A love letter to Taproot, on its 40th season:

Dear Taproot Theatre,

I know this imperfectly conveys my feelings about you, but I’m hoping there is grace enough to take my incomplete thoughts and perfect them in your mind. In the words of someone far more eloquent: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”.

-Matt

Today I had the great pleasure of seeing a matinee performance of the musical Big Fish at Taproot Theatre as part of their 40th season as a theatre company. As a milestone, it’s astounding, and as a work of theatre, Big Fish is a terrific piece with some standout performances, and the cast, crew, directors and designers all deserve the accolades due them.

The continued lines of relationship in our lives, parent to child, form the backbone of Big Fish’s story of self-discovery. How we tell that story to those closest to us shapes those lines of relationship, and gives us a wonderful gift of perspective.

And it’s at times like anniversaries, milestones, that perspective seems to come more easily, personally and publicly.

Taproot has meant many things to many people, and like most robust theatre organizations, has left its own unique stamp on its audience, and the greater theatre community in Seattle. I have had the distinct honor of joining with Taproot in their mission to bring stories to their audience that “brighten the spirit, engage the mind and deepen the understanding of the world around us ” as a cast member in several Taproot productions.

In my time working as part of Taproot’s company, I’ve seen amazing things happen on stage, in rehearsal, and in people’s lives offstage. I know most actors have, regardless of what theatre they’re working in. Actors, by and large, are a sensitive breed of people. We notice things, listen closely, read between the lines of voice and movement.

Producing theatre can be extremely hard. Emotional risk and vulnerability is an essential part of the journey we as performers take with an audience. An audience which sometimes might not want to come along with us. Time with family and friends is forsaken as we prepare for performance. Sacrifices are made in the hope that the end result, the experience for the audience, will allow something new to be born in their minds and hearts. And after all that, we fail in our goals at least as often as we succeed.

An element of faith is involved in this work. And maybe it’s not religious faith. To quote Stoppard: “It’s a mystery.” Maybe it’s the faith we can have in each other, that we’ll be supported by our colleagues and friends. That if we fail, we all fail together, and that if we succeed, everyone is responsible for that success.

I have always felt that kind of support working at Taproot. I have always believed that my work was valued and that I was an integral part of creating something that would bring a group of people together and open their minds and hearts to something new. I am so proud of my friends and colleagues at Taproot, and I wish them success as they continue to pursue their mission to “inspire imagination, conversation, and hope.”

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Exit 133- It’s almost uncanny.

ali-seatac-commuteExit 133- It’s about Tacoma. And while I’m not primarily a Tacoma blogger, I think my recent dip into home interests makes my sharing this applicable:

Exit 133 – Finding the right Job/Housing Balance for Tacoma

While it starts primarily rooted in the economics currently at work in Pierce county, the above article really strikes at what’s going on in Tacoma: do we want to be a bedroom community for Seattle, or can we stand out in our own way, and be a unique urban center?

I think it directly resonates in our Arts community, as well. Discuss?

Stealing from KC

Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) loved to quote Pablo Picasso: “Good artists copy; Great artists steal.”

picasso_the_owl

Now, whether or not that’s what Picasso actually said, or even further, what he actually meant, I can’t be bothered to wrangle. However, I came upon an article online in American Theatre magazine about a theatre that has rooted its identity in its community, and found a way to support artists within that community to do outstanding work FOR that community.

You can find the article here.

Go ahead. I’ll wait until you’re done reading it.

No GO AHEAD. It’s short.

You’re done already?

Quick reader.

Okay: I have some thoughts.

First of all, I think that collective decision making can yield great benefits for a company, and in this case, community. Embedding the theatre in the fabric of the community, not just in its decision making (composing the board of half community members) but by fostering local talent almost exclusively gives a unique sense of ownership. Their partnerships with local business, individuals, non-profits, schools, and city government sink their roots deep into where they’ve been planted, and have allowed them to grow and bloom.

There is no dedicated artistic leadership other than the company members. No artistic director, administrative staff, or theatrical home. Many of their works are produced in ‘found spaces’ in the greater KC area. One of the major complaints I’ve heard, and one of the major hurdles I’ve understood to creating a theatre company, is that there has to be a ‘boss’, there have to be staff members, there has to be expense and overhead to keep the lights on in a building that the theatre needs to own or rent. KCAT has found a way around that. Community partnerships allow it to find space when needed. It allows its artists, dedicated to a consensus model of decision-making, to pull the artistic strings needed to select a season of theatrical works, uses committees to do the work of a dedicated staff, while also giving them the flexibility and autonomy to continue their work of making theatre (acting, directing, designing, etc.).

A theatre grounded in it’s community is something Tacoma could get behind. So many of my fellow Tacoma residents are fiercely loyal to their community: the people and places that make Tacoma a place we choose to live. A theatre that’s as loyal to them might just be something worth supporting.

 

 

 

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.

“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!

In Awe of Wizardry

In the collaborative world of the performing arts, in this case, theatre, an actor rarely finds his work performed in a vacuum (unless you’re into some craaazy performance art.) By this, I mean that not only does your work and craft exist on stage next to that of your scene partner, but your work is put before he audience in concert with the work of designers and builders of all the physical elements of the production, as well as the lighting designer, and the sound designer, choreographer, director.
At no time does this strike me more than during ‘tech’ rehearsals. It’s during these rehearsals, usually just before the first dress rehearsals and first audiences of a given work, that all the elements of production come together with the acting work done in the rehearsal hall, in a more or less organized way.

Gandalf and Radagast
And this brings me to the title of this post. I’m working with wizards. Yep. Long beards, interesting hats, magical staves, robes. Funny names, usually with a color in there somewhere. Wait. No.

I AM working with wizards. They may not stand out in the way they dress, or in their tonsorial or naming choices, but they do possess powers beyond my understanding.
Their creative gift and hard work brings an incredible amount of life and detail to the work we do as performers. For instance, in my current production “In the Book Of” at Taproot Theatre, I was particularly struck by the wizardry of our sound designer during last night’s tech rehearsal. As we heard some of the sounds that would be enriching our play for he first time, several of us were struck with the sheer power of the designer’s creation and his ability to bring us into the internal world of a character simply through music and sound. We were moved. And we knew a depth to our work we hadn’t experienced before. It was a sublime moment that I’m excited to get to share with our audience.

So come join us! Partake in some theatrical wizardry!