by Kimberly Megna Yarnall
For the millions of people who mull these subjects late into the night, commissioning a play isn’t as easy as it seems. You might think that to commission a play means to send an email that says, “Hey, Bob. Can you write us a play? Deadline sometime next June. Thanks!” Aaaand… done.
Well it ain’t that easy. I mean, sure, yes, there is a component of the commissioning process that is exactly that. But there is way more. And there are cookies.
First you have to decide why you want to commission a play. Many more resources and risks are involved with commissioning a new work than just producing a nice Neil Simon comedy. In order to use those resources you need your board’s blessing, so the reasons why had better be well-thought-out and you’d better present them at a board meeting with a polished PowerPoint and warm cookies.
Generally the reason we commission a play are noble. We want to bring a work of art to our audience that has never been seen before. We want that work to be specific to our community’s interests, our theater’s space and artistry, and to say something to the world that needs to be said right now, right here, and preferably without flying by Foy.
Once you’ve got the Board’s approval and secured the line item in the budget, you need to decide who should write the play. So you make a wish list of writers and you review it. Shakespeare: dead. Beckett: too avant-garde; also, dead. JJ Abrams: too much sci-fi; also, lost. Candace Bushnell: too into sex and New York City. Jim DeVita: Local! Smart! Alive!
So you’ve got your playwright. Hooray! And then you need to give the playwright a little guidance. And I use the work delicately. You probably have an idea of what you want this play to discuss and to whom it should speak (remember that “why” section above?). But if you’d like to ever work with living writers again, you can’t tell them exactly what you want them to write, because, well, that’s not fun for them. Pretend the writer is Michelangelo and you are the pope. Except that you’re not. You’re really not the pope. So you need to tone it down a bit. Although you can probably have a conversation about clothing the nudes.
And here is when you get to send that email, probably eating about three cookies while writing and rewriting, and working up the courage to hit Send. It probably says something like: “Hey, Jim! Would you like to write a play for us? The attached contract has all the particulars about dates and money. (Yeah, we’re gonna pay you. Pretty neat, huh?) And actually, we have a pretty amazing book we though you’d like to adapt. The cast should require under 8 actors. And, um, no flying, okay? Think about it and we’ll have a planning meeting in a few weeks. Then we can take a look at a draft of the first act and see where we are. Hopefully we’ll get it in front of a reading audience next October.”
And then you send the writer cookies.
During the planning process you stay in touch with the writer and give feedback. You ask questions about what he wants to say with scene two, and why he chose the setting for scene eight. You praise the awesome job he did with the main character’s journey and encourage further exploration of the secondary characters.
And then you have a reading. And the audience comes and they listen and respond and they ask questions and talk about character development and plot points. And you sit in the back eating a cookie and you think: wow – this is a work of art that has never before been seen. And my community is creating it together to tell the world what we think, right here and right now. Pretty neat.
Each August, the families of FTC get together for an afternoon of delicious summer-inspired foods (not to mention Sam White's famous grilled meats) before the work of the regular season begins. It's always a wonderful end-of-summer celebration, and this year was no different. And no picinic is complete without a BABY!
by Karen Moeller
Forward's Annual Open Auditions were held during the first week of August at Edgewood College's spectacular new theater arts facility, The Stream. Many thanks to our hosts there for providing such a welcoming and professional environment. We were lucky enough to see almost 100 actors at our auditions. Some we were meeting for the first time, and some were familiar faces, but all reminded us of what a rich and vibrant artistic community we have here in Madison and Southern Wisconsin.
If you're not an actor and have never been to an open audition, here's how it often goes:
You report to the sign-in desk and have a seat in a hallway or room filled with several people all very intently talking to themselves. You try to calm your nerves. After all, you've been working on your audition piece for quite a while now. What could go wrong? You close your eyes and start to recite the monologue under your breath and suddenly realize that you don't remember it at all. You try not to panic. You take a deep breath. You clear your mind, then focus again. What the heck is the first line?!? Ah hah! There it is. Now it's all coming back. Just as you finish running through it in your head, you hear your name called. You walk into the audition room, say hello to the folks behind the table, and let them know what you're about to perform. You now have anywhere from two to four minutes to show them what you've got. That piece you were certain you had forgotten just a few minutes ago is all there now, and in an ideal world, you perform it just the way you planned it. You try not to think too much about the people sitting in front of you. Are they listening? Are they laughing at the funny parts? Do they like what you're doing? Before you know it, you're done. You smile, you say thank you, and you walk out the door. Immediately, you run the whole audition through your mind and try not to be too critical. You reassure yourself that you did a good job. And if you're me, you stop on the way home and get some ice cream.
Many thanks to those who attended our auditions and shared their talent with us. I hope you all treated yourself to ice cream!
A wonderful conversation between Advisory Company and founding member Jim Buske and FTC supporter Lynda Sharpe. Lynda was the award-winning Middleton High School drama teacher for over 40 years, and is a beloved friend of Forward.
Jim: Ok, get ready. Here come the questions. I watched "All The President's Men" last night to get in the mood.
You've been with FTC since the beginning. Would you tell us a little bit about your life (theater related or anything else you want to reveal) before you hooked up with FTC?
Lynda: Directing, teaching, traveling and trying to see every theater production in the area while cheering on my husband and daughter sums up life before FTC.
Jim: What first made you want to work with FTC?
Lynda: Are you kidding me? EVERYTHING about FTC made me want to be a part of the wow. OR Let me count the ways: Jack Forbes Wilson--Jen Uphoff Gray--Colleen Burns--Celia Klehr-- Sarah Day--Jane Elder (you get the idea) I was giddy at the way the company would be run--and I wanted to support, share, celebrate this incredible idea. I couldn't wait to take students to what would be FTC--or myself, my loved ones and for that matter perfect strangers who asked what to do in Madison!
Jim: You have a started a wonderful tradition of bringing chocolate to pass out at FTC opening nights (Have you noticed how I always happen to wander by on opening night?
Lynda: Of course! You are a man of good taste!
Jim: Where did that idea come from?
Lynda: Early on I was given chocolates to celebrate a performance. Loving chocolates, I began giving them whenever I directed. Inspired by my punning sweetheart, I began opening night circle with cast and crew doing chocolate puns. A trip to Europe gave me the chocolate orange and many puns beginning with, "Orange you glad . . . ." When I retired from Middleton's drama program, students were asked what things would they definitely want to continue with the new director. The chocolate tradition was high on the list. Joining Forward, I tasted Fairy Godmother Celia Klehr's treats. STUPENDOUS! Not being able to EVER match her cooking prowess, I drew upon my chocolate skills and began creating opening night show related (when possible) chocolate treats. There were a few years I helped make welcoming treat bags adding chocolates there as well. Dark or milk?
Jim: What is your favorite FTC memory?
Lynda: There are too many to count, Jim. The FTC play seasons that are challenging, inspirational, wondrously silly, provocative, life-changing, uplifting. The relationships with Staff--ACT--Directors and designers. The tales and treats while singing along with CK's musical collection while stuffing brochures. Seeing JUG in action at rehearsal. Hearing incredible directors and designers speak. The Forward vision. Sitting in the audience at a Forward show. Pre-show talks. After show discussions. Heard in the audience FB posts. Hugging everyone connected. Feeling a part of the Forward family. Having a name tag. Opening night gatherings. Feast Forward. Feast Forward 2015 MH and JB performing. Maybe this last is THE FAVORITE. And there are so many more favorite memories!!!! How long can this blog be?
Jim: Finally, what's the strangest theater memory you have?
Lynda: A moment in the past. My experiences at Forward have been all plus. Long, long ago, in another WI city, a journalist perched in the wings to experience summer stock and the backstage story. My character was in a form fitting black velvet jumpsuit. A bit of bad luck and zipper malfunction left but two thin straps no longer hooked anywhere to keep me from total exposure. My leading man and I restaged things, the SM sent crew to front curtain and the dresser rushed to SL while the journalist captured it all. Did I tell you that I was 17 and a "guest artist" in a professional company?
Jim: That should do it. Hard hitting journalism at its best. Thanks for this opportunity, Lynda!