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« Protest theater? | Main | Next up at the Lansburgh ... »

Sunday, 26 February 2006

Comments

anon

Seems a little Guffmanesque, somehow.

composeyourself

I was wondering why I was called suddenly and asked to resign from [redacted theater]'s next play. Maybe because my letter has made the site? Now I figured it would make some kind of circulation, (how naive can one be?) but as T-boy himself says, an artistic director primarily concerned about himself is somewhat commonplace. There's more to the story, of course, but I was sufficiently responsible enough to not include it in the email. The letter is primarily a nudge for future work. Not really much drama here, folks. Sorry.

justadoggoneminute

They can't fire you! You quit!

heihachi

"Not really much drama here, folks."

Well, drama is in the eye of the beholder. I heard this story all over town before reading it here, so somebody considers it drama, or it's a really slow week. It's true that it's no "Tricia O. story", if only because it's somewhat common knowledge (both your departure and the egocentrism of the AD) and somewhat common practice. It may not be major personal or company drama, but it's an issue that many of us actors feel strongly about, and, of course, want to ramble about for days on end, if allowed(5 commas).

AD's who cast themselves (or otherwise insinuate themselves) into plays has always been a pet peeve of mine...but from the beginning I got the feeling that that's what this company was about. Doesn't mean they don't do good work, don't offer others great opportunities, or that the AD isn't perfect for those roles he's been cast in. But it's a conflict of interest I wish more AD's could resist(though I've never had to resist the temptation myself). If you're that good, and also so sure that you wouldn't be a liability to any play you cast yourself in, why don't you just go out and get jobs elsewhere where you don't have to worry about the conflict?

In any case, good luck moving forward, composeyourself. Parker Posey will always have a job at the DQ, but I hope you somehow turn these lemons into lemonade.

Confused

Ok, I think I've almost got it. I just need one more hint. Please? I'm feeling really stupid for not knowing who we're talking about here, since it's "all over town," but so far I have: egotistic AD who casts himself in shows, a theatre that has (or had) a casting director and a name that can be redacted to _____ Theatre Company. I'm almost there, folks. Just one more hint?

dcepticon

It's actually Theate"er" Company.

dcepticon

Theat"er" Company! You know what I meant.

hintmaster

Ok, here's your hint. It's [ ] TheatER Company.

Christopher Henley

regarding heihachi's above-described "pet peeve" -- people who run theatres and then act in plays at those theatres -- i wonder, is that anymore troubling or suspicious or unethical (after all, the phrase "conflict of interest" was used) than it would be were a person who runs a theatre to then direct at that theatre? or design? or write a play that is produced at that theatre? are theatres run by actors inherently inferior to theatres run by directors...and, at that, directors who direct exclusively, and never act? short of hearing a convincing argument to the contrary, i don't agree. [practical note to anyone taking the advice to act at theatres other than your own: you may find yourself scolded on theaterboy by those who ascribe any problems at your theatre to the fact that you have worked elsewhere.]

No Longer Confused

I think I've got it now. Thanks!

heihachi

Good points, Henley, I'll have to chew on that for a bit.

My knee-jerk reply is that the actor is usually at the bottom rung of the theatre hierarchy (omg, a whole nother discussion) where a director is usually at the top(or near it). An artistic director directing is not surprising or troubling to me because director is right there in the title. They are supposed to be in charge and giving the orders. It somehow perverts it, in my mind, to have a director's boss also be his employee. Depending on the AD, they may get all kinds of preferential treatment or put a real mindf%ck on the director who has to worry about if he will work there again if he doesn't coddle the AD or stroke their ego enough. And what about the fellow cast members who feel somewhat cramped by the close proximity of a fellow actor who just so happens to be running this whole show (so watch your tongue if you want repeat work, and get your brown-nose ready).

I'm not saying it can't work, but an actor is a different animal than a director or scenic designer and the upside down power dynamic can pull a show in bad ways in my experience.

I don't know if you've ever actually 'cast' yourself in a play, or even suggested that you'd like to play a certain role to a director as you interviewed them for the job, but just imagining that situation makes me uneasy. I doubt it happens often that a director is hired, auditions are set up, and at the end of the casting, the director turns to the AD and says, "actually, you'd be perfect, any interest?" The real casting 'choice' of the AD is probably a lot less subtle.

I think that directors should always have complete freedom to cast as they see fit(I know I'm probably not living in the real world) and of all the actors out there, it's a touch suspicious when you see the theatre company's AD being cast in leading roles again and again. Or just outright self-serving.

anonymous

Speaking as someone who was an artistic director in DC for many years, I gotta say... This is the way things go in theater. Some days you're up, some days you're down. Casting Director is one of those jobs where you are (and I mean this in the most pragmatic sense possible) parasitic to the company. All theater jobs are to some degree, but, Casting Directors are even more so. And if you're not getting paid a professional salary to do it, there must be a level of trust and respect (and friendship?) between yourself and management. It is the responsibility of both parties -- not just management -- to maintain and to keep wary of and chinks in this armor. If things begin to go awry with the host (like, say, evidences of a huge ego) it's probably smart for the parasites to bail. But, I gotta say, this Casting Director should've known what he was getting into. The artistic director of this now-famously-redacted theater(re?) company has an easily-tracked motivation for starting his own company - he was, for one reason or another, having trouble getting cast elsewhere. (Strange since he's a pretty good actor by my estimation.) Could it be that our friend, the Casting Director, was somehow blinded to this easily-observed fact? Perhaps, by his own huge ego?

dcepticon

Can we keep the name calling to a minimum. I for one think that a mistake was made by someone who was very upset for a moment. I think all of us have wished that the send key wasn't so readily available to us on occassion.
There are consequences to such mistakes and as is evident the price has already been extracted by said company on said former company member. He has lost a job. I for one know he is a great artist and consider him a friend. And friends have hard times.
Ego is such an easy word to throw around in this business. We all have huge ones and ones which are quite easily damaged.

theaterboy

I'm with Scotty. I like the way this thread's developed into a discussion of the macro issue -- and I took the names out for a reason.

DCeiver

I have to agree with dcepticon. The heat of passion and that send button are a bad combination, and if you haven't sent them out on the floor to tango at least once in your life, consider yourself lucky.

But to follow up with the larger idea of whether it's a conflict of interest to start a theatre company for the purpose of casting yourself. Or directing, designing, whatever. Isn't the reality that this is really kind of par for the course? Besides, when it comes to starting a company and enduring all that hassle and strife, it really takes some guts to hang it out there like that. And if you've got the guts to put up your own shingle, and you think you can get the job done on stage or in the director's chair, it's not likely you're gonna chicken out just because you're worried someone's going to slap you with the vanity tag.

heihachi

"par for the course" I don't think is the discussion. I counted (with my limited perspective) half a dozen local companies that do this. I think a more interesting discussion is whether it's a good thing (for any applicable 'stakeholder' in the company or the arts). Domestic abuse or corporate fraud (or ducking under the sneeze guard at a salad bar, for a less ominous example) may be par for the course, but are they good for all concerned?

I wonder why more ADs don't cast themselves as spear carriers. It's a part that needs to be played, like any other. Too Hitchcockian? But time and time again, when they do 'get cast', it's the lead or a central character. Hmmmmmm. Maybe their really are no small parts, just the ones the Artistic Director doesn't want to play.

???????

Since when did theatres become charity organizations for unemployed actors? An AD is just like a visual artist or musician--they are out there, showing their "art" or product and have amassed others around them to create their vision. Would the product be better served by casting all outside actors because it's the "nice" thing do? No, not at all. If the show and idea are that of the AD, in many cases, the AD is the best choice to carry out that vision in a variety of capacities.

Heihachi- not all companies work in this utopian vison you have...in fact, if they did, the work would become stagnant, predictable, and boring. Theatre, or any art, should not have to fit into some busines mold. It's antithetical to what art is--you do what best seves the finished product.

Sometimes theatre hierarchy does not always work the way it's taught in THEA 101.

flawed logic

Because Studio, Shakespeare Theatre, Signature, Arena, and Roundhouse are stagnant? None of those ADs put themselves on stage. Some of those, I would agree, have become a little boring at times, but I seriously doubt it's because the AD isn't getting up on the boards him/herself.

I think Heihachi's point was that it looks fishy to the community, though perhaps not the public, when an AD is CONSTANTLY casting him/herself in the lead. It smells like bitter actor instead of artist with a vision.

I don't think anyone begrudges Howard Shalwitz for acting in a show or two occasionally. But the man has respect enough for his company and his subscribers to not put himself in the limelight each and every production. It makes a statement about the work you're producting instead of the actors you're showcasing.

Now if the subscribers (if there are many) for [redacted] Theater Company subscribe for no other reason than to see Mr. [redacted] on stage, then that's their choice. And it's certainly his choice to run his company however he wants to. Odd when his co-founders don't agree with his choices, but it's his call I guess. Is Mr. [redacted] in the [redacted] Theater Company charter? "[Redacted] Theater Company's mission is to present challenging plays staring Mr. [redacted]"

I gotta wonder how long people will continue to frequent his theater when Mr. [redacted] stars casting himself in parts for which he's completely wrong or to old to play. Has it already happened? And what if he wants to quit, does [redacted] Theater Company totally fold?

...anybody want to start the "[Redacted] Theater Company" after all this noise?

Christopher Henley

i think heihachi brings an interesting perspective and raises appropriate cautions that an a.d. who acts should be aware of and sensitive toward. nobody wants to be thought to be self-serving at the expense of the institution for which one is responsible. i would point out, though, that one way to empower actors (who, he notes, are "usually at the bottom rung of the theatre hierarchy ") is to have them in decision-making roles. as there is a long tradition of the actor-manager, from the legendary 19th century actors through olivier founding the national theatre of great britain to mark rylance of the globe today, there is also a long and happy tradition of actors, in film as well as in theatre, creating their own opportunities. perhaps, as a recent biography argues, there was something of the self-serving involved when cassavettes began creating his own movies (and sometimes acting in them!). he gave himself parts, and at the same time set the mold for the independent filmmaker and paved the way for a lot who followed. my company began because t.j. edwards wanted to play hamlet. self-serving? perhaps, but i would argue that it served a lot of others, too, audiences and artists who have had 16 years of opportunities because of his effort. flawed logic is right that having an actor run a theatre doesn't necessarily create a vital and interesting theatre; my point is that neither does it preclude one. that said, it is also an excellent idea for an a.d. who acts to not always play leads, which is a reason that i was really happy to play an ensemble role in MEDEA and a supporting role in JUMPERS. (if i may self-servingly point out.) but, ??????? also makes some very good points. people who run theatres work very hard to keep those theatres open. i, for one, went after work and on weekends every day for a year to build the theatre we now have. i just paid off a credit card on which materials to build the theatre were charged, and most of my "spare" time is spent working on the theatre. does that give me -- and my cohort of those who give there time and energy to keep wsc going -- more opportunities at my theatre than those who don't? um...yeah. and, maybe the culture of wsc is different than that at other theatres, but i dealt quite easily with the fact that i was acting with or directing my predecessor a.d.'s; in fact, i think it sometimes helps to have staff or board members as part of your acting company. but in casting, like in most things in theatre or in life that involve the exercise of power and decision-making over who will or will not work, things are not always level or fair. one tries the best one can to serve the project, the theatre, the audience, and sometimes that overlaps with opportunities for oneself, and sometimes one forgoes opportunities in order to guard against certain perceptions developing. i know we are supposed to pretend we don't know the identity of the person being criticized rather roundly on this site, but he is the only actor to be nominated the last two years for helen hayes best actor, for roles at his theatre. that's not the be-all and end-all of bona fides, but it seems to me one indication that the vanity tag being applied is not entirely fair.

heihachi

"?????", I think flawed logic said it pretty well.

I'm not saying an artistic director can't make it work or should never be allowed to act at a company he or she founded or currently runs. I'm saying that, as an actor who has been working for 20+ years (more than just THEA 101), I tend to get lost in the play. I don't know if it's good. I don't know if it's on track. I have my own insecurities, roles, and tasks to think about and am not thinking about the big picture. But the big picture is what the AD should be all about.

In addition to that, there are the hierarchy troubles I mentioned previously. Should Dick Cheney be allowed to give his previous company an Iraqi reconstruction job, and then insist they hire him on as a consultant because he can best "carry out that vision in a variety of capacities"?

I'm not saying it's a AD's job to be "nice" or provide "charity work" to local actors. (On that note: A company can't exist in a vacuum though.)

I just want to note a few things in case anybody thinks I'm stating facts that I think are irrefutable. I'm just talking about this macro issue (one of a few, possibly, as the original email didn't posit it was the ADs self-casting that made him egocentric). I'm not an artistic director, I'm an actor. If I was both I'm sure it would temper (and maybe wholly change) my opinion. Same as if I was just an AD or just a director, or had no experience in theatre past taking a THEA 101 class. It's just my opinions and my pet peeves. I think others share my opinions to some extent, but I could be really wrong.

I just wanted to state the above paragraph because, redacted or no, this is a very personal debate for some people. For me it's really not. I've never been beaten out, that I know of, by an AD for a part. I've never wanted a part I saw an AD play (maybe in a generic sense, but not in a specific production sense). But I would be very, very wary of acting in a production where I knew the AD would be playing a major role. And I tend to somewhat avoid those companies and those productions because it seems like a vanity project for one person in particular. Usually those ADs are no slouch in the acting department (looking around at the 6 or so local ADs I can think of who do this), but it gives the appearance that they aren't good enough to work elsewhere or are only good because they are giving all the orders, instead of dealing with what they are given like most actors.

I'd love to continue this discussion, but for everybody involved, I'd also like to avoid namecalling, condescension, and other nastiness. I'm ready to have my opinion changed, and ready to be 'wrong'. I'm just talkin here....

heihachi

Henley posted about the same time I did, and man are those good points....

JM

Speaking as one with a fair amount of experience in management positions in theatres where the AD acts/directs/both with fair regularity, I feel I have seen several sides of this issue close up. In the first place, by the time you are an artistic director, if you know what you are about, (and I believe most do, thought certainly not in the same ways or with the same artistic agendae, and what a good thing THAT is) you realize that your own success is based on making the best choices possible, and sticking by them. You also should know if you have surrounded yourself with enough good people to make sure the ship doesn't sink while you take your turn at the oars.

Nonetheless, it is not always the AD's CHOICE to partake in a role (the generic term) - many other considerations come to bear... often boards or staffs pressure young or new AD's to show their work to an audience, to help solidify their stance as the AD - a sort of validation of tenure, if you will. I have worked at one theatre (one of the one's listed above, by the way - where indeed the AD DID regularly act in the season) where the AD was often pressured into taking roles - even if s/he felt it was a serious toll on their time and duties - by directors who thought him/her the best available actor for the job. Often, too, audiences really DO come back to see a talented (or notorious) AD perform or direct - and recent discussions have highlighted the necessity of BITS (butts in the seats), so who can blame a board or a director who feels the need to make that a facet of how a season's casting is done? I have even heard a board president say to an AD - "wait a minute - there's nothing for YOU in this season...

I have also observed firsthand that an accomplished AD who is primarily an actor runs a theatre differently - not better, necessarily (but potentially) - for theatre and theatrical organizations that spring first and foremost from the actor's impulse and needs are often vibrant in different and more visceral ways than the more global conceptualization some "directing" AD's bring to their realms.

And from deep personal experience, I can tell you, that if your AD is an artist, and therefore has an artist's needs and impulses, managing the demands on his/her time and focus is a WHOLE lot easier if they are least doing it in the same building as you instead of somewhere across town or across the country.

That said, whatever works best in a particular situation - works best; we have, probably, no more right to tell an AD how to run the institutions they are entrusted with than we do the Style section of the Post how to cover theatre. If we want to start our own theatres and newspapers, no one is stopping us. (OK, fiscal reality, the desire for a life outside dark rooms, fear of crippling debt, gravity, you name it, but....

just some thoughts.

Vladimir

Good arguments...I think it really comes down to the certain situations. In some cases, it is the board's decision. In other cases, audiences really flock to see Joe AD on stage because he/she's quite a performer. For every positive (best word?) instance, there are the "negative" ones, but I don't think that the concept of an AD acting in their own show is always wrong or right in itself. It depends on the show, the company, the actor, and a hundred other circumstances. The practice is quite accepted in nearly every other community around the world, and most all US cities. I would guess that it's probably less common in DC than in any other major theatre town.

If I were a better actor, I'd cast myself! In fact, I was planning on casting myself in an upcomming production for what would have been a "spear carrier" role, but I happily passed the role on to another actor just this week.

But that's just me~

I really like seeing Christopher and Howard and others on stage, so different strokes and all that~

Mick

Question: is there a company in town (outside of the actor-AD companies) where the AD doesn't direct at least one production a season?

Observation: Perhaps the ADs who act and direct in their own companies do so because they simply don't have TIME to do outside work. Like Henley says, it takes up just about every waking minute to run a company--every minute you can squeeze in around your day job, you know, the one that you have so that you can pay off the debt that you accrued financially supporting your theatre company?

Digression: From a director's point-of-view, starting a company seems to be one of the only ways to get work initially in DC. The small companies hire their own artistic directors or hire established directors (who are often the ADs of other small companies in town) to fill their season. Not wanting to take risks on untried directors (or directors whose work they have never seen), this cycle continues. When you finally get the funds and the space and the people together to get your DC premiere on the boards, you've already done half the work of starting a company--so what the heck! Start one! And then YOU have your small company where you hire yourself to direct one show a season, you hire the ADs of small companies or your company members to direct the rest of your season. And the major bonus: they in turn hire you~

Now, if only you had TIME to work for them...


personman

In re: Mick's question-- Metro Stage's AD Carolyn Griffin and Artistic PRODUCERS Janet Griffin of Folger and Paul Tetrault of Ford's are three who do not act or direct in their company's productions. Ari Roth has only directed one play at Theater J, but they have produced a number of plays that he has written. That's all I can think of.

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