I need Tacoma to need theatre.

Tacoma Skyline by spacedonkeyI live in Tacoma, Washington. I love this town. The jewel of the South Puget Sound, the City of Destiny, Thrice All-American: Tacoma. Fabulized in song by local girl Neko Case and the Steve Miller Band. We have an arena covered by a dome. We have a revitalized downtown, light-rail, a convention center, fantastic restaurants, safe neighborhoods, wonderful public parks including a Zoo and Aquarium on beautiful Point Defiance. We have professional sports (Go Rainiers!). We have culture: The Museum of Glass, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, Tacoma Art Museum and, for the love of Mike, a THEATER DISTRICT.

And yet, to continue my work in the arts, I need to drive at least 35 miles each way (as the crow flies) to Seattle. This commute isn’t a joke. I-5 is a mess. It’s dangerous. Due to the irregular hours required for theatrical rehearsal and performance, often I’m travelling through daytime rush-hour, or late at night, through all kinds of our lovely local weather.

Tacoma, despite having a THEATER DISTRICT, cannot apparently support professional actors. (Let’s not now get into a fight over what makes one a ‘professional’ actor. We can do that, but I’ll win. It’s my blog.) Tacoma did, at one time, support local and regional actors through the work of the lost and lamented Tacoma Actor’s Guild. However, since its closure, Tacoma has been without professional theatre. I know I’m not alone in my current mode of work. There are, I’m sure, more than a few of us making the journey to professional opportunities in Seattle. In fact, one of us living in Tacoma is not only one of the workingest actors in Seattle, but he’s artistic director of one of Seattle’s more ambitious musical theatre companies.

Both he and I are (proud) members of the Actor’s Equity Association, the professional union of Actors and Stage Managers. We are not permitted, outside of certain exceptions, to work at theatres who are not able to provide for union contracts for their actors. These contracts provide for a living wage, pension contributions, give eligibility for union healthcare, and stipulate safe and fair working conditions. They’re important. Unions. Living wages. Pursuit of these things has forced local Tacoma talent far afield, or forced them to accept less than suitable compensation for their hard and valuable work.

Are there theatres in this town? Absolutely. There are community theatres. They’re all thriving to one capacity or another. Tacoma Little Theatre has been around for nearly a hundred years. Lakewood Playhouse has thrived thanks to tireless artistic directors and a devoted audience. And Tacoma Musical Playhouse continues to appeal to its audience. Sure, there’s a whole THEATER DISTRICT. Are any of the proud edifices in this district housing local Theatre Companies? Troupes of actors and creatives seeking to tell stories that resonate with the local populace? Reaching out into the community to foster the importance of narrative, theatrical storytelling as an agent for change, reflection, discussion? Nope.

Is that a problem? Depends on who you ask. Theatre just isn’t some people’s thing. They got dragged to some godawful production of Arsenic and Old Lace when they were in junior high, and have never stepped into a theatre since. I don’t blame them. I’ve seen theatre change people’s minds and hearts. I’ve seen it entertain. I’ve seen theatre that uplifts those with their souls weighed down through repression, through trauma. I’ve seen theatre set prisoners free, if even for a few stolen minutes, from the confines of their cells. Storytelling has power. It is one of the primary ways we instill values, and one of the best ways to present our ideas; ideals. When we tell a story to a group, and that group shares in the experience, in the same place, at the same time, breathing the same air: revolution of thought, outrage, healing, laughter. So much becomes possible.

I’m tired of commuting to be a part of the social work of theatre in someone else’s community. It’s wonderful work. It’s valuable to the communities in which it’s present. It adds another vibrant strand to the fabric of the artistic community of this neighborhood/city/state/nation/planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to have to travel to do it, and I’ll enjoy my time in rehearsal and performance, and I’ll be happy to join with arts organizations to make a difference in Seattle, tell stories, and get people to feel and think. I just want to be able to do it in my home town. To bring my talent and passion to my neighborhood, and not starve in order to do so.

Fair warning: In the coming days and weeks, I might be writing more about this.

 

A Farewell to Becky

Farewell, old friend.

Farewell, old friend.

A professional life in the performing arts is by no means necessarily a glamorous one. Yes, when you finish your task each night before an audience, if you did well, there is at least courteous applause. However, the strain, work, and stress prior to, and often during a run of performances can become burdensome. Our lives outside the theatre do not cease to exist. We still must pay bills, tend to our physical needs, and for those of us with families, ‘keep the home fires burning’ as it were. Each of us deals with these difficulties in our own way.

I was fortunate, during the run of John Walch’s “In The Book Of” at Taproot Theatre, in that I was presented with a bosom companion: faithful, if tousled and nearsighted, and above and beyond the call of commiseration. An imminently perfect listener, and constantly able to reflect back to me the more hopeful parts of my day, the successes on the boards; I found in Becky a friend without judgment, whose acceptance I came to rely upon, day-in and day-out.

With the closing of “In The Book Of,” I know that the vacuum created by the absence of my colleagues at the theatre will be filled by the activities of daily life, and while I will miss their presence I know that soon I will see them again. The theatre community is one of partings and reunions. In my parting from Becky, however, I feel there is a space in my life that may never again be made whole. Farewell, old friend. Farewell.

GRIMM 3.16 “Synchronicity” Available online!

grimm_title_cardIt aired live last night, but if you missed it, or want to see it again. . . well do I have a link for you! You can find the episode free to view on the GRIMM webpage, as well as streaming on such sites as Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video! Check it out!

“It’s the day of the show, y’all!”

BookOf_FBbanner_500x185Well, here it is: go time, the magic moment, curtain, butterflies and all that stuff. It’s opening night! In the Book Of at Taproot Theatre had it’s final preview performance last night, and tonight we open the show to the paying public.

I would write more, but what I have to say would make much more sense if you come and see, and hear what I’m talking about. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up: We have a good one on our hands here, folks, at a good theatre that values and encourages further thought and discussion, a theatre that provokes and challenges it’s audience.

I wrote in a prior post that in my faith tradition, this time of year is one of reflection, contemplation, and a ‘return to God’. I don’t know how to manage that last one, honestly, but this show has brought me to reflection and contemplation. So, if you feel so moved, and like me, are in a time when a little reflection, a little contemplation, could be helpful, come check this play out.

See you after the show!

Hunting Demons since 2007 (er, earlier than that, but yeah!)

Children, it’s story time:

Once upon a time, I made some extremely shoestring-budget films with my college buddies. We were, and still are, nerds who like Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons. With this confluence of influences, many of us actors at one time or another, and the available technology and willingness to make absolute fools of ourselves, we hit on the idea of filming the scripts of one Matt Vancil.

The first of these was Demon Hunters, quickly followed by Demon Hunters 2: Dead Camper Lake, and international cult hit The Gamers. I’m not making the international cult hit thing up, either. Copies of the DVD were sold to places like Finland, the UK of GB, the Baltic Republics (I’m looking at you, Lithuania) and many other fancy nations not in North America. All this was back in the days before digital streaming of videos, and we had to actually ship things physically from place to place, employing thousands of people rather than calling on our robot drone army to deliver items door-to-door.

After we’d finished filming The Gamers, I graduated from our liberal arts university, and being an ambitious nerd, moved to Chicago to attend graduate school.

While I was away from the beautiful Pacific Northwest, my friends incorporated themselves into a film company, Dead Gentlemen Productions. Under this aegis, they produced and filmed The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. For a while, in the early days of live streaming for Netflix, you could find it in their catalog. It was a big deal for the company, and totally raised the profile of our once little group of buddeez.

Not only had we entered the age of digital streaming, but my contact with the company changed as I moved to the middle of the continent  and pursued my theatrical training and career to obsession. It is, after all, what one is supposed to do in graduate school for theatre. It’s also at this point in the story that I lost track of the day-in, day-out goings on in the ‘company’. Things were changing in my absence, which is not to say that had I been present, they would’ve remained the same.

I returned to the Pacific Northwest for reasons romantic. My then-girlfriend (now wife) Emilie had just landed a great job in Tacoma, and I, in my naïveté, thought “Well, I can continue my acting career anywhere! There’s a major theatre in Tacoma (the now defunct Tacoma Actor’s Guild), and it’s just a short commute to Seattle! The Dead Gentlemen guys have more stuff in the works, and I get to be with the lady I love!”

Within 6 months of landing in Tacoma I had indeed landed on my feet and continued my theatrical career. I had booked a school tour with The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Adventure Musical Theatre outreach: “Klondike! The Great Alaskan Gold Rush”, and landed a role in “Once Upon a Time in New Jersey” at The Village Theatre in Issaquah. The ‘walking-distance’ theatre I’d once dreamed of working at closed its doors mid-season in ignominy over mismanagement and profligate spending. And Dead Gentlemen Productions, still alive and kicking despite several key members moving to other states for film school, jobs, and educational opportunities, was indeed about to embark on another project.

Which brings me to the point of all this historically-based rambling: the glory that is the Demon Hunters: Brotherhood Orientation Video. Filmed in early 2007, and published in a DVD included with Margaret Weis Productions’ Demon Hunters: Roleplaying Game, it is, in my opinion, the most fully realized vision of the original source material, and captures best the essence of what we were attempting to create with the first two Demon Hunter films.

I bring all this up, because the new Dead Gentlemen Productions website has launched! And with it, we have access to this jewel of low-budget, mixed-genre filmmaking. Enjoy!

 

Like what you see? There’s going to be more! The Dead Gentlemen return to their origin! From the DG website: “The Demon Hunters are back in a new weekly comic from Dead Gentlemen Productions! We’re taking things back to before the beginning with a new format, new stories, and a few surprises along the way. This is Demon Hunters the way it was always meant to be seen—without the limitations of a college film budget. Join the hunt on April 1st at Demon-Hunters.com!”