Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, October 13, 2006

If an Actor Plays Alone in the Forest, Is It Still Theatre?

I just discovered David Timberline’s excellent blog a couple days ago, and dang, that man writes a lot! I hereby commit to writing more regularly here.

So you want to be a theatre star? Well listen now to what I say. Just get yourself an exciting script and find a stage and learn how to play.

The highs are sky-high and the lows are Marianas-Trench-low right now, folks, so bear with me as I revel and vent.

Julius Caesar opened a week ago, the first review was very complimentary, and I personally think it may be the best work Richmond Shakespeare has ever done on a tragedy. Rick Blunt’s Brutus is transparently honest and noble, and continues to trust and love Cassius even as he is led to destruction. Thomas Nowlin’s Caesar contrasts dignity and arrogance with telling moments of human weakness. Jeff Schmidt’s Antony is a master manipulator, the embodiment of the cult of personality. Terry Menefee Gau’s three women (Portia, Calpurnia, and Casca) give the play depths of sadness, sensuality, and genuine romance than I thought the script could contain. (I hear that Hamm guy is okay, too.)

I hadn’t read Julius Caesar since high school, and my memory of the play was that I had really liked it, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember why. My first read-through to prepare for auditions reminded me of much of it, but never in a million years would I have thought that a production of Julius Caesar could be dynamic and sexy. This show is both, in spades. Three cheers for our fearless leader, Master of Play James Alexander Bond. Holla!

However, the audiences for the downtown season continue to be depressingly small. Granted, they’re bigger than last year’s, but not by as much as I was hoping. Eleven very enthusiastic people, none of whom I knew, gave us a standing ovation on Saturday evening, and four stuck around afterward to applaud each individual actor as they exited the dressing room. I’ve never seen anything like it. Now I don’t do the shows for curtain calls and applause; I actually loathe curtain calls, find them awkward and embarrassing, and would abolish them if I could. But the audience is half of the theatrical paradigm, and when they wish to give something back after receiving from the actors all evening, the least I can do is receive their gift graciously. And one of these four gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received as an actor. He said, “I’m ashamed for this city that there aren’t more people here to see this show.”

While that’s one heck of a compliment, I can’t help but feel somewhat distressed by it. Case in point: the Training Department I have been giving blood sweat and tears for since July. September’s workshop in Character Voices had a fairly strong showing of seven participants despite a pretty small amount of promotion. October’s workshop in Stage Combat, a very popular topic, was lucky to scrape together three students despite being listed on RAPT’s website, ComedySportz’s website, and the Virginia Actor’s Forum. It was included in emails to every high school English and Theatre teacher in the area. It was even referenced in “On the Aisle” in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday. All that and three students.

The next evening, Wednesday, was to have been the first night of a six-week acting class for which I had six students reserved. Six is a great size; three pairs for each project, and lots of time for one-on-one work. Three showed up. Everything I had designed for the class was going to take a minimum of four students to work, so I sent them home. I’m trying to re-arrange things to accommodate three, but once again, this was listed in all of the above locations, all for three students.

It’s depressing enough that this affects my livelihood and my dreams, blah blah blah. But what’s really killing me is this: Is this all the interest this town has? Is three students and eleven audience members all Richmond can muster?

I don’t stay in Richmond as an artist and teacher because I couldn’t make it in bigger towns, I stay in Richmond because I feel a sense of mission. New York doesn’t need excellent, dedicated artists; it has plenty, I assure you. It’s communities like Richmond that are in the most desperate need of artists committed to excellence in art and education; it’s the smaller ponds that need bigger, better fish. The more institutions like Theatre IV, Barksdale, and the Firehouse, the more artists like Scott Wichmann, Erin Thomas, and Ford Flannagan, the better. But it doesn’t amount to very damn much if no one in town is coming out.

I just want to run into the streets and cry out, Darn it, Richmond! You have a living, breathing theatrical community in your town and you’re at home watching “Project: Runway!” Just Tivo the darn TV shows and come out for dinner and a play! Good night, Richmond Ensemble. Curtains down, Theatre Virginia. What’s playing tonight at Regal Short Pump?

I miss Susan Sanford and Foster Solomon, but I can not find it in my heart to condemn them for leaving town. Richmond, make sure you enjoy the excellent artists who are creating theatre in your town, because the way things are going, they’ll be leaving for New York and LA soon.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home