The very first theatre project I was ever a part of was a ‘theatre of the absurd’ play by Christopher Durang in 1998. Dialogue was exaggerated and characters did things they would never do in real life. It was ridiculous in the best of ways. The second project I worked on was “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov. The family trials, poetic language and forlorn longing of the characters were a gift to learn about. These two shows formed the foundation of my understanding of theatre. What a curious and strange foundational recipe.
Five years ago, I read the script for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and loved it immediately. I wanted to do it with my current cast of actors. I dreamed it would take place right after “Here’s To Love'”. Oh, the plans I had…Jen would play Masha! Dave would play Spike! Unfortunately (or fortunately), I couldn’t get permission to do the show and other projects started to line up.
It was only five years ago but – man – things worked differently back then.
Back then we would just pick a show for the fun of it and rehearse for the sake of rehearsing, casting our friends, figuring out the performance date later. There was no plan or grand scheme. I wasn’t really thinking big picture, just how I could get everyone together and be creative. Again, it feels like a lot longer than five years ago but the calendar doesn’t lie. Things have changed quickly over the past five years, and while they’re about to change again, this next show almost serves as an ode to what we’ve accomplished up until now. There’s change in the air for the company and this show is a fitting end chapter to a certain way of doing things we’ve enjoyed for the past five years.
What’s the change? Well, for one, all of our company members are taking a more active role in preparing a season for next fall. The content, the funding – all of it is in their hands, which is very different from anything we’ve done before. Different and wonderful.
We have played 20 shows in 5 years. That’s absolutely incredible to me. As I look back at them and try to find the thread that connects them, I have to think hard. There’s a lot of variety. What do they all have in common? I guess the answer, in many ways, is me. I don’t mean that selfishly. In fact the only reason any of these shows happened was because of the hard work and dedication of the company and a few particularly motivated members who’ve been it’s guiding light over the years, In many ways t’s been their energy and enthusiasm that constantly inspired me to pick a next show and push it forward to opening night.
Looking back at the variety on display, I find the next question hard to answer: How did you pick ’em? Given the insane variety of the past five years, it’s a very good question.
Ultimately it comes down to doing what you want to do. What you really want to do. Deep down. Because if at the heart of it all, you aren’t doing what you want to do, you’ll never do it well or breathe life into it. Brush away the meetings, the strategy, the constant apparent need to be clever or relevant. What is it I want to do? Why am I doing this? I haven’t focused on what will sell tickets, please reviewers or investors – which has probably been a factor in why our growth has been slow, but steady and long-lasting.
In the end, all of that artifice is not a valid reason to spend time stressing out, distracted from my family, spending money I could be investing on memories at home. In the end I have to stand by my decisions and when I choose a project, I choose it for no reason other than I want to do it and it sounds fun. Is that shallow or vein? No, it’s just different – and the world should be kinder to the different.
What sounds fun? The story? The people I’ll be working with? The challenge? Sometimes it’s all of those things and sometimes it’s none of them, and while I’ve enjoyed trying out different things over the years, i know that I’ve felt my happiest when I’m making people smile and laugh, either through my performances or the performances of those I’m directing. Smiles. Laughter. Joy. That is the heart of what I’ve tried to do with Brave New Productions.
I think our portfolio is one of the most honest artist statements out there. The shows I’ve pushed forward have had no filter or committee approval. Yes, they’ve had guidance at times and encouragement ( sometimes very vocal, in both regards) but no one has ever defied my passion for the next show. If you want to understand me as an artist, just take a look at the past five years. You’ll see where my values lie. Unfiltered. Smiles. Laughter. Joy.
No, not every show has been a riotous laugh show (see: The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later) but those less comedic projects have arisen from a very natural place of experimentation. As we’ve pushed ourselves and grown in every direction over the years, that has only helped strengthen the core of what we do, reinforced our confidence in our ability to have some fun with the audience.
The time has finally come to bring Brave New Productions back into the world of theatre of the absurd, a place it feels like it was incepted in and hasn’t returned to in far too long.
Our company is at its best when it deals with the weird. From puppet fish in a tank to changing the language of a play midway or substituting actors for tech during a particularly climactic scene. The absurd isn’t that strange these days and our company mission has become more about allowing our audience (and artists) to enjoy theatre as an escape and less about pursuing a particular agenda, lesson or angle. Again, it’s not a shallow mission, just different.
I have always had very limited interest in the business of theatre, perhaps that has reflected itself in my inability to balance a book. As we’ve grown, I’ve had to wrap my head around the business of art and, more often than not, I stick my head in the sand and just focus on making the show happen. It’s been an imperfect ride for sure and I’m responsible for plenty of mistakes along the way.
With Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, I will be closing the door on five years of personally financially producing our shows and I look forward to what our new company board puts together in the future. It’s an exciting time, as we make decisions and determine the fate of the company together. The same people that have inspired me to push forward with the projects we’ve done are the safest hands to steer the company into the future. I’ve had my time but what we do together can be infinitely more powerful and successful as we combine our knowledge and imagination towards a bright and exciting future.
These guys have great taste.
TICKETS FOR VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE ARE ON SALE NOW WITH PERFORMANCES DEC 8-11 AT MONTREAL IMPROV. MORE DETAILS AT HTTP://WWW.BRAVENEWPRODUCTIONS.COM