-by Andy Dudas
It’s been a little over a week since we(myself and DIVA board secretary/treasurer and life partner Amy Dudas) wrapped production on ‘Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,’ at Richmond Civic Theatre in Richmond, IN. What went right? What went wrong? What could/should/would we have done differently?
For our first audience, we put on a free performance for local high school students. I have quite fond memories of a field trip in the sixth grade to see the Whitewater Valley Opera Company perform. Having an audience with such impressionable minds in some ways was more attractive to us than performing to a ‘regular’ crowd. We saw the potential to influence a young person to step into the Arts as a welcome challenge if not a duty.
Our one weekend performance run brought in higher numbers than expected. Not exponentially, but certainly more than marginally. We generated as much word of mouth as we could to give our little community theater as much buzz as possible leading up to a show in the dead of an Indiana winter. We would like to think we helped those numbers swell to the better than expected result.
Posters, plenty of pictures on social media, having our own press release run in the local newspaper, the Pal-Item, and interviews with Phil Quinn on 101.7 the Point…all of these things helped our town of 35,000 learn about our show.
But do ticket sales equate to success? Do more butts in the seats mean you have a good show? We don’t think so. The bottom line cannot be the only way in which you gauge success. Good Art is good Art but it’s still all subjective…eye of the beholder and all that jazz. What one person loves, the next may hate. We believe Art should challenge us: to perform it and to consume it. There is a reason Shakespeare is still sought out after hundreds of years. Then again, ‘The Fast and The Furious’ films are doing rather well too.
But is it even possible to define what makes Art successful? It’s a difficult task but we think it can be done. Then again, defining successful Art is nearly as subjective as the Art itself.
- Are those involved in producing the Art satisfied with their work?
- How was the Art received?
- How many consumed the Art?
We feel these three points, in part or in whole are how we can track a work of Art’s success or failure. Of course within each question there is more subjectivity with each answer. Yes you may have some degree of success simply throwing darts at a board, but having a plan at least gives the impression of being diligent in your approach and level of personal responsibility to the work.
If you have a good work of Art(in this case a show), the chips will fall in the appropriate places. But you can’t continually do the safe or lowest common denominator shows in order to keep the house as full as possible because the next thing you know you’re filming ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 14: Freddie Participates in a Sleep Study.’ Every now and then you have to take a risk on a lesser known less mainstream show. For every crowd who wants to see ‘Walker Texas Ranger: Still Kicking’ there too is a crowd for ‘Twin Peaks the Musical.’
In our show, Florence Foster Jenkins was convinced she was a world class Soprano while in reality she was oblivious to her inability to carry a tune whatsoever. We think there’s a little Florence in all of us. Most creative souls crave larger and more rewarding endeavors but the reality is most ‘part-time’ Artists have a full time job and bills to pay. There are very few people who have successfully chased down their dreams of becoming a professional Artist.
Not every script is great, and moreover a difficult truth for a lot of us involved in community theater is that not every production is either. But this is ‘only’ community theater we’re talking about. How good could an all volunteer performance be? The truth is sometimes they are very good. Other times…let’s just say some productions don’t always end up being all we had envisioned. In the end people volunteer their time simply for the love of the Art. What could be more noble than that?
Our approach to this show was one of ‘less is more.’ With just two cast members the focus was really going to be on the characters themselves. No elaborate set design, no fancy painted backdrops, not even stagehands to manipulate scene changes. We wanted the focus on the actors. It’s what the script called for to be honest. This pushed the performers to a deeper level of characterization which in turn created a chemistry the show had to have in order to be believable. To be real. A second rate production may produce a cast with wonderful individual performances and still lack the chemistry needed to lift itself above the typical fare.
Our cast took direction, a trait for which all actors should strive. We set out to have our two actors work together as one. To respond to each other rather than just recite the lines from the script. Memorization is not acting. Emote. Have some vision. React. Aspire. Don’t let people think it’s ‘just’ community theater. The end result was a show of which we were proud. The show was exactly how we envisioned it from the beginning. I can’t imagine a finer compliment to us as directors or to the cast as actors.
- Did those involved in producing this show feel as though they had been successful?Yes.
- How was the show received? Very well.
- How many came to see the show? More than expected.
That’s how we put together a successful show.
Andy Dudas 1/29/2018
Andy Dudas has interests varying from painting and singing, to photography and prop making. Pretty much anything that has a creative element. Amateur status in all endeavors, he finds art everywhere he looks. Always seeking his next inspiration.