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A Living Experiment in Arts Funding

This marks the first live post of a living, breathing postgrad experiment.

In Summer, 2018, my play Hi! How Are You! How’s Your Sex Life is going on tour throughout the U.K. Fringe Festival circuit.

As a collective of four women graduating this program, we want to create expatriate theatre that still tells an American, female-driven story. Here’s how we plan to do it:

One woman in this collective is moving to London where there is a boatload of money for early-career theatre artists. Another woman is moving to Dublin and will also network and research Arts Council grants.

I will stay behind in NYC for the academic year and use my networking developments to fundraise in America alongside my fellow colleague.

We will apply for the Dublin Fringe Festival, which upon acceptance grants shows rehearsal space, which saves us a great deal of money.

I will move to Dublin in the Summer and from there we will find ways to rehearse and fundraise in ways that combine music and sketch comedy as a way of building our community and audience base. Anyone who graduates college can apply for a J-1 work visa that allows you to live in Dublin for a year after college and find work, therefore none of us will have an issue staying and picking up gigs as needed.

From there, we rent a van and travel. I have enough friends in Scotland after studying in the University of Edinburgh and we all have enough friends in London that we’ll be able to save on housing and focus on gas and parking money.

This is an experiment in the accessibility in arts funding for early-career theatre artists in the US vs. the U.K. This is also an experiment in how to gain exposure across three countries over the span of twelve months.

Something will inevitably succeed and fail, otherwise I wouldn’t call this an experiment. But I believe all theatre is an experiment if you are testing a new hypothesis, which I believe is inherent in collaboration and innovation.

So, comment your thoughts/questions/advice, or let me know if you would like to keep in touch as we see how this experiment unfolds.

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Street performance has always been one of my great passions. It began as a fun way to meet people and get cash and has developed for me as an honest form of exploring what the population is like in a specific region. I first started busking in Halifax Nova Scotia my first year at university. Halifax is rich in busker history. Street performing is an art form there and they are super supportive of young artists. Everyone from the wealthiest to the poorest individuals contribute financially and there is little distinction between the amounts given from those groups of people either, meaning someone of lower economic status is just as likely to give you money as someone who comes from an upper class family. Moving to Boston I discovered there is a stark difference in people. Boston’s citizens are much less likely to give money. The Extreme wealthy are often the least likely to contribute to you performing. Tourists were my life blood as were young people shopping around where I was playing. There is a lack of respect from the ultra wealthy often times and out of conflicts I’ve had with people (which I can count on my hand (when I am kicked out of playing in an area)) the residents of the Boston gentry make up most of that list. I find sitting and listening to what people like is essential for understanding the city I’m performing in. I think this tool of testing the water will be a useful way for me to encounter cities I move to in the future. What better way of knowing the population than bringing you art to the streets and seeing what sticks with the people.

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Massachusetts Young Playwright’s Festival

Alright, so this is a tad delayed, but about three weeks ago, I had the honor of acting for the Massachusetts Young Playwright’s Festival, hosted by the Boston Playwright’s Theatre. This festival is a celebration of high school playwright from across the state, and given a team of actors and a director, we have about 80-minutes to stage a ten-minute play they’ve written.

I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous about going. Partially because this was my first paid acting gig in years, partially because I’ve steered clear of high-schoolers since graduating, but mostly because I’m really terrified and in awe of theatre education.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know I’ve never really connected with The Youth, and I’m pretty sure my own childhood is a conspiracy theory. Now, I know high schoolers aren’t children, but this is the closest I’ve gone to dipping my toes into the world of theatre as a tool for education.

I read for three different plays throughout the week, and let me tell you, The Youth of today are a really smart bunch. They were asking questions about their process as writers that I didn’t even start asking until my junior year in college. There were plays filled with wordplay and puns. PUNS!!! Theatre is always dying, but The Youth is fixing that with the Power of PUNS!

Did Young Playwrights Week make me want to go into teaching? No, not necessarily, but I left that week with a newfound appreciation for the power of new play development in our education system. I saw plays that took unique looks at the stresses of adolescence in a way that I had forgotten. They were able to stage scenes and include dialogue that may otherwise have been censored in school essays.

It took me a year of college to shake off the fear ingrained from high school that what I really wanted to write would get me in trouble. If my high school had playwriting as a part of their curriculum the way so many other MA high schools do, I can’t help but wonder how different of a writer I would be today.

Not only does Arts Education matter in our school systems, but the freedom allotted in a medium such as playwriting creates an outlet for collaboration and communication that goes far beyond the classroom. Thank you, The Youth, for allowing me the opportunity to read your witty, insightful words.

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The brilliance of the office.

It has been 6 years since I first watched NBC’s hit sitcom “the office” and 6 years later it is still the best sitcom I have ever had the privileged of watching. So many shows try extremely hard to be funny but almost no show succeeds. The office I feel has a lesson for me to learn in my writing. There is an ease in the writing which brings the characters to life. Rather than focusing on cheap tricks to bring about laughs it relies on real situations and the actors play the actions fully and believe in what they are doing entirely. This give the office an authenticity I have yet to see in any other comedy. This docudrama style is an incredibly useful way of engaging the audience directly in a film medium. This cinematic device allows the viewer to experience a similar freshness that I have only ever experienced in live theater.  I think I fall into the trap far to often of putting the character I am portraying into boxes, thinking no way my character would do this.” But this show proves the opposite to me. People inherently are unpredictable and strange and even the most normal human being can perform the strangest action if placed in the right circumstances.  And that is what I think is the key to the office. It perfectly encapsulates the weirdness and beautiful unpredictability of life.

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Don Juan and the Dangers of our societies ideas of Masculinity.

For our thesis Jessie and I chose to put on a Production of Don Juan comes back from the war. This play at the time I read it instilled fear in me at the thought of putting it on. We both felt the script spoke to the toxicity of masculine culture we had been raised around but were also aware that if this show was handled the wrong way it could come across supporting the very construct we were trying to question. In the script Don Juan has just come back from the first world war to a German country that has been totally decimated by four years of war. He is desperate to find comfort in his idea of what his past once was. Through the course of his journey however he discovers that the past he is trying to return to never really existed in the first place. I was fascinated by the audience response to this show. Each night we had a mix of shock and people who were just like “Yup. That’s the way the world works”. I was particular interested in how this show spoke to the few “frat” kids who deiced to spend an evening at a performance. I was heartened to see that even my friend who I thought was least likely to be moved by this piece was struck with a bout of conscious and expressed regret to me later that night about some of the ways he’s chosen to live his life. Although this victory is microscopic, it gives me hope that art can still have an impact even on the most close minded individuals all we need to find is the right ways of speaking to them.

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The world outside the walls of the University is fast approaching. It is hard to not get overwhelmed with all the new faces and projects I will be surrounded with in the near future. I need to remind myself that every audition is an opportunity. Most everything that I go out for I will not get but each audition gives me a chance to explore what I can get out of material in a quick glance. How can I make informed choices about my work in such a short period of time? How can I relate to the other people in the room? Every casting director is looking for you to be the person to fill the part so why not go in with that confidence? I think I can learn huge amounts about humans and their behavior through these processes as well. What better way to observe power dynamics than in the waiting room moments before a casting call?

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“Risk” in Theatre

I’m thinking a lot this week about “risk” and what theatres (and playwrights) mean by it. I feel that many theatres advertise their seasons as pushing some sort of boundary, tapping into some sort of ideas-of-our-time, creating something original that hasn’t been seen in this particular way before. Of course, many theatres also go out of their ways to reassure subscribers of the familiarity and safety of the shows on the docket. Sometimes these seemingly oppositional strategies operate in tandem. Just recently, I read an announcement for a new play by a twenty-something that was having its world premiere in the area. The announcement trumpeted the originality and groundbreaking nature of the script, swearing that audience members would be floored by the play’s depth and poignance. In the same breath, the announcement mentioned that this new play was very similar to a play the theatre had done last season–and that anyone who enjoyed that one would be sure to like this one.

Now, I’m sympathetic to theatres who are trying to strike the balance between pleasing traditional subscribers and pushing the envelope forward. The need for incredibly fine-tuned advertising is very real, and–in this case–I completely understand where the comparison to last season’s triumph was a necessary mention to get dubious subscribers in the door. But it makes me think about what gets announced in theatre as “risky” or “groundbreaking.” If something is “guaranteed” to please a certain audience, can that really be “risky”?

I’m also thinking about “risk” and what it entails through the lens of Theatre on Fire’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a collection of fourteen theatre pieces, going up at Charlestown Working Theatre this May. One of the pieces is an experimental one-act play of mine called Eggs. It focuses on a woman trying to decide whether or not to sell her eggs, and over the course of the play (which is not a one-woman show), she turns into a Greek goddess, her mother, and a chicken. Ventriloquism is involved, genre gets indescribable, and meta-theatrical conceits abound. It’s definitely a risk for me in terms of dipping my toes into new playwriting waters. The Cabinet itself is billed as a collection of risky theatre, and the call for submissions asked folks to contemplate something they’d assumed they couldn’t do, something that maybe felt too daring or outside the box. As marketing for the festival ramps up–and as I start to market the event myself–I’m thinking about what draws audiences to this sort of theatre. Why is risk cool? necessary? awesome? I feel instinctively that it is. I also feel that it’s important for me to interrogate that and figure out what draws me to it.

Part of me feels that if regional theatres are still including language of risk and reach in their season announcements, then there’s hope for moving away from the all-white-men-or-pretty much, kitchen-sink-drama-or-maybe-light-romantic-comedy ideology that still seems to pervade many well-known houses. But part of me wonders if “risk” means anything anymore if it’s used to describe scripts that genuinely are not risky. It’s something to think about as I continue to exercise my buying power as an audience member–and continue to market my own work.