community.   I've seen some bad shows there, but some absolutely incredible ones too (boy, one of my favorite shows ever was LGP's production of Pinter's "The Birthday Party" there.  Good stuff).

Anyway, Devra is a great choice.  And really, not enough is said for those that work at arts administration. Raleigh recently lost an amazing and creative company with a long tradition (REP), and ... well I don't know what the heck is going on with NC Shakes after they cancelled their production of Mackers (how ironic..).  Things like that really make you realize the critical importance of good administration.  You're a fantastic actor.  You're a director with incredible vision.  Well, good, but if you don't have an organization behind you who will know (and let me be clear, this isn't a fame thing... I mean, you want people to come to your show right?  You want to connect with them, and have a meaningful experience right?  The point of theatre is that it has an audience after all).  Without people shepherding our arts organizations, watching their budget, fund raising, and managing costs, well, all the other stuff, the fun stuff, the costumes, the lights, the audience the theatre, that stuff DOESN'T HAPPEN.  It can't happen.  Having artisitc vision, having a company, creating a community, creating art with your audience, none of that happens if you spend too much on costumes and don't pay the light bill.  Just as much as theatre needs great artists, it also needs great people who care about theatre enough to use their considerable talents to make the conditions right.  They set the oven to the right temperature, they buy the ingredients, and they find the right dish so that the chef can make the pie.

All of which is a (very) long winded way to say that Devra is just that sort of person. She cares deeply, passionately about theatre, as much as any actor or director I've ever met, and having someone with that skill set and dedication is going to be an amazing asset for Common Ground.  I'm thrilled that we're going to be the production that bridges this transition, and I hope we make both Devra and Rachel proud of the amazing space that they have created for the triangle theatre community.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Seascape - The Cast

I'm pleased to formally post the cast list for Seascape:

Charlie:  John Honeycutt
Nancy: Julie Oliver
Leslie: Ryan Brock
Sarah: Samantha Corey

I am really honored to be working with such a strong group of actors.  The fact that such great people are putting their trust in me as a director/co-producer fills me with pride.  I know this show will be great already.
Someone asked me what I'd be doing as a director.  With this cast... basically trying to stay out of their way! I look forward to helping craft the play, asking questions, helping the actors make choices that are clear and consistent, helping them find the reality of their characters in their physical and vocal performance.  But mostly, yeah, I'll be a resource for support and an extra set of eyes.

When he directed me in Earnest, Jack Hall made the observation that "theatre is an actor's medium, film is a director's medium" and that statement is quite true.  In film, a director can choose which camera angle to use.  Which take, which performance.  Sometimes directors will film rehearsal and use that (because they feel the spontaneity of the performance is important).  Sometimes directors will shoot a scene 40 or 50 times (Kubrick had a reputation for doing this).  Through the use of editing and selection, the director can really control the performance and the choices in film.  The pace, the tone, even the meaning of the scenes can really be altered by the choices made in the editing room.  In theatre, it's very much the opposite.  You can work and work a piece, you can prepare an actor, you can discuss motivation, objectives, personality, choices, etc for weeks.  But when the curtain goes up, those choices belong to the actor.  The actor has to be completely comfortable in the character and just be.  And that's not something the director can control. You have to prepare with the actors, and then give them control.  Ultimately, it's about trusting each other's vision, understanding and art.  Which is why I'm really looking forward to working with such a talented cast.

I'm really looking forward to this show.  You should be too.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


South Stream Productions is proud to announce it's second show ever.  Seascape by Edward Albee.  Production dates are Jan 3-5 and 9-12.  This time, all shows will be at Common Ground, which will be easier for us.

We'll be announcing a bunch more stuff as planning progresses.  We're six months out, so we are in the very beginning of the planning process.  There will be lots of details coming.  Hopefully as we go through the process we'll talk some about costumes (there's an interesting costume challenge with this one) and set (yeah, we'll need more than 3 chairs this time), and other stuff.  We will be running a kickstarter campaign again to pre-sell tickets and (if you're so inclined) get your name in the program.  Maybe even some other goodies.

But that stuff is in the future.  Right now, I wanted to let people know that we have the rights to the show, and we're about to finalize the venue contract, and it looks like it's going to happen, so I want to start getting the word out there.  I'm already planning, reading, planning, reading.... The more I read this script, the more I just love it.  So put it on your calendar, coming, in January 2014, let's go to the beach!

photo by jimg944, used under creative commons liscense

Friday, June 14, 2013

In Memory of Eugen Merzbacher

I wanted to take a moment to recognize the passing of our friend Eugen Merzbacher last Thursday, June 6.

He was the advisor for our production of "Copenhagen."  He and his wife Ann were most kind to us. They invited John and I to their home and told us stories of meeting Niels and Margrethe Bohr during their year at the institute.  They provided us with biographical material, and even shared pictures with us.  It was such a thrill to talk to people who actually knew the people involved in our story, and Eugen literally wrote the book on quantum mechanics.  Eugen and Ann's kindness and assistance brought a richness to our production that we would not have had otherwise.  We will miss Eugen and our thoughts and prayers are with Ann.

John Honeycutt, Eugen Merzbacher, and Brook North

Friday, June 7, 2013

On Race

Oh good, a white guy talking about race.  Clearly there's not enough of that on the internet (and cable tv, and ...).  What could possibly go wrong?

So I saw Once on This Island last night at RLT.  I am not a big musical theatre person but it was nice.  The woman who played the Mother Earth goddess was ridiculous good, and over all the songs were catchy and the dancing was pretty tight for a community theater production (with a couple real stand-outs).  But...  It was white.  Very white.

Ok, so if you're not familiar with the story, check out the wikipedia page.   The entire show takes place on Haiti, and the central conflict revolves around the racial politics of the island, and the separation between the peasants who are "black as night" and the grande hommes who are mulatto, being mix-race descendants of the former French colonialists (Beauxhomme, the male lead/object of privilege is described as having skin "the color of coffee with cream").  This racial dynamic is not only important to the plot, but it seems kind of important to the message of the play too.  That the people of Haiti, after staging the only successful slave rebellion in history, managed to re-create a cast system based primarily on racial lineage which they had just rejected.  The grande hommes culturally aspire to be French (sending their children to expensive French schools) while they are still not considered French by the French.  They still suffer rejection because they reach out toward their former colonial state for cultural validation rather than embrace the peasant culture (from which they are also descended).  This is particularly brought to the fore in the ball scene where Ti-Moune performs a peasant dance at the grand ball which connects with the audience of grande hommes who had previously been dancing in European style.  The rejection of peasant culture as "low" and the raising up of European culture as "high" and the parallel dynamic in skin tone are prominent themes in the piece.

In this casting, well, all the grande hommes and a number of the peasants are white, as is the goddess Erzulie (goddess of love).  And that's... well it's challenging.  When I saw the cast in the opening number I thought "uh oh."  I mean, it's tricky right?

Lemme back up.  One of my earliest experiences with theatre was playing "Phra-Alack" in the King and I.  Now, the King and I is, quite obviously a play set in another specific cultural place, Thailand (Siam in the play).  And my character was "Phra-Alack."  And if you know me, you know I'm about the whitest white boy around (back then I even had blonde hair to go with the blue eyes).  Now the production was in San Rafael, California, across the Golden Gate from San Francisco, but even there, there were very few Asians in our cast (hmm parallels?).  That meant... well it meant hair dye and makeup (yep, I'm pretty sure we were in yellow face, at least we had eye makeup) for a bunch of little kids, and ad-lib Thai language (yes, I just made shit up that sounded Asian... hey, I was like, 9 or 10 or something).  Looking back, I feel a little embarrassed, but also, it was a lovely show.  Really.  A lovely script and I was enthralled by the older (what, probably high school aged looking back) performers.  And I'm glad that people didn't look at the show and go "well, we'll never get enough Asians to come out for this, let's do My Fair Lady instead."

It's not necessarily a bad choice.  On one level, well, you cast who auditions for your show.  Shows that tell stories from other perspectives are really important.  This is a good story with really fun music, why shouldn't we do it?  If casting white people in Once on This Island lets you produce the show, if it gets the story told, well then good!  If you have auditions and few performers of color show up, do you cancel the show?  That seems worse to me.  We shouldn't shy away from telling these stories because we feel uncomfortable playing people of a different race or background.  If anything, we need to seek out MORE voices and themes from different perspectives.  Heck, that's part of what makes theatre valuable.  The ability to relate to other people, to empathize.  Putting on the mask of another culture or experience helps us (and hopefully our audience) realize the basic commonality of experience we share as humans.  We live in story and hearing someone else's story makes us realize that.  Should people in upstate Minnesota never produce this lovely show because of the casting?  How much poorer would we be if we felt that way?

But, but but... Well, the flip side of this is that we're not exactly in Minnesota are we?  If RLT did the King and I they're gonna have to cast lots of non-Asians, but Raleigh is 29% African American, Durham is 43.8% African American.  Why wasn't the talent pool of available people deep enough that you could cast it, well at least somewhat more racially appropriately?

Now there are a couple explanations for this.  First of all, it's poor coordination.  Justice Theatre Project is about to open Ragtime, another show that calls for a large African American casting.  I know there are a number of performers in Ragtime who would have loved to play roles in this show (and would have been great) but you can't be in two places at once.  Coordination is a persistent problem in the triangle (IMHO as an audience member).  Last season we were treated to two productions of Next to Normal and two productions (one weekend simultaneously running) of The 39 Steps. This season it looks like we'll get two productions of The Tempest plus one more Tempest-themed show.  I don't know why but this tends to happen. It would have been nice, as an audience member, if JTP and RLT had found a way to let me see people shine in both productions.  And the overlap, well at a certain point maybe you just run up against supply limitations.

I also feel that there's a larger issue.  I see it more in some groups than in others, but I will say in general, theatre around here tends to be pretty white.  I noticed this especially with the Durham Savoyards, a group that produces an annual Gilbert and Sullivan musical in Durham.  Durham is basically half black.  There are almost no African Americans in their company.  That's just ... well it's odd.  Don't mistake me, I think they're great folks, and I honestly think their process is race blind (as much as that is possible for any human). Their auditions are always open calls and I am sure they would happily cast talent no matter what their race in any role.  It's not a matter of being racist, or not being welcoming.  I think it's more a matter of not reaching outside of your regular channels for talent.  It just seems like an annual theatre production with open casting in a community like ours, well if there are very few African Americans in it, there must be a problem somewhere right? It's much easier to post the audition announcement in the Indy and on your website and then just sit back and see who shows up.  But ultimately you aren't engaging new audience, and you probably aren't getting the best people on stage.  If your population is half black and you have one person in a twenty person cast that is black, well, I'm pretty sure you don't have the best possible actors for your show, just based on math.  Finding a way to reach out to new communities would broaden the audience and produce better shows.  Outreach also means, if you're serious about it, casting all your shows in a more race blind manner.  If your African American performers know that the only character they can audition for in "The Crucible" is Tituba, well, they're not going to come out for that.  And maybe the next show too, and by the time you want them, they're not part of your community any longer.  You can't do "ok this is our large black cast show" once every two years and call that outreach and inclusiveness.  There's nothing wrong with casting white people in Once on This Island as long as you're casting black people (and Asians etc) in Oklahoma.

There probably are larger issues of race and privilege at play here.  I'm not going to say a lot about that because, well I don't have a lot of personal knowledge or information, so anything I say is pretty speculative, but theatre means having free time that you can give, and paying for gas to get back and forth, and, especially for musical theater, paying for and attending training like dance classes and voice lessons.  And there probably are some cultural issues too: that theatre is seen as culturally "white" because so much of our "classic" theatre is ... well it's written by white men and so from a white male perspective, and is typically performed with white casts.  Now that doesn't need to be a barrier (James Earl Jones recently played Big Daddy on Broadway), but it can be, and, especially for people just getting into theatre, I suspect the voice of many plays being one of privilege, is a barrier.

All this being said... the cast does a great job.  Maybe RLT could do a better job with outreach, but ultimately that's down to the company management, not the director or his cast.  And I wanted to say that they played it correctly.  They were admirably clear in who they were, and the script and the song supports that.  Admittedly it was odd watching a blond haired, fair skinned Hatian love goddess sing about love conquering a racial divide between two people who were, well, not very racially divided.  But once you get into it, it isn't a barrier to enjoyment of the piece, and the cast did an admirable job of just presenting their characters with conviction in movement and voice.  As an audience member, the cast did not leave me questioning their choices or the show, but the casting in general, and what it says about the theatre community in the triangle, raises issues that can't (and shouldn't) be ignored.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Reviews

Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don't try it. You should leave that to people who haven't been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers. 
-Oscar Wilde, Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest.

I just opened the The Importance of Being Earnest this weekend.  That means we'll probably get reviewed this week, and it is a question that is nigh inevitable.  Reviews.  Good reviews, bad reviews, what do you do with them?

The best thing to do with them is ignore them.  Never read them.  Never discuss them.  Never think about them until your show is closed.  What are you going to do, change your performance?  Reading praise or criticism will only serve to interfere with the process and values that you have worked so hard to create in rehearsal.  What is important is your dedication to the character and your connection with the audience.  If those things are real, if you are giving and receiving that energy, if you are feeling it happen, nothing else matters.  And you know when you are not.  Actors are so often their own worst critics.  They are (as a whole) perfectionists.  Tiny nuances that barely ripple in the consciousness of the audience are felt on stage.  We obsess over tiny details of delivery and tone.  If you are a performer, you KNOW if you had a good show.  You don't need anyone to tell you.  Ignore what people say, trust your heart, trust your audience, and trust your fellow actors.

And if you can do that... well you're a stronger man or woman than I.

I read them.  I am almost obsessive about reading reviews, both mine and those of other shows.  I want to know what someone is saying about me, particularly when they are doing so in public.  Why?  Well, because I'm human.  Every person wants other people to say nice things about them.  It's part of our DNA.  Our instinct for the social and the collaborative enabled us to survive and spread as a species and in societies.  I also want a good review because reviewers are audience members.  I genuinely want to connect my performance with each person in the room with me.  I want them to smile and laugh with me, to feel want and tension with me; I want them to share the story I'm telling.  And a reviewer is part of that audience.  Part that goes and writes about it after, but no less a part. Now in a 300 seat theater, someone, probably several someones, will not like your show.  They have a cold or didn't get enough sleep or they were dragged there by their significant other and they just want to leave.  You hope you can touch these people.  You imagine, as a performer, they will come in disgruntled, but be so overwhelmed by your honest, entertaining performance that they can't help but be moved to laughter and tears.  By the end of the show they will stand up spontaneously in applause, having forgotten their initial reticence, wrapped up in the moment that you have created with them.  But... well that just ain't gonna happen to everyone.  Sorry.  Someone is going to hate your show (here are some one star reviews of Citizen Kane).  And some of them are going to write about it in public.  Accept it and move on with your life.

I suppose I also want a good review because it can drive ticket sales, though that's probably a smaller concern.  You want people to come and enjoy your show, and the more people the better.  But word of mouth (particularly social media now) is a much bigger factor.  But on the margins, some people will be persuaded by reviews, and that's especially true of print publications.  Say what you want about the death of newspapers, but many people, and especially older people (you know, the ones that vote and go to theatre in disproportionate numbers), still rely on them for information and advice.  They also bring with them some sense of legitimacy (sometimes justified and sometimes not).  But the main thing is, people do think "hmm, what's going on this weekend?" and pick up the paper or log on to its website.  A good review might mean that they decide to come see your show instead of another, or going to a movie, or what have you.  The dedicated theatre fan will look at the online only publications directed at theatre and the arts, but the casual fan, the type that is most likely to be persuaded by a review, is probably not reading those.

Don't get me wrong, I do think critics, no matter where or how they publish, are important.  They are a record.  They hold productions, and especially theatre companies to account.  They are a needed part of the conversation, and without them the theatre communities aren't pushed to grow and improve.  It is interesting to see the show from a different perspective.  Part of theatre is thinking about it, arguing about it, even if it only consists of yelling at the computer screen.  Theatre can become lazy, ossified, safe without someone willing to stand outside the production circle and voice their opinion.  Art can't thrive on praise alone.  But neither do we produce works for the praise of critics.

So the main thing is, if you do read them (and I do) what do you DO with them? How do you deal with them?  Well, you do have to put them in a box.  Remind yourself that this is just one person in your audience.  If they gave you a bad review, but the audience gave you a standing ovation, who are you going to believe?  Not everyone will connect with every piece or every performance, so let it go.  But the flip side is important too.  If they gave you a good review, don't break your arm patting yourself on the back.  It's just ONE person.  If you credit the good words of critics, you also give power to their negative ones, so be careful about the good words as much as the bad ones.  Sure, maybe you can use a good notice to help get another part, but don't believe it, believe your performance.  Second, either way, remind yourself of the reviews you have read (good and bad) that you've disagreed with.  Remember when they loved the show you hated?  Remember when they panned the show that made you cry?  I almost never agree with every reviewer (almost never 100% agree with anyone about anything, that's human nature).  When they write about a show I've seen and I disagree, I don't think "oh, well maybe I'm wrong." I don't question my judgement or belief in art.  I think "that reviewer is wrong."  So don't give a reviewer's opinion more weight than you would if you had watched the show.  Finally, remember that what matters is the performance.  What matters is the choices you worked on for weeks before you opened.

I want every review to be glowing. I want each one to mention my performance particularly as gifted, inspired, genius, and moving. Because I'm vain. Because I'm petty. Because I'm human. But the truth is... well the truth is on stage. It's what you give and what you receive. It is being there with your fellow performers and the audience as fully present and as fully invested as you can be. We are a society, a species, of story. Sharing story is as old as human language. We sit around the campfire and tell tales of gods, tricksters, heroes and devils.  We share values, loves, beliefs through story. We even make decisions through story. Now the campfire consists of fresnels and par cans, but the process, the basic human need to share stories with each other, is the same. Keep that feeling. Be with your audience. And know you are doing it right.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Give Yourself Permission to Suck

The hardest thing about writing is writing.
-Nora Ephron

I've been writing.  Mostly 10 min plays, with one long term project possibly.  And right now I'm not writing.

Well I'm writing about writing, but I'm not writing the writing that I was going to be writing.  Instead I'm writing about not writing that writing to inspire me to write.  Got it?

Anyway, I wanted to talk about a problem I have with writing, and hopefully a bit about how I try to deal with it.  It's about why I don't write, or haven't written before, or maybe find it hard to write on occasion.  It's the fear of sucking.  The fear that it will sound all wrong or just not come out right or the premise itself is stupid.

Honestly, that may be the biggest challenge to all art.  In fact, that may be the challenge of art at all.  Being brave enough to be honest.  Writing is the process of telling a story.  Of taking nothing but the ideas most important to you, and creating something new in the world.  And when you expose the ideas you most cherish, the thoughts or themes or stories that were so important to you, well, you expose a very important part of yourself to ridicule.  You risk hearing that it was terrible.  You risk having something you wholly created mocked or found lacking.  But if you don't try, if you don't put everything you have, you want into it, it will never turn out right.  In fact, it will never be.

Anyway, these feelings of self-doubt can be such barriers.  They can stop us before we ever start.  They can kill the thought before it gets to the pen.  And sometimes, you just have to look at yourself and say: I give you permission to suck.  You want this idea to come out.  And it might be ugly, and it might be stupid, and it might never amount to anything, and that's OK.  Just write that idea in your head, and if it sucks, that's just fine.  No matter how bad it is, no matter how crude, just write.  Put it down on paper.  Let it be sucky.  But just do it.

This doesn't always lead to brilliance.  Almost never does.  But it does lead to writing, and that's the first step.  Often it turns out much better than you feared.  Sometimes, the problems you were worried about before you started, that make it "impossible" work themselves out during the writing.  The solutions materialize through the characters.  And sometimes... not.  Sometimes it's just not very good.  Sometimes you do just put it into deep storage.  But that's ok.  You wrote.  You got closer.  And from those attempts, you can some times see how to structure the story.  How to express the idea you want.  Or at least how to try again next time.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Casting

No, we're not casting a new show.

John has just finished a run as Caesar.  I've just started rehearsals for "The Importance of Being Earnest" at Raleigh Little Theatre.  I must say, Jack in Earnest is one of those roles/shows that I would be tempted to produce myself just to do it... but it's so nice NOT to be producing it.  

But auditioning (which I have done and will continue to do) made me reflect somewhat on the process, and the perspective South Stream has brought to me.  If one googles "auditioning advice," "relax and be yourself" are among the banal (but true) cliches one will find on almost every list (right with "prepare" and "arrive on time").  This always felt like the height of uselessness to me.  Wow thanks "relax."  Ok, HOW?  But... well that's the trick isn't it?  After having read people for a part, having been "on the other side of the table" if you will, I understand the feeling.  You want to see the absolute best that people can do.  You want them to be comfortable and have fun.  If someone is nervous and not giving their best performance, it might rob you of the chance to see what they can really do.

Auditions (for me anyway) are always more nerve wracking than performance.  First, you are usually performing something you basically had an unlimited time to prepare, so the pressure to do it "just right" is pretty big.  Secondly, you're going explicitly to be judged.  You're saying "hey this is what I can do judge me and tell me if I'm good enough."  It's tough, the hardest part (emotionally) of the process for me.  By auditioning you are publicly admitting, announcing that you want something that someone else can give you. It's an act that gives power to another.  It reminds me like nothing so much as asking for a date.  And you can be rejected (probably will be in fact), and that hurts.

Having been on the other side, I really appreciate and understand that there are only so many roles to cast.  Ultimately you will have to disappoint a number of people.  Good people.  But you really want each and every person to succeed.  You really want to be entertained.  You want to have a positive experience with every person that walks through the door, even though you know most of them will be disappointed.  And often (hopefully) it's not that people XYZ were "bad."  So often it's more a matter of "how do I see the character?" "Who will fit with the other actors?"  etc... You really appreciate that there are many people who can perform a part well, but each actor will bring their own ideas, body, presence, etc to the character.  And ultimately you have to choose.  The person chosen isn't "better than you" (though it can feel that way), they are, without a doubt "different from you."  And it's that difference, not in quality but in qualities, that one chooses from when casting.

Anyway.  All this is rather long-winded but it's a way to say that having produced a show, I feel, gives me a better appreciation for the process, and a greater empathy for those conducting it.  It's easier to relax when you know that they're just people with a vision, struggling to find the right people for their show.  Not the BEST people, or the BEST actors, but the RIGHT actors. Being cast still feels great.  Not being cast still feels bad.  But as another very wise actor told me once, we get the parts we're meant to have.  It really does work out.  So be zen my friends.  Relax in that audition (as much as you can). And let go of the idea that there's a right answer.  There isn't.  Just walk into that room, and be.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Is It About Theatre?

This question has been asked by many people many times on line and off since probably before I was born, but it was on my mind as I drove home from seeing A Raisin In The Sun this evening.

Now I HAVE felt a profound connection with film as an art form.  Film has incredibly democratized access to some of the best actors in the world.  If I was living a hundred years ago I would probably never see John Barrymore, but Millions of people can see Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Meryl Streep.  Even with all the moaning about how terrible movies are today (blah blah blah) you can see some really great films with some really incredible performances most every day of the year, and for a pretty reasonable price.

But, but, but.... there IS something special about theatre.  There is something different.  The film version is quite excellent and available any time.  Yet the immediacy, the connection, is ... different.  The fact that those people are right there in the room with you, taking that journey with you... I don't know.  I guess I was quite affected by the show, and particularly Walter Lee Younger.  I connected with his flaws and his failure, as well as his pride, in a way I never have with the film.  And it's not that he was a better actor than Sidney Poitier.  He was great of course.  All the performances were really spot on.  The set was well realized and intelligent.  The costumes (and the hair!) were great.  But it wasn't that it was "better" it was that it was "different."  It was real, it was right there.

The similacrum that theatre provides is both more realistic and less realistic than a movie.  Movies can get everything right.  The sets can be more realistic.  The violence and scale of events can be portrayed incredibly well (Into a thousand parts divide one man?  Pfft, just hire a thousand men).  Even the tiniest error or imperfection can disturb the illusion.  Part of the exchange the audience makes is that they be brought fully into the world and that it's detail is realized.

In theatre, those details become so much less important.  The performances must be strong, but you are looking at people in a room with you.  Walls break off, table lamps illuminate with the power of stage lights, swords are rubber (or often not even swords) but that's not important.  If you announce the stick you're holding is Excalibur, the audience will go with it, because that's what theatre demands.  Because when you sit down you must participate in the world.  They play must "On your imaginary forces work."  Not "work on" as in perform work on, but "work on" as in "my car works on gas."  The audiences imagination is the fuel that makes the performance move forward.  And in fact, one thing this production did that I really quite liked, was that it used lighting effects to highlight certain intense scenes and monologues in a particularly unrealistic way.  This "heightened unreality" produced an interesting effect in that it was clear we were seeing the internal more than the external.  The emotion rather than the realism of the scene.  That is something that simply wouldn't work in a movie.  It would come across as forced, manipulative, and mawkish.  But on stage, it was quite effective.

But live theatre is also more real too.  Movies are incredible, but ultimately, good movies are about character, and about connecting on a human level with the audience.  And that is something that is just fundamentally different in a play.  No matter how good the performance, movies are simply "less real" because you are looking at a screen.  If someone trips on a power cord the magic dies.  Being in the room with actors as they take that journey, breathing the same air, looking at their eyes... it enables a more real, more human connection.

And, of course... the role is alive, the play is alive.  The movie, it is finished, but not the play.  Never the play.

I guess I just felt the contrast rather keenly tonight.  I know that I would go out and see this exact same piece again by another group in a couple years because it's just great theatre.  But I have no particular desire to re-watch the film.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Out To Pasture

Crop rotation has been practiced almost since the beginnings of agriculture.  References to it can be found in ancient Roman and Chinese texts.  Fields constantly planted will become depleted of the minerals and nutrients that allow plants to flourish.  They must be left fallow in some seasons to recharge the soil.

I've gotten a lot of questions about what South Stream will be doing next.  The answer is: I don't know.  Right now John is off to play Julius Caesar with Justice Theatre Project.  Our esteemed director Andy is in the show as well.  Me, I'm just taking some time off from theatre to let my creative energy recharge.  And do stuff I've neglected for two months.  

Will we do another show?  Maybe.  The goal of South Stream was to produce work that we want to produce.  Stories that we want to tell, ideas that we want to share, and productions that we think we can do well.  I think we did that with Copenhagen.  I'm proud of what we accomplished.  And that might well happen again.  There are already a few ideas I'm kicking around.  Nothing SOON though.  For now, for me, it's time to let that field lay empty to the sky.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thank You!

It's over.  What a journey.  I first spoke to John about this play in June.  It's been six months of hard work, but we did it.  We produced a pretty successful show, and it wouldn't have been possible without you.

Thank you to all our backers (See "our backers" tab) from kickstarter.  Having people get behind this production from the start made it so much easier to produce.  

Thank you to Rachel and Jeff from Common Ground, and Jeri Lynn from The ArtsCenter.  Thanks to everyone else at The ArtsCenter too (Brad and Adam, et al) for help with set up and take down.  

Thank you, HUGE thank you to Tina Vance and Hope Community Church.  Without rehearsal space this show would never have happened.  Thanks as well to Flynt Burton and Ben Wingrove for use of their garage as rehearsal space during the last weekend.

Thank you as well to Meredith College for letting us use costumes (Bohr's suit), and Chapel Hill High School (and Josh Benjamin and Thomas Drago) for letting us borrow plywood to help set up our stage at The ArtsCenter.  

Promotions thanks to Altercation Pictures (and Jason and Patrick) for producing the trailer.  And Dan McCord for producing the amazing poster.  Thanks to Oscar Garcia as well for graphic work. 

Thank you to Eugen and Ann Merzbacher, for opening their home to us and talking with us about their experiences at the Institute for Theoretical Physics.  Thank you to Thor Kessler for help with German pronunciation. 

Thank you to our volunteers - Emma Elsea, our fill-in stage manager, and Sheryl Scott, Todd Buker, Kurt Benrud, Gilly Conklin and Michelle Corbitt for helping out at the door.  

And last but not least - thank you to our amazing crew.  Our designers: Will Mikes for sound, Todd Houseknecht for lights, and Madira Hoffman for costumes.  Our fantastic Stage Manager - Ann Davis thank you.  People don't realize what a stage manager does.  "All the hard work" is pretty much the answer.  Our director, Andy Hayworth - this is a show that needed your eye and ear.  Thanks for being a great part of the process.  And to my fellow cast members:  Bonnie Roe - you are a rock on stage.  Just so amazingly solid.  You gave a great performance every night and I was lucky to be there with you.  And John - what can I say.  We started planning this together in June and I couldn't have asked for a better partner.  Thank you for everything you did on stage and off.  I couldn't ask for more.

And a final thank you: to our audience.  Nothing happens without you.  It's not a play until it comes to life with an audience.  Thank you for sharing the story with us, for letting us share it with you.  Our audiences far exceeded my expectations in terms of numbers and responsiveness.  I was worried the subject matter wouldn't be engaging, but we consistently had enthusiastic and appreciative crowds.  Your energy made the show.  So thank you too.

So thank you.  I'm humbled.  I'm honored.  And right now, I'm exhausted.  Until next time.

-Brook North

Monday, January 7, 2013

Copenhagen Show Information - Weekend 2!

Wow.  We had a fantastic opening weekend!  We were blessed with enthusiastically supportive and engaged crowds at each show!  Thank you for everyone who came.

But wait, there's more!  One more weekend of performances is coming up, this time in Carrboro at The ArtsCenter!

PLEASE ARRIVE EARLY! Parking is difficult and we cannot allow late seating due to the intimate nature of the venue.

We're playing January 11, 12, and 13th.  Click below for tickets!

January 11 at 7:30 PM
January 12 at 7:30 PM
January 13 at 7:00 PM

To pay by check or arrange alternate payment, please call the box office at: 919.929.2787, ext. 201.  (Please note that the box office for these performances is handled exclusively through The ArtsCenter).

The ArtsCenter address is 300 East Main St. Carrboro.  Here's a Google map.  It's just past "the bend" where Franklin St. Chapel Hill becomes Main Street Carrboro, just a few doors down from Cat's Cradle.  We will be in the West End theatre (the small studio theatre to the right past the concession stand).  Plan to arrive early!  With Cat's Cradle and shows on the main stage, parking can be a challenge so plan ahead!


To learn more about the show please poke around the website.  There's lots of updates, links and general info here for your enjoyment.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Copenhagen Show Information

Two weekends, two venues!

Click here for tickets to Common Ground Theatre in Durham this weekend!
Jan 4 at 7:30
Jan 5 at 7:30 [SOLD OUT]
Jan 6 at 7:00

Common Ground Theatre is 4815 B Hillsborough Road, Durham.  

Here is a Google maps.  As you can see from the satellite map, it's actually off Brenrose Circle.  To get to the theatre turn onto Brenrose and park in the gravel lot by the theatre or the large gravel lot on the other side of Brenrose Circle.  It's easy to get lost coming here the first time so be sure to leave extra time in case you make a wrong turn!

Click here for tickets to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro next weekend!
Jan 11 at 7:30
Jan 12 at 7:30 
Jan 13 at 7:00

The ArtsCenter is at 300 East Main St. Carrboro.  

Here's a Google maps.  It's just past "the bend" where Franklin St. Chapel Hill becomes Main Street Carrboro, just a few doors down from Cat's Cradle.  We will be in the West End theatre (the small studio theatre to the right past the concession stand).  Plan to arrive early!  With Cat's Cradle and shows on the main stage, parking can be a challenge so plan ahead!


To learn more about the show please poke around the website.  There's lots of updates, links and general info here for your enjoyment.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Space

So after many many weeks rehearsing at Hope Community Church (much thanks to everyone there) and an intensive weekend in a cold but spacious garage, we're finally in our first venue, Common Ground Theatre in Durham.  

You'd think move in would be trivial for a show light ours.  Just bring the three chairs in the door, high five and then go to the bar. But even for a light show with very few technical requirements it was four and a half hours of work.  Jeff Alguire was a huge help for the first part of our move in.  He knows the space so well his assistance advice and power tools made the entire process much less painless than it would have been otherwise.  We were able to rearrange the space to accommodate about 54 seats in the round (the seats surround the stage in the center).  When we finished it actually felt pretty good.  It felt like a performance space.  Then Todd, our lighting designer worked his magic.  Even a simple plan is challenging to execute in the round.  You want to shine the lights on the actors, but not into people's eyes.  On a standard proscenium stage that's not too challenging, you point the light at the actors not the audience.  But for a show in the round, the audience is quite often sitting right behind the actors.  Not an easy task.  Todd, with our assistance (I held the ladder!  Also I stood there and let light hit me) made it work.

Then after dinner, we ran the show.  We finished the show and notes at 11PM.  It was not our smoothest run, but it felt great to be in our actual performance space, imagining faces in the empty chairs.

Ten hours of work a the theatre was a great way to start the New Year.  Until Sunday, this is the space.  This is our space.  Three actors, three chairs, and a story.