How did you get started in theatre?
I went along as chaperone on my son's class trip to see Angela Lansbury & Len Cariou in Sweeney Todd. I had also seen Cats and Danny Kaye in Two By Two.
What hooked you? School play, Broadway show, etc.
I left one of my son's shows saying how great it would be to be a part of something like that. A few months later, he asked if I would like to help backstage on Dolly. Would I? Next, I agreed to work on Godspell's props and I knew I was hooked! I went to The James Street Players to work with their propmaster. That was 17 years ago.
What was the first show you ever worked on?
My very first, I worked stage crew for Hello Dolly. Then my first props were for Godspell. And my first program was for ???.
What was first show you ever saw?
I saw the opera Rigoletto at the Erlanger Theater in Buffalo in the early '50s.
WHAT I DO
What is your position on a production?
I am the "Z" in The Wizards OZ (Olsen & Zajic), creators of the program for The James Street Players in Babylon, NY. We also collect, coordinate and create the ads for the program. I've also worked props for many years. (And, I'm currently looking for a new generation of Prop People to hand the job on to.) I'm also currently Treasurer for the group. I used to do publicity for them. But, right now my first-love is program.
Describe what your job entails.
Our job on Program is to create a catalog of the talent who make up the cast and crews of the current production. Our job on Ads is to see that the program is at least self supporting (or preferably, profitable).
Since we enjoy doing what we do, we probably go to far more elaborate preparations than we need to, but we follow several steps in our creative process and are constantly learning & refining.
ADS: On the first rehearsal after auditions, we have set up a table with charts listing all of the previous advertisers since several shows before we began doing this. (Unless they go out of business or demand we remove them from our list, an advertiser remains on our master list forever, making them a proven entity and hopefully an easy mark.) We have an elaborate set up for signing up cast & crew to go out and solicit ads from past contributors and also encourage them to bring in new ads. We are down now to giving the cast 2-3 weeks to bring in their ads (since we have found that a longer period only results in people putting it off and then forgetting completely or begging for time extensions). We used to have a rule saying each cast member is required to bring in at least 3 ads, but that has faded away. We try various strategies to get our members out getting sponsors, including prize incentives, posted lists of front runners, etc. As we approach the deadline, we announce the reward of the availability of 'cast ads', where cast members who have brought in a paying ad can have a quarter page ad (normally $25) for their own use for only $10. Since our price range is from $25 for a quarter page to $75 for a full page, there are those cast members who will pay $40 for a full page to expound on their thanks to others in the show, etc. We set our deadline for at least 3-4 weeks before opening night since the printer needs 2 weeks to get the job done for us. We keep a huge file of past ads in our home computers and if the sponsor just wants to re-use an ad, it's just a case of 'popping it in'. However, if they are new or just want a new ad, Ron designs it for them, sending them several options to choose from. They seem to appreciate this.
PROGRAM: We have a listing of the pages needed for the program including: Cover, Welcome Page (listing emergency exits), Title Page (listing all the disclaimers required by the rental agreement), Cast List, Crew List, Lead Bios with photos (of set lengths) and Ads. We also have a listing of the pages to include if there's enough room including: Who's Who in the Cast (brief bios of everyone else in our cast), Past Productions, Coming Attractions, Puzzle Page, Audience Etiquette, Patronize Our Sponsors, Thank You (full listing of the sponsors for that show), Director's Note, Dedications, Musical Numbers, Synopsis and a Help Wanted Ad. For Seussical, we had an original cartoon sketch of all of the principle characters done by one of the cast members.
Cast members are given a sheet telling them the approximate length of bio needed from them (based on their part) and asked for a headshot if needed. They have a deadline and we do nag, embarrass and threaten in order to get them in on time. And, we let them know we reserved the right to edit in the interest of space and propriety. Lately, we have adopted the policy of having a Who's Who (of only 25-30 words each) in order to have bios for everyone in the cast and even created a Cast Photo Gallery for the Seussical program (with a quick snapshot of everyone in the cast who did not have a lead bio). These features go over big with the cast and their families.
We also have a feature we call Did You Know?. They are easily recognized little quarter page tidbits about the original show or its creators. As soon as we know what show we're doing and have agreed to do the program, we download everything we can find about the original Broadway show. We sift through this and pick out interesting facts. We encapsulate them into a few sentences and fit them into our DYK format. We set up several so we have a selection to choose from as fillers in our ad pages. Again, we have been told that people search for this feature and really enjoy it.
The final step before sending out the book is the pagination of everything we've got and pasting it up so it's photo-ready for the printer. This usually involves scissors, rubber cement (large size can) and an ironing board.
With all of the elaborate preparation we do, we take great pride in being told our program is the best on the Island. And we have made a profit for every show since we started, ranging from $800 to $1200 per show.
Did you go to school to learn what you do?
MY THEATER EXPERIENCE
What has been your favorite show to work on?
To date, Seussical's program, because we have created more features that we plan on keeping and expanding.
What motivates you to keep doing what you're doing?
I need to be a creative part of the magic of theater. I can't carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, I have two left feet and can't act my way out of a paper bag. So, I do props and program.
How do you feel about pre-casting?
As long as the director is also prepared to give anyone a chance to try out, I have no problem with pre-casting.
What was your worst theater experience?
Usually the last few days before our deadline when we're sure we won't make it.
What was your best theater experience?
When we open the cartons from the printer and view our finished product.
If you could give one message to ALL of the actors out there, what would it be?
Please meet our deadlines.
If you could give one message to ALL the producers out there, what would it be?
Please meet our deadlines.
If you could give one message to ALL the directors out there, what would it be?
Please meet our deadlines.
If you could give one message to ALL the other techies out there, what would it be?
Please meet our deadlines.
Why do you work at the theatres that you do?
The group welcomes and encourages newcomers. And at one time in their 35 year history (18 years ago), I was a newcomer. They quickly made me a part of their family.
Do you think Long Island Theater will continue to grow?
Yes. But I think it needs to be advertised more. We need to get the local towns involved in supporting our groups. We need to get local publications to support our groups.
What brings you greatest joy?
I love creating, developing and passing along my crafts. Whether it is my needlework, the theatrical props, the program format we've developed .. whatever I have invested my time and talents in that I can pass along for someone else to use and expand on. I get a real kick out of knowing I started someone along the way.
What irks you?
Negativity! I cannot stand working with someone who is negative. Pessimists are such a downer. I honestly feel that any day I wake up is a good day. So, don't rain on my parade. Go somewhere else to do your grumbling.
If you won lotto tomorrow you would...
Be amazed, since I don't enter to begin with. But, if I were to suddenly become rich, my first step would be to insure that all of my grandchildren (9 at present) had fully funded higher education accounts. Then, I would insure that my own needs were set up (so I would not become a burden to any of my children). And then, I would probably find charities that could use the rest of what was left.
Is it true you would rather be rich than good looking?
Being neither, I think I would opt for being functional and productive.
What's your favorite word?
Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
You've done well. Go back and do it again!
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like the readers to know about?
After a phenomenally successful summer showing of West Side Story, we are holding open auditions for Hello Dolly! on September 11th with showdates in November (the weekends before and after Thanksgiving) with expectations of an equally phenomenal run.
What is your dream theatrical project?
I'd like to be involved in a production of "Two By Two".