Monday, October 12, 2015

A Change in Perspective: by Tony Churchill

The following is a guest post by scenic designer Tony Churchill, who has designed video projections for BoHo's Ordinary Days and Dogfight.

I got on board for Ordinary Days pretty much how everyone gets a design job in this business: I knew the director. Working with the BoHos really surprised me and turned my view of this thing I’ve been doing for almost 20 years upside down; I never thought so much of my reality would be altered.

By the time tech for Ordinary Days rolled around, we started cuing the show right after a huge snowstorm and it was pretty much the usual crew when we started. As the day progressed, more and more people showed up. Some nice lady with an infectious laugh and delicious baked goods. PR guys who were super nice, and weirdly helpful. “Hey I’m here to take some pictures for Facebook, oh do you need help moving those walls?” And then the head Peter (I had met six or seven Peters with some kind of title in the company since the first production meeting). All of these personalities filled the room and it was a little unnerving. I’ve been on shows where they end up being directed by committee, and it NEVER works out. Who do you listen to? Do you follow the herd or try and make your own voice heard? It was unnerving.

By the third day of tech, I realized that this is what collaboration was supposed to be. Everyone wasn’t in the space on their own thing, they were in the space on a common thing. At face value, it's a bunch of crazy and committed - and beautiful - people who shouldn’t be able to find a cab, let alone put up a show. But they are so happy to be there that all the crap sort of peels off and you realize you're working in this perfectly collaborative place. The people in the room are working for the show and nothing more (or less). They want the show to be the very best thing it can be, not because of vanity, but because of pride. They're so happy to be free to be making something beautiful and true that they love.

After Ordinary Days, Peter Prime, AKA Peter Marston Sullivan, introduced me to Dogfight - which I had never heard - and I connected to it so quickly because my Dogfight experience is my BoHo experience. I value a lot of things in Dogfight, but where it gets especially hard is when it shows how a lot of men see women and it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a hard portrait of how guys deal with their fear and insecurities. I think this is an obvious show for BoHo because they’re so good at coping with fear and dread that theatre companies often face and fail at overcoming as a cohesive group with a common goal. There is no job too big for the group and no job too small for any individual. It’s something you experience in spurts when working in a collaborative space like theatre, but it’s a rare a beautiful gift to find it so alive and well with an entire group again and again.

I’m thankful every time I’m able to work with the BoHo family because it reminds me what this whole thing is about. Their work is their pleasure - twenty-four seven, three sixty-five, they never close - and their passion is veritas. I’ve seen green interns on their first pro gig, making nothing but friends and memories, step up and single handedly do the work of four professional stagehands. I’ve seen the most senior member of the family take off their jacket and pick up a paint brush to get a set piece finished in time. It’s because you can feel it from the moment you’re in the room. You know - definitively - that you’re a part of something. A community. A family. A group of people who will not quit on you.

You want to do your very best because they want that from you too, and the BoHos will do anything - simply, quietly, beautifully - anything you need to be your very best. They challenge me gently and earnestly. They make me want to tweak and work things to death, because I can’t bear to let them down. That’s something you don’t find in every place - you don’t find it almost any place. If you get to work with BoHo, or you just support them by seeing the work, you’ll feel what I’m talking about too. This commitment - even in the hardest of times - is what it takes to make a show like Dogfight work. Boho is fearlessly committed to the truth - and love and beauty and freedom - because they go at it together. It’s not some silly mumbo jumbo - it’s real for them and everyone who gets to work with them. There’s not a lot of other companies that could make this piece work, because more often than not, most theatre companies shy away from the truth, especially when it’s tackling such difficult subjects.

At its core, theatre is pretty dumb. We’re not saving anyone’s life. We’re not feeding the hungry or healing the sick. We’re not even making anything lasting. But theatre at its best - like BoHo Theatre - is something that is vital to the human condition. It nurtures the soul by giving people something human that humans have always needed. A little time to tell stories with each other. More than 2000 years ago, the Greeks would build theaters next to hospitals because they believed these places were equally important to healing - one the body and one the soul. This is what I look for when I’m making theatre and it’s not easy to find. BoHo has it in spades. They sweat it out when they take over a space and make it a theatre - a real theatre. It’s the core of why theatre is one of the oldest traditions we share as humans. And it fills me with joy to be with them every time we make something together. Join, play, love.

-Anthony Churchill, Set and Media Designer

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