Thursday, August 20, 2015

MISSION: New Renaissance

One of the reasons that we formed The New Renaissance Theatre Company was to enable us to expand our mission. While we will still produce The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, we wanted to broaden the scope of what we, and our ensemble, can offer our audience. Here is our new mission statement:

“The New Renaissance Theatre Company illuminates the joy and passion captured in the best of live theatre by connecting the classic to the contemporary through ensemble-based development and performance.”

What does NRTC’s mission mean for our theatre craftsmen and our audience? Let us break it down. 

The New Renaissance Theatre Company…
We chose this name because we are highly influenced by English Renaissance theatre, by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries. There were companies that could work quickly and make a high-quality product. They were business-minded, operating in such a way as to make membership in the group advantageous to the actors. We want to offer a creative home to our company members, some sense of stability so that they are not working job-to-job as so many journeymen actors do today. We seek a flexibility to produce a greater number of performances, quickly in a variety of places. We want to build an aesthetic that makes NRTC different and unique from other live theatres. 

To highlight, to point out, to underline, to illustrate and to celebrate.
The word invokes the search for knowledge, for light. The illuminati. Fire. 

…the joy and passion…
Many theatres companies have a Mission (capital M) to focus on certain kinds of plays or a specific type of playwright. What we search for is the joy that comes from creating, seeing and participating in a live theatrical event. The joy of performing a great role, of being a part of a moment that will live only in a memory that will amplify the feeling over time. The joy of sharing that moment.

Passion is the extremity of emotion. Theatre is interesting when it is peopled with passionate characters who feel and experience everything on a deeper level than we do in our daily lives. These are the types of personages we will bring to our stage. 

…captured in the best of…
Because this is what great theatre does. These emotions, experiences, this passion and joy are offered up to the audience every day. They are inherent in the script, and cannot choose but to be conjured by actors. This is why we still watch Œdipus, Shakespeare, Wilde and countless others who have held the stage for hundreds of years. They are the best, and we will celebrate their works while seeking new plays that do the same for our contemporary audience, and will continue to do so for future generations. 

…live theatre…
Theatre offers honesty.
Television, film and other visual media offer manipulation.  You see what a director wants you to see, you hear what she wants you to hear all when and how she wants it to happen.  We revel in the twists and turns of a good movie.

In a play, we rejoice when we are ahead of the characters, when we are included in everything that is going on. We can look at the main action or absorb ourselves in the scenery and costumes. We can close our eyes and let the language wash over us, if we choose.  Not everyone in the theatre necessarily sees the same play, but the experience is shared. If something goes wrong such as a line or entrance is missed, a wardrobe malfunction or outside there is an outside distraction, then everyone on stage and off knows that it happens. It cannot be edited out. These rough patches do not make bad theatre, but they make up what is unique and important about Theatre. It is shared. It is immediate. It is rough. It is honest. 

Any attempt to hide the warts of a performance is false, a lie, and the audience realizes it. They may not know it at the time, but if one examines an unsatisfactory memory of a play, one will probably find that it comes down to the actors or the production was not being honest with the audience.

The New Renaissance Theatre Company will always be honest.

Live Theatre also presupposes audience participation.  This does not mean that the audience talks, gets on stage or becomes a part of the show –although these are options and can only occur in the theatre – but they must be prepared to fill in the blanks and to use their imaginations.  The productions show the dots, but the audience must connect them. A good story does not always have a moral or a meaning. They do not need to say something. It is our job to tell the story, not to dictate a meaning or to teach some universal Truth. The individual is responsible for what she takes away from a performance. At the very least, it should be an enjoyable evening.

A mentally active audience is one of the reasons that shows have an intermission: to give the audience a rest. There is no intermission in a three-hour movie, because the viewer is not working, he is receiving information. A play that runs more than 90 minutes almost requires an intermission for the viewer because he has been processing information, choosing what to watch and listen to. He has been interpreting and connecting the dots. It is hard work. As Brecht said, the audience should not “hang up their brains with their hats in the cloakroom.”

We want to cultivate this kind of audience. If theatre-goers have become lazy, it is the fault of the theatres for not making them work harder. We will challenge our audience to be active because we believe that they can fulfill their role in live theatre. The pay off will be that they will get the theatre from us that they deserve and that we are capable of delivering. 

…by connecting the classic to the contemporary…
Live theatre is not a museum.  There is no point of performing something old for a new audience. Everything must be contemporary. The classics are just that, something from our past that speaks to us today. 

We are inspired by the classics, but they are not our product. We will not twist them to our own ends, but we will share important stories and characters. We will also discover new plays and playwrights and stories that have this understanding and that will continue this tradition of communality that always has been at the heart of theatre. 

…through ensemble-based…
Theatre is an ensemble. It is communal and collective. Actors need a writer, they need an audience, they need each other. The plays we choose will exploit the ensemble’s strengths. 

We will create a group of actors, working consistently together who will develop our own aesthetic and vocabulary. This will create an efficient work environment for our performers, and decrease the time needed for rehearsals. Our theatre craftsmen will be able to maintain, and grow a standard of excellence that is unobtainable when actors and directors are endlessly cycled in for every performance.  It will give the audience a reliable standard whereby to judge our work as well as a consistent roster of performers to follow and with whom to identify. They will be able to form a bond with local actors playing good roles in great plays, and not being relegated to supporting roles or the background for out-of-town talent with little to no connection to the audience. The ensemble will be a source of pride to Pittsburgh, showcasing the best of the city’s immense talent, while at the same time being a badge of honor for those who can call this ensemble their artistic home – a badge that will be recognized across the country and beyond.

It is not enough to do a reading, or staged reading or salon series. Playwrights need to see their work on stage, performed with a level of professionalism that can show weaknesses and strengths in their work.

New works deserve to be seen and judged on a stage. During the Renaissance, new works were performed for an audience in the same way as established plays. 

The ensemble will also develop its own aesthetic by working on a range of plays by different authors in disparate genres using our own techniques to come up with our own way of working. Schools of acting, many of which are the basis for most theatre training today grew around and from personalities producing theatre at a certain time with certain actors for a certain audience. They worked then and there, but there is no reason to believe that they will be as effective in our time with our actors for our audience. Our way of working must be developed, it must evolve and it must be fluid. What the different forms of our creative process will be cannot be predicted, but we demand the time and resources to be able to grow it organically. The results will inevitably be something unique and priceless for our company and our audience. 
 …and performance.
Performance is the be-all and end-all, the alpha and omega, the raison d’être for any theatre, for theatre simply does not exist without it. Our goal is not to create a little academe of actors and to create theories to be studied, or to show off for each other. Everything builds to a performance for an audience. The quicker and more efficient we prepare, the more performances we can give. Each performance is a miracle because it gives us the gift of fulfilling our dreams to create and share stories, to express ourselves for the benefit of others and to participate in a meaningful way in society, culture and community. The act of attending performances touches many primal things inside of us that we cannot begin to understand or comprehend. We understand its importance in our DNA, and despite a world that is ever shifting, there is some deep need in the essence of what it is to be human that performance fills. Through our productions, The New Renaissance Theatre Company will fulfill that need. 

-Andy Kirtland, Managing Director of The New Renaissance Theatre Company