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Creative Ecology

Andrew Taylor’s presentation in Austin on June 24th.

In cheerier news?

If you want to feel better about the mid-range future, look to the more controllable near-range future:

One month to Orestes.

Cambiare Productions - Orestes - Gabriel Luna - Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie 1

Gabriel Luna and Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie
Photo by Will Hollis Snider

It’s not transparency if you don’t talk about failure

On May 1, I submitted Cambiare Productions’ first City of Austin Project II grant application. Project II being the first stair step on the way to larger City funding in the future.

Today down at Austin City Hall was the peer review council’s public comments on the application.

It didn’t go well.

This isn’t to say we will receive no funding. This is to say that the application was poorly written and confusing to them in places, and fails on some important (to them) criteria.

Let me step back and say, the process is really great, even with a negative outcome for us, I think every arts company should undergo objective peer review.

Back to the matter at hand:

We have low multicultural impact
True. The criteria assumes that my art is white and inaccessible to other cultures, but that’s not the panel’s problem. In terms of the criteria, we do rate poorly.

We have low economic impact.
Indisputable. Vancouver and Chicago aren’t (yet) dumping tourist dollars in the pot to come see us, and the 600 person local reach is low.

We have low cultural impact.
This is lumped into #1 a little, but I do dispute this.
Breadth is only one measure.

We have muddy measurable goals.
Or as we say in the business…. muddy writing about our goals.
This is directly on me. I failed to communicate our goals clearly. You’d think I’d be able to convey audience and stature building pretty clearly, but apparently not.

We don’t have broad community support
This was in reference to our support letters, and the fact that we only had a couple, and that they were from within the industry.
It’s true and indisputable. We are applying for funds for our second production as a discrete organization.

These were the major strikes, though there was also a comment about lack of diversity of funding – apparently Will’s pocket and my pocket aren’t diverse enough sources. There was also a comment commending us on the ideas and explorations of art on this site, and a desire to make them less intellectual and more tangible.

I couldn’t agree more. We just need gas money.

Make no mistake, I’m crushed. But we are better prepared for next year and I have more faith in the peer review process than I did a few hours ago. I’ve done without money before I’ll deal without money in the future.

Now I just need another innovative fundraising method.

The Summer Family

Everyone has been notified to the good or the bad, and we can mention our cast, some thoughts from a (now) cast member on his audition notes, and one lesson I forgot about until this morning.

First, out of a ridiculously talented group of people, who made the decision making process head wringing for poor Will, our cast for Orestes is as follows:

Orestes – Gabriel Luna
Agamemnon – Derek Kolluri
Klytaimnestra – Karina Dominguez
Iphigenia – Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie
Elektra – Molly McKee
Helen – Smaranda Ciceu
Voice of the People – La Tasha Stephens
Menelaus – Travis Bedard 

New cast member Derek Kolluri dropped some great notes in the audition lessons post that I want to share here:

ONE: You’re always auditioning. Always. The on stage audition is a far more shallow impression than the hour you would potentially spend in the company of THE COMPANY. In most cases, if you’re at an audition either you have a strong desire to be an actor or someone has told you you have a propensity for acting… or both. Either way, the point is that auditors are rarely surprised by talent. What hey are more surprised by is your personality and likability. If you walk into auditions like an asshole – you had better be the best damn actor anyone has EVER seen. And even then you may not get the part.

TWO: Headshots are a still frame that should offer the same amount of intrigue that an entire performance might. One should be able to look at a headshot and say, "This person can act." This isn’t the venue for artistic poses. The only art on the page should be behind your eyes.

THREE: Resumes are a direct reflection of your attention to detail. If it’s easy to read, you’re probably easy to work with. If it’s complete, then you are a confident performer. Any indication of laziness or apathy even on the resume speaks volumes to your auditors.

As far as headshots and resumes go, I know they can be expensive. But we’re artists with artist friends. Surely you can opt out of $500 headshots and have you friend with the nice camera take them. Hey, if you need headshots, I take them, and I layout resumes. Both for $100. But I don’t mean to use this as an ad for my talents, just a helpful suggestion.

Thanks Derek.

And I want to add one final lesson that I had forgotten about.

Theatre Companies?
All of the things we’ve talked about are also true for you. For many actors on the indie level this is the first time they’ve run into you. What do they see?
Are your communications clear and timely?
When they read up on your site or your blog what is their impression?
Are you welcoming and professional when they walk in the door?
Are you not on the phone while they’re trying to get questions answered?
Are you respectful of their time and talent?

If you’re drawing any reasonable level of talent to your auditions, you are auditioning for them to come back next time. Maybe they’re not right for this show, but barring the cataclysm there will be a next show.

Be the company that they really want to work for, or you’ll find a pretty limited pool available later.

Take it from the top…

Amongst the excitement of auditions and callbacks, and callbacks, and so far as I can tell one more round of mini-callbacks… we had our first design meeting for Orestes on Monday night.

We are blessed with two top-of-the-line designers in Megan Reilly (lights) and Adam Hilton (sound) who we can’t rightfully afford but they cut us a deal, and a costume designer to be named later. I fill in as set designer because no designer would be willing to work on my budget. Ay there’s the rub.

My training as a set designer is best described as having had a really good design teacher a dozen years ago, and sitting near others as they talk about set design. I refer to myself as the de facto set designer and that’s a trap. De facto or not I am the set designer. To make any modifiers to that position at all means that I am planning an escape strategy. That is never a recipe for success.

On Monday we talked for a little bit about the script, the designers reactions to it and questions about it, and then moved on to the style of the piece, and mine and Will’s expectations in terms of both of their departments.

I proudly flopped down my Sketch Up rendering of the set design and waited for the clouds to part and light to pour down upon them… Given the lead-in you will not be surprised to learn that no such dawning happened and they currently remain unenlightened.

One of the huge benefits of not working with straight contract designers is that these people aren’t just ridiculously talented, they are our friends and we will get truth from them. Thankfully because they love me they managed to not say anything derogatory… they just had questions. A lot of questions. A lot of very basic questions that would have been self-evident if the design were any good.

Except that it wasn’t.

The set was designed 3 months ago, before we had a script, while we were still talking about what Orestes was going to be. It was designed as part of the larger metaphor we were exploring, and to give Will a place to visualize the play happening while he adapted. It worked great for that.

But that doesn’t make it a great set design. It was timid. It was a set design by a nervous carpenter with a producer’s mind. So I scrapped it. Completely. We have a NEW set design. Though it’s not yet in Sketch Up (and given my work load on this show may never make it there) it solves many of the problems that we were having difficulty solving via the old design, it’s cleaner, it’s bolder, and honestly? I’m a little intimidated by it – which is why I’m pretty sure I’m right this time.

And if I’m not? I have people around me who’ll let me know.
I love this game.

You have to have a plan

So yesterday was the sprint version of auditions… we got to see 45-ish people in 4 hours. Honestly the talent level was great and we didn’t know most of these folks, which speaks to a depth of talent that I’ve been pretty skeptical of.

I do want to share some of the lessons we’ve been reminded of from the other side of the table this time out. We had a great response so these are all general (some very basic and often repeated) notes and fairly well anonymized to prevent individual calling out.

  1. If you are asked to RSVP? Do it.
  2. If you’re using an agency responder? Follow up with a real email. We got a lot of response from one agency that slurped our Craigslist ad, and not ONE of those people followed up with an email (or an audition).
  3. When you RSVP it is your first chance to tell a story. Do it. Be professional. Use complete sentences. Get a Real Name email from a free provider and use it. AngelEyez247 isn’t your name.
  4. When you RSVP with your headshot and resume? Make it in universal formats. Will and I can (and will) open whatever you throw at us, but .docx isn’t universal and less nerdy recipients will simply put you in the kill file. .PDF and .JPG. Download CutePDF and use it. Make sure your .JPG isn’t huge, we’re trying to get names and faces, not make sure your pores are clear. Hey, I know! Why don’t you put it in the same .PDF file with your resume so we can save them together? Email me if you’re not sure how. Travis at Cambiare Productions.
  5. That guy sitting at the table out front? He’s probably not just a fancy pencil cup. He MIGHT be. But you’re better off not assuming that he or she is. In our case the guy at the front desk is me, and despite my egalitarian and deferential habits, I’m the boss (is that okay Will?). It probably best you don’t blow me off or treat me as less than. I’m not judging your reading. I’m judging you as a human. If you are a dismissive [expletive] while dealing with people you don’t think you need to impress? That hurts you. It may not kill your chances, but oddly enough? Will and I talk.
    Are you REALLY nervous?
    Do you have no idea what the play is about?
    Have you read anything about us?
    Have you glanced at the blog?If not, why not? This is a job interview. We’re trying to figure out if we want to spend the next 6 weeks in a small room with you, you should be doing likewise.
  6. I don’t care if your headshot is professional, but it NEEDS to look like you. I’ll admit I poked a little fun at the performer who had sent a sloppy candid earlier in the week, but when they arrived I knew who they were and what their resume contained.
  7. Look like you when you show up. This isn’t really a direct audition note from Saturday.
    Look… I know you’re all freaks or whatever… but I need you to look like someone ELSE on demand. If you have three feet of fire engine red hair, or a mohawk? I have limited options. So tell me a happy lie about how you can be anyone.
  8. Ladies. This is sexist. I understand that. Holler at me over beers after the show, but we need to have an idea what your body looks like. You don’t need to dress sexy, you don’t need to “slut it up”, but you need to not wear a tent. Office casual is fine.
  9. This is specific to me: I put out snacks on purpose. Don’t be afraid of them. We’re a small indie group in a small indie town. Our talent pool isn’t full of professional auditioners. If you don’t have a routine around auditions, let me help you. I put out cold water – you’re getting dry mouth and you don’t need to. The (adorable baby) bananas and orange juice are light sugar and potassium. The M&M’s a heavier sugar for a quick energy boost and light protein.
    I’m trying to give you a chance. Help me help you.
  10. I am rooting for you. Hard. As I said on Twitter the other day, we have as much of a vested interest in you not sucking as you do. It is very much in my best interest to make sure that when you hit the chute you really are ready for the rodeo. You may think that my enthusiasm for you and the “Kick Ass in There” as I shoo you in are fake, they aren’t. I need this cast to be world beaters in 6 weeks, and I need you at your best to see if you’re going to be part of it.

And then of course I make Will do all the hard work.

We’ll be having callbacks over the next few days to work around schedules, and yes we understand that we need to work around schedules because the folks who are worth having are already doing something.

By next weekend we should know who’ll be our new family for the summer. Couldn’t be more excited.

EDITED TO ADD: Here is a great list of tips from DFW Theater.

You’re the book I’ve halfway read

I’ll have something tomorrow from the trenches of Orestes Auditions Prime, but for tonight some self-indulgence.

A year ago at this time I was sitting down to write my wedding vows. I had plenty of time – “the wedding isn’t until 6 tomorrow, and what could possibly come up”? And there’s no way I’d get writers block – I’d been composing them in my head for 3 years. And who gets tired after a week of celebrating your own awesomeness?

I finished at 4AM and spell checked it when I was gangtackled awake by my best man Erik’s children the next morning.

And of course it was perfect.
It was by far the best show I’ve been a part of. Perfectly cast top to bottom and the performances were spot on.
(Here are the vows for the ladies out there)

We are strong

But I’m not here to heap praise on our wedding, despite the fact that it was 3 times better than yours. I want to talk about my wife.

See, I found the perfect partner for me. Everything I have been able to do in Austin is because of her. And that’s not some snarky joke on how she dragged me here.

She sold me out to the ArtSpark team that led me to Will. Her ideas around design driven performance pushed me to actually start Cambiare Productions, because there was nowhere else in town for her to go to get something like that done.

The aesthetic that I strive for in our shows is one that she showed me that I love. Her passion for installation and performance art keeps me from settling in a narrative cave and staying there.

That’s not to say it’s not hard. We’ve spent seasons apart as she follows the work, and as I head into auditions for Orestes tomorrow, she’s in rehearsal for Black Snow tonight. And so it goes.

There’s little time for one to fully support the other, because both our feet are moving. “I only have 7 dimmers!”, “Yeah well my costume designer just dropped out and we’re trying a much more difficult mask idea”, “Well MINE’S in RUSSIAN”…  It’s not. And we’ve never had that ACTUAL exchange, but we’ve had similar. And if not out loud, in our brains.

And you know how sometimes you don’t read my posts because they’re long and sort of rambly? Imagine you’re stuck in the kitchen cooking dinner while I verbally write drafts of them.


And she’s never hit me with a cast iron pan.
Not once. It all works because we both REALLY want to be in this relationship, and we’ve never been deluded enough to think it wasn’t going to be work. And that understanding combined with an awful lot of patience on her part covers a multitude of sins.

I can’t imagine doing any of this without her, even when she thinks I’m ignoring her, and if this is the first year of marriage the next eighty are going to be incredible.

From “The Irrational Season”
Madeleine L’Engle

“Ultimately there comes a time when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take.

It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created. To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take. If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation.

It takes a lifetime to learn another person. When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling.”


Like the Marlins after a World Series

Cambiare Productions has so much turnover you need a scorecard to know all the players. We’re a two man shop, and more recently a three person shop as Amanda Gass pointed out that she was at all the meetings ANY way and has officially come on board as company production stage manager. First it gives me a good excuse not to pay her (as company members don’t get paid on anything we do) and second it confirms that until she quits to pursue Avogadro’s Dragon we will definitively adhere to the first rule of production: No Cambiare Show Will Go Forward Without A Stage Manager (there is no rule 2).

To save you asking: No she will not be blogging or twittering. There is no time for such things when your job is covering my butt on everything.

But the main thrust of this post is actually that aside from Amanda we have all new players all the time, and sitting here on the eve of part one of auditions for adventure that is Orestes it’s terrifying anew.

Cambiare Productions isn’t a rep company, and isn’t going to ever be a rep company. We absolutely shape productions based on talent available to us, but it’s more important that we find projects that we are passionate about than something that will feature one performer nicely. That even includes me. I’m a performer, and not a bad one, but Cambiare is committed to not being a vanity project and so I’m not in everything and have never been featured.

Unfortunately this means that 1.) we often end up disappointing our friends. Folks who want to work with us, are excited about our projects, and are very talented – but simply don’t fit the project at hand 2.) We end up playing talent roulette in open calls more often than my panic stricken brain likes.

We’ve been blessed with ridiculously talented people walking through that door on audition days. But the idea of pinning as challenging a role as Orestes in this adaptation on the shoulders of someone I don’t know, and have never seen perform?
It’s terrifying.

It will be alright. It always is, Why? It’s a mystery.

But in the next 8-10 days we will make seven or eight new friends, and forge a temporary new family.
And in six months I will whine again how our new friends are all too busy to work with us.