Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Rule of Three

The rule of three is this, you cannot have something fast, cheap, and high quality. In most cases you will have to pick two of the three, and in some cases, only one.

To provide some examples of how this works, lets talk about this couch.
Option 1- Sacrifice Fast
If you decided that you were absolutely inflexible on quality and budget, this couch could be attained by searching and waiting for something similar to show up on craigslist or at a thrift store for a good price and then reupholstering and generally rehabbing it until it looked like you wanted. For this to happen, you would have to allow a significant length of time to complete the task. It could take weeks or months for a couch that was close enough to what you wanted to show up at a price you can afford. In order to allow this option to work, the best thing a director, designer or theatre company can do for me is to start meetings early. Meetings don't have to happen often, but if you can tell me 5-6 months out that you know you are going to want a large wooden canopy bed, it is much more likely I will be able to find it, than if you tell me 6 weeks out.

Option 2- Sacrifice Cheap
If time is not an option, and you are still inflexible on quality, this couch could be attained by doing a wide and extensive search (remember man hours=money because you have to pay workers). Once the piece was found you would be stuck paying whatever the seller or renter wanted to charge. Even if you don't have a large budget, this can sometimes mean that you set a certain prop as a priority and commit to spending what you need to achieve it, including being willing to sacrifice perfection in other places. For example you may decide that the perfect period stage sword is a priority and be willing to spend what you need to get it, then to make the budget work, be willing to use the table and dishes that were already in stock from another show even if they aren't absolutely perfect.

Option 3- Sacrifice High Quality
If you did not have very much time, and also have a limited budget, then it is time to sacrifice quality. This does not have to mean that you will end up with a trashy or cheap looking show, but it does mean flexibility. It means that you have to forget about the perfect couch, and start expanding your mindset so that when one of these couches shows up, you are ready to jump on a deal. 
Sacrificing quality, at least in my world does not mean it will look bad, it just means flexibility, willingness to compromise and realistic expectations. It means that I might have had to borrow or rent the prop we are using so we can't change it or hurt it. It might mean that I can make the puppet's mouth or his arm move, but not both. It might mean that instead of buying something new, we find a way to alter something already in stock

As I have said before (quoting a friend, Sarah Miecielica) "theatre is art, on a schedule and with a budget." We would all like to have more money, more time, and more resources, but that is not the business that we are in. It is immensely helpful for the entire production team to come in with realistic expectations and, together, to develop a sense of which design elements are priorities and which are less important. That is not to say that miracles can't happen. I have experienced more than my share of theatre magic. Sometimes things that you need show up in alleys, sometimes a kind store owner or stranger lets you rent or borrow or buy something for far less than its actual value, sometimes a random friend comes out of the wood work to reveal that "oh, my dad has one of those in his garage he's being trying to get rid of," but those magical moments should be appreciated as the lucky gifts that they are. Plan-A should never be luck.  It is always best to know, as early as possible in the process, what we will do if nothing lucky comes our way, and if we end up having to pay current market price for everything we need.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Becoming a Wedding Assistant

Ever since I started planning my wedding, I've been thinking about how lucky I am to already have all of these organization, shopping, budgeting, planning and crafting skills. More recently, after reading about a woman in New York who offers "craft concierge" services along side her wedding planning, and after talking to two Chicago stage managers who have translated their skills into wedding coordination, I started to think maybe I could make a business out of this. Then, when my fiance told me "this is what you should be doing" after a day working on wedding stuff, without me ever having mentioned the idea to him, I decided that I should go for it.
So here it is on my blog, an official announcement that over the next year or so I am going to be launching a wedding and event assistant business.

Some of the ideas I have about what I want my business to be (in illogical free writing, brainstorming order):
  • I am not a wedding planner, I am calling myself a wedding assistant, because this is not my wedding. It is the wedding of the two people getting married and I am there to help them.
  • There was a comment recently, on one of the blogs I read, from a bride who had the idea that she would do her own bouquets, from flowers she would buy at a grocery store or wholesaler. Unfortunately she had an aunt who was sure it would be a disaster, told her that it would be too difficult and that she would regret it. The bride was convinced and hired a professional florist, now she was wishing she had stuck to her guns. It dawned on me that I would be the perfect person to bridge that gap for people. I am not a professional florist, and will not charge you florist rates, but I have done DIY wedding flowers before, I know what I'm doing, we'll do them together. Having that extra set of experienced hands could give you the confidence to shoot down the nay-sayers and stick to your guns (and not just on flowers, that goes for DJing your wedding with an I-Pod, writing your own ceremony, making your own dress or veil or jewelry, baking the cake, or any number of other projects).
  •  One of my life philosophies, that I think I could bring into the wedding world well is, "You can have anything you want, you just can't have everything you want." Everyone is going to have something special that they want to splurge on for their wedding, whether it is the cake, the food, the dress, the band, the venue or any other number of things. My mission will be to find you enough savings in other places through some creative sourcing and DIY craft projects, that you will be able to afford that one special thing. 
  • I'm an awesome mediator (I'm pretty sure that comes out of growing up the middle girl between two brothers). I am a rock star when it comes to dealing with difficult family and friends and finding compromises. I am great at helping people see one another's side of a problem, and I will be great at heading off any and all possible disasters on a wedding day or leading up to it.
  • Included in my prop designer skills, I am a carpenter and can build special tables, card boxes, alters, centerpieces etc. 
  • I can sew. Not enough to create your wedding dress, but certainly enough to repair last minute rips and tears, make a veil, help you create custom table linens or any number of other projects you might dream up. 
  • I know all the antique and thrift stores in the Chicago area and I visit them regularly. If you're looking for something (vintage jewelry, vases for centerpieces, mismatched china for the place settings etc) I can be on the lookout for you, buying what you need for reimbursement later. 
  • I am great at making spreadsheets, lists, budgets and such, and will be excited to help you make yours. 
  • In addition to all of this, what I could offer to brides would be a listening ear, a brainstorming partner, a voice of reason and calm, someone who will never get tired of hearing about your wedding, and someone who will more than likely show up with ice cream on a really stressful day, because ice cream always helps. 
What I need now is a bit of confidence and some references, so that I can convince people I don't know to hire me. If you know of anyone who might be interested in some wedding or event help (from small projects up to entire events), pass along my information. Right now I would be offering my services at VERY reduced rates in an attempt to build a bit of a portfolio. 

Hopefully, with a lot of hard work and a little luck, I'll have to start another blog soon. This time with wedding projects.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A New National Theatre

A few months ago I was having a conversation with my friend Nolan about the state of theatre in this country. We got on the subject of the Federal Theatre Project (a program that was part of the New Deal, the initiative funded theatrical performances and arts development all over the country). What, we asked, would such a program look like today, and how could it work? As fair warning, when this conversation was fresh in our minds, I suggested Nolan help me write a blog post on the subject, and then we both got busy and then we forgot. So my apologies if things are a little disjointed now or if references are a little vague.

Theatre is an art that I have always believed needs to focus on the local. When you try to say something universal, you often fall into the trap of being so generic you don't say anything at all. On the flip side of that, being so local is leaving theatre out of the national conversation. We live in a world where distance is often becoming less and less of a challenge. I can go on twitter or facebook, countless blogs, email, skype or (if I'm old fashioned) my cell phone, and discuss ideas, music, movies, television, books and countless other topics, with people around the country and around the world. We can't however, talk about theatre, at least about a specific production.

At the Time of Nolan's and my conversation there was an article in Newsweek that included a list of challenging intellectual things happening "right now." One of those things was a production of Arcadia. I remember reading the article and thinking, "That's nice, but how many people who are reading this magazine will actually have access to that production."

Wouldn't it be great, Nolan and I discussed, if there were a national theatre? It wouldn't achieve the goals we have in mind if we used the model of the National Theatre in London; no matter where we placed the venue, it would be out of reach for the majority of the country. The model of the old Federal Theatre Project wouldn't work either. Funding random programs around the country is nice, but doesn't do much that the regional theatres don't already do, and sending around touring productions is nice, but doesn't facillitate a national conversation when it may be months and months between different regions seeing the show.

Our idea for a new national theatre would involve an initiative where the NEA (or another national organization) would choose a show and then offer it, royalty free, to theatres around the country, with the catch that the production must open around a uniform date. Ideally theatres all over the country would pick up the show, and allow audiences from hundreds of cities to join a conversation together about themes, ideas and different artistic takes on the same script. Each theatre company would naturally bring their own aesthetic and local spirit to their production but the single script would allow them to express local perspective as part of a larger national conversation.

Logistically, I believe this could be done incredibly cheaply, or even at no cost at all. Playwrights and publishers, I imagine, would be happy to participate with very little upfront compensation. The sale of scripts, and the national promotion of both the writer and the play, and likely appearance fees would provide enough compensation to make up for a small royalty.

As a side benefit, I imagine a project like this could also facilitate the communication, and collaboration of  formerly separated theatres and arts organizations. Giving a theatre in DC a reason to start a discussion with a theatre in Seattle might foster further communication, collaboration and artistic innovation.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Making bodies ride the sled

A few weeks ago I posted about wrapping dummy bodies in sheets for Hunger at Lifeline Theatre. Once we tried to bring the bodies onstage we had a problem. 
The characters are supposed to be dragging the dummies around on a toboggan, but there wasn't enough room backstage for the sled to sit flat on the floor before dragging it on.  We had to be able to store the sled with the dummy vertically, and then lay them both down as the actor was entering. The dummy couldn't be strapped permanently to the sled, because the actors needed to dump the body onstage.
I used half a piece of PVC screwed to a small length of 1x4 to make a shallow hook. 
I then used gaff tape to solidly tape the hook to the frame of the dummy.
Even once the dummy was wrapped in the sheet, the hook was easy to locate and use. 
I added an extra piece of 1x4 to one of the slats on the sled to give my hook something to hold onto. 
And here is an image of how the hook and the 1x4 fit together.
With the hook in place, the dummy could store vertically backstage until needed, and could be easily lowered and dragged out by one person.