Thursday, June 9, 2022

Burned-Over

 In a few episodes of my podcast, "Euripides, Eumenides: A Theatre History Podcast," I talk about the "Burned-Over District" of upstate New York in the first half of the 1800s.  This is in reference to the fact that virtually everyone in that region had firmly committed themselves to a religious institution.  So, anyone trying to recruit new members to a church didn't have a lot of luck there.  At times, being the host of a podcast that isn't even two years old yet, I can empathize with those ministers looking for new parishioners in the "Burned-Over" District.

One thing you learn pretty quickly in the podcasting game is that you have to find your audience.  A statistic I heard earlier this year is that 99% of people polled watch videos on YouTube, whereas only 36% of people listen to podcasts.  But, those who do listen to podcasts consume them voraciously.  So, it's basically a matter of putting your show in front of people who would find the content interesting, and they'll devour it.  While I've been fairly successful with that - I do love seeing how many countries my episodes get played in - I want to give myself even more of a challenge, and try to convert that other 64% of people who don't listen to podcasts.

I've learned a lot about what listeners like as far as podcasts are concerned, which make it easy for first-time listeners to engage.  I've learned the pace that will keep an audience listening.  My episodes generally range from about 45-75 minutes in length, and I consistently release them every two weeks on Wednesdays.  A new episode will be out this Wednesday, in fact.

But, in order to get new listeners, fresh tactics become necessary.  So, I'm taking another approach this summer.  At the end of July, I'll be recording a live episode of my podcast at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center.

Here are somethings you can expect:

You don't need to be an expert in theatre.  I make my shows quite accessible.  More than anything, you need to be someone who loves to hear juicy gossipy stories, or just truly baffling "oh wow" stories.  The ones I tell just all happen to be about theatre history.

Often, my shows are a little more grown-up in nature.  So, they may not be the best for kids.  For those of you who saw me and my colleagues in "First Date," it's more like that: some good adult humor.  We'll probably have some adult language and talking about adult things.  So again - probably best to consider it rated "R," or "E," for the podcast lovers out there.

We'll probably also have drinks for the show, so if that isn't incentive....

PLUS!!  By purchasing a ticket, you could have the chance to win 1 of 4 gift cards to Frackelton's, valued at $50 each!  I'd like to here and publicly now thank Frackelton's for sponsoring the show in this way!

My guests for this episode will be Photojournalist Matt Gaston from The Sheridan Press and past guest and Theatre Instructor Dustin Hebert from Casper, Wyoming.

Finally, if you've listened to my show before, you know that I don't tell my guests what topic we'll be discussing for the episode.  So, just to keep your curiosity bubbling, I won't tell you either.  But, I will tell you that it's a story from recent theatre history, you'll most definitely be familiar with the people involved, and that I giggle and blush a bit every time I think about it.

So, that's it!  A live episode of "Euripides, Eumenides: A Theatre History Podcast" will be at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center on Friday, July 29.  Tickets will be available soon.

I'll see you at intermission ... or after the show in this case!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Silver Linings


"You've no dough, so relax. / You don't have to pay an income tax."

"When your car runs out of gas, then no red lights can you pass!"

These are some of the lyrics from the song "Sunny Side to Every Situation," from the Musical "42nd St." This show played a huge part in my development as an actor, and I keep getting struck with epiphanies from its words even decades after I was in it.

I'll give you a little set up.  The play takes place in the Great Depression, and the lyrics above are sung by a company of actors and dancers who have just found out that the play they were getting ready to take to Broadway has been cancelled.  Thus, they are all now unemployed in an absolutely dismal job market.

But, they take the time to remind themselves of what they actually still have going for them with the song "Sunny Side to Every Situation."  Not that their fortunes changed all that much, but they at least feel better about their current circumstances.

I'm thinking of this song while writing this, as I'm in the cast for the WYO/CTG's co-production of "First Date," which opens April 8th in the Mars Theater at the WYO.  When I was contacted by the directors to come audition, I didn't really know the play.  It took me about 10 minutes of listening to some of the songs to say, "Absolutely yes - I will audition."

I made my decision based on just what the play is reminding us.  Even earlier in my development as an actor and theatre artist, I was told that theatre must be for the community in which it is being performed, meaning it must relate to them, or connect them with something beautiful in this world, and here "beautiful" can have a multitude of definitions.  Overall, the theatre must connect an audience with feelings they haven't felt in a while, and get a chance to exercise them.

I know we're probably all tired of hearing about the pandemic.  Those of us who got through it fought some pretty tough battles, and the world often looked pretty bleak.  I would suggest that for the better part of two years, we all got to experience just about as many negative feelings as we can.  Not that I'm suggesting that we aren't still feeling those now that the surge of the pandemic has subsided.  But rather, I'm saying now that it has, and we can start living in a post-COVID world, we get a chance to take stock of what we DIDN'T lose during the pandemic.

Here's some feelings you may have forgotten: the anxiety of meeting someone for the first time, with the mutual intent of determining the feasibility of being life partners, all determined over this initial meal or drink.  The flashes of terror as red flags start to wave, and at any moment it could all end in disaster!

I'll also remind you of what humor is on stage: it's pain happening to someone else at that exact moment.  It's the pain of being insufferably human against a personal expectation of perfection. It's watching the groom's pants fall down on his wedding day.  It's the bucket of water poured over someone else's head.  Or, it's watching two people stumble through a blind date.

Without spoiling too much, there isn't too much heavy with "First Date."  It's a fun night to leave the kids at home and have some good grown-up comedy.  But, deeper than that, it's just the kind of show we need right now.  We need to be reminded that somewhere deep in us, we have things we didn't lose during COVID, things that weren't necessarily altered by COVID.  We do have delight and joy, and we get to come into contact with them again.  So, I invite you to come share a date with us, and go home sufficiently connected with things you thought might be gone ... but they're not.

I'll see you at intermission (just kidding, we don't have an intermission for this show)!


Friday, January 14, 2022

Year in Review 2021

        On January 27, 2021, I published the first episode of "Euripides, Eumenides: A Theatre

History Podcast." I pledged to do a new episode every two weeks, and on January 12, 2022, I

published by 26th episode, which effectively ends my first year in the podcast game. It's been

quite a journey, and one I'm happy to still be taking.

        For the past several years, I've touted shows I've been a part of, or shows that I have

coming up, and I will do that in some of the paragraphs below. I've waxed on a wide range of

topics that all relate back to not only the global theatre situation, but also to how the art is

presented in Sheridan. Again, we are so blessed to have a thriving arts community here, and

it's wonderful to see how it grows and develops.

        The past couple years ... do I even need to say anything about how strange or difficult

they were? So much of our society was challenged by something that seemed impossible to

prevent, and we all just wanted things to resemble some sort of "normalcy." Unfortunately, we

can't pick the times in which we live, we just have to figure out how to maneuver our lives

through the circumstances.

        But, that takes a toll; mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially. There is a reason

people would just rather erase 2020 and 2021 from our collective memories. And, I'm not sure

that we're out of the woods just yet.

        So, in my estimation, there has been a general malaise. Not just in Sheridan, but

everywhere.

        In a webinar I recently attended about podcasting and growing my personal brand, it

was suggested to take an inventory, meaning that each show has certain elements that make it

unique in the business. These should be the selling points. So, here's my inventory for the

year, and these will be the finer points that Trident Theatre plans to focus on until we can

determine that this malaise has subsided.

        Frankly, I believe we need the performing arts to connect us to beauty again, which can

take many forms. But, what I mean by this is that we need to help people find joy again.

        Let me see if I can explain. I'm currently re-watching the HBO series "Westworld," as I

never finished upon initial viewing. For those of you that haven't seen it, I'm not so sure that

the superficial meaning of the word "beauty" could apply. The show is quite dark, quite

gruesome at times, and manages to cram in deep existential thoughts to ponder on long after

an episode is complete. There is very little that is pretty or warm about that show. But, the

beauty I refer to is the impressiveness of the writing, the scale of the production, and the power

inherent in the acting. There is just a lot to admire. So, when the credits roll, I have gone on an

hour-long journey that left me feeling more enriched than when I started, which makes me

happy.

        Now, Trident is not planning to launch anything near the scale of "Westworld." But,

what I can say is that the productions that Trident has been involved with the last year have

helped remind its audiences what is good and right and self-affirming; helping the audiences to

see that in a world of dark, there is still light. Our team-up with the WYO Theater for the

"Rocky Horror Picture Show" got people to feel comfortable in their own skins, and be around

people who felt likewise. I was involved with Aspen Grove Music Studio's "All Together Now,"

which reminded people just how much connection we have on a global scale, rather than

feeling isolated during a time in which many are feeling despair. And, the podcast - if you

haven't enjoyed it yet, there's still time - brings joy and laughter to a subject that, as I say in the

intro to each episode, "... could be considered rather dry and stuffy."

        Frankly, Trident is focusing on the positive. Feel free to join us.


        I'll see you at intermission!

Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Touchy-Feely Side of "Rocky Horror"

            It’s the genuine hope of the WYO and Trident Theatre to present “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on an annual basis.  Our production goes up tonight, and each year presents new and amazing challenges.

I’ve been involved with the production for several years now, and the show is in its ninth year running in Sheridan!  But this is the first time I’ve ever directed it, and I’m proud to do so on the main stage of the WYO, the nexus of performing arts in Sheridan.

While “Rocky Horror” is a staple piece for the LBGTQ+ community, there is so much for anyone to appreciate within such a show.  Of course, there is the dressing up, the audience interaction that truly breaks the fourth wall, the props, the dancing and signing; all of which are required to have the full “Rocky” experience.  And, if you’ve had a good time, then most of the work we did behind the scenes won’t leave too much of a trace.  But, since I’m talking about it, let me give you a “behind-the-scenes” look.

As many of you know, this show is quite sexual in nature, and many patrons may not realize just how much personal work can go into being somewhat intimate on stage.  It can be even more difficult for an actor to be as generous with their sexuality that this show requires.  In the past in the acting world, it was just expected that an actor gets onstage and does what is written on the page for them to say or do with very little question about how the content will affect them personally.  For many, performing such actions could unlock unfortunate past traumas associated with acts such as kissing or cuddling or even dancing provocatively.

Thus, we employed intimacy training and choreography, which is a big thing in the theatre world right now.  At the beginning of every rehearsal we would conduct personal body and emotional “check-ins,” an honest audit of sorts.  Sometimes, someone might say, “My shoulders are off limits tonight,” or, “I’m having a difficult mental health day.”  Knowing that we still had to deliver the content on the page while still keeping each other safe, this group maintained much more professionalism than I have seen in many productions I have been involved with before.  If any body restrictions came up, we would ask what could be appropriate, and honest answers came out with positivity, such as, “Instead of putting your hand on my shoulders, how about my hips?”  All parties would agree, and we’d move on.  If someone would be having difficulties with mental or emotional health, a bevy of therapeutic solutions would be offered and would require consent from the actor before proceeding.  It’s really been something.

I don’t think we could have had such openness as a group without the suggestion of one of our actors early in the process.  It was suggested that, since we would have to be so open with our bodies, we should be open with our emotions as individuals, too.  Therefore, we sat down and each gave a personal reason as to why we wanted to be part of this production.  Once we started sharing, it became clear that everyone needed this show to be part of their lives right now.  Some were getting over stage fright.  Some were answering very personal questions about themselves.  Some planned to use this show to help heal psychological wounds.  Knowing that, each of us gained such profound respect for each other that we’re going to have a hard time letting this go.

So, yes, this show still has all the makeup and glitter and fishnet stockings and corsets and feather boas and sexual freedom that “Rocky Horror” fans have come to expect over the years.  But just know that for us, this means something a little more, and we’re going to give our all.

But, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be back at it next year.

I’ll see you at intermission!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Theatre On-Demand

It's been a pretty exciting time on my Instagram feed in the past couple weeks as Broadway shows have been rolling out their re-opening dates for a post-pandemic New York City.  Most of them are looking at opening in the fall or winter 2021, and I've seen a lot of people on social media buying tickets to their favorites.  This is the moment I've been anticipating: the moment when we start to figure out what the world will look like after over a year in relative isolation.

But for those of us who can't necessarily afford to see all these new shows, what's in it for us?

On my podcast, "Euripides, Eumenides," the subject of streaming rights to live performance has frequently come up in conversation.  Before the pandemic, rights to record video of a live performance such as theatre were strictly prohibited.  There were only granted under either very special circumstances, or if additional fees were paid.  In my understanding, as far as the theatre is concerned, this was to ensure that the only way to see a performance would be to pay for it.  While this wouldn't affect smaller markets as much, this definitely would affect larger markets such as Broadway.  But also, Broadway shows usually have something bigger in store for audiences.  For example, while it would be incredible, it's probably not likely that I'll be able to convince someone like Hugh Jackman to appear in a musical in Sheridan, Wyoming.  So, by limiting performances to be solely for a live audience, buzz can generate, and more tickets can be sold. 

However, maybe we don't live in that world anymore.  I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that we've gotten accustomed to preferring our live events to be streamed to our living rooms or mobile devices.  But, it could be another method of allowing access to people who might not otherwise be able to attend EVERYTHING.

One of my recent guests on the podcast teaches theatre at a high school in Wyoming.  During the pandemic, he found out rather quickly that while Broadway and most regional theaters were shut down, playwrights and publishing houses were almost desperate to have any of their productions staged.  So they quite willingly allowed streaming rights to be available.

Now, it's a pretty common thing to see an option for streaming rights when requesting  rights to perform a play.  And, I hope that trend doesn't go away.  This same theatre teacher  I mentioned earlier stated that streaming rights would make professional theatre productions available to his students who simply do not have the means to travel far out of town, much less afford to see them live.

Another recent guest - who is a major producer in London - opined that while streaming   performance should not be a replacement for live theatre, it definitely should be a component of it going forward.  There are a lot of students who formally studied theatre during the pandemic, and saw it provide them opportunities to connect with audiences on a much grander scale than just within their individual communities.  They now have the opportunity to change the industry for the better.

Of the many episodes of my podcast I have done, only one of them has been in person thus far.  All the rest have been via Zoom.  But this has allowed me to have guests from virtually anywhere, and thus to reach an audience in several different countries.  Frankly, I just don't see much of an argument for this part of show business to "go back to normal."  I've been saying it here and elsewhere: I'm not sure if that "normal" exists anymore.  But what does exist in its place is an opportunity to evolve, and that is honestly quite exciting.

Please feel free to listen to my podcast "Euripides, Eumenides" on any major podcast provider.  I've also got links to many of them on the Trident Theatre website: tridenttheatre.com/euripides-eumenides/.

I'll see you at intermission!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Beyond the Horizon

 So ... now what?

The governor has lifted the restrictions on theaters so that performing arts venues can fully operate again.  While the virus hasn’t totally gone away, the numbers do indicate that we can probably start to look towards relief soon.

But, I keep hearing the phrase “back to normal,” and I actually don’t understand what that means.  Effectively, the entire world has faced this pandemic in different ways, but I think we can easily say that the last year has been a transformative one.

I just got done recording a new episode for my podcast “Euripides, Eumenides.”  (If you haven’t begun to listen, feel free!  We’ve got several episodes out now!)  However, after recording the episode, my guest and I talked for a long time afterwards about what the arts might look like in a world where society was forced to live in relative seclusion for an extended period?  What really has this done to us?  Because we are not the same people we were a year ago.

I think about how the jazz age of the 1920s can be linked directly to the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago.  The artistic expressions that gained popularity were those that would allow people to appreciate the life they’re living, and that there is no guarantee of that life in the first place.

One of my recent guests on Euripides, Eumenides put it this way: “A renaissance always follows a plague.”  So, what will our renaissance look like?

I think it’s safe to say that 2020 was one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory, particularly from a sociological perspective. Division ran rampant, and it seemed as though rather than look for solutions and opportunities to ask questions of those we don’t agree with, we seemed to be more content to dig in our heels and remain firm in our own personal stances, ultimately staying divided.

This year, the Sheridan Civic Theatre Guild has scheduled me to direct a play.  I have sometimes been that stage provocateur who likes to use the forum to help us as a community raise and examine some difficult questions about society.  Sure, we can add some gags and things for fun, but I would like to have you stroke your chin a bit after my shows.

I knew I was going to be directing last summer, and I had picked a play that would have addressed a fairly sensitive social issue.  But, now that we have left 2020 behind us, I was asked if this was really the right thing to be doing now.  And I agreed that maybe rather than show us another element of society that drives a wedge between us, perhaps it would be better to help us grow together as a people again.

So, my next project for the stage is to be a radio play adaptation of the OLD, OLD Hitchcock film “The 39 Steps,” an espionage thriller that ends relatively peacefully.  I have intended for this to be a streaming opportunity that can be enjoyed at home.  But, as Bob Dylan so eloquently stated, “Times are a-changin’.”  I still plan to do this play, but it might look a little different than the version I intended for a more secluded world.

A friend of mine who teaches theatre at a college recently imparted these words on social media.  They come from a new biography of the stage and screen director Mike Nichols: “I passionately believe that in art, and certainly in the theatre, there are only two questions ... The first questions is “What is this, really, when it happens in life?”  Not what is the accepted convention ... but what is it really like?  And the other question we really have to ask is, “What happens next?”

We’re there, Mike.  We’re there.  What is going to happen next?

I’ll see you at intermission!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Trident Dabbles in Podcasting

       Due to this once-a-century pandemic, performing artists have had to completely re-imagine what live performances mean, or if live performance could even happen without jeopardizing the safety of everyone involved.  Frankly, depending on whether or not life can return to something resembling normalcy anytime soon, this is the status quo: if we don’t reinvent the wheel right now, what else can we do?

    For Trident, reinventing the wheel means figuring out how this pandemic is affecting the theatre community at large, and reminding it that it is a community.  Everyday on Twitter, I read the laments of understanding theatre artists who see the reason why most performance venues are shut down, but miss the times that were, and the sense of belonging to a group of people with whom they shared a somewhat transcendent connection.  Cue the musketeers: “One for all, and all for one!”

    Therefore, I’ve chosen to begin a podcast.  The main topic will be theatre history, more specifically some of the unusual stories and absurd nuances that have enraptured me or that have made me shake my head.  But all have made theatre my lifelong study and chosen practice.

    For each episode, I speak with a guest who I have met through my many years of study and work in theatre.  Some of these guests are local, but many are far away from Sheridan.  Overall, the fact that we have a few common connectors does in a way show that we are all in this together.  We are all affected by this, and we can all make something of it.

    The title of the podcast is the punchline of the favorite joke told my old college theatre instructor, Tom Empey. Besides being the most influential theatre mentor I had, Tom instilled in me such deep love and respect for the art, and at the same time the ability to acknowledge and enjoy some of the oddball turns that the art has made in its evolution.  Tom died in 2016, and I credit most of my successes to him. He was a great man.

    When teaching Ancient Greek Theatre, amongst the glossary of terms to know are the influential tragic playwright Euripides (sounded out: you-RIP-a-deez), and the tragedy by Aeschylus titled The Eumenides (sounded out: you-MEN-a-deez).  After thoroughly explaining the significant impact of the two terms in a very stoic and scholarly manner, Tom would look at us and pinch the fabric of his slacks by his knee.  He’d say, “You see these pants?  Euripides, Eumenides.”  The term “dad joke” doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Nonetheless, a moment of levity was achieved in the midst of what could be otherwise considered fairly dry material.

    That’s precisely what I mean to do with my podcast: Euripides, Eumenides. I mean to inject just a little more humor into the world today as I discuss bizarre and often hilarious stories from the history of theatre with a friend who has no prior knowledge of what will be discussed in the episode.  This way, with the element of surprise, the guest has the opportunity to react more honestly, much as we are challenged to do with a role we would take onstage.  

    Even if you’re not a student of theatre history, these stories and the interactions with my guests give some light to our somewhat bleak current circumstances.  Even with the promise of a vaccine, we may still be in this for the long haul.  So, feel free to laugh a little, and possibly learn some things about why we, as the theatre community, keep practicing this art.

    I’ve already got a few episodes done, and I plan to make them available in the new year on all major podcast providers.  If you want to know more information, I’m always happy to hear from you!  Feel free to write me: trident@tridenttheatre.com

    I’ll see you at intermission (when we can have one of those again, that is)!