Saturday, February 01, 2014

Endangered Species Project moves to ACT Theatre



Next Up: The Madwoman of Chaillot, Monday February 3 at 7:00pm at ACT Theatre

Mark Anders, an originator of ESP, and talented actor and director and musician in town, is passionate about Endangered Species Project and their move to ACT Theatre, this month, as part of ACT’s Central Heating Lab adventure. I asked Mark about how ESP started and a bit about the move and what they expect in the future.

Mark says, “A group of actors and a director or two, including Cynthia White and Dan Kremer, Jeff Steitzer, and Larry and Jeanne Paulson, and Amy Love (and a couple of other people) and I began some conversations about how there are plays that just don’t get done anymore. Either because they’re too many characters for modern American theaters to remount them, or look too expensive to theaters, too many sets, or because they’ve been forgotten or fallen out of fashion.

“We gravitate to what is known as the ‘well-made play’ though I don’t quite know what that means, since every play should be a well-made play. All those plays that are silent on the bookshelves. So, we’ve rediscovered a bunch of playwrights, new to me, and it’s been thrilling for me to read them.

“We also knew that Susan and Clayton Corzatte would have extensive knowledge of the kind of plays we would want to do. We didn’t know, at first, that Clay was suffering from ALS, but later, there were ways we were able to keep him involved. With Susan’s help,he directed The Show-Off, for example After he passed, we picked The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker because it was the play on which Susan and Clay met (they were both acting in it). And that was one of the reasons we wanted to do it. The only month we’ve skipped since we started was the month that Clayton died.”

Back at the beginning:
“Cynthia White had been in charge of a reading series down in Ashland, OR, and the group was talking about plays we missed, like The Little Foxes. I was in it and think it is so tightly and expertly written and you just get on the ride. You get sucked into the plot and off you go. Those are the kinds of plays that appealed to all of us. That old narrative joy that we all learned to love as kids, ‘Tell me a story.’

“One of the great things about doing readings, more than a regular play, is that the audience has to enter into it with us, and their imaginations are being called into play. It’s like an exalted radio play. I’d love to see these plays on stage, but in some ways, readings make the plays come alive in a way that done fully with a big set wouldn’t necessarily do.

“We wanted to do the readings with top notch actors, given limited rehearsal time. We put our toe in the water and started a monthly reading. The name (ESP) arose out of our discussion, that these plays were endangered, in danger of dropping out of the culture."

The very first play they did was Both Your Houses by Maxwell Anderson, on February 14, 2011. Both Susan and Clayton Corzatte were actors in that reading.

“We started scheduling plays and finding directors and the director usually casts the play. Our members often make proposals of plays they’d like to do. Our first list was huge and it's just grown from there. Some of the time, we pick plays that are good for a time of year, or one time the Seattle Rep was doing Or, a play about Aphra Behn and we did an Afra Behn play (The Lucky Chance, April 2012).

“We’re getting more adventurous and doing plays that hardly anyone would recognize now. Like Miss Lulu Bett by Zona Gale that (director) John Dillon brought to us. I didn’t know Zona Gale and now I’m a huge fan.

“It’s a huge amount of work to keep the organization going. We now have a steering committee which I am on. Casting was difficult for me because I had some guilt about calling up my friends to ask them to do a play with me for no money. I’ve always wanted to pay actors. I don’t need to be paid because I’m part of the organization but we’ve always paid for the permission to do a reading, unless they’re in the public domain. It’s not terribly expensive but it’s one of our costs, including copying scripts. We’ve mostly not had to pay for the venue.

“We had no idea if we were going to make any money and in the beginning we only had 20 or so audience members. We asked for donations to cover costs. Then we started getting nicer amounts of donations, averaging about $5/person, and we bought some music stands for ourselves to replace broken ones. We have a little money in the bank, now. Not enough to pay actors what we'd like, yet, but seed money.

“We’re hoping the move to ACT Theatre will help us do a lot more in the way of raising funds. We grew a much bigger audience at North Seattle Community College up to around 140. We didn’t really outgrow NSCC, but another of Richard Ziman and Leslie Law’s efforts (Sandbox Radio Collective) was moving to ACT Theatre’s Central Heating Lab, a coproducing relationship, and with Richard’s and Leslie’s priming, ACT asked us if we wanted to produce there, too.

“There are aspects that I like and aspects I don’t. Downtown means you have to park and there’s no way to park for free anymore. That’s a bit of a drag. But being in a big time theater doing these plays feels good to me. NSCC was incredibly supportive, going out of their way to make sure we were taken care of, but it’s great to feel a part of the theater scene, rather than away from it, as I felt a little at NSCC. I think it’s attractive (to actors) for people to be performing in the ACT space.

“$15/ticket is different. That came after heavy discussion with ACT about what we should charge. That’s what ACT charges for a lot of things. There are also people with the ACTPass which allows those subscribers to come to things at ACT included in the Pass. With this reading, we are starting compensating actors for their services.  And we’re paying for their parking.

“We’ve been encouraged by ticket sales and it’s doing well, though not sold out. ACT also takes their fair  share out of the $15. We'll see how this first reading goes.  

“When we move on to plays a little less famous than Madwoman, we’ll see how we do as far as how much we can pay actors, depending on our attendance. We’re planning on doing some huge casts as far as sheer numbers of actors. One of the impacts is for these audiences to see just how many people these plays had in them. Dead End by Sydney Kingsley is gargantuan. He talks in his introduction to the play that he had to diagram everything for himself because it was so complex. He directed it as well. He has boys in the tenement house and the rich apartment across the way.

“(The play is set) on the East Side in NY in the ‘30s and things are kind of dire. The rich apartment house is having its entrance repaired and the rich people have to come in and out the servants’ entrance and they had to rub shoulders with the poor people next door. It’s a very current feeling. The plays that ESP tries to pick still have things to say to us now.

“I’m thrilled we’re even considering attempting it! It’s 39 speaking parts! Once in a Lifetime by Kaufman and Hart (another play we might do) has 60 parts. We’re talking about a lot of characters and several settings, as well. Madwoman also has 17 or 18 actors playing slightly more than that number of parts. That’s a lot of actors on stage! And a lot of fun.

“We have such a devoted core of people who come. This is an experiment. We’ll see where this leads us. We want to try this and see if there is as much hunger in the Seattle community for this as we have in doing it.”

For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676. Or you can go to their website at www.endangeredspeciesproject.org. Comments welcome on this blog.