Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An experimental space

For a long time now, my long term goal has been to eventually open and operate my own theatre company. This is still something that is pretty far in the future, but recently I had a new idea about what this company would be about. I wanted to get it out in writing here, both for my own record (this is the first time I am setting down the details, so bear with me if I go off track at times) and hopefully to get some comments, suggestions and opinions.

The idea is based around the common problem of "you can't get a job without experience, but you how do you get experience without a job?" My theatre's mission would be to give people that chance. People would be able to come to me and say "I think I would make a really good set designer/props master/director/stage manager, and I would really love to give it a try." I am sure I would get some people who had never really done theatre, or hadn't done it since high school, but I think I would get even more theatre professionals hoping to mix it up.  For example, a few years ago I was a resident tech director at a theatre, but was thinking that I would love to try my hand at production managing. I felt stuck, because I knew that no one would hire me as a production manager without any experience, but I couldn't afford to take three steps back and take an internship. I know that internships can offer great training, but most of them don't pay, or pay so little that only students and people right out of school tend to be able to afford to take them. Once you have rent, student loans, health insurance etc. to pay, an internship ceases to be a viable option. My hope is that my theatre could offer an opportunity to those who are are bit older but interested in trying something new.

I would run my company like a regular theatre company and would have to insist on doing high quality work (after all, a credit on your resume from my company would have to mean something in order to achieve it's goal). I would have a resident company of professionals who would make up the majority of the team for each production, and we would rotate in one or two "students" per show. The "students" would have the experience of working in a high level company with professional policies and high expectations. They would be held to the same standards as every other member of the team. To assist them, there would be the member of the resident company (the person that normally does the job they are working) as a mentor.

The mentor part of this formula I think is the key. There is something to be said for jumping in head first and learning as you go, I've learned a lot doing this in certain situations. Eventually though, you hit a point where it is hard to learn new things when there isn't anyone around who knows more than you. Imagine how much you could learn if you were to jump in head first, learning by doing, but with the extra support of someone who could give you tips, tricks and techniques to push you forward each time learning begins to stagnate.

In addition my theatre could offer classes. The artistic director could teach a class in choosing a season (how to create balance, where to start when reading scripts, how to better understand your audience...) the managing director could teach a class on theatre business (grant writing and development, contract writing...) and the artististic and technical team could teach an endless list of skill workshops (upholstery, foam carving, furniture construction, computer drafting, welding, first aid, taping out a groundplan, basic SM paperwork, tailoring tricks, wig styling, stage make-up, practical wiring...). I would love to have regular open forums. For example, once a month choreographers around the city would know that they can come to a meeting full of choreographers and bounce ideas of people who really know how to help.

In theory my theatre would be improved by an endless supply of new thinkers with fresh ideas, and theatre around the city would be improved by an active, collaborating community of technicians, writers, directors and administrators.


  1. That sounds awesome!!! I've been actually formulating some of the same concepts in my own head especilly the classes aspect. But I really do like the concept a lot.

  2. Girl, you are the BOMB!

    I think about this stuff all the time. I think the biggest thing that stands in the way of a project like this is financing. It is SO EXPENSIVE to rent/own space and even more expensive to produce high quality well designed shows.

    I've been throwing around ideas on how to cope with this issue, and my most recent thought was that if the company could provide some sort of community service- say a theatre-focused afterschool program, maybe the city could provide a cheaper option on renting their dormant buildings?

    Of course I don't even know where to start researching that, and it seems like pure fantasy sometimes, but wouldn't it be awesome?

  3. The whole thing is of course super expensive and still a long way down the road, but I'm wondering if we couldn't start the forum idea now. There has got to be a theatre somewhere in this city willing to donate space for an hour a week for something like this. If we got two theatres to do it we could have eight forums a month and directors, writers, administrators, props, costumes, set, sound and lights could each have their own meeting. Is there anyone out there who would be interested in actively working on this with me?