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.
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].”
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.