Next Up: The Madwoman
, 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.”
“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
“We’re getting more adventurous and doing plays that hardly
anyone would recognize now. Like Miss
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 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.”