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Majestic Reader’s Theatre Company Update

From Majestic Reader’s Theatre Company Artistic Director Mike Aronson

1) The past, present, and future of the company. We are about to audition for the last quarter of our fourth season. So far this year 63 actors auditioned for roles with the Majestic Reader’s Theatre Company.  Only 13 of them were members during our first season. It might be a good time to review our history of how we came to be, how we are doing and what is planned for the future.

In August of 2013 I proposed, along with Michael Winder, a permanent reader’s theater company that would give performances on the last Sunday of every month. We offered trained actors, with scripts in hand to make the play come alive through vocal talent, facial expressions, and minimal staging. It was a fun, accessible way to experience contemporary works by famous modern playwrights that might not otherwise be performed here. Some small props and sound effects are used but few set pieces and no backdrop. The imagination of the audience places the actors in a specific time and location.  Within minutes they are involved in the story. One patron told me they will remember going to see the play but would not remember if it had been a full production on stage or a reader’s theater.  I felt that was a magnificent complement to our actors.

I select the directors and most of the plays.  The directors are allowed to experiment with the format by including more or less of the techniques used in a mainstage production.  So we have had plays where all the actors sit on stage and read their lines (including the director who read the stage directions), and we have had productions with full motion, set pieces and costumes. The common element is the actors hold and read their lines from a script. Instead of spending weeks memorizing their lines, each actor works on developing a character.  This allows people, who are single parents or have demanding schedules, to act in these shows because they can commit to a short rehearsal schedule of six days instead of the three months needed for a mainstage show.

We had two goals in starting the Company. One was to have a regularly scheduled dramatic activity at the Majestic.  Most of the plays are written by prize winning authors and have had successful New York runs. We are building an audience of people who know that on the last Sunday of every month there will be two performances of a play reading.  Corvallis audiences can see a play that might be too expensive to put on the mainstage or perhaps would not have a wide enough appeal to fill three hundred seats for seven nights.  The second goal was to give actresses and actors the opportunity to work in significant roles so they could hone their acting skills by playing with other strong performers.

MRTC is an all-volunteer organization who serves the mid-valley cultural community. We partner with the Majestic. They pay our bills and they keep all the gate receipts. Our volunteers run the box office and house for our shows. Their staff prints publicity posters to our designs.  They organize the poster routes which our volunteers deliver posters to. They maintain our web site and submit the press releases which we write. They schedule time for us in the community room or sometimes other spaces. All we have to do is ask. They purchased and hung modern LED lighting instruments in the Community Room which give a professional look to our productions. The number of volunteers we field is increasing.  We had seven of the eight poster routes covered last week end. This year Jimbo Ivy, the man who supervises the Majestic Theatre for the city, sees our Company as a profit center for the Majestic and he is very willing to cooperate with us. The future of MRTC contains some problems that we must address this year. We don’t have enough trained technicians to design and run our lights and sound. We could use two more poster designers and three more people to run the front of the house. Jimbo recently sent an email survey to our members whose return answers all in all were positive but also exposed some issues that I will talk about in the next section. The good news is Jimbo is willing to invest new money in the community room.  By the end of this year we should have new curtains that go all around the room and new sound equipment that will at last remove that technical headache. We are proceeding with accepting proposals for our fifth season. And as the year progresses I expect that more and more people will step up and fill our volunteer positions. It is never a good idea to have a few people doing all the work.  We need lots of people each doing a little bit of the work. Please consider where you can best help the Company fill its volunteer jobs. Even the littlest of effort can return big publicity returns. For example, the bulletin board opposite the entrance to the Community room is ours to do what we want there. Is there a creative person among our membership who would take charge to design and change the display three times a year?

2) Survey results Jimbo collected surveys from Company members and summarized them this week for Leigh and myself.  Issues were discussed that in general have the same solution, more education about policies and written procedures located in a binder in the green room. Leigh and I have a plan to write out all procedures for directors and have them available by June 15th.  Also Jimbo has agreed to increase communications by posting important items as soon as he receives them. People were wondering how shows are selected. For the most part I try to balance drama and comedy, pick one local author per season and look for plays with strong female characters.  This is written in the email I send out every year but I can put it into the binder in the Green room also. An important item for the binder is a time line for how to produce a show. Some people did not seem to know they had to schedule rehearsal time for any week beside the blocked out time that all Reader’s Theatre shows get the week before their show. We did have a meeting of directors in October going over these issues but not everyone was there.  Again a binder full of paper could make up for this lack of information. Jimbo’s black shirts may be able to help with some technical training soon.  They are just getting organized.

Many of you asked questions so I will answer four of them here.

Why were there three performances for Crossing Delancy while other shows had only two? My model of the Company is minimum rehearsals and minimum performances.  I think that keeps energy and quality high while reducing time the actors spend preparing. Leigh Mathews Bock tried something different for her production of Crossing Delancy. Jimbo had been receiving complaints from patrons that the audience is too crowded. For a better audience experience Leigh put less chairs in the room and asked her cast if they would be willing to do a third performance.  Leigh still had to turn away patrons from each show.  It was an experiment and we need a discussion to see if the extra show was worth increasing the total audience by 35 people.

What is Mike Aronson’s role versus Leigh Mathews Bock’s role in the Company? Last winter after the announcement that the Majestic would be releasing staff members in 2017, I sent out a message asking for Company members who wanted to help reorganize the Company as we moved to an all-volunteer community type theatre model to meet with me and have a discussion. The result was Stephanie Long became Technical Coordinator, Robert Leff took the responsibilities for assigning ushers, and Leigh became Publicity Coordinator with the responsibility for programs, Facebook page and finding poster designers for directors. I took responsibility for Front of House positions and poster distribution. This was announced to the Company in November 2016. Besides this official duty Leigh was very helpful when I had to move to Seattle as my youngest daughter needed a double lung transplant.  (Carmel is doing fine now.) So Leigh has been assisting in running the Company for about 18 months. I copy her on all important Company email so that if she is available and I am not, the show will go on. Leigh has also volunteered to help me put together our fifth season and she will read the proposals with me as they arrive.

Can someone be cast in a reading if they do not come to the audition?  Maybe.  I do everything I can to cast all shows from the set of people who show up at auditions.  Sometimes that isn’t possible. Usually the problem is not enough men show up to fill the male roles.  Sometimes people accept a role and later have to drop out.  Sometimes a director is not satisfied that any of the persons trying out can carry a specific role. In these cases we have to go to the Company membership list. If you have ever auditioned for a MRTC reading you are considered a member of the Company.  I take head shots of all Company members and keep a history of roles performed to remind directors of who might be available.  It has happened in the past that we could not fill a role from the Company list and we had to hold a special audition to fill the part.

Why are actors required to volunteer for other productions? Isn’t the time expended in a given production without compensation enough?  The only reason that actors can perform on stage in front of an audience is because there are two people off stage supporting each of them. When you come off stage, the right thing to do is pay back that support to another set of actors. This is important is to avoid building a them-and-us culture. A volunteer organization that has two classes of citizenship (actors and the other volunteers) won’t last very long.  A requirement to volunteer twice a year is not especially onerous. But you have pointed out a mistake I made when announcing this policy at the beginning of the year.  I said actors when I should have said members. Thank you for pointing that out.

3) Auditions for the June, July and August productions are May 1 & 2, 2017 starting at 7:30 PM in the second floor Community Room. Scripts are available for check out at the Majestic Business office. I have attached an audition form that you can print out, fill in and bring to the audition to save time. The second page of the audition form contains the characters needed and a short synopsis of the plays from the Directors. Here are the names and performance dates of the shows.

June 25, 2017 The Price by Arthur Miller, Directed by John Sams July 30, 2017 Approaching Simone by Megan Terry, Directed by Jeannette Miller Aug 27, 2017 Transformations; the poetry of Anne Sexton, Adapted to the stage and Directed by Jane Donovan

4) Think Twice Sunday April 30th 3 PM and 7 PM, Directed by Jeannette Miller Mickenham

I suspect that many of us read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when we were young. If you did you will recognize some of the characters from those novels appearing with other names and occupations in Ayn Rand’s mystery play, Think Twice. Her ideology of anti-altruism shows through plainly. In fact if you are a political liberal I don’t think you will be able to solve the crime before the answer is revealed. That being said, this is a worthwhile play even if you don’t sympathize with objectivism, her philosophy of capitalism.   I am happy that MRTC gets an opportunity to present a play by this well-known conservative philosopher. We enjoy dramatic characters that have shades of differences that none the less could have turned out to be us if our life circumstances had been slightly different.  I suspect that most of our audiences would never imagine how they could have ever had an experience that could make them an adherent of Rand.

But life is never quite so simple. Where does a philosophy like this spring from?  Ayn Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Her father, Zinovy was a pharmacist.   One winter day in 1918 the Red Guard nailed the seal of Russia on the door signaling the pharmacy had been seized in the name of the people.  Zinovy was a self-made man.  The shop was his, he had worked for it, and studied long hours at the university. Now in an instant it was gone, taken to benefit nameless strangers who could offer her father nothing in return.  The soldiers had spoken the language of fairness and equality but their guns made clear that resistance meant death.  Alisa learned those who invoked such lofty ideals were not to be trusted.  Talking about helping others was only a thin cover for force and power.  It was a lesson she would never forget.

Whether you believe this or not you must admit that Rand’s influence remains strong. In 2008 alone the combined sales of her novels topped eight hundred thousand, an astonishing figure for books published more than fifty years ago.  Atlas Shrugged is still devoured by eager young conservatives, cited by political candidates, and promoted by corporate tycoons.   Her ideas have found their way into mainstream politics.  Martin Anderson brought his Objectivist principles when he joined Richard Nixon’s Presidential campaign.  Both Anderson, and another Rand follower, Alan Greenspan were appointed to the Gates Committee which recommended abolition of the draft. Republican Paul Ryan has said the reason he got involved in public service was the thinking of Ayn Rand.

If this play helps you recognize what Rand thinks of morality, altruism and love and how she integrates these ideas into politics and economics it will be well worth your time.  Understanding that your political opponents are people with transformative life experiences is one step closer to working together to solve our common problems.

The cast members are James Woomer, Wendy McCoy, Bob Greenwade, Robert Best, Nathan Hermanson, Scott Trout, Andy Craig, Rob Malcomb, Bernadette Bascom, Maureen Frank and Don Taco.

Purchase tickets on the web at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=maj.

5) Evita Tickets

Susan and I have our tickets for Evita.  Be sure to order yours soon.

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The Majestic Theatre is a branch of the City of Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department, dedicated to bringing a wide range of artistic productions and arts education programs to the citizens of Corvallis.

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