2012 was a challenging year in many ways for a lot of people. The economy was still a bit shaky and we all endured a grueling election cycle. There were challenges for us in Bare Theatre – the most notable being the unfortunate closure of Raleigh Ensemble Players, which had seemed to be the perfect new home for us in Raleigh after Much Ado About Nothing.
It’s always interesting to me to look back at what we’ve done and where we’ve been. 2012 brought a lot of firsts for us, and it saw our “little company that could” transitioning into a more established company here in Raleigh and in the Triangle as a whole.
Here’s a brief look back:
February. Winter One-Acts: One Night of Absolute Dismay
February held our third collection of one-acts, a mix of short plays from playwrights new and well-established. We presented new works by Lucius Robinson, Rajeev Rajendran, Ben Ferber, Donnie McEwan, and Mora Harris, as well as a favorite by Christopher Durang.
We premiered three installments of “Hot Greek Porn,” a mashup of Greek tragedy, the European debt crisis, and well…porn. We bloodied the stage with “Everything Seems So Plausible at 1 A.M.,” and explored a couple’s faith being tested by a homeless person. The show wrapped up with “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls,” a twisted retelling of Tennessee Williams’ classic, The Glass Menagerie.
Notable firsts included Jason Bailey’s first time directing on stage and Olivia Griego’s first time directing with Bare!
May. We had so much fun with “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” in Absolute Dismay that we decided to mount the entire collection from which it came, Durang/Durang. That show, originally scheduled for May, had to be postponed because of the closure of REP.
We had already rehearsed well over a month by the time we got the sad news, so rather than cancel the show entirely we moved it to July, thus canceling our summer youth conservatory, Rogue Company.
June. Let Them Be Heard
Our first location-based production, Let Them Be Heard, took place at Historic Stagville in Durham, NC. The seven monologues taken from the Slave Narrative Project were staged in actual slave quarters and a hand-built mule barn at the site.
Let Them Be Heard was a powerful experience for us. The fact that the narratives came from men and women who lived in Raleigh and Durham and grew up as slaves made already compelling stories even more meaningful.
Among many firsts with this show was our first Kickstarter campaign, which successfully raised over $1,250 to cover the costs of the production. This in turn helped us donate 100% of ticket sales – over $1,800 – to Historic Stagville to support their mission of historic preservation.
It was also our first appearance on WUNC 91.5 FM’s The State of Things with Frank Stasio. It was also our first (of hopefully many more) production that was audio recorded and broadcast with the help of Kurt Benrud and Triangle Radio Reading Service.
Additionally, the sold-out show was recognized by Byron Woods and The Independent Weekly as among the best of 2012’s Triangle Theater, receiving recognition for best achievements in ensemble, directing, production, and a special achievement in the humanities.
July saw Durang/Durang finally get its run (with a few new cast members), and it was a blast. Olivia was a fantastic director, and we even got her husband Drew onstage with us!
Not only did this show have the honor of being our first-ever production at Burning Coal’s Murphey School, it was also the second-highest grossing show in Bare Theatre history (after our 2011 run of Much Ado About Nothing).
September. SPARKcon 2012
SPARKcon 2012 was Bare’s second appearance at the huge four-day creative explosion in downtown Raleigh. TheatreSPARK wanted to go bigger and better, so local theatre companies took to the streets with an interactive scavenger hunt. With our upcoming clown-centric show, The Leader, rapidly approaching it was time to send in the clowns.
October/November. The Leader
The Leader involved several firsts. Using Eugene Ionesco’s short 1953 play by the same name as a jumping-off point, we explored a creative process unlike our typical process. The devised short plays and sketches that filled out the show were created by the ensemble, with several pieces written by Chuck Keith, and Todd Buker.
Our pals, The Nickel Shakespeare Girls, came to participate in our clown workshops, and we took what we learned out onto the streets of downtown Raleigh to field test it. The Leader was our first production in an art gallery, too – at the wonderful Visual Art Exchange. We also got to visit Frank Stasio at The State of Things again to talk a little about political theatre!
What a year. There were so many unforgettable moments on stage and back stage. We had the pleasure of working with a ton of great new actors, and trying new things with old friends.
Here’s to 2013, which we’ll discuss more on the next post! Wait ’til you hear what’s in store!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It came to me one night after a post-show hurrah during Durang/Durang.
The plan had been to do Shakespeare this fall – The Comedy of Errors at Raleigh Little Theatre’s amphitheater. Shakespeare and amphitheater go together like brie and bacon, and I was getting pretty fired up about the show. However, there was a problem.
The trouble was threefold:
- Hopscotch is at the beginning of September and SPARKcon is mid-September.
- Actor’s Comedy Lab is doing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at RLT at the end of September, and there is not enough parking for two shows.
- It’s cold at night in October.
So September was not possible and RLT was only available during October. No sweat, right? Find another venue. We’ve made a firm commitment to performing in Raleigh from now on – it’s where most of us live, and there is a relatively large theatre crowd here.
The only problem is that finding performance space in Raleigh is one of the most difficult challenges I face as a managing director, especially after the closure of Raleigh Ensemble Players.
Being a vagabond theatre company is a lot of fun, but also at times like this a royal pain in the arse.
Theatres in Raleigh in the fall are busy with their own seasons, and most don’t really want to squeeze another show in when they’re trying to rehearse and get ready for their next opening. Trying to book consecutive weeks in Raleigh and Durham makes it even trickier.
So it was time to do something different. I had already been wrestling with the idea of using non-theatre spaces, and the next best thing I could come up with was art galleries. Sure, they don’t have raked floors or lighting plots, but they understand the challenges of finding spaces and getting work seen.
I figured if we weren’t going to go big with a grand amphitheater show, we should do exactly the opposite. It was time to think of an intimate, funky show that wouldn’t need a lot of space, but that would make an impact.
That’s what occurred to me that Saturday night after Durang. Then I realized we shouldn’t do Shakespeare this fall. There’s at least four other productions of Shakespeare plays going on in the Triangle, anyway.
I thought about a show I had seen 17 years ago, one that I still remember because it made such an impact. It was an original adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Leader,” an absurdist comedy about people excitedly (and blindly) following a mysterious leader figure.
“The Leader” is only about 10 pages long, but the production I saw had sliced up the script and inserted several original sketches and movement pieces, making a full length play.
Immediately I knew we needed to do this piece in the fall – right in time for the 2012 election.
Expanding the play will be a challenge, and it’s not what we normally do, but I think it will be a great experience. I’ve already got some ideas for clown pieces and vignettes that we can try out. We’ll spend the next few weeks playing theater games and work-shopping, and the ensemble will devise the show together.
I went to two of the fine ladies at ground zero of SPARKcon – the two Sarahs at Visual Art Exchange – and they turned out to be as wonderfully supportive as I thought they’d be. We have ourselves a show.
The Leader goes up October 25-28 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham and November 3-11 at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh.
See you then,
I needed a couple weeks after LET THEM BE HEARD to let it all sink in. This was a huge experience in many ways, and I’m still wrapping my brain around what we managed to accomplish.
It was historic, for starters, and I’m not just referring to the source material. This was Bare Theatre’s first performance in a historic site, and I believe this was the first time any theatre has been done in the original slave quarters and barn at Historic Stagville.
Not only that, but we think this may have been the first theatrical adaptation of the seven monologues included in LET THEM BE HEARD. There are others from other states included in the film Unchained Memories, and there have been other theatrical adaptations elsewhere around the country, but we have not found any other record of these narratives being performed anywhere.
One of our goals was to create awareness of Historic Stagville, and I believe we succeeded. The site usually has between 300 – 350 visitors for its annual Juneteenth event, a celebration of the day the last slaves were set free. This year, that day saw 970 visitors.
Among the four audience groups we had that night, there were some 120 people in attendance, meaning we raised over $1,000 for Historic Stagville. On top of that, our 29 Kickstarter contributors donated $1,301 to Bare Theatre for the creation of LET THEM BE HEARD, so they deserve much credit and many thanks for making this possible.
The publicity the show received was fantastic. We also need to thank the Durham Herald-Sun (read the article), The State of Things and WUNC 91.5 FM (listen to our interview), as well as The Independent Weekly and Classical Voice of North Carolina (read the review).
All four performances were sold out a couple of days before the event, and we were still receiving calls and emails from folks trying to get tickets. There have been many requests from those that were not able to see it and many who did see it to bring the show back to Stagville.
These numbers are all important and a great sign of how much this show resonated with the community, but most striking to me was our audiences’ reactions. I told the cast in advance not to expect applause – not because the show did not deserve it – but because people would simply be unable to applaud at the end. After such tales of tragedy and suffering, it just didn’t feel right.
Their faces were enough, however.
I saw many people who couldn’t speak afterwards, some choked up by tears, others silently burning with a simmering anger and frustration that such things could have ever happened on these lands and in our community. That is a testament to the power of the narratives themselves, and of the incredible talent and ability that our cast displayed in order to tell those stories.
We are currently in the process of creating audio recordings of these seven narratives, with the help of Triangle Radio Reading Service, a service for the blind. The actors have adapted readily to the studio and I am blown away by the recordings so far.
It looks promising for us to return to Stagville, but as yet we do not know exactly when.
It is very important to us to keep working on this project and to continue to tell these stories. I believe we succeeded in creating a safe environment for actors and audience to come together, and to give people a chance to listen.
There will be more to come on this, I promise.
I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. I went to Durham Academy in elementary school, and later moved and went to public school. I went to Bulls games as a kid, loved seeing movies at the Carolina Theatre, and I graduated from Northern High School. I thought I knew pretty much everything there is to know about Durham.
Two years ago I was shocked to learn that Durham has a plantation.
Not only does Durham have a plantation, but it was one of the largest plantations in the South. At its peak, Stagville had over 900 slaves living and working on site, and it stretched out for miles over most of the area that is now known as Treyburn.
I found out about Stagville because my father became a volunteer at the state historic site two years ago. When he told me about it, I couldn’t believe it. He told me about the structures that were still standing, and about the significance Stagville had in the 1800’s.
He gave me a tour of the place and I was amazed. Not only does the owner’s house remain (it was built in the late 1700’s, pre-Revolution, but there is a family cemetery plot, slave quarters, and a huge handmade barn. This is a remarkable piece of history that I had no idea existed.
I was surprised and troubled by that.
Here is this incredible cultural resource that can give us insight into what life was like before and during the Civil War, and no one knows about it. Every Durham native or long-time resident I have talked to about Stagville had the same reaction – no one knew the place existed.
What concerns me is that much of the land that used to be part of the plantation is now divided among many different owners. There are many cabins and buildings that would have supported such a huge slave population, and these structures are literally disintegrating. Without care and upkeep, these artifacts are being reclaimed by nature. They are collapsing and rotting.
I wanted to increase awareness. If the public knows about Stagville and recognizes its historical significance, we can generate more support and funding to preserve its history.
The obvious choice for me was to create a piece of theatre. With a live event, we could bring a new audience to Stagville.
I didn’t want to do a story on the slaveowners, however. While the Bennehans and Camerons who owned the place no doubt have interesting stories, I was more interested in the overwhelming majority of people who lived there – the enslaved community.
My father gave me the idea to create a piece based on the Slave Narrative Project, a collection of thousands of interviews the WPA conducted in the 1930’s with men and women who were old enough to remember what life was like under slavery. I began reading the interviews, and I realized this was a story about slavery and its aftermath that I had never seen or heard before.
Many of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking in their descriptions of cruelty and disregard for humanity. Some of the stories are touching in the optimism maintained by individuals who faced bleak circumstances. The Slave Narratives also raise interesting questions about race and the role of government in our lives.
Next Saturday (4/28/12) we hold auditions for this piece, LET THEM BE HEARD. We are looking for African-American actors who will tell these stories as monologues to be presented in the buildings of Stagville on a lantern-lit evening in June.
AUDITION INFO IS HERE: http://bit.ly/BeHeardAuditions
Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you or anyone you know is interested, and I will get you more information.
We’ve gotten into a little tradition of winter one-acts in the last few years. Actually, with this being the third year, I think it will officially become tradition.
In the past, we’ve done lots of Shakespeare. We’ve even done seasons where we did nothing BUT Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong – we love Shakespeare. But it’s not all we do. We’ve also done Pinter, Stoppard, Miller…great writers. However, the one-acts show came about because we wanted to do more than just modern playwrights’ works.
We wanted to do some stuff that no one had ever seen. At least, no one around here had ever seen.
I think Heather originally put the idea out there. I used to work with a company in Greensboro, American Distractions, that did nothing but original works. They were often short plays rolled into an evening with a theme of some sort: monologues about giving something up, a collection of plays that all took place in various storage units at a storage facility.
These were always popular shows over there. I personally think it can be really exciting as an audience member to walk into a theater and really have no idea what you are about to see. There’s an anything-can-happen sort of vibe that can be a very interesting energy to work with.
Bare Theatre’s first venture into the world of original one-acts was in 2010, with an innocently-titled show called Boys and Girls. The three plays that made up that program were so dark and disturbing, I remember looking around at the actors after our very first read-through and seeing the same look on everyone’s face. It was a horrified and yet excited expression that somehow asked “Are we really going to do this?”
In three short plays, Boys and Girls covered death, loss, grief, stalking, murder, abuse, drug use, rape…and then we let the audience decide whether to kill the main character in the last play (Carmen’s “Ask Him in the Morning”). Every other night, the audience passed judgement and decided he should die, in which case his scene partner shot him in the head with a pistol, leaving him face-down in his own blood. No curtain call. Sometimes the audience would clap, sometimes they would just get up and walk out in silence. All good reactions as far as we were concerned.
Last year’s collection was decidedly lighter, so we called it Oh Sh!t, It’s Another Evening of One-Act Plays. While there were some dark twists in the evening, most of the show was comedic.
This year, we are presenting another blend of twisted, hilarious and sad. It could only be called One Night of Absolute Dismay.
With this trajectory, I just want to call next year’s show Aaaggghhhhhhrrhrhhr!!!!!
Our main goal in choosing plays is that we want the directors and artists involved to really be passionate about what they are doing. We have found that trying to plug a season and hire directors to do plays they didn’t choose (and hence haven’t been thinking about) just doesn’t quite bring enough excitement to the project. This show is a lab of sorts, and we want to let the artists try some new stuff, push some boundaries, and go for it.
So, this time around we have three original works by playwrights who have more or less of a connection to the area, and a parody from a well-known author:
“Hot Greek Porn,” by Lucius Robinson and Rajeev Rajendran, is being created for this show and will be presented in installments throughout the evening. Drawing from material ranging from the pornographic films of Kostas Gousgouni to the dark agenda of the instigators of the European debt crisis, no one will be spared.
“Everything Seems So Plausible At 1 A.M.,” by Ben Ferber and Donnie McEwan, is a fast-paced short that, well, you really just need to see. Larry the Lawyer is awakened in the middle of the night by Bob the Banker, Sam the Surgeon, and Emily the Ex-Wife – all of whom need immediate legal advice and protection from a killer, who happens to be one of them.
“Letter From The Editor,” by Mora Harris, is a sometimes humorous, sometimes dark look into faith and belief. An affluent Christian married couple finds their faith in God and each other tested when the husband brings a homeless man into their house.
“For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls,” by Christopher Durang, is a demented twist on a famous play from his collection, Durang Durang. In this parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, fading southern belle Amanda desperately tries to prepare her hyper-sensitive, hypochondriacal son Lawrence for “the feminine caller,” who turns out to be a hard-of-hearing dinner guest invited by Amanda’s ambiguously gay son, Tom.
Rehearsals have been a blast so far. More details to come…