Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant: Notes from the Road

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. It sounds so simple. This summer is a time for Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant to test the feel of a new frequency of performance. Not quite a tour and not quite a theater residency. We perform once a week for four weeks running in rep with ART’s The Donkey Show in their club theater space, OBERON in Cambridge. The relationship between ART and OBERON is not unlike the relationship between the Public and Joe’s Pub, with a nonprofit institution having annexed a second stage with a clubby vibe. The lighting instruments are mostly movers. The bar is open and staffed. Our voices must be mic’d to fill the cavernous space.

We have a ticket-split arrangement with OBERON, similar to Joe’s Pub, with beefed up time in the space, production support, and marketing. It is a new situation for both Conni’s and OBERON, a venue that typically books in acts with bar minimums or hosts ART productions. Donkey Show performs on Friday and Saturday nights, meaning that we load in on Sunday morning, do our show, and strike the same night. Two weeks ago we drove the UHAUL up with our iconic set elements: the Conni’s sign, the fridge door, our chandeliers made from hula hoops and plastic glassware, and the steel tables that ERPA made it possible to bring for our onstage kitchen. All of this is stored in the theater space. Our advanced food prep is taking place across an alley in two studio apartments, artist housing for ART that luckily was vacant for the run. Housing was not part of our arrangement so the ensemble is staying in the dorms down the road at Tufts University.

Our company has found the rhythm of making the round trip to New York. The “day job car” leaves right after the curtain comes down to get folks back in time to go to work on Monday morning. In lieu of a fee, I bought myself a used 2002 Ford Windstar minivan, whom we have christened the Schooner Charlotte Doyle. For two weeks in a row, Charlotte done her best (her pickup is a bit slow, poor old girl) to make it to the Copley Square Farmers’ Market in time to meet the pork we got from Stillman’s at the Turkey Farm and our grocery delivery from Russo’s (they source through local farmers).

We have had two performances and have two more to go. Houses are not quite full yet but they are warm. While we were blasted to the club’s listserv, the buzz in Boston didn’t really get going until after we opened. The Herald came to our first performance and gave us a good, thorough, review and the Pheonix listed us as a pick of the week. We had the Globe last week. OBERON staff has been great, and it is strange and wonderful to have servers and technicians come out of the woodwork to strike our tables and set. I imagine our show is not a lucrative venture compared to their usual fare, so their energy, enthusiasm, and good will floors me. We were not curated by ART, but we have had board members in the house as well as cast members from Donkey Show and their upcoming production of Cabaret, helping spread the word among theater-going as well as club-going audiences.

We have a renewed and enlarged company for this trip, with the strengthened presence of 3 cast members who joined us last summer when we jumped from serving 60 to 80 people at the Ohio theater. We brought in a guest director, Cindy Croot, to oversee the re-staging of the piece with little time in a very different space. Her impact has been immense. When I first applied to the ERPA program, we were solely a group of writer-actors. Now we have a full production team: production manager, set designer, lighting designer, and director who are on board again for our next show, running December 2-18 at the Cleveland Public Theater.

I feel like I am writing this from the middle of a learning intensive. Setting up the production was for me an obstacle course riddled by fears of the unknown. Now it is exhilarating, as we hit our stride, and I found myself shocked to discover that we were ready last week. I look forward to reflecting on all of it in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, please allow me to plug! Cucumber-basil-lime soup. Watermelon-mint-feta salad. Pulled pork and broccoli slaw. Cambridge cream pie. And a production made from scratch with love. Please send your friends! This Sunday July 25 and next Sunday August 1. www.cluboberon.com.

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