Spotlight: Sandy Boren-Barrett, Part 2

If you haven’t already done so, make sure and read Part 1 of my interview with Sandy Boren-Barrett.  She’s got a lot to say and every word is well worth your time.

Here’s Part 2:

CG:  Sandy, over the years during rough economic times people have gravitated to the arts for a bit of an escape.  What kind of impact has our current economic climate had on Stages?

Sandy:  Stages has been very fortunate so far.  My theory, and it’s simply a theory, is that families will make choices.  The parents may not go out to eat or to a movie alone, but what they will not compromise is their time or activities with and for their kids.  Not if they can avoid it.

Sandy Boren-BarrettOne of Stages Theatre Company’s core values is affordability and access.  Every time you turn around you’ll find a discount coupon – free child’s ticket – pay what you can performance – or scholarship opportunity.  I believe affordability is what’s holding us up.  High-quality theatre at an affordable price.  We’ve gained patrons during all of this who say “this is my first show at Stages.”  But I would be kidding myself if I thought we hadn’t lost some precious families and schools that can’t afford it.  That breaks my heart.  There is absolutely no one that would be turned away if they couldn’t afford to bring their kids to see a show at Stages.  I say that – and I mean that.  

We received a thank you letter from a mom who brought her two kids to see our fall production of How I Became A Pirate using comp tickets from our Open Door scholarship program.  And she gushed, on and on – it was the first play her boys had seen and they were entranced.  She then went on to say she was going to begin “saving money to be abler to buy tickets to bring them to see The Wizard of Oz.”  Amazing, it humbles me. 

CG:  This year you’ve run the gamut of material – from sweet and charming productions like Good Night Moon to The Shadow Thieves , a darker, one might almost say borderline sinister, work.  Each of them were beautifully realized, from the acting right down to the last lighting cue.  With material so broad, can you explain the process of how a season at Stages comes to be?

Sandy:  First of all, I peruse each and every Scholastic Book Order propaganda that comes home with my kids.  I get at least one or two every few weeks.  In those I see what’s “hot” on kids’ reading lists.  I check out all the Newbery winners,  past and present, and talk to all the teachers I have the opportunity to work with.  So many of our shows are based on books that a teacher has said “Hey, you guys should do (fill in the blank)”  Sometimes a book will be suggested and then within days I’ll actually see or hear about that book several times and I think, ‘man that is a sign.’  I spend lots of time in libraries and bookstores too.

The next thing to do is begin the process of finding out if an adaptation exists, is it one that fits the Stages critieria, or if we can approach the book writer and publisher to get the rights to adapt the book into a play or musical.  I almost always prefer to adapt it ourselves because then we have certain controls you simply don’t have if you use an existing adaptation.  And frankly it provides work to local playwrights and composers.  Sometimes material is selected for the season because a really great script already exists and it fits what we want that year.

I look to craft a season that has a breadth of material but has enough that suits each particular age group so that families that want to purchase a package or season ticket have enough to pick from if they have kids that are 10-12 and kids that are 3-5.  It’s all about balance.  I’ve found that our audiences like a good story but love a good musical.  So, we do quite a few musical commissions. 

Some shows are picked, as in the case of Shadow Thieves because Bruce Rowan, the Director of New Play Development, has begun an email exchange with the book writer who is originally from Hopkins, Minnesota and has found her book to have a wonderful local following. 

I can tell you I never craft the season alone.  Some shows take years to acquire the rights to and some come quite easily.  But we’re in a constant state of “selection.”  It takes months and sometimes years.  And sometimes just when you’ve given up on a title, you get a response from the publisher saying “go for it!”  And then…you jump.  It is really a challenging and exciting part of what I do.

CG:  Two more questions.  When I was at Peef, there was a woman behind me who said to her husband “I can’t believe we’ve never been here before…”  They weren’t there with children, so the implication was clear:  They were coming back for more.  As you look ahead, how do you view Stages’ place in Twin Cities theatre?

Sandy:  I think that Stages Theatre Company serves an incredibly diverse audience.  True story – just yesterday an older woman was standing at the box office and the staff was busy on the phones, which is always a good sign.  I approached her to ask if I could help her and she said she wanted to order two season tickets for the entire 09-10 season.  Silly me assumed it was for her and a grandchild.  When I mentioned that she said, “Oh no, my husband and I have season tickets here (STC), and just love it.  We have season tickets to the Guthrie too, and like it here just as well.”  I just smiled and told her she had made my day.

Really, I go back to the fact that everyone wants to be entertained.  That means different things to different people and sometimes it’s simply watching your three-year-old watch the play.  I love to do that.  Entertainment can mean a show that makes you laugh, cry or think.  No matter what your age, I hope you find a little of that in every show we do. 

CG:  Finally Sandy, what’s the one piece of information or advice you’d like to pass onto young actors – kids in middle school and high school?  Namely, what do you see too much of, or not enough of, at auditions or in rehearsals?

Sandy:  Honesty, really and truly – if you can make me “believe you” for 30 seconds during a monologue or song, I believe I can make you believable for an hour-long performance.  Show me you’re willing to try anything and that you prepared before you walked in the door.  I had a boy come in and sell, really sell, the theme song from The Flintstone’s.  No kidding, The Flintstone’s.  I called him back. 

Do material you enjoy, is appropriate for your age and shows off your vocals or acting skills.  And please do not do material that makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to hear a 10-year-old singing questionable lyrics to a contemporary song.  And never, ever, tell me “I’m not a good singer” or “I have a cold.”  I had a college professor who would always say “Don’t apologize, just do it”

Everyone watching you knows auditioning is hard.  Make it look like it’s easy for you; that may be the hardest acting you’ll do that night and I promise I’ll smile back at you each and every time.

Filed Under: FamilyLifeMinneapolistheatreUncategorized

About the Author: Christopher serves up sports on 940 ESPN in Fresno with a good deal of pop culture, films, music and the quirky side of life mixed in. Distinguished guests and contributors from across the nation and around the world regularly join the program. He tackles the most complex stories to ones slightly off the radar delivering depth and humor with a thoughtful perspective. When he was in Fargo, the city not the movie, the program was nominated for Best Radio Show in the region in 2012, 2013 and 2014 by readers of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. As a writer, Christopher's work has been been published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Sun-Times Network publications, Reuters, USA Volleyball and Team USA, the Official Website of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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