Apparently I’m not a very good Spring Awakening fan. I didn’t know there was a whole demo album of Duncan singing the songs.
It is becoming increasingly aware to me that I must purge some of the pinned up thoughts that have been locked in my mind for the past five years, and what better way to do that than with the blogosphere. As I approach my 36th birthday in a new city, living in the area that was once haunted by Edward Gorey and Ben Hecht, I’m reminded that it’s good sometimes to look back into the rear view mirror and things get smaller as you leave them behind. But the memories still haunt you and some are hard to shake, and so here is “Why I Left Tulsa” and hopefully it will allow this chapter in my life to end and the next one to begin.
I tried to make Tulsa my home for five years, and I was quickly informed that it was a club that I couldn’t get into. When I came to Tulsa, I was fresh out of grad school with a head of ideas and no place to use them. I had left a horrendous situation in my life that chiefly centered around an imploded relationship that was about two of the hardest years of my life. I won’t go into details because of the parties involved and respecting their privacy, but it is the constant source of the phrase, “Well, whatever happens, at least it won’t get that bad again.” Tulsa was the place I was stuck in and I chose to make the most of it.
I quickly hit the ground running and tried to get a show together. This show was Lebensraum by Israel Horovitz, and I enlisted the help of several actors who were involved in the production. I had knowledge about the theatre and had produced and directed in college, but this was the first time I had produced in the real world. I decided at that moment to live like it could be done, not like it can’t be done. The show feel apart and I quickly realized that I should stick to acting. Which is what I did until a theatre job presented itself…
When I started as the manager of the Sapulpa Community Theatre, I knew very little about the job. I knew that I was supposed to take care of taxes and bills from Greg Stone who trained me to do the job, and I also knew that I needed to work with board members to run the day to day operations of the theatre. I was a hands off manager who acted more like a servant than anyone else. When I sat in those meetings, I had visions of Anthony Hopkins in the “Remains of the Day” and tried to live up to “Always make the room feel more empty when you are in it.” The board was led by Mary Walters, who I had tremendous respect for and still do to this day. She ran the board, listened to others, and created some great art that year. I was very impressed with her. The person that I wasn’t impressed with was Deborah Bradshaw. She seemed controlling, mean, and vindictive when she didn’t get her way, but when I really got to know Deborah…I realized that she was just as passionate as I was about what she did. I feel that two passionate people in the same room going different directions are bound to butt heads at one time or another, and I did with her and with another board member on more than one occasion. I voluntarily left Sapulpa after one year and several incidents that were not the greatest times in the world, but still were not the worst I had ever experienced and I wish them nothing but the best. They provide a vital service to that city, even if it’s not my type of theatre.
At this time, in the back pocket. I created a network. I had recently been to Los Angeles and my friend Val had put in my hand a copy of the Los Angeles Creative Directory. It bounced around as books tend to do, in the back of my car, in my house. Around the table. And finally, out of the need to find actors, I said “Enough is Enough” and decide to create a network to change that. The network, which was a social network built on the Ning.Com platform was called “Tulsa Creative Network” and garnished me a spot in the Tulsa Top 40. It became something that people began to talk about and I was very excited about it being useful to others. It eventually became to expensive to continue, but the live meetings at the Villiage Inn is where I met my now wife, so it was a good experience.
And that’s what I found out, it was not my type of theatre. I was beginning a theatre company with a couple of people that I had met doing “As You Like It” for Theatre Tulsa and these people seemed to believe in the same thing that I believed in. They, like me, felt it was necessary for Tulsa to have a legitimate theatre company that produced plays that were contemporary and had relevance to the society around them. We began meetings on what would become the failed “Tulsa Theatre Project” not to be confused with the now running “Tulsa Project Theatre”. This was started by Greg Stone, Starr Hardgrove, Whitson Hanna, David Lawrence, Erin Scarberry, Lara Wells, Cassie Hollis and John Clark. We had preliminary meetings about the project and it was going really well at the beginning, but lacked a proper task list in order to get things done. I quickly became frustrated with the events and their lack of momentum, and left the company and the people behind at a coffee shop when the phrase was uttered, “We should have a show in about two or three years”. I walked out because I believe that all that’s needed for a play to begin is an empty space. People complicate it entirely too much, and it’s ultimately their downfall as theatre artists. This began frustrations and tensions with these people that still carry on today. They make me pretty sad that we couldn’t resolve them, but that’s life I guess.
So I left that meeting with the idea of getting a show together. I did. We performed “Proof” at the Nightingale Theatre in 2006 which was the first production of Evandrake Productions, which later became Actors Company of Tulsa. We had a partnership with the Nightingale Theatre which lasted for about three to four shows and they were very good productions. They were a good amalgamation of the Midwestern Theatre Company and Actors Company of Tulsa. These productions were Proof, Mr. Marmalade, and The Threepenny Opera. These productions were well created, acted and designed and even though we had our times and our creative differences, I look back on these shows as some of the best that I’ve ever been involved with. Glad to work at that theatre and would go back and work with them any time, were I not 600 miles away from the city. But like all fish in the sea, I look for a larger bowl and that bowl was my own company. Actors Company of Tulsa grew to the point where we needed a larger place to play, and I began to break out of the space. That break out was Summerstage and the show was “The Visit”.
In between this and the time that I did “The Visit”, I started a film company with my two friends Rob Harris and Titus Jackson. We sat down and carefully crafted a business plan for an LLP or limited liability partnership between Evandrake Productions and Tiroma Films. The first film that we were producing was entitled “Why I Love Tulsa” which would take 25 filmmakers and allow them to create short films that would express their answer to the question of why they loved the city that they lived in. I loved Chicago from a far, but if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with. There was great excitement in this and joining the collaboratorium allowed us to have legitimate business offices and create a film studio in the city of Tulsa. But the partnership quickly soured and it disbanded in as the film was stopped by the lawyers of Emmanuel Benbihy who told me that we “did it wrong” and they may “remount it someday”. His 1 Madison Avenue Lawyers stopped Why I Love Tulsa and the movie was never finished.
The Visit marked the break with the Nightingale and was a success that made money. Albeit very little, but it was in the plus that year. Our show was attended by quite a few people and was praised in the review as a great success. It starred Andy Axewell and Amy Carlin Lee in the title roles and had a cast of about 40 people. This production was an extremely creative time for me, and the others who were involved did a simply remarkable job. The show was attended well and made me feel like Actors Company of Tulsa could really be something that would really make a difference. At this time, the original founders of ACT and I had parted ways and I was running the entire thing with a bunch of help from my girlfriend at the time, Amy Carlin Lee. A lot of people criticized my casting of my girlfriend, but she was truly brilliant as Claire Zachanassian and I couldn’t have thought of anyone else in the role.
With the proceeds of that show, it became apparent that another show was required in the list. I decided to revisit a show that was a success at my college and to direct it at the Harwelden Mansion. Having made a comment in the newspaper during the press of Proof about the blandness of Neil Simon, I brought Rumors to the city with a mansion tour that was originally supposed to go to several places but just ended up at two mansions, the Harwelden and the McBirney. This production, which lost money because of the dinner element being mismanaged and overpriced for the budget of the show, began a downward spiral which caused me to lose my girlfriend at the time, lose the place that I lived, and that coupled with some unemployment and many other unfortunate events saw everyone who was involved leave the company and that month, my life generally imploded. Left with nothing in a new place and pretty depressed, I met my wife.
Bonny Lee Hardgrove came into my life at that time and it was pretty spectacular. We had known each other for some time, and it happened suddenly and without warning. She really saved my life at a very dark time, and I’m eternally grateful to her for that. She got me back on track and back to who I was. Bonny was a theatre artist as well who had dreams of running a company and was a director as well, so it worked out. With Hanna, JR, Bonny and I, we relaunched the company with a completely new group and a new season. Creating my first theatre season was difficult but challenging and rewarding. The process was very democratic and we each presented our favorite shows and discussed them based on merit and production. Our goal was to pick three and we ended up picking 5. A full season of shows. The inaugural and was would be the last Actors Company of Tulsa season came to a close. We produced Angels in America, A Clockwork Orange, Othello, Vatzlav and the final summerstage show which was a showcase from all of the productions. A fitting tribute to the end of the production company. Our company was about actors, giving back to the community, and creating great theatre. We did that with a lot of personal differences, fights, mistakes and overspending which left the theatre company that gained no financial support from the city, government organizations or individual donors in a mountain of debt. Debt that I am still holding on top of a good amount of debt from school and many other debts that are albatrosses around my neck. But I wouldn’t trade the good moments for the world. They were priceless.
So why did I leave Tulsa? It came down to support for the creative things that I was doing. It came down to the support for the shows by the people who attended them. It came down to basic support for creative endeavors. While you didn’t support me, which is fine, I’m a big boy and I can take that. When you don’t support others because of me, then you’re a complete asshole and I will have nothing to do with you for the rest of the time that I live. I felt that Tulsa theatre was a club that I would never be invited into, so I made my own that pissed a lot of people off. And if you’re pissing people off, you’re doing something right. Bonny and I sat on the couch during the production of our next show of the season and I said to her, “Are you happy here?” she said “No.” and then we started to discuss the many different ways in which we were trying to get things started but being met with overwhelming resistance. Then we decided to discuss the places where we would be happy, and Chicago came up in the list. While a change of pace doesn’t fix everything, it does change your perspective on things.
So what I’m screaming to you from a far, Tulsa is don’t let anyone tell you the way it has to be. Don’t let anyone keep you from creating on a massive scale. The world will tell you that it’s this way, take a chance and prove them wrong. No one is in charge no matter what job application they filled out or where they are in life. When people tell you that you should just bury yourself in another theatre company and disappear for a while, tell them to fuck off. If someone tells you that they are unhappy with the way you are doing things, ask them for a better way, try it there way and let them fail. I fell that people who fail in a very limited area of expertise succeed because of trial and error. It’s just finding another way of not making a light bulb.
There is a brief explanation of why I left tulsa. Don’t let it happen again.
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~ Dr Seuss
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Bonny and I had our first family come into town as my Aunt Teresa came to Chicago this weekend. She took us out to eat at P.F. Chang’s, one of our favorite restaurants from the Tulsa days. There were lots of great choices, but we chose that because it was close to the hotel downtown. I am going into work to start the new job officially tomorrow. I am working for a software company doing event management stuff. Basically confirming with individuals on the phone that they are coming to an event. It should be pretty challenging but good work to keep food on the table and the bills paid. I hope to get something permanent eventually, but for now, this should be good.
Three things that are taking up most of my time right now are three separate businesses that I’m trying to launch and get to a point where they are in full motion. They are Falstaff Coffee Company, Dionysus Theatrical Services and Dramapreneur. The goal with these three is to fufill three different areas of my life. That would be the entrepreneurial, technological and educational part of who I am. Falstaff Coffee Company is a coffee business that delivers bag coffee through the mail. The coffee brands have Shakespearean names such as Solemn Black and Something Wicked. Really excited to be getting this going, but the lines of supply have been infinitely harder than I thought they were going to be, so we have to make more sales. That’s been the toughest part of getting Falstaff going. The only thing worse that to much sales are two little sales. So we are getting everything going, but it’s been very slow in making it happen.
Dionysus Theatrical Services is basically exactly what the name says. It provides services for theatre companies such as video, website, graphics and more. We eventually would like to have at least ten clients who would allow us to do work for them on a regular basis. The services we provide will be similar to what we did through Actors Company of Tulsa but on a larger scale. If we grow, so be it, but the point is sustainability.
Dramapreneur.Com is a project of mine that has turned into a web tv show, book, and blog for entrepreneurial theatre types. It examines the parallels between drama/theatre and entrepreneurship. There are many different things that are the same, and that’s the purpose of the website. An educational resource giving the things that I have learned and allowing for people to start a discussion around business creation and theatre. In history, it’s never been easier to start your own business. By following this blog, you’ll have everything you need to do so.
Really excited about Endless Immensity: A Startup Guide for Dramapreneurs and the Kickstarter which I have 18 days to make happen. It’s possible to get it done, and I would have to have everyone I know make it happen. It’s all on others to support what I do. This book is going to have all of the knowledge that I have learned over the past five years as a dramapreneur, and it will be an invaluable resource.
So those three things have kept me busy, and the occasional audition and day job. But that’s about it. So, living the life in Chicago town. Getting it going. Making things happen.
Haven’t blogged on this account in quite some time, and rather than give you one line at a time on the page of my Facebook, Twitter, or other social media of the day, I believe both you and I are more important than that. We can share a conversation on the web about how my day is going and how your day is going. We can electronically communicate over the web. We can, in a word, connect.
I’m currently making myself busy. That’s right. Filling my days with projects and ways to stay creative in an individual sense. I’m thinking about the possibilities of creating something truly brilliant. Creating something that is truly long and will last the test of time. Something that will be art. In theatre, it is really impossible to create individually so lately I’ve been exploring different outlets. The outlets for me have been writing and entrepreneurship.
The second of those two words is a misunderstood word, but I believe that it shares a lot of similarities with theatre. It shares a lot of coorelations with what I have created over the past twenty years. The only difference is that entrepreneurship opens the doors between theatre and it’s audience. Every day, you are in front of an audience creating what you see. Creating what you feel. Making something happen. That’s what theatre people can do.
So in the past five years, I became an entrepreneur. I started a film company, a theatre company, and I am in the middle of a coffee company. Still theatrical and still entrepreneurial. The only problem as of late is the audience. I am currently searching for my audience. And by searching for this audience, I am marketing my product out to others.
A couple of new ventures on the horizon are Dramapreneur.com and Dionysus Theatrical Services. This is basically a way in which I can support theatre productions with others. Give back what I’ve learned. Provide services for those who don’t have them. Create things that may be out of their reach. Upgrade their website, make a great poster, build a social media strategy. Basically, take care of these things that may be out of their reach.
So that’s what I’ve been keeping myself busy with. This is a bit more than 140 characters and a bit larger that just a quote, but here’s what I’m doing in Chicago. What are you doing today?
My uncle died of pancreatic cancer. It took him a year. Michael Carter was a large man! One of the reasons they stated that he lasted as long as he did is “the cancer had more to eat”. I remember him as being a father figure in my life. I don’t know why he is on my mind today, but I believe it is that he was a remarkable man who did a lot of amazing things in his life and really never got much credit for them. He was a truck driver for most of his life, but he was also an expert pool player and a great guy with a brilliant sense of humor. The things I remember about him are really vague in my mind and tend to disappear as he grows smaller in the rearview mirror of mind. But what I do remember is his death and that year. I remember the day I heard about his death, we were all in a hospital. They took us all in a room (the entire family) and told us directly that he would live for about 8-10 weeks at the rate that the cancer was metastases. There at that moment, my uncle died. It wasn’t the year afterwards but that moment. I believe this was one of the most gruesome mistakes of my life. I couldn’t deal with his dying because I was too worried about my grief at not having him in my life. Time seemed to stop for that year. I was always looking at what he meant to me before that day, not what he meant right now. I missed all of the pain and suffering and being available for him at that time. God, let me never do that ever again. Let me be present. Let me be available and let me here and now.
Guess what lunch was today? A common misconception is that a person who produces theatre is very wealthy. Ramen Noodles are very salty when it comes right down to it. They lack essential vitamins and nutritious materials which keep an individual healthy. Sure, you can live on it, but would you actually want to. Well, ultimately it will do its job, but would love a steak dinner in its place.
Last night, I watched the Secret Policeman’s Ball which was a comedy variety night which benefited Amnesty International. It was an amazingly funny event which apparently has been going on since 1975. I enjoyed it very much, but what I didn’t know much about was what Amnesty International does. Our freedom of speech is a gift and to have a blog we forget is a right in which is extremely amazing. Check out all of the great things that this organization does at this link: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues
Here’s a bit of the ball.
I remember when Neil Patrick Harris was on TV as a kid doctor. He would always at the end of every day, write in his journal. I believe the story method was to wrap up the episode in a final thought, but there is something about wrapping everything up at the end of the night that seems to put a period on the day. Maybe that’s what this blog will become, my own personal moral. We’ll see how it goes.