>Producing theater then and now

>The last time I produced something, a real something with collaborators and sets, casts casting about for motivation and the pressing need to raise funds to raise the curtain, was over ten years ago. I had a staff and the technological revolution had hit them, but not me.

Today I am in the throes of producing and writing an opera about the very personal effects of September 11, 2001. Any one of those things would be enough to induce blood boiling: scribbling, producing or revisiting 9/11, but taken together the troika could present a tipping point for a middle-aged mama. But I have been saved by the onslaught of technology. Yes, the emotional pitches and sways cannot be mediated, but the speed and efficiency of my work seems magically augmented especially when we three collaborators sit down together.

This past week we were lucky enough to have an entire day where the composer, Doug Geers, who normally lives in Minnesota and the designer/artist Christine Sciulli, who lives across the street but teaches, designs and has two baby children, well where we could all be together in the my loft. We make pots of coffee and scrambled eggs crammed full of sharp cheddar and farm-stand tomatoes and then we worked.

We each had our Apple laptops; we talked, we waved hands, we argued about sensibility, religion and tempo. We outlined the entire opera; we cut a quarter of an hour from the running time, just in theory. We agreed that there would be no iconoclastic tower tipping images but rather that we would focus on the “presence of absence” and the leitmotif of “harmony from dissonance.” These are not facile concepts and we agreed to push each other to remain true to them IF words, or music or images threaten to revert to mini-series heartstring tugging. Then we gave out tasks.

But unlike “back in the day,” when workers went away and came back weeks later, we accomplished many of the TO DO LIST right where we sat. Christine called to find a choir conductor. We emailed her. Doug had a friend who sets up web sites. We wrangled with the URL and came up with WWW.CALLINGTHEOPERA.COM and maybe also .ORG. We drank more coffee and wrote out three separate a best-case scenario budgets, we emailed them to each other and then created a single unified document. Now we edited that document down to a bare bones production. In other words Doug really wants “SIX CELLI” but can live with two playing against a recording. Christine wants rear screen projectors, very expensive but she could hang one in the front if the funds are scarce.

We all had been saving the names of funders who we thought might be interested in our project. Doug found his from listening to public radio, Christine gleaned her info from designing the lights for the new Mabou Mines piece and I revisited the backs of every theater program for the last year. We found a few that suited us, found the guidelines on line and began filling out the grants. We exchanged email biographies and compiled information for the web site we were constructing.

We drank more coffee and called to cancel the rest of our day and we worked. We looked at images; we reread passages in my book and fought about order and tone. We took time out to make calls on our cell phones, connecting to other clients who never knew we were in a frenzy of creativity, taking an interstitial moment to give them an edit or a drawing or a syllabus. Our discreet electronics allowed us to work together and separately all day.

When I was the executive director of La Mama back in the 80’s to early 90’s this level of output would have taken weeks. All the paper and Xeroxing, the collating of reviews and copying music tapes to send to funders. And now many of the RFPs (request for proposal) for grants require everything be sent only electronically. And this aspect means I have to send stuff to Doug so that he can oversee my Luddite slowness.

But even with my backward techniques and recalcitrance to modern life, this session, a veritable flurry of passionate producing bumped me up to a new level of appreciation for what the last decade of technology means.

Within three days all our information, bios, music, reviews and some aspirations had been uploaded, by Doug, to the new website. So check it out, because I am still amazed at what that one day wrought, albeit with much back-story and working already loaded into our electronic brains. And I also still have a great deal of faith in the positive effects of copious amounts of coffee.

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