Did you see HAIR in the 14th Street Y Theater?
The following article appeared in the New York Times last week, all about Afterwork Theater and it’s unique mission to provide a performance experience to whomever wants one. No Audition required!
-14th Street Y
WHEN the curtain went up last Friday on the AfterWork Theater Project’s revival of “Hair,” it looked like any other modestly budgeted version of that 1967 flower-power musical. “Aquarius” opened the show. Young women wore patchwork skirts pulled from their mothers’ closets; fringed vests covered men’s bare chests. There were songs about Krishna and sodomy. Anyone who buys a ticket for the final four performances this weekend might think that it’s a solid community theater production.
But community theaters hold auditions. Not this “Hair.” In an unusual theatrical twist on “pay to play,” the actors onstage at the Theater at the 14th Street Y paid AfterWork to be there. Some were charged the full $495 enrollment fee; others took advantage of a sliding scale and paid less, in exchange for work as a crew member or an usher before the show. No matter the cost, the benefit was the same. Every performer got something that many a struggling actor strives to achieve by skill alone: a New York stage credit.
Thomas Gensemer, the managing partner of the marketing agency Blue State Digital and a “Hair” ensemble member, said his $495 investment was “worth five times more” than that.
“My personality has been mostly expressed through my professional ambitions,” he said. “Now I am doing something that’s not tied to the success of my business or my reputation. It’s fun and it’s therapeutic.”
Mr. Gensemer, 35, said that friends who had seen him perform said that they were surprised by his free-spirited dancing and his hippie outfit, “things they’d never seen me do before.” They also “understood why I wanted this in my life.”
Even though she had only one line, Lauren McDonough, 23, said stepping onstage for the first time in her life and dancing as wildly as she did was liberating.
“I wanted to have a random adventure and put myself out there, and theater had always been something that interested me, but I have stage fright,” said Ms. McDonough, who said she planned to attend medical school in the fall. “I’m not a dancer, so to dance in front of a lot of people is a confidence booster.”
Ms. McDonough’s mother, Cathy, brought 10 friends and family members to two shows over the weekend. She said she was heartened to see her daughter take so well to a new, and demanding, endeavor.
“We saw her enthusiasm and how hard she worked, and we thought it was great,” she said. “It was much better quality than we thought, but don’t tell her that.”
Say “payola,” and thoughts arise of under-the-table deals and grabby producers with worn casting couches. But to Evan Greenberg, the project’s founder, AfterWork’s version is an easy and financially transparent way for busy people to fulfill deferred musical-theater dreams.
“If you want to play basketball, nobody’s judging whether or not you have talent,” said Mr. Greenberg, a real estate sales associate who has a background in film. “You just grab a ball with friends and play. But if you want to be in a show, that’s one of the few passions where you have to live up to a standard to be included. This whole thing was born out of my belief that the gift of performing should be available to anyone living and breathing on this planet.”
Mr. Greenberg, 33, said he modeled the company after performing arts groups he had joined as a child in Livingston, N.J. “It was a source of my self-confidence, learning to perform with other kids,” he said. “I missed that and wanted that.”
The AfterWork company was started about a year ago when Mr. Greenberg posted a video on YouTube in which he addresses “everyone and anyone who’s ever wanted to be in a show,” whether they are “doctor, lawyer, receptionist, garbage man.” He eventually created a Web site where he explained that with a payment, participants could be as committed as their schedules allowed. Some would be expected to be at every rehearsal, while others could attend only on weekends. If they had to miss a rehearsal, or even a performance, someone else would cover the role. Rehearsals for “Hair” lasted about eight weeks. Lead actors rehearsed three times a week, three to four hours a day, and more during the week of dress rehearsals.
“It’s basically an after-school theater program for adults,” Mr. Greenberg says in the video. Over the course of a few months, during which he pushed the idea using social media, about 35 people signed on to the “Hair” production, AfterWork’s first.
Jade Millan, a senior tax associate at Barnes & Noble, said she had never heard of “Hair” when she joined. When she received an e-mail about the theater company, she decided it was time to step outside of a business world “where everything is serious and controlled.” A fan of the film musical “Moulin Rouge,” Ms. Millan said that the show had given her a chance to realize a dream.
“It’s a fantasy of mine to think of myself as being in one of those movies, doing those dances and singing,” said Ms. Millan, 27.
The company is drawing people from outside New York. Philip Odango, an ensemble member who has acted in the past, commuted to Manhattan on weekends from his home in Norfolk, Va., where he works for a children’s charity and is the executive director of the Generic Theater, a regional company.
“It’s like taking a vacation, even though there’s work involved in it,” Mr. Odango said by cellphone during a bus ride to New York.
Although the AfterWork Web site says “No audition required,” participants are still evaluated by the creative team to determine how big their roles will be. Those with more developed skills play lead or supporting characters. Those who need more work are in the ensemble.
Helping to nurture missing skills is Julian Reeve, the show’s musical director, who recently moved with his wife to New York from his native England, where he worked in the theater for some 20 years. While he’s being paid less for “Hair” than he would be for a professional production, Mr. Reeve said he took the job to be “with like-minded creative people from different outlooks and backgrounds and races who want to create the same goal.”
At first Mr. Reeve, 38, was concerned about working with theater novices who couldn’t read music or memorize lyrics. To remedy that, he and other cast members organized sessions outside of the scheduled rehearsals.
“I ask them to search incredibly hard and very deeply to find the best person they could be within their level of commitment and within the standards they could offer me,” he said. “All I’m asking them to do is transfer the work ethic from their day job to rehearsal.”
Worrying about being flawless misses the point of the company.
“Whether they are flat or sharp or forget a note, the message is it doesn’t matter,” Mr. Reeve said. “If they were perfect, they would be professionals.”
AfterWork’s business model is unorthodox for the theater world. Mr. Greenberg said that the show was budgeted at about $35,000, including compensation for the creative team – the director, the choreographer and the designers – and rent for the theater and rehearsal space. AfterWork received fund-raising assistance through a program run by Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service group.
Mr. Greenberg said that sales of tickets, which are $25, mostly to the friends and family of cast members, as well as the tuition, were underwriting the show. About 30 percent of the cast is paying a reduced fee of about $247 in exchange for work beyond their roles. The remaining 70 percent are paying $495. Mr. Greenberg also put some money into the show. When “Hair” closes on Sunday, he expects to break even.
John Qualia, an ensemble member who works as a mathematical statistician for an insurance company, said that not having much talent “either in drama or music” wouldn’t stop him from signing up for the company’s next show – which, if he can secure the rights, Mr. Greenberg hopes will be “Rent.”
“Just the fact that I’m able to participate in some way onstage is a great experience for me,” said Mr. Qualia, 41. “If I went on auditions, I would never be called back.”
Read the article here