Hello, my enormously loyal fanbase. I thought I should take a minute to reflect on the past year and the growth of 906. To say it was a big year for us would be an understatement as we weren't even a thing last year. As a company we are actually only eight months old. But do not let that fool you. In eight months we have managed to stage one full production, one staged reading, two podcasts, and have auditioned and cast our first 2015 production. I dare you to find another eight-month-old with as much ambition.
Back in April, when this whole crazy ride started, we formed with the idea that we would stage a production in order to see if we actually could. If it worked, then we would consider doing more. If it failed, we would be able to say that we tried. I don't think any of us expected it to be as much fun as it actually was. We had no money, no name, and no idea if we wouldn't just end up hating the whole thing.
If you managed to see, or take part in, our production of The Importance Of Being Earnest (directed by Emma Couling), you know that nobody hated anything about it (save for that one matinee when like...3 people showed up. Those people did, however, get a great show). It was a really good production and more than that, it was fun. We made our money back, paid our actors (a far too uncommon occurrence in Chicago), and we were able to put aside some profit in order to finance future productions. I call that a win.
Dracula was also an unmitigated success. And I do not use the word "unmitigated" lightly. I managed to write a script, my wife managed to direct it, our actors managed to perform it, and an audience managed to show up (so many that we had to get extra chairs). Did I mention that we did all of this in two months? If you want to create a challenge for yourself do the following: Find a great old book, adapt it into a stage play, find someone to direct it, find actors to read it, find a venue to perform in, rehearse, market the show so that people will actually show up, perform, and do it all in two months. I couldn't be more proud of us.
Our podcasts have also been successfully unmitigated (I feel like I used that wrong and I don't use "unmitigated" in the wrong way...lightly). We have managed to record and edit two roundtable discussions on theatrical topics amidst all of the other work that we have been doing. True, I have only managed to add the first half of one of them to our website...but that it my problem. But that is my unmitigated problem (nailed it). Check them out on our YouTube channel. You will be pleasantly supplied with something more or less to your expectations.
Lastly but far from leastly. We had auditions for and cast our next production "Boeing Boeing". (Note: I had to look up the convention rule on the period after those quotation marks. Turns out that because it is not an actual quote, the period goes after...crazy!!!!) If you do not know this show than I suggest you watch some clips on the YouTube. It is delightful. 906 co-founder Ashley Stein will be directing and we will be gracing the top floor of Hamburger Mary's in mid/late February and running through early/mid March. I have the great honor to actually be in this production along with a couple of actors (Billy Sullivan and my wife, Sarah) that I have worked with before. But even more exciting to me, is the addition of new-blood into both our little 906 family but also our own general circle of insanely talented Chicago actors. Kaelea, Christine, and T'Arah...welcome to the family. I know that I am excited to see what you have to offer in the coming months. You are all going to fit in just fine.
It is easy to fit in with 906 Theatre Company. We work hard, but we never take ourselves too seriously. We try to be professional, but we don't sacrifice the fun. We forget that it is called a "play" for a reason. We have spent the past 8 months shaping something of which we can be proud. I know that I am proud (unmitigatedly).
Faithful reading audience, all 4 of you, this past weekend we hit over 200 Facebook "Likes." Now as everybody knows "likes" are the fuel that drive modern society...or something like that. I'm not sure that I actually know 200 people (well. I don't know them well). So that is pretty cool.
This past weekend we also had auditions for our next production "Boeing, Boeing." It will be directed by 906 co-founder Ashley Stein and it is sure to be a blast. If you have never read the play or even seen the movie version of it, go and do so. It is a classic French farce with a "chic" twist.
This weekend was also my first time monitoring auditions. I must say it was an exciting and terrifying experience. As I am auditioning for the show myself, it was extremely nerve-racking to watch my fellow actors step up to the plate. I have to give them tremendous credit for their hard work. I have no auditioned for a while and I know that I am extremely nervous...and it is my theatre company (partially).
Auditions are never completely relaxed, which is why the best directors and companies always take the extra time and effort to make the experience as stress free as possible. Want to know a secret? If you are at an audition and everybody in the room watching you perform is somehow making you feel bad about yourself; you are auditioning for the wrong people...or you are crazy sensitive. Either way, maybe stay away from there. Actors feed on confidence and auditions have a way of draining that. Either a little or a lot. This is not to say that a great audition can't imbue you with amazing confidence. It can and every once in a while it will. But that will only come from a great amount of preparation, luck, timing, and semi-constant self-doubt. Latch onto those companies that make you feel good about yourself, even if they never cast you. A company can be both challenging and friendly. I have left an audition feeling like I have done my best, I was well received, and yet I never heard back from them. This does not mean the company is trying to play games with me. It means that they wanted to see the best from me and maybe my best didn't fit a particular spot in their show. It just means they care about human feelings. And isn't that what theatre is about? (with the exception of Charlotte's Web...pig feelings.) Be humble, remember that you aren't right for everything, but believe that you are right for something. Go out, and find that something.
As I write this, the cast of our staged reading of Dracula is rehearsing in my living room. My wife is directing and we have assembled some truly wonderful actors. It is their task to turn my gothic brainchild into an actual thing. Daunting task guys. It is funny. Writing this show was a task. Yes, I have kept Stokers characters and many of his scenes and some of his lines, but don't let that fool you, I truly feel as if I have written a show. Good feeling. But sometimes, while writing, I felt that it would only ever make sense in my own head. Turns out I was wrong. I can hear actors right now and they are talking to each other. Saying my words. Strange feeling. Words pop into my head. I could be going to or from work, in a rehearsal for another show, or even sitting at my computer hoping inspiration strikes. I take the words and I make sentences. Then I make up people to say those words to each other. At this point it is all still so abstract. But then my wife Sarah gets a hold of it and she and Emma Couling pull some actors together. And they turn my words into an actual thing with a beginning a middle and an end. It became real...what started as a series of sounds in my head that formed words and so on...something real was made. Wow. So, I should get back to that talented group in the next room. This smile won't leave my face. The creepy scenes are creepy the funny scenes are funny snd the stupid scenes have been cut and burned. Great feeling. I will say, if this feeling could be bottled it would be a controlled substance
Have you missed me? No? Fine, whatever. I feel that it has been a long time since I posted to this blog and that is a great disservice to you, faithful companion. So much has happened with the theatre company and so much is on the brink of happening. First Dracula. I have been adapting a version of Bram Stoker's novel. What compelled me to do such a thing? Why do I think I can do better than so many others who have tried? I don't. I only know that I can do it different and focus on what is important to me. So, whether you know the story or not, I think that this adaptation will give you a better understanding of the actual novel. then you can go home, read it and come and tell me what I did wrong. Please, do that......because it means that you come and see it. Speaking of coming to see it, we will be having a staged reading of the play on the...wait a second...let me check the calendar...November 17th at the Black Rock Bar here in Chicago. If you have never seen a stage reading, here is how it works: Actors are picked to read the roles, a couple of rehearsals take place so that they can get a feel for the words on their tongues, the actors then sit in front of an audience and read the show while someone else, my wife and the director in this case, reads the stage directions. the hope is that the audience will feel like they are being told an awesome story AND can then give me some input. What did you like? What did you hate? What should I keep? what should I cut? Super useful to me, super fun for you. They play is not "perfect," even to me. that is what the workshops and readings are for, fixing the problems that I don't see in my head because you can be blind to the problems of your own brain child. I don't think it ever will be "perfect," however, because there isn't a "perfect play." It is fun, it deals with a lot of themes both fantastical and real, and its a good story. That is all that matters in my opinion. If people come and see it and they see a version of Dracula that entertains them and makes them interested in the story then I do not need the approval of the literary elite or the Dracula scholars (do they exist). Anywho, the play is a work in progress, has had several drafts, and will have several more. It has been a large amount of work done in an extremely condensed time frame, so there are bumps to smooth out (think oatmeal). With luck, when you see it on the 17th, it will be a little less lumpy (think brownie batter).
Next we have our podcasts, which have become the great chore (joyful chore) of my life. Audio editing is tricking and audio hosting is expensive. So for the time being you have to download the podcasts in separate chunks, such is life. The long awaited, and long overdue, second half of our next podcast will be released shortly and the most recent podcast session, on the subject of Dracula, will go live on Halloween. So you have that to look forward to. It's not a perfect process yet. Some people sound louder than others and the audio quality is what I like to call "Edison cylinder" good. but to be fair, we are recording off a laptop and that is not ideal, so bear with it, turn up your volume, and follow along. I promise you will be entertained.
Hey internet users, you may not know this, but 906 Theatre Company has all sorts of opinions. Shocking, I know. However, these opinions greatly influence the kind of works that we look to produce. During one of our heated and often violent discussions, near the time of our formation, we decided that we wanted 906 to be more than a way to produce the kind of work that we wanted. We also wanted it to be a kind of open forum for everyone to talk about theatre. We want to know what people are watching, what people want to watch, and what people wish they never had to watch again. To that end, we came up with Dial 906. Dial 906 is a themed theatrical discussion aimed at promoting informed and heated debate on a variety of subjects. The hope was that anybody in the city, who has anything to say, will be given the chance to say it. If you feel particularly passionate about the state of theatrical affairs in Chicagoland and beyond, we want to know. So often theatre companies get absorbed in creating theatre that they believe "fits their mission statement." Now, I am all for following a strict mission statement, but I think in order for a mission to succeed, you need to understand that success means different things to different people. I think the issue that we touched on last week describes exactly what I mean. I think most people would find Shakespeare to be a competent, important, and brilliant author. 906 is an author based theatre company and Shakespeare fits that model. However, Ira Glass would not agree and if he were the producer of 906 he would not see Shakespeare as a fit for our mission statement. You see "good theatre" is amazingly subjective. the only way 906 Theatre Company can continue as a company that serves the theatergoers is to know what the theatergoers think. So Dial 906 serves a double purpose: it allows us (all theatrically inclined people) to vent our beliefs in a constructive atmosphere AND it gives us some insight into what people believe is "good theatre." So I encourage anyone, who wants to be a part of something bigger, to come out and join us for Dial 906. Out first discussion is on Modern Theatre vs. Classical Theatre. I can think of no better place to begin.
Hello friends and neighbors! Earlier this week 906 co-founder Emma Couling sent a letter to NPR's Ira Glass on the subject of Shakespeare. The letter, in its entirety, is posted below. I think it is worth a read and I know that Emma would welcome any (constructive) thoughts that you might wish to share. My own opinion lands squarely in the middle and I could argue endlessly over the difference between being, as Ben Jonson put it, "For all time" and being, as I put it, "For all people." I encourage you to read this letter, written by one of the most passionate lovers of Shakespeare that I know, and form your own opinion.
Dear Mr. Glass,
My name is Emma Couling, I’m twenty-four years old, and I have been listening to your program pretty faithfully since the age of eleven. I grew up in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I listened to CMU Public Radio’s Sunday Programming every week (“This American Life” comes before “Prairie Home Companion” and after “Fresh Air”). I went to college at Northern Michigan University where I listened to WNMU, and where I gained a degree in theatre. I now live in Chicago where I work part time as a marketing assistant and part time as a freelance theatrical director. I listen to WBEZ every day.
Around the same time that I started becoming your biggest fan, my family started taking vacations to The Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It’s a beautiful drive from Sault Ste. Marie, MI to the middle of Ontario where there is this little town that’s completely dedicated to William Shakespeare. It was through this early exposure that Shakespeare has become an incredible passion for me. I read all his plays before I entered college, directed my first production of Hamlet before I achieved my undergraduate degree, and now I am proud to write to you as a company member of The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company of Chicago.
One of the reasons I love Shakespeare is, according to your twitter feed, in direct opposition to your own opinions regarding him. I find Shakespeare inherently relatable. But don’t take it from me—in her response to Julian Fellowes ill-advised comment that the only people who can understand Shakespeare are people, like himself, who “had a very expensive education [and] went to Cambridge.” Fiona Banks, head of the Education Department at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London said, “Shakespeare's for everybody. If we've ever been in love, or fallen out with a friend or been jealous, we can understand him.”
Ms. Banks goes on to say: "To see Shakespeare in the original, in its absolutely unchanged form, we need nothing more than a performance space and a company of actors who are able to share his stories in a way that engages their audience,"
In your critique of John Lithgow’s performance of King Lear on your twitter feed you said that he was “amazing” but that Shakespeare was “not good. No stakes, not relatable… Shakespeare sucks.” This makes absolutely no sense to me.
See, in my experience the thing that makes Shakespeare relatable—the force that shatters the idea that Shakespeare is difficult to understand—are the actors who perform it. It’s an actor’s job to create the world of the play around us. It’s their duty to show us what these 400 year old words mean through their interpretation, or the movement of their bodies or the intensity of their motivations. It’s an actor’s task to show us the searing force of words that were scratched on to parchment centuries before we were born. Shakespeare, when read, may not be relatable but when spoken with passion and understanding, when performed with earnestness and realism and feeling: how can we not relate to that?
While teaching an Unrehearsed Shakespeare workshop one of my dearest friends said that at least part of the reason why Shakespeare is so intimidating for the proletariat is because they are told that it’s intimidating. One’s 9th Grade English Teacher pulls out Romeo and Juliet and starts her boring speech about it with, “I expect this play will be difficult for most of you to understand…” I would argue that if she started her speech with “This is a play about you…” she would get a lot further. And I’m not talking about the love story, though it is an incredibly relatable one for most fourteen-year-olds (if you don’t think teenagers can fall deeply and madly in love and then proceed to do a lot of really stupid things then you don’t know a lot of teenagers); I’m talking about the dick jokes, and the fascination with sex, and the young violence, and the hatred that young people inherit from their elders.
I have always seen you as a man who would never stop asking questions until he found the articulate and essential ideas behind both sides of an argument. It’s this persistence in discovering every day truths that has made you a personal hero for me. And so I have I favor to ask of you: give Shakespeare another go. Walk down the Pier from WBEZ to Chicago Shakespeare and talk to Gary Griffin and Barbara Gaines. Grab a plane across Michigan to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and see if a very intimidating Canadian named Antoni Cimolino can’t change your mind. Or if all of that seems like the kind of Shakespeare you’ve already seen and deemed “not relatable”; come to Mrs. Murphy’s and Son’s Irish Bistro off the Irving Park Brown Line on August 16th, where I and my fellows attempt to find every sex joke and impromptu moment in Comedy of Errors. And if none of that works, don’t give up. Keep going to Shakespeare, keep searching for something, anything, to relate to. I truly believe that you’ll find it.
In great admiration,
Dedicated Fan of This American Life
Company Member of The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company of Chicago
Co-Founder of 906 Theatre Co.
Hello friends. As we approach the halfway point on our first production I would like to take this time to thank a few people. First, our audience. Every show we have had so far has had eager and appreciative theatre-goers. We do this for you and without you, we are just a bunch of people in silly clothes saying silly things for nobodies benefit but our own (which is what we as actors do usually, but it's far more fun to do it in front of others). Second, I would like to thank all of our actors and crew. You all did this show without promise of payment, audiences, or recognition of any kind. You took an amazing leap of faith on a bunch of people with a far reaching dream and you took that leap without blinking. As I have said many times before, you are all insane, but we will continue to take advantage of your insanity as long as you keep creating such amazing and inspiring work. Lastly, I want to thank the 906 board. You never gave up on this dream that we had and all of you have, in one way or another, been vital in the realization of that dream.
906's first production has been in every way, a success. We have been able to prove to ourselves and our amazing supporters that we are capable of doing this theatre thing. To that end we wholly intend to keep this train rolling. We are preparing to follow up Earnest with another production this winter. If you are an actor, theatre tech, or theatrical enthusiast of any kind; keep your eyes and ears open for updates. We have many excited ideas and prospects on the horizon so keep us in mind! Until then, we have a matinee tomorrow (Sunday) and two more weeks of performances so get the word out there and come watch us play!
Hello my dear readers. As Earnest moves into it's second week. I would like to share with you the Agony and the Ecstasy of promoting a show. First, there is the exhilaration of seeing the analytical data compiled by most marketing and promotion sites. This website compiles all of the data from anyone who visits a page. There is something really satisfying when you see that 100 people have "viewed" your latest promotion, ad, picture, or update. Its the same thrill I imagine chronic social media addicts get in their private life, except this thrill isn't about me. It's about knowing that something, the show in this case, is being exposed to more people. It's about posting things like "Tickets now available on Goldstar https://www.goldstar.com/events/chicago-il/the-importance-of-being-earnest-1" and seeing the hits on your Goldstar account shoot up.
But hand in hand with that is the agony of the hours of work crafting a poster, a listing, or a press release and seeing it go nowhere. The idea that I can push our tickets to hundreds of potential playgoers, but I can't make them buy tickets. We have been lucky enough to (as a completely unknown theatre company) actually have some pre-sold tickets AND walk-ins for our performances. I won't lie, I was worried that we would have maybe a person or two at each performance. The actor in me doesn't care about that. I just want to do the show for someone, but the producer in me was pulling his hair out hoping to get one ticket sold. Hoping that one person, who doesn't already know how great the show will be, will walk up and be surprised at the quality of a show that was a labor of love, effort, and not a small amount of personal financial investment (although this last point is so minor). And once again, that thrill when it happens, when someone from the other side of the country hears about, witnesses, and enjoys your show. there is nothing better.
The ongoing battle between the joys of marketing and promotion and the heartache of unfulfilled "unrealistic super-dreams" won't stop, but not at all an unpleasant battle to watch. (forgive any spelling and convention errors in this post, I was on a role and I hate editing)
Tonight is the final rehearsal for 906's first production. At this point I feel like I have just spent three months giving very quick birth to a mental baby and now I can relax while everyone ooo's and aaa's at it. There is a great truth about putting together a production (or working on any labor of love really). At one point or another you are going to want to stop. You are going to want to give it up because doing nothing is so much easier than doing something, even something that you love. With this production (as with countless others), there were moments when "calling in sick" or "bowing out for personal reasons" would have been so easy. But ultimately it was the cast and crew that surrounded me, worked with me, and believed in what we were doing, that reminded me that easy is for other people. And now I can't imagine having given up this project just because it looked "too hard." Thank you to everyone who made this thing happen. You are all insane and I wouldn't have you any other way. Let us break some legs.
Usually at this point in the rehearsal process I start to freak out that nothing is going to happen correctly. I start worrying that it will all fall apart now and the panic tends to depress my rehearsals. I can say quite confidently that I'm not worried about Earnest. As with any show, there are loose ends, there are lines that still need work, but everybody is so competent. Right now I only find myself worried about selling tickets so that people can actually see the work that was put into this show, everything else will turn out great. 10 days and counting, lets finish putting this thing together.