Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It Takes a Village...er, City

The energy surrounding the Saline Area Players’ upcoming production, The Carol Burnett Show: Your Favorite Sketches, is contagious.  Not only is the cast enthused as we rehearse these hilarious comedy sketches, but the community has been tremendously involved in this collaboration.  Community involvement is one huge piece of what goes on behind the scenes of a production.   It all started with a casual conversation between a SAP board member and Nancy Byers of Stone Arch Arts and Events.  They spoke last fall of a collaboration dinner theater and over half a year later, it is coming to fruition, with plenty of community help.

It is virtually impossible to do a show without connecting with others to help make it happen. Here’s an example: we have to make a set.  To do that requires set pieces, tools, paint, etc.  But before that, we need a set design.  We’re lucky to have Leo Babcock in our group, who is also a local architect in Saline.  He has designed many of our sets for us and his drawings are incredibly detailed, down to wallpaper suggestions and pictures on the wall.  Check out the scene design gallery on the Babcock Design Studio website where you can see not only sketches, but also completed sets.  Yep, that’s me churning butter in Oklahoma. 

So once we have the set, we need flats that we build and paint.  For example, we have to make a flat and insert a window into it because many people look out the window during the show.  (“Miss Starlet, isn’t that Captain Butler’s carriage?”) We also need a flat with a door – coming in and out of the door is an ongoing gag, especially in As the Stomach Turns as various guests come into the home.

We’ve collaborated with the Saline Area Schools and Saline Community Education for years.  They allow us to use their scene shops.  We have flats stored there (which are also used during student productions) and we use the space to build sets.  It is not unusual at all for us to borrow things from the high school and for us to lend things to them (props/furniture).  In fact, some props have been on stage in Saline more than any of the actors. Then, of course, to paint the sets requires people.  Once in awhile we’re lucky to have a local artist help us with the sets, especially when skilled artwork is needed.  Although we don’t need fancy set painting this go around, Two Twelve Arts Center is making commemorative tickets for the show, a lovely artistic touch.

For this production, we’re performing in downtown Saline at Stone Arch Arts and Events. This beautiful historic building is a perfect place to perform in - it is downtown, has great parking, is a wide open space with flexible seating and staging areas, and can handle a nice-sized audience.  We are incredibly lucky that we are not only renting the space, but Nancy Byers is helping us organize the dinner theater part of the show.  She’s working with many local volunteers from Music Under the Arch.  And she’s helped us by securing a local caterer to prepare the meal, Jennifer Davey, a certified chef through the American Culinary Federation, who is the catering director at Evangelical Homes Brecon Village.  Local…local…local!

We’re doing a little bartering… volunteers from MUTA help us and we let them use our lights. But that’s not all.  SAP has been a member of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce for years.  Again, we share.  We’ve brought many shows to downtown Saline, which we hope bring business and entertainment to our beautiful town, and we’ve been lucky to be able to use their space for some rehearsals which gives us greater visibility too. And we also collaborate with the City of Saline itself to put on a show… using their stage, and acquiring the necessary permits to put up our sandwich boards.

And, in addition, we’ve found some great local businesses that have been willing to advertise in our show.  For this one, it isn’t the usual ad in the program, but instead, our director Tami Hindes is writing original commercials for our local sponsors which will be performed during each production.  What better publicity can you get than that?  We’re happy to have these sponsors:  Cunningham Vision, Powerhouse Gym, Briarwood Ford (commercial to be performed by our own SAP actor Pat Collins who also works there), and The Fabulous Mr. Fix It.  The businesses get to say what they want advertised and to “ok” the ads which all have a different flavor.  The cast is having a blast with these commercial spots.  And we couldn’t do a show without the generosity of so many businesses in Saline who allow us to put up our posters and flyers in their windows or on their bulletin boards.  I am not good at asking for favors, but it is easy in such a generous town, and I now have a list of those places that say “yes” every time!

And none of this happens without a large Saline Area Players’ community of folks who work tirelessly from show to show overseeing all kinds of details like set construction, props, costumes, tickets, publicity, poster design, lighting, sound… the list goes on and on. 

We are thrilled to be part of a community that supports one another. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Art as Interaction

It’s not like I’ve never been to an art museum before, but my visit recently to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) opened my eyes to something I hadn’t been paying attention to before.  The museum was set up for lots of interaction between the patrons and the art.  In the past, I think I’ve thought about art museums as rather “stuffy” places… where you sit quietly and contemplate the art.  But my visit recently was nothing like that.  For one thing, there was lots of noise there.  Not raucous noise or running or loud laughter, but energized, talkative noise, the kind that suggests that people were engaged.  There were people in wheelchairs and walkers, and babies in carriages.  There were people of all walks of life engaged in the art.  One kid in a stroller pointed to a painting and said “baby”!

Checking out the DIA website, they state that their philosophy is that art is for everyone and that learning is a lifelong process.  There were fun quizzes throughout the museum where you were instructed to look for something in the room, like the petals falling out of a woman’s hands.  I imagine those were perhaps more for the kids, but I looked too.  And there were instructional bits where they quizzed you on understanding what parts of the art you were observing were innovative versus more standard.  Art isn’t static and evolves over time.  Not a new concept, but the museum did a good job of showing how that happened.  There were also communications with the art patron about ways to look at art.  You can look at it up close or farther away.  You can pay attention to little details like the brush strokes or details in the picture.  And, you can pay attention to how the art makes you feel.  And, it was interesting to me that they devoted a few rooms in the American section to diversity, both of artists and subjects. 

In my recent experience when going to art museums, I try to pay attention to one piece of art and look at it for a long time to pay attention to details and surmise what was going on in the piece.  I did that with a number of pieces including The Card Players by Richard Caton Woodville.  I’m not sure why I picked that one, but it fascinated me.  There were 4 people in the painting, all of different walks of life.  The older man was in the process of being cheated by the younger card shark.  His servant was behind him, probably powerless.  The German man was there and you couldn’t tell if he was part of the con or perhaps would help the older man.  It was a tense scene.  I noticed lots of details in the room.  And, in keeping with my theme for this blog, I noticed that the paper on the wall in the back said “Theatre” in the title.  I wondered where the painting was set, but am guessing a big city, like New York.

With any kind of art, as with theater, you can be a passive participant and just look at it.  But, the other way to engage in it, is to be an active observer and participant.  That’s true with the theater… the audience is one of the elements of the production.  You never know how the play will be until you have the audience there with you, interacting and reacting.  I guess I’d never thought about it before, but that’s true about painting and visual art as well.

If you haven’t been to an art museum lately, I encourage you to go.  And I encourage you to spend a chunk of time with one or two paintings while there and really look at them, paying attention to the details, the brush strokes, the colors, the subjects, and really think about what’s going on in the painting, and, how it makes you feel.  It really enhances the experience. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Two days until auditions begin for the Carol Burnett Show Tribute being produced by the Saline Area Players.  From the audition info:  The Carol Burnett Show was an icon on TV during the 70s.  The television family variety show is a fond memory for many, and now the Saline Area Players, under the direction of Tami Hindes, are bringing back the fun comedy sketches with the Carol Burnett Show Tribute.  We will be casting a minimum of 2 women and 3 men, and likely more, to play a variety of zany characters and you don’t need to look like Carol, Vicki, Harvey, Tim or Lyle to audition.

Auditions.  The word itself can produce emotions from excitement to fear.  For some, auditions are incredibly exciting.  I’ve seen people who go to auditions and light up, like it is the actual performance.  They seem to thrive on auditioning and their adrenalin just overflows, with incredible animation and charisma.  Then there are those who are petrified…. They come in with sick stomachs, clammy hands, heartbeats racing…   I’ve experienced a few auditions in which I ended up physically ill from the stress.  Then there are those who seem pretty low key, laid back, taking it in… que sera sera.  Or perhaps the outside appearance is just an illusion. Some people are eager and volunteer to read first.  Others are shy, and hang back waiting and waiting until the last possible second to read.  I waited so long once that the director didn’t realize that I was even auditioning.  Turns out that I got the lead, but you would never have guessed it at auditions.

Then there are the jitters about how to BE at auditions.  Should you really go out there and overplay everything so that the director knows that you can really ham it up?  Or will that make you look too eager and create questions about whether you can play the subtleties of the characters?  Or should you try to play the nuances of the roles, which may show your sensitive side, but leave people wondering if you have any passion?  Some say to just be yourself… but how do you do that when you’re playing someone else?  Should you risk it and try to play a character in a new way to differentiate you from the rest of the pack?  Or should you try to play the character in the familiar, most recognized way, for a safer route? 

And how many parts should you audition for?  Should you go out for just one and show them how perfect you can be for that role?  Or should you try for multiple roles, widening your chances, and show off your versatility, which might risk them thinking that you are too much a chameleon but not able to make any character that interesting? 

And then there is the question about if you should agree to take a role that you didn’t audition for.  It can be really tacky if you say that you will, but then don’t take the part, making the director scramble to fill the role.  On other hand, will you look like a prima donna if you say you’ll only take one part and no others?  Will they think that you aren’t a team player?  Some directors seem to like the truthfulness of it, while others question your commitment to the show as a whole.  And what if you want one part really badly, but you know that you could play another part well too and you might be more suited to the latter role.  Do you just go for the one you want?  If you play the latter role too well, will they not even consider you for the one you want the most?  So, many decisions…

And what to wear?  Should you wear something bold so that they remember you?  Do you get all dressed up or come in more casual attire?  Should you dress at all like the character you want to portray or is that too obvious?  

Or perhaps, the best plan is to be in the moment, feel the character as the part is given to you, don’t over prepare, be true to yourself and react to others in the moment.   The bottom line is, no matter what you do, it is up to what the director sees and is looking for and, even if you are stellar, you still may not get “the part”.  So, as with life in general, you’ve just got to go out there and do your best (and for me, lose a few more fingernails in the process).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Thanks for the Theater

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, because I rarely keep them and don’t like feeling guilty.  But someone last year suggested that I write a blog.  It was in the context of my involvement with Saline Area Players (aka SAP).  At the time, I barely knew what a blog was and had maybe read one or two of them before.  I have been doing publicity for SAP for years and became curious about what a blog is and how to do it.  Since the Saline Reporter has been looking for people to blog for some time now and advertised a free session on blogging, I went and learned the basics.  Didn’t seem too hard.  After thinking about it awhile, it seemed like a pretty cool idea and a way to communicate to the community about the theater happenings with SAP and the surrounding area, as well as whatever else comes to mind.

So, here goes….

I’m not sure what it is about a new year that makes us reflect on life and things good and bad and gives us hope for the next year.  One of my resolutions (that I haven’t officially made but work at on and off) is developing a sense of gratitude, finding an appreciation for the good things in life while also recognizing that there are definite difficulties and challenges.  Developing gratitude can lead to well being and peace of mind.  I try to think about things I’m grateful for and also dabble at my gratitude journal, which is a lot of fun because I can look back at things I was grateful for in the past, which are usually things I am still grateful for.  Little things…. like fresh tomatoes, the burst of fresh cold air that greets me when leaving work, free stuff that I’ll actually use, humor, the color blue…

In the theater vein, I’d like to quote song lyrics of one of America’s more prolific composers and musical theater writer, Irving Berlin.  “Got no checkbooks, got no banks, still I’d like to express my thanks – I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.”   Gratitude is finding good in something.

When I reflect on the Saline Area Players, and on community theater in general, I find a lot to be grateful for.  Making new friends is one thing… it is an amazing way to meet people from all walks of life who come together for a few months at a time, and often longer, to work together on a common goal.  I’ve made some lifelong friends through theater.  It also promotes individual growth.  I love to watch the kids that have been involved with SAP over the years evolve.  One mom wrote to me thanking SAP because her daughter got the “lead” in her first grade play and did a good job, thanks in large part to her experiences/confidence building with SAP.  Wow!  And I’m grateful for the terrific productions that we present. It is a such a welcoming and easy place for people to try out a new talent, whether it be acting, set building, painting, finding props, sewing, and creating! And, even better, we’re linked to the community.  At our recent Rudolph play at Stone Arch, one patron was quoted as saying she came back every year because “this is so Saline!”

I guess I could go on, but this is already too long.  Mostly I wanted to launch this blog and think about how grateful I am for our local theater group.  More to come!