Category Archives: Watching Theater

Art and being in the Black

Julie and I got to talking this weekend about theater companies, budgets, and audience mindsets. We came up with a few sort of obvious statements.



  • Some Audiences Can’t Enjoy Theater Without Spectacle

    I think this relates to the Holy Sh*t! article that went around last week. It starts out with a fairly given idea. If your theater is awesome, people will generally go see it. Then it says, “You know what’s awesome? Theater that has a Holy Sh*t! moment like some sort of Hollywood Blockbuster.” So obviously if all our theater was full of crazy Hollywood Blockbuster moments we’d have an audience. Which I think we can all agree is true. If theater was just the movies we would have movie audiences! Fantastic insight.

    But there is an element of truth there. There are audiences who can’t enjoy a play without the kitchen sink set. And period costumes. And a string quartet playing original music. And suddenly the cost of your production is around that of a Hollywood Blockbuster.

    Which leads me to number two.

  • Should theater attempt to accommodate everyone?

    I know this is heresay. Every single theater mission statement is about getting new people in the door. About forcing people who currently hate theater to love theater. If necessary by gunpoint. But it’s worth considering. Do we really want everyone?

    I saw a hilarious comedy this summer that I really enjoyed. Loved it. It had a completely realistic set that was simple, but cost some money. The thing was, it didn’t need the set at all. The characters didn’t interact with it in any meaningful way. It gave them an excuse to have tiny bits of stage business, and that’s it. But that set was there simply because of those audience members who can’t handle plays without realistic sets. And that stinks because the company in question could use the money to keep the lights on, and pay their actors, and generally keep making theater.

    Which makes me wonder – is it perhaps time to jettison parts of the audience?

  • Could theater survive if the audience was leaner?


    p>Would we have budget problems if we didn’t accommodate the audience that requires realism? Thanks to Julie, LGT has always been in the black. We sometimes lose money, but that just means leaner budgets for the next show. One thing we struggle with is how “professional” our productions should look. And by “professional” we mean accommodating of audience members with little to no imagination. Almost all of our shows bring in the same audience numbers. When we try to expand we often end up failing spectacularly. The question we often have to ask, is if we spent $1000 on our set rather than $200-400 would we see additional audience? Past experience has told us that we will. But that audience is usually in the 20-50 person range. It doesn’t equal $600-800 in extra ticket sales. Julie always makes us justify budgets in ticket sales.

    Will posters bring in 4 additional people?

    If it can be justified we do it.

  • You have to decide if they’re worth it. For us, it’s much more useful to keep making inexpensive theater that our audience enjoys as we hone our skills and develop our voice. Going bankrupt doesn’t serve our audience or our artistic development.

    What do you think?

    Some Brief Writeups


    “There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom” UT Department of Theater and Dance – saw this last night. Well done show. One of those shows for 5th graders that really resonates no matter what your age. Like the kids movies from your youth that they don’t make anymore. It treats the kids in the play seriously and parallels their troubles with bullying with the adults in the play. There are some truly cringe-worthy scenes coming from parents where you just want to run up on stage and protect the kids.

    The dramaturgy at the end of the show should be seen by anyone who has ever done a talk-back (and really anyone involved in producing theater). It was focused, funny, engaged the audience and ended at a set time. Really great work.

    As with most UT performances their were some weak performances, but not from any of the kids or adult leads. And there were puppets which always make me happy. This is a dark horse to check out. I get burned out watching so much theater and this one really kept me engaged the whole way through.

    Tickets (careful, they have no show tomorrow night due to the football game)

    “The Collection” Hyde Park Theater – If you want to see this one you should probably get your tickets within the next few minutes. They’re pretty much sold out. And for good reason. The story revolves around marital infidelity. Or not. There are Kafka-esque phone calls and strangers showing up at the door. And yet it’s a great comedy. Joey Hood and Ken Webster are great. My only problem with the show is that I wasn’t sure at the end whether infidelity had occurred, and probably more importantly I wasn’t 100% convinced the actors knew. But all in all it was a concise, hilarious, and intriguing night of theater.


    “The Jungle” Trouble Puppet – Trouble Puppet’s production last year of “Frankenstein” was my favorite show of the year, so I had very high hopes for their production of “The Jungle”. By and large the puppetry was flawless. Trouble Puppet mixes puppetry styles, but it’s mainly Bunraku. In this case it was seamless. The puppeteers were dressed like the puppets as factory workers and renacted some of the puppets tasks in real life which really made it seem like their was no real barrier between the two. That said I felt like it didn’t have as much of the horror as Frankenstein (which seems odd considering the source material). Also, it felt like it was simply reaffirming the audiences views. It’s hard to find someone now who doesn’t feel like turn-of-the-century factory conditions were horrific. Their production of Frankenstein put a fantastic feminist spin on the story, and I would have liked to seen the same thing here. That said, it will probably still be one of my favorite plays this year. Can’t wait to see Connor Hopkins do the puppets for “Evil Dead: The Musical”!



    Zoe’s Kitchen (arboretum area) – Had a Pimento Cheese Sandwich, Fresh Pasta Salad with Basil, Izzi Soda, and Chocolate Chip Cookie. My entree was free due to a promotion they’re running right now. The place was fresh, but not excessively healthy. The bread was toasted in some sort of oil. The pasta salad was a bit bland and dry. That said, for restaurants South of 183 and West of MoPac this is one of the best. Probably only beat out for me by the Hub.

    Woodland (south congress) – Had two of their cocktails which were both fantastic. The Socu was nice and cucumbery (which is one of my favorite flavors in cocktails). It was not sweet and the cayenne did a great job of getting the scent of the drink into your nose (can you tell I don’t write food reviews). I can’t figure out what my second drink was anymore. For mains I had the woodland veggie burger. It is beet based, which was suprisingly tastey, but about 3/4 of the way through the burger I was done with the taste. The cocktails were good, but it didn’t inspire me to want to go back and try the rest of the menu.

    La Reyna (south first) – great margaritas, and they have super tender ribs that fall off the bone and you can roll into a taco. Our new favorite Mexican place.

    East Side Show Room (east 6th) – worth the trip just to see how built up East 6th has become. The drinks were good, but both Julie and my food were exceedingly simple. Mine tasted like beef that had come out of a crock pot, and Julie’s was merely good. Our chatucherie plate was like something out of a commercial making fun of gourmet food. It was a regular sized app plate with one tiny slice of pate, a tiny dollop of some sort of mouse, and various other tiny things. There was far more white showing than there was food. All in all, we were underwhelmed. We might go back for cocktails, but we were not inspired to try the food again.

    Frank (Colorado and 4th) – tasty hot dogs. They have specialty sausages made daily. Definitely one of the food bargains in downtown Austin and just a really satisfying lunch. Kid friendly for well behaved children. They have Maine Root root beer on draft which makes them probably the closest to my vision of heaven that’s possible. I’ve had a sausage stuffed with portobellos and shallots, and one topped with daikon and they were both perfectly balanced dogs. Highly recommended. We’ve already been twice.

    Taverna (2nd street) – pretty decent italian. Julie got a really tasty pizza covered with fresh veggies and I got a risotto. It was good, but at the end of the day it was a risotto. I don’t understand the fetishization of that dish, I wanted to try it somewhere upscale to see if I could figure it out. It was good, and it was nice to sit on the sidewalk and people watch, but I think we’ll probably stick with Primizie as our favorite Italian restaurant in Austin.

    My view on writing

    Neil Gaiman sums up my entire view on playwrighting. He was asked to provide counterpoints to people who had interpreted or analyzed his work:

    Once you’ve written something it’s not yours any longer: it belongs to other people, and they all have opinions about it, and every single one of those opinions is as correct as that of the author – more so, perhaps. Because those people have read the work as something perfectly new, and, barring amnesia, an author is never going to be able to do that. There will be too many ghost-versions of the story in the way, and besides, the author cannot read it for the first time, wondering what happens next, comparing it to other things that he or she has read.

    And theater even more so. Because you have actors and directors who have crafted the characters in very specific ways. Some that veer further from what is in your mind, and some closer. You have designers who are creating an enivronment that is valid, but that can be very different from what you see in your head.

    And if that isn’t enough change, you bring in the audience. And they bring in their own views, expectations, and experience. Every audience will laugh at different jokes. Be touched by different moments. And the reactions of their fellow audience members will color their reactions. As will the review they read in the press. And so it becomes this amazing collaborative effort, Between everyone involved, especially the audience. Rather than just passive, they make the meaning. And the playwright was just the person who started with a few words.

    We actually saw a play last week that was very symbolic. And we were able to overlay this play like a stencil on the playwright, and her husband’s lives (as we imagine them), and it seemed incredibly personal and autobiographical. But we don’t really know the playwright and her husband. So we might have been reading too much into it. And the playwright might have had no clue that this symbolic play was almost a one-to-one parallel to her life. It might have been subconscious. So in that case who is the arbiter of meaning? Who is the most right?

    What do you think? Does meaning belong to the writer or the audience? And is one more right than the other?

    little murders!

    Little murders opens tomorrow! Help spread the love with your own, extra special blog button. I whipped this one up to put on your blog:

    buy tickets for little murders

    Here’s the code:

        alt="buy tickets for little murders" />

    If you figure out a way to put it in another blog (like WordPress, Blogger, whatnot), let me know and I’ll update this entry to contain your coding wizardry. You’ll be a coding star!

    For those not in the know, Loaded Gun Theory (my production company) is producing Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders at Arts on Real. Jules Feiffer is a celebrated cartoonist, his work has appeared in The New Yorker and Playboy, and he illustrated “The Phantom Tollbooth” (my personal introduction to his work). He’s also a great playwright. Little Murders is set in a world that looks like the latter half of the twentieth century, except crime has skyrocketed and random snipers have been killing people in the streets. A family tried to sort through the day to day life of meeting a fiance and playing a wedding, all while dodging the incoming bullets. Great fun. Head on over and see it. All the pertinent information is here.


    We went to see Salvage Vanguard’s production of Mud last Thursday. We started out the night by heading out to spider house for a beer. Spider House has had a paint job and is a significantly nicer place to be. Our cashier wasn’t surly. May have been an anomaly, but may not…

    We headed on over to the new Salvage Vanguard theater. I was a bit taken aback. I was expecting this:

    But got this:

    I can’t believe I was taken in by a PhotoShop job. I am so lame.

    Anyway, there was no one in the house that night. Quite a change from the normal Salvage Vanguard show. The chairs were comfy and the show was off. Mud was – episodic. To the extreme. No scene seemed to last for more than about 3 minutes. And often the longer scenes were made up almost entirely of silence. I’m all for silence, but this was a bit much. The script was about several uneducated characters stuck in a dead end existence. As the character Mae (Jenny Larson) tries to better herself in life; first by shacking up with the most intelligent man in town (which isn’t saying much) and then by leaving entirely, she stirs up resentment, and eventually violence in the men around her.

    I really didn’t care much about the characters. The play seemed to often be played for laughs which seemed at odds with the purpose of the play. Occasionally I’d get really into a character and then we’d have a scene change (accompanied by shifting lights and long sound effect), that would completely dampen my ability to relate. I started watching in the second act, and I think the play could have been done without all of these interruptions. I think it might have made for a stronger narrative, but perhaps it’s meant to be episodic to mark the passage of time.

    In any case, it was well acted. You should go see it and support Salvage Vanguard in their new space. It’s going to be a really fantastic place to see theater.

    The Pillowman

    We went to see the Pillowman on Saturday night. It was a sold out show. They had all the names from the reservations already attached to chairs. I suppose to make you feel like you were entering a totalitarian regime where the state knows that you’re visiting the theater. This ended up leaving some people pretty cranky, though, as they couldn’t choose their own seats.

    I’d read this play before. I should really come out in the open. I don’t read plays. I think the Pillowman is the only play I’ve read in the past 3 years (ok, I read Swimming to Cambodia, but that’s a monologue).

    A Review in Three Parts

    Her breasts were like pomegranates or what you will, but like nothing so much as a young woman’s breasts.

    – Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

    Read that his morning and thought of the play last night. Julie and I saw “A Thought in Three Parts”. We were accompanied on this trek with another mother,