Week 8: 1st Stage

February 7th, 2014

Grace Callahan ’14, Cornell Fellow in Arts Management

As this is my last week here and it’s tech week for the show, it has really been a great chance for me to reflect on all the things I’ve learned over the course of my internship. By no means was it all fun and games. At times, I felt overwhelmed by the rigor of the workload. In these moments, it was incredibly important for me to remember that I was learning life skills in addition to the specific skills that the job requires. I was learning to persevere. I was learning to innovate. I was learning how to figure out which questions to ask when I don’t understand. Additionally, I’ve made many professional contacts, and even a couple informal job proposals.

As a small theatre, we tend to work collectively. While I have learned quite a bit in arts administration, what I really got was a really close first-hand view of what it is like for the artistic director to oversee the management of all the different elements that have to come together to put a play up. Since my ultimate goal is to start my own theatre–a non-profit that works with under-served youth, teaching them life skills by producing shows–this lesson has been invaluable.

It feels that everything I’ve done while I’ve been here somehow ties into my ultimate goal. Working on my Teach for America application, which was due while I was here, gave me the opportunity to tie my most recent activities into the idea of educating the under-served. Similarly, I had a chance to volunteer with Global Zero a couple times. I got to work with the USA Chapter Coordinator on developing leadership training workshops, which were the exact skills that I got to watch the artistic director utilize every day in his daily interactions.

This past week, I also went to go see Violet at Ford’s Theatre (the one in D.C. where Lincoln was shot.) There were many technically interesting choices. For instance, there was a scrim where characters acted out some of the scenes from the past. However, it wasn’t like that was a location for all the scenes in that place or in that time, so I’m not sure what it added, even though it was interesting. There was also some really interesting set pieces that converted from bus seats to diner booths to train seating. Those were cool. As a playwright, however, I failed to see the necessity of some of the transitional scenes in these places. The story was a heart-warming tale of a white woman in 1964 who falls in love with a black Army sergeant. It definitely made me react. There were many racist moments in the show where I literally gasped at the fact that anyone would say that. My main issue with the love story is that the white woman–who had a huge scar on her face from getting an accident with an axe–sings a duet with the sergeant about what it’s like for someone to look at you and see past the surface of your skin. This playwright is directly comparing having dark skin to a physical disfigurement, and that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I see what the playwright is going for, but this was written in the 21st century. There’s no excuse for that. There are much better ways to get at that.

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photo credit: Pedro Duran

And here’s a gratuitous photo of me looking at the Capitol. I really was in D.C.

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photo credit: Pedro Duran

Week 7: 1st Stage

January 29th, 2014

Grace Callahan ’14, Cornell Fellow in Arts Management

This week I got to work on quite a few projects. There is the ongoing project of taking calls and making reservations. We’re getting quite a few for Souvenir. It’s going to be a great production!

Also, since we’ll be opening soon and will then be running for several weeks, we sent postcards to our patrons and donors. Mailings are somewhat monotonous, but they are hugely important. I’m really grateful that I have learned the steps to make labels from excel documents and how to generate the excel documents from our database. They are absolutely essential to marketing, fundraising, publicity, and other miscellaneous things like sending tax-deduction receipts to our donors. We’ve done three mailings since I’ve been here. It’s been the end of one year and the beginning of the next, so that’s part of the reason, but non-profits always have some sort of letter that needs mailing out, and I’m glad I’ve developed those skills.

Then, I got to see Tribes at Studio Theatre. Watching this production reminded me why I want to go into theatre. Let me give a short synopsis before I describe how much I loved it: One family has a deaf son that they teach to speak and lip-read and none of the family members learn sign language. This son meets a hearing girl who’s going deaf who was born to two deaf parents.

The play doesn’t really take a stand. Instead, it shows the intricacies of the issue at hand. The script interlaced many ideas that play a role in the lives of deaf and hearing people. Many of them were things I had never thought about. One powerful detail is that the father is learning Chinese, but he won’t learn ASL. There’s also a theme of music. The whole family constantly yells at each other, except for the deaf brother.  The family feels like he has it best because he can’t hear all the bickering, but he feels left out. In the play, the deaf man learns sign language after he’s grown up. There are sections where he’s signing with the girl who has grown up with deaf parents, and the audience gets subtitles projected on the wall, but the family feels as left out as the deaf man had when they were all bickering. The father is also a writer. The brother has a stuttering problem and also has hallucinations where he hears voices.What I like most is that every detail that was there had something to do with the theme, but I still never felt bashed over the head with anything. The transitions between scenes used music and also a visual representation of the music projected onto the walls. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I can’t do it justice by simply writing about it, but it was phenomenal.

Also phenomenal: August:Osage County. The screenplay was written by Tracy Letts, the same man who wrote the stageplay. Even though I haven’t seen the play, I could see how it would flow really well onstage, but there was a lot that definitely made it into a successful movie. As I watched the movie, I realized that this is how I watch things now. I loved the story and I didn’t miss any of it. In fact, I like to notice how certain elements–specific word choice, action, interaction–are important to telling the story.

 

Week 6: 1st Stage

January 22nd, 2014

Grace Callahan ’14, Cornell Fellow in Arts Management

As a professional theatre, we pay our actors and designers. And any time we pay actors and designers, we have to also pay our government. This week, I tracked down some stray tax forms and then learned how our tax software works and how to enter the amounts we’ve paid into the system.

This was also the first week that we really had anyone call to start reserving tickets for Souvenir. It had been several weeks since I’d made any reservations for Noises Off, so it was a good refresher to have to re-learn the material. I was very proud of myself for figuring it out again without needing to ask anyone for help!

My job shadow at the Anacostia Playhouse went really, really well. I was a little nervous about getting there. The metro by the playhouse isn’t in a super great neighborhood, but the stage manager picked me up, and everything went as planned. In fact, it went better than planned because the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM), Lynn, drove me all the way back to my house even though it meant an extra hour of driving for her. The biggest thing I’m going to take home from this internship is the big-heartedness of people in theatres in the DC area.

As I’ve mentioned when I went to simply see shows, it’s interesting to see how things change from theatre to theatre. It’s even more interesting behind the scenes. One of the things that was different from any other theatre I’ve ever been to is that each of the headsets can only communicate with the “Master” headset, which the Stage Manager gets to wear. It could get a little off-putting because I couldn’t always know if the stage manager’s needs were getting met. The Gin Game is a two-person play that only has one cue for the ASM (the job I was shadowing) so I didn’t miss anything important. As a fairly small theatre, there wasn’t a large backstage–but they didn’t really need it because both actors were onstage the entire time. Another thing I have found repeatedly in DC is that there are a lot of ways to get theatre done in less-than traditional spaces. While this might sound a bit like a backhanded compliment, it is actually exciting to me to see the variety of buildings that people have been able to use and still tell the story. Since I’m looking to start my own theatre company, I’m making note of all the varied ways people “re-purpose” buildings into theatrical spaces.

The set of The Gin Game was really well-done. The floor was painted in red and white checkerboard, to subtly add the element of chess and checkers to the more obvious gin. It’s all about playing with what’s there. The Anacostia Playhouse has a theatre that seats roughly 100 people, so it’s very intimate and having such a dramatically painted floor brings the audience into the action in a way that would never work at the Kennedy Center. Just another thing that encourages me that I can be really successful even without having a huge budget.

Watch for my next blog post where I describe the mailing of the postcards and getting to see Tribes with the world’s best volunteer!

Week 5: 1st Stage Theatre

January 15th, 2014

Grace Callahan ’14, Cornell Fellow in Arts Management

As I mentioned last week, my goals for the rest of my internship all revolve around this new data system: Altru. This software does ticketing and also includes a searchable database of all the constituents. It helps us keep track of how much revenue we’re generating from each show and how much we receive from individual donors. This software was essential in figuring out next year’s budget, which was just approved yesterday.

Because it’s the beginning of a new year, this week we focused on thanking our donors for their contributions over the past year. Over 200 people donated to 1st Stage last year. We wrote thank you letters to all of them. Mark showed me how to personalize the letters and then I learned to create letterhead and to generate labels from an excel spreadsheet. This mailing makes our donors feel appreciated in addition to letting them know how much they can deduct on their 2013 taxes, so it is a very essential part of learning to run any kind of non-profit.

Later in the week, I will have a chance to see The Gin Game at the Anacostia Playhouse, and then next week, I will be seeing Tribes at Studio Theatre. I’m excited to see both shows for the same reasons I mentioned last week: I want to spy on our competition and I want to expand my theatrical base by getting to know more shows.

Week 4: 1st Stage Theatre

January 8th, 2014

Grace Callahan ’14, Cornell Fellow in Arts Management

It’s hard to believe that I am already halfway through my internship! This last week, we’ve completely disassembled the set (also known as “striking the set”) and tonight was the first read-through of the next play, Souvenir. The rest of this week will be a build week while we assemble Souvenir‘s set. Souvenir  is a play based on the performance life of  Florence Foster Jenkins, a lady who was convinced that she was great at singing. At the first read, everyone involved gets to meet the cast and whole crew of designers for the show.

Whereas Noises Off had a 9 person cast, and was full of slapstick comedy–involving upper and lower levels and many slamming doors, Souvenir has a two-person cast with a mostly stationary set. The play somewhat resembles a concert, so the most important part of the set is the Grand Piano. To focus on that, our scenic designer has emphasized minimalism in all the other aspects.

Even though it sometimes feels like I don’t have a lot of responsibility because I am not in charge of anything, I accomplished a lot this past week. I should say “I helped accomplish a lot.” I wielded a drill and took apart a bunch of different parts of the set—stairs, platforms, casters, doors, carpeting, etc. I also organized all the props for the Props-Mistress so that she could make sure to return anything borrowed. I also organized a large chunk of costuming and undecorated our large, lovely Christmas tree.

In this industry, it’s very important to always be cognizant of what is going on in other local theatres. I’ve already been to see two shows and there are two more plays that my boss, Mark, has promised to get me tickets for. I’ve seen Elf at the Kennedy Center and Gypsy at Signature Theatre. It’s interesting to see their setup and the way they organize everything. I paid particular attention to the ushers and the way the Front Desk was set up, since those are my areas of interest. Every theatre is set up differently, and a lot of it depends on the physical set up of the space. The Kennedy Center has many different theatres and only one box office. Since their purpose is different from ours, the setup is quite different. Signature Theatre has a beautiful staircase up to the theatre. Like the Kennedy Center, they have multiple theatres performing different works at the same time, so their box office setup is very different from 1st Stage. I also intentionally had conversations with the workers at each theatre. Everyone at the Kennedy Center is paid, while Signature Theatre relies on the help of volunteers to seat people. Both of these theatres also have assigned seating while 1st Stage uses general seating.

And watching the shows is also a lot of fun. I got to see Gypsy at Signature Theatre on New Year’s Day. It’s a show about the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, who pushes her girls to “be stars” in Vaudeville, but when Vaudeville starts to die during the depression and because of the “talkies,” the younger daughter gets into Burlesque in order to support her mother and ends up becoming really famous. It was very well done.

The week before that, on the day after Christmas, I went to see Elf at the Kennedy Center. The musical itself is really, really cheesy…cheesier than the movie if that’s possible to believe. However, the talent and the precision of the dances and the way the sets changed throughout had to be awe-inspiring to any theatregoer.

Over the past month, I have built connections with all the members of the board, and have begun speaking to the members about the things that I can take to have as my own little project. Judy and Gene are both on the board, and they both think that the next step for me is for Gene and me to sit down and dig through Altru with Gene Bacher, head of development. There are several problems with the software that the board hasn’t quite figured out, and my job for the rest of my time here will be to find ways to make sure we’re maximizing the utility of our software.

Week 3: 1st Stage Theatre

December 31st, 2013

Grace Callahan ’14: Cornell Fellow in Arts Administration

Well, 2013 is coming to a close. And it’s not the only thing. The last performance of Noises Off was on Sunday, and now it’s time to start on our next show: Souvenir. Before I comment on how much I’m going to enjoy the next leg of the journey, I have to comment on how much I’m going to miss the current show. Noises Off had 9 actors and 2 members of run crew, all of whom were extremely talented and hardworking.
I had a chance to shadow one of them at her current 9-5 job. She let me shadow her at her Patron Services Manager job, giving me another opportunity to see another part of the theatrical world. One of the actors literally had tears in her eyes at the thought of closing the show. There were several actors that I’d only had a couple conversations with, but hope to stay connected with—and maybe even see their next shows.
But the magic of theatre is also that the show runs its course. Everyone eventually gets tired of doing the same things every night. Like everything that is worth doing, there is a sadness and nostalgia that come on closing night. The beauty of theatre is that there are so many freelance artists who get to move around all the time. Staying at one theatre in Front of House for only two months, I will get to know the casts and crews of two different shows. It’s amazing how different every theatrical experience is while still operating under the same general procedures. They say that as one door closes another always opens.
And, in the spirit of the New Year, I want to resolve to continue making connections with new people all over DC.

Noises Off

Week 2: 1st Stage Theatre

December 26th, 2013

Grace Callahan ’14: Cornell Fellow in Arts Administration

In the spirit of Christmas, I want to discuss the support I’ve had from everyone in the D.C. area. Christmas time really is a magical time of year, and I’m incredibly grateful for all of my newly formed friends. It seems that everyone wants me to succeed. I’m beginning to master tasks and my directors are letting me run things by myself as well as learning new tasks.  The theatre has bought me two tickets to go see shows in the city. I have an opportunity to job shadow one of my coworkers at another theatre on Friday. People insist on sending any extra food home with me. I also received a printer because one of our volunteers didn’t want it anymore. Yesterday, a member of the board even invited me over for brunch with her family.While none of these things necessarily teach me a new skill, it is nice to feel that my community accepts me and wants to make me as comfortable and happy as possible. I’m incredibly blessed to work with such kind, generous, wise individuals.

Speaking of wise individuals, this particular theatre is a great place to intern because the theatre was designed as a place that works to harbor youthful vigor with experienced wisdom. That’s part of the idea behind the name “1st stage.” (It was also the first professional theatre to open in Tysons Corner, Virginia.) So far, my experience has been that the staff takes me under their experienced wings, not only in terms of learning the ropes within this specific job, but also in a broader sense, by helping me explore the theatrical landscape of the D.C. area.

Tomorrow, I’m going to the Kennedy Center to see Elf! I’d love to see how they adapted that movie into a stageplay. I’m also excited to see the inner workings of the Kennedy Center, which is one of the most famous theatres in the United States.

This weekend, coming up, will be the final weekend of our play and then we’ll strike (tear down) the set and then we will push ahead with rehearsals of Souvenir and more time on making sure I understand the details of the inner-workings of the theatre.

I’ve discovered that, as I suspected, working for a non-profit  makes me really happy. The fact that we produce something valuable for the public is exciting and inspiring. The main thing is to never see a task as something “beneath you.”  If it contributes to the business, then it’s something worthwhile, whether that’s sweeping the floor or taking prospective donors out for coffee. And it’s incredibly rare to get to the wine-and-dine stage without sweeping a few floors and stuffing envelopes and fixing printers.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Week 1: 1st Stage Theatre

December 21st, 2013

Grace Callahan ’14, Cornell Fellow in Arts Management

Having a job at a theatre is a lot different than having a typical 9-5 job. Instead of having the weekends off, Saturday and Sunday are the days that I am expected to work the most hours. We’re providing entertainment to the people who are trying to enjoy their weekends. With two shows a day on Saturday and Sunday, I can easily be in the theatre for 10 hours each day, while time during the week is more flexible. Many people who work in theatre work for multiple companies, so it’s very common for people to work around each other’s schedules–as long as the work gets done!

Noises Off, by Michael Frayn, is a wonderful first show to work on. This hilarious comedy details a play’s journey, from dress rehearsal to the end of its tour. While 1st Stage runs a million times better than the theatre in the show, it’s always fun to poke a little fun at the difficulties that theatres often face. Hearing it five times a week reminds me why I want theatre to always be a part of my life, and it also gives me ideas of how to not run my own theatre. (And, like every play I ever read, it gives me some ideas of what I want to include in a play that I might write.)

Arts Management is  a far-ranging scope. It means making sure that the theatre runs, so it requires a lot of knowledge in a lot of different areas. So far, I have had several different projects that I have been expected to get done on my own time in addition to the work I’m asked to do before, during, and after the each run of the show. I have had the opportunity to read three new plays and provide written feedback for the playwright. I have had the opportunity to work on the design of the image playbill for the next show. Additionally, I have begun training on the new database software that helps the organization keep track of all of its patrons.

There’s a lot that goes into making the audience feel at home as they enter a theatrical space. While many of these tasks are not difficult, it can be quite a balancing act to get everything done on time for the run of each show. My Front-of-House duties include answering the phone, selling seats to patrons, maintaining the cleanliness of the theatre, preparing refreshments for pre-show and intermission, folding and stapling programs, troubleshooting our ticketing software, and assisting the patrons with finding available seating. While the audience is enjoying the show, I am often making enough programs for the next show. And so the cycle continues!

So far, I’ve worked on developing several different skill sets. First and foremost, I’m learning about the many things required to keep a professional theatre up and running. Within each of the tasks, I constantly seek to streamline the process, creating the most efficient way possible to–for instance–fold and staple a program. Another really important skill set that this job helps me refine is customer service. I have to be happy and nice to each customer no matter what the circumstances are. Their needs have to be at the very top of my priority list, and I’m getting a lot of practice having pleasant conversations with complete strangers. Similarly, the theatrical realm in the greater D.C. area has given me a lot of networking opportunities. Since so many people work for more than one theatre, there is a strong sense of interconnectedness among the professional theatres, and there are opportunities for me to tour other theatres and see other shows, which gives me an even stronger sense of how professional theatres generally function, and what sorts of things I want to have when I eventually start my own theatre!

 

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