Since its founding two years ago, John Holleman and Co. has had a decidedly peripatetic existence. The Nashville theater troupe, which works in all styles but specializes in masked theater, has performed at Travellers Rest Plantation and Museum, the Darkhorse Theater, the Frist Center, Christ Church Cathedral and both outside and inside of the Parthenon.
Holleman and Co. added Looby Theatre to the mix last Friday, with a performance to raise funds to support yet another gypsy excursion, this one on a grander scale. The company embarks this week for New York City, where they will perform five shows, Aug. 12 through 20, at the Tenth Annual New York International Fringe Festival, which promotes itself as “the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues.”
Holleman and Co.’s revue of a dozen or so masked pieces, Odd Man Out
, will be performed at the Classic Stage Co. at 136 E. 13th St. in Greenwich Village.
“It’s an adventure,” Holleman says. “A lot of people use the Fringe as a launching point to make connections with producers, directors, writers, agents and other performers.” The Fringe has also served as a promotional vehicle for new works—its most notable recent success was the musical Urinetown
, which debuted at the festival in 1999 and made it to Broadway in 2001, where it was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won three.
According to Holleman, the Fringe provides an outlet for one-of-a-kind arts organizations and companies. “Getting in is a very competitive process,” he says. “Several thousand performing groups apply and only 200 are selected.”
The New York performance of Odd Man Out
will also provide rare exposure for the Nashville visual artists who have crafted Holleman’s masks, such as Laura Miller, Lena Lucas, Doug Berky, Nicole Southwell and Taryn Williams, and it will showcase the recordings and original compositions of local musicians like The Gypsy Hombres, Fats Kaplin and Mike Teaney.
The recent Looby show raised only partial funds for the company’s trip. The rest of the money will come out of the pockets of Holleman and his performing troupe: John Devine, Andrew Swanson, John Early, Trish Moalla and Wesley Paine. The experience should help kick off the next phase in Swanson’s and Early’s lives—both are recent grads of University School of Nashville who are headed to New York in the fall to pursue acting careers. The trip also serves as a homecoming of sorts for Holleman himself, who worked in New York as a writer and director from 1982 to ’92.
“We’re a little anxious,” says Holleman, who by day works as supervisor of music and theater in the cultural division of Metro Parks. “But where this company is going to go next is the question. It’d be lovely if we can improve the product that we’re making. I think there’s a great potential to go to other interesting places, like other festivals or touring dates.”
For more information on the Fringe Festival and the Holleman performing dates, visit http://fringenyc.org/
Economic realities have forced changes in the business structure of People’s Branch Theatre. One of Nashville’s more adventurous producing organizations, PBT recently announced that it will no longer operate as an affiliate of Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the theatrical union representing actors and stage managers. PBT’s 2006-2007 season will proceed as scheduled, according to artistic director Matt Chiorini, who cites the new business model as “ultimately best for the theater and the community.”
The recent decision is “frustrating on a number of fronts,” says Chiorini, who has spent the past two years at PBT’s helm, successfully getting the company “healthy and debt-free,” while also watching PBT’s revenues and attendance go up by 80 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Alas, dwindling resources—precipitated primarily by recent cuts in Metro Nashville Arts Commission funding and by difficulties in gaining sufficient outside corporate sponsorship—made it impossible for the company to project making contractually mandated payments to Equity’s health and pension plans.
“The move saves money across the board,” Chiorini says. “We’ll be doing the same shows but without union affiliation. By saving on pensions and health benefits, we’re hoping to go from being the lowest-paying Equity house to being the highest-paying non-Equity house in Nashville.” Chiorini also surmises that the company will still be able to hire some Equity actors on a limited basis.
The changes at PBT leave Nashville with only three full-fledged AEA theater operations—Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Nashville Children’s Theatre and Tennessee Repertory Theatre. Like PBT and other smaller arts organizations, Actors Bridge Ensemble, which employs union actors on a limited-contract basis, also was a recent victim of Metro cuts.
Chiorini—who has been a major player in the Nashville theater world since coming here in 1999 to perform with the Rep—recently announced his plans to withdraw from his position with PBT “within the year,” citing a bit of burnout. He will direct the company’s season opener, Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, which opens Sept. 28 at the Belcourt Theatre.