It’s to be decided whether we go out with a bang or with a bit of a whimper.
Theater is a funny business. Ok, so maybe all business is funny, but this is the one I know and I think it’s funny. Not funny ha-ha, but funny in that hard-to-gauge, fickle and sometimes just downright random way.
I know I’m going to editorialize a little bit, but hey – that’s one of the best uses of a blog, right? OMGz DRaMAz!11!one.
We pick shows for all sorts of different reasons: they’re a ton of fun (anything (abridged)), we as a company have a history with the writer (McDonagh), it’s a worthy award-winner (Rabbit Hole). Sometimes we do pieces to give back to our community (The Guys). Sometimes we pick a show because it has something to say that we think is timely, important and relevant. Like Embedded.
One of the things Shawn and I talked about a lot when considering this show, and even through our working on it, was that this show simply couldn’t be more timely. That folks need to remember where we’re coming from in a time where we have a choice to pick a new path. This war is not over. It’s very much alive. The neocon philosophy, engineered in large part by Leo Strauss – who watches over the proceedings of the Office of Special Plans in the show, is very much alive.
Cast member Roz Potenza has a relatively newlywed niece and nephew, separated practically after their vows, respectively serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. My step-brother has been in Iraq for I don’t even know how long, even after returning with 17 pieces of shrapnel up his left side. He went back to finish a job he started, he felt that was his duty. Their stories, and thousands upon thousands of other stories like theirs, are very much alive.
I could keep going, but the gist is this may be the most intensely relevant thing we’ve produced, and easily ranks high as one of the best experiences I’ve had top to bottom working in the theater. Yet, in my mind, we haven’t broken through any ceilings to reach those who in all likelihood weren’t already part of the Jobsite faithful.
We know what we draw on our own. We pretty much know what to expect as far as a baseline attendance for any show. Then of course there’s the niche audiences. We could count on the goths and old-school lit fans to come support Gorey Stories. We can count on the groups of ladies out for a night on the town to come out for A Girl’s Guide to Chaos.
So it isn’t a far stretch to think of what sorts of people outside the Jobsite converted we might be able to draw out for a show like Embedded. Politicos, journos, the military, lefties, liberals, libertarians, commies, Tim Robbins fans (which I guess some might say were already spoken for), libertarians, independents, curious conservatives. We directly went after all sorts of non-profits, PACs, and all other groups to let them know about this show and offer to work with them to mutual benefit. We made a concerted effort at reaching those folks starting in February.
We got a few bites. There’s the troop care package drive and the Poynter event this Sunday, but for one reason or another nothing really came together. I don’t believe, though I’d be happy to be wrong, that we even really got any meaningful number of those people into the theater over the past three weeks.
That’s a little disheartening, and it hasn’t been for a lack of effort.
In the end it’s not just about us selling tickets and having a full theater, it was about providing those groups a forum where they could reach new people, about helping our community as we’ve done with other shows in the past. It’s mission-oriented for us.
Don’t get me wrong, anytime we can get 1100-1200 people into the theater and not lose money and get great reviews – we’re happy about that. We just had much greater aspirations. It was, in our eyes, a civic duty.
For more on that, here’s the program note as offered by my co-director Shawn Paonessa:
Before Persian Gulf, when Americans were finally learning that you could support the troops without necessarily supporting the war, David and I had already been taught that loving your country isn’t synonymous with agreeing with your government. Between us, we have fathers and grandfathers who fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. We were both boy scouts. As sons of conflict and conflicted generations, we know a thing or two about our history and about patriotism. So when the prevailing cultural winds told us that questioning the Iraq invasion was unpatriotic or even tantamount to supporting the terrorists, our little red flags went up.
If patriotism means loving your country, then, like anything you love, it means a responsibility to look out for its best interests. It doesn’t automatically assume that a war is right, nor does it assume a war is wrong. It just means that we have to ask questions and determine the right or wrong ourselves. Our founding fathers knew all too well the dangers of unchecked power, and while imperfect, the liberties they ensured to us are our means of looking out for our country. To truly protect our freedom has nothing to do with terrorism, or communism, or whatever the war du jour is; it has to do with bearing the responsibility to put those liberties to good use when the time calls.
Now it may seem that producing a play is a far cry from patriotic duty. But remember, without our liberties, we couldn’t produce this play, and you couldn’t see it. Our freedoms exist precisely for the reason that you are here tonight – so that we could ask the questions. That’s what this fine cast and crew are trying to accomplish, in our own special way. That’s what our founding fathers wanted, and that’s what our fathers and grandfathers fought for. Let freedom ring. – Shawn Paonessa
So, back to my original point of theater being a funny business. We can go from rocking a sold-out weekend, to scrambling to find people to come just 3 days later. We can go from adding 10 chairs and turning away close to 20 one day and then be worried the cast might outsize the audience just 3 days after that.
You can never get too comfortable. You can’t ever take anything – including what types of people might support a certain type of show – for granted.
Embedded has three performances left. It’s the official end of our 9th season, and we’ll be back in an insanely short two weeks with the gripping drama Blackbird. I can’t even begin to predict if we’ll surge or sit still. We could go out half full or repeat last Sunday’s craziness 3 days in a row.
I don’t know what more I can do to try to twist an arm into coming. I guess this is was it, my last shot. If I’ve been on you to come, it would really mean a lot to me and to this group of 18-some-odd artists giving it their all out there. It’s well worth your time, and money.
I’m looking forward to being surprised over the next three days.