Where do I begin?!
First of all, it was a great week for my son ... if you know me, you probably know the details of which I can't publish (at this time), so I'll move on. Just know, I couldn't be more proud to be his father. He's my favorite private acting student.
Working! What an incredible success! Probably the best show we've produced in the outdoor space in all of the years I've been involved. Which goes to show what happens when you have the right team: Ryan Tilby, Emilee France, Averill Corkin, Sierra May, and an incredible cast and crew vs. well I won't name names, let's just say ... the past.
Some would say, "Wait! You're best ticket sales were Footloose and High School Musical!" which would be correct. But if I'm really acknowledging great work then we need to remove ticket sales from the equation. Let me help you understand why:
I don't judge a production by ticket sales because they don't really mean anything. If I say I'm doing a Disney production, that name alone will sell out a house before the play has even opened. That's not quality, that's name recognition. High School Musical was one of our best selling productions, yes, but I would say it was far from our best work (which doesn't mean there weren't talented people involved ... there were just a lot of problems involved with that production that were beyond our control).
Big name shows are actually more advantageous to a company's success than you can imagine. In the professional world the joke is, if your theatre company is losing money produce Les Miserables or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. People will show up for those regardless of quality and then leap to their feet at the end ... ugh.
We knew when we went into this production that people didn't know the name. It's tossed aside as a black box show and rarely given the attention it deserves. However, placed in the Tuacahn Outdoor Amphitheatre, the audience response was overwhelming. Yes, we were low in ticket sales, but word of mouth and return audience members showed that should we be able to run this one more weekend we'd be seeing numbers equaling or even surmounting our big sellers of the past.
And the talent! Jose Briseno, Marlie Root, Skylar Lees, Ashley Hansen, Lainee McDonald, Mandy Jaeger, Colton LeFevre, Brookelyne Peterson, and that's just some of the seniors. All of them framed by a simple set with simple costumes. I've seen so many productions masked with big sets and costumes that it's refreshing to see real actors on display without the distractions, and the audiences saw that as well.
When our students are being accepted into the best theatre program in the state (Marley Root, Skylar Lees, and numerous others from years past), and our students are being accepted into the best theatre program in the United States, some would say the world (Isabella Arras, Jose Briseno, and numerous others from years past), and our students are receiving top honors at the Utah Shakespeare Festival/Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition, it would take complete blindness to facts to say that we're not doing something right.
This has been an incredible week for me as I have been blessed to develop and work with such incredibly giving and talented students. Thank you to everyone involved, especially the hard working parents who don't get nearly enough credit. We have the best parents on the planet helping us succeed.
This truly has been the best week ever.
When I interviewed at Tuacahn I was between jobs. I had finished grad school, I had three university theatre interviews scheduled back east, and I was traveling to a directors lab from Salt Lake City, Utah to Pasadena, California. I had previously sent my resume in an email, to the current principal then, Bill Fowler. While I was in California, I received a phone call asking me to interview and that they could see me as I drove back to Salt Lake. I didn't expect to be hired at Tuacahn. The positive draw for me was the warmth of St. George and being closer to my wife's family. The drawback was that I was very interested in moving on to teaching at the university level.
I remember little about the interview, except that I was completely relaxed and honest, and that the people in the room interviewing me were friendly and supportive. I also remember saying this, "I'm not interested in training puppets. I'm most interested in creating artists," which was true and still is. Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, universites, community theatres, regional theatres, and more, for the most part consume. They take the art which was originally created by others and place it in their theatres, with their directors, designers, and actors, and they consume the work that someone else previously created and display it for their communities. In ways, it's a form of plagiarism. The play was already written, the set at times is recreated, the costumes are duplicated, the blocking/choreography is copied, and the performance is often just a reproduction of someone else's work. Someone else's art consumed and re-gifted. But that's theatre in a nutshell. It's often how it works and actors audition hoping to be cast ... and if they're not, they wait.
But what about the creators?! Why can't we learn to be one of them?! Are the only great artists in New York, Chicago, Seattle, or Los Angeles?! Yes, it's important to learn the skills necessary to reproduce, it's most of what we do, but while we're not waiting around for that call-back, why can't we be creating something?! In fact, I would argue, we should be creating something all the time. Lin-Manuel Miranda said that he creates because he was given opportunities to create in high school. He has since gone on to change the face of theatre with his creative voice! I believe, and many top tier universities believe, we should train students to create ... because almost anyone can consume.
Oh! I almost forgot ... two days after my interview, they offered me the job.
So ... why this long story about creating?
Ensemble of KPOP photo by Ben Arons from PLAYBILL Online
Two years ago I was at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Conference in New York, and in the evening one of the musicals I was fortunate to see was KPOP. It was immersive, rough, fresh, and new. It was an investigation and a celebration and it was engaging, to say the least. At the end of the production, there was a half-hour K-pop concert and it stayed with me.
Over the years I've seen students create a lot of amazing work; some that would rival anything I've seen graduate students or even universities produce, including: Solitaire, performed in an Airstream trailer, M is Four, performed in four separate cars as they drove you around the parking lot, and so many others. These students have done work that inspired me just as much as KPOP. I've seen one-man shows that spooked the audience (and me as well); I've seen clown shows, and puppet shows, and stand-up comedy; I've attended dinner theatre, and outdoor site-specific theatre, and movements in time and space, and in each of these I was moved, motivated, and inspired.
All of that written, I briefly mentioned KPOP for a reason. KPOP reminded me that it's my turn. I am currently working on a dance party based on The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, and The Mask of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe. It will be performed in the Black Box. Will it make sense? I don't know, I hope so. Will it have an audience? I don't know, I hope so. Will it succeed? I don't know, I sure hope so. But like my students work, I've realized that it doesn't matter right now. What matters is that I create, learn from it, and create again, and I continue to learn and grow as an artist. Otherwise I just consume ... and that eventually leaves us all empty.