Three's Company

This entry is not about the formative experience that watching the above-mentioned situation comedy was for me. Nor is it about using proper punctuation in titling. It is, however, about company. Or rather, companies. Or rather, theatre companies. And threes are just funny, as any self-respecting reader of this 'blog by now knows.

I have been a part of several start-up theatre companies at this point, and I have been in-on-the-ground-floor-ish of several original shows, the which is a bit like being a part of the beginning of a repertory company (just one that is guaranteed to disband at some point [probably a month or so from the first rehearsal]). I'm sure there are many who have been a part of more over the course of a decade, but I've had my share. A brief history:

  1. Just after junior high (which is 7-8 grade in NoVa), my drama teacher at Lake Braddock started his own summer theatre camp, producing children's plays he had written, which were mostly adapted fairy tales or adaptations of existing plays. I attended two summers, the first two, and looking back I'd say it was safe to suggest that he had very little idea where to begin. He just began, and it was begun. As far as I know, that "company" disbanded when he switched to teaching high-school theatre at a different school.
  2. In high school, every show was like a company beginning and ending, in the compressed nature of intense teenage experiences. The one we really felt we owned, however, was our competitive improvisation troupe. That one ended, for me, in graduation, but as far as I know continues on through the years at good ol' James W. Robinson.
  3. In college I fell in with a group which eventually came to be called Lacquespace (sp?) Enesmble, or Theatre, or Productions, or something like that. It was essentially formed from the frustrations of a writer who wasn't getting what she wanted from the curriculum and actors who were tired of not get cast, either for grade restrictions or simply because they went unnoticed. The group put on several well-meaning, hard-working productions. I acted in the first and wrote something for another. At a class meeting (read: me: geek: I was '99 theatre class president), I suggested that we needed to get involved to keep Lack-space alive after we garduated, and the woman who got it started misinterpretted it as an attempt to wrest control from her. Still, I believe it continued beyond our departure. When I graduated, a younger woman was at the helm, steering it toward geurilla theatre.
  4. It took me a while to get settled, upon graduating college and moving to New York, and for some time there was no possibility of knowing enough people to strike up an organization. Then, about a year into my residence, the seeds of two such start-ups were planted. From the group that produced a show entitled Significant Circus would eventually come the circus-theatre troupe Kirkos, and from my work with David Zarko on a farce entitled Der Talisman I would come to be included in the formation of Zuppa del Giorno, the contemporary commedia dell'arte troupe. Kirkos enjoyed a few years of productivity, but now exists more as a talent-funneling organization than anything else. Zuppa del Giorno, of course, is still going strong in Scranton--as well as annually in Orvieto--and for that I am grateful.
  5. UnCommon Cause (formerly known as Joint Stock Theatre Alliance) began the process that would eventually become As Far As We Know almost four years ago, and nearly three years ago I was invited to join it. This does not a company make, but after two-odd years of working with a group on a single project, one does develop a certain sense of family.

Recently I got an email from Friend Nat, one he had sent to about a dozen theatre folk he is familiar with, testing the waters for the enthusiasm people would have for starting a theatre company. Shortly thereafter, Friend Avi contacted me about the possibility of collaborating together (in spite of his current busy-ness with grad school) on a script or show. Avi and I have already met and agreed to do mutual research. Getting together with Nat (Hi, Nat!) is like trying to barter for clothing in a refugee camp (totally a mutual difficulty [Hi Nat!]). Finally, prior to both offers, I was contacted by David at The Northest Theatre about the possibility of joining in an effort to set up a resident theatre company there starting next season.

For most actors like me--that is, who dig "straight" theatre productions and are of not-too-great fiscal ambition--the idea of becoming a part of something like a permanent company is awfully tempting. "Repertory" theatres, as they are often called, are scarce in America these days, at least in comparison to how many there used to be. Now, every actor is a sort of "free agent," every theatre an economic liability that relies on celebrity draw and its elder community for staying afloat. (You notice I'm not backing this up with anything--this ain't wikipedia--and you are free to disagree.) A company, or even a single venture, with any staying power (and staying-with-me power) is very appealing to me. This is part of why "university theatre," or the track of going back to school, teaching and eventually getting tenure, is so sought after. It occupies more and more of my thoughts these days.

However, I am also a little gun-shy about starting something new, about doing it all over. That's understandable, I think, given one perspective on the past twenty years o' life. In some senses, how far have I gotten? Where am I now? Many people--myself occasionally included--look at my life and wonder at why I should be in such an insecure, unestablished place at my age. It's not uncommon for me to be written off in a lot of people's opinions as anything from undisciplined to inconsequential. Ah: But. In the past twenty of my years--and especially in the past ten--as an actor and creative collaborator, I have had experiences I wouldn't trade for a 41" flatscreen TV. Through all the beginnings and endings, misunderstandings and perfect chemistry, I've created my own work in little communities of people who care, and it has made me a better person. I have no doubt. Whatever is the next, best choice for me and my life, it will be a choice that leads me to as much of this sort of experience as I can handle.

Take a step that is new, y'all. Take a step, that is new . . .