Going to see a play can be expensive. If you want, you can pay $250 to see “The Book of Mormon” at the Kennedy Center. However, this is not necessary. Finding cheap tickets for a show in Washington D.C. is possible; you just have to know where to find them.
According to The Washington Post, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (D Street, northwest) was the group that locally spearheaded the concept of “pay-what-you-can” performances. The Woolly Mammoth offers the PWYC shows for the first two performances of each play. The evening of the show you wish to see, you pick up your ticket and pay whatever amount of money you feel like mustering up that night.
“Part of the reasoning behind this decision [to have PWYC shows] was in keeping with our mission and community engagement. We did not want to limit our audiences based on a price point and the performances provide access to regardless of economic means,” said Rachel Loose, the audience services manager at Woolly Mammoth. “Therefore we started pay what you can performances as an opportunity for folks to enjoy the theater at whatever cost they could.”
The Woolly Mammoth also offers discounted tickets for their preview performances since, “we consider the technical process to still be in progress. It allows audiences to see a high quality performance but where technical aspects are still being tweaked and perfected prior to opening night. It’s an opportunity for us to get folks in the house who will then spread the word about the show and build excitement within their networks,” Loose said.
At the Arena Stage (Sixth Street, southwest) they have similar ticketing programs. They have the “pay-your-age” tickets for costumers ages 30 and younger. Or if you live in southwest D.C., the Arena offers “southwest nights,” where residents can buy discounted play tickets for allocated performances.
The Studio Theatre (14th Street, northwest) offers $15 rush tickets for students and $30 rush tickets for everyone else. The $30 rush tickets go on sale 30 minutes for curtain call. Like Arena, the Studio Theatre has discounted tickets for those who live or work nearby the theater.
Fortunately, these are not the only theaters in town with cheap tickets. Most theaters do offer discounts, but specifically check out the websites for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Round House Theatre, and the Signature Theatre.
The Arena Stage, located in southwest Washington D.C., has received a Tony Award for Artistic Excellence (it is rare for a D.C. theater to receive a Tony) and 86 Helen Hayes Awards (which is the Tony’s for D.C. theater). It has also been bestowed several other theater related awards.
There are many reasons for the theater’s success. One could be the theater’s dedication to their mission statement. This includes: producing big-time plays that comment on the “American spirit,” presenting the best American theater possible, the development and commission of new plays, and the extending the study of theater.
Another important and maybe obvious aspect to the success of a theater is the quality of the actors it hires. Daniel Pruksarnukul is the artistic associate and casting director for Arena. He is in charge of overseeing the casting of every show at the theater.
When casting a show, “there are a lot of factors to consider when casting a show- it’s important to think of the company as a whole and to remember that you’re assembling a team (unless it’s a one-person show). Talent is always a factor, but you also need to think about how everyone works together- both on and off stage,” Pruksarnukul said.
The process varies depending on whether it is a play or musical being casted. Nevertheless each process must begin with the selection of a show and hiring the creative team such as the director and choreographer.
“Once the team is set, we all meet and talk through what we’re looking for- if it’s a musical, we talk through things like vocal type/style, if there are moments we want to stage which require us looking for dancers with special skills (tumbling, acrobatics, aerial work, etc),” Pruksarnukul said. “If it’s a straight play it’s important for me to get on the same page with what style of actor the director likes, and what they’re looking for- you can have two directors work on the same play, and depending on the way they work, different sets of actors may be better for their productions. Once everyone knows what we’re looking for, we go through the audition/callback/offer process.”
Pruksarnukul indicated the full casting process is not over until the final performance ends. Actors may not accept the part offered to them or they might quit for various reasons throughout the time of rehearsal.
If you are interested in visiting Arena Stage, “My Fair Lady” and “Pullman Porter Blues,” are both currently running through Jan. 6.
Read the rest of the interview with Daniel Pruksarnukul below:
Interview with Daniel Pruksarnukul the artistic associate and casting director for the Arena Stage:
Q: Is the casting director in charge of casting for each of the shows at the Arena Stage?
DP: I am responsible for overseeing the casting process for all of the productions we do at Arena- we also do a number of presentations every season (such as Lookingglass Theatre Company’s “Metamorphoses”), which come with casts complete.
Q: What factors are considered when casting a show?
DP: There are a lot of factors to consider when casting a show- it’s important to think of the company as a whole and to remember that you’re assembling a team (unless it’s a one-person show). Talent is always a factor, but you also need to think about how everyone works together- both on and off stage.
Q: What is the casting process like?
DP: The casting process extends beyond auditions & callbacks- it starts with play selection and assembling the creative team (Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, etc). Once the team is set, we all meet and talk through what we’re looking for- if it’s a musical, we talk through things like vocal type/style, if there are moments we want to stage which require us looking for dancers with special skills (tumbling, acrobatics, aerial work, etc). If it’s a straight play it’s important for me to get on the same page with what style of actor the director likes, and what they’re looking for- you can have two directors work on the same play, and depending on the way they work, different sets of actors may be better for their productions. Once everyone knows what we’re looking for, we go through the audition/callback/offer process. Lots of people feel like the show is cast once you find who you’re looking for, but there are a lot of factors at play: actors may accept your offer and then withdraw for another show; someone may get sick or injured during rehearsals/tech/performance and you need to find a replacement- essentially the casting process isn’t over until the closing of the show.
Q: How would someone be able to audition at the Arena Stage?
DP: There are lots of opportunities to be seen by the Casting Office at Arena- we send representatives to all of the open Equity Auditions (and are required to hold some of our own), as well as the Non-Equity auditions. In addition to that, the office does an extensive amount of scouting locally and nationally- on average we’re seeing 2-4 shows/week all year round- I saw over 100 shows last year. General auditions are great ways to meet people and to get a sense of what the pool is, but I feel it’s best to actually get to see someone in a full production.
Q: On average how many people do you have auditioning for one show?
DP: That all depends- for straight plays probably 30-40/big chorus musicals we sometimes see more than 200 people.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
DP: I can’t stress this enough: if you really want to be an actor, it pays to be nice. You need to be talented, but if you’re not good to work with, no one’s going to want to spend 4 weeks in a room with you, and no matter how good you are on stage, no one will want to bring you back for another show if you’re terrible to folks offstage.
The Actors’ Equity Association is a labor union for the American stage performer. It covers all actors in places as varied as Broadway, in small professional theaters, and in Disney World.
Before the union started, show producers could set whatever they wanted as minimum wage, as working conditions, and the number of hours rehearsed.
The AEA was founded in 1913 when a small group of actors came together against “the exploitation of the stage performer,” according the AEA’s handbook. Demanding recognition as the actor’s representative, the AEA went on strike against producers in 1919. With time and other strikes, the association has been able to protect worker’s rights such as minimum salary, payment for rehearsals, and receiving pensions and health trust funds.
A number of theaters in Washington D.C. hire equity actors. For example, according to Jennifer Harris, the associate production manager and casting associate for the Studio Theatre, the total number of equity actors at Studio is about 80%. The rest are non-AEA actors.
Moreover, each theater has specific guidelines it must follow, which include audition and travel guidelines. “The rules are there to protect the actors and stage managers, however, they are also there to protect the theater. Because everything is spelled out for both parties, there are fewer questions of fairness when you get right down to it,” Harris said.
Today the Actors’ Equity has over 49,000 members and has three main offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Read the rest of the interview with Jennifer Harris below:
Q: Does the Studio Theater hire both equity and non-equity actors?
JH: We do use both AEA and non-AEA actors. The Studio Theatre is on a Small Professional Theatre 10 Contract (SPT10) and so we are required by our contract with Equity to employ a designated percentage of AEA Actors each season. This number is negotiated year to year with our Equity representative. Currently it stands at 80%.
Q: What are some of the regulations that go along with hiring equity actors?
JH: Regulations. Interesting word. There is an entire book of guidelines that are specific to our theatre that we must follow for our equity actors. They include auditions guidelines, housing and travel guidelines for OOT Actors, guidelines about how many hours you can rehearse, how many breaks you have to take, how many shows you can do, what you can and cannot ask an actor to do while performing, and how much they have to get paid. The rules are there to protect the actors and stage managers, however, they are also there to protect the theatre. Because everything is spelled out for both parties, there are fewer questions of fairness when you get right down to it.
Q: Do you feel like there is a difference working with Equity vs. Non-equity actors?
JH: That’s a tricky question. I don’t think the difference lies in AEA status. It’s all in the person. Some non-AEA actors are some of the best in their craft and are very professional and just choose not to join the union. And then there are AEA actors that are the exact opposite. It’s really hard to judge it that way. The way Equity sees the difference is Union actors chose Acting as a profession and non-AEA actors do it as a hobby. (Kid you not that’s how they explain it). It’s just like any other field a doctorate doesn’t always mean you are good at it. With that being said, being AEA allows you access to more auditions, agents and salary so that you are more likely to be able to afford to live as just an actor, hence the benefit. I usually tell actors who are thinking of joining to look at the work they are being offered frequently and ask “Would I have gotten this if I had my [AEA] card ?” and “Could I have gotten a bigger role/salary if I had my card?” If the answer to both is NO then you should NOT take your card. If the answer to both is YES, sleep on it and then maybe take it. The thing is, once you take a contract with the union you can’t turn back. You have to pay dues and you can’t really work at Non-AEA houses without special permission so the work really has to be coming in for it to count. I should also say that this is swayed to my DC mind. If you are in NYC, you will RARELY get an agent, audition, or legit work without your card. You can do theatre, but a Broadway house is not going to sign you.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JH: A fun little fact about how to BECOME AEA. Actors and stage managers can either be offered an AEA contract by a theatre and join the union by default or they have to enroll and participate in what is called the Equity Membership Candidacy Program (EMC). This is a program run by AEA to help non-equity actors become Equity by earning points work they do in equity houses under non-equity contracts. The clear example at The Studio is that our understudies receive EMC for their work on any project they understudy here. They receive one point for every week of work, so in Studio time that’s 4 points for rehearsal and 6-10 points for running of the show. After receiving 50 points they are what is considered a MUST JOIN. This means that any audition they attend that is at an Equity house they must inform the casting director that they are a must join and if cast they will be offered an AEA contract. You can also receive EMC points for being in a show as a non-equity actor at an equity house or for assistant stage managing/ floor managing an Equity show as well. There is a $100 entry fee to join the EMC program and once you are AEA you have an initiation fee, quarterly dues, and working dues (2.25% of your weekly salary) to continue your membership.
Well, I don’t know if I think the “west coast, best coast” motto is completely true. I mean come on, east coast, beast coast. Duh.
Over the summer (oops.. that was three months ago) I hit up America’s Pacific Northwest. Specifically I went to Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. At the least the west coast certainly is more relaxed than the uptight east coast. Realistically, how many parks have you seen in which the trees are painted blue? I also do not think I have ever seen someone with a tattoo of a fetus wearing retro headphones until this summer. Bizarre.
Another main difference I noted in this neck of the woods (see what I did there because there are so many trees!) was the number of locally owned small businesses.
I attribute this to the hippie-ish attitude of Oregon and Washington.
So many of the neighborhoods in both cities had so many small and quirky shops; in numbers that I have never seen in DC or New York City. When I was younger I remember reading about new boutiques in Georgetown each week in “The Sunday Source” of The Washington Post. I am fairly certain most of hem no longer exist. What I loved about Seattle and Portland: this is the opposite.
Of course you go to the downtown sections of the cities and you will find American Eagle, Barnes & Noble, whatever.
Go to the Hawthorne neighborhood of Portland and just block after block is a shop you have never heard of. When in Pioneer Square in Seattle,
don’t forget to hit up Utilikilts, the store with all of your everyday kilt needs?
I must not forget to mention the best example of locally owned: Powell’s Books in Portland. Powell’s is the largest independent used and new book store in the world! It is a highlight.
Of course, let us remember that since Seattle is the coffee capitol of the United States, there are countless coffee shops that do not bear the name Starbucks. However worry not; it is likely that you can also find a Starbucks right next door.
Neil Gaiman made an appearance at GMU’s Center for the Arts on last night (September, 28th). He was there as a part of the DMV’s Fall for the Book Festival, which originated in 1999. It was initially organized by the University and the City of Fairfax.
Gaiman was awarded “The Mason Award.” According to the Festival’s website the award is “to recognize authors who have made extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public.” The 2011 recipient was Stephen King.
Now I do not know about my lovely readers, but until my friend asked me if I wanted to go hear Gaiman speak, I had never heard of him. As for the crowd that attended (an estimated 1800 people!), they certainly did not share my lack of knowledge.
It did not take me long to learn why this guy seems to be so popular. The moment he walked on stage, I saw his shaggy hair, and I could just tell he was quirky. Gaiman opened his mouth and I could not stop listening.
He started with reading from his novel that he had just sent off to the publisher at 3:30AM. It is called The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I am now very excited to read. Like Gaiman, his writing is this fresh mix of dark, childish, comedic, and awkward. Hopefully, because he also narrates many of the audio versions of his books, those come out that way as well.
What amazes me most about Neil Gaiman is how truly he epitomizes this award. He has brought literature into so many forms other than just novels and children’s books. Several of Gaiman’s books—probably the best known being Coraline—have been brought to film. He has written several episodes of the popular tv show Dr. Who. Gaiman is also the author of numerous comics and two plays.
If this is your first time hearing of Neil Gaiman I really recommend looking him up. As was probably obvious, I have not read any of his books, but I am sure they are well worth the read.
The Capital Fringe Festival is about to close and I can’t believe I have not really talked about it! I slack. (If you don’t know what the Fringe Festival is see my last blog post). Well anyway, today I sat down with my friend, Julia Katz, in Greenberry’s Coffee Co. (a “happening” spot in McLean of the Northern V.A.). Julia is approaching the end of the run of the show she created and directed called The Freshman 15/life in transition. It is being performed as a part of the Capital Fringe Festival.
Hannah Menchhoff: The Freshman 15/life in transition is a collection of interviews from your classmates at various universities throughout the country about their first year of college. Where did you get the idea to do this show?
Julia Katz: Well I took a class, spring of 2011, called Gender and Performance. One of the artists that we studied was Anna Deavare-Smith, she pioneered the documentary theater g
enre, and made it her own. I was really inspired by her and how her work had focused on capturing both multiple perspectives and true perspectives of any given event. [For this show] I wanted to look at an event that I had access to, which was the college experience and examine that through multiple lenses. I also love using story-telling as the basis for grounding my work. I think storytelling is a really powerful and magical ancient art form that is also really empowering.
HM: How exactly did you create the script? You had the interviews and then what?
JK: I have hours of tape and I carry a tape recorder everywhere. I have this real attachment to keeping it wit
h me and pulling it out when I felt it was appropriate. I actually caught some of the best moments when I would hear what someone would say and ask them if they minded it being recorded on tape. I also had more formalized interviews, like at a coffee shop. Mostly, I had these very uniform almost research questions. Almost all of the interviews were 15 to 20 minutes long. And then afterwards, I would go home and transcribe and for a while, I would transcribe whole interviews, but as it came down to the wire and I need to write a first draft, I only transcribed parts that were most relevant. Then I took the best of those things, I looked at it all, I took my favorite quotes and categorized them in these weird ways and then made a first draft. It was awful. I took it to the cast and we took it scene by scene and edited it. We would also spend parts of rehearsal doing storytelling exercises and improve and would incorporate our stories into them. Then overtime we made some great changes. I feel this way the ensemble could own the piece.
HM: How long did the process take you from interviews until this point at the Fringe Festival?
JK: April 2011 [is when it started]. So weird [the show has] been my baby for so long! [Laughs] And like I really love the metaphor of art and it being your baby. Opening night it was born and suddenly I didn’t have control over it anymore. It was so
weird. It really works with pregnancy because you incubate it for so long. I have been with this baby for so long and I birthed it and what I do? Need to move on and go to the next piece.
You need to add a disclaimer: that I realize how pretentious I sound and that I actually know nothing about art.
HM: How would you say the process went as a whole of being both a playwright and a director?
JK: It was really intimidating going into it because I have never done anything like this before. I have been you know given a specific role in my time in theater my whole life. I have been doing educational theater, so high school and college theater where the show was going to go up. [My work didn’t affect that.] To be in control of this process, you know if I don’t do my work the
show won’t go up. That was a sobering realization. Actually, doing production and rehearsals was a lot less stressful than I thought. [It was so] mostly because I invested in two fantastic stage managers, Debroah Cline and Callie Towler (and they are my life and I don’t know what I would do without them), and because there were a lot of things that just luckily ended up working out in the end. My stage
manager and I set out production goals about 6 weeks before opening, and I thin
k we met them all. That was surprising to me. My previous experiences in theater have always been so high stress. There was always major crises’ happening. The one major crisis that happened was handled. The actors weathered it. I just want people to enjoy themselves and I don’t want them to hate me. I just want them to feel positively about this work.
HM: What do you hope theater-goers get out of this play?
JK: I want them to recognize, I think the unique challenge of going to college in the millennial generation, which is kind of this mandated experience that seems like a one size fits all solution for young people these days. Older generations didn’t have this as such an oppressive force. On the other hand, there is definitely a universality to anyone who has gone through college, as this tumultuous, liberating period. So I just want people to recognize that they had this sort of experience, this pathos. I want them to laugh. I’ve had several audience members say to me that any one of those characters [in the piece] are like someone they met in college. I think we’ve been very successful at capturing several different perspectives and experiences and leave it open as a montage to keep people questioning.
HM: You have a blog that you have been updating along the way about rehearsals and posts along those lines. Since the show started you have been adding confessionals. Could you just explain this and the idea behind it?
JK: So the confessionals. I love to do theater that has community based responses. The Freshman 15 is a traditional theater piece, a fourth wall show, where the actors perform for the audience. I wanted to engage the audience more in a way that seems genuine. So we put these questions on slips of paper onto each seat of the audience—and we put a different one for each show—and post the answers on the blog. And then we also have a slip that has the blog’s web address. Then the audience can go and look at what they wrote, the stories people share, and different perspectives on being young.
HM: What is it like working with the Fringe?
JK: Capital Fringe does a lot. I am incredibly grateful to have been around the organization as an audience member (Julia has also been to the Fringe festival in Scotland), writing reviews, now directing. The Fringe gives you a huge amount of publicity, a space to work with—I love our space—, they give you the freedom to create something artistically that might suck. An ordinary producing environment is safe. As a result a lot of great artistic work is left behind because artists can’t take the risk. The Fringe allows awful weird stuff but also really great weird stuff. The point is that they give you the chance to do that.
HM: Are you done with this show or is there more life to The Freshmen 15/life in transition?
JK: I mean I’m not promising that I’ll never ever pick up the script again and that I’ll never do anything with it. I think it’s lived a pretty solid life. It’s something I’m happy with and has given me a lot and hopefully the cast has gotten something from it. This is not something I’m going to focus on for the next five years, it has been an exploration and I think it’s done. I am really lucky that I have been able to do this so young and still have time to mess up and throw it away and start again. If the opportunity were to arise, I would definitely change things, but I don’t think I will too much with it.
I do have a number of other projects coming up. I am in the beginning stages of the show Blinded which will be showing at VA-Tech from February 28 to March 2. And that is a work I can see myself investing years in it, but I don’t know yet. I still don’t know anything. That is my mindset that I am 20 years old and I don’t know anything yet.
If you are interested in seeing The Freshman 15 it is running through this Sunday, July 29. I really recommend it. It is dynamic, avant-garde, and thoughtful. I am not just saying this either. It is really something worth seeing.
I wouldn’t call myself a lucky person in the least. I am not one of those people who stumble upon dollar bills and definitely not one of those people who win radio contests (One Direction or Justin Bieber/Carly Rae Jepsen anybody?). It just doesn’t happen. However, with this internship at the 1st Stage, I practically struck gold. I walked into the theater once and they asked me to assistant stage manage Flora the Red Menace. I walk in a week or so after that run is over and I am asked to STAGE MANAGE the children’s show The Prince and the Troubadour. Of course I am happy and excited to do it. I mean realistically I don’t know how many other professional shows I am going to stage manage in the immediate future. However, I am also freaking out. The difference (I believe) between stage managing at the 1st Stage and most other theaters is at the 1st Stage the stage manager also runs the lighting and sound for the show. This may be obvious based on past posts, but let me emphasize the fact that I have zero experience stage managing, running lights, and running sound. Clearly I am qualified for this job. Anyway, I was pacing around the theater asking my boss and the director, “Are you sure you want me to do this?” I believe the director may have been a bit nervous with me, but he and my boss agreed that I would learn. In fact, this is the point of the internship: to learn. I was still skeptical because I don’t really trust myself and the show was going to premier in three days.
After only two runs of the show, pacing, stressful thoughts, and fast talking, here is to the anticlimactic ending: I learned! One point for experience. Thank goodness. There were only a couple of times between the opening weekend and this weekend where that bitch of a light board decided to stop working. And only one call to the sound expert asking why the sound wasn’t working—well this might seem silly but are the speakers on?.. Oh. Thus far, a success.
The only aspect we would like to gain is a bigger audience; here is the part where I am going to talk this show up. The Prince and the Troubadour was produced by the Virginia Children’s Theater Company and written by Rex Daugherty and Doug Wilder and directed by Rex Daugherty. The cast includes Doug Wilder as the Prince, Bradley Smith as the Troubadour, Julia Fanning as the Princess, and Marta Kotzian as the Witch. Because I hate writing summaries this one is provided by the 1st Stage: “Children will be captivated by the hilarious adventures of a misfit Prince attempting to rescue his ne’er-do-well friend, the Troubadour, from the clutches of a witch who wishes to have him ‘FOR DINNER’! To save his friend, the Prince teams up with Princess Mary, the martial arts extraordinaire, to overcome bandits, trolls, and bad-hair days to reach the tower where the witch holds the Troubadour captive and is busy making dinner reservations.” Honestly, this is the cutest show and is absolutely hilarious both for kids and adults, kind of like Sponge Bob or Phineas and Ferb. The acting is great, the script and music is clever, and I must say the lighting and sound is spot on… most times. Might I also point out that an accordion is used.
The Prince and the Troubadour runs at the 1st Stage Theater until July 29, 2012 on Saturdays and Sundays at 12pm and 2pm.
Also, on a side note the Capital Fringe Festival starts this week from July 12 to July 29 and I am volunteering at the box office (can you say free tshirt?)! For those of you who don’t know anything about the Fringe Festival it is (according to their website) “…the only major unjuried, self-producing, open-access Festival in the Washington, DC area and occurs in July each year. The Fringe Festival provides all artists, whether new or established, a venue to express and develop their talents and artistic visions in total freedom.”
Come check both The Prince and the Troubadour and the Fringe Festival out. Specifically I am going to do my best to attend (although I don’t think I am allowed to show biases as a volunteer) the freshman 15/life in transition, The Every Fringe Show You Want To See in One Fringe Show Fringe Show, The Confines of Flattery, The Brontes, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.