BADA Newsletter May 2015
British American Drama Academy Newsletter
Tennessee Williams famously wrote, “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.” It’s advice that’s been taken to heart with an impressive commitment by a variety of BADA alumni who’ve decided that the best way to navigate the turbulent seas of a career in the theater is to become captains of their own ships. NATHAN ALLEN (LTP ‘98-9), ASHLEY-MARIE QUIJANO (LTP ’10) and WILL CROUSE (MIO ‘09) have co-founded theater companies – The House Theatre, Odradek Theatre, and The Poor Theatre, respectively – in order to create for themselves the kind of work they’re most interested in doing, and have done so in a city, Chicago, which they find to be uniquely welcoming. It’s a phenomenon among BADA alums that appears to be on the rise, which no doubt has something to do with the consistently expressed belief of BADA’s Dean and Director, Ian Wooldridge, that young theater practitioners shouldn’t wait for someone else to make their creative lives possible. Nathan, Ashley-Marie and Will recently shared with BADA’s David Byron the impetus behind their collective voyages and the ways in which their time at BADA helped set them on their courses. Tennessee Williams would no doubt approve. Ian certainly does.
David: Tell me about your theater and how you came to co-found it.
Nathan: Well, it really began at BADA, when I fell in love with the diversity of training. You could get anything you needed or wanted out of that program if you just worked for it and asked for it. BADA supported me spending my time well, exploring and experimenting. Physical theater, Complicité, and Mark Rylance at The Globe – it was all so fresh and exciting and new. All these ingredients conspired to make me think, when I returned to the States, that I wasn’t going to be happy working in the kind of American theater I was seeing. So I figured I needed to start my own thing and somehow suckered a bunch of my BADA friends to start up The House Theatre, which has got to be the most “BADArific” company in Chicago! There’s me, there’s Dennis Watkins, there’s Lauren Vitz, Mike Smith, and Carolyn Defrin. We had an idea about combining the kind of stagecraft that I found so inspiring in London and in my work at BADA and the sort of ensemble aesthetic that Ian was teaching and that I got from being directed by him. I was interested in how a group can create – what I think is now called “devising” -- together and then mixing that with really earnest, Aristotelian ideals and an interest in character and excellent acting.
Ashley-Marie: Odradek came about partly as a result of my time at BADA. The play we were doing for the end of term production was “Metamorphosis,” and my friend, Jonathan Wikholm, who later founded the company with me, was in Chicago, reading a Kafka short story, “The Cares of a Family Man,” about a weird little creature called Odradek, who makes this man constantly question everything about his existence and puts him into the middle of a crisis and is said will outlive us all. So we’re trying now, with Odradek Theater, to create art that is bigger than ourselves and outlives us.
We've had a lot of BADA alums involved with the company, including my classmates, Rachel Copel and Micah Figueroa. The BADA community is actually very connected in Chicago. (In fact, it was Nathan Allen who came to my college and spoke about BADA, which is how I first heard about it.) We just wanted to see if we could do it with the limited resources we had, but also the support of the community. We raised the money and did a ten performance run in a tiny theater with no tech capabilities. And it was great because it proved to us that we could do it and that everything we’d been taught worked.
Will: I co-founded The Poor Theatre with Michael Medford, a fellow BADA student, and named it after Grotowsky’s “Towards a Poor Theatre.” What he was always looking at was, What is theater essentially? Does it need lights? Does it need sets? No, what it boils down to is people on a stage. And I’ve always loved that, and that, at the core, is what our company is about: human-to-human interaction. The Poor Theatre is an actor-based company; we strip it of as much spectacle as we can and pare the focus down to just the living, breathing human interaction onstage. Our goals are big; we want to be the next Steppenwolf, we want to be one of the next, major, Equity theaters in the country. If that's going to happen it's going to take a lot of dedication from Day One.
Ashley-Marie: At BADA you develop a real community, so when we all left, we all wanted to take our little BADA family and go somewhere and keep it going. And for me, Chicago was always on my radar because you can succeed in your efforts at a young age. The audiences come out to see young people’s work in a big way because the city wants to support emerging artists in a way that I don’t think New York and L.A. do. The city wants us to succeed and the critics come and review your work and make the effort. There’s really only a small step between storefront theater and big house theater. Someone might be doing theater in a tiny space and then three months later they’re at the Lookingglass because someone saw their work. That community is tight.
And in Chicago, the quality of work is not necessarily dependent upon the amount of money spent on it. You can go to small theaters and the work that they’re creating is as good and often better than the quality of the work at the big theaters. The shows just extend and extend. It’s the small space that creates a human experience.
Also, in terms of playwrights, I have friends in New York who can’t afford to get their work produced for more than a weekend, whereas if they bring it to Chicago we can give them a full two months’ run. And the reviewers then have a chance to see it because the run is longer. So in Chicago, we can afford to make plays and the critics have the time to come see them.
The scene here is gritty, you get your hands dirty and the people are scrappy and so there’s just a lot of heart coming out of the people who are making work.
Nathan: Chicago is a livable city, where you don’t have to sell your soul to pay your rent, where an actor can have his day job and raise a family, while rehearsing at night and participating in their vocation. There’s a lot of commercial work here, voiceover work, video game stuff…
Will: It’s the best place to start a theater company in the country. In L.A., theater just isn’t as prized as it is in Chicago or New York, and in New York it’s prohibitively expensive. In Chicago, theater is cheaper to produce, there’s a thriving community, there are a ton of actors, both young and old, who want work and are non-Equity, and it’s a town where being a young company is respected, it’s not snubbed. Everyone recognizes that the next great company will start from nothing, from shows in basements. Audiences here think, “Maybe the next great thing I’ll see will be in some abandoned building.”
And there’s a huge population of theater-goers here who aren’t practitioners. It’s a population that recognizes that they live in a city known for great theater. And the community is just so collaborative. You know, I ask the Artistic Directors of other major Equity companies for advice on casting, for advice on running my company, they want to sit down and talk, they want to help. It’s unique.
Did BADA have an impact on the work you’re doing now?
|L to R: Dillon Kelleher, Abbey Smith, Michael Medford, Will Crouse|
Will: Absolutely. I think BADA is great because it helps you find like-minded theater people, so almost any city you end up in, hey, there are a lot of other BADA alums there and you know them or get to know them quite easily. For Michael and me – we started a theater company because of the bond we formed overseas.
Ashley-Marie: BADA gave me a sense of community, which I wanted to bring with me back to the States. I went to North Park University in Chicago to learn about storefront theater, then went to BADA because I wanted to work on and polish my craft as an actor and marry the two: quality process as an actor and as a theater deviser.
Also, that BADA connection is lovely; it instantly plugs you into people, so that when I got to Chicago, BADA alums welcomed me into their tribe.
And every time I reach out to Ian, even though I know he’s really busy, he always gets back to me, so there’s never this feeling of “You’re done and that’s it.” I always feel like I have a resource within that BADA-in-London community.
Nathan: It was at BADA that I got to study with Mick Barnfather and other members of Complicité and then, most specifically, Ian, of course, and then Selina Cadell, who I would now count as my artistic mentor. It was this eye-opening training in the classics that was not at all realist or Stanislavskian, but more about poetry and text and imagination. And then seeing things like “Street of Crocodiles.“ If I had to credit one moment in the theater that changed my direction it was that. Our first show, “Death and Harry Houdini,” was a straight ape of “Street of Crocodiles!"
Anyway, to tie the community of Chicago theater to the BADA community: it has to do with the idea that what we do is not only an art and a craft that we take very seriously, but also a service. Looking back on it now I can see a direct line. And I find that very moving.
“The Hammer Trinity” runs at The House Theatre until May 3, then in Miami as part of the Arsht Center anniversary season starting May, 2016. www.thehousetheatre.com
“Take Me Back” runs as part of The Poor Theatre season at Collaboraction Theater, the Pentagon Room, from July 13 through August 2. www.thepoortheatre.org
“Hobohemia” runs as part of the Odradek Theatre season at Bughouse Theatre until May 3. “Mixtape” opens in June, 2015. www.odradektheatre.com
Did you know?
Did you know that Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company was also co-founded by a BADA alum? David Schwimmer (MIO '85) helped to found the Company in 1988 and has acted in and directed several productions.
Join the American Friends of BADA and your fellow alums for two nights of sonnets, scenes, monologues and merriment to raise scholarship funds to support students attending BADA's programs.
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SAVE THE DATES - INVITATIONS TO FOLLOW THIS SUMMER!
On March 12th, more than 40 alums, friends, and family joined Dean & Director Ian Wooldridge to see Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at the Pearl Theater in New York. The production starred BADA Faculty member Peter Francis James and featured alum Steve Cuiffo (LTP '97/'98). Click here to see photos from the post-show discussion!
On March 14th, a small group of BADA alums, friends, and family got together for the first AFBADA event in Chicago: a visit to the American Theater Company to see The Royale, starring BADA alum Jerod Haynes (MIO '12). Click here to see photos and a video excerpt from the talkback with Jerod and the cast!
TJ Miller (MIO '00) is starring in the second season of HBO's hit comedy series Silicon Valley; UK Theatre Award Best Supporting Performance;
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