In Support of 99-seat Theatre in LA

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"This is what we do, and we do it because it is what we must do...I mean, really, let’s face it: the only reason to expend the enormous amounts of time and energy – not to mention money – that it takes to mount an independent theatre production like this is because if you don’t, you’ll go crazy."

This is quite likely the most (and last) political post I will ever write. (But no promises.)

I've been keeping a close eye on the current situation in LA regarding the AEA and the proposed elimination of the 99-seat plan.  As a Canadian, non-Equity (non-Union, actually, although that is not a choice on my part but a matter of not yet having enough Union credits to join; I am pro-Union) actress, I don't get a vote, but I feel very invested in the outcome for a couple of reasons.

1. This situation affects some people I know and a theatre company (Theatre of NOTE) that I have come to love; and

2. The 99-seat plan, while perhaps not perfect, allows actors in LA to produce theatre in a way that I can only dream of. Their small companies are able to build up to having their own rehearsal and performance spaces. They have members (read: actors) who take turns producing, who look after the company, and who in turn have an artistic home beyond a classroom. New works are developed. Actors take risks and hone skills in front of a paying audience. From my perspective, it's a great arrangement overall. Killing the 99-seat plan will decimate small companies. It will rob these actors of the artistic homes they've built for themselves.

Below, you'll find some old blog posts of mine from a few years ago that outline some of the challenges of self-producing even a small show without the benefit of something like the 99-seat plan. It is very hard. Losing money is a given; losing your sanity is a real danger. I am not ashamed to say that on the show I was producing (and starring in) when I wrote those posts, I had at least three separate slide-down-the-wall-in-tears-how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-pull-this-off? moments. So have a read, and you'll get some idea of why I care about this.

Since I don't get a vote, I want to help by raising awareness. Please check out iLove99.org and learn about the situation. If you get a vote, please vote NO. A "Yes" vote decimates the 99-seat plan immediately. A "No" vote will (hopefully) force Equity back to the drawing board to come up with a solution that will make everyone happy.

A "No" vote is not anti-Union. It is Pro-Union, Pro-Actor, and Pro-negotiation.

If you don't get a vote, I hope you'll join me in spreading the word.

To my friends and colleagues south of the border who are fighting for their artistic lives, I see you, I hear you, and I hope you win.

Love, Stevie

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A Rehearsal Space of One’s Own

By Stevie (October 23, 2009)

In her essay “A Room of One’s Own”, Virginia Woolf famously wrote that in order to write fiction, a woman required  two things: a room of her own and 500 pounds a year. I’m willing to bet that, if Ms. Woolf were witness to the plight of the arts in modern-day BC, she would agree with me that in order to mount a production, a small theatre company has similar needs: a consistent, suitable rehearsal space, and whatever the modern, adjusted-for-inflation-and-converted-to-Canadian-currency equivalent of 500 pounds a year works out to be.

As it happens, finding a suitable, consistent rehearsal space has been a major challenge for us as we’ve worked on this particular show. To give you a little background, Randall and I started talking about this project about a year ago.  We started by deciding that we wanted to keep the cast small, so we looked for a two-hander.  There’s no shortage of those, so we went off and did some reading.  Once we had whittled down the list, we got together, read some plays (out loud, that is), and settled on What the Night is For.  Once we had chosen our play, we went about the usual steps, inquiring about rights and theatre space.  (This time around, we also had to go out and find a director, which is a whole other blog post in itself, but I will say we were absolutely delighted when we found Laureen.) The next big thing we needed, it seemed to us, was rehearsal space, so we got on the phone and the internet and made a bunch of inquiries.  We were shocked at some of the prices we were quoted. There is a severe lack  of affordable space in this city, and the spaces that were affordable were not available when we needed them.  Now, you may ask, how the hell did a company with a 10 year history of producing theatre in this city not understand the cost and scarcity of rehearsal space?  Well, because we never had to rent it before.

That’s right – for years and years, we had the one thing that most small companies lack: our own space, or rather, spaces.  We operated out of two places: an independent acting school where many of us had been students and/or staff over the years, and a co-op apartment building where several of the company’s founding members had lived at one time or another over the years.  Between these two buildings, we were always able to have enough space and time to rehearse any project. If the school was full, we used the common room at the co-op.  If the co-op was full, we went to the school.  The back and forth worked.  We even had storage space: we kept all our things in boxes in the Artistic Director’s parking space at the co-op (she had a very small car), or stacked up in the corner of a studio at the school, with valuable things locked in the offices.  Because we had such a great arrangement, I guess we got spoiled, and we didn’t really think about what would happen if someday, that arrangement wasn’t an option.

This year we found out.

The school we used for so long has undergone a change of ownership and has also relocated to a larger building.  When we called to inquire about renting a studio in the new facility (standard practice in the old one), we were initially told yes, but several weeks later, we received news that, due to insurance reasons, we would not be able to use the space after all.  The time lag did set us back a little, but we still had plenty of time to find a different solution. After flailing around for a bit, we decided to approach the co-op, even though our Artistic Director no longer lives there and despite the fact that, while a few of our friends do still live there, none of them are directly involved with this particular show.  Again, at first it seemed that we would be able to use the room, but we were later told (very apologetically) that, because of insurance reasons, the co-op members were not able to let us use the space after all.  Unfortunately, by the time we received that news, we were already in rehearsal and had been making do with Laureen’s living room which, while lovely, was a less than ideal solution.  There followed a few days during which we scrambled around, emailing and phoning anyone we could think of who might be willing to rent us a large enough space on no notice at all at a price that we could afford, all the while praying to the Theatre Gods that things would work out.

“In the name of Shakespeare, Shaw and Williams we pray. For the love of Stoppard, will no one help us?”

Happily, it seems the Theatre Gods do listen, because our prayers were answered – albeit in a most amusing way.

The space in which we will be rehearsing this (quite adult) play could not be more at odds with the subject matter.  It’s a daycare. Yup, a daycare.  Complete with tiny furniture and buckets of crayons and those old wooden blocks that were probably manufactured in 1968 and exist in every preschool and daycare in the country.  And you know what? We are thrilled to pieces to be there.  It’s an honest-to-goodness space with more than enough room to move around and mock up a set. The kids clear out in the early evening, we show up half an hour later, rearrange, rehearse, and then at the end of the night, put everything back where we found it so the kids can come back in the next morning and find nothing out of place.  It is perhaps not an ideal arrangement, but having finally had a chance to really, fully rehearse a scene – to raise our voices and move around and do what we need to do – we are happy and relieved and finally feel like we’re on our way. And with the challenge of securing space finally out of the way, we are free to focus on creating a compelling piece of theatre.  We hope you’ll join us in a few weeks to see the results!

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Ruminations On the End of the Rehearsal Process…

By Stevie (November 10, 2009)

So, here we are, nearing the end of the rehearsal process, and to borrow a line from the play, “how did we get here so fast?”  It’s hard to believe it’s almost over. Wasn’t it just last week that we were racing around trying to find space?  And yet, here we are, and this means that the next phase – the run – is just about to begin.

It’s been an interesting few weeks. We’ve had lessons in sitting (very hard to do on stage, believe it or not), we have choreographed makeout scenes, we have stumbled over lines.  We’ve done exercises to increase intimacy and we’ve dug deep into our emotional lives. It’s been difficult, challenging, scary, hilarious, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes frustrating… always worth it.  This is what we do, and we do it because it is what we must do.  Some people are just born to do theatre.  I’m one of them.  I figured that out when I was seven – I can pinpoint the moment, actually – and I’ve never looked back. I’m willing to bet that Randall and Laureen have similar stories. I mean, really, let’s face it: the only reason to expend the enormous amounts of time and energy – not to mention money – that it takes to mount an independent theatre production like this is because if you don’t, you’ll go crazy.

And so, here we are, almost through with rehearsals, about to move into the next phase.  Actually, my favourite moment in the entire process is just around the corner.  It’s probably not what you’re thinking.  It’s not opening night, not the first curtain call, not the moment I read the first review, or even the closing night party. Nope, my favourite moment comes in the space in between. You’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention.  It’s that moment, after the last rehearsal, when everything is packed up and ready to go to the theatre, but you haven’t loaded in yet. It’s that moment when the perfect show in your head is still possible. No one has told you that the lighting effect you want isn’t going to work.  No one has missed a cue or flubbed a line or had an “off” night.  You’ve rehearsed the hell out of the play and you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Tickets are sold, the audience is coming in a few days, and tomorrow, when you tech, you’ll watch it all come together. I love to pause in that moment and really enjoy it, because it is so brief and so precious and you only get it once on any show.

Does that perfect show ever actually happen? Well, not so far.  But that won’t stop me enjoying the possibility.

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