Turn West Productions’ first official production just happened. Congrats to us! Obviously, building a production company is a process for someone with a full-time job, a part-time job, a husband, and volunteering as an actor for a non-profit (2.5 month commitment at 15 + hours/week,) and NESTING DOLLS provided the perfect amount of impetus to help the company get rolling with small goals and set dates.
For example, if Turn West was investing in Nesting Dolls, then Turn West needed to take on the responsibility of advertising this project. Our Facebook page was developed and pushed two weeks behind schedule, but 10 days before the actual performance which is really plenty of time to get on people’s schedules and become relevant. Flyers were needed for person-to-person distribution, and these, featuring our show graphic with assistance from Dan Rodgers, were developed on Easter Sunday (when I could squeeze in time to schedule a photoshoot, a design session, and submit for printing.) Since VistaPrint now offers affordable, online printing with speedy service AND the fun option of a great t-shirt to boot, advertising was well under way by me handing out flyers and explaining my performance to friends in the area. Practice in both of these areas leads Turn West down an easier path moving forward – from our Facebook we can push out our blog entries, and honestly, have simply accomplished one more electronic item in this world of living online (hello Turn West website – wahoo!!)
So – NESTING DOLLS - where did this idea come from, and why is it important?
This project is linked a little bit to our upcoming project, TEXICAN. Amanda Lopez-Kurtz, the former executive director of the Contemporary Dance Theatre of Cincinnati threw my name in the ring as the final artist contracted to perform in CDT’s new work series, Performance and Time Arts. The CDT has a long history of showcasing new, local artists and the series, staffed by volunteers, provides space, resources, and advertising to artists slated to perform in one of their four annual series. Amanda had recently read a script of mine, TEXICAN, and thought this piece would be perfect for their showcase.
So when she asked if I would be interested, I heartily jumped in with a huge YES! TEXICAN had been lurking in the back of my mind for some time, and I was wondering whether or not this script would get made or performed, and how to do it. Since the PTA (Performance and Time Art series) was 8 weeks away, I recognized that having concrete performance dates on a short script would give me plenty of room to hire an actor to work with me in TEXICAN. Furthermore, TEXICAN, although written theatrically, was intended all along to be a short film for production value. The PTA gave me a chance to truly workshop the script and test out the story in front of a live audience with an actor who would be given the opportunity to perform in a short film later in the summer.
So I did it! I started TURN WEST to ensure I could legally hire myself (SAG requirements) for TEXICAN when it became time to shoot in the summer, and scheduled auditions for TEXICAN downtown to fill the role of Javi. I reached out to my talent agency, my former CCM contacts, and theatre friends in the area to schedule auditions for Javi and immediately got tons of great responses!
JUST KIDDING ------ I got NONE. Zero. Zilch. Nada. NOTHING. Absolutely no responses for anyone to play JAVI, who fit the specs. My brilliant assistant producer for TEXICAN suggested that I reach out to the cultural centers and institutions in Cincinnati that focused on latin or Hispanic cultures, and I did. Yes, we had a lot of interest and lots of great questions about the project, but at the end of the day, absolutely no actors available to audition for Javi in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At this point, it was obvious that a new direction was needed and I began playing around with ideas of mine for a performance in the PTA.
Practically, I needed to create a piece that was engaging, theatrically-interesting, cost-effective to produce (since I am supplying all funds for TEXICAN and TURN WEST myself through my second job or was putting a lot of the start-up cost on my personal credit card,) and would require little rehearsal time. At this point, I was starting a new piece with 5 weeks to go and had the remaining amount of my free time booked by volunteering to play VALERIE in THE WEIR with the Irish Heritage Center of Cincinnati.
After I established the basic needs, I began thinking about what I actually wanted to do, what would be fun for me and what would become worth my time, personally. After studying at the William Esper studio for a year and a half in Manhattan (and subsequently having all of my dreams come true in terms of creative learning,) I am very focused on strong, truthful, high-stake story telling, and recalled an exercise I loved during my school days that involved me doing my best to jump out of a large present for someone that I loved.
The piece is constructed entirely around visual jokes – I use a box that is just ALMOST too small for my size human to get in and out of, and fill it with lots of fun items that take up space. I wear a set of pants that are DECIDELY too small and pair them with a completely silly outfit. I set an almost impossible amount of time for me to set up the surprise just perfectly, and I give myself a complete and specific goal to reach, and what I want this surprise to look like when my loved one walks in.
Then, the chaos ensues, the piece happens, and the story comes full circle when my loved one walks in, exchanges a little bit of dialogue, and the title and story come full circle in a swift 15-minute visual sillyscape.
So I had the idea, and what next?
I called Bekka Eaton Reardon, who could play my mother in any theatre piece any day of the week. She was free, interested, loved the low-commitment level of taking on a new piece, and agreed to do it.
We scheduled two times for rehearsal, I outlined the dates and requirements, and she and I were ready for our opening night.
I needed to construct costumes, props, and ensure I had time to gather day-of items as necessary (helium and balloons and a cake,) and I spent a good deal of time finding the right combination of practical and silly for my costume. I even tried hot gluing wrapping paper to a pair of pants and tank top to see if there was any room for performance in them, which, there was not, because obviously as soon as my butt and chest fit into something that had been hot-glued into place the whole costume split. Yes, I did think this was hilarious, but I knew that it might end up being too challenging for my character to deal with during the scene and so I shelved this idea is lieu of painting my costume to look like wrapping paper and putting a lot of bows on me in funny places.
There came time to advertise, and this is where Vista Print was handy, my shirt was hilarious, and word of mouth served me well. I started the Turn West facebook, and instead of pushing myself into too many social media platforms, decided to focus on doing one well for the time being. Yes, push-button sharing makes linking all the various social sites together very easily, but I only have so much time and did not want to string myself out even further by making sure all content across platforms matches.
I made sure to respond quickly to texts, emails, or comments regarding the show, re-shared posts from CDT’s website and provided a link for guests to buy tickets online. Customer service champion. J I pooled my networks and made sure to invite friends from my day job, my part-time job, regulars of mine from the bar, family members, and those in the theatrical or film community who may be interested in seeing some of my latest work.
Finally, the night arrived. Bekka arrived, I dragged my box and suitcase and props into the CDT’s great performance venue, and we waited our turn. We were scheduled to perform very last in the night’s series.
When it was finally our turn, we looked at each other, listened for the cue music, and the game was on.
This - of course - is where you wish I would recap the entire story for you, reliving every single detail, which, of course, I cannot do. NESTING DOLLS with any luck will be redeveloped into a bigger project in the future, and spolier alerts for what may come ahead are not my style.
But the first night was amazing. The audience loved the piece, and the feedback was my favorite kind of feedback -
“I couldn’t stop laughing.” “I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.” “I literally had the program in my mouth waiting to see what you would do.”
Bekka and I conversed after and made a few tweaks for the following night’s performance, which made the second night’s show even MORE successful, with longer rolls of laughter, unexpected moments from the audience, and lots/lots/lots of love between me and Bekka and our audience at the end.
We also had major prop mishaps between shows, so it was important for me to budget time and money for replacement parts. There is nothing like LAST MINUTE CHAOS, and I try to avoid it i productions at all time which generally means coming prepared with options.
So what’s next? Well, NESTING DOLLS is essentially the beginning of a much-larger play. It’s being shelved for the time being, waiting for continued development and a day in the sun, but was an enormously positive way to start turning west.