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Times review, thoughts on A Dream Play

“A little more than a century ago … August Strindberg made a stage play out of the structure and psyche of a dream. In 2005, British playwright Caryl Churchill pared that monumental effort down to a scale more appropriate for contemporary theater … [Jobsite’s production] shows that both Strindberg and Churchill succeeded. So has Jobsite, with its admirable take on a difficult work … Chris Holcom and his cast handle the material with airiness and humor. But it’s still substantial and thought-provoking, full of ideas and images that stick with you.” – St. Pete Times

For the sake of fairness, the Creative Loafing review is also out, but not nearly as positive as the Times or Trib reviews. He seemed to really like the actors, but took great issue with most of the stagecraft involved, the script (say it ain’t so!) and the general filter of misery that Strindberg saw everything through. I can concede the material isn’t for everyone (as Marty Clear and Kathy Greenberg even pointed out) and Strindberg’s word-view is bleak, but I really think his comments on the design are way off base, but that’s nothing new.

As an artist and as the head of this company, I know that we’re limited by the space we’re in (and that we love very much, quirks and all). We’re likely limited more by budgets. Sometimes, with some shows, we make very conscious decisions about sets and costumes. We go for simplicity. We concentrate on actors, text, action and the experience. I’ll never apologize for that. That’s the essence of black box theater, and that experience is what people have grown to really love about us – whether they get the fancy bells and whistles of elaborate stagecraft or not.

This show was actually deceptively expensive to produce. The rights to the show alone cost us $1,000 a year before we went into rehearsals and before we sold a single ticket. We may still owe them a percentage when all is said and done as well. Nine actors. A director, stage manager and three designers. Fog effects which require we pay a Fire Marshal almost $1,200 for the run so he can stand in the back while the fire alarms are turned off. Then there’s that pesky stuff like rent for the space, insurance, advertising, paying the ushers and security. Now consider a $24.50 ticket and the fact we can only fit 85 chairs in the room over 12 performances.

We also went into this production knowing from those expenses alone we may not make back our budget through box office receipts, and that was a risk we were willing to take when we looked at the rest of the season and felt very strongly that their potential gains would offset any losses here.

Do not get me wrong, that’s not an excuse – that’s stating facts. There’s a reason Jobsite has made it 10 years now and we do as well as we do – part of that is we’re not stupid with money. We know what it means to make good theater, we think we have a pretty good idea of what people want to see and what they’ve come to expect from us and we do our best to provide that while continually testing the edges, pushing the boundaries and striving to innovate.

We’d love more money, trust me. First of all – I’d love my artists to be paid a living wage. To not have to worry about anything else other than making greatness. I’d love to be able to get the very best for every single need without hesitation. As we grow, as we make more money and are gifted more money we are doing just that.

I’m proud of this show. This was an exceptionally hard piece to put together as a director or designer, it’s a hard piece to sink into as a performer, it’s a hard piece to explain without it sounding super arty or just weird, and it’s a hard piece to draw an audience to. The material is inaccessible to some, just ‘out there’ to others.

That’s fair. We can’t do a full season of theater that is going to appeal to all people the same way. You end up with sanitized, safe choices once you start trying to program for, as Mark Leib even said himself one, an imaginary Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.

We took a play by a sometimes misogynistic, mostly nihilistic author who was then funneled through perhaps one of the greatest feminist playwrights of all time and stuck the whole thing into the very capable hands of the mighty Jobsite Ensemble. We felt there were ingredients there for a great recipe.

This was a huge risk: artistically, financially, professionally. Every show we do now carries the full reputation of our company, every show despite my involvement in it carries my reputation. I believe that taking these risks were warranted.

A Dream Play is not just simply art for arts’ sake. We’ve expected more. We’ve demanded more. As a result, we’ve gotten more. Just because you don’t share the same views as the artist’s work you’re experiencing doesn’t mean that you can’t give yourself over to it, enjoy it, and possibly even learn something from it.

This show, this whole process, exemplifies the notion of a ‘theatrical laboratory’ we speak of in our mission statement. The work itself hearkens back directly to the spirit we built ourselves on.

It isn’t possible (or even desired) that we would attempt this work all season, or even once every season, but it’s refreshing and satisfying to reach in and give it a go here and there. I can say there isn’t anything this experimental next season, and we haven’t done anything like it since The Serpent. Personally, I feel this show is a greater artistic success (though it’s never nice to pick between your children).

So if you’re out there on the fence about coming, I urge you to come. Particularly if you’re open to the mystical, spiritual, surreal or experimental. Heed the warnings though if you only like your theater linear, contemporary or of the kitchen-sink variety. You will not find work like this on many professional stages simply because most are too worried about the box office, of board member and subscriber backlash to the work.

This Saturday night’s show (per usual) is already sold out. We have seven other performances this weekend and next with tickets still remaining. Get out there and get one. If you do, come back here and let us know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

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