Welcome to the official Hamilton Players blog: All the world's a stage...

Thoughts and ruminations on all things theater...and then some!

Friday, December 29, 2017

State of the Players 2017

The end of the year is just days away and for many that compels them to take stock of the current year's achievements and start plotting goals for the upcoming year.  I am no exception.  This past year at the Hamilton Playhouse has been full of ups and downs.  The beginning of the year was marred by the social media fiasco carrying over from November of 2016.  "What social media fiasco?" you ask?  In November of 2016, then Vice President elect Mike Pence attended a showing of Hamilton on Broadway.  The powers-that-be for Hamilton decided to offer a post-show message tailored to their unexpected audience member.  Now, this isn't quite as one-off as it may sound as it happened during the weeks of the Broadway Cares fundraisers where many Broadway casts do post-show curtain speeches to help fundraise for Broadway Cares/Actors Equity Fights Aids.  This time, however, the curtain speech was delivered to entreat not monetary support for the fight against AIDS, but rather to entreat tolerance, love, and dedication for upholding American values for all.  This was not well received by a very large group of Trump/Pence supporters and as far as we are concerned, it escalated rather quickly.  By the following morning, we were flooded with tweets, PM's, emails, and reviews that 1.) confused Hamilton Players, a small community theater in Hamilton, MT with Hamilton an American Musical, a global phenomenon on Broadway in New York, and 2.) were angry, accusatory, vile, and in some cases, threatening.  Our office (me) contacted or replied to every one to let them know that Hamilton Players and Hamilton an American Musical were two, separate entities. Once that information was clarified, MOST people were apologetic and a little sheepish.  They either removed their posts, posted retractions, or both.  Only a handful of people refused to acknowledge their mistake and those we had removed.  It was a rough couple of months in the internet world but eventually the hubbub died down and new "scandals" arose to draw the attention of the Facebook world and Twittersphere.  Not an ideal way to start the new year; but it could have been much worse!

We had 4 season ticket productions in 2017:  The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Love, Sex, and the IRS; She Loves Me; and Enchanted April.  Each production had its ups and downs; from little known titles, to new directors, to casting issues, to marketing setbacks.  But overall, the production value was high and we were happy with the final products. That being said, perhaps the community felt differently because ticket sales were down between 5 and 9% (depending on the show) from the projected values.  (The projected values are derived from a conservative underestimate of actual mean values from the last 3 most equivalent titles.)  Since the projected value is already an underestimate, to come in 5-9% less in ticket sales is an even bigger problem than it may seem at first glance.  Some of this can be attributed to the brutal weather we had during the winter production, but mostly we find it is because despite it being a solid line-up, none of the titles were old, standby classics.  While we love the old standbys, we try hard to mix it up for both patrons and performers, but run the risk of not meeting our bottom line when we do.

Our reader's theater program is really beginning to take off.  We had 3 productions in 2017 and plan to have 4 in 2018 (one per quarter-year).  3 will continue to be themed events:  International Women's Day, Halloween, and Christmas. The 4th production will probably be a high quality drama that would not work for us a season ticket production, but would be an opportunity for actors to really dig deep.  An example of this would be 2016's reader's theater of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  It was a pretty remarkable production that garnered rave reviews from the small audience that attended.  All of our reader's theaters are free to the public and are accompanied by a pretty stellar bake sale to offset the production costs and sometimes raise a little money.

The K-12 summer theater program is really going strong and we had our regular session 1 and session 2 programs in July and we added an "Introduction to Theater" week-long morning class for 3 and 4 year olds!  We didn't have enough interest to be able to hold our after school spring and fall classes (we need a minimum of 6 students), so those programs came in under the projections as well.

Our community/education branch of programming is growing.  We had a presence at Farmers Market each month, participated with an information booth at Daly Days and the Ravalli County Fair, on Hamilton Tonight 2nd Fridays we partner with Chapter One Book Store and the Executive Director reads aloud for a toddler story time, hosted a Halloween costume party with live music, and helped local schools with resources for their performance related events.  Our volunteer program is really taking off as well and despite the reduction in ticket sales we have increased our volunteer pool by nearly 5% this year.

Going into the 3rd quarter, Hamilton Players was down nearly $10,000 in projected income and our reserves were tapped out due to mix of emergencies, illnesses, and unforeseen circumstances.  This was going to leave us with a huge deficit to start the new year, and quite honestly could have been the straw that breaks the camel's back.  It could have closed our doors for good.  Luckily for us we had a major fundraiser planned for September 16:  All the World's a Stage.  It was our first, classic dinner and auction fundraiser event and it was successful enough to bring us current and make up for the ticket sales deficit.  And then we were visited by a Christmas miracle:  The Ryan Foundation offered up a $5000 matching grant to replenish our reserve fund!  This grant opportunity was presented to us on December 22 and as of today (December 29) we have raised $3475.  With only $1235 left to raise, we are really hoping to secure the entire $5000 match!

Auditions for the first show of 2018, Chicago, are underway and the cast list should be posted on New Year's Day.  We are all really looking forward to that production and it will be a great kickoff to what is promising to be a fantastic 2018!  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at boxoffice@hamiltonplayers.com.  Have a safe and wonderful New Year!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Christmas Carol

Just started prepwork for our annual holiday show:  a reader's theater production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  For mainstream America, it's a pretty well known title and just about everyone has seen at least one version (if not more!) of it.  There are a lot of amazing interpretations out there (I think my favorites would be A Muppet Christmas Carol and Scrooged, starring Bill Murray) and all of them are fun in one way or another.  There are also, as it turns out, many stage versions as well.  But here's the thing about all of them:  They follow the story line and hit all the high points, but you really don't get to experience the full impact of Charles Dickens' remarkable and moving prose.  The reason for that is that all the descriptive narrative in the Dickens text is turned into visual production value. Consider the following text:

 "Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed."  (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, (c)1905 The Baker and Taylor Company)

It paints a picture for you, right?  That is Dickens' prose.  But instead of experiencing those words the artistic minds responsible for the movies and plays interpret that into a visual representation. So you see cold people warming their hands and you see frozen water, and you see shop windows decorated with holly and berries.  You probably even see people peering in the shop windows and the light being reflected off their faces.  And that's great; it's made for some stellar movies.  But you lose something in the translation from page to screen.  You lose the words. You lose the chance for your immeasurably and endlessly creative brain to paint its own picture.  The written word, like the spoken word, has a special and powerful magic all its own.  And Dickens' was a master of that magic.  That is why we have chosen to take the text of his original 1842 novella and adapt it into a reader's theater.  Instead of paring the story down into its dialogue and doing a stage version that presents the rest as a visual statement, we have left the narration in and formatted the show to have a staged dialogue section and a narration section.  So the structure of our show is that we have a contemporary clothed narrator sitting in a wing chair "reading" the story to the audience and then when we reach action or dialogue moments, the focus switches over the Victorian costumed stage actors who then perform the dialogue intereactively.  It's fun.  It has strong visual production value.  And you get the rare privilege of experiencing most of the original text.

AND as icing on the cake? Well, all the reader's theaters at Hamilton Playhouse are free to the public.  We offset the costs of the shows (costuming, props, tech, licensing, etc) by hosting a bake sale fundraiser at each event.  The holiday bake sale that accompanies A Christmas Carol is epic.  There are tons of delicious goodies that you can enjoy as a concessions treat or take home in bulk as holiday treats to be shared with friends and family.  So mark you calendars and get ready to experience A Christmas Carol in a whole new way!  Friday, December 22 at 7pm.  (doors open at 
6 pm; seating begins at 6:30 pm). See you at the Playhouse!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

End of year giving

Dear Friends,

It is difficult to think about the arts in the wake of the disastrous summer and fall we all just faced.  Storms, floods, fires, earthquakes, mass shootings, social unrest; there are so many pressing needs and so few hands and pocketbooks to fulfill them.  Geographically, Ravalli County, Montana is a relatively small community but we are still global citizens and as such, we have a responsibility to take ownership of the present and the future. So support the cause you believe in.  Help people who need help.  Give (food, clothing, time, money) to someone or something that you feel needs your attention.  Be a beacon of light and hope.  Make a difference.

While you are making a difference, don’t forget to celebrate.  Strong communities are defined not only by their shared difficulties, but also by their shared celebrations.  We need to celebrate successes, achievements, beauty, kindness, strength, perseverance, and much more.  We celebrate and grow together.  At the Hamilton Playhouse we put the spotlight on education, inspiration and community through the performing arts.  Hamilton Playhouse is more than just a theater; it is a haven where community comes together to make magic and memories…and celebrate.  When all is said and done, live theater provides respite, inspiration, and entertainment in a world where those things are increasingly difficult to find. 

Here at the Hamilton Playhouse, we strive to be a beacon in our community and Hamilton Players’ success relies on end of year donations.  And every nonprofit arts organization is in the same boat.  So while you think about how to make a difference this year, please don't forget the arts organization in your communities. Your tax deductible donation makes it possible to continue to celebrate and provide amazing artistic programming, offer special events, provide educational opportunities, and much, much more!  So celebrate the season in whatever way feels right to you and know that with the support and love of the community, Hamilton Players will be celebrating along with you.

Happy Holidays!