Dramaturgical sociologist Erving Goffman, in describing all human interaction like a kind of theater, establishes that we have an onstage persona as well as those we use offstage and backstage. Situational masks, or roles we take on. “All the world’s a stage” and all that, yanno?
The longer I am fortunate enough to call Tampa and Jobsite home the more comfortable I get letting who I feel I am out of the public eye be who I am in it. This is bound to get me in trouble eventually, I’m sure.
Well, here’s me keeping it 100 again: The Maids was an enormous risk but has also ultimately restored some of my faith in what I’m doing and why. After those failed weeks of trying to cast Antony & Cleopatra I felt like I struck gold when the thought hit me to shelve the Shakespeare and take three fine actors I could not get out of my head and give them a show. But then I needed to get everyone else on board, not always an easy task.
Artistically I value the fact that we make these sorts of decisions collectively. That there is always active dialogue and debate. It’s healthy. It’s also important that a board of directors fulfill their duties in terms of overseeing the financial health of an organization.
In a period of time that we’ve barely been making it by from show to show on sales with little left in terms of cash reserves to serve as a buffer I decided to replace our “bell cow” (Shakespeare runs consistently sell out with added performances) with a relatively obscure French play from the ’40s. One of my most trusted called me out on this. Others hesitated but ensured their trust and support. Israel Horovitz looked at me while here for Lebensraum only to raise his brow and mutter “oh, there’s an easy sell.” To be honest I’ve been so frustrated that at some un or subconscious level I am sure it was a bit of a middle finger maneuver. I said I was going all in. Go big or go home.
Then of course “reality” and doubt and general cold feet all start sneaking in and I wonder if I’ve lost my mind, which I kept to myself. There’s a mask I am comfortable with, the whole devil-may-care thing. But I knew.
One problem with growing as a theater company for me is that more money equals more headaches. The more you have the more you stand to lose. I’m not an investment banker though, I’m an artist. Even that’s probably too highbrow, I’m a storyteller. That’s what I know how to do. I want to tell interesting stories. I don’t expect every single person to like every single one.
All that fear and uncertainty and frustration focused me in the rehearsal room. None of us can guarantee a hit. I don’t care who wrote your play, or what it’s called, or who you put in it, or how much money you spend on packaging and selling it. All I really have any kind of control over is that thing on stage, and even then it’s maybe not as much control as some think. I can control having my shit together ahead of time and then go in that room every day with love, respect, and an open spirit of collaboration.
It doesn’t always work. Even when it does it doesn’t always translate into a “success.” It breaks my heart to watch a play like Annapurna just tank when I know how strong the work is. Folks, I could not be more relieved and happy that this “risk” with The Maids is paying off. Unless you sell out every single seat every single night you always feel like you could be doing better, but I’m looking at the last weekend knowing we’ll cruise right in at budget — all I wanted it to do (well, needed to do). The goal was to not lose money, to go back to what I feel I do best. Let me just say, WHEW!
This cast is among the most talented I’ve had the chance to direct. Folks’ reactions are thrilling. And, yeah, the reviews are validating. I needed this, big time. Vanya was by design there to do bigger numbers and of course the Jaeb musicals are a whole different bag, so not including those this one is poised to do best at the box office since we stalled out last year. “Weird European intellectual stuff” FTW.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. We can do all the good work in the world but it is meaningless without people there to see it. Theater with no audience is called rehearsal. Thank you for trusting us, or for taking a chance on something off the beaten path.
Catch the show? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought. Questions? Ask away. If you still haven’t managed to make it out, treat yo’self. You won’t be sorry. The Maids closes Sun., May 22.