Another Theatre-Filled Year – Looking Back at my 2015

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Skimming the blog that I wrote about this time last year I can’t believe so much time has gone by. I think we always start off a new year feeling positive and optimistic, and things rarely turn out the way we expect, for better or for worse.

I’ve certainly had my share of crappy moments this year, but when I sit down to write something like this, a summary in a few hundred words of several hundred days, I find that the things that stick out are still mostly positive. Why? Simply because while I can trace a positive experience back to every negative one, I never do the opposite; who cares what bad seems to follow from a good thing? Chances are, they aren’t really connected, and would you trade that good moment if it meant maybe not enduring the bad? When it comes to the negative, sure, it sucks. And honestly, if I were to just count them, this year has been mostly negative. However, with each and every bad moment I can follow it through and see how it played a crucial moment in the best times I’ve had this year. Flawed, contradictory logic? For sure. But whatever. If it gets you to the start of another year looking forward to the good things rather than dwelling on the bad, well, then, I don’t think anyone should complain.

So on that note, here’s a happy summary of all my fun-filled theatre experiences of 2015 – a reminder to you, and me, of all the good parts of the year and the bright things ahead.

A Dark New Musical

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I started off the year working on a new musical with one of my best friends. Those who know me likely know that it didn’t go as planned. At all. Still, in keeping with the positive theme of this post, here is what good did come from it;

  1. I met some amazingly talented people and was lucky enough to make some really great new friends. Theatre is all about connections and I made some good business ones there as well.
  2. I helped to create and produce an original, full-length musical, something that, not only had I never done before, but, regardless of how it turned out in the end, is a pretty big accomplishment in itself. I can’t tell you the number of hours put into that show, how exhausting it was on so many levels, but despite that I came out of it not jaded, not angry, still loving theatre and still loving the people I worked with. Anyone who has heard all the inside stories knows that that fact alone is nothing short of a miracle! It also tells me that, yes, I am in the right business.
  3. I got to visit NYC again for a little over a week. One of my favourite cities, I love going there and am trying to make it a goal to visit at least once every year.
  4. For better and for worse, I got to see the true colours of a lot of people, and I think that’s a very valuable thing to discover. For the most part, I was proud and very happy with what I saw, and for the rest, well, lesson learned.

I Wanna Be A…Producer?

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Conor, Kenton, Matt & myself

As I think I’ve said before, I started off producing purely out of necessity; there aren’t a lot of people out there who get excited by budgets and spreadsheets and who would prefer to stay behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly while most of the groups asks each other, “what do producers do, anyway?”. I had produced all of Bygone’s shows but not given much thought to doing it outside of that, until a friend of mine (who almost NEVER gives compliments) told me he thought I was good at it, and that it was a path I should follow. I took that to heart, as I do just about all that he says, still, I didn’t think there would really be any opportunity as I felt producers must have some sort of skill that I was lacking (although I wasn’t really sure what that would be).

In early February 2015 I started working for Theatre 20, initially without any title, just happy to be earning a living working in theatre in some capacity. When they decided what my role would be I was surprised to be given the title of Producer, but when they explained what I would be doing and why they thought that was the right role I realized, heh, that is what a producer does, that is what I’ve been doing and maybe this all isn’t as unattainable as I thought.

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35mm: A Musical Exhibition, Toronto Premiere, May 2015

A few months later (on a project outside of T20) I was the Assistant Producer for the Canadian premiere of 35mm: A Musical Exhibition and I found myself working on a show that starred an actress I had eagerly seen perform (and gotten an awkward fan photo with) about 10 years before. Small world, eh? And again, maybe not as impossible as I had thought.

Things with Theatre 20 didn’t work out but here again I learned some valuable lessons; don’t take people on their word. Don’t trust in someone just because you feel they are a “good person”. And when it comes down to it, it IS worth sticking to your guns and having a say, just make sure you get everything in writing so that if it comes back to bite you, you can prove that you were the one coming from the right place. I hope to be able to go into all of this in more detail in the new year.

What working with T20 did do, besides teaching me the above lessons, is give me the confidence to say, yes, I can be a producer. And so I went into those musicals feeling like I knew what I was doing. And I continued to put together Bygone, slowly easing more and more into a producer’s position. It also encouraged me to apply for the Assistant Producer position at Tarragon; I start there in the new year.

Bygone Theatre – INCORPORATED

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We didn’t change the name, didn’t add an “inc” or anything to it, so I guess most people would never know anything changed, but this year we applied and were granted non-profit incorporation status for Bygone Theatre and I couldn’t be happier. Granted, I have yet to make any money off this company (the shows with profit have directly financed the following shows – I don’t get paid for any of my work), BUT I can still say that at 26 years old I now own and run my own company, which is pretty nifty. Being non-profit meant I needed a board of directors and I am fortunate enough to have gotten an amazing team. Not only are they talented, with artistic opinions I respect, and a motivation and drive necessary for the company’s growth, they are great people and great friends. I think we’re set up well for the new year with this group at the helm.

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Bygone Board – Elizabeth, Conor, Elizabeth & Leete

More Freelance Work

As I did more work for my own company and other’s, I was surprised to find people actually liking what I’d done (who’d a thunk it?). I started doing some web design for friends and found that I liked it a lot. In the new year, I’m signing up for some more technical courses so that I feel qualified to advertise myself as a web designer, but already the encouragement I’ve gotten is great. Maybe this year some of that work will actually turn a profit!

True-Blue

As I’ve sort of said already, if I had to summarize this year with one general theme, one “lesson learned”, it would be knowing now who to trust (and not to) and who my true friends are. In some cases, it was obvious. In others, I was pleasantly surprised. But all round I’ve found that time together or apart has no baring on a friendship; it’s the quality of the person, not the quantity of the time spent together, and someone you’ve known for 12 years can cease to be a friend in a blink of an eye while someone you’ve known for 2 months can become your main source of support. I’ve been surprised by the kindness and generosity of a few people in particular, and in addition to knowing that I will pay them back as soon as I’m able, it’s also encouraged me to spread the love to some strangers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends like these, I know, so it’s time to share some of that luck.

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What’s Next

I start my job as Assistant Producer at Tarragon Theatre on January 5, 2016. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I’m grateful for the chance to work with one of the most respected companies in the city, and know that at the very least, I will work with some talented people whose careers I aspire to. I’m sure there’ll be much more than that, but I’ll save it for when I actually start working there.

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With Bygone, I’m working on making the Retro Radio Hour a regular program and talking to some of those involved about how we can make it tighter and better; we’ve got some great ideas brewing. As well, I will be directing another show, something I’ve really missed doing for the past year, when we mount Wait Until Dark. Plus, I am finally getting the chance to produce Vaudeville Revue, something I have been thinking about for the past 3 or more years. This is the year to set down our guidelines, to make an impression, to prepare ourselves for the 2016-2017 season, which will be our first fully-scheduled regular season. Lots of work, but I’m ready – bring it on.

So to everyone who has been a part of this year, thank you. Regardless of what our interaction was, what our current relationship is, you all helped to shape a year that has been the one with the most personal and career-related growth in…I don’t even know how long. The positive moments inspire me and the negative ones push me to drive forward and prove that this year can be better. Let’s see what 2016 has in store.

-E.

Gone In A Flash – A 2 Show Performance That Came and Went in a Blink of an Eye

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The last two days saw the opening & closing of the Toronto Premiere of 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, a show for which I was the associate producer. Despite the very short run time, a lot of time & energy went into the show, on everyone’s part, and so while the build-up may have been less than I usually feel for one of my shows, the post-show crash, the feelings of “oh my god, what do I do now??? I need a new project!!!” are still there.

The play was a one-act musical by NYC composer Ryan Scott Oliver, and this production was directed by Melissa-Jane “MJ” Shaw, with music direction by Chris Tsujiuchi. Adrian Marchuk both produced and performed in the piece, and my Theatre 20 colleague Brian Goldenberg was the consulting producer.

The show doesn’t exactly have a plot…everything is loosely tied together with the words “Hold. Still. Focus.”, and there is an over-arching theme of relationships, love & loss, and the concept of photos and their place in modern day society. There was virtually no set, and very minimal props. The show relied on some simple but effective lighting changes, and the brilliant vocals by the cast of talented performers.

It’s always nice to see a show of this calibre, as there are no weak links; the band was spot-on, and while there were songs that I liked more than others, each singer had their chance to shine with a number of their own.

Jeigh Madjus wowed us with his incredible rock vocals in the opening number, and showed us a softer side with the beautiful ballad, “Cut You A Piece” late in the show. Michael Esposito II similarly shone in 2 completely different numbers; the quirky & creepy “Caralee” and the touching “The Seraph”, showcasing an impressive range of vocal styles & emotion. Adrian Marchuk was equally loveable in the darkly comic, melodramatic “Good Lady” (where he rocked a cloak & crown) as he was in one of my personal favourites, “Make Me Happy”, a feel-good, upbeat duet with Kelly Holiff. Holiff’s show-stopping number, however, has got to be “Leave Luanne”, a chilling country-style number about an abused & eventually murdered woman, that goes from a fairly typical song of hurt & heartache into an eerie ghost story. Backed up by the full cast, Holiff’s gut-wrenching emotion in this number gave me shivers, and when the entire cast began stomping to the beat & belting out the words you couldn’t help but feel shaken. Finally, Marisa Mcintyre beautifully displayed the light & dark sides of teenage love, angst and obsession. In “Monday” she plays a bubbly girl obsessed with a boy who nearly ignores her, telling her that she is “cute but juvenile”; the bright, poppy energy had me grinning and wanting to sing along. On the darker side, Mcintyre wraps up the show with the twisted number, “The Ballad of Sara Berry”, about a wannabe prom queen who kills off her competition. Funny, edgy, and perfectly performed this was another one of my favourites.

It’s too bad it was such a short run; I’ve been listening to the original cast recording, and I can honestly say, without bias, that this group performed it better. Here’s hoping my path will cross with all of theirs again sometime soon. For now, it’s time to move on to the next show!

-E.