Sunday, August 10, 2014

To Be Or Not To Be


To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

Text from MIT's Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why Donate to the Arts?

Why on earth would anybody give their hard-earned money to the arts?

It is truly a vexing question, particularly for us artists, who have always relied upon the kindness of strangers to keep our boats floating.

I’m not certain there exists any kind of definitive answer to this question. If there does, it exists in the cracks of our awareness. It pops up unbidden, like a daffodil from crumbling bits of pavement. It occurs to us subconsciously when we come to the end of that novel or that play and we wish that it would continue on longer. It sings to us lightly when we remember that song we heard by that musician that one time, and whatever became of her?

I suppose I’m making the “beauty” argument here, ie that experiencing beauty is somehow fundamental to the experience of being human, that the arts direct our perception of beauty in a certain way, that, therefore, the arts are a fundamental human need. Why? Who knows? As Shakespeare says in The Rape of Lucrece, “Beauty itself doth of itself persuade the eyes of men without orator.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t answer the question in any satisfying way. Rather it sounds like I’m saying people should support the arts “just because.” And maybe they should.

Still, since the current economic downturn began in 2008, money – or, more specifically, “wealth” – has become a part of public discourse in terms more polarizing than I can remember from years past.  “The one percent” has entered our lexicon. It is a tangible thing, this top tier, and calls up a wide variety of associations, predicated primarily upon whether or not one is a member of the club.

Whether or not this current awareness is a good thing or a bad thing, I leave for people smarter than I am to discuss. Still, I’ll repeat here that artists have relied upon “the one percent” to bankroll their activities since long before Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Let’s put that aside for a moment.

What is more interesting to me, here in the early 21st century, is that we now live in a digital age. With the advent of the Internet, people can create and disseminate their works of art much more expediently than at any other time in human history.

Moreover, more arts funding than ever before now comes from grassroots, online crowdfunding efforts. According to Katherine Boyle in a July, 2013 issue of the Washington Post, crowdfunding website Kickstarter now “raises more money for artists than the National Endowment for the Arts.”

This excites me for numerous reasons.

First, as an artist myself, and thus firmly a member of “the ninety-nine percent,” this means that I can actually help to support my fellow artists. It means that I don’t need to have a spare twenty million dollars in order to help fund a project. In teaming up with like-minded people, our cumulative spare change can actually fund a brand new work of art.

Second, as the executive director of an arts nonprofit, this means that I can say to you, with complete honesty, “yes, your twenty dollar donation will actually be helpful to us.” With whatever you have to give, combined with what your friends and ours might have to give, we can, in fact, continue to make theater that will reflect something about the world we all live in, that will move you and make you think, that will be, in its way, beautiful.

It now sounds as if I’m answering the question by saying, “you should give to the arts because even a little bit is helpful.” And that is also sort of true.

Perhaps I should re-frame the question a little bit and ask “why theater?” instead.

In this I will cheat a bit, and borrow from Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director of Washington DC’s ground-breaking Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. He goes into greater detail at this link, but here, in a nutshell, is his list of “7 Reasons Why Theater Makes Our Lives Better:”

The theater does no harm, it expresses a basic human instinct, it brings people together, it models democratic discourse, it contributes to education and literacy, it sparks economic revitalization, and it influences how we think and feel about our own lives.

I would add to that the theater reflects our beauty and, when done well, is just really, really cool.

I can only speak for myself, but I think that’s worth kicking in twenty bucks for.

So go ahead! Click that orange “Donate” button. Every little bit helps.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"A TRUE HISTORY"! The New Psittacus Show Coming to New York Next Week!

Roman Satire by way of the Pulp Adventure story” may seem an odd mash-up of genres, and it’s possible this blog will simply solidify in your minds what may very well be as crazy as it sounds. Still, I'll try to give you a little background on why I swear this makes sense.   A True History takes its basic premise from “True History,” a 2nd century, vaguely narrative philosophical treatise by an all but forgotten satirist named Lucianof Samosata, with no real characters and a plethora of impossibilities. So of course it would make a great play, right?

In fact, the narrative that unfolds in “True History” (the essay) is considered by some to be the first example of Science Fiction in Western Literature. That is to say, it features a series of supernatural events that include, but is not limited to, an all out cosmic space battle between two warring planets, with soldiers made up of a whole host of alien weirdos who would finds themselves right at home with Figrin D’an, Kardue’sai’Malloc and Snaggletooth at the Mos Eisley Cantina (I am a nerd).

Adapting a text like that for the theatre should be easy, right? No. Unlike our last show, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated and "electrically flamboyant" Cyclops: A Rock Opera that, according to Charles McNulty at the LA Times "galvanized" audiences in LA and New York (if you want a hook, it’s “Glam Rock Band meets Ancient Greek Satyr Play”), this new play doesn’t take its inspiration from an actual theatrical text. Euripides and Percy ByssheShelley had our backs last time, plus we had kick ass music from Jayson Landon Marcus and Benjamin Sherman – this time we just had…Lucian.

But Lucian’s cool! We like Lucian! Lucian is like MarkTwain, Kurt Vonnegut, Oscar Wilde, and Christopher Hitchens morphed into one awesome, toga-wearing Semite. Though Lucian lived in Rome, he was ethnically Syrian and actually from the eastern province of Samosata (now Turkey) and mainly wrote and taught in Greek.  So he was an outsider, a plucky intellectual who spoke truth to power and wasn’t afraid to tell it like he saw it. And what did he see? Well, aside from “True History,” Lucian’s writings include some of the first Pagan writings on the strange new cult known as Christianity, his attempts at unmasking the charlatanry of a faux-Roman Snake Deity named Glycon (who turned out to be a sock puppet), and the original story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, later made famous by Goethe and WaltDisney.

Since Lucian’s essay doesn’t have characters, we’ve added a few of our own. First, there’s Justin. Justin is loosely based on a historical figure from around Lucian’s time named Justin Martyr. As his name implies, things didn’t end so well for Justin. Still, he was an incredibly important figure in a time when the new Christian religion was barely 100 years old and trying desperately to get a foothold, and its followers were desperately attempting to avoid becoming a lion’s dinner. His writings are passionate, pragmatic, intelligent, and honestly, quite beautiful. In our play, he joins Lucian on his journey, just as he’s beginning to wrestle with what Faith really means.

Next up is Eva. Eva is Lucian’s student. Eva is exotic and out of place in Rome. She’s from a strange, recently colonized land called New Troy, or Londinium, or what today we’d call England. While Lucian is an Atheist, Eva believes in all sorts of strange things, like sorcerers and giants and dancing brooms. There’s a reference in Alan Moore’s (who professes to worshipGlycon from his home in Northhampton) Leagueof Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel series (a series that attempts to collate all of world literature into one gigantic fictional universe) to Lucian’s “True History” adventures, and to his having an apprentice, of sorts and so I took that as inspiration for Eva.

Finally, our fantastic four would not be complete without Scinatharus. Scinatharus does, in fact, come from Lucian’s essay, though I’ve switched his role around a bit. In the essay, he is the old man Lucian meets in the belly of the whale. In the play, the old man character is a kind of MichaelMoorcock-esque Eternal Champion who at various points refers to himself as Jonah, Jason of the Argonauts, and Gilgamesh, characters Joseph Campbell connects in his Hero with a Thousand Faces. In the play, Scintharus is the captain of the Medes, a merchant galley of the akatos class (according to Lucian). The name is a roundabout reference to one of my favorite novels, Moby-Dick. In the novel, it’s revealed that Ahab’s ship the Pequod took its name from the Pequot Indian tribe, a tribe that was completely destroyed after American settlers arrived in New England, and who are “now extinct as the ancient Medes”. The Medes (or Media) were an ancient Iranian people who were wiped out during the early 1st millennium BC. Apparently, I’m not the only one to borrow the name for a ship – the great China Miéville named the boat in his 2012 metafictional, Moby-Dick homage Railsea the Medes as well. Scintharus is a veteran of the Roman incursions in Britain. He's large, likes to drink, and sees Gods. He is a man of his time. And this was a time when people claimed to see Gods as often as they saw their neighbors and who believed their brains were in their livers.

Along the way, they encounter the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (author of Meditations, supposedly President Bill Clinton’s favorite book), the footprints of the Greek God Dionysus and Demigod Heracles, one of World-Literature’s first Moon-eyed lovers, Endymion (now Emperor of the Moon in Lucian’s essay), Albert Einstein, Jesus Christ (maybe), an insane a Jonah-come-Jason-come-Gilgamesh amalgamation, and the godfather of storytelling himself, Homer.

A True History is a play about faith, politics, myth, science, and storytelling, but told in a style that I hope won’t seem outrageous to fans of both the Classical canon, as well as to those (like me) who will always hold a soft spot in their hearts for the witty planetary romances of Leigh Brackett, the weirdness of Doctor Who, and the archetypal familiarity of Star Wars. 

Our experimental staged reading features 10 actors, a band, some puppets, and a few dancers and happens December 19th at 4pm at the Vineyard Theatre in New York City. Louis Butelli is directing it (won the NYMF Award for Excellence, nominated for an LA Weekly Award for his work on Cyclops, if you'll recall), David Paarlberg, Graham Galatro and Jim Bertini provide the music and promise the bring "the reverb and the analog delay and the space echo and such." I'll be in the back, taking notes and probably saying nervous and awkward things to you as you enter the theater. We hope you’ll join us!

- Chas LiBretto, December 13, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Theater Marketing - CYCLOPS in The Wall Street Journal

By Laura Hedli
September 29, 2011

Every autumn, the New York Musical Theatre Festival, now in its eighth year and running through Oct. 16, has to compete with Broadway openings, the start of off-Broadway seasons, the New York Food and Wine Festival, even the Jewish high holidays.

"Certainly it gets harder every year to break through that buzz, and more expensive, too," said the festival's executive director and producer, Isaac Robert Hurwitz, who plans to open next year's edition in July, a quieter month for theater—after the Tony Awards and before the start of the New York Fringe Festival, when more real estate is available. "If we had a massive marketing budget, we could do it. But we don't and neither do any of our shows."

It's a fact that the creators of the musicals featured in the NYFF are all too aware of. Whatever challenges the festival itself faces, they have to distinguish themselves from the other 29 musicals with marketing budgets of around $7,000 or less (and in many cases, much less). Mr. Hurwitz said the task is possible if shows can establish a consistent identity, get the word out early and often, and find partnerships outside their own team to help with promotion. 

And casting a celebrity always helps—even a minor one. "Greenwood," a show about old summer-camp friends who reconnect decades later, stars Andrea McArdle, who made her Broadway debut in 1977 as the original Annie. The writers, Tor Hyams and Adam LeBow, are also tapping their industry connections. 

"We have these advisors that work in the business in some big capacities," said Mr. Hyams, who is no stranger to festival producing himself, having created Kidzpalooza, the music festival within Lollapalooza. "They told us that one of the most important things for NYMF is to work with as many people as you can that have done NYMF before, because it's its own beast."

So that's what they did. Their director, general manager and executive producer all have NYMF credits. Yet even with an experienced team, a clear theme, Ms. McArdle, and a promotional budget, they reported that, as of Wednesday, only two of their seven shows had sold out.

Other shows are finding it harder to draw crowds and resorting to more creative promotional strategies. "Just Like Magic" a one-man magic show set to music featuring puppets. So its one man, Christopher W. Barnes, decided to use one of theater's most recognizable names to generate publicity. In a series of YouTube videos called "Operation: Sutton," he asks Broadway diva Sutton Foster to be his date to the festival's opening night. (She declined.) 

"It's like, 'Congratulations, you're in the festival,' and then it's every man for himself," said Mr. Barnes, who estimated that he spent a third of his budget on marketing. The YouTube videos, some shot on his iPhone, have generated as many as 1,100 hits each, but have little to do with his show. And now that opening night has passed, he'll need a new strategy. "It's really difficult to stand out in any festival," he said. 

Mr. Hurwitz said there are always several shows that struggle to balance the creative and producing aspects and require additional guidance from the NYMF staff. He considers it an integral part of his job to teach these artists the basics of creative promotion and to connect them with others in the industry. 

"There are always writers who come to us and say, 'I am not a marketer. I don't know anything about this,'" he said. The NYMF provides a certain degree of mentorship, but the nonprofit doesn't have the budget to market each show individually. "Still, for every one thing that would be better if we took care of it ourselves, there are probably 10 things that we wouldn't even know how to do. We wouldn't know how to reach people's networks."

Photo by Wenona Cole-McLaughlin

One such show, "Cyclops," was created by Los Angeles-based Psittacus Productions. Mr. Hurwitz explained that out-of-towners are at a disadvantage when it comes to promotion, so he was happily surprised when the "Cyclops" team quickly defined itself as downtown and edgy, the "Hedwig" of this year's NYMF. 

Ticket sales have been relatively strong. How did they do it? "Most of the company is originally from the East Coast. So we're mustering all of the hometown support we can, all of the friends and family that we left behind that are still here," said Louis Butelli, the executive director of Psittacus Productions. They also focused on attracting a specific audience. "We wanted to attract a gay audience. We wanted to attract an academic audience because we're a piece of ancient Greek theater, and we wanted to go for music fans. We've been most successful with the gay audience and the academics," he said, adding that "Cyclops" has attracted students from Princeton and Columbia.

Mr. Butelli has also leaned on social media not just for marketing, but for fund-raising and collaborating. "The Internet has almost been sort of hard-wired into the spine of the show," he said. He created a trailer and sent it out to about 3,100 subscribers, and he hopes to stream the live NYMF performances on

New to the festival is the ability to record rehearsal and performance footage, which comes as the result of a negotiated three-year contract with Actor's Equity Association that raised actors' pay for their work in the festival to $670 from $500, plus pension. "If we're going to move in this direction and increase the costs for the producers," Mr. Hurwitz said, "what are the most important things on the other side of the negotiations to help these shows have successful runs and lives beyond the festival? The b-roll media component was an important piece of that not just for marketing this show, but for ultimately having some sort of record to promote the product down the line."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Letter of Intent to Apply for Funding Opportunities with Foundation X

Hello from Psittacus Productions, a small 501c3 nonprofit theater company, founded in 2010 in Los Angeles, and currently based in New York City.

A collaborative, multidisciplinary ensemble of emerging and mid-career artists, we founded the company, primarily, because we believe that the traditional models for the creation of new work are inherently flawed. To us, it seems that more money is being spent on infrastructure, marketing, buildings, logistics, and development sessions than it is on artists, and on the actual production of their work.

As generative artists ourselves - playwrights, composers, choreographers, directors, as well as actors, musicians, and dancers - this feels wrong, at a deep, foundational level. The solution, it seemed to us, was to create a company of our own. Since 2010, we have created three original works, one for each year of our existence.

We write to you today because we believe that actual productions for actual audiences are at the core of the theatrical art form. We believe that small theaters can be nimble and take the risks that large institutions can not. We believe that new paradigms for performance, across disciplines, will develop new audiences who will follow the art form into the future and insure its survival. Finally, we believe that Foundation X itself, ultimately, is not as “traditional” as one might believe at first blush.

This letter of inquiry, then, will seek to tell our story, and make a case for further consideration for funding from the Foundation.

It was just past the New Year in January, 2010, and Executive Director Louis Butelli, and Managing Director Chas LiBretto were driving West across the country. Butelli was to take a teaching appointment at University of Southern California, and LiBretto was to take a technical job on the Conan O’Brien show. The two were passionate about classic literature and modern stage craft, and had long discussed their dreams of creating ensemble based theater with friends and former colleagues. The “power of the idea” was a potent theme and, by the time they reached the Rocky Mountains, they decided, with Director-at-large Robert Richmond, to turn this idea into a workable reality.

By February, 2010, Butelli and LiBretto began the work of creating a company. In April, 2010, Psittacus Productions was officially incorporated in the state of California. Plans began immediately for our premier production, “A Tale Told By An Idiot,” a comic book flavored conflation of the “Macbeth” story with the Guy Fawkes story. It premiered in June, 2010 at the first annual Hollywood Fringe festival to an average audience of 7. Undeterred, and determined to avoid “premieritis,” we established a relationship with a small theater in Silverlake, the Son of Semele Ensemble. We transferred the show, in July, 2011, ultimately playing to full houses, extending, winning an LA Weekly Theatre Award and being named “Best of 2011” by BackstageWest. Later that month, we were approved by the IRS as a 501c3 nonprofit charitable organization.

Almost immediately, we started to consider what to create for our sophomore effort. In September, 2010, we went to see our Advisory Board member Olympia Dukakis perform in “Elektra” at the Getty Villa in Malibu. We were introduced to Mary Louise Hart, Curator of Antiquities, who took us on a tour of her exhibition, “The Art of Ancient Greek Theatre.” Two works stood out for us: the Pronomos Vase, which depicts a “cast party” after a satyr play in which Dionysus is in attendance, and a fragment of a lost satyr play, “Trackers,” found in an ancient garbage heap. Later in the month, we attended a symposium at the Villa on satyr plays, and it was decided. We would adapt Euripides “Cyclops,” the only complete satyr play to survive antiquity.

This idea eventually became, “CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera,” featuring a live rock band of satyrs, Maenad back-up dancers, 23 original songs, and appearances by Odysseus, Polyphemus, and Dionysus himself. “CYCLOPS” opened at Son of Semele in January, 2011 and transferred to the Carrie Hamilton Theater at the Pasadena Playhouse in April, 2011. That summer, we were accepted to the New York Musical Theatre Festival where we opened at the 47th Street Theater in Times Square in September, 2011. Ultimately, “CYCLOPS” won the NYMF Award for Excellence, was nominated for 3 LA Weekly Theatre Awards (Best Adaptation, Best Direction, Musical of the Year), appeared on the LA Times Best of 2011 List, and was jury-nominated for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Plans are afoot to take “CYCLOPS” to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer of 2013.

In 2012, we went into research and development mode, and have created and staged a workshop version of our next project, “A True History.” An original play by LiBretto, “ATH” is based on the writings of Lucian of Samosata, a 2nd century Roman satirist, and is arguably Western Literature’s first piece of science fiction. Staged as part of the Professional Theatre Workshop at the Lost Colony in Manteo, NC, we plan to bring “ATH” to New York before the year is out.

All of the above activities have been executed with the sum total of our fundraising to date, approximately $60,000. These funds have come from a combination of crowdfunding (IndieGoGo and Kickstarter), larger private donations, corporate matching funds, ticket sales, and support of the Anna Sosenko Assist Trust and the Puffin Foundation.

If we are to continue our activites, and expand to include educational activities, we need more solid financial footing. Funding from Foundation X will be applied directly and immediately to “A True History” in New York City, “CYCLOPS” at the Edinburgh Fringe, and minimal operations expenditure, including our post office box, updating our website, and rental of a small office space.

We are small. Still, given Foundation X’s stated funding goals to “help artistic leaders who are ‘swimming upstream’ to continue to take artistic risks,” (citation redacted), we believe we are eminently appropriate for further consideration.

Psittacus Productions’ Mission

CONNECT with our community and share our passion for the live, in-person experience unique to the theatrical art form by producing plays from the classical canon;
INVESTIGATE the ways in which our perceptions of “The Classical” have been altered by living in the 21st century by producing new stage and multi-media works;
CREATE a laboratory environment wherein we ask the question “what is a classic?” and engage our community by conducting education and outreach activities.

Organizational Goals
Our five year goal is to attain financial solvency with a combination of continued bookings/ticket sales, pilot programs of educational activities, and expanded fundraising, to include philanthropic organizations, such as Foundation X. It is our goal to pay our artists as fairly as possible and, for the first time in our history, for our leadership to receive token compensation.

Relevance to Foundation X
“We are now providing direct support to...small theaters....We recognize that such activities as remounting difficult or rarely done classical works...[is] important and challenging; we are equally interested to support organizations that have a track record in [this area].”
(citation redacted)

Support playwrights - All of Psittacus Productions work to date has placed writers at the center of the work. “A Tale Told By An Idiot” (Shakespeare, Butelli, Richmond); “CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera” (Euripides, Percy Bysshe Shelley, LiBretto, Butelli, Jayson Landon Marcus & Benjamin Sherman, composers); “A True History” (Lucian of Samosata, LiBretto).

Support productions, not development - Every project we have taken on to date has been with the express goal of public performance. In the case of “CYCLOPS,” we actually booked the theater before we had a script at all. We develop IN ORDER to produce.

Support artistic risk taking - It is our belief that none of our critically acclaimed, award-winning shows would have seen the light of day under the auspices of a larger institution. Because we are small, because we have no physical plant, because our audience is primarily 18-35, because we are developing our audiences in real time with each show, we are free to turn a Shakespeare play into a comic book, or a Greek satyr play into a Dionysian rock concert.

Support playwriting centers and small theaters - Psittacus Productions is simultaneously a playwriting center and a small theater. We find writers that we like, and we produce their plays, throwing all of our, admittedly limited, resources behind them.

Support interdisciplinarity - We work with a full spectrum of performative and generative artists - actors, singers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, composers, writers, etc.

Support collaboration - As one artistic director says in (citation redacted): “Never in the history of dramaturgy have plays ever been written alone in people’s rooms that aren’t connected to actors in particular, but also other artists. The most interesting work grows out of that.” We agree. It is the absolute essence of our work and of our mission.

Support audience development - with each new show, combining the live experience with social networking, we continue to develop a strong, committed audience of new theater goers.

To quote another participant from (citation redacted): “Grant-making organizations should invest time and dollars into identifying worthy organizations; those companies could then devote more of their scarce resources towards mission-related pursuits.”

We thank you for your kind consideration, and hope to have an opportunity to apply for funding.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 - The end is just the beginning!

Happy New Year! Managing and Co-Artistic Director Chas LiBretto here! 2012 is here at last – will it bring the apocalypse or hover-boards? When will we take jetpacks to work? While we mull these questions over, I’d like to reiterate what Louis said in the previous post that a number of exciting things are in the works over here at Psittacus Productions. More news as it comes, but the new year will bring:

- a CYCLOPS studio album this year (click here and here for the two singles we recorded last fall)

- a few concert-appearances in anticipation of the next New York City run. We did two concert appearances last fall (one at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn and one at The Falcon in Marlboro, NY), and they were more fun than a sharp stick in the eye (Polyphemus would know)!

- and, just in time for what’s sure to be a positive and uplifting election season: a brand new take on Shakespeare’s Richard III, in the spirit of 2010’s award-winning “A Tale Told By An Idiot.”

I write this post from New York City. I’m back here for a number reasons, foremost among them because I missed New York. I had a great time working on CYCLOPS here, and felt like Psittacus had come home. There’s a ton of amazing work happening here, and it’s hard not to feel inspired to up one’s own game. Don Shirley’s LA Stage Times post criticizing the Charles McNulty’s LA Times “End of the Year List” notwithstanding (not to toot our own horn, but we’re on it. Then again, this is our blog, after all, so if we won’t toot our own horn, who will?), some of the best work is happening here, and if you throw a rock you’re likely to hit a non-profit theater. I don’t necessarily advocate throwing rocks at theaters, though.

In the meantime, I’m spending my days as a reader at the Vineyard Theater. The Vineyard is an Obie and Drama Desk award-winning Off-Broadway, non-profit theatre located just east of Union Square. Since 1981, they’ve been dedicated to producing bold, new work, including the first productions of Avenue Q, How I learned to Drive, The Scottsboro Boys, and [title of show]. Their production of Zayd Dohrn’s Outside People opens on Tuesday, so get your tickets – it’s sure to be great!

I hope 2012 finds you well, and be sure to watch this space in the coming months for news about what's next for Psittacus Productions!

Monday, January 2, 2012

It's A Brand New Year!

Hello and Happy New Year from Louis Butelli! I’m currently in Montgomery, Alabama (affectionately known to locals as “The Gump”) where rehearsals are underway for “The 39 Steps,” beginning January 27th at Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Planning a trip this winter? Come on down to The Gump, and pick up your tickets now.

Today, I’m going to tell you a little bit about ASF and talk a bit about the play.

But first, here are a couple of juicy tidbits about “CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera,” the show that consumed us at Psittacus Productions for the whole of 2011. Plans for a studio recording of our cast album are underway, and negotiations for brand new gigs in the fall have begun. In the meantime, the New Year is traditionally the time when critics put out their “Best Of” lists. We’re honored to have made it on to a few of these. Here are some links:

Los Angeles Times - Chief critic Charles McNulty says that "adventurous" audiences were "galvanized" by "Psittacus Productions' electrically flamboyant 'Cyclops: A Rock Opera.'"

Bitter Lemons - Tastemaker and provocateur Colin Mitchell makes us his top pick for 2011 and says that Cyclops was "hands down the most original show of the year."

Compositions on Theater - Critic, composer, dramaturg, and self-professed Cyclops superfan Sarah Ellis also makes us her top pick for the year and says that she "loved being a friend and advocate for such a smart and sexy new work."

So. “The 39 Steps.” What on earth is it?

Here’s the blurb from the ASF website:

“Four actors play 140 roles in this Tony award-winning Broadway smash that is a combination of Alfred Hitchcock, James Bond and Monty Python. Richard Hannay’s dull life is transformed by a meeting with a mysterious female spy. When she is murdered in his home, he is forced to become a fugitive. But who really done it? And what are the 39 steps? Don’t miss the chase of a lifetime and a death-defying finale!”

Essentially, the play is a physical, minimalist, and highly theatricalized stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film – which, if you haven’t, see it!

In the first three days of rehearsal, we laid down some basic blocking for the first act of the show. In that time alone I play, among other things, the star of a vaudeville “memory” act, an underwear salesman, a policeman, a Scottish farmer with a sexy wife, a paper boy, a Cockney landlady, and a posh housewife.

For those last two, I was fortunate enough to head to the costume shop for “boob fittings.” I won’t say too much about that except to say that one pair is pendulous, one pair is perky, the entire staff of the costume shop came to watch me try them on and, most worryingly, once they’re on, it’s almost impossible not to touch them constantly. Not quite sure just what that says about me.

While it’s probably too soon in the rehearsal process to know exactly how everything is going to play out, I will say that we four actors have already staged an epic chase on a moving train, a death-defying climb across a bridge, and a stealth mission in a fighter plane. And all of it done with simple props – hats, chairs, ladders, etc. – and the imagination of the audience. This is what the theatrical art form is all about. It’s gonna be a hoot.

So far, ASF is awesome. The staff are friendly, hard-working, and very much on the ball. The facilities, which include the 750-seat Festival Mainstage (where “39 Steps” will play), and the 225-seat Octogon Second Stage, are impeccable. The theater is on the grounds of a gorgeous 250-acre park, and it is an absolute delight to go to work there every day.

There will be lots more to come about the play and about ASF – in the meantime, check out their website for more info.

OK. Psittacus Productions is getting ready to roar into 2012, and we wish you all of the very best for a Happy, Healthy New Year.