Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Special! My Favorite Villain Roles

Some of you may not know me but I'm actually a very nice guy! I'm a devout Christian, an abolitionist, and a supporter of women's rights. Most times I'd never hurt a fly. I think that's why I love playing the bad guy in any time that I can. I lost count of the number of villains I've played around eleven. Here is just a list of some of my favorites!

Ricky's Top Four Villain Roles



The Pillowman By Martin Macdonough: 
This is one of my favorites because, although my character does some horrible things, I'm not actually the villain. I play the special needs brother Michal to writer Katurian Katurian. My brother writes a lot of Brother's Grim style stories where a bunch of children get killed. What do I do to help him write better stories? I go out and kill a bunch of children to show him that his stories don't have happy endings. My favorite part of this role was trying to find the innocence in everything that Michal did. I had to play someone that did horrible things but didn't know they were wrong. Plus I got my first death scene ever when my brother smothers me with a pillow! You can't get an better than that! This character touched my heart because it reminds me of my relationship with my real brother, who also is a writer. I was able to write him a very touching shout out in my program bio that told him how I really felt. When he came to see the show, he was really touched.


 Bent by Martin Sherman: 
This is actually my first Villain Role and the first time that I ever walked onto the Austin Peay State University stage. I played a Nazi Captain that terrorized the homosexual protagonists that were imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp. I remember that we did a whole lot of research. We watched hours of video about what the prisoners had to go to and the draconian bans on normal people that allowed to to happen. I find it weird when I say that I like playing villains because it makes me more aware and compassionate. It made me think of all of the people who died under that regime but also how easy it was for people like my character to be talked into doing those evil things. I walked out of that play with a new awareness of the hatred that surrounds us, and a new definition of love. All because I played an evil man.

Heart of Glass by Robert Tonner: 
I wasn't originally in this play. I was actually just the director and had to step in at the last moment when an actor had to step out of the show. I played a very brutal boyfriend, William. I was really torn up in this play because part of the action of the play included a rape. It was easy to ask someone else to do and it seemed like a good challenge to my stage combat skills but when it came to doing it myself I didn't think I can do it. I wondered after this how many other times as a director had I asked other people to do something without thinking about the moral effect it would have on their lives. I walked out of that show with a new idea about which kinds of shows I was and was not going to direct.



A Dead Dog Like Me by Annotation Films: 
This was one of my first film roles. Again I was originally just there to do some stage combat but ended up stepping into the role at the last minute. This time I was playing a child molester called Sam Milvani. This one was also hard on for me. I walked onto the set and the first scenes we had to shoot were the fights scenes where my character is getting the tar beaten out of him with a baseball bat. Pretty easy for me. We break for lunch and we come back to my death scene where I'm getting shot in the head. Also not that difficult. But when the time came to shoot the rest of my scenes, including the creepy piano scene you see above you I couldn't help feeling the crummiest I've ever been. I kept wondering if I had taken playing the villain way too far. Had I crossed some boundary that I couldn't come back from in my art. And then the Director Ian gave me my copy of the finished film months later and I finally got to see the whole movie. It's a touching story about a father getting his redemption after years by avenging his son. I realized then that playing a villain and playing him well is so vital to a good story. Think about it. There are no good stories about good versus evil without some convincing evil. And that's why I still play villains to this day. So that there can be more heroism and hope on the stage.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tech Tip: Build it Up, Tear it Down!

As part of my series of Tech Ten Commandments this Tuesday we're looking at the the temporary nature of the theatre. When it comes to set design and set building there are three things that have to be thought of. How am I going to Build it? How am I going to Move it? How am I going to Tear it Down? Lets look at some common mistakes and some tips.

Set Building Common Mistakes

  • Building the set like a house: One of my biggest pet peeves is when the carpenter you've hired looks at your designs and starts studding walls and pulling out the nail gun and bottle of glue like he's building a house. Or he'll start putting a ZILLION screws AND nails into everything so that they won't move. Problem is every nail and screw that you put in now is hours of time that you can't get back during your tear down time.
  • Building a piece too big to fit through a door: You've built the piece in your big old shop and now when you move it from the shop into your venue you can't get into the front door. Sometimes with bad planning you can't even fit it on the truck!
  • Making it too heavy to be moved: You built it to last, you built it to be durable, but now Hotshot you have to move it to where you need it. If you don't have the proper tools and equipment to get it out then you better have money to pay for your crew's hernia treatment.
  • Making everything custom/no stock units: Most of the time you have standard stock units that you keep in storage to use in every show so that you don't have to build so much. Sometimes you have to build custom units for the show. But if you build it all custom then that's a lot of pieces that you have to tear apart AND throw away after the show. That can leave on big bill of wasted money.
All those are serious problems now let's look at solutions.

Tips for Build, Load-In, and Tear Down Sanity

  • Use as many stock units as possible! You can find plans for many stock scenery on the Web.
  • Don't use nails or glue! Screws can be easily put in and taken out.
  • Measure your Doors! Measure in advance of the blueprints being drawn. This makes effective planning.
  • If you're building heavy then think heavy. Invest in sturdy pallets, dollies, and lifts.
  • Turn the trash into Gold! If you must tear something apart make sure that you can use some of that scrap for a later purpose. This gets rid of waste.
  • Game Plan In/Game Plan Out: All the work that you have to do to get the set into the space is exactly as much work that you have to have tearing it down. Have a good game plan and keep to it!
Does anybody have any better tips out there?  Is there anything I missed? Be sure to post a comment below!

New Play Smell Part One

As long as there are stages in America there will be people writing plays to be performed on them. The process that theaters and departments use to put these on is called "New Play Development". And just like every other field in the arts there are several battles every year on what is the "right" way to do it.

The Lowdown: 

Here's how it has worked for years. A playwright sits at the local coffee shop and types out this wonderful script...it could be the next Broadway sensation or it could be a load of garbage...she doesn't know. So what does she do now? In many cases if our Heroine, Susie Q. Playwright lives in a big enough city there are probably one or two theaters in her area that will have a new play program as part of their regular season. If they're awesome enough all they might already have a wonderful guy called "A Dramaturg" who can be responsible for reading new works and making sure that they get developed and possibly get them into the theater's regular season. If there isn't a regional nearby a Google Search will provide a list of several thousand new play competitions or theatre companies that are looking for new plays. Before we go any further lets see the cliff notes version of how New Play Development and Programming usually works.

New Play Development: A Cheat Sheet

Staged readings: So you want to see how a play works in front of an audience without investing a lot of time and money up front? Just print the script out and put it in the actors hands and have them read it out loud in front of an audience. This can be in the form of sitting on stools in a row to actors getting up and walking around in costume but still reading off of a script. This is either done as part of the revision process to show the playwright what could be better or as a way of selling the script to other publishers and venues by inviting them to the reading. 

Open Submissions: You either send your play to a particular venue through the mail or email a pdf. A Dramaturg or Administrator and a group of volunteers reads the mountain of scripts that come in and rank the good ones. A small portions of the good ones are either considered as part of their regular season or are chosen for inclusion in a showcase or staged readings.

New Play Competitions/Festivals: These work just like Open Submissions but the end result is a showcase designed just for showcasing the submitted work. These can be either staged readings or full productions and the host organizations range from the grassroots to national leaders in the performing arts. 

Self Production/Residencies: I lump these together because they're basically two sides of the same coin. In a residency a playwright works full time at one theater and, among other duties like teaching classes or office work, gets paid to write one or more plays and is usually guaranteed a production with the company. In self production the playwright either fronts some of the money to put on a play in league with a theatre company or puts up all the money and is responsible for giving putting the show up herself.  Self Production has had a bit of a stigma attached to it because it was considered a "money over talent" ploy but nowadays with the advent of the internet it's become a lot more common.


That Seems Pretty Easy...
And it does. And most of the time it really is. The Ye Olde Internet Community has made it very easy for anyone who has written a play, no matter who they are, to get into the game and submit. But like every vestige of the analogue world the Internet has caused some serious changes to the Game Plan. Suddenly playwrights were seeing that their usual way of getting work out their just doesn't work anymore. In the next few parts of the series we'll take on each method in detail and see how the plan has changed in the recent years and how new strides are being taken to make New Play Development a big thing again.

This is just a cheat sheet. there are several less-common methods of new play production out there. Do you have one that you think I missed? Post a comment below. Look for New Play Smell Prt. 2 next week.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Object Lessons: The Acting Lifestyle

Many people will tell you that the acting that you learn in school is only half the training. It's how you learn to apply that training in the real world that makes the young grasshopper a kung fu master of the arts! Here are five lessons from my personal acting life where I learned far more than what was in the textbooks.

One

This is a picture from when I played Owen Musser in The Foreigner. When I came to audition for the show they were orginally going to do another show. I did my audition and left feeling like I wasn't going to get a part. Then on the second night they said that they weren't going to be able to get the rights for the show and that they were going to be doing The Foreigner instead. Knowing the play and that there was serious need for people to play the bad guys with a southern accent I played to my strengths and bagged the role. 

Lesson: Always try out for every part you can because you never know when you're going to be in the right place at the right time.

Two

This is a publicity photo for a show that I both wrote and was the producer for, Last Hope For Twenty Miles After an actor had to step out of the show I had to step in as the character of Tate. I immediately thought that this show would be a breeze because... Heck! I wrote the thing! Boy was I wrong. I was having every problem in the world trying to get into this guys head. Then I had the brainflash of... "Why don't I just look at this play like I've never read it before." I read over the script from scratch and found a lot of things that I had never seen before. I was then able to do the character some justice. 
Lesson: Never assume that you're an expert on something and don't have to do your research/homework. A change of perspective can mean the world to your character.

Three

This is from my first bit of acting experience in college at Austin Peay State University for the student directed one acts. I had to play my first bad guy...in this case a Nazi Officer in the play Bent. At first I didn't think that I was going to be able to play someone who was so mean and had to do so many monstrous things. Then I had the brain flash to ask myself "What was this guy like before he joined the Nazis?" I did some research and invented a little history for the character and I found out that maybe my character was an average guy but was led to believe that the awful things he had to do as part of his job were the right thing to do. I was able to do some justice to the character and found a good niche for myself in playing the bad guy. (I make most of my acting business playing very unscrupulous characters.) 
Lesson: Find the common points of interest between you and your character. Remember that every character is the protagonist in his own story.



Four

This is one of my favorite parts ever. I played a tiny bit character in a cute play called Nothing Says 'I Love You' Like Bad Poetry.  I played the role of a funk podiatrist called Dr. Feet that ran a poetry slam at a coffee shop. All he does is get onstage and read his rejection letters from famous magazines out loud. I maybe had three lines and my character was really not important to the main plot at all. But I did what every good actor does and treat the character like he was the star of his own play. But how was I going to make so much out of so little? I took all of the clues that were given in the script and made each of those a major character trait... I milked everything the script said for all that it was worth. I had a great time and the show went well.
Lesson: Pick apart every part of the script like every bit is precious gold. The more bits that you find the better your character will be.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rock it Out! Insights on Garageband Theatre

Congratulations if you are one of the thousands of college grads that just graduated with a degree in the performing arts you are now the proud owner of a new small business. It's called "New Young Performing Artist Enterprises". Let's face it the non-profit theatre world is declining and starving artists everywhere are huddled around waiting tables just waiting for someone to hire them and make it big. Newsflash! In the arts community in this recession you have to be your own boss and be the "architect of your own future". You are your own boss and it's your job to get yourself working in the arts in this world. But as a newbie fresh out of school with a degree what are you supposed to do to get work where you are?


Dress Rehearsal for Doctor Faustus by AP Playhouse, a student organization dedicated to student productions.


Rebecca Novick talks about this very thing in an article she wrote called "Please, Don't Start a Theatre Company!" In it she not only addresses the big problems facing the non-profit theatre world but outlines a way that apprentices in the field, (that's you and me) can get started. What follows are some borrowed points of hers and my two cents about how to work under what I call...

The Garage Band Theater

  • Don't get tied into a building!: When you're just starting out you're still learning the ropes of professional theatre. You haven't figured out how to effectively raise money for yourself much less get into a capital raising campaign for a building or maintain it. In the Garage Band Theater Method (or GBTM as it will be called from now on) the emphasis is on sustaining the people and not the structure. Spending your money on yourself and your fellow artists are the real investment you need.
  • Pursue your interests and your goals: This is the season in your life where you get to try the styles and projects that interest you while you can. This is where you can start shaping your resume as a foundation for the kind of work that you want to do for the rest of your life. The Performing Arts is not a good industry to have a bucket list. Do the list now and move on to even better things.
Rehearsal for Pied Piper by TOYS as small children's theatre group run by students.

  • Go Grassroots!: In this method you aren't going to start out with a big capital raising campaign or a multi-thousand dollar budget. Most likely you'll be funding your shows through bake sales and selling T-shirts and the ever important contributions from the family. Even then the money you make from ticket sales won't be enough to make you rich and famous. You're really looking for something called, "Economic Dignity" which is making enough money to make working in the arts a possibility for you. As you keep making money to stay in the arts you build the resume that will make people want to hire you.
  • Embrace the temporary: This is the Crux of the GBTM. You may have a small group of fellow artists that you work with now but that doesn't mean that you have to stay with them forever. Try throwing in your hat with different artists and doing different things. Maybe you work together for a year to support common interests and then you break up to work with other people. This helps you build a network that you will fall back on later in life when a friend that you worked with long ago calls to offer you a job with the company that they're currently working with. Keep the connections going but allow everyone to go their separate ways.
Getting together for Cataclysm: A showcase of six new ten-minute plays by local playwrights.

A Summary

Just remember that you're building a professional foundation for the rest of your life. Through establishing good relationships, a good resume, and good administrative habits you'll be ready to start building the structure of your professional career on the right foot.

Do you have any other ideas on how to run a Garage Band Theater? Any Questions? If so leave a comment below.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pay your Actors!


Edd, Yancey, and Korina getting ready at the Dunbar Cave Night Walk

So I had the joy of having my first professional acting gig ever this past Saturday. When I revealed this to everyone as I was celebrating many of them inevitable asked me, "How can you have done so much in the theatre in this town and have this be your only paying gig".There seem to be two unwritten conflicting assumptions in the Small-Town theatre world. 1) "I pay a lot of money for these community tickets, these actors have to be getting some of it." This usually comes from the audience members. The second assumption comes from the people on or behind the stage. 2) "This is Community Theatre here, nobody gets paid."

Edd, Yancey, and Dillon having a little fun.

The question of whether or not to pay the people working in your small theatre is a hard one. An even bigger problem is how much of the money to pay them. Here are some point of the reasons why a lot of small theatre's don't pay their talent and a lot of reasons why they should.

Why People Don't Pay Their Talent

  • We don't make a lot of money!
  • All of us have other survival jobs surely they get paid enough there!
  • We're not a professional company. Don't professional companies have to deal with a lot legal issues?
  • We don't have that many people coming in to fill the seats or auditioning for shows.
Theatre Ninja Vanish!

Why Paying People is a VERY Good Idea

  • It doesn't cost as much as you think: As long as you become committed to the idea of making a living off of the theatre and keeping your company thriving you ARE a professional theatre. A simple way of paying your actors off is the "profit sharing plan". When you count up the money after breaking even on the show. (This should be 30%-50% of what a full house is btw). After that all of the extra money is spread evenly amongst all of the people who worked on the show at some point that week. I can already hear people screaming at me now.  "But I could be using that money to pay for the next show's expenses!" You HAVE to start thinking of your actors and crew as a valuable production expense that needs to be paid for their services. While this method won' make them rich and famous it   does get you into a very good habit that keeps them coming back.
  • Paid Actors and crew start to treat your company as their job: With just a little bit of money in their pockets your people are going to become dedicated to making your company work, make money, and grow. They'll start acting better in rehearsal, they'll start acting more professional, and most of all they'll be coming back to do another show with you. Most small theaters go out of business because actors find better jobs somewhere else or get burnt out trying to make this "hobby" fit in their lives. Money gives them a great incentive to keep them coming.
  • Cast and crew become your best salesmen: When an actor knows that a full house means they get more money they will go out of their way to fill those seats. Cast and Crew have the "gimmee" seats. Those are family, friends, coworkers, and loved ones that come to see the show just because someone they know is in it. The cast will stop asking for free tickets for these people and will stop at nothing to get them in the seats. You will start to see ticket sales go up and you'll be able to break even quicker. 
So you can see that the simple act of paying the actors the few extra dollars that you have lying around pretty much trump every argument that you could ever make about not paying them. Every small town has it's starving artists...especially the performing arts. It's when you start investing into them and treating them like the professionals that you are that you take the first steps of having a budding theatre industry in your town.


Edd, Korina, and the rest of the cast spending our newly made money.



"Where are you, disembodied voice of the Headless Horseman?"
"Here"

Disclaimer Time: Obviously I'm not a lawyer or a business executive type. Always check with a lwayer or trusted expert before you do anything money related. Paying people always brings in things like taxes and other stuff like that. I'm just the guy with good sense not a law degree.

Any of you guys out there felt the squeeze when it comes to volunteering in the theatre? Any of you have any questions or ideas to share? Please feel free to post a comment below.



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rocky Horror Show Review

I'll have to admit something shameful, I have gotten this far into adulthood and had never seen the movie or the live show until then. But I filed in with everyone else, paid my money, and hunkered down for what I thought was going to be a regular night of theatre...



Boy was I mistaken...

The Rocky Horror Show is not made for those that just want to sit down and enjoy the show...here;s my review on the experience that I had.

What I Liked


  • The Audience participation: The rowdy college audience of that first night were trained veterans to the movie so they came into the house ready to join in! I was wonder why they were selling bags of stuff in the lobby called, "The Rocky Horror Survival Kit". Those were the people who go a nice little bag of goodies and a card about how they could participate in the show. They shouted the funniest things, knew when to get up and dance along to the Time Warp, how to bust out the props when directed. I really suggest when you see the show that you get this bag. You're not getting the whole show otherwise.
  • Oh the Camp!: I was relating the show to one of my friends afterward and I found myself saying, "It was weird that a show with the worst writing in the world could be so fun."  The RHS is designed to be as campy and horrible as the other Late Night Horror Shows that it mocks. There is something about those cult hits where we know they're horrible movies but they're "our" horrible movies and we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
  • The Songs: The Camp even worms it's way into the songs. I can see why there are some people (Like me) who haven't seen the show but still know several of the songs by heart. I dare anyone to say that they had never heard of the Time Warp before? Any takers? I thought not.
  • The Acting: I had a chance to be invited by one of my friends who was in the show to have drinks with the cast afterwards. I know for a fact that they seemed to have lots of fun doing this show and that it's not the kind of show that someone gets to do very often. They were all nice and polite. The actors had A LOT to do in this show and the fact that they could still do it and have a good time means that these people were top notch performers. I know that I'll never be able to do a song, dance, get cat called by a rowdy audience, playing an outrageous character in a crazy outfit, and still be able to have fun.

What I Didn't Like

  • The Sexual Content: I hear some people screaming, "Then why did you go see the Rocky Horror Show!" To which I'll say, "I never saw it before! I didn't know". Call me a prude but I find a lot of sexual themes in shows in bad taste. But everyone else was having a lot of fun. If this kind of thing is your cup of tea then leave the kids at home and by all means don't take your grandmother! I can see this being a perfect date night for some couples.
So to sum everything up I had a great time at the show and learned what I need to do to have an even better time if I go again. To find out more about the Roxy Regional Theatre and the rest of their season just look here.  If you have any other questions about my experience then please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tech Tip! Biting More than You Can Chew!

This is the first post of what I call my "Tech Ten Commandments". Unlike the real Ten Commandments theses rules aren't set in stone. But having worked with several theatre companies in the past and seeing what works and what doesn't these can serve as Golden Rules to keep your company out of disaster. And as always we start with the beginning.

Commandment 1: Thou Shalt Not Take on More than you can Build!

Cause: This Commandment gets broken in so many ways and is what I feel the most common sin of all the companies I've seen. The cause usually comes from a Director picking a play that he/she just has to do but requires custom set pieces or props or costumes that will keep the shop working around the clock or require more skilled labor or special materials or special effects than the team knows how to build. This also comes from lacking a strong independent Technical Director who can won't say no to special projects. 

The Reality: A good scene shop works a lot like a wood-chipper if you feed to much into it the gears will jam up. Your department is broken into tiny teams that take on maybe two or three projects a week  and get  paid part time to full time. If a show gives them more projects than the have time or get paid to do they won't get finished or done with the same quality. A good shop break down for a small to medium theatre goes like this...

Shop Foreman
Carpenter Team                                                                              Carpenter Team
Lead Carpenter and Apprentice                                                       Lead Carpenter and Apprentice

Lead Painter and Apprentices                                                           Volunteers

Again this is a Best Case Scenario of a Theatre Company. Most Small-Town Theatre Groups don't even have a shop space or all the tools necessary to get that kind of output done. You'll most likely be working under volunteers and in someone's back yard to get the work done. 

Solution: So how do we avoid this problem in the meantime?
  • Don't pick a set heavy play: Run plays that you're considering for the season by your tech people. They'll give you an honest estimate of if they can deliver the goods. If they say that they can't then put the play aside for next year.
  • Pull from Stock or Borrow: Start building up a collection of stock scenery and props and use them heavily when planning a set design. Borrow from someone that you know has the items already. A good rule of thumb for a set design is 80% stock to 20% custom build. 
  • Choose a Set Design With Multi-Taskers: If you can find any way that one set piece can double as another then that's wonderful. It only counts as one build but can be used as two set pieces! Paint the front and back of flats with different scenes. Use unit boxes or simple stools that can be used over and over in different scenes. The less custom work your people have to do then the more that they'll love you and the more they'll choose to stay.
Have any questions about this commandment? Have any stories about when you've seen this commandment broken in the worst way? Feel free to post a comment below.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Writing a Play is like Mowing a Lawn

Every now and then someone will ask me to describe what a writer's life is like. Somethings in writing a play are different than, say, writing a novel or a screenplay. I finally found a way to describe a playwright's life in my own redneck style using my own pride and joy, my lawnmower.

A Redneck Explains Playwriting! 

  • Priming the Pump/Changing the Oil: The Playwright's craft itself requires a lot of maintenance. Everyone has seen that one movie maker or tv writer who uses the same old bag of tricks over and over thinking they're a genius. (Did someone say Michael Bay?) A good Playwright looks for ways to change his point of view and comfort zone every so often to keep his craft fresh.

  • Throwing A Rock: I don't know how many times that I've written a superbly horrible or annoying character and sat back very happy with myself only to have a very witty actor or a friend say, "Hey dude, this guy is totally just like you". Sometimes in the course of writing a good story you happen to trip throw up something meaningful about yourself and your surroundings. You just got to make sure it doesn't smack you in the head.

  • Pulling the Cord: Sometimes the engine is primed and ready to go but you still have to pull the cord forty million times and adjust the choke before it starts to run and get warmed up. Sometimes a Playwright has to use a prompt to get their writing going. These can take the form of cliche exercises from college (put two people on a park bench and get them talking) or something as crazy as flipping a coin to decide what the character does next. This isn't supposed to be your play it's supposed to get the engine running so that you have a clear idea what your play is supposed to be. Once the engine is running you stop pulling the cord. 

  • Letting the Grass get too Tall: Just like your lawn it's very hard to get back into the routine when you let things grow wild for a while. Writing is like any other skill...better when you use it as part of a regular routine. When you don't use it it takes more work to get the same job done and you end up cursing more often than you end up smiling. 
Writing a play is a rewarding experience but as a daily routine or work schedule it has it's own problems and gremlins. Do you have any problems you encounter in your own writing routine? Leave me a comment below.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cheap Art: And What it Means for Your Theatre Pursuits!

Cheap Art, for as much as my research brings me, was coined by the Bread and Puppet Theater in 1979. You can read their Cheap Art Manifesto here. Here I want to offer my ideas about why I like the Cheap Art Philosophy and what it should mean for every Theatre Artist.

Key Points on Cheap Art

  • Art without the doodad's: Cheap art encourages participation. Whether or not you have started taking classes in technique or sunk lot's of money in the latest gadgets you can make Art. The key reason why some people don't start to pursue their dreams making art is because they may not feel that they have the right tools or have taken the classes. In Cheap Art you start where you are with what you have. As you build your craft and pursue a life in the arts you can start to progress but you must start somewhere.

  • Common Art: Cheap art is not for the museum or the big galleries. The core belief behind cheap art is that it is for the enjoyment of the common people. It can be done anywhere and made with anything. In the world of theatre it means that it can be as common as a pratfall or as complex as an intricate dance. Just because you may not have the ability to book the big performance halls or have access to the best facilities doesn't mean that you shouldn't display your craft wherever you are! Even your living room or your kitchen isn't exempt to being a showcase to a masterpiece!

  • No Shame: Cheap Art isn't afraid of being labeled "weird" or "strange". Cheap Art is not ashamed of asking money for what it does. When you decide to make art your profession you deserve to be treated like a professional and that means compensation. But don't just hold out for the big bucks. Bread and Puppet sells it's wares for anywhere from ten cents to ten dollars. Charge what you can and don't be ashamed to ask for it. A lot of the actors in the Small Town Theatre World often work for pizza and bus fare and there is nothing wrong with it or with asking more.

  • Doesn't Sweat It: Cheap Art has fun and is fun! It doesn't take itself seriously. Some people believe that if you're not suffering for your art then you're not trying hard enough. But if you're not having fun pursuing your art then it is perfectly acceptable to change courses and pursue what is fun! Find what is amazing to you, the things that fill your passions. That is where the magic comes from.
So what do you think? Be sure to leave a comment below.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Top Six: Definitions You Can Live By!

You probably hear these terms all the time in the course of pursuing your chosen field in the arts but might find that nobody can agree upon what they mean. Sure they may have literal definitions in the dictionary but they can take on completely ambiguous meanings when applied to something as ephemeral as art.  Well here are my definitions to six terms that I've seen cause bitter fights in the greenroom. And what better place to start than with one of the hardest...


  1. ART: A message that is trying to be conveyed by an artist through their chosen medium. Everyone has the capacity to make art no matter the age, skill level, or interests. Art is for all people and for all places. It can be cheap or priceless. Art can have different meanings depending on who made it and who's looking at it. Art is incredibly frustrating because it refuses to stay nailed down by definitions.
  2. CRAFT:  The language that you use to communicate your message. Craft builds up over time. It's a language you can learn and a vocabulary that you can expand as you learn. Your medium (painting, writing, acting, dance) are your words.
  3. SKILL: A mastery of technique in a craft. A mastery of skill can become like magic. You become so fluent in the language of your art that you start building something beautiful without thinking. Skill is a worthy lifetime pursuit that comes from a pursuit in a given craft.
  4. LEARNING EXPERIENCE: The point where you're on a verge of learning a new technique, a new trick, and you rack your brain trying to get it to work and finally you have a lightbulb flash in your brain as you get a sudden sense of discovery. This can also be called, "Getting it".
  5. TECHNIQUE: The building blocks of the craft. The words of the language.  As you start to use these more effectively and quickly they become like your native language. You don't have to think to use them. As you work each of these you build skill.
  6. THEATRE: The art of a person performing onstage with an audience watching. This is stolen loosely from Jerzy Grotwowski. Movement, Language, Narrative, etc. are the craft of the theatre. You ply you technique through several learning experiences to build a skill so great that you can woo the audience even better every time. Theatre is just one of the worthwhile crafts. 
Do you have an alternative definition to these? Do you have another ambiguous term that is causing a war among your friends? Be sure to leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writer Wednesdays: The Girl Who Cried Wolf

So starting in the beginning of October I was asked by the Blogger, Dragyn Ally, to write a play that would be posted in weekly installments on her blog. I said yes because I've been interested in trying out my plays in new places anyway but also because her challenge was so intriguing.

Dragyn Ally's Challenge 

  1. Has to be family friendly.
  2. Has to be completely spooky.
  3. Has to be chopped up into four sections.
  4. People have to kinda know what's going on in one installment without having to have read the previous ones.
  5. Has to fit in with my 31 Day's of Halloween Scheme that I'm already doing.
R. S. Young's Process

So as I was tossing out ideas about what I should do I decided to go a little retro with it. Every kid of the nineties remembers sitting around the TV and watching Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?. I started watching as many old episodes as I could find and found a common thread between them. At it's core a spooky story is a morality play, a fable. We see someone who is just like us, an Everyman, who has a lot of our flaws but gets punished in some weird way for them. In essence the monsters are guilt staring us in the face.  So after making some character notes and outline I came up with...

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

Hannah has a little bad habit. She likes to tell a couple of little white lies. But when her lies are costing her parents too much they decide to never believe a word that she says. That's bad considering that they just happened to buy enchanted costumes from Mr. Magini's magic shop that turns people into whatever they dress up as. Now Hannah's little brother, Jake, has turned into a wolf has eaten their grandmother and her Dad's turned into a hunter that is destined to hand Jake on his wall. And the worst thing is that Hannah's Mom won't believe a word of it! So what is Hannah going to do?

You can find the first three installments of this on www.DragynAlly.com  the fourth and final installment will come out next week. You know you don't want to miss it. You can find Part Three here

Have any other questions about the play? Want to suggest another play for me to write? Leave a comment below!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tech Tuesday's: Top 4 Tech and Design Mistakes!

In my undergrad I worked in the scene shop for the theater department all five years and built sets for both of the student organizations. If you name it I've probably done it. Here are four of the most common mistakes that I've seen done by most small theaters (or have unknowingly committed myself).


  1. Too Big Too Early: Whether it's sinking too much of the budget into high tech gadgets or insisting that there needs to be a hugely realistic set or wanting a million sound cues many a show has gone down the tubes when they insisted on wanting to put more onstage than they could afford. This can drown the story or give the audience high hopes for a the next show that you can't deliver. Solution: Go slow! Start with the bare essentials up front and build up as your company grows each year.
  2. Pretty Picture-- Sloppy Set: This happens usually when a show recruits a designer that can draw a pretty picture of what the set would look like but has no idea how a set like that would be built or doesn't recruit a capable carpenter to build it. Any design for the theatre is not a pretty picture, it is a promise that what's on that page is what the theatre company can put on the stage in the time, budget, and skilled labor at hand.  Solution: Get a carpenter or tech director that knows the company's capabilities and ask the designer to collaborate with him early on.
  3. Professional Acting-- Community Theater Set: This comes about when a company gives way more importance to paying professional actors and producing good performance than giving the tech department the skilled labor and the resources to build a good set to back them up. This can give you a level of shoddiness that no amount of good acting can replace. Solution: If you're shelling out money and space for professional actors and directors you need to be giving just as much for a good designer and carpenter. 
  4. Poor Planning/Tech Policies: A lot of problems of the tech department come about by having poor habits when it comes to the shop space and administrative policies. This can range from shop safety to poor budget management to never telling the designers and directors "NO" when they ask too much. Solution: Good habits start in the office and work their way out. By making a game plan and solid rules and sticking to them problems should never happen in the first place.
No theatre company intentionally sets out to intentionally make these mistakes. They come about when there's a lack of respect for the advantages of the technical side of theatre and the hard work and skill it takes to make it all happen.

Have you seen far worse mistakes? Have a tech tip or question for me? Be sure to leave a comment below!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Actor Tip: Using Cohen's GOTE to Hack a Scene!

So you're in rehearsal for your next play and your scenes are just DRAGGING! The Director is pulling his hair out and you and your scene partners don't know what to do. Use this cheat sheet to help you out.  It's pulled from Robert Cohen's Acting One and while most of it seems like common sense finding actions in your character work that aligns to these four sections will liven your scene up. I use it every time I'm onstage and it really helps me.


  • GOAL: What is my character's goal in this scene? In his life? This section uses action verbs. (i.e. to create, to destroy, to empower, etc.) Every action that your character does in the story will spring from what he wants.

  • OBSTACLE: What is keeping me from reaching that goal? This almost always refers to another character on stage doing something to your character. When in doubt when you look at the script just look for where your character is arguing or fighting with someone else. Where there's conflict there are two people with two different goals!

  • TACTIC: What am I going to do to overcome these obstacles? This means that there is something in the script or a way that you say a line something that you do to counteract what the other character is doing to you. Tactics move the character along.

  • EXPECTATION: What does my character expect to happen when he reaches his goal? After my character tried each tactic and met every obstacle did he get what he expected? Acting the difference between what a character expected to happen and what he really got is what makes drama more realistic and tight.
Does anyone have anymore tips that they think would be useful? Do you have any questions about how actors do what they do? Leave a comment below!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Great Qualities of a Small-Town Theatre Artist

What makes a good Small-Town Theatre Artist? Well here is just a few of the good qualities you need.

  • An Entrepenuer- We strive to find work for ourselves even when there's no "real work" to be found. We find ways to work in our chosen field even if we have to create the opportunities ourselves. You're always your own boss!

  • No Shame: The old saying is, "No one asked you to do theatre" In fact if you're anything like me your family practically begged you not to. You have a chosen profession and it is a real job if you treat it as such! Don't be afraid to take the steps that give you a life of enjoyment pursuing your art.

  • Beg, Borrow, and Steal: In Small-Town Theatre quite often you won't have the same infrastructure, money, or resources that the big boys have. Often their big boy toys cost just as much as your entire operating budget! Make a list of what you absolutely need and be relentless in getting it at the mother of all prices...FREE! Who's throwing one away? Who has one that you can borrow? Where can I scrounge the parts to make one myself?

  • A Polite Socialite: We are always on our best behavior, even in the least promising networking opportunities. We support and attend other art funtions and spread the wealth when we can at fundraisers. The theatre industry (and the rest of the arts for that matter) is a VERY close knit community. The relationships you nurture now will build a foundation for the future.
Do you know of any other good qualities? If so please leave a comment!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Life of a "Jack of all Trades"

As I said before theatre is my addiction. From the very moment that I first watched rehearsals of a church Easter Play and got to stay late and explore the newly made set I was hooked. I would watch the proceedings from all different angles, I would sneak backstage and try to see all the secrets. who was lining up to enter next? Wasn't it amazing how that one set piece was able to be just folded up and set aside when it came offstage. I wanted to see the show from all angles, see all the secrets that made the magic you saw onstage. It should have been no surprise that I would become a "jack of all trades" when it came to the theatre.

A "Jack of all Trades" in the theatre is a lot like the duct tape that keeps the Company together. We're only perfect solutions for a few things but can be used as an adequate solution for anything. In the course of my theatre experience I've worked fronstage and backstage. I've worked everything from lights to props to costumes to building the sets. I've played the lead onstage and worked the ticket booth in the house. I've written the plays and directed them. When it comes to filling the staff of a small theatre house you usually want two or three of me before you hire any of the professionals. This isn't to brag about any of my accomplishments (because there are plenty of things that I can't do) but it can show you the virtue of learning as many things about your chosen profession that you can even if you feel you'll never be hired to do those extra things. 

In the small town theatre world (and just about anywhere else) you're going to be hired by small houses of five hundred seats or less that suffer from the three "Un's". That is Underrated, Underfunded, and Understaffed. Even if they hire you just to act don't expect that all you'll do is act and go to rehearsals. You may be asked to "volunteer" for several extra things backstage or in the office during the course of the run. And, in the cold blooded business world, having extra skills and experience can give you staying power in the Company. I know as a producer that if I have a young actress that can also paint beautifully I'm going to be looking for other shows that would be perfect for her in the next season. Another perk? You don't have to be a certain "type" to work backstage so even if you don't get cast in a show you may still have a job if you have skill that they need. What people are we always looking for? If you can paint, sew, use power tools, or lift some heavy things we want to keep you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writer Wednesdays: Meet R. S. Young

Hey guys and welcome to my new blog! The Fronkensteen Lounge will be your guide through the world of small town theatre and the labyrinth of self production and so much more! But first let's meet the owner and writer extraordinaire! (someone has a big head don't we?)

I'm Ricky Young and I'm a playwright, producer, director, and all around artist from Clarksville, TN. I'm a proud Alumni of Austin Peay State University and am currently pursuing my Masters of Fine Arts in Playwriting  at Hollins University.  I'm also very active in my local church.

I am a serious addict of Theatre in any shape or form. From plays done at the local church and high schools to professional productions at the Orpheum, TPAC, or Actors Theatre of Louisville. Theatre is not only my chosen profession it's my obsession. Wherever I go, no matter where I am I always wonder what kind of theatre I can do there. Plays, like most art, is a direct channel from the Artist's soul to the that of the audience. Theatre is a link to catharsis, an expulsion of negative energy, and a method of building community.

When I'm not making theatre I dabble in art, music, dance, and poetry. I make my own instruments and study folk art. I believe in Cheap Art. Art not meant for the museums or the fancy-shmancy but the rigors and rhythms of everyday life. I consume books and Television like food and hoard knowledge like treasure.

I believe the theatre is rapidly moving out of the larger Regional Houses and into the commercial world.  I believe that modern playwrights and theatre people need to take matters into their own hands and start producing work for themselves. Theatre has one of the highest unemployment rates because people are moving to the big cities and trying to "make it big" But what they don't know is that social media and technology have given them even greater tools to reach the Wired World from their own living rooms!

I hope that my blog will document my work as a theatre artist and help other people break free and take their career in their own hands. Check back often... See you guys later!