TOP TEN THINGS THAT THEATRE PEOPLE CAN RELATE TO AND AUDIENCES DON’T GET TO SEE (usually!)

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WAG’s Mark Seow slips you a super exclusive VIP backstage pass in providing you with insights into the ‘job’ of being an actor in theatre, and of producing & undergoing the process of theatre.

(Photographs by Alexandra Dolibic Fancher and Natalia Wakula)

1. You don’t get to see…Our unsung heroes, The Stage Managers & their accompanying ASMs and tech people. Stage managers are crucial to the staging of any theatre production, with the multitude of responsibilities and tasks to perform in each phase of a production, including: scheduling and running rehearsals, communicating the director’s wishes to designers and props people, coordinating the work of the stage crew, calling cues and coordinating actors’ entrances during performance. They take the blame for actors not being on time, or disappearing somewhere to appease their sudden iced mocha cravings. They are to be revered as GOD-LIKE beings as without them, the existence of the show will not be possible.

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2. You don’t get to see…The surreal void after production/curtain call. Unlike most forms of work where there is a sense of knowing there will be continuity in getting to the workplace, making that cup of coffee, switching on the computer to read ones’ emails and digressing with colleagues for a long time to come unless one quits, theatre is on the opposite end of the spectrum where people come together, bond, work, play in a relatively short time over months, starting and ending a theatrical production for a span of a week and then resuming their non-theatre lives once finished.

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3. You don’t get to see…We love everything and anything about costumes & making up. We are all hidden Cosplayers waiting to burst out of our shells.

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4. You don’t get to see…What goes on at the back of the stage, where there are crew, actors, frantically moving things around quickly and with coordinated precision in between scenes in total pitch darkness.

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5. You don’t get to see…What happens if something goes missing after the show.

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6. You don’t get to see…Pre-show anxiety & stage fright. Yes, you heard correctly stage fright (usually on opening night).

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7. You don’t get to see…The extreme fatigue on our faces. Ever.

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8. You don’t get to see…Ad-lib/forgetting lines & the art of covering up

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9. You don’t get to see…The discipline we need to have back stage and on stage

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10. You don’t get to see…Tech week

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by Mark Seow

mark-seow-profile-pic

The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson is showing at the Drama Centre, Black Box, from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets available through SISTIC.

You can follow Wag the Dog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Painting the Play

As WTD Theatre prepares to present The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson, Sean Worrall speaks to the artist, Daphne Flynn about creating our poster image.

The artist, Daphne Flynn, was commissioned to create an original painting for use in our publicity material. Here, she speaks about her signature style of painting and the challenges of creating art for theatre makers.

Painting

“I’ve been interested and engaged in art for as long as I can remember. Professionally, I have worked in the design field all of my adult life, but I guess I only began to think of myself as an ‘artist’; when I began painting about 7 years ago. In terms of inspiration, I love classics like Van Gogh for the emotion he brings, and the energetic expressions of Jackson Pollock. David Hockney’s colours really appeal to me and, most recently, I have been inspired by the photographic effects created by Marcel Heijnen. But like many artists, it took me a while to find a style that I could call my own.

When I first began painting I mostly created visually representative images, usually inspired by my travels. But then I moved into a freer style, constructing images and meaning from pure chance. Basically I begin with some splodges of acrylic paint on a canvas, then I turn away from it, and drag a simple pole across it. When I turn back, I look for meaning in what is left behind, and start from there.

Perhaps because I am a designer at heart, I love to start with a brief and explore directions within it. So I guess I brought this mindset to my painting. I like the idea of setting down a foundation and letting that inspire the direction of the image – it feels very ‘me’, and discovering that has been liberating.

But this is the first time I have created original art for theatre makers, and that has felt quite challenging. Obviously one needs to convey a sense of the play’s narrative, so balancing my random style with that requirement made me a bit anxious. Initially I tried to sketch out a couple of ideas with the guys at Wag the Dog, but I was struggling because it was too prescriptive for my technique. And they just said: “Look, we love what you do, and we trust the process, so go for it and let’s see what happens”; So I did and, almost miraculously, the images of the three girls and their mother just appeared. Then I filled in some details and finally found a moment when I said “Okay stop, Daphne, that’s enough!”.

Obviously I read the play a few times before I started, and it really resonated with me in several ways. It’s a sensitive piece dealing with some very emotional issues, but the use of humour is very appealing. There are moments when you don’t know whether to laugh out loud, or cry, but I think life is like that sometimes isn’t it? And like the characters in the play, I also come from a family with very different personalities, and sometimes different agendas. We’ve definitely been through some roller coaster emotional events ourselves, and also confronted that pain of losing our mother.

I’m really looking forward to watching the play now, and see how they bring it to life on stage. Going through the process of creating original art for the production has been really rewarding for me, and I hope that other visual artists can get more involved with theatre makers. I think this sort of collaboration brings a richer diversity to the arts scene – different voices, different inputs. We’re all artists working on a shared stage really, so it can only further enrich the Singapore arts scene.”

Daphne Flynn

Daphne Flynn 

Born in Malta and raised in Australia, Daphne’s passion for the arts began while studying art then design in Melbourne. Daphne has spent most of her professional life overseas, for a large part in the Asia region.

The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson is showing at the Drama Centre, Black Box, from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets available through SISTIC.

You can follow Wag the Dog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

”sitting on an equal platform, with equal voices”

TOP FIVE THINGS ESSENTIAL IN THE EARLY BEGINNINGS AS A CO-OP THEATRE COMPANY    by Mark Seow

Wag the Dog Theatre Company-Owned by Artists…? The very name and logo of our theatre company that you view now was subject to a process of discriminating opinions, conflicting indecisions and agreements to disagree. While starting up and being part of a theatre company exudes a cooler than cool factor, filled with the initial enthusiasm of fulfilling theatrical possibilities, the behind the scenes collaboration often gets overlooked. No doubt, the trials and tribulations of the birth of a theatre company is akin to starting a newly formed corporate entity, what with its many kinks and unseen treachery of unanticipated odds and ends, that need to be researched, planned, and  actioned upon. As Wag the Dog is a co-operative theatre company, where members in common unity (and equal resources) with the common aim of producing good theatre, one can imagine and compare it to a corporate outfit filled with seven or more equal shareholders sitting on an equal platform, with equal voices, but with differing and diverse background and experiences. In short, the experience is metaphorically comparable to heading to a barbershop with 7 different barbers all wanting to cut your hair, proceeding to cut your hair at the same time, and the results? Well, whether you walk out of the barbershop looking like a certain president with a comb over, or a trendsetting K-pop singer all hangs on these factors below. A disclaimer here is that the seven of us at Wag is still learning along the way, and the tips below are part of our reflections in helping us give you a…bloody great haircut.

CHAIN OF COMMAND

The sexiness of a co-op theatre group is that individuals congregate in a shared and common vision in potentially producing a play. We pool resources, diverse experiences, knowledge, creativity in the process of production. The less than sexy bit lies in the flat as French crepe like organisational structure, and unlike most non co-op theatre groups, an absence of a ‘Mob Boss’, ‘Head Honcho’, ‘Supreme Leader’ or whatever one may call an figure of authority within an assembly of actors, may cause collective thoughts and objectives to go off-tangent, coupled with a cloud of indecisions where everyone wants to be cordial and not potentially thread out the equal parameters of what is co-op theatre. Sexy or not, an essential activity to do at the very start of any production is to unanimously vote or assign the ‘Apex predator’, ‘King of the Jungle’ or simply, the individual to lay the gauntlet in assigning tasks, breaking the deadlock in decisions, signing the cheques or just getting things going.

BUILD POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS

Over time, whether or not your co-op theatre starts to mould itself into a merry outfit of fun & laughter in a jitney joyride or a dank funeral procession for a beloved pet ultimately depends on the inculcation of positivity energy and its spread amongst your co-op members. Enough said, it beings with coming for workgroup meetings and rehearsals with a positive cheer, and leaving behind last night’s one too many 151 proof Mojitos, or that unpleasant Uber ride you had earlier (Drivers that jerk & brake excessively should be banned for life in our opinion. And oh…by the way, nobody really wants to listen or care about for that matter, to your rantings about your number of Instagram followers increasing exponentially after you posted this one X-pro-ed picture of you in skanky bikini and shorter than short shorts. Seriously.

TECH – SAVVINESS(OR NOT)

“Could you reply via Doodle the rehearsal schedule which I’ve also popped into our Google Drive, oh yes, I’ve sent the link to all as well. Do also action upon those actions that are on Wunderlist and Shutterfly.” If this statement sounds as foreign as an Inuit dialect to you, then you’re not far off in being on par with comprehension of some of our cast members with regard to tech and its ever-evolving applications to seemingly make our lives less complex and productive. Don’t get us wrong, tech is all good, but only if you know how to use it. Therefore, prior to whipping out your wiki of tech applications in which to make group collaboration and data sharing easier, spare a thought for those whom are still stuck in Windows 95 and the 2G network. Guide them and bring them up to speed with Matrix, as the co-op budget doesn’t allow us to hire an I.T. guy.

DELEGATE

It’s a simple fact that one person can’t do everything. And if there’s one big challenge that co-op theatre companies have, is the reluctance to delegate stuff to anyone. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you must do everything yourself that you had suggested if you want it to be done right. Fear, control issues, perfectionism, and your arrogance to not delegate or take on what is delegated only make the team less effective, less productive, and less successful. Given your vote of confidence, they may well surprise you. So, go on, share the load, ask and assign that co-op member the task of getting the coffin for your play sponsored, or that seemingly meek but enthusiastic volunteer that job of putting a plan together for a fund-raising event.

DISCIPLINE

Google ‘what actors should do or should not do…’ and only about 32 million results show up. Click anyone of the links and you’ll find commonality in the message. To sum up, be a professional, and don’t be a jackass professionally. We’ll refrain from adding another one of those ‘top ten tips for actors type article’ to the mix, but here’s our group consensus on the ones that really make Wag the Dog go GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. (Pun intended)

  • Punctuality & the lack thereof. Lateness is taboo. Period.
  • Last minute cancellations & its last minute accompanying excuses
  • Lack of Commitment & shying away from unassigned tasks left untaken in the air
  • Not being ready for rehearsals. Taboo once again. Period

(Photography by Alexandra Dolibic Fancher and Natalia Wakula)

The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson is showing at the Drama Centre, Black Box, from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets available through SISTIC.

You can follow Wag the Dog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Theatre? Cooperative?

We love that in telling anyone that WTD is a theatre cooperative, it always invites a few questions. Hopefully, we can try to answer as many as we can below ……

What do you mean – a company owned by artists?

We mean that each member has a stake in the organisation – enabling them to make their own decisions, cooperatively, about the works put up!

How would you define cooperative/ly then?

For most people of a pre-90’s vintage, their first knowledge of the term co-op is encapsulated by either recollecting waking up to freshly delivered milk on the doorstep or awaiting the arrival of the twice-weekly bread-van. More commonly, it is a memory of a trip to the supermarket co-op. Some of us, even to this day, may remember our mothers’ ‘divvy’ (dividend) numbers imprinted on our minds as we patiently endured the packing up of the groceries and the adding up of the bill!

Food cooperatives have existed for centuries and were still part of daily life growing up in the seventies, eighties and nineties and some are still ongoing to this day all over the world.

Here in Singapore – NTUC’s Fairprice has stemmed into shiny bright supermarkets from its cooperative roots.

Aha, it’s about farmers and bakers?

No, not at all!  There are many other sorts of co-ops such as coffee shop co-ops, cycling co-ops, building co-ops and department store co-ops where the workers are also joint owners or partners in their business.

And then there are theatre cooperatives. Theatre cooperatives are already popular in the UK and Australia, and … Wag The Dog is proud to be marking its territory as Singapore’s first theatre cooperative!

So why would a theatre operate as a cooperative?

As well as being owned by the artists, a theatre cooperative is also run by them, independent of any parent company or actor-manager. Rather than working to a hierarchical model, it is the owners who decide everything democratically – usually in the form of a committee with voting rights for each owner member (or proxy). As well as bringing their talent, expertise and a commitment to thorough work, each owner also puts up an equal amount of financial stake.

Their independence means that the owners can collectively make the work that they want to create. Cooperative theatre companies mount stage productions which are selected, funded, produced and performed by the company owners. Co-op theatre is popular in many other countries because it gives artists much more control over their work.

OMG, with no hierarchy then it must all be anarchy?

Good heavens, no! Although it would quickly descend into chaos if any of the owners believed they had signed up to be an actor and nothing else!  Joining a cooperative with that sole aim in mind is not going to work because with theatre cooperatives, it’s all hands on deck!

Some may see this as a drawback, but all good actors regularly brave the chill and the thrills beyond their comfort zones in the way they go about their craft. In fact for actors,  being part of the bigger picture to produce theatre is considered a challenge to relish. The owners can find themselves using their talents in many different aspects of the business.  It means that as well as practising their forte, there are opportunities to hone and polish existing skills and to develop and embrace new ones. It’s all an exhilarating learning curve!

For example, one owner is using actor’s empathy in organising outreach with students. Some owners are stepping up and proving themselves to be efficient organisers. Several owners are showing their considerable business and negotiating skills as they deal with venues and tech matters.  Another owner is dipping their toe into the fast changing world of managing social media. However, all of them are discovering that actors are also enthusiastic salespeople with an unshakable belief in the production!

As well as telling stories on stage, the owners are out there making it their business to sell tickets. They know that any tickets unsold means much more than the early closure of a show. It means not only the loss of an individual’s stake, but also a lost opportunity to further invest back into the cooperative for future theatre projects.

That’s it then, as long as you have money to spare for a stake, then you’re in?

No way! Absolutely not!! Nobody here is buying their stage career!!!

In Wag The Dog Theatre’s case, each owner has auditioned (individually and also with group call-backs). Each has been interviewed by the three cooperative founders (Warren Baumgart Jr, Krissy Jesudason and Victoria Mintey) to become a part of it. As well as favouring a professional track record in the acting industry, the founders of the cooperative looked for a strong work ethic and an enthusiasm to commit to practical matters in creative ways, in bringing the play the whole way through the production process, to the stage.

Where does the money go then?

As well as the original stake money, revenue from ticket sales will be used to pay for rehearsal space, venue costs, licences, ticketing and engaging other stage professionals such as the tech staff we cannot do the show without.

Any profit is either invested back into the company or split each way between the owner plus one. The plus one stake is to be ploughed back into the cooperative as part of ‘legacy’, enabling the company to support any extra expenses in future productions. This might mean hiring an actor from outside the cooperative, who they would particularly require for a role – brought in for the purpose of that show only without being one of the owners.

Ok, it all seems like a good idea!

It is! Rather than waiting for a commercial theatre company to hold open call auditions, it’s one method of getting up and out of your comfort zone and into a creative one! It’s a way of making great theatre … together.

Thank you for asking.  We hope that Wag The Dog Theatre may also inspire other artists here in Singapore!

Happy Labor Day! Whatever your creative collaborations may be … may the fruits of your own labors be sweet!

From – Susie Penrice Tyrie

(Photography by Alexandra Dolibic Fancher and Natalia Wakula)

The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson is showing at the Drama Centre, Black Box, from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets available through SISTIC.

You can follow Wag the Dog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

WTD Announces Our Premier Production

We are thrilled to announce our first professional production will be The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson. Currently scheduled to open Friday, June 30, at the Drama Centre Black Box. We are planning 9 performances over two weeks. Please keep in touch with us for more details and ticket information.

In Stephenson’s funny, and often dramatic examination of the structures of memory and family, three estranged sisters meet on the eve of their mother’s funeral to argue and misremember. “I’ve got this tragic flaw that makes everything come out funny,”  says Stephenson.

When the play opened at the Hampstead Theatre, London, in 1996 it was awarded the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. But it is melancholic too, as the emotional bruises of the sisters’ childhood emerge. Memories fade, blur and persist as the sisters bicker, laugh, and cry, watched over by the ghost of the mother to whom they are preparing to say goodbye.

Not many dramatists have as sharp an eye for the quirks of character as Stephenson, and still fewer are so adroit when it comes to turning comic dialogue. ~ The Times.

Blessedly and mercurially funny – Stephenson, a mistress of comic anguish, is clearly a real find. ~ The Guardian.

Wickedly funny ~ The Independent.

The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson is showing at the Drama Centre, Black Box, from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets available through SISTIC.

You can follow Wag the Dog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram