Monday, September 17, 2012

Money Makes the World Go 'Round

So I haven't blogged in a while.  Deal with it.

Today's blog is about our core company philosophy of putting our people first.  What does it mean?  Why do we want to do that?  How do we plan on doing it?  Who cares about people anyway?

People first.  Doesn't that sound pretty?  I'd put it on an Occupy sign, for sure.  But what does it actually mean?  Well, for us it means valuing the people who make theatre over everything else.  And on a practical level, it means paying those people for their work before we even think about spending money on anything else (that isn't absolutely essential to our performance).  Now would be a good point to mention that I have nothing against theatre companies that spend money on their space/lighting/set/etc. before they pay the actors a stipend.  Mainly because of that last bit: they pay the actors a stipend.  If I did have a problem with that, I wouldn't be working much.  But we want to do things differently.

When I started getting people together for this group, paying the actors was always a priority.  And that was because, first and foremost, I'm an actor.  I know what it feels like to see an audition posting that offers "No Pay."  And I don't mean "Small Stipend" or "Share of Ticket Sales."  That's totally fine.  Theatres don't have a lot of money.  I mean "No Pay."  And it feels insulting.  I feel insulted when I see that a company is willing to spend money on a space, on lights, on a set of some kind, on all kinds of things, before they are willing to spend a dime on me.  And the big problem I have with that is (as discussed way back in a prior blog) that none of these things are necessary for theatre.  You don't need a cool stage.  You don't need fancy lighting.  You don't need a cool set.  Don't get me wrong, all those things are gravy.  But you can't have a show without actors.  Period.

So when I see an audition posting where the company clearly is going to spend money on all of those things but not on the cast, I don't submit.  Because it's deeply insulting to me that someone believes I'm not as valuable as a lighting grid.  That's why we're paying our actors before we even dream of paying for a rental space.  We'll go wherever we can, on the lowest possible budget, and any money we receive from performances is first paid back to the actors.

Because that's how we roll.  Or because we're dirty, filthy communists.  Probably the second one.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is Daniel Tosh Ever Funny?

I know this bucks the internet trend, but I actually took some time to think about the whole Tosh/rape-joke flap before responding to it.  So hopefully this is at least a semi-reasoned response instead of a knee-jerk yelp at the whole issue.

First, why am I even posting about this instead of continuing our light-hearted romp through the land of street theatre?  Well, it's right there in our mission statement: "There is no topic that we deem sacred, because once you put something above laughter, it stops being a human experience."  And it certainly seems that the entire Daniel Tosh situation would put that statement to the test.  Do we actually believe what we say?  Are certain topics taboo?

I don't want to really deal with Tosh and his comments, because he's already suffering the wrath of the public on that, and because what he said was pretty obviously out of line.  Should he have said what he said?  Nope.  Should the woman at whom the response was directed have tried to turn a stand-up show into an open forum on Rape Trauma Syndrome?  Probably not.  But I'll leave the debates about how comedians respond to hecklers to people who actually do stand-up.  I'd instead like to focus on where the backlash has ended: with people actually taking sides on the statement of the woman who brought this whole thing into the light.  Is rape ever funny?

Rape is a horrific, traumatic, inexcusable crime.  Far too many women (and men) are brutally victimized every year, and our best guess is that most of them still suffer in silence.  Though I've known victims of rape and read some of the literature on the subject, I have absolutely no inkling how it feels to experience such callous violence.  Likewise, I have no idea how it would feel to be a victim of rape and hear someone tell a joke, any joke, about the subject.  And yet, I think it's still possible for it to be funny.

Is that because I'm a chauvinistic, arrogant, ignorant son of a bitch who ought to be castrated and dragged through the public square?  I'd like to think that I'm not a chauvinist, but the rest may apply.  I think it has more to do with the fact that I've heard/seen comedians (not Daniel Tosh) tell rape jokes and be extremely funny.  Here are a few of the big names that come to the top of my head: William Shakespeare, Sarah Silverman, Louie C.K., Seth Macfarlane, Tre Parker and Matt Stone.  The list is probably much longer.  The point is that these comedians have done jokes about rape, and no one's taken them to task for it.  Why is that?  Well, I'd imagine that it's because their jokes were funny.

Now, maybe I'm just biased because I don't think that Daniel Tosh is all that funny, but his off-the-cuff response didn't make me laugh.  I'm not sure that it would have made me laugh in context, either.  It seemed like a desperate attempt to wrest control of a show back from a heckler, and it fell flat.  But that doesn't mean the whole subject is taboo.  It just means that his joke wasn't funny.

Some people have argued that rape can't be something we joke about because it impacts so many people in such a significant way.  After all, if 1 in 4 women experience a sexual assault, then it's a good bet that a few of them are in your audience.  I take strong exception to this point, however, because one could say the same thing about almost any topic.  In an given audience, one can expect to see people whose lives have been touched by cancer, suicide, murder, physical/mental abuse, assault, terrorism, addiction, HIV, incest, genocide, war, child prostitution, and a whole host of other tragedies.  If comedians stopped joking about every topic that people might feel offended by, they'd be out of material.  And this isn't some new phenomenon of "shock comedy".  Comedy has always been, on some level, about shocking the audience and pushing limits.

So I guess the ultimate point here is that rape can be funny.  So can a lot of other horrible things.  In fact, humor is a great coping mechanism for many people who have suffered some of the worst things that our world has to experience.  We're sticking to our mission statement, and I'll close with that: "Once you put something above laughter, it stops being a human experience."  Now please don't throw things at me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Takin' it to the Streets Part 1

This post will be the first in a series of (hopefully informative/interesting) pieces explaining our mission statement in more detail.  Sure, the mission statement sounds snazzy, and our tweets are Tweet-tastic.  But for those of you who crave information that goes beyond the 140-character sound byte, this Bud's for you.  Except it's not a Bud.  It's more like a hand-crafted beer that you get at one of those trendy bars.

But enough about alcohol, let's talk about street theatre.

As you may have gathered from our mission statement (or even from our clever, clever name), The Landless Gentry is going to be doing the bulk of our work in public spaces.  But why?  Don't we want our own space?  Don't we want to sell tickets in advance?  Don't we want season subscribers?  Won't we miss the thrill of having the curtain go up at 8:00?  In order: we'll explain here, someday, maybe, sure, and the last time I sat in a theatre with an actual curtain, it was a pantomime in England, and I was 7 years old.

We're a Commedia troupe (for more, see the "What is Commedia dell'Arte" tab).  Commedia started as street performance, so we're going to try and honor that as best we can.  But we don't just want to do that because it's "historically accurate".  Street performance is the soul of Commedia.  These guys used to roll into town on their cart, set up in the square and perform for everyone who was there, which often meant the entire village.  If they did well, they'd get to eat and stay at the inn for the night, and they'd have the chance to perform again for the same privileges the next day.  If they didn't do well, they were chased out of town with torches and pitchforks.  While I'm sure some theatre critics would welcome back the angry mobs of yore, I think I speak for actors everywhere when I say that I'm glad that things have changed.

So while we won't face the threat of stabbing/burning (knock on wood), we're going to keep true to the spirit of that performance by staying in public spaces.  Our audiences will be composed of the people that decide to stop and watch and, assuming we play our cards right, those dedicated fans who decide to come see our performance for the day.  Here's the important thing: we won't charge for these shows.  You don't have to pay a dime to see us work.  We'll be passing the hat and the end of the performance, because we'd like you to pay us if you enjoyed the show.  If you didn't, then we'll just have to keep starving until we get funny.

Now, we've only talked about our reasons for doing street performance as they relate to us as actors and the Commedia as a tradition.  Tune in next time for a discussion about why this is good for our audience.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fuck it, We'll Do it Live!

The Landless Gentry are officially Live (tm) on the internet.  That means that our new homepage (, our Twitter feed (!/LandlessGentry), and our Facebook fan page ( are all up and (mostly) running!


What does this mean for you, dear reader?  It means that you can "Like" us into oblivion on all manner of social media.  We're blogging in the Facebook, tweeting on the blogosphere, and we're exposing ourselves on Twitter.  We're not just part of the machine; we are the machine.

And remember, following us, liking us, and bookmarking our pages doesn't just make us look more popular, it keeps you up to date with all the latest happenings.  And believe me, there will be a lot of happenings in the next few weeks.  A quick preview of coming attractions:
  • Watch our Twitter and Facebook feeds to learn about the First Annual Gentrification Gala, which will be part of our summer fundraising campaign.
  • Speaking of fundraising, stay tuned for news about our Indiegogo campaign, which will be kicking off in just a few days.
  • And if you liked our first teaser, be prepared for even more cinematic magic when we release our second, highly-anticipated teaser.  Will it be better than "The Dark Knight"?  Probably not.  But we're calling it now: it will be better than whatever Tyler Perry is releasing this summer.
  • Finally, watch this blog for a series of articles about various topics that relate to the company.  In the coming weeks, there will be posts about street theatre, audiences, and the importance of giving artists money for their work.
Things are starting to get crazy up in here.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's already begun...

... this page is just late to the party.

The Landless Gentry are already in the city.  Soon, we're going to be in your parks.  And on your internet.

You can't stop the Gentrification, Chicago.  And you won't want to.

Summer 2013.