Saturday, February 9, 2013

WHY must the show go on?

Let's be realistic: it's a TV channel, and not the National Weather Service, that gave this weekend's snowstorm the name "Nemo." Still, a couple of feet of snow, zero degree temperatures, and wind creating sculptural drifts is still pretty dramatic in its own right.

Under such conditions, it's reasonable to ask the Opera House: WHY do you persist? WHY must the show go on?!

"The show must go on" is an idiom, a well-known phrase in show business, meaning that "even in the presence of troubles or difficulties, the show must still continue for the waiting patrons."

On the flip side, for the theater itself, it also has to do with the reality of our professional contracts. Here at the Opera House, we are contracted with our actors and stage managers through this Sunday, February 10. After that, they move on to other contracted jobs and opportunities, most of them back in NYC, a few here in Maine.

This reflects a truth many don't realize about the theater: it's a job. The actors you see in this weekend's production of Last Gas by John Cariani, directed by Judith Jerome, make their living from pursuing the craft of acting. They study their craft in school, practice it every day, and pay their bills by working theater jobs such as this production. The performances they provide us, on the basis of honing their craft, are transformative: moving our hearts and transporting our minds and spirits into lives related to but different from our own.

Actors Equity, the union of professional actors and stage managers,
 cast members of Last Gas: at left, Richard Price as Guy;
at right, Katie Cunningham as Lurene. Photo by Karen Galella.
With the rise of the internet and the wonderful ability of more and more of us to participate in different areas of life virtually--as writers, film critics, photographers, filmmakers, and more--the line between amateurs--those who do something for the sheer love of it--and professionals has been blurred in interesting ways. The work of amateurs in all areas, including community theater, has special meaning and is vital to all of us. And the work of professionals--those who take the risk of making some of these areas which many of us love, be it playing basketball, painting, or acting, their careers--brings a different and special level of meaning to many of our experiences.

So on a weekend like this, when the challenges and risks of putting on a theatrical production are especially large, we can't just reschedule. Our professional cast moves on on Monday, and we can't reschedule! The show MUST go on! 

Catch a glimpse of the incredible craft this particular cast brings to our Maine island community in three final shows: tonight at 7, and tomorrow at 2 pm and 7 pm.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Making Work (& A Play!)

by Linda Nelson, Executive Director
STONINGTON—In a hard working community like Stonington, it is tempting to look at your local theater and think, well, that’s about fun, not work!
For you, as audience members, that’s right. Whether it’s a movie, a concert, a dance, or live theater, Opera House Arts provides a wide range of entertainment for our communities. And this Thursday, February 7, we open what is now our annual live production for the winter. This year, the show is the newest version of Maine playwright John Cariani’s play, Last Gas.
Many people think that when a theater like the Opera House presents live professional theater that it is something  made elsewhere, something that arrives pre-made—which is true for the performances at “presenting centers” like the Collins Center. But at Opera House Arts, we make all of our shows (performance pieces are known as works) right here in Stonington.
We find or write and/or edit the scripts. We audition, hire and pay the directors, actors, and designers—the people who design the sets, lights, sound, and video for the play.
We build sets, and have master carpenters alongside community volunteers who do that. We paint entire scenes on muslin for backdrops, or signs or furniture for specific set pieces. The composers we hire write and record original music; our master electricians climb ladders and cable lighting. We rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Right now, two days before opening our original production of Last Gas, we’ve got a theater full of people working a 10 to 12 hour tech rehearsal day, programming the lighting cues, adjusting the sound volumes, testing the costumes and sets—getting everything just right.
Then when you, the audience, arrive you enter into a world seeming transformed by magic. Employing sets, lights, sound, and acting, those of us who make theater work aim to transport you from your familiar seat in a dark theater to another place and world.
It’s a lot of work behind the scenes for that magic moment—and it’s very satisfying work to have. During a show like Last Gas—a romantic comedy set in Maine’s Aroostook County, about the hopes and dreams of people who, like us, live in the sweet isolation of the nation’s most rural state—we have 21 people on payroll, with another four independent contractors. Plus, countless community volunteers donate their time and talents to making a show like this possible. Thank you!
OHA is committed to making original “work,” such as Last Gas, for our winter audiences. It’s a financial risk to produce such a large work at this time of year, but we feel strongly that we as rural Mainers deserve to hear our own voices and stories, to see the way we live represented on the stage and screen.
We hope you’ll take a chance, too, and come out to see this new work that we’ve created here during the last five weeks: it runs for only five performances, February 7-10—and then we take everything apart again! Live theater is very much something you have to show up for in the moment: it is here, and then it is gone. No DVR, no home video, only real people here on stage for a very short time.
Want to be a part of all this exciting work and play? For more information on any of the events and opportunities in this column, or for Tosca’s Wish List for how you can participate by volunteering or providing needed materials, please call 207-367-2788 or visit the Opera House’s website at