Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012-03-23/24 Imperial House of OPA

Back in January, I was asked by The Imperial OPA Circus to help an amazing group of performers put on a production as their Stage Manager and I was happy to accept.  For over two months we rehearsed and I helped herd my favorite cats and help bring this amazing production come to life!

The script was written by Luke, known mostly to the audience as that amazing juggler with the awesome mustache, and Tim Mack, the ringmaster, who worked tirelessly to make the amazing ideas and script come to life.  The show was amazing with a wonderfully twisted plot, an amazing live band and aerialists who cover trapeze, lyra, silks and Spanish Web as well as all the acrobats and dancers.  There is no way you'd be able to see a show of this caliber anywhere else for this cheap.  You're practically stealing your seat when you buy a ticket to any Imperial OPA show as they are often a third or less then the travelling Cirque de Soliel shows and you're supporting local Atlanta artists.  

The plot was a cross between Rocky Horror and a morality tale which seems to be a running theme of the OPA shows.  Not only are they entertaining to watch they have a good positive message that you can take away from all the amazement. A Man and Woman break down on the side of the road in front of The Imperial House of OPA and discover a circus inside the house and all of the dreams they thought they had lost along the way in order to make it in the corporate world.  In the end everyone discovers a path to follow their dreams which is the best advise you can give, find a way to follow your dreams and you'll find happiness!

Ironically, as I am in school for theater right now, I had to write a paper about a live theater show and was given permission to write about this particular show as far as the technical elements so if you're interested in how we took a nearly abandoned theater with well loved (broken and damaged) equipment and made this amazing production please keep reading!

From January 25th through March 24th I worked as the stage manager for The Imperial OPA Circus’ production of The Imperial House of OPA.  There were many challenges with working on this production including the space itself.  The Arts Exchange, where our rehearsals and shows took place, used to be a school and is now an artists’ complex that has fallen into a bit of disrepair over the years.  Though we spent time working on it last fall, we still had more work that needed to be done such as finding additional lights, bringing in and running lines for the PA, etc…

The lighting has been its own issue since the beginning.  As the space is wired but many of the dimmers do not work, some of the lights are shot due to frayed connectors, and others do not work for reasons unknown.  In order to make-up the difference we moved the lights around to get the most coverage on the stage, added clip lights to the front of the stage to create foot lights and help add additional lighting to the stage.  We covered most everything with gels of blue, amber and magenta in order to blend the lights on the stage and help create the mood.  Someone was also kind enough to bring in four LED lights that could change color so we used golds and greens in the first act and turned it to blues for the goldfish ballet in the second act.  We also had access to an older light that we had found and were able to get a new lamp for it and mount it to the booth so we could have a working spot light for the production.  Thanks to an abandoned giant gold disco ball we were able to simulate goldfish swimming around the theater during the large “aerial explosion” towards the end of the second act.  I am by no means saying that our lighting was perfect, but Myron placed the lights to get the maximum amount of coverage and controllability.  He was able to create a seemingly high tech lighting design through what we had available and what we were able to be scrounge up.

The sound was mainly used for the band and for a few special effects as we did not mic the performers.  There were a few actors that made me wish we had left the choral mics on throughout the whole show, but over all I do not think they were necessary.  The band sounded great during the first act, however, the second act had three routines that were done through CD instead of with the live band and the transition back to the band after the prerecorded music seemed to cause an issue with the sound.  Though we tried to correct it I feel that Gary, who was running sound, was unable to hear the problems that we could hear in the back of the theater.  There were a few moments where, for dramatic effect we put an echo on the hanging choral mics for during the dream sequence and a very dramatic moment of someone screaming “NOOOooooo” so we put the delay to emphasize the drama of the moment.

The set was very minimalistic; it included an arm chair with ottoman and a table with a goldfish bowl and a hat rack DSR and DSL a small platform with a small table and two chairs.  Other than some fabric draped on the back wall that was the extent of set pieces.  The costumes were done by Dee Dee, and I think that over all she did well with creating a consistent aesthetic.  The only costumes that did not seem to blend as well were ones that were brought in by the performers themselves.  Also, for one of the dream sequence bits there was a giant paper mache goldfish that Tim wore to represent the spirit of one of the characters long dead gold fish.  As a result a few moments of the show had a weird balance between amazing professional circus acts and elementary school arts and crafts which somehow totally worked.

Over all I really enjoyed working on this production and am very proud with what everyone was able to accomplish with our very limited resources.  The performances were amazing and we had sold out shows.  I do wish we had been able to have a longer run due to the amount of time and energy that we put into that production, only two nights seemed a bit of a letdown.  However, we have discussed these issues and hopefully the next show will be even bigger and better than the last one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What people don't realize about running a festival....

is that it's scary as shit.  This year marked our 2nd Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest here in Atlanta, GA.  It was amazing, it was spectacular, it was truly breath taking and it almost didn't happen.  It costs us around $17,000 to produce Southern Fried Burlesque Fest 2011, so last year we were in the hole around $5,000 (maybe more, I'd have to check) at the end of the weekend.  (And no, Ursula Undress and I do not get paid and have, in fact thrown personal money into it that we know we'll never get back)  We knew it was a risk, but we did it anyway because we love burlesque, we love the community, we love being able to offer classes and performances that you cannot normally find in Atlanta and most of the Southeast.  We also really wanted it to all be in one location so people wouldn't have to find rides, stay at different hotels, etc... so people could actually spend time together and make actual friends.  A wonderful person who wishes to remain anonymous loaned us the money for the deposit this year we were able to start on 2012 while we finished paying off all the bills from 2011.  Thanks to a fundraiser with The 2011 Queen of Burlesque, Miss Indigo Blue, in November we returned the loaned hotel deposit then and SFBF 2011 was paid off in December of 2011 thanks to a very successful Tits for Toys for Tots show by Syrens of the South.  So we started 2012 at zero towards SFBF 2012.

As people purchased weekend passes we bought everything we knew we had to have: air fare for the guests we flew in; actual badges (you have to admit, they were awesome); programs; and miscellaneous items like the crowns, ink, labels and paper for the printers, etc....  Come February we were starting to freak out, what if no body came to the festival, what if we bought 144 t-shirts (the shops minimum) and no one bought any, etc....these are all things that every producer is terrified of, but with an $18,000 bill, it's that much more terrifying.  There was some praying, some soul searching and many, many back up plans for the what if scenarios, but people came!

People didn't just come, but people came in droves.  People volunteered and we had help this year! (Last year we had, and I am not exaggeration, 4 volunteers)  The shows were amazing, the class schedule was amazing and everyone who came brought a special part of the festival with them and made the entire weekend magical.  So thank you!  Seriously, I mean that will all of my little black heart, THANK YOU!  I won't lie, we still didn't break even.  Syrens is going to throw in money to help cover the difference (that's the point of owning a production company, right, to help with productions?) and there's a chance that Ursula and I may have to turn tricks (I'm kidding) but we were so close and that's with starting at zero on January 1st.

So what does this tell me?  We're definitely doing it again next year!  With not having as much to pay off from the previous year 2013 should be much easier for us to put together.  Less heart attacks all around for everyone.  We've learned a lot this year from issues that have come up and we think that we're finally getting in a position to make it truly amazing as we have some of the very best volunteers in the world so it is not all on myself and Ursula.  So next year should be bigger and better then 2012, just like 2012 was bigger and better then 2011.

However, you guys will have to be patient as one of the big things we learned was pay off the previous year before starting the next one, so please be patient while we do that and then we'll be announcing next year's Southern Fried Burlesque Fest!

PS. Please note that these are my opinions and not necessarily those of Ursula or anyone else as I didn't ask them, lol.