I know this may sound like such a strange time of year to do a "end of year" reflections and musings, but for me there is a natural break in the action. The summer season has ended (which is arguably the biggest undertaking we do all year), and being a school teacher, I naturally am looking ahead to the upcoming school year. So, my life doesn't work in calender years - it works in school years.
WHAT'S ON THE HORIZON?
So, I'm starting to think about what's next for Hudson Shakespeare - and what's next for myself and Jon. We've done 28 seasons of FREE Shakespeare in the Park. I've been a part of it for at least 12 of those years (although some years my involvement was nonexsistent and other years I took a break) but for the most part I have been there. Sometimes acting my heart out in every girly dream Shakespeare role I could - other times teaching, or taking a stab at directing. But what's next? 28 years - that's a feat for any company, large or small, to be in exsistence. We're proud of that fact - and we at least want to get to 30. We have some big plans for that particular season - but is it the LAST season? I've been wondering that for a while. I used to think "No way!" because there seemed to always be something else I was interested in doing. First, it was acting in some of the female powerhouses in the Shakespeare cannon, then it was trying our hand at producing some of the lesser known and apocraphal plays: of the which we've done all but one (Sir Thomas More), and then, it was directing (something I told myself for years I would never do and that I wasn't good at). Turns out, I do like it (I'll let others decide whether or not I'm good at it.) .
I don't wish to reveal our big plans for the 30th season - but would you believe we've never finished the cannon? Nope! So, by the 30th season we will have produced the entire cannon - including all of the apocraphal plays. That's currently artistic goal number 1. I also have a few choice roles I'd like to do before we close for good (not ready to reveal those quite yet).
But then what? Why do you keep doing with this thing? And that's not an easy question to answer. On the one end, producing theater is incredibly satisfying. We get to take on choice projects year after year. Which we know is a luxury. So many times actors have to audition just to maybe get something they'll settle for. Other times, one does not have the money to produce a choice show. We are lucky and fortunate to have this built in system by which we know that if there is something we want to produce - we can. We get some good feedback from audiences too. It's fun, and I love the challenge of it all. I also love meeting people and making friends through it all.
But it also has its draw backs. We are always tired, overworked, and overwhelmed. We both work day jobs and then do this at night. It is like having a second full time job. We do it all - booking the venues, writing the PR notices, casting, rehearsing, directing, acting, costuming, driving, creating schedules, photoshoots, set up, break down, making the prorgams, sound design...its non-stop. Most of the times we have a good group of actors - but occassionally you'll have that "bad apple" that just makes our life even harder so it becomes not only a physical and mental drain, it also becomes an emotional drain to where you become just not the nicest person. And, no one likes to be that person. Besides which, I think people forget Jon and I are a married couple. We want time for one another. We want time to start and raise a family. If I'm being honest, our committment to HSC has prevented that. And I'm not getting any younger.
I know for me on an artistic level - I'm in serious need of a break from directing in general. there are some things I love about directing such as getting excited about a cast, the process in rehearsal and discovery about a new piece of text, the cutting of a script, and the anticipation of getting all of the looks together, and seeing all of the components come together. Hearing the audience feedback is also exciting. I must admit, though, there are things about directing I don't like. On a personal level, I've always been a very social person. I like bonding with my fellow artists - and being a director - that just doesn't happen for you. Even if your cast has bonded, that feeling doesn't always extend to you. It's a boss/employee or student/teacher type of relationship. They still treat you with respect, but you will never be invited out to drinks afterwards, or included in a group joke. The cast does not see you as one of them, and you don't get invited to be part of cast bonding activities. It can be a really lonely place to be when you feel like you should feel part of something, and when you as a group have built this show together - but you just aren't treated that way. It makes me feel lonely at the end of it all. it makes me resentful at the process, and I don't like the kind of person that makes me into.
I had an opportunity earlier this year to just be an actor. I worked with another company called Bluelaces Theater Company. It was such a joy because I just got to be an actor and go along with the process. I forgot what that felt like. However, I had much more appreciation for what they did outside of rehearsal, and it affected how I behaved over email and in person rehearsals. I also got to be myself for once. i didn't have to be both actor and producer. It made me more relaxed, open, and happy. Also, because they didn't know who I was, they took me at face value. I value so much that opportunity, and because I got a taste of it - it made me realize that something has to adjust.
And yet, when I think about closing the doors forever, I am filled with this panic, sorrow and sadness of losing something so precious to me. I don't want to see it all end. So, does it have to be all or nothing? I guess not neccessarily. We just need to figure out - after 30 years - what does this look like?
Also, something else we've been considering - Jon and I are in love with Stratford, CT. It's a sleepy little town we've grown to love. We may want to permanently take up residence there. We looked into the housing - and we've attended open houses, so it's definitely on the brain.
SHORT TERM GOALS
Jon and I have sat down and talked about some goals in the short term. They are both year long artistic and business oriented goals. And I'll start with the personal goals, because all of this ties into everything else.
Start a family. While one cannot garuntee anything, this is something Jon and I are making a priority.
As such, this affects how we conduct business.....
Currently, there are no plans to do a spring show this year. We are only currently planning on doing our annual summer season for 2020. We will consider a fall show when the holidays roll around.
At this time, we have debated a few titles for the 2020 season, but these items usually become finalized in Devember of 2019, leading to season announcements in Jan/Feb of 2020. But it'll definitely be one comedy and one tragedy - or one familar title and one unfamilar title.
BUSINESS (3 MAIN GOALS)
As Jon and I are looking to prioritize our personal lives, we will be looking to bring on at least one more director this year to either handle the July show. We will be looking for some candidates in the coming months. We are planning to start searching among our past actors first (as they know what to expect and plan for during a Hudson run) and then will open it up to others.
FUNDING FOR ACTORS - You guys, I cannot tell you HOW MUCH TIME our actors give up to do our shows. They give up about 9 weeks of their life. The first five weeks is to rehearse 3 times a week, and then the last four are spent traveling from NYC to Jersey City - and then an additional HOUR to the venue, and then back. All in all, they end up committing between 4pm - 11pm EACH NIGHT they have a SHOW! And sometimes they have 4 shows a week. That's a full time job. And, because our company has other travel expenses associated with what we do, (gas a tolls), as well as studio rental costs (we rehearse in NYC at a studio - so this adds up to about $1,500 per rehearsal period, the cost of casting, printing scripts, programs, purchasing costumes, props, weaponry, fight directors, replacement items, set pieces, etc) It all adds up. We can barely afford to pay the actors. We pay them something, but its not enough. Granted, I know we'll never be able to pay our actors a living wage for the duration they are with us - but I want to make it a goal of mine to do better. My current goal is to pay each actor about $300 - $500 per run of a show (our current amount is $100 plus reimbersement for PATH costs). I'm being transparent because I want you to know what the current state is, and where we want to it to go. There are some things we can do on our end to make that happen - but I also have been looking into Patreon and am starting to set up an account for that. I might even look into a GoFundMe which can be added to at any time. More on this later, but please be on the look out for this and support us bringing you the talent you deserve - but also pay the hard working actors more so the effort, time, and talent is worth it. I also want to be upfront and say that the climate is changing. Actors are starting to not work for pay - and rightly so. They have college degrees, student loans, a roof to keep over their head, they need food, and they have bills to pay like everyone else. When they go to work they should be paid. And I can tell that our options for casting are starting to dwindle if we do not up our pay rate. It may not sound true, but I garuntee you, it is. So please, consider the effort, time, and energry it takes to do this, and consider donatig a dollar or two when the opportunity presents itself.
And to go along with this - CONTRACTS. From here on out, every member of our staff will be asked to sign a contract. We have not done this for so long (although its been something I've been wanting to do for a long time) but because goods and services are being exchanged, this must go along with it. Mostly so every one is clear as to what to expect, and what is expected of them.
LOOKING BACK - LOOKING AHEAD
So I guess, in the most immediate future, look to see the same old, same old Hudson. it shouldn't be much different from previous years - but perhaps you may see us pull back from the game in the next 3 - 5 years. Who knows.....but hopefully this will give you a little insight into our mindsets and why things will be shifting as we progress into our 30th year.
For now, though - enjoy your summer.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!