I've been writing a letter to actors I've been collaborating with. With it, I will try to spark an important discussion about The Lab. After the dust from the main part of the day settles, I work on the letter late into the night. I have a reputation to be a mad rambler, so, what's the best way to communicate the ideas and concerns this letter is addressing? That's what keeps me up. The following digressions are two of the points I explore in the letter. I'm again exploring them here in case it is of interest to any of you. I've noticed that since I've started writing about theatre again, more people have mentioned my journal in the recent conversations I've had with them. So, here's another entry about theatre.
. . .
1. Why is The Lab in Gresham?
Put simply: because I started The Lab.
When I first started directing ten years ago, my ambition was very career oriented. I was convinced at the time that I wanted to direct professionally in the cities that are major theatre centers, like Chicago, New York, and Seattle. However, as I continued to direct I discovered I felt that working in Gresham was a more important and rewarding goal than directing in a spotlighted theatre city. It would certainly stand as a roadblock to a professional career and making a living, but it offered very unique rewards. I discovered that: 1.) When you're in a town that has little to offer its people in the way of the arts, apart from dance schools, you have the opportunity to do very bold and daring work. 2.) You have the opportunity/huge responsibility to help define a sense of what the theatre is and can be. 3.) You can establish a community for people to join and participate in. Especially recently, this is very close to my ambition. -- A lot of times, adolescents who are not ideally apt for public education get lost in the system. If they have nothing positive or productive to be passionate about, they can easily fall behind and become overwhelmed by unhealthy decisions. We're all aware that Gresham has an abundance of social problems and prejudices. Gresham also has a huge Meth problem. Kids in Gresham get involved with drugs and alcohol as early as they do anywhere else. This is where I feel that the arts, education, and community are--or ought to be--linked.
Here I reference Peter Hall to give my own words some back up:
(Sir Peter Hall:
Prominant theatre director in the UK;
One of the Founders of the R.S.C.
Photo by Mike Eddowes)
"We're talking about giving children a musical education, so that they're more interested in participating in the arts than in getting pissed every Friday night!"
(--Peter Hall, Stage 125 commentary)
Theatre--and all the arts--offer an enrichment for young people who want to be passionate about something. Not all of them do, and that's that. However, many of them do want to be passionate about something. Theatre is a social activity. When you do theatre, you witness the impact of good communication, and choice-making, and both of these are skills that one must learn in order to navigate the ordeal of growing up and living life. Fact is: theatre offers endless gifts to a community. And that's something that I've made the choice to be proactive about, and that's why I went to route that I did, and abandoned the goal of ever becoming a "celebrated director".
2. Community Theatre, or Theatre Community?
I have been fortunate to direct a handful of actors who I've at times called my "core" actors. What I mean is that I have worked with them on multiple occasions. I want to make a serious effort to take things a step further, and see Discovery Theatre Lab develop as a theatre community of its own. When the same actors collaborate on multiple projects, each project becomes sequentially more meaningful, because the people know each other. When the actors know each other, are comfortable with each other, and trust each other, it results in a better offering for the audience. When an ensemble of collaborators is established, actors know that they are part of something which is shared. Each project has a more collaborative sense of conception and ownership. When a certain actors want to do another play, they know where they can go to have that experience, because the director is committed to casting from that group. If a committed ensemble is established, it opens the door to many possibilities, all because of the simple agreement that "we're committed to being here and doing this, because we like doing this."
Now, not everyone can or would or should stay forever. Life changes. People move away, people change priorities. People grow past a certain point, and need to move on in order to continue to develop. However, if I successfully create a committed ensemble for The Lab that is continually nurtured and growing, then the goal of ongoing theatre activity becomes possible.
Building the ensemble won't be an easy thing to do. The challenge is getting the right people to agree, which is tricky. It's not anything like forming a club, because there's a lot of work and thinking and sacrifice involved in the rehearsal period. Especially if someone is playing a large role. If the ensemble were to be successful, I think they'd have to like working with me. It's sort of silly to actually say that outloud, but, it's a realistic observation. At the moment, I'm the one directing The Lab's shows. They'd have to enjoy collaborating with me, and be able to get something from that each time. They'd be foolish to join, and I'd be foolish to let them join if they didn't. I say this because the only reason to do theatre over and over again is to work under the flag of joy and have fun, and therein free yourself. Sometimes my approach or personality clashes with other people's. That's just the nature of the game. It's no one's fault because it's a matter of chemistry. Like any relationship, some people match better than others. Most of the time, if you've started rehearsal and you discover a problem, you find a way to make it through that show, and then you don't work with the person again. But the ensemble of actors would be working me very frequently. So they'd have to be people who liked working with me. By extention, they'd have to be comfortable working in Gresham, facing the challenge of building the audience project by project. It is possible to do, but it doesn't happen overnight.
. . .
So that's some of what I've been lulling around in my mind. If you do theatre and you have a reaction to any of the above, your comments will be helpful.