[Theaterfacultystaff] Tantrum reflections and plans

Winters, Daniel winterd1 at ohio.edu
Sat Sep 17 20:05:26 EDT 2016

Dear All,

I feel odd about throwing my thoughts into the ring, but feedback was asked for and so I thought I would respond.

Last night I saw a revival of The Diary Of Anne Frank, designed by one of our former students (Justen Locke). It was a beautiful and effecting piece of work which truly spoke to the time we live in.

I fully understand all the arguments that have been made here and I think it will come as a surprise to no one that my feelings on it line up with Charles and Shelley very closely. It seems to me that what we are really asking is, what kind of company are we, and what kind of plays do we do? If our true goal is to produce plays that will further our student’s education and professional experience, I don’t see how producing two shows which are outdated and say nothing about the time in which we currently live accomplish that.

Moreover, if (as I saw last night) a theatre with a traditionally old and conservative audience can produce a play that taps into the palpable feelings of fear and worry for the future of our country, why can’t we?

Last summer we opened with what is traditionally a tried and tested money maker and it didn’t pay off. In a time where the two most successful new musicals on Broadway in the last 4 years have been an obscene, crude look at religion and a hip hop musical about the founding of the country based around the idea of turning casting on its head, who is to say that the traditional big sellers are going to remain the big sellers?
I’m also not sure that most families have actually heard of Our Town outside of being forced to read it in High School. I’m not trying to disparage the play, it’s a beautiful script, and hugely important to 20th century theatre, but it doesn’t work on the page like it does in performance and most things people were once forced to read they don’t have much respect for, and often view as “boring” on principle.

Available Light Theatre Company is a company that has made a name for itself by pushing the envelope in Columbus and their entire company now exists entirely on a “pay what you can” ticket model. I don’t bring them up as a company with a business model to copy, but simply to say, there is an audience in Columbus for work that pushes people out of their comfort zone and has something strong to say. So, if we want to do a play that’s cheap and simple to produce, why not something like I and You by Lauren Gunderson? We could cast one student, one young local actor and bring in an outside director. I also really liked all the suggestions Charles has already proposed.

As Dan Denhart said, I understand the need to involve as large number of children, since they bring a built in audience, so I understand the decision of The Wizard Of Oz. If we are planning to cast non-traditionally however, why not just bring in an outside team and do The Wiz? (which is written from a different perspective and recently had a successful revival on NBC, so it’s on people’s radar.)

I fully understand the worry about not bringing in an audience, but I think there is room to do exciting work while finding ways to bring in people from all over the Columbus area. Some of this could be done through NPR ads, papering of the Short North and similar neighborhoods, participation in local art and community events, and casting and hiring from the huge and talented Professional Ohio theatre and arts community combined with bringing in professionals from larger markets.

I know I am not part of the decision making process there are probably big pieces of information I’m missing, but since feedback was asked for, here are my thoughts. I am glad we’re having this conversation, and I think the thoughts being bounced around will continue to help push us toward the best vision for this theatre, and best opportunities for our artistic community.


Daniel Winters
Adjunct Professor of Photography
and Lighting Design
Ohio University
winterd1 at ohio.edu

From: <theaterfacultystaff-bounces at listserv.ohio.edu> on behalf of "Delaney, Shelley" <delaneys at ohio.edu>
Date: Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 2:55 PM
To: "Dennis, Daniel" <dennisd at ohio.edu>
Cc: theater fac/staff <theaterfacultystaff at listserv.ohio.edu>, "Cornish, Rachel" <cornishr at ohio.edu>, "Sayrs, Elizabeth" <sayrs at ohio.edu>
Subject: Re: [Theaterfacultystaff] Tantrum reflections and plans

Hello Dan and all:

As you know, Dan, we’ve spoken about my concerns about the season: both as it relates to our students and student engagement, and as it relates to Tantrum Theater as an organization representing OU/COFA/and the Division of Theater. I will be meeting with Ian tomorrow for the same purpose. Because of that, I see no need to reiterate my thoughts and concerns here. To keep it succinct for my other colleagues, my thoughts line up closely (as you know Dan) with what Charles effectively communicated.

I sympathize with the challenge, and am grateful not to be in your shoes as a servant to too many masters. I appreciate the clarity and transparency in both of your email messages. But I am disheartened by the season as proposed (personally and as it relates to the performance area students). I’m not sure how or if I will get around that. I will do my level best to help Tantrum and all of our students succeed in whatever way I can. But there is a sensibility to what this season looks like, titles taken alone, that concerns me. And regardless of how the marketing looks, it is the titles that hit first and will get the most play.

If this is the season that goes forward, I hope it turns out that I too am surprised and challenged by the way in which the shows are produced. If that is the case, great. But if we make bold, unique and challenging choices with the material that audience members expect to be ’safe', I’m not certain we’ll keep the Dublin Family Audience we appear to be aiming for. Show me the parents who want to talk about a gay relationship in Our Town with their young or teenage children - and I’ll bet those same parents are willing to risk taking their children (and themselves) to a less familiar title. And based on the titles, I’m not sure we’ll get anyone from the second equation mentioned below.

And. I love Our Town. I think it is a beautiful, deep and somewhat subversive play - not the sentimental old fashioned play that it is often perceived (and produced) to be. Our Town turns our ideas about ourselves and our experience of life upside down. BUT: the title, with the other titles (particularly The Wizard of Oz), implies something else. I’ve yet to read Into the West, but would love to if you have a copy. I didn’t see it listed on Alice.



Shelley Delaney
Professor of Theater
Head of Performance
Ohio University School of Dance, Film, and Theater
delaneys at ohio.edu<mailto:delaneys at ohio.edu>

On Sep 15, 2016, at 1:28 PM, Dennis, Daniel <dennisd at ohio.edu<mailto:dennisd at ohio.edu>> wrote:

Thank you, Charles, for your candid feedback. I understand your reaction, and I realize that the selection process so far has not been visible to you. I am interested in a discussion and would like to hear from others as well. Surely, Charles isn’t the only one with an opinion to share. We are needing to move fairly quickly now, but there is a little time for us to consider options and make changes. Of course, I will take responsibility for whatever selection is made in the end. But we are in this together, and I want all of us to have an opportunity to speak up and to understand why selections are made.

This past summer, though it was generally agreed (and not just by us) that the work was good, we only brought in something like 20% of the Abbey’s capacity, and there was a lot of papering of the house. As you know and you’ve heard us say, we expected this situation—we’re brand new, no one knows us, we are just getting to know the community, the rec center is a little hidden, it’s a REC CENTER, for crying out loud, etc. As much as can be done with only three shows, our strategy then was sort of something for everyone: a musical, a new play, an Irish “classic.” My charge as artistic director is to create a conversation in Dublin/Columbus/central Ohio about the important, difficult contemporary issues you bring up. It is also to raise the bar for theater in the region and in so doing put us on the map. I also need to create opportunities for our students, sort of a pipeline to the industry. We are all concerned with recruitment and in doing what we can beyond classroom training. While we are in our three-year “incubation” period—that is the time that OU has said they would fund us—we have to do MUCH better than we did this past summer at getting people in the door. Ticket sales and the house count are perhaps the most palpable ways that Tantrum’s reach will be measured by OU’s upper administration. We are going to put more effort and considerably more money into marketing our season and extending our reach into the community in other ways. To this end, it seems to me that we are faced with a choice between two strategies for next season to increase our patronage:
1.      Rely on the familiarity of titles to get people in the door. This strategy is aimed at people that are not already theater-goers, as well as those who attend theater but are used to the traditional in their theater fare.
2.      Rely on the strength of the difficult contemporary conversation to get people in the door. This strategy is aimed toward regular play-goers (rather than those that attend only musicals), those who already spend money on the arts, theater professionals (us), and, to put it bluntly, those with higher levels of education.

I know you want to take Door #2. I do too. But is it the strategy that will get enough people in the theater to get us to year four, not to mention the eventual permanent home in the Dublin’s future theater? Will the university continue to fund us in two years’ time if we are not above half houses? Will they feel that their reach into central Ohio has extended far enough to justify the money they are spending on Tantrum? This is the question present in my mind every day. I am trying to make the long term investment for our Theater Division. That is what has led to the season offered for your feedback.

If we were to follow through with the season I have proposed, the way I intend to make these selections contemporary and worth attending is through multi-cultural casting. The titles themselves, as you’ve pointed out, don’t reflect our interests, but the marketing, the images, the work itself, and the writing surrounding the shows will. How is Our Town different when the stage manager is black? Or a woman? What if the community is totally racially integrated? I know these are not new ideas. That makes them no less significant. But how far can we push it? What if there is a homosexual relationship in one of the families? How does it change things if George is a girl? In The Wizard of Oz, what if Dorothy is played by an actor of color? What if the Wizard is a little old woman? Additionally, The Wizard of Oz in particular offers us a way to involve families by getting their kids on stage. It allows for casting of students, but because we are not a musical theater program, the casting there is limited. Especially for our graduate student actors, there is not much there. Our Town offers a chance to put Dubliners onstage too, though to a smaller degree than The Wizard of Oz. This show, however, would allow for many more of our actors to get on Tantrum’s stage.

I don’t know for certain that the first strategy will succeed. But if we program stuff that nobody but us has heard of and then don’t get audiences in the door, I think we will have missed our chance, which is now a two-year window. Option two works if the community trusts the organization and if the community is ready to engage in conversations about tough stuff. I don’t think that is Dublin—yet.

My next step is to take this season to a select few people in Dublin and Columbus—mostly people that are not involved in the theater—and get their opinions.

Best regards,

Daniel C. Dennis
Artistic Director
Tantrum Theater

Lecturer of Voice and Movement
Division of Theater
Ohio University

From: "Smith, Charles" <smithc4 at ohio.edu<mailto:smithc4 at ohio.edu>>
Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 11:07 AM
To: Dan Dennis <dennisd at ohio.edu<mailto:dennisd at ohio.edu>>, theater fac/staff <theaterfacultystaff at listserv.ohio.edu<mailto:theaterfacultystaff at listserv.ohio.edu>>
Cc: Elizabeth Sayrs <sayrs at ohio.edu<mailto:sayrs at ohio.edu>>, "Cornish, Rachel" <cornishr at ohio.edu<mailto:cornishr at ohio.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Theaterfacultystaff] Tantrum reflections and plans


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 eitherOur 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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