Performance Date: 9.10.09
Dragon Productions, Palo Alto, CA
It's Week 3 in this Year of Plays and I'm already realizing how easy it would be to just see well-promoted, well-reviewed Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. There are so many plays that get "buzz," well-deserved or not, and I am very susceptible to this kind of marketing. Ooooh, shiny!! So while visiting home in the Bay Area, I decided to mix it up and see some small-budget theater at Dragon Productions in Palo Alto. The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson was the evening's fare, a very nice family dramedy that won the Olivier award for best comedy in 2000.
First a word about Dragon Productions. I remember my mom sending me a clipping from the Chronicle a couple years ago about a new theater company opening its doors in Palo Alto. I'm glad I got the chance to check the operation out. Apparently, the woman behind it all is an actor who has been directing and producing plays since 1991, has run Dragon for 8 seasons, and has successfully kept their permanent home (a converted storefront space downtown) operational for the past 4 years. Color me impressed. (Wow, did I just write that? Embarrassing. It sounds like something someone would say on "Golden Girls" or "Designing Women." On second thought, maybe that makes me ironically cool.)
But really, keeping a small theater company with its own space running for four seasons in this economy? That is no small feat! A cursory look at the show's program (above, it doubled as my ticket) gives a clue of how she does it -- grants, donors, corporate sponsors, advertising, space rental, wish list solicitation, the list goes on. This woman knows how to hustle. What's more, the motto at Dragon is, "If you want to do something amazing, do it yourself. Don't wait for someone else to give you the opportunity." And indeed, there she is playing the central character in the night's festivities. Girlfriend wants to act in meaty roles? She starts an Equity-approved theater company and does it herself. Yes, yes, color me impressed. And color me inspired too.
Lessons and observations from The Memory of Water:
- A good actor does things one at a time. She listens, she registers the information, she reacts. Those three things can happen very quickly in succession, but they do happen one at a time. It's not always as easy as it sounds. In the HBO promo I'm in this summer, I recently noticed that I'm actually skipping a step. I listen and then react -- skipping over the part where I let the info land. The moment still works, but it's a little sloppy. Oh well, I guess that's what can happen when you're acting with tennis balls instead of Jemaine and Bret themselves. No, I will never get over the disappointment of that.
- I so appreciate great comic delivery and dry, sardonic wit, both of which were nicely on display in this play.
- I can start a theater company, get it funded, give it a permanent home, and produce great plays with good roles for women. I know this because I saw someone else do it. The point of apple trees is not to create apples, it's to create more apples trees. That is not a non-sequitur.
One more thing I've learned at Week 3 of a Year of Plays? It's really hard to actually see a play a week, especially when you're traveling every weekend of the month. So I am not seeing a play this week, which means no post next week. However, I will make up for at the end of the month when I am doubled up with tickets to Our Town and Othello on back to back nights. Not too shabby, I tell ya. There are also several tasty Off-off shows running now that various friends and acquaintances are involved in, so I should be able to keep the nice mix of fare. Haven't figured out which ones I'll get to see, depends mostly on schedule, but you will find out soon enough!