The following is a post from Alexa Scott-Flaherty, Director of Development:
Sean Daniels, Director and Artist at Large (how cool is that job title?!) at Geva Theatre Center is conducting a groundbreaking experiment in how to bring audiences in to the creative process. In the process he is revolutionizing the way in which we, as artistic organizations, engage with our audiences and patrons. And he’s asking the question – what can we do to make it possible for the Rochester community to own the work we do? A big and important question.
The experiment: Give 20 Rochesterians unlimited access to how Geva puts up a play (welcome at all rehearsals, technical rehearsals, previews, openings, receive rehearsal and show reports daily, social meetings with the actors and directors, etc.) in exchange for them sharing it with their communities (journal about our experience online on blogs, Facebook, etc). The group is called the “Cohort Club” and I’m a member. The play is a new comedy, The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarias. When Sean described the “Cohort Club” to all of us he said, “I’m picturing a high school kid next to a soccer mom, next to a donor, next to someone who has never been before next to a member of the local orchestra. Ideally, we make this group look like Rochester.”
So, since last week I have: attended the meet & greet on the first day of rehearsal and met the cast and crew, communicated online with the other cohort members, read rehearsal reports and everyone’s blog entries, received invites for countless cool opportunities (like a tour and discussion of the entire technical process, a party where the cast members read the cohorts words aloud and bring us to life so we feel what its like for the playwright to hear her words aloud, and more), and attended rehearsal. Wow.
So, why me? Why am I a cohort? Partly because Writers & Books and the Book Club Play share some common ground (we are a literary center focusing on, well, books…) but also because I care passionately about what Sean’s doing here. We need a revolution! If we want art organizations like regional theatres, dance companies, art galleries, literary centers, etc. to survive and really to THRIVE, we need to open up our doors. We need to truly engage with audiences and not just give them tours. I want to see how this goes and I want to be a part of how it goes.
Also, theatre is my love. Dear to my heart, most especially new plays. It’s what I did (and sometimes still do) in NYC, before I came back to Rochester. In fact, sitting in rehearsal today, I had a visceral memory of another experience not so unlike this cohort club, although all of my own invention. I was 24 years old and had only been in NYC for about 6 months after leaving The Shakespeare Theatre in D.C. and I was like many actors, desperately auditioning and trying to find my people. I came home one day to find a message on my answering machine (yes, I had an answering machine) from Phil Hoffman (yes THE Phil Hoffman) saying he would meet me for coffee. I replayed that message 100 times. I wanted to work with him and his theatre company LAByrinth and I told him so at our coffee. We got along right away and I asked him if I could sit in on the entire rehearsal process for the next play he was directing, a new play at LAB. He thought I was crazy and would be too busy and I told him I’d assist him in any way he needed as long as I could be there to watch the play go through the entire process. Finally, he said yes. It was the most magical experience, to this day, that I may have ever had in the theatre. It shaped the artist I am today. It helped me to find a home in NYC with those very actors and directors.
What was so special about it was that rehearsals are WHY actors love the theatre. Rehearsals are just about the most fun you will ever have in your life. They are also the most exhilarating, challenging, daring, scary, inspiring, sexy, moving…. You name it. They are juicy. In 3 to 4 weeks a play is born. It’s intense. To watch great actors and directors in rehearsal is… life changing. This is what Sean knows and what he is betting on. That if you come in to that room you will know this too and you will make sure your local theater survives. So, when Sean asks you to be a member of the next cohort club, say yes.
P.S. On my way home from rehearsal today I laughed so hard picturing a moment involving a pillow toss that was rehearsed over and over until a magical moment spontaneously occurred. This is what we all live for in comedy. There’s not much better than that.