Blog #9

Welcome back to my blog! This blog is coming to a close next week, and I wanted to make sure that I provide a bit more insight into the philosophy behind the Odyssey, rather than my usual ramblings about what I learned this week. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Beth Hogan, the Odyssey’s Associate Artistic Director, and one of the staples that holds this theatre company together.

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The start of any generic interview usually begins with the question, “What is the hardest thing about your job/keeping this theatre afloat?” If you are not aware, the Odyssey is celebrating its 45th year, reigning as the oldest 99-seat theatre in Los Angeles. Mind you, Ron (Sossi) has been here the entire time as the main driving force behind this company, with Beth (Hogan) joining in the mid-70’s… very impressive.  One thing that is unique about this company is the fact that they operate three 99-seat theaters in one venue. Keeping those theaters filled with shows at all times can be quite a challenge, considering the fact that each production, cast, designer, director, performer, all have some kind of special need.

Beth informed me that there has been a huge shift in the theatre world from the time the Odyssey first broke onto the scene. During the early years, artists were flocking in from the east coast in hopes of making a bigger splash in the LA pond, rather than the over-saturated hot bed in New York. These artists were theatregoers who turned to the Odyssey seeking live theatre to escape from the frantic pace of television and film. During that time, the Odyssey was, and still is, a company that focuses on providing interesting, thought-provoking content rather than commercial successes. Nowadays, people are moving to LA in pursuit of film & TV careers… and theatre just isn’t as important to the new generation. Traffic, parking, erratic schedules and the fact that most people don’t work a 9-5 job are just a few of the abundance of obstacles that make it difficult to set aside the time to see a show.

My next question led to Beth’s final response, “Do you ever choose to do a show based on the fact that you think it will be a hit?” Beth’s response: “Absolutely not. That has never been our goal.”  In fact, Broadway Bound is a show the Odyssey wouldn’t usually do, not because of some elitist mentality, but because there is a certain expectation that accompanies a Neil Simon play. The Odyssey’s goal with each production, is to create a community of talented actors, directors and designers. When they heard that Jason (Alexander) would be on board along with longtime friend of the Odyssey, Alan Miller, the show came to life.  It goes without saying that having Jason at the helm has certainly helped with ticket sales, considering he is a well known actor & comedian – but that wasn’t the decision behind deciding to work with him. Alexander was in the original cast, has a sincere love for the script, is friends with several cast members and is a talented director. From an outside perspective, using a “name” could easily be perceived as a marketing gimmick, but this is clearly not the case.

The rest of our conversation was beyond insightful – ranging from the current state of LA theatre to the process of picking plays for an upcoming season. If you ever have an opportunity to converse with Beth, be prepared for a poignant, exposing discussion.

Blog #8: Publicity

Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

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The reviews for Broadway Bound came in this week… and while some of them are raving that the show is a hit, others are a bit more lukewarm. As I have mentioned in previous weeks, in my opinion, the show is fantastic. This is a great example of how subjective art truly is. While I take away examples of altruism and life lessons embedded in the script, others might see generic sitcom material. Marketing for a theatre company is no easy task. A poor review from a local newspaper that is in high circulation can sometimes make or break a show. For example, look at “Bridges Of Madison County”. The show was brilliant, full of gorgeous music, Broadway stars and a decent book to back it – yet it closed before it even had a chance to reach the Tony Awards (Same thing happened with “Sideshow”.) My point being that press certainly helps sell tickets, but it does not define a show’s degree of excellence. With all that said, tickets ARE selling (our first two weekends are completely sold out) and patrons are loving the show. I have had the great fortune of learning how to put together a direct-mail campaign and market through social media, which in the future will help me spread the word about my own productions. Not only has this been an invaluable educational experience, but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by talented artists.

Speaking of being surrounded by talent… I helped with the Broadway Bound opening night gala – snapping photographs, escorting VIP guests and setting up tables of food (By the way, Beth Hogan starts cooking hours in advance to make sure everyone is fed. She does not get enough credit for the amount of work she does.) Jason (Alexander) also taught me a lesson behind the camera. Bottom line: Don’t count to three when taking a picture, just take it. The frantic rush of pulling in all the tables, wine and food when rain foiled our plans of an after-party on the patio was enough to get my blood pumping. I don’t know if I was prepared for all of the challenges that go into working a “simple” box office job, but I certainly have a good sense now of what it takes. Not to sound like a broken record, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with this amazing theatre company.

Blog #5: Time

Week #5/10: The halfway mark!

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I remember my Grandpa explaining to me when I was a youngster about the way that time moves. He wasn’t trying to educate me in the ways of horology or any kind of Stephen Hawkins theories. No, the concept wasn’t that grandiose; especially for a ten year old. That might make a funny YouTube video though (kids reacting to quantum physics facts). Anyways, my gramps simply stated that the farther my life moves forward, the faster time will go. A month will feel like a week. A year will turn into a month. I took in the information, but never fully understood what it meant until years later. My point in all this? Well, normally I would say that this past month has been flying by and I can’t believe that we’re here already, etc. But for some reason, it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe I can attribute that to the amount of projects, shows, group meetings and events that I have been bombarded with, or it could be that I’ve been actively trying to take away a bit of wisdom from every single thing I’ve done here. So even though it has been a short time, it just doesn’t feel that way. It could be the same effect that school has. Anyways, I don’t have time to blab about this anymore. There are hundreds of envelopes that need to be stuffed, twitter posts that need to be tweeted and well, plenty of things to do. Let me quickly recap the last week:

I was able to help out with the set for Broadway Bound a bit more. It’s really looking good and I am excited for our theatregoers to come and see it. The interns from LACC in my area had two events: touring The Broad Stage and having a chat with some of the staff that makes that place tick. We also went to a performance at The Annenberg Beach House… It was a show by Four Clowns entitled “Jonah”. It was entertaining, featured dedicated performers and offered a satirical, contemporary look on the parable. I also saw “The Mother Ship” @ Sacred Fools – clever & funny. “We Will Rock You” @ The Ahmanson… no comment. “Paternus” @ Rogue Machine – a “chilling” tale :). Also went to a friend’s outdoor performance of “Cabaret” which was charming. It has been a busy week. Until next time & have a great week!

Ben’s Odyssey #4

Welcome back! Hard to believe that I am already in my fourth week here at The Odyssey. To stick with the tradition, here’s a picture with me and the Annapurna poster. Really wish I could have seen this show when it was here. My sister saw it Off-Broadway and had nothing but praise for it. Plus, I love Nick Offerman.

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The biggest learning experience from the past couple days came from helping build the set of our next production, Broadway Bound. My dad is a contractor and owns his own tile company so I am familiar with the work that goes into construction, but I couldn’t say that I was ever really enthusiastic about helping my dad with work in past. Needless to say, I have had very little experience using tools or building for that matter. So when I stepped in to help build the set I was a bit naïve about the entire process of starting and the framework that goes behind it all. Luckily, our Technical Director, Joe Behm, was kind enough to teach me the basics as well as delegating tasks to others with confidence. I can’t wait to see the finished product, considering that it is certainly a challenge erecting a two-story set in an intimate 99-seat performance space.

I was fortunate enough to watch a designer run-through of the show and I am equally as excited to watch the finished project. The characters are clearly defined and executed by seasoned actors. Also, the choices that Jason (Alexander) makes as a director really brings life to the script. It is equally parts laughter and touching moments, with quite a few lines of dialogue that really showcase why the play was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Until next week! – Benjamin