[Theaterfacultystaff] Tantrum reflections and plans

Smith, Charles smithc4 at ohio.edu
Wed Sep 14 11:07:05 EDT 2016


I understand the difficulty you face as artistic director. To come up with a season that pleases everybody is probably an impossible task. But you asked for feedback so here’s my two cents:

I think this proposed second season is disappointing. Although both Our Town and The Wizard of Oz may deserve to be produced in a theater season that strives to be diverse and expansive, producing both in a single three-play season suggests that Tantrum is a conservative, ultra family-friendly, safe and culturally homogeneous theatre that strives to please in a very unassuming manner.

I think your questions about audiences are good, but I don’t know if a theoretical audience demographic should drive season selections. Artistic vision should drive the season, and what you said about the theme of the proposed upcoming season, Home, could be easily applied to the last season. You sound passionate about Into the West and if you have the same passion about producing Our Town and The Wizard of Oz as two out of the three plays in a single season, that’s your prerogative as artistic director. But it strikes me as uninspiring, especially when there are so many more contemporary plays circulating that speak to who we are as a nation and as a people today. Addressing who we are today rather than who we dreamed we were 75 years ago means paying more than lip service to actual cultural diversity. We have a very tough time attracting culturally diverse students, and an even tougher time convincing the ones that are here that we can see them, then recognize and consequently address their needs. Here we have a chance to do work that is not limited by our narrow cultural demographic on campus. We have an opportunity to contemporize and diversify our image, to hire culturally diverse artists to create culturally diverse work that reflects the concerns, struggles, and dilemmas of the larger American population. I believe revisiting both Our Town and The Wizard of Oz in the same three-play season does not do that.

There are many plays like Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced or Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Water by the Spoonful or Lydia Diamond’s Smart People. These plays deal with difficult, contemporary issues, and interesting enough, all three plays could easily fit into the theme of Home. Any of these three plays, or any similar play, alongside Into the West and either Our Town or The Wizard of Oz would suggest that Tantrum not only espouses artistic and cultural diversity, but by its actions and season, actually embraces it.

I may be an outlier in this. I have been so before and will undoubtedly be so again. But you asked for feedback and this is mine.

All best,


Charles Smith
Distinguished Professor
Head, Professional Playwriting Program
Ohio University

 Objects in the Mirror<http://www.goodmantheatre.org/objects/>
2016-17 Season

From: <theaterfacultystaff-bounces at listserv.ohio.edu<mailto:theaterfacultystaff-bounces at listserv.ohio.edu>> on behalf of "Dennis, Daniel" <dennisd at ohio.edu<mailto:dennisd at ohio.edu>>
Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 5:39 PM
To: List Serve <theaterfacultystaff at listserv.ohio.edu<mailto:theaterfacultystaff at listserv.ohio.edu>>
Cc: "Sayrs, Elizabeth" <sayrs at ohio.edu<mailto:sayrs at ohio.edu>>, Rachel Cornish <cornishr at ohio.edu<mailto:cornishr at ohio.edu>>
Subject: [Theaterfacultystaff] Tantrum reflections and plans

Dear colleagues,

Forgive me in advance for the length of this email. There is quite a lot I want to share with you.

First, thank you to everyone for participating in talks with Greg Kandel about Tantrum Theater’s first season. We are all so busy all the time that it is rare for us to take time to reflect together on what we’ve done. I thank you for your great and difficult work birthing this company, whether it was talking it into existence over the last three years or working directly to produce our first Tantrum season this past summer. And of course, thanks for entrusting it to me. I hope that we can make critical reflection a regular part of what it is we are doing with Tantrum and the Theater Division. This takes time, but I think doing it makes our work—especially our work with students—vastly better.

In a nutshell, here is what we heard from you and from our students.

1.       Generally speaking, you were happy with the shows themselves. The productions seemed to be high quality, moving theater experiences. (This is what we are striving for. But lest it go unsaid in all that I am attempting to communicate here, an engaging, arresting theater experience that reveals new or unheard perspectives without dictating a singular reaction is my goal.) It was the process of getting them up that needs work. This seemed mostly to do with lack of time and dealing with new situations (the distance between Athens and Dublin, working in a building in which we do not make the rules, not having shops in Dublin). Logistical planning needs work! We knew last spring that this would be the case. The shops felt this most of all, I think.

2.       The build schedule must take our Theater Division production calendar into better account, especially the beginning of the Tantrum season, but also the end.

3.       Some students felt the burden of the above items greatly. It seemed there was not enough professional mentorship in some of the shops, resulting in long hours and not enough active learning. You suggested that more guest professionals are needed. It was clear that more recognition of student work and growth is also needed—a move away from the “play factory” model of production to one more focused on student learning. Student hours and pay rates need to be addressed.

4.       Clear policies and procedures, including safety training, and a grievance process is needed. Students, faculty, and staff need to know what is expected of them and one another, who to go to for what, and that there is someone they can go to if personnel problems arise. Respect for one another and for our work is our first priority. When “professional” level quality becomes more important than our pedagogical goals (when product supersedes process), we are no longer here for our students. We want to bring our artistic and pedagogical goals into alignment, and clear policy is a step in this direction.

5.       More opportunities with Tantrum wanted from across the Theater Division and the College of Fine Arts.

6.       Where was the audience? (If this crossed your mind at any point this summer, please believe it was what Rachel and Ian and I thought about every single day (and too many nights)). We knew this was going to be an uphill battle. We didn’t realize quite how steep is is. Related to this overarching problem: Who is our audience? Is it OU alumni? Is it Dublin families? Is it a sophisticated theater-going audience dissatisfied with what is usually offered in the Columbus area? How is Tantrum Theater perceived? What is it in the minds of potential patrons—a student theater, a professional theater, or something else? How can we increase our visibility?

I think most of what we heard fits into the larger umbrella of these six points. There are of course many more detailed items that came up. If there is something significant I’ve missed in this summary, please let me know. Our guests, for the most part, had wonderful and very helpful things to say about what we are doing. Almost across the board they recognize that what we are doing is difficult and so very needed by the theater industry locally and in this country. It is a worthy goal. That said, what I heard from them more often than not had to do with workflow and issues of respect. They also wanted clarity in who to go to for this or that. They mostly felt very appreciated and wanted to make sure that our students’ time and effort was also respected.

So based on all of this, there are two large items we want to work on as we move forward:

1.       Building Tantrum’s audience and community. We want to be an indispensable part of the Dublin community and the greater Columbus arts scene.

2.       Clarifying and cultivating Tantrum’s culture of artistic and pedagogical quality. We want faculty, staff, students, and guests to trust that what we are doing together is worth their time. This is about building trust.

These are pretty big categories. There are many things we will work on to achieve these objectives. The following are a few.

1.       Toward building our audience and community:

·         We aim to work more purposefully with our partners. How can the City of Dublin and Dublin Arts Council help us to build audience? How can we tap into our Columbus area alumni community? This is about reaching out, making offers, asking for help, and showing up.

·         We want to develop the belief in Dublin that Tantrum builds value for their community. We need to offer the best possible theater experience, but also opportunities for engagement and growth for community members. We want Dublin to feel ownership of Tantrum Theater. Good ideas came up in our sessions together about offering workshops and classes through the year to specific communities in Dublin through the schools, the library, and senior centers. We may be reaching out to you for help with this.

·         Reaching out to donors and corporate sponsors. We have already found success on this front for next season.

·         Membership in Theatre Roundtable, Columbus’ theater advocacy organization. We plan to participate in Theatre Roundtable’s unified auditions on October 15.

·         Memberships, subscriptions, deals with other Columbus area theater companies and arts/culture organizations.

·         Marketing, marketing, marketing.

·         Utilizing our own ticketing system, rather than doing tickets through the Dublin Rec Center. This will allow us to better control our interface with patrons, as well as enable us to track customer information.

2.       Toward cultivating Tantrum’s culture:

·         Policies and procedures, operational clarity, who does what?

·         Better communication

·         Safety training

·         Look at hours and pay

·         Creating both more opportunities for students and better quality experiences for students

·         Mentorship as a value and priority for all in positions of authority—shop heads, designers, directors, etc. Build this into our season planning.

·         Clarify what Tantrum Theater is for—

                                                               i.      Creating amazing art that is meaningful to our communities,

                                                             ii.      Expanding our theatrical community in order to get our students connected and into the industry,

                                                            iii.      Offering our students perspectives other than what they get from their teachers and classmates,

                                                            iv.      Developing a strong OU cultural presence in central Ohio. (This is a great goal in itself, but it will also keep us funded.)

Next Season
If our first season was linked thematically, it was about Sacrifice. In thinking about the second season, I have been asking questions about Home. Where do we find it? How does it change? What makes us feel at home? What happens when we can’t find it? After puzzling over the summer calendar, putting it next to our production calendar for next year, and trying to keep our takeaways and goals above in mind, the following is what we’ve come up with for next season.

Our Townby Thornton Wilder
First day of rehearsal—Tuesday, May 9
Load in to Abbey—approximately Friday, May 19
Tech—May 27-28
Opening—Friday, June 2
Closing—Saturday, June 17
Strike—Sunday, June 18

Minimal production to start our season, cast of approximately 20, good opportunities for students onstage, and ways to involve Dublin community members onstage. A love story, a story of family and loss and community and remembering.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Harold Arlen, and E.Y. Harburg
First day of rehearsal—Tuesday, June 6
Load in to Abbey—Tuesday, June 20
Tech—July 1-2
Opening—Friday, July 7
Closing—Saturday, July 22
Strike—Sunday, July 23

This is the big show of the summer. I want to use the RSC version that closely follows the film, but I am interested in a design that departs drastically from it. The goal for me here is for the audience to know what will happen at every step of the story and yet be surprised, shocked even, at what they experience—how it looks, sounds, and feels. There are good opportunities for students onstage here, though mostly in the chorus. The big selling point here for Dublin—aside from the fact that they all know and love the show—is that we will cast 10-20 Dublin kids as the munchkins. This is very complicated, because it will involve rehearsing a company of actors in Athens and another in Dublin and then putting them together. We have built in an extra week of rehearsal to accommodate this challenge and an extra week between strike of the first show and tech of this one. With a smaller build needed for Our Town, the shops can concentrate their efforts on this show. The payoff in community involvement here is huge. We will endeavor to make our spring education programming in Dublin point toward this opportunity. This story, as you know, is about friendship, community, belief in oneself, and the search for home.

Into the West adapted by Greg Banks from the film by Jim Sheridan
First day of rehearsal—Tuesday, July 11
Load in to Abbey—Sunday, July 23
Tech—July 29-30
Opening—Friday, August 4 (coinciding with the Dublin Irish Festival)
Closing—Saturday, August 19
Strike—Sunday, August 20
Return to Athens—Monday, August 21

This play is a three-hander with live musical accompaniment throughout and was created in the early nineties by the Travelling Light Theatre Company in Bristol, England. I saw a production at Seattle Children’s Theatre about fifteen years ago that remains one of the best theater experiences I have ever had. Two immigrant kids, living in a poor tenement in Dublin with their alcoholic father, are brought a magical horse by their grandfather. The horse gets them in trouble and sets them off into the west on an adventure of self-discovery.  Along the way they realize that sometimes you have to rely on family and memory to create your sense of home and belonging. Minimal production values. The whole story and all the characters (including the horse) are created by the three actors and the audience’s imagination. This kind of arts experience is exactly what the Dublin Irish Festival is currently missing. There are plenty of families at the festival that want more than a chance to drink beer in the sun. We will do our best to get on the Festival’s website and schedule, something we were unable to do last season because of our very late start.

School begins a week later in fall 2017. First day of classes is Monday, August 28. According to our current plan, each show will run three weeks. We want to look at my proposed dates with you and see how we can tinker with the schedule to make it work even better.

Your Thoughts?
What do you think? This season was selected specifically because of the honest, heartfelt stories, what we imagine to be the shows’ potential appeal to audiences, the opportunities this season contains for our students, and for the season’s possibilities for direct community engagement. We are in the process of securing performance rights now, and we want to hear from you, so none of this is set in stone. I am so very aware that we have only three years of promised funding from the university. In the time we have we need to do all we can to become a part of the Dublin community, to make Dublin and the greater Columbus theater community feel shared ownership of Tantrum. We have to make ourselves an invaluable part of OU’s greater Dublin project. We need to serve our students’ needs, OU’s needs, and convince Dublin that they deserve the cultural experience we are creating.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Thanks for wading through this long email. Let me know what you think and how we may address these goals together.


Daniel C. Dennis
Artistic Director
Tantrum Theater

Lecturer of Voice and Movement
Division of Theater
Ohio University
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