Nov 25, 2013

Interview on the Stage Directions Blog about RASPBERRY FIZZ

Stage Directions Blog
by Christopher Taylor
Raspberry Fizz at the 2013 Houston Fringe Festival
Brad McEntire is Artistic Director of Audacity Theatre Lab, a small company dedicated to the voices of a small group of individual artists. In the past few years, he has presented his solo show Chop at festivals and venues around the country, completed a commission for Denton’s Sundown Collaborative Theatre called Carter Stubbs Takes Flight, presented a one-act about a vengeful Tiki god and cell phone etiquette called I Have Angered a Great God and produced the scripted/improv hybrid Dinosaur and Robot Stop a Train at last summer’s Festival of Independent Theatres. We cornered McEntire to ask about his current project Raspberry Fizz, playing on Saturday afternoons at the Margo Jones Theatre at Fair Park’s Magnolia Lounge in Dallas until December 7.

Q: Tell us about Raspberry Fizz?

A: Sure. Raspberry Fizz is about two adolescents hanging out on a street corner, a boy and a girl. It is 1949 and they are in a small town. Basically, the boy is working up his courage to ask the girl to a school dance. It is actually really charming and maybe the least weird play I’ve written in a while.

Q: Least weird? No robots and dinosaurs? No tigers fights or rocket packs? No amputation fetishists?

A: Well, it still has some weird sprinkled in. There is a mysterious carnival barker on a corner down the street from the kids. He keeps muttering this strange sideshow bally about expectations and possibilities.

Q: You play the Barker, right? Where’d he come from?

A: I play the Barker. He’s based a little on those Coney Island pitchmen and on Jonathon Pryce’s character in the movie “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Which is a movie that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

Q: What prompted you to write Raspberry Fizz?

A: I had the idea of two 12 year olds talking on a street corner in mind, as an image, for a while. I went through a Norman Rockwell phase, too, and the idea to set it in the late 1940s seemed to fit. Originally, I envisioned it as a two-hander, kind of spinning out a simple dilemma into an interesting yearn. For thematic purposes, I put the Barker in and the play became what it is today.

Q: This is not the first production. This show premiered at the Out of the Loop Festival at Addison’s Water Tower Theatre is March 2012. Why remount  it?

A: Yeah, the play premiered at the Out of the Loop. It went up a week after I got married. Usually, I direct my own plays, but at the time I was busy, uh, planning and being in a wedding. Andy Baldwin directed it. It had Jeff Swearingen, Natalie Young and Shane Beeson in it. They did a wonderful job. This past summer I was invited to the Houston Fringe Festival and I decided to take Raspberry Fizz. I recast it with Travis Stuebing and Tashina Richardson. I stepped in to play the Barker, a role I had originally written for myself to play anyway. This show, with different people and slight rewrites, came out different than Andy’s production. Since we had rehearsed it and put so much work into it, and I was proud of it, we thought it a shame just to do it for three shows in Houston and call it quits. Plus, Travis, Tashina and I have a great time working together. So, we are extending the production for these Saturday afternoon shows here in Dallas. Local audiences can get a chance to see the show.

Q: Saturday afternoons? That is not a traditional time for theatre.

A: Seemed to fit the tone of the shows. Plus, it means we can use the venue in the day time while other productions happen at night. Utilizing resources and all. I'll admit, the afternoon slot is a hard sell. That's why I'm trying to get the word out. Like a lot of theatre productions around the area, audiences usually really enjoy it. It is just a matter of initially getting them through the front door.

Q: You’ve paired it with a curtain-opener, too, right? Tell us about that.

A: Yeah. I have this little 20 minute one-woman piece by Brooklyn-based artist A. V. Phibes called Grading On A Curve. It is about a nihilistic woman who goes on extreme fasts and develops cannibalistic tendencies, especially for fingers. Then one day, she meets a man with no fingers, but flashy lobster-claws, and falls in love. It is weird and wonderful and because it is so short, it is hard to present anywhere. The excellent Lauren Moore performs it before Raspberry Fizz. The two pieces go surprisingly well together as companion pieces. Together, the running time of the two shows is just over an hour.

Q: What’s next for you and Audacity Theatre Lab?

A:  We’re taking a break during the holidays and will be back in January with Andy Eninger’s solo show The Last Castrato. Jeff Swearingen will perform it. It is a co-production between Audacity and his company Fun House Theatre. The show involves a man born without a penis who falls in love with a girl who was born with her skin inside out. That will also be at the Margo Jones Theatre. Then in the spring we are hoping to produce a solo performance festival, the first of its kind in Dallas. We have some other irons in the fire, too. We’ll see what materializes.

Q: Details on Raspberry Fizz please.

A: The show will be playing Saturdays at 2:00 PM, November 16, 23, 30 and December 7 at the historic Margo Jones Theatre at the Magnolia Lounge, Fair Park, 1121 First Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210. Tickets are $10 suggested donation at the door. More information at:

Original posting HERE

Nov 22, 2013

Waiting for a New Godot or Working with Small-Batch Theatre

World premiere production of Waiting for Godot:
Pierre Latour (Estragon), Roger Blin (Pozzo), Lucien Raimbourg (Vladimir) and Jean Martin (Lucky) 

Samuel Beckett's En Attendant Godot debuted in January 1953, when it was performed at the short-lived Théâtre de Babylone in Paris.

En Attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) almost never saw the light of day. It was rejected by thirty-five would-be theater directors before it was passed to Roger Blin by the playwright's wife, Suzanne.

For some, the manuscript was some kind of joke. For others it was a pile of steaming unplayable, incomprehensible nonsense. For other would-be backers, this Beckett fellow represented a swaggering newcomer who claimed to bring something new to the table. "Respectable" theatres in Paris at the time simply did not do experimental little plays like Godot.

Blin had just recently taken over the small 233-seat theatre from Jean-Marie Serreau. The venue had opened in May of 1952 and by December of that same year it hovered on bankruptcy. That's when Blin took over. Unfortunately, by September of 1954, less than two years later the venue would close due to financial difficulties.

There were no famous names or big funders to back the play. Instead the whole thing depended on the actor/ director Roger Blin to hustle for cash and a venue - and once it had opened it relied on word of mouth for survival.

The Théâtre de Babylone was one of the fabled pocket theatres of post-war Paris. Small, progressive venues that ran on shoe-string budgets and were adventurous and intellectual. The Théâtre de Babylone had been the offices of a magazine previous to its short life as a more or less, makeshift, theatre facility.

This concept of small "pocket" theatre is not dead. Nowadays, it goes by several names: boutique theatre, micro-theatre, indie theatre, or my own preference... small-batch theatre.

The boutique moniker is interesting in its connotations. These days, if you want to position your offering as small, exclusive, fashionable and up-market, all you need to do is append 'boutique' to its description. We have clothing boutiques, boutique hotels and even boutique wine stores. Art galleries have understood the appeal for decades. But we're also seeing the emergence of the boutique theatre, an intimate performance space, seating between 40 and 150 people, often located in a nontraditional, converted or informal setting.

Though boutique theatre sounds so much more genteel and refined, these little venues are not necessarily all high-end or schmancy. Most are quaint, quirky, trendy or even a little bit strange (think the living room vibe of Dixon Place in NYC).

What these pocket-sized performance places have in common is that they provide alternative spaces for artists and shows that don’t fit into the mainstream cookie-cutter mold.

Contemporary pocket theatres are also important incubators for new talent. They serve as space in which to test, refine and debut new work, particularly experimental, adventurous and boundary-breaking productions. And this scrappy "under dog" approach may be exactly what theatre needs to survive and maybe even move forward in contemporary America.

The downside of such small venues is that often they can seldom afford to sustain long runs — a week or two at most. This means that word of mouth seldom has time to kick in. Plus, it is easy to write off these small theatres. Because these intimate venues do away with pomp and ceremony and let the spotlight fall on live, original performance and a memorable all-round theatre experience, they can be targeted, in rather smug uninformed ways, as places where no real "serious" theatre is going on.

Small is also sometimes code for amateur. Community theatres are "small." For somethong to be percieved as professional, shouldn't it be in a large downtown venue with pay-to-park lots and big ticket prices? This is especially true in Dallas, where the emphasis is on new and novel, big and bold. Dallas is a hard place for small things.

The Margo Jones Theatre at the Magnolia Longue in Fair Park, Dallas TX.

I am interested in this sort of thing because my small company Audacity recently moved into a new home base venue in Dallas. We, along with a few other tiny companies, share the Margo Jones Theatre inside the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park. It has quite a history. Besides the several companies involved with keeping the facility up and operational, it is currently rented out to pretty much any one on a a first-come-first-served basis. And at an incredibly affordable rate. This is to say, it is incredibly uncurated.

What this means is that many different groups and individuals pass through the space. Some have more respect for the venue than others and those of us helping with the venue are finding that we are constantly trying to get the space back into a presentable, neutral, useable fashion after every. single. production.

The guy who holds the lease and, for the most part, is there the most, mentioned to me the other day a list of improvements to the space that may be materializing next year. I said that was great and I looked forward to the space getting better and more user-friendly. I was tired of the messy, scattered, jumbled, unorganized wreck of a place the venue seemed to constantly teeter on. Because renters leave the space in a ramshackle condition after they move out and there is no time, or resources to clean before the next group comes in (remember, no one is PAID to facilitate the space), the theatre is in a constant state of mess. I guess renters assume SOMEONE will take care of how they trashed the space, or dispose of the unwanted set pieces left behind, or repair the small damages they have caused. But there is NO ONE designated to do this. What gets done at all is done by the generosity of the artists helping to facilitate the space. The audience is, of course, exposed to this ramshackle space. It gives all the productions in the space a shabby, cheap vibe. It's thrift-store/DIY aesthetic had started to work against the quality of the art in the space.

The guy looked at me and said, "Well, it's your space..."

And with that, I shut up. Apparently, I had been looking at the little 75-seat venue all wrong. I was complaining about a dilemma, with the same obliviousness as the renters, as if someone else was going to fix the problems and present the solution to me. But, if I wanted things to change, I was going to have to be one of the agents of that change. This is how I approached making my art. So, why would it be different when it comes to how and where that art is presented?

But what exactly did I want and need out of the Margo Jones Theatre?

I guess I am looking for a place where the next Waiting for Godot could happen. A clean, neutral, even quirky place to develop my projects, to do my theatre company's productions. A place that doesn't get in the way of the shows, but instead works in coordination with the art within its walls.

I do not want to manage or facilitate a performance space. This has been a defining decision up to this point in the history of Audacity. The company stays small and nimble. We have worked hard to keep the usual administrative things out of the way so we could simply be creating the shows. Things like outreach, constant fund-raising and spending time running a venue draw time and energy away from actually making theatre. I leave this stuff to institutions. This is one of the reasons Audacity has stayed so small and scrappy all these years. There is freedom in compactness. But...

Something has to change. As a venue run by committee (especially, a committe of artists) no one individual sees that day-to-day things are done. Everyone assumes someone else is taking care of things.The space at the Margo Jones Theatre needs attention. It needs some systems in place to make it user-friendly. And, I'm facing the fact that I'll need to be a part of it.

A welcoming and, more importantly, affordable performance space is a boon to Dallas. The Margo Jones Theatre could be the little pocket theatre where a new Waiting for Godot could happen. Or, as an artist-run entity, it could devolve into unorganized chaos. Or, the City could realize what is here in this little corner of Fair Park and swoop in and take it all away.

And if the Margo Jones Theatre ultimately ends up not to be that place, so be it. Audacity will move about as urban nomads until we find the pocket theatre we need.

For now, MJT has all the potential. We'll see what happens...

NOTE: (April 2, 2019) As of January 2019, the City of Dallas has allowed Fair Park to be privatized. The new key-holders are a group that includes the nonprofit Fair Park First and Spectra, a Comcast-owned food-and-entertainment company that manages 319 properties around the country. It is doubtful that the Margo Jones Theatre will stay an affordable venue for small arts groups.

Nov 20, 2013

A New Game

Me performing in my small "fringe" show RASPBERRY FIZZ at the 2013 Houston Fringe.
Yeah, I'm outdoors. Three actors total. Small but mighty.
Here's a game: Which is more powerful? A lion or a salmon?
Now, same question, but this time let us put some context to it. Let us specify that the location is in the middle of a raging river.

Get what's going on?

I changed the game.

I read an article lately that pointed out something everyone in the theatre arts already knows... it is virtually impossible to become wealthy, let alone make a consistent and solid living wage in the theatre. Even so-called "stars" of the industry - Tony winners and the like - struggle to earn a decent living and can spend entire careers floating from job to job. The big payday is rare and hard to come by.

The part of the article that sticks out to me is this statement:
For playwrights, that huge payday happens only if their musical migrates from Broadway to a long, healthy life on the road, or their spoken-word play becomes the latest bauble of the regional-theater season.
I don't write plays that usually become "the latest bauble of the regional-theater season." 

I purposely write small plays, designed to have high impact through strangeness, humor and thematic unity. I write plays designed to be performed by one to five actors on sparse sets. I write plays that are designed to be seen by a few dozen people at a time, not hundreds.

So where does that leave me? In a career that is already under-compensated I operate far out on the fringes from the kinds of theatre that even comes close to occasionally making money for its creator. That small slice in the core of the mainstream is already too small to go around in the hyper competitive fields of theatre. Whether a director, actor or playwright, on any given day there will be hundreds and hundreds of fellow artists competing against you for the limited number of productions, gigs, grants, fellowships, residencies and so on.

Plus, there's this:
"You soon discover that there’s a small circle of megastar directors whom the critics love and managers employ, who get most of the work. It’s often mysterious the way that some directors suddenly emerge and are lionized, while others languish in obscurity.”
That seems true. The best person doesn't always win. It is a matter of context, I suppose. A lion in freezing rapids is virtually helpless while a salmon on the Serengeti is probably dead. The industry really is who you know and how good your timing is. Sometimes, I think it is arbitrary who breaks through to recognition. It is seldom the most talented or the most individual or the most anything. Often it is just some mediocre artist who maybe marketed themselves a little better than everyone else, or had an uncle who played golf with so and so.

So, here I am. A playwright of very idiosyncratic kinds of plays. These plays, I know, are not the kinds that the market usually allows to make it to the top tiers of the industry*. Even if I were to be that sort of playwright, the bulk of jobs go to a small circle of folks who know the right people. This is a dilemma.

Think about it. You do, as a profession, something that has little "market" value**. As this professional, you specialize in a particularly far-a-field subset of that industry. How do you make a valid career out of that? How do you make a career out of a game so rigged and undervalued?

Me? I change the game.

I stop putting energy into trying to compete for regional theatre productions. I produce my own plays. I produce the same piece more than once to expand audiences and hedge my odds of  making money back, of making a small, small profit. I resign myself to having to teach and do day jobs to make a living. These jobs have nothing to do with the creation of personal, idiosyncratic theatre. I resign myself to having to make a billion tiny steps instead of big steps to get from one career level to another.

I don't just change the game... I make a new one.

* The "top tier" in the theatre is a very narrow market-friendly aesthetic.
** The market favors cinematic acting, domestic content like family dramas or social issues and accessibility.

Nov 14, 2013

The Cave Man Principle and the Theatre

Sometimes, over a few too many beers, I get in a tiresome conversation with fellow theatre types who start to piss and moan that theatre is a dying art. And while I think it is not nearly as relevant as it may have been at one time in history, it is not dying any more than any other traditional media is quote-unquote dying
My would-be conversational partners then become armchair futurists and make drunken claims that television and movies were wearisome, but now the Internet, in particular, is the juggernaut that will swallow live theatre. How can theatre compete? Theatre performed live for an audience in real time will soon be seen only in museums.
And here is what I point out... that actually, the internet is just one more thing, and not even in the same category as theatre. The two things are not direct competitors. 
Of course, the Internet has changed the entire media landscape, especially as media giants ponder over how to earn revenue on the Internet. But, seriously, it is not even close to wiping out TV, radio and cinemas... let alone live theatre. The lights of arts venue marquees still glow as brightly as ever.
The reasoning I give for this is based on something I read about a year and half ago in Michio Kaku's excellent book The Physics of the Future.
Kaku points out that humans have changed little since caveman days. That is to say, genetic and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans, who looked just like us, emerged from Africa more than 100,000 years ago. The thing is, there is no evidence that our brains and personalities have changed much since then. Basically, if you took someone from that period, he would be anatomically identical to us. Further, Kaku points out, if you gave him a bath and a shave, put him in a suit, and then dumped him on Wall Street, he would be physically indistinguishable from everyone else. Along with this, then, our wants, dreams, personalities, and desires have probably not changed much in 100,000 years either. We probably still pretty much think like our caveman ancestors.
This is where Kaku's "Cave Man Principle" comes into play. No matter what technology arises, we still default to our primitive desires time after time. Kaku explains that our forebears always demanded “proof of the kill.” 
It was never enough to brag about the big one that got away. Having the fresh animal in our hands was always preferable to telling a whooper about the one that got away. In the same way, we want hard copy whenever we deal with files. We instinctively don’t trust the electrons swimming in our computer screen, so we print our e—mails and reports, even when it’s not really necessary. That’s why the paperless office never came to be.
Also, Kaku states, our ancestors always seemed to like face—to—face encounters. This helped us to bond with others and to read their hidden emotions. Our cave man ancestors, many thousands of years before they developed speech, used body language almost exclusively to convey their thoughts and emotions.
This is the reason, Kaku says, why cybertourism never really succeeded. Sure you can see a picture of the Sistine Chapel, but it’s another thing to have the bragging rights of actually seeing it in person. In a similar way, listening to a CD of your favorite singer is not the same as feeling the sudden rush when actually seeing this musician in a live concert, surrounded by all the excitement, vibes, and noise. This means that even though we will be able to download realistic images of our favorite drama or celebrity, there is nothing like actually seeing the drama on stage or seeing the actor perform in person. Fans go to great lengths to get autographed pictures and concert tickets of their favorite celebrity, although they can download a picture from the Internet for free.
Kaku states:
"[The Cave Man Principle] explains why the prediction that the Internet would wipe out TV and radio never came to pass. When the movies and radio first came in, people bewailed the death of live theater. When TV came in, people predicted the demise of the movies and radio. We are living now with a mix of all these media. The lesson is that one medium never annihilates a previous one but coexists with it. It is the mix and relationship among these media that constantly change."
See, our ancient ancestors always wanted to observe or experience something for themselves. they didn't want to rely on hearsay. It was crucial for survival in the forest to rely on actual physical evidence rather than rumors. Kaku is confident that even far into the future, we humans will still have live theatre just as we will still chase celebrities. It is an ancient heritage of our distant past..
"So there is a continual competition between High Tech and High Touch, that is, sitting in a chair watching TV versus reaching out and touching things around us. In this competition, we will want both. That is why we still have live theater, rock concerts, paper, and tourism in the age of cyberspace and virtual reality. But if we are offered a free picture of our favorite celebrity musician or actual tickets to his concert, we will take the tickets, hands down."
So Kaku's Cave Man Principle is a wonderful argument against any notion of the theatre dying out. We humans prefer to have it all... we'll take both the actual and the digital (and everything in between).As more stuff comes along, we just make more room to fold more stuff into our lives. But, here's the deal: if given a choice we will chose the live, first-hand experience, like our cavemen ancestors.
Interested in the book? Check it out... HERE

Nov 11, 2013

CHOP at SoloMania Fest

CHOP in performance at Shadow Box Theatre, 2013 SoloMania Fest

I took my little solo show CHOP to New Orleans this past weekend. It went over well. Had some unique time slots (11 PM on Friday and 12:30 PM on Sunday), so smallish audiences, but got really positive feedback from most of the folks who saw it.

Nov 7, 2013

CHOP goes out on a limb

Brad McEntire's Chop Goes Out On a Limb

By Elaine Liner / November 5, 2013 / For the Mixmaster on

McEntire performing CHOP at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival

"Do you really cut into someone's arm with an axe?" Dallas-based playwright and performer Brad McEntire hears this question almost every time he performs his kinky solo show Chop. "An uncomfortable number of times, actually," he says.

Since premiering at WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in 2010, Chop has played at venues and festivals in Phoenix, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Portland, Seattle and New York. November 8-10 McEntire will perform it at the first SoloMania Festival at the Shadowbox Theatre in New Orleans. It's one of only a few out-of-town shows chosen for the eight-day, 29-play festival founded by a group of New Orleans solo artists.

Chop features McEntire as a lonely man whose life changes when he meets a strange tattooed woman who introduces him to a subculture of amputation fetishists. The topic -- the clinical name is acrotomophilia, referring to people who are sexually obsessed with amputees and then there's apotemnophilia, concerning people who are compelled to have unnecessary amputations-- draws great interest from two specific slices of the audience, McEntire says.

"The best have been the times I'm approached by sex therapists, which has happened a few times," says McEntire. "They just start chit-chatting with me after the show. One person had a patient who actually had apotemnophilia. It is a conversation-starter kind of show, I guess."

Then there are occasional fetishists of different kinds, attracted to Chop by its unique focus on what turns particular people on. But what they see, says McEntire, isn't exploitation of a certain group's macabre sexuality but a dark comedy about a man looking for love and connection.

McEntire explains that his inspiration for Chop began with his feelings of intense isolation during a gig in Hong Kong teaching English to Chinese high schoolers. "I didn't get along in Hong Kong all that much. I had a lot of good friends there and became part of the ex-pat arts community, but I stuck out like a sore thumb and my outlook on the world did not fit there at all. I started writing the play in 2007 while I was in Hong Kong." 

Growing up in Carrollton, McEntire, now 38, studied theater and performance arts at the College of Santa Fe. After appearing in the New York Fringe Festival in the summer of 2001, he flew back to Dallas on September 10 that year for what he thought would be a short visit home. Essentially stuck after 9/11, he ended up staying in Texas.

He founded Audacity Productions (now Audacity Theatre Lab) and started a working and performing partnership with actor-writer Jeff Swearingen (they co-starred in McEntire's comedy Dinosaur and Robot Stop a Train at this year's Festival of Independent Theatres). McEntire also got married and settled into a life of making theatre and "hustling jobs" to keep his creative life going. To make ends meet, McEntire teaches college film and theater classes, works with Junior Players and occasionally unloads trucks at the Container Store.

Since 2008, McEntire has written and performed half a dozen plays, with a special interest in solo shows. "A resurgience of regional theaters starting to look at solo performance as a 'thing' came with I Am My Own Wife, the Doug Wright play," says McEntire. "One of my credos is that theatre artists should be instigators. With solo shows, you can take control of your whole production, from the idea right down to the moment you're putting pictures in the scrapbook after the performance. For us self-initiating types, solo performance is fantastic." 

In May 2014 McEntire will produce Dallas' first all-solo festival at the Margo Jones Theatre at Fair Park (formerly called the Magnolia Lounge). He says he wants the event to "have a fringe feel" but he's handpicking performers and inviting a "really diverse" group of artists to participate. "One of the great things about Dallas is that if you invite out-of-town actors to perform here, they really feel that Texas hospitality. When I leave Texas and go to other places, I start to realize how hospitable we are here," says McEntire. 

In New Orleans for Chop, McEntire says he's hoping audiences don't think his play is some sort of autobiographical freak show. But for real, does he cut into somebody? "I do use an axe in the show..." he says and then adds, " It makes a very percussive sound, actually." 

"I guess because I'm talking about amputation fetishes and limbs coming off, the description of it makes people's minds go to work. It took me by surprise that some people could be distraught over potentially seeing this play. I just think of it as a dark comedy and a romance," says McEntire.

Make that a romance on the cutting edge. 

Chop plays November 8-10 as part of the SoloMania Festival at the Shadowbox Theatre, 2400 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans. For tickets and additional information visit the festival's website.

See original article HERE.

[NOTE: this article has been altered slightly on this blog from the originally published version to allow for factual corrections]