Exactly a year ago this week, Marie Sproul and I, while on national tour, sat at a table in our shared condo in Miami and drew up the first of budgets for what we knew then would be Ally Theatre Company's debut production. We dreamt big, both knowing scaling back would be a necessity for an organization just laying its foundation, and didn't hold back. We allowed ourselves to fully process all this show - and this company - could be.
Fast forward to tonight when we close The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington and of course, so much has changed and happened in a year. Marie, so instrumental as one of Ally's first thought partners (the other being Roddy, my husband), is now readying for a new chapter in her life - one that will see her off to North Carolina in the coming weeks. I took up the reins not only as the Producer of the show (which was my initial dream) but as the Director. And while at first, I worried about my ability, and let's face it, talent, to help mold and craft this story, retaining the heart and spirit Valerie and I so intensely witnessed at the 2014 Philadelphia Premiere, I am now so grateful for this experience and the opportunity to (as my friend Jenny says) 'get in the mud' with the actors, the design team, and the story. I know without question it is my best work, as a director, to date and were I to walk away and never direct again, I could easily say I was leaving at the high point of my career.
There's the show, and then there's the company.
Ally Theatre Company - the seed of which was planted one autumn morning as I showered (where all the best ideas happen, right?) and heard what is now our tag line, "Voices Unheard, Spaces Unseen" in my head. Suddenly I knew how I could marry my love of storytelling with my belief that theatre can provoke dialogue and conversation that can change behaviors, which can change lives - for the better. As I started to round out these ideas and slowly bring people into the circle - first Roddy, then Marie, then Valerie, then Tai - I begin to witness an incredible thing. BELIEF. Then MOMENTUM.
It's been about 20 months since that shower. And in 20 months, we now find ourselves at the end of the beginning - closing our show tonight and looking forward to a future that is more promising than I even imagined.
My post-mortem thoughts below:
I am not discouraged by what other, better established theatre companies might see as low audience numbers. First, our house can seat up to 150 - that's huge and I knew we'd never sell that out. Second, we never had a house below 20 and twice we got up to the 60s. Over 300 people saw this show - including high ranking local elected leaders and business owners - and some of our best houses were the smaller ones. The people that showed up were engaged, ecstatic that we are making a home not only at Joe's but in Prince George's County and all of them were enthusiastic about the production. My long-term goal for the company is for the community to take ownership of Ally - to feel as though it is theirs. That foundation was laid and made sturdy in this process. I'm really enormously proud of that.
This would never have happened without the outstanding outreach efforts led by Valerie Fenton. From organizing our first postering day to connecting with local businesses and turning out food donations for a beautifully memorable opening night to being an excellent spokesperson who speaks to our mission with eloquence and grace, Valerie is instrumental to our long-term success in the community. I will be grateful to her for the rest of my days.
Valerie exemplifies the secret to our fledgling success - our team at Ally from Tai at the top to our Artistic Allies, four of whom acted in the production, exhibits such a strong belief in our vision and mission that they make bringing audience and community into the fold seem effortless. It's not, but their passion and determination make it so. Every single company member saw the show, some of them twice. Many of them worked behind the scenes to help facilitate its success. Katie coordinated and hosted two talk-backs, Tamieka gracefully stood in for me so I could have a night off, worked the bar and gave the curtain speech, Nick came once and then sent back his wife with three other friends, Matt's tireless dedication is the reason we make a surprise announcement this evening, Jane, Taunya, Reginald, and Tai crafted beautiful performances all the while representing the company to our newcomers and audiences, Laura made room in her busy acting schedule to be present on Opening Night and also kept me on track as the producer for our next two shows, including Clover this fall, Marie texted me throughout the process, checking on me and making sure I was ok, acting again as the wonderful mentor she's been to me over the years, Jon Jon introduced us to Nate (William) and Tanya (Anne) and guarded my phone on opening night, capturing live those moments I was unable to see, and Taylor took time out of her busy life in NY to get on a bus and see the show and be her wonderfully intelligent and cheerful self that's just sorely needed in these days and times. Point is, when people ask me how Ally is already so together, so organized, with such a strong start out of the gate, my answer is always the same: We have a great team.
That team now thankfully includes Brooke Kidd, Executive Director at Joe's Movement Emporium and Neena Narayanan, the 'oh so much more than the' Marketing Coordinator. Alongside these two wonderful women, who believed in and were enthusiastic about our mission at first sight, we have laid a foundation that has all the markings of an entity with staying power. In our first show, Ally is already doing what we set out to do and that would not be if Brooke and Neena did not believe in us. I am really excited for our work in the weeks, months and years to come.
Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we rest, then we continue to do this extraordinary work we are so privileged and able to do.
Thank you all <3