Stop Forming New Theatre Companies?

The following reflects the opinions of the writer only and is not meant to represent positions taken by the Knightsbridge Theatre.

I passed a new frontier in my Twitter experience last night – I actually lost sleep over a tweet, which linked to the following abstract from a chapter of 20Under40, a publication which seeks to “re-invent the arts and arts education for the 21st century”.

ABSTRACT: In the past fifteen years, the number of non-profit theater companies has doubled while audiences and funding have shrunk. Across the arts sector, thousands of young artists are flooding the field, hoping for sustainable careers in the arts while even our most venerable institutions are looking shaky. Neither the field nor the next generation of artists is served by the unexamined multiplication of companies based on the same old model. This chapter introduces some models for a new kind of arts institution, explores alternative paths for emerging and mid-career artists, and proposes a new definition of sustainability. (Emphasis added.)

Admittedly, I have not read the book, and it seems there may be some good ideas in there, but the emphasized sentence above was enough to keep me grinding my teeth last night.

The multiplication of new theatre companies, whether or not they conform to the author’s structural preferences, are evidence of a vibrant, diverse theatre community, and new companies may bring experiments and risks of a sort that may not be possible under an established theatre’s structure.

The abstract seems to suggest there is a zero-sum game out there with an ever-shrinking pie of funding/audience, and new theatre companies will only weaken established companies’ chances. This is just not true. New companies create new audience for theatre because they start out with their own social networks as their audience, many of whom are relatives or close friends that are new to theatre or are not regular theatergoers. Additionally, if we can get more people in the seats enjoying theatre, eventually there will be greater political demand for arts funding. (Admittedly, macro-economic factors look grim right now regardless, but solutions to that are outside the scope of my knowledge.)

Finally, I was surprised to discover that the author, Rebecca Novick, founded Crowded Fire Theatre Company. Ms. Novick seems to have contributed to the very multiplication she is now opposing. Looks like a great company, and I doubt she regrets it.

What do you think? Are there too many theatre companies in L.A.? Should theatre artists always shop around for existing companies before striking forth on their own?

– Mark Petrie

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Twelfth Night Director’s Notes

From the program notes for Knightsbridge’s 2011 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, by Director JC Gafford

Thank you for attending our traditional 16th Century Twelfth Night Celebration.  Well, truth be told, our Twelfth Night Celebration is a sort of condensed and adapted version.  We took some artistic license with the specifics of each tradition, but tried to honor the heart nonetheless.  As a primary example, the traditional twelve-day Christmastide celebrated the arrival of the Three Kings to Bethlehem and is observed January 5.  However, the first recorded performance of the play Twelfth Night or What You Will, was on February 2, 1602 as entertainment for Twelfth Night – the close of Christmastide.  So our celebration both starts and ends a bit late.

As is a theme in the play, Twelfth Night tradition included role and gender reversal (i.e., peasants would play nobility, men would play women and vice versa), the wearing of wild costumes and accessories and they indeed elected a Lord or Lady of Misrule.  That person was elected through the Twelfth Night Cake tradition wherein a special cake would be baked which had a bean hidden in a single piece.  Whoever got that piece was dubbed the Lord or Lady of Misrule and they would preside over the unruly festivities until midnight when their reign would end.

Twelfth Night festivities centered around a lavish feast.  At the beginning of the twelve days of Christmastide, people would decorate wreaths and Christmas Trees with fruit and it was the custom to have a wreath on every door.  At that time fruit was uncommon and prized so on the last night, the Twelfth Night, they would remove the fruit and serve it up along side other feast items.  Feasts included such beverages as Wassail, Lamb’s Wool, Wine and Ale while the food included Minced Pies and sometimes a special Christmas Pie was made.  This pie was a pastry wrapped Turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon.

The entertainment during Christmastide would include music, caroling and dancing, and much work was halted.  Spinning wheels would be adorned with flowers and Mummers, members of a traveling acting troupe, would festoon plows with ribbons and other regalia.  One of these dressed-up plows would then become the centerpiece for a Fool’s Plow Dance which would feature a grotesque “Bessy” played by a man, and a fool.  All the while the Hobby Horse, a man dressed in a horse-skull and a wide-hooped petticoat, would chase young women and cover them with his skirt.

In our celebration, the Mummers were in their home village hosting a retrospective Twelfth Night celebration for their neighbors and friends, for their family…and for you!  They performed Twelfth Night or What You Will as entertainment at this celebration.  This is how the play was originally performed, that is, as entertainment at a Twelfth Night celebration and thus, this is how we wanted to present it to you.

Again, thank you for attending.  We hope you enjoyed the time you spent with us.

-JC Gafford

Twelfth Night opens January 14, 2011, running through February 13, 2011. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 student and senior. www.knightsbridgetheatre.com

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Reflections on Knightsbridge’s 2010 Season (3/3)

By Julia Morizawa

Macbeezy, the Macbeth Hip-Hopera: I’ve always wanted to be in a musical. I mean, I’ll be honest – I’m not a big musical person. I’m really picky with them and have seen very few that impressed me, especially on the 99-seat Equity level. And yet, I’ve still always wanted to be in one. The problem is, I can’t really sing. I mean, I enjoy singing, I totally do it in the car or when I’m alone. But I’m a little tone-deaf and just don’t sound that great. So when I heard about this opportunity in which I could be in a musical and have a rap number, I was like, “I’m in.” First of all, one of my favorite songs to karaoke is “Stan” by Eminem. And I’m actually pretty damn good at it. As long as I know the words and it’s not crazy fast like Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony, I can rap alright. So when Kelly Boczek-Petrie (co-writer and director) suggested I audition for the role of Donalbainia, my only question was, “Does she get a rap number?” And yep, she got one. What? What?

For me, Macbeezy really just consisted of mastering that one rap number and a handful of dance choreography. And I have to be honest, I felt way more nervous on opening night than I have, probably since the first play I was ever in, like over 10 years ago. To this day, performing in a musical way in front of people is like the most nerve-wracking thing for me. But I survived and had a blast in the process. I had actually been involved in a staged-reading of an early draft of the adaptation earlier in the year and knew I wanted to audition when the time came. It was great seeing how the script had grown and really improved over a course of just a few months. Plus, I loved the music! Again, I’m not really into musicals. And I mostly listen to indie-rock, so I’m not big on hip-hop and R&B. But I loved the music. If you saw this show, you’ll remember how brilliantly Kelly and Mark Petrie (co-writer and musical director) brought Shakespeare and hip-hop together. Again, something I had never seen or even heard of before (except, ironically the Kirk Douglas opened a hip-hop adaptation of Othello almost at the exact same time). I probably had four rehearsals prior to tech week, so most of my experience and growth with this show was literally throughout the six-week run. And it didn’t hurt that this show actually sold-out – like, actually all 99 seats – which, if you’re involved in Los Angeles 99-seat theatre, you would know, rarely happens. And now I have a musical on my resume!

Some lessons learned: the choreography for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” takes way more coordination than you’d think, Words-With-Friends is highly addictive, and Benito Cardenas (Angus) is soooooooo funny.

Well, there you have it. My 2010 Knightsbridge review. Now that I’ve contributed in this way to my theatre company, I guess I should work some more on the graphic design for our next production. Ahh…it never ends….

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Reflections on Knightsbridge’s 2010 Season (2/3)

By Julia Morizawa

Romeo & Juliet (a disco drag farce): I had wanted to work with Paul Miailovich (director) for a while. He also joined the company around the same time I did and was one of the most dedicated and hard-working members from day one. He’s also very anal (that’s a compliment and not meant in the way you’re thinking) and really goes all out with his productions. I mean, for R&J, he rented a truck that some of the cast and crew disco danced on in the Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood. How cool is that? Anyway, I had always wanted to work with Paul and he basically threatened that this might be my last chance since he was going to start law school. So I had to take the opportunity. Plus, he was boldly taking Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, the most famous love-story of all time, and turning it into a comedy. But not just any comedy – a farce.

If you saw the show, you’ll remember that Juliet was played by a large man in drag (company member Scott Dittman) and all the fight sequences were turned into disco dance-offs. I had actually prepared and auditioned for the role of Romeo. Paul had stated that the role would remain male, but wanted to see me do it anyway. And that was a lot of fun – I got my boyfriend to help me prepare Romeo’s balcony monologue in a Brooklyn accent, portraying a lot of the Shakespearean text in exactly the way Shakespeare did NOT mean it, but in ways that modern English could poke fun at. But in the end, having someone like me (really not very convincing as a man) play Romeo would have weakened the punch line of Juliet being a drag queen.

So I took the role of Friar Laurence – you know, the guy that gives Juliet the fake-dead sleeping potion that leads Romeo to suicide that then leads Juliet to real suicide. Except I played the Friar as a blind Kung-Fu master. So I still got to play a man – just old, and with a really over-the-top stereotypical Asian accent. And yes, Paul and I discussed the should-we-or-should-we-nots of me (an Asian-American woman) playing this comedic, stereotypical Asian man. So maybe it was borderline offensive, but 1) I thought it was brilliant and so funny that I was cracking myself up, and 2) Asians tend to be okay with making fun of ourselves, it’s just when non-Asians tell us that we’re bad drivers that we get offended. So, I had a lot of fun with this role and it was great practice.

I’m not entirely confident when it comes to comedy, so I loved having a safe place to really go for it, and to have the right situation where there was no such thing as “too big.” The great thing about Paul’s direction is that he’d get his vision out for each scene within the first time we rehearsed it, which meant the remaining several weeks (and the run) were left for us to play, expand and discover. And I took the role seriously. I studied Chinese accents online (specifically Cantonese because I was told that’s the Chinese accent that most Americans associate with being a Chinese accent), I bought a beginning Cantonese CD so I could just hear and practice the sounds found in that language, I bought a Tai-Chi DVD to learn real moves for my opening scene, and I sported my long white beard and wig as early on in the rehearsal process as possible. That beard was initially a pain to work with but truly made all the difference. I even watched YouTube clips of Pai Mei from “Kill Bill” to learn how to whisk my beard over my shoulder (which is not as easy at it looks). Oh, it was so much fun!

Some lessons learned include: toupee tape works 100-times better than spirit gum (or any liquid or glue) for applying fake facial hair (especially if you have to take it off and put it back on several times within one show), disco dancing is an extreme cardiovascular work-out, and Vance Roi Reyes (Lady Capulet) looks better as a woman than I do.

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Reflections on Knightsbridge’s 2010 Season (1/3)

By Julia Morizawa

I have been a proud company member of the Knightsbridge Theatre for about 3 and a half years now, having performed in maybe 9-10 of their productions. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the productions I performed in last year: Twenty-Two, Romeo & Juliet (a disco drag farce), and Macbeezy: the Macbeth Hip-Hopera. (Editor’s Note: Julia’s thoughts on Twenty-Two follow below; check back over the next two days for her thoughts on the other two productions.)

Twenty-Two: Definitely the most, well, “serious” of the 3 shows. And the most personal. I also wrote and produced this original one-act, which I had workshopped and tailored throughout all of 2009 before opening it up to the general public.

Let’s see – it all started over a normal Denny’s dinner with co-producer and company member, Shaina Vorspan. We had both joined the company at the same time, had performed side-by-side (quite literally) in our first KB show together, and generally got along. And somehow it got decided that we should work on an original piece together. Twenty-Two is based on a true story and basically follows a  young woman’s descent into cocaine addiction. It was very dark and very realistic. I suppose it was a story that had been brewing inside of me for a couple of years. Well, it was a true experience, so it was just a matter of turning it into a relatively cohesive narrative. I have notes of the story outline from 2006 that I hadn’t touched in a while. There’s always something very disorienting about finding old notes for a creative idea. It’s like finding an old diary. Anyway, so I brought up this story idea to Shaina, she liked it, I think I completed the first draft sometime toward the end of 2008, and voila, we were ready to find someone to help us kick the shit out of it.

In comes Raymond Donahey, director and former KB member. He’s the one who started calling Shaina and I the “Filthy Lovelies” and this name kinda stuck. And there started about 1 year of weekly-ish meetings in which we played improv games, wrote fake (depending on how you look at it) character diary entries, and sometimes just vented about life in order to get our creative juices flowing. This all sparked many rewrites on my part of the script.

Then sometime around the end of the summer of 2009, we brought in James Patterson (company member) and Matt Black (non-company member, but we’d just seen him in KB’s production of As You Like It) to fill the other two roles in the play. Matt was the only person we actually “auditioned.” And that just entailed him coming over to one of our weekly pow-wows, reading some sides, and finding out if he was actually interested in committing to a show that didn’t actually have any official performance dates yet. And our small cast came together. We rehearsed in the recreation room of Raymond’s giant apartment complex for the standard six weeks. This was all in preparation for a single invite-only performance in which mostly KB members would be invited, including Artistic Director, Joseph Stachura, in order to sort of pitch the play to him for the 2010 season. Rehearsing in the rec room not only got us some enemies (apartment managers), but also gave us the idea of the theatre-in-the-round-audience-in-the-middle-of-the-action thing. If you saw the show, you’ll remember that the stage was set-up to look like the main room of an apartment and that the audience was seated on the stage with the actors on various couches and well, mostly fold-out chairs. This allowed the actors to weave around the audience members and forced the audience to be right smack in the middle of all the action. This was purely for realism-sake and to make you really, really uncomfortable. But it was also really cool (patting self on back) and something I’ve never personally experienced (or even heard of) in a theatre before. Anyway, after the invite-only show, we got a lot of great feedback which led to another, pretty major, round of rewrites (special thanks to company members Paul Miailovich and Shari Shattuck for their specific, elaborate and very helpful critiques). Well, Joseph liked it enough that he offered us the opening slot for the Knightsbridge’s 2010 season (running alongside Theatre’s Classic Hits).

We gave ourselves another few weeks of rehearsals to learn the script changes, re-block it for the KB stage, and try to get the word out there ASAP. We had a great resp0nse, almost sold-out for most of the 8 performances (well, with the audience-on-stage-thing there were really only like 30 seats, but hey), and had a short, small extension. We got a couple reviews (one who thought it was absolutely brilliant and the other…not so much). Overall, it was an amazing experience and one of my proudest accomplishments ever.

Some lessons learned include: powdered milk is the least difficult and least uncomfortable item for prop cocaine, herbal cigarettes are yucky and only make me want a real one more, and the James Patterson in our show is not the same man as the best-selling author of those detective novels. But in all seriousness – Twenty-Two was an effing awesome show. You can still check out some video and photos and press online, but the domain expired, so you have to go to: www.juliamorizawa.com/TwentyTwo/homepage.html.

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See Knightsbridge Junior Member Tristan Price in The Laramie Project

Not too long ago, I had the good fortune to see Knightsbridge’s junior member, Tristan Price, in The Laramie Project at Culver City High School. It is an incredibly brave and mature production, and this talented cast shows that Moises Kaufman’s 2000 work remains an essential piece of American theatre.

The Laramie Project will perform one last time as a fundraiser and in preparation for the CETA (California Educational Theatre Association) competition. Don’t miss it – Friday January 7 @ 7pm at Culver City High School’s Robert Frost Auditorium. Tickets are $10, available at the door only. Please follow this link for details.

The AVPA and Culver City High School won 1st place, for the second year in a row, in LA County and will be preparing to compete against the 1st place winners from San Diego County, Inland Empire, and Orange County on MLK weekend at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Good luck, everyone!

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Tara’s World: God Bless Us, Everyone

Tara’s World: God Bless Us, Everyone.

Check out Mrs. Crachit’s blog! Thanks, Tara.

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