Thursday, September 15, 2016

Post #2: The Summer, In Brief

On My Decision To Pursue and Then Later Accept The Position of Artistic Director At The Hangar Theatre

Post #2: The Summer, In Brief

I have realized (again, remember, code for “discovered in therapy”) that doing new things is scary for me.  Sometimes I get off on this scariness – like going to a firing range to shoot shotguns for my 37th birthday, or traveling to new places.  But sometimes, the inability to visualize is just terrifying. 
Kevin Moriary

Peter Flynn
Jen Waldman
I had no idea how to prepare for the summer.  The previous Artistic Director of the Hangar, Jen Waldman, was basically as kind and helpful as someone could be, as were prior Artistic Directors Peter Flynn and Kevin Moriarty.  But some things must be experienced.  And running the Hangar in the summer was one of those things.

Normally, when rehearsing a play, I look forward to my day off like a traveler in a desert stumbling toward an oasis.  When I was rehearsing a play this summer, my “days off” were often busier than a normal rehearsal day.  And exhausting as that could be, it was actually the transitions during actual rehearsals days that were truly challenging: staying in an artistic and creative space while having to use my ten-minute break to problem-solving logistical challenges.  It’s hard to wear two hats at the same time, especially when, like me, you don’t have the cheekbones for hats.  In a funny way, it’s like directing a play, especially on a thrust: the transitions are often harder to stage than the scenes themselves.

Although the rehearsal days were longer, they were easier in many ways than the non-rehearsal days.  Why?  Because the energy of rehearsal reflects and recycles the energy you put into it.  For me, administration isn’t like that.  At least, not yet.  There are certainly parts of AD’ing that are incredibly rewarding, but it doesn’t replenish the way that exchanging energy with artists in rehearsals does.

And then there was the driving.  While I have lived in New York City for my entire adult life, I know how to drive.  I just don’t enjoy it.  And I especially don’t enjoy when I’m about to be late, and have four phone calls to make, and suddenly find myself on (another) one-way road taking me in the opposite direction from where I need to be.  Seriously, one of the greatest accomplishments of the summer was figuring out the roads of downtown Ithaca.

So why did I decide to apply for the gig?

Well, much to my surprise, I discovered I really loved the day-to-day of Artistic Directing.  As a freelancer, working at other people’s theatre, my critical mind would inevitably kick-in and wonder, “How I would do this differently if I were AD.” It threw me back to middle or high school, when I was a young actor in the school plays who had no idea he was going to be a director.  I would sit in the back of the house, and wonder why Mrs. Anzuini didn’t have Roses and Strawberries and Milk enter from the back of the house in the big number of Oliver!
A photo from "Who Will Buy?", from Oliver, that I found on the internet.

Just as becoming a director let me try out those staging ideas, being an AD let me experiment with the administrative ones.  Some of them worked, just like I imagined, and some of them worked in ways I would’ve never imagined.  And many of them didn’t.  And that was okay, too.  Like being in a rehearsal.  The confidence to try and fail and move on was integral to surviving the summer.

Christy Perez, Hangar SM Apprentice, making pasta!
I also loved being the bridge between staff and artists and technical crew.  Like the director of a musical has to make sure that dance and music and design are all talking to each other, the AD becomes the intersection of all the various contributors.  I’ve been the artist enough that that was familiar to me.  But getting to know what the full-year staff and shop heads have to do to make the theatre run was undoubtedly the most educational, and the most humbling, part of my summer. I don’t know how Adam Zonder is able to find such extraordinary interns and staff, but spending time with them, learning about how their passion for the theatre motivates them (I’m thinking about Kerri Lynch talking to our Aces group before Constellations, and Christy Perez and the countless conversations she and I had, along with so many others) all served to teach me how little I knew about the industry in which I’ve spent my entire adult life.

There are lots of other things that made me want to pursue the job full-time: the great joy of being able to hire artists I know and believe in, like Suzanne Agins, Linsay Firman, Shoko Kambar, Suzanne Chesney and Nick Francone.  The joy of getting to meet new artists that I can’t wait to work with again (just about everyone who worked on the mainstage, honestly – all brilliant and hard-working and kind and generous). 

And then there were little things as well – all the artists and teachers from Syracuse who joined us as artists and audience members, all that gorgeous Orange in Ithaca.  Annie the Muffin Lady (who bakes fresh muffins for the first rehearsals) and her husband Tony, who took me and Rafa on their sailboat on Cayuga Lake, where every hour feels like one full day of vacation.  The Hangar Board, who host dinners for the mainstage artists.  The Drama League directors and the Lab Company, who impressed me daily with their courage and hard work and bravery.  My Associate Artistic Director, Brad Raimondo, who made it impossible to imagine a more brilliant ally. 

For those of you who have never been to Ithaca, it’s hard to describe the magic that permeates the town (unofficial motto: “ten square miles surrounded by reality”).  But even more than the Hangar itself was the way the equation of the theatre in that community played itself out.  The people who come to see plays at the Hangar really want to be there.  They care about the play.  They care about the institution.  When we announced that we’d be re-introducing a Fifth Show into the summer season it was greeted with applause every time. 

Summer theatres like ours can’t necessarily provide the same resources that a LORT can.  Our pay isn’t as high.  The housing isn’t as good.  And all summer I wrestled with trying to answer the question of what we can provide that might make up for that.  The answer is the community.  Something magical happens in the summer.  And something especially magical happens in Ithaca.     

And it’s the reason, ultimately, that I decided to accept the job.  I had the privilege of seeing how that magic was conjured, and what it meant to everyone associated with the theatre: artists, staff, technicians, interns, and most of all the audience and community.

But before I accepted the job, of course, I had to apply for it…

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