WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cultivating Future Audiences

In the coming year, dozens of productions will run in the Boston area. What I find particularly exciting this year is the number of new companies that have debuted or formed this past year. Ours is a scene on the rise, and more young artists are choosing to remain and work in Boston.

Early this past year, I had a disheartening experience that has influenced me and my call to arms in the months since. I sat in the audience of a farce produced by a prestigious regional theatre in the Boston area. I sat with a few friends, all in their early 20’s, all having a wonderful time. This production was stellar, the actors were world class, and the writing…well, my laughs spoke for themselves. I have often been complimented for my laughter. Sometimes, total strangers have approached me to appreciate my unashamed expression. I never feel the need to restrain my emotion during a performance, as I believe we are all part of the experience of seeing live theatre.

That evening, however, I encountered judgment for the first time. An older woman in the row ahead of us repeatedly turned around and glared at me. This perturbed me, but I continued to enjoy myself. She was seated about three seats to my right, one row closer. Later, one of my friends informed me that she overheard the woman complain about me. Evidently, I was “laughing rudely. Can’t he keep it down?”

We often discuss our concerns about the future of the American theatre. Maintaining audiences is a difficult feat, particularly when you consider the lack of a “theatre going” culture among younger generations. We grow up going to the movies or out for dinner as part of our social engineering, and as we become older these traditions are passed on and become habitual. What happens when our current young generations grow up without fond theatrical experience?

Imagine how a young man or woman without an already established love of the theatre would’ve felt that day? Perhaps he or she attended this production on a date, or perhaps because they were invited last minute by a friend with tickets? Whatever the reason, this new potential audience member is now immersed the world of live theatre. They witness world-class actors, and have an experience they did not know was possible. They are on the verge of discovering a new passion, a passion for attending live theatre. They will bring friends, grow older and instill this tradition in their children.

Now instead imagine, in the midst of this experience, he or she receives judgmental eyes from people who don’t share his background. An entire audience of older, caucasian and mostly affluent individuals glares at a young man or woman. Without a previous love of the theatre, without a sense of belonging, how would that individual feel? Were I not a theatre artist myself, I could’ve been that man. There exists a myth that theatre is an art form of the elite. This is not true, and we cannot let it be true. Since this experience, I’ve talked to others with similar stories. We all assume these are isolated incidents, but I worry that they are more common than we realize. We need to cultivate a welcoming culture for our potential audiences. We can’t judge those who wish to express themselves freely. That is the death of the American theatre.

But I have nothing but optimism. These incidents are few when compared to the sheer number of good, welcoming experiences I’ve had attending theatre of all scales and sizes. The best method to prevent the decay of our theatre is to remain vigilant and constantly welcome new artists and audience. Think proactively, towards the future. Not just one year, but ten years into the future. And as young artists, the best work we can do for the future is to create our own theatre in addition to the theatre created by those who came before us. When the young artists lose their ingenuity, the art will die. But luckily for us, young artists will always strive for more.

As we begin the New Year, I look to my friends, my collaborators and to the people I haven’t met yet with the knowledge that we get it. We’re all in this together and will work to reinvigorate the theatrical culture of our communities. I look to another year of collaboration between fringe and professional, community and regional, and theatre of all kinds.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Audition Workshop Circle

As many of you have probably heard, we are launching the CoLab's "Audition Workshop Circle" with our first official event on January 9th. I would like to take some time to explain where this idea came from and why we prefer to think of this as a networking event and not a class.

In the fall of 2007, I enrolled in a class on audition technique with Janet Morrison. She devised a studio style approach to audition technique that combined the fundamentals of an acting class with the practical circumstances that one would encounter auditioning for professional work in the New York scene. Every week we gathered for three hours and "auditioned" for the group. Each session, a different theme. The general audition, the cold reading, the callback, the classical audition, we covered all sorts of scenarios.

Now I must say, that Janet has always been very warm and welcoming to me, without sacrificing the necessary sharpness of her criticism. This was the most emotionally draining experience in all my training. There were a few classes where I felt like a failure, as if I'd disappointed myself, my classmates and Janet. And yet, I left every class energized, with a newfound sense of maturity. This made sense of course, as we were preparing ourselves for the most painful part of our work as actors. The only way to grow is to embrace the growing pains. And the brilliant part of our work was that while one couldn't learn what it was like to rehearse and perform an entire show in a classroom context, one could recreate the entire process of auditioning in the classroom. Janet provided us with a venue for failure. And through those failures, I was prepared for the success I've experienced as an actor in Boston ever since. I am forever grateful for her simultaneous discipline and kindness.

We read Audition by Michael Shurtleff, Auditioning by Joanna Merlin and (wait for it) Callback by Ginger Howard Friedman. These texts were put to the test in the practical venue of the audition class. Given the freedom and license to fail miserably, we all learned invaluable skills.
Janet encouraged us to continue to meet together for the purpose of experimenting, polishing and preparing new material as we evolved as artists. I decided to take advantage of this advice.

Before my first StageSource audition, I called up Erika and we decided to get together a few friends and audition for each other. It was a small group of four, in an unfurnished living room in the midst of an early June heatwave. After we finished, we sat there on that hardwood floor, sweaty and tired. It was then that our friend Becky, a very talented local actress, uttered the simple but profound words: "Guys...this is what we do." Still, one of my more fond memories.

In April 2009, Erika and I had a fateful meeting. We'd discussed in the past the desire to produce theatre together again, as we'd been the co-coordinators of Brandeis Ensemble Theatre during our undergraduate years. Two hours later, after a brainstorming session and a few drinks, we resolved to form a company and produce, among other things, a practical venue for audition technique with the equally important purpose of bringing the various theatrical circles of Boston closer together. We realized that we all have those memories of auditioning for friends in the living room. Why not take it a step further and formalize the process, such that we can have a studio space for risk taking, as well as an opportunity for side to side networking.

In June of 2009, we had our first audition workshop at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. 15 actors, many of whom did not know each other, gathered in the front theatre and prepared to bare themselves to peers with material many were unsure of. I feared that since we all came from different circles, perhaps the process of sharing our observation and discussing each presentation would be stifled by shyness or a fear of offending strangers.

We could not have been more pleased. It never ceases to amaze me to see the way that artists are able to take a risk with each other when given the right venue. Too often we feel the need to posture, the need to "be funny" or "be interesting". Everyone embraced the opportunity to throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out.

The CoLab was born out of this experiment gone right. We hope that the Audition Workshop Circle will grow into an institution. We want artists to cross pollinate, as we come from such different backgrounds, with different experiences and skill sets. Too often, we as artists keep to our own circles. We want to unite the Boston theatre scene as we grow together and strengthen as a center of theatrical activity.

Most of all, speaking for myself, I want to learn from YOU. The chance to collaborate and experiment with artists, both those I know and those I am just meeting, is what this project is all about. Looking back at my experience working with Janet, I am thankful for the venue she provided us with. I hope that we can provide the same opportunities to others, while at the same time making new friends.

January 9th, 2010 Audition Workshop

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2:00pm - 5:00pm


Attention Young Theatre Artists: Do you want to strengthen the local scene and create new avenues for young actors, directors, playwrights, etc, to network? Join us for what we hope will be the first of many Audition Workshops, focused on the young and emerging Boston Theatre community and our collaborative nature.

WHAT: Audition Circle Workshop

WHY: This is an avenue to debut new material, work on existing audition pieces, or just get some feedback on pieces you like. We believe that an audition monologue is best prepared with an audience and that our community should strive to collaborate at all levels for the purpose of artistic growth and networking as we prepare to mold the future of the! Boston Theatre community.

HOW: Each participant will be given three minutes, strictly enforced, to perform a monologue or two of their choosing. This will be followed by 8 minutes of peer observation and suggestions. We will focus on constructive criticism, NOT direction, as we believe each artist must choose their own material and make it their own. After all participants have had their pieces worked, we will then all redo our monologues one by one so that we may self evaluate what discoveries we may have made.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED: We have space for 10 actors so you would like to be a part of this event, please e-mail us at colabtheatre@gmail.com with the subject "Audition Circle RSVP" ASAP. Include a headshot and resume and a sentence or two about yourself and why you are interested. Spots will be given on a first come first served basis and no audition is required. Please feel free to forward this information to all young actors and interested parties. We hope to hold these events every few months so if you can't make this one, no worries!

If you have further questions or queries, please contact Kenny, Mary-Liz, and Erika at colabtheatre@gmail.com

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Mary-Liz Does It

I'm Mary-Liz. I act, I administrate, I direct, I dance around at odd times, and enjoy music, movies so bad they're good, shopping, eating, cooking, and nailpolish. I am a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a BFA in Acting and teamed up with Kenny and Erika in the summer of 2009. I met Kenny in a show, where he was the person I least expected to become friends with. I met Erika through Kenny...and then we were in a play together. She played God, I played a Cosmopolitan Magazine weilding airhead. The rest is history.

Ok, that said, why do I, Mary-Liz Murray, make my life in the theatre?

Three A's.
Acceptance, Adrenaline, and Artistry.

Those are the things I get from theatre that keep me coming back for more. There are lots of other reasons I do it, but those are the three that hooked me.

Since I started performing, over 10 years ago, (which makes me feel older than I really am...I have a birthday looming so give me a break) the companies, casts, and classes I have worked with have always been my kindred spirits. There is no judgement of me as a person, no one wondering what the hell I'm doing with my life, or why on earth I would want to do it. Not only can I always be myself in the theatre but it has made me who I am now, and there is no going back. I am truly accepted when I'm working in theatre, and there is no better feeling in the world than that.

Then there's that rush, that super-high I get after an exhausting rehearsal, an awesome performance, a standing ovation, a good review, a role that pushes you to your limits, a scene partner who challenges you...and on and on for days. Most people say that rush comes just from performing and it's enough to keep them coming back for more, but for me it's everything. I get that tingly, dizzy, don't-stop-me-now feeling from so many different aspects of my work and when something feels that good you never want to let it go.

And then, of course there's the creative outlet I have. A chance to use my brain, my body, and my instincts to make something thought-provoking or emotion provoking or laugh provoking or just something beautiful to watch or listen to. And every new project I get to work on I get to be creative in a new way, with new people, and a new perspective on how to create.

And then there's why here and why Co-Lab?

I do it here, in Boston, and with The Co-Lab for these three reasons, but also because Boston and theatre are the two things that hold my soul. I grew up here in Boston, and started performing here, and when I started there was very little here besides traveling Broadway shows. I want to make Boston a place for actors, designers, playwrights, directors, technicians, and administrators to look at as a welcoming and artistically substantial market. I want to show new theatre artists that this is a great city to live and work in. And I want to make Boston a place where community and collaboration are the heart of the theatre scene, and that's what The Co-Lab does.

So that's my why, keep up with us let us know what's your why?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Kenny Does It

My life could be summed up by a string of key moments in which I received simple but profound words of wisdom. I am often asked why I chose the life I did, the life of an actor/director/playwright/artist. What sane person chooses a life on the edge? Artists of all types find themselves underpaid and overqualified for what they do, and we are sometimes tempted to apologize for the life we live, as if we feel guilt for not fulfilling our “potential for more.”

I am guilty of these things. Why do I do this? I stumbled onto the life of a theatre artist by complete accident. I come from an immigrant household that was constantly on the edge financially and emotionally, leaving me utterly unfamiliar with the concept of stability. For this reason, I sought education as a means to reach stability and become a productive, affluent and respected “contributor” to society.

I auditioned for my first play for the absolute wrong reasons. I attended a single-sex education high school, and at the age of 14 theatre was hands down the easiest way to meet girls. While the thought of trying to “get funky on the dance floor” horrified me (ironic, I’m sure, to those who know me now…), I found that the rehearsals after school were a comfortable and safe venue to show off what I desperately hoped was my “silly charm.” I did theatre all through high school and college under the assumption that my career choice would eventually jump out and whisk me away to an affluent future.

Theatre was a hobby, a hobby I took far too seriously. I studied acting and directing. Between classes and work, I spent all my extra time acting, directing or producing theatre. I found excuses to tie in all my other academic interests into theatre, even writing my final History paper in college on the leadership and artistic differences between Stanislavski and Strasberg. By the end of college, I had a major in History, but a "Super Minor" in Theatre Arts.

I became horrified at the realization that I didn’t have a passion…well, a REAL passion. “This theatre stuff is fun and I love it, but I’m not good enough to make a career out of it! I need a real job!” I knew that I desperately loved the arts, and felt truly alive when I was in the rehearsal room, but to embark on a life on the edge seemed a waste of my education, of my hard work, of my “potential for more.”

By the end of my junior year at Brandeis University where I studied acting, I had thrived as a director but became horrified at the prospect of a future without theatre. Where did I belong in the workforce? In the midst of my worries, I sought advice from professors, friends and family. The moment that changed my life wasn’t explosive or dramatic. The moment was simple, the words even more so: “This is all you do… You already know what makes you happy. Why keep searching when you’ve already found it?”

It’s been three years since, and I finally have an answer to why I do what I do: because I can’t be reasonably happy doing anything else.

While at Brandeis I had the pleasure of experiencing “The Collaborative Process”, both literally and figuratively. Just as I was to leave college and enter the workforce as an aspiring artist, I was given the greatest gift an artist can receive: the embrace of failure. I feared failure, just as we all do and will do for the rest of our lives. In the class that past and present students affectionately refer to as “Collab”, our instructor taught us a simple concept which guides me onward as I live this life on the edge: If you want to get yourself out of the “bulls***” world, you have to take yourself to the “oh s***” world. To paraphrase a common saying: "Courage isn't the absence of fear, but the action taken in the midst of fear."

Erika and I created The CoLab out of a desire to create theatre based on this idea, among many others. We hope to excite the theatrical community as well as reinvigorate the need for theatre in the world around us! Today, the CoLab is a small group of three artistic directors and community of artists, friends and well-wishers. We thank you for taking the time to investigate what is we do, and we hope to see you in our audiences, on the street and in the theatre!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why Erika Does It

Welcome to our blog - thanks so much for visiting! For those of you who don't know me (and hello to all those who do!) my name is Erika and I am a recent graduate of Brandeis University where I met Kenny and the seeds of this company were planted. Before I tell you about where we're growing (get it?) in the future, I thought I'd tell you where I come from.

When I was in sixth grade, my parents sent me to theatre camp. It was your typical experience, two weeks of theatre games taught by some college kids culminating in world's worst production of Grease. I know you're expecting me to say, "I fell in love with the theatre here and it changed my entire life!" Well, that's not what happened. In fact, it was one of the worst experiences my twelve-year-old self had been through. Basically I was told I was no good, sent to stand in the back with the other "talentless" children, made to wear too much eyeliner (the horror), and to make matters worse, I was totally turned off to the theatre. (Don't worry, I'll snap out of it.) Fast forward to the end of eighth grade where it was time to choose electives for high school. My best friend talked me into taking theatre because there would be no homework. So I showed up to class, ready to be told that I had no business being there, and found exactly the opposite. It was a world of games and play mixed with passion and a splash a literature on the side. I had never experienced such a network of support before and I had never enjoyed anything so much in my life. By the time spring rolled around, I was cast in my first show (I had SEVEN lines - woot) and I was in love. Over eight years later, this love has morphed and grown and has lead me to become a part of The CoLab.

I decided to major in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Acting at Brandeis. One of the courses taught here is one called The Collaborative Process (sound familiar?) which is taught by fellow Boston actress Adrianne Krstansky. The class is about searching through every corner of your mind and heart and finding the courage to present your findings in performance. It is about leaning on your fellow actors to create a piece that is a total mind and body experience for both the actors and the audience. This class taught me that theatre does not have to be about a polished performance so much as a heartfelt one.

So why do I do it? I do it because I want people to understand that theatre does not have to be about "talent" or "no talent." The theatre is about having a place to go when nothing else feels right in the world. Little girls should not have to feel badly that they can't sing well in public. They should be empowered by the fact that you can make someone think by simply standing on stage and pouring out your heart to an audience. I do it because I love knowing that I can cause people to feel emotion. I do it because it's magic and we all need magic sometimes in this world. I do it because I love it.

Thanks for reading about me. I'd love to hear more about you (I also do it because I enjoy meeting new people!). Please feel free to respond to this post, send us an email, what you would like. Come join us on this collaborative journey!