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After running a Company for a decade I’ve learned to put into managerial practice what I have come to refer to as the act of  transparency.

Transparency.

The darkness defines the light

The darkness defines the light.

This frightens people.

It’s kind of the personal equivalent to co-dependency which says, “I won’t keep your secrets”.  This concept has come to me over time.

In times of extreme rage with people who have wronged the work and then run away, I’ve found myself repeating the mantra: cowards hide under rocks.  I think this was my way of letting myself know to keep stepping up into the light and not worry about the creatures of cowardice.  By the way, I have met many of them.  You know that moment, when you finally have a few minutes to deal with the wrong that you’ve been recovering from and saving the farm over for an extended period?  The clouds part and there is a temptation to go coward hunting.  Start lifting those rock and sinking down into the sulfurous mud.  All the while holding a well-worn gardening shoveling above your head ready to take a good cracking swing, you find your arm begins to tire.  Well, I do.

Then, in the sad times, I’ve found myself chanting the mantra:  the darkness defines the light.  This was perhaps powerful and profound, or maybe a masochistic cowardice way to rationalize dark times.  The theory being that even the smallest spark illuminates.  So, no matter how difficult the industry.  No matter how much the 17% refused to shift, it was still 17% light.  Still, 17% of women getting plays produced which is not zero.  Not complete darkness.

Each time a new mantra presented itself I began to notice that always there was this image of light.  Light.  Ah, light.  Alight.

transparent  adj. 1.  Capable of transmitting light so that objects and images beyond can be clearly perceived.

And so, here I am.  Transparent.  Talking about it.  About how hard this job is.  About how amazing it is.  About all of it.  Not keeping secrets.  And, you have to begin to think that there’s some power in that, isn’t there?

So, without crossing a line, let me tell about my year here at Venus Theatre with the intention of transparency.

We produced four full shows and did a reading at the Kennedy Center.  That’s 65 performances this year alone, add-in about 150 rehearsals and a renovation of the space and you begin to see what the workload has been like with very little funding.  Yet, everyone has gotten paid with only eight actors left – a few weeks to get money to four of them and months for the other four.

Let’s do an artistic profit/loss analysis, shall we?

Profit:

Well, we brought Zelda Fitzgerald to life with “Zelda at the Oasis” in a town not far from her burial site with a script that was rejected by the Fitzgerald Organization 13 years prior and had never been produced.  Our Zelda was nominated for an audience choice award with DC Theatre Scene.  I’ll take that as a major win.

We covered four women on death row in Texas in May.  On September 22, the state of Virginia walked Teresa Lewis into her death chamber.  The Venus production of “In the Goldfish Bowl” was able to embrace and explore the conditions these women lived in, and the world in which they committed heinous acts.  It was difficult, at first, to look at unlikeable characters that the audience despised at the start, then amazing to watch them fall in love with those same characters through a journey that was jolting and powerful.

Imagination was alight in September and we defied the laws of physics and nature when Isabel freed her entire family from the self-hating dominance of a Mother-turned-monster with the only tool she had, her imagination.  After the Venus Theatre world premier, “Play Nice!” is now being given an equity showcase performance in NYC in 2011.

We took on breast cancer through the perspective of the love to two sisters.  “Looking for the Pony” moved audiences in ways I KNOW they never expected.  It is the first time Venus Theatre has been given a Helen Hayes recommended status.  Ever. Take into account that haunting 17% dim light and realize that this regional premiere (written by a woman, Andrea Lepcio) held it’s own with major houses in the city producing tried and true works (by male writers).  That’s something right there.  Something that is kind of unheard of.

“Another Manhatten” was an amazing experience at the Kennedy Center’s page-to-stage festival over the summer.  Claudia Barnett used the history of Manhatten Island as well as the the event of 911 to weave a story that was engaging.  When I worked with Claudia I was a little shocked about how excited she was to first receive my feedback to her and then to see our two rehearsals.  She took copious notes and went into rewrites with the utmost respect.  She contemplated my notes with extreme diligence.  It was nice to have a moment of play development over the year.

This is all great stuff.  These are all major accomplishments.  And, I brought in more guest directors than ever before and scaled back on actors this year.  Lots to process.  All of the great stuff is a bit overwhelming.

But, there was loss.  Financial loss, yes.  Loss in the way of disrespecting the form has been the greatest blow, cost, damage to the Company (to ME) this year.  I am a collaborator, not their bitzch.

Loss:

Some of the artistic team of one of the productions decided to remount without going into production negotiations with Venus and actually stole the show.  This was an interesting moment for me.  There was the chance to go into litigation.  I realized when I had five lawyers on it at one time that there are benefits to having incredible friends in various professions.  In the end, after AMAZING guidance, I decided to:  let go of the rope in that tug of war.  In theatre, we must have trust.  And this was a great loss.  Because, I had given these people an opportunity to do a great piece of work and their response was theft.  In fact, it was the first time in my entire theatre existence (almost 30 years) that I was not invited to my own cast party.  I understand they perceive me as some kind of beast.  And, I honestly had them for that.  I hate them.  Shovel-UP-HATRED!

Then, going into the next show one of the actors just pulled out 8 rehearsals into the process.  Oops, just said her car couldn’t make it to rehearsal and then drove her script back to us.  Bye bye.  There were only about 20/25 rehearsals total.  Amazingly, we found another actor who was MUCH stronger and pulled the show up to new levels.  This, coupled with the three actors that held the line, was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed.

Then, we ran out of money and, for the production necessary on one show, I threw myself back into credit card debt.  Bad move on my part.  But, I deferred to the professionals.  Only, no one knows the ins and outs of my Company as much as me.  So.  I have to hold myself accountable for that one.

Finally, halfway through the final run the Stage Manager who was to be the new Producing Director resigned through an email from his cell phone on a late Monday morning after I had just seen him on Sunday.  I still have so much rage about this I could spit nails.  Shovel-UP-HATRED!  He put the entire project at risk.  It would have been a sound decision to close the show because the guy was running lights and sound, and was allegedly in charge.  But, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and re-teched the entire show in one night.  Two actors and a director from previous shows in the year appeared to keep Venus flying.  I won’t ever forget that.  I won’t EVER forget it.

So, for each devastating loss, there was an even larger lift and blessing.

Yeah.

There is this light of transparency that my artists have gifted me by doing the work that they do best.  I want to rage.  I want to be furious about the people who slipped, let me, moreover MY PEOPLE, down.  But, it doesn’t add up.  It is difficult for me not to expect the very best from every individual.  The truth is, people aren’t always up to their best.  Some people never are.

So honestly, they gave what they had to give.  And, they did what they did and they showed us all who they really are, and sometimes that comes with a good bit of ignorance, arrogance, and an elevated sense of what those individuals are capable of.  Sometimes, life will just jump up and bite a person on the rump.  This truth is a great gift to me on all levels.

As for myself.  I’m proud.  REALLY proud!  Because as much as I want to rip crimped hair out by the roots, or run people over with my little Yaris, it turns out that I am ridiculously sane. Just can’t go loco.  Though, I do have my fantasies.  But, these works this year have moved me too deeply.  They’ve taught me too much.

They have taught me: LOVE WINS, the smallest moments can be the most profound experiences, there is a grace to spirit when it is reaching for growth, there is laughter inside of the growing pains, the rhythms of stories and the people in them make their own kind of music, immortality exists and lives inside of the pens and bodies of the storytellers -and if we want to, we can LIVE it.

LOVE WINS!

To have sanity after a life in this craft is a great gift.  To remain passionate, is a rarity.  And, to be surrounded by fellow artists of passion, integrity, and great talent is beyond anything I could have ever wished for.

I do feel hurt professionally.  That I would have taken my company out on a limb only to be robbed or discredited is nothing less than evil on some level.  But, people are flawed.  And, this is the business of people.  None of that is my doing.  And, I have to ask myself this about the loss:  Is it worth hardening and giving into a system that you know doesn’t work in order to avoid certain devastation?  Nope, self.  Nope.

So…

PROFIT!  (with a side of slight heartache and tears, and time needed to diffuse real hatred Shovel-UP-HATRED!)  Batting cages anyone?

Now, to apply all of this to the future and shape a new animal.

A more transparent animal, if you will.

That’s going to take some time.

Yeah.

ouch.

 

 

 

 

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