Unlocking LiFT 14: Advertising and Promotion Basics

By Matt Powers

Everyone understands that advertising and promotion are necessary. Without them our events, cool ideas, and information wouldn’t be seen or heard by anyone. Its crucial, and essential to the survival of any organization.

I happen to dislike it.

When I consider my duties and the work I enjoy, promotion falls to the bottom. I much prefer working with actors and scripts and making theater. That is not to say that facets of advertising aren’t wonderfully compelling and imaginative. The best advertising, from my limited experience, surprises us and is a very compact story.

Exude Story – Every piece of advertising needs to tell a story, ideally your story. From concept, layout, artwork, and language, everything needs to stem from story. One of my favorite recent examples is our poster for The Brass Lantern (many thanks to Sign Designs by Al for the great poster). With a striking image that captures the essence of our hero, tactful use of color, effective composition, and clear language this poster does everything we need it to: capture attention, give information, and give ideas about our story for The Brass Lantern.  If nothing else, character dominates this poster. BL example

Surprise – Surprise sounds cliche, but it is important. Surprise doesn’t have to be a “Holy cow! I didn’t know that or see that coming!” moment, but it does need to entertain. Surprise could entail humor, or an interesting graphic, an unusual method of delivery, or all of the above. I guess when I say ‘surprise’ what I mean is ‘delight,’ because if you can delight an audience, you have their interest. Once you get their interest, you had better capitalize. In the case of our poster, surprise (well mystery) is achieved through the artwork, color, and font type. Particularly the word “podcast,” with its thinner lines and wider typeface, catches our attention because it is so different from the rest of the language. Where the font for “The Brass Lantern” hearkens back to the pulp era of gritty heroes with its marquee like look, “podcast” has a more contemporary, sleek look to match up with the newness of the digital medium.

Persistence & Repetition – Getting your name out there is difficult, especially with the dearth of material one has to slog through on the internet, social media, print sources, television, and radio. Tactful repetition and being persistent can get through much of it, and when it does get through it should be effective. Casting a diverse net helps with this, and any advertising campaign should certainly make use of social media, print, and, if possible, radio or television (though this does get cost prohibitive). For LiFT we’d had great success with social media and print – creating events, sharing them, cross-promoting with other pages, promotional posts that are image centered, press releases, and news stories. With The Brass Lantern, we even spread posters around to community boards and businesses willing to let us use some window space. It is difficult to gauge how effective print can be at times, because of a lack of analytics, but at the same time that kind of advertising is cheap and gets it in front of a public who may, or may not, know about it. It is also a way to establish community connections – which should always be utilized – and develop future relationships. To me, that’s a good return on investment.

Talk soon,


Unlocking LiFT 13: The Brass Lantern Live!

By Matt Powers

There is nothing quite like live performance. Even for seasoned performers, there is still those nerves that occur before the show, the anticipation of performing lines well,the pressure of hit all your lines and marks on time, the worry that something will go wrong, but having confidence from rehearsal time. When you go out there and see the faces in the audience, it all melts away, and the story takes over. It was worth it. All of it. The hours of practice, the rehearsals, the preparation. Once you feel the audience be entertained, it is an immense rush.

It’s been quite some time for me since my first stage appearance, and I find the feelings of that moment difficult to recall. I remember nerves, but mostly joy. So I am slightly jealous that A.G. Devitt was able to have his theatrical debut well into adulthood. He will remember the subtleties of waiting backstage, going through warm-ups, taking the stage, performing for the first time, and the relief after a show goes well.

While all the actors performed well (and I will likely have future posts about them), for his first appearance in front of a packed house deserves some extra accolades. As the author and principal character, he’s said these lines an inordinate amount of time, but for the performance he did something that is the hallmark of all great actors – He made them sound fresh. Matthew Arnold wasn’t simply a scarred veteran of the war anymore, he displayed a subtle range that ran from sly humor, to awkward honesty, simmering romance, and, of course, murderous rage.

And the speed with which he transitions is to be commended. One of the hardest moments from the live show was just after Arnold kills Max Benson. As soon as the pistol is fired, we find Elaina Dare in the doorway, having seen the whole thing. To Devitt’s credit the emotional shift from rage, to stunned confusion, to romantic honesty was a feat. He displayed range, depth, and was able to carry the beat of the story forward to its conclusion.

I hope he has been bitten by the acting bug, but time will tell.

Talk soon,


Unlocking LiFT 11: “Where’s the Cheesecake” Rehearsal

By Matt Powers

Since the inauguration of the Little Falls Cheese Festival four years ago, we have put on a series of original one-act, radio-theater style plays. We have a recurring cast of characters and actors, and are in the same venue each year.

These shows are great fun to direct. And that’s the point, right? Why have theater that isn’t fun? There is a time and a place for that kind of theater, but, for us, for the Cheese Festival in the throes of July heat, we prefer light, witty comedy. Even though we have a lot of fun, there are always things to work on.

Timing – Timing is crucial in any comedy. Getting the right preparation, delivery, and the right pacing all contribute to good timing. The best comedians excel in this areas, and know, in and out, how to make a joke funny. The same applies in theater where actors need to know what the joke is, how to prep it, and how to deliver it. With verbal and witty jokes, the burden is on the “straight man.” They need to establish a “normal” which the other character, the “foil,” can make a punch-line against. Sometimes the normal is composure, sometimes it is madcap, either way a baseline needs to be established in order for it to be upended.

Actors. Always on break.

So part of the rehearsal was geared toward allowing the actors to learn which role they played in the joke. Not everyone can be the punch-line person, but without the “straight man,” jokes fall flat. It takes some time, particularly getting the speed and delivery right, but once it hits – it is absolutely worth the time.

Voice Acting – These Cheese Festival shows have evolved into a hybrid. They are part radio-theater, part reader’s theater, or as our authors dubs it “theater for the air.” Since actors have script in hand, and our performance space is rather small, we don’t have much room for movement or blocking. So, like the old-time-radio personalities, we need to rely heavily on voice acting.

The full cast reading the first few pages. From left to right: Katie Drake, Tom Stock, Cindy Quackenbush, Ginny Clapp, Tucker Lester, Al McDowell, and Oscar Stivala.

Voice Acting is all about being distinctive. A character’s voice needs to be iconic and convey things like: age, gender, education, geographic location, physical size, personality traits, and more. So much time is spend on character voicing, not only to capture the essence of the character, but to fit in the overall comedic design. If a particular voice, or voicing, is making a joke unclear, then it needs to be tweaked. Oftentimes I’ll say to the cast, “We need more. Really bring that out. Or don’t be afraid to be a bit over-the-top here, I’ll tell you when its too much,” just to put them at ease and perform in energetic ways.

Script Adjustments – Finally, the script. We go through a rigorous reading process. Angela sends me a draft. I read it and give feedback. She edits, has others read it, and then we get it out to the cast. During the first few read-thrus,  we make alterations here and there, but it isn’t until we actually read it in our performance space that the script becomes finalized.

More script changes.

Several times during that rehearsal, I’d wander over to Angela, ask a question about the script or a cue, and get clarification. After we decided to cut, or add, something, I’d stop rehearsal, tell the cast what the change was, and have everyone mark it in their scripts. I know in some cases actors get very annoyed by this process, but they are good to us, and know that they too are part of the process and want to have an excellent product. It is sometimes time-consuming, but it works.

All of these things happen simultaneously, so it is a bit difficult to accurately convey how rehearsal goes, but they are vital for creating a fun, lively, comedy. And if we didn’t pay attention to these things, why are we creating theater?

Till soon,


Unlocking LiFT 9: Decision Making

By Matt Powers

LiFT began with Strike Story by Angela Harris, which is about the 1912 textile strikes in Little Falls, NY. We didn’t know it then, but this production, and how its been produced, has set the tone for how LiFT creates shows and makes decisions.

In the initial read-thrus of the play, the whole cast sat in Angela’s living room, read the play aloud, and then had many discussions about characters, conflicts, language, and a host of other things, while having snacks and wine. The closest thing I can compare the openness of conversation and diverse perspectives is democracy. Everyone had a voice, and we didn’t all get along, but we somehow came together to create this show. From the start, our decisions were not made in a vacuum.

As LiFT continued in other projects, I kept this open forum central to the group. As was often the case, I would choose a show, get a cast, and schedule rehearsals, but decisions about costumes, makeup, sets, even blocking were all open for discussion. If someone had an idea, we tried it. If it worked, we kept it. If it didn’t, we tried something else. It was fun, liberating, and invested the actors in the show. This worked for a few shows, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying to me.

That’s when I brought the cast in on the pre-production. After selecting a script and casting the show, I’d have a read-thru at my home, feed everyone, and discuss the play. We’d then have at least two follow up meetings to lay the ground work for all sorts of matters. The result? An ensemble driven show, that everyone had investment in.

Playwrights, actors, and theater makers in the age of Elizabeth did a similar thing (which I took as a model). The concept of a “director” didn’t exist. So everyone made decisions on acting, blocking, and other things collectively. Sure there would be a “point person” to establish responsibility for certain matters, but overall the ensemble, social, even democratic feel of the production is unmistakable.

And has become the backbone of LiFT.

Till soon,


Unlocking LiFT 5: Podcasting

Podcasts have been around for a few years, but have really become vogue. Some say the “Golden Age” of radio has come again. The sheer amount of content available, the ease of access, and the immense variety is astounding. So we thought we’d toss our hat in the ring with The Brass Lantern, because it is right up our alley.

And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Teaching the next generation of podcasters.

One of our favorite things to do is create new work, reach new audiences, and allow as many people as possible to experience the wonder of the our art form: theater. And the possibilities with radio theater are too good to pass up. With its zero cost, accessibility, and specialized interests, this openness is optimal for our audience.

Every month we crank out a new script, record, re-record sometimes, make a trailer, edit the audio, music, create and add sound effects, and more. It’s an immense amount of work, time, coordination, attention to detail, and creative marketing, but it’s worth it. We are developing new work, which means developing ourselves, bettering ourselves to make better entertainment for all of you.

We choose audio drama, because we like it, but the possibilities are endless. In fact, we are having so much fun with this, we are considering more shows and perhaps a whole podcasting arm to LiFT. It’s a new and exciting time for us. We hope you enjoy what we have planned.

Let us know what you think!

Talk soon.

Matt Powers

Programming for a Vision

By Matt Powers

Here at LiFT we don’t always have a plan. We have few foundation shows that recur every year, like our Mac Blac series for the Little Falls Cheese Festival, and our Shakespeare in the Park style shows in the summer. The rest of the year we do sporadic projects, or are asked to perform at various venues. It is unpredictable, good fun. Though we do not have a formal “season” yet, we still create shows and theatrical experiences around a collective vision.

Loosely speaking, we create quality, grass-roots theater. We are transients, and have no official theater to call home. We utilize our community resources to create unique experiences and use unconventional spaces. More specifically, our focus is two-fold, and we produce original work and non-copyrighted plays. Actually, the bulk of what we do is original work. Our community has many talents. We like to draw them out.

So we have Immersive Murder Mystery, theatrical teas, dress in costume for events, be characters for fundraisers, and all other manner of niche opportunities. We have been places we thought we’d never be, met people we thought we’d never meet, and have found new avenues and need for theater.

Though, we could always do better, and David Dower has a wonderful essay titled “How a Season Comes Together,” that is worth a read. Also, here is an article about five new Artistic Directors grappling with a similar, interesting challenge. For all you theater practitioners out there, knowing the big picture, and how a large vision shapes a season, can be incredibly useful for creating unique, powerful, and thematic years.

Blocking for The Tempest 2017 Part 2

After knowing some background, this next installment on blocking will focus on how, particularly in Shakespeare, there are clues to blocking in the dialogue and situations characters find themselves in. Some of what I discuss is drawn from an excellent study on this very subject, Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare’s Language of Gesture, by David Bevington. It is a clear and fascinating study on character, movements, spatial relationships, and ritual ideas ingrained in the Elizabethans. Certainly worth the read!

Mark Rylance, responding to a fellow director of Shakespeare, once said, “I must come and hear one of your plays.” Not see. Tone informs attitude, and attitude informs action. Tone, Rylance knew, is what informs the entire production. I would even go as far to say that if one were blindfolded, one should be able to “see” the action of the show simply by hearing the language. So, examining Shakespeare’s dialogue is about hearing possibilities, and imagining how those possibilities communicate story and character to the audience.

Let’s start with a favorite of mine, Macbeth Act I, Scene VII, just after Macbeth’s opening monologue where he contemplates assassination and recognizes his ambition has its shortcomings – he has no “spur to prick the sides” of his intent – but Lady Macbeth begins to prod:

Macbeth: We will go no further in this business:
He hath honour’d me of late; and I have bought
Golden opinions of all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.

Lady Macbeth: Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?

The Macbeths still have guests in the castle, and they find a private moment to discuss ambition and regicide in a wonderful, hushed domestic scene. Much of the language should be said quietly, maybe some through a stage whisper, but this language would feel inappropriate if shouted or said loudly. That is not to say that there aren’t outbursts where the characters catch themselves, and change tone and volume to fit their situation, but the dominant mood should be secrecy with the characters close together.

Although Macbeth’s mind is already primed for murder, he insists on “going no further” and gives a few reasons for not proceeding. What must be conveyed here is that his insistence is false, or at least capable of being swayed. His tone should be insistent, but with distinct pauses at the punctuation to break up the flow of the sentence. If we scan the lines (to look for where the stresses fall in this pentameter), we gain more clues to tone. In the following line I’ll highlight the words that are stressed: “He hath honour’d me of late; and I have bought Golden opinions of all sorts of people.” Macbeth’s language isn’t confident, controlled iambic pentameter, but more of a loose string of words of someone searching for a way to convince himself. If we look at the words that receive more stress (honour’d, me, late, I, bought, gold, etc.) and those that are not stressed, we see the disparity: Macbeth truly is concerned about himself and his worth in the eyes of others, not with Duncan. Even if Macbeth’s tone is determined and insistent, his syntax betrays him.

Lady Macbeth, among other things, is an excellent listener, and she listens very closely to her husband. She hears Macbeth’s language better than he does, and is able to locate this disparity and exploit it. When Macbeth finishes his speech with “Not cast aside so soon,” Lady Macbeth is canny enough to finish the line of verse. At this moment we see a subtle shift in power registered in language. From this point forward, Lady Macbeth will have the upper hand, and she will use a variety of tones to make Macbeth squirm.

She begins with a barrage of rhetorical questions that all are said in snide accusation, also likely in a stage whisper:

Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely?

Once can easily hear all those “s” sounds in stage whisper, and when she has more punchy words like “hope drunk,” and “green and pale” we can almost hear her voice slipping into normal register, only to return with renewed, whispered, anger on “At what it did so freely?” Lady Macbeth’s verse, at this moment, is much more controlled and is nearly perfect pentameter. The force of her thought chugs forward, gaining momentum with each sentence, but her tone softens a bit on the sentence that begins with, “Art thou afeard.” Instead of outright anger, she tries a new tactic: irony. This false sincerity is an exaggeration, which carries through the rest of the speech, and is another way to cajole and demean Macbeth. This new tactic shows how quickly she adapts, and how she may not be getting the reaction she wants out of Macbeth.

Though, when she accuses him of being a coward, she gets all the reaction she needs. Macbeth must do something on that line. Give her a look. Spin around. Shake his head. Something. How could he not? His honor and manhood are being attacked. This gives Lady Macbeth all the information she needs to manipulate her husband, which she does to stunning effect later in the scene. In this case, we see an example of how tone in one character’s speech actually affects the blocking of another character. This is done all throughout Shakespeare, oftentimes to great effect (like in Othello or Hamlet), but is easily overlooked when simply reading.

By careful manipulation of volume and tone, we understand how dynamic and palpable each character is, and understanding how they say their lines, gives us an array of options for gesture and movement. For Macbeth’s tones of false confidence and insistence, several hand gestures that would indicate “no” are plausible, and movements a few steps away from Lady Macbeth also seem fitting. Also, during Lady’s speech, Macbeth could be stationary, absorbing his wife’s words. Lady Macbeth has more range at this moment. Her varying tones of sarcasm, anger, insinuation, and accusation offer a world of gestures from finger pointing to throwing hands out in impatience. Her movements, though, would to be close to Macbeth, maybe turning him to look him in the eye, maybe talking in his ears from behind.

But those choices should be worked out with the actress and director, and that is where much of the creativity and liveliness of Shakespeare begins.


Blocking for The Tempest 2017 Part 1

By Matt Powers

In this multi-part post, I’d like to share some insider looks, tips, and ideas about blocking. “Blocking” is a term for movement on stage, and the term comes from the stage itself. If you were to take an aerial view of the stage, and draw lines to make nine equal blocks (as in the “rule of thirds”), you will have all the stage directions (upstage left, center, and right, and so on). So “blocking”, basically, referred to moving from one block to another. Now, though, it is a more encompassing term for movement, gestures, and stage business, and is greatly informed by cultural expectations and style of theater (like naturalism, realism, surrealism, etc.).

At its base, blocking is needed to tell story. Characters need locations to enter and exit, positions for disagreements, deep kisses, and rowdy brawls. Sometimes the audience needs to see characters split, so they need to exit in opposite directions. Sometimes the audience needs to see other characters spy on each other, as in Hamlet, so they need to be positioned in a way that makes that clear. Whatever the needs of the story are, blocking is needed to make it situations and conflicts clear to the audience.

Blocking provides a foundation from which to work. It provides the dominant lines for travel, speed, angle, arc, as well as a springboard for character. For instance, if a character is going to move diagonally across the stage from upstage right to downstage left, in a straight line, without stopping, and at a swift pace, that sets a clear trajectory and will shift not only the composition of the stage, but the dynamic between other characters and the audience. This character in the distance is suddenly thrust into prominence with bold movement. If our character needed to make an important speech, this blocking provides the architecture for other gestures, even volume and tone of speech.

Blocking is also tied to character. If it has just been revealed that our our character’s pants have fallen down, and is embarrassed, this movement is a clear exit strategy, and shows a need for the character to remove themselves from that part of the stage. Along the way, maybe the character looks back a few times nervously, or stops half way, tears in eyes, and then continues forward. So blocking must align, in some way, with a character’s internal or external motivation. Moving in a particular direction, at a particular time, in a particular way must make sense for the character, otherwise it will be very difficult to justify, or make believable, that movement.

There are thematic reasons for blocking too. In the first scene of Hamlet, guards are on patrol in the foggy evening. “Who’s there?” is the first line. This opening line and scene are the first inklings of the themes of suspicion, obfuscation, supernatural, and the difficulty in knowing exactly “who” is there. A director may choose to suggest these ideas through slow, careful movements, or even no movement at all. The guard could move around the stage in a circular fashion, or a “S” shape, both of which could suggest confusion. Or perhaps the guard is jumpy, and is so surprised that his movements are quick and jagged, waving his torch (or flashlight) wildly, and amplifying the suspicion angle. The possibilities are endless, and wonderful.

Ideological perspective is also a factor in blocking. If your play requires realism, like Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, then blocking must match the movements of real people closely. If your play is absurd, like Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, movements do not need to be grounded so much in reality. If you are Bertolt Brecht directing Mother Courage, stage movements are not intentionally beautiful and are to reveal the structure of human relationships. If you’re Elia Kazan, directing Death of Salesman or A Street Car Named Desire, blocking is made with the tension of competing forces in mind.

Or sometimes blocking is there just to have fun, or because it looks beautiful, or because the audience would really enjoy it. Generally, though, blocking should efficient, compact, and suggestive. And once we have a deep understanding of the whole story, we realize that each movement on stage, no matter how small, can be used to purposely to convey as many things simultaneously as possible.

Unlocking LiFT 4 – What Art Should Do

By Matt Powers

“Declan, please pick up the meeples all over the floor.”


“Declan, please pick up the meeples.”


Meeples. Not actually my floor though.

“Declan, I’m pretty sure you threw them. Please pick them up and put them back in the box.”

He wanders over to Logan to play, and ignores me.

“Declan, you have until the count of five. One. Two,” my irritation level increasing, “Three.”


“That’s it! Time out!”

So I plunk him in the chill out chair, and ask him to apologize for being rude. He does not comply.

“I’m going to tell Mommy that you are not being nice.”

“No!” There are tears.

I go upstairs and tell my wife what has transpired. We come back down together to resolve the issue. She kneels in front of Declan, and, in her softest voice, asks, “Were you rude to Daddy?”

He nods.

“Is it fun to be rude?”


She pauses, looks over at the meeples, then back to Declan.

“Declan, did you throw the meeples?”

“No, Logan did.”

We share a look.

“Logan, did you throw the meeples?”


And just like that I’m apologizing to Declan for not getting the whole story, for over reacting, and he apologized to me too for being rude. We hugged, and departed. I can’t speak for Declan, but I felt a distinct sense of connection and closeness after that debacle. It was nice.

When we talked about the incident later, I confessed I should’ve handled it differently, gotten the whole story first. Then my wife said, “Well, he has to learn that when he behaves a certain way long enough he creates an expectation, and when he breaks pattern, sometimes people aren’t going to believe him when he’s telling the truth.”

Besides being right, combined with the events described, my wife unknowingly made a profound connection about art. Let me explain: Great art should break with held patterns, unsettle us (even confuse and anger us), should provoke dialogue, and, once explained, should offer new perspective, and give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationships. I was fortunate to experience it in daily life, though the same experience can be had through engagement with art.

Matisse and the Fauvists were lambasted for their paintings, as was Picasso. Ulysses by James Joyce was banned in the United States for a time because it was considered obscene. Modernist poets like Eliot, Pound, H.D., Williams, Stevens, Moore, Bishop, and others all faced backlash (some more than others, I’m looking at you Pound). Bertolt Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Edward Albee, Paula Vogel, Eugene Ienesco, Samuel Beckett, Lynn Nottage, Ben Jonson, even Shakespeare (and this is by no means an exhaustive list), have all faced degrees controversy from their contemporaries for their work. Indeed part of the job of the artist is to find new ways to tell truth, particularly if its uncomfortable.

While much ink has been wasted in the name of “experimental” whatever (because some of it is drivel), the spirit of experimentation is crucial. We need artists to recognize patterns in their mediums, as well as society, and have the wit and wherewithal to break patterns to wake audiences out of their somnambulism. Like with Declan and I, he broke with his mischievous pattern for a moment, I misunderstood it, and a third party (my wife) was able to create dialogue and jostle me out of a lazy behavior. As a result Declan and I have a better relationship. Beyond that, I can rattle off a number of plays, films, poems, novels, and books that have changed me – I think we all can.

But we need it to happen more. There are so many things in our routine lives that dull our senses, that distract us from the beauty and challenge of truth. So many patterns that have become too common, tired, stereotypical, or cliche.  Some of these are artistic forms (like the sonnet), some are stories (who isn’t tired of the same boy meets girl narrative?), some are social, or economic, or religious, or a blend of all. But they need to be shaken up so we can be more present in life, to re-evaluate our life, and, hopefully, garner realizations about our life and how we live it.

But more art is only half an answer. We need to make our engagement with art stronger, more enriching. We need to be open to the ideas, and really be thoughtful about what it is we are taking in. If we don’t, we have zero chance of breaking with our own patterns and letting art change us.


Unlocking LiFT 3 – Ruby’s Reprise

By Matt Powers

Never would I have thought that LiFT would get involved with murder mystery theater. Not that I had a bias against it, it just never crossed my mind. I always envisioned a mix of new, original plays and Elizabethan theater for LiFT, because that’s how we started. As luck would have it, we’ve added to our repertoire.

So this all started when the owners of the Overlook Mansion approached LiFT with a couple of ideas. One was for a Dia de Los Muertos event (which was a load fun, but for another post), and something like a “whole house Clue” event. Being the geek I am, I loved Clue the board game, and adored the film, but didn’t want to rehash Clue or Live Action Clue (which is actually a thing with ton of rules). We wanted something different, that people hadn’t seen before. Hence, our creation of Immersive Murder Mystery. Our idea was to create a highly interactive experience, part theater, part game, where the audience needs to engage with all the characters to get all the clues.

Some audience members interacting with Ruby and Diane.

What resulted was Rubbed Out at Ruby’s, an original murder mystery created by local author, Cynthia Quackenbush. She has written a number of murder mysteries, mostly the dinner theater kind, has a neat blog, and is very involved in the local theater scene. It is a fun show that keeps the audience, and actors, guessing. To be honest, it is surprisingly fun. We played for over 100 people at the Overlook, and then we were contacted to perform at a party hosted by the Jay Groah Group.

This is wholly unexpected and wonderful and I certainly don’t want to stop, but what is surprising is how this turn of events keeps with values integral to LiFT. I think quite a bit about art, its usefulness, community building through theater, education, and so on, and I see LiFT as more than simply putting on theater. It is a way to actively make life better for our community. To accomplish that, I always remind myself of the following goals and values:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Open minds
  3. Create and strengthen community bonds
  4. Improve quality of life

And Rubbed Out at Ruby’s hits all of them. We have the good fortune of being able to travel and take our shows places. Whether it is woodsy Caroga, or the more urban Utica, we bring theater to people. Obviously Ruby’s did this, twice.

We’ve opened minds to a new possibilities. The preconception that murder mystery is strictly dinner theater is so pervasive, that our spin on it surprised people. Also, by getting them to see this interactive theater in a new way, we open their minds to new enjoyment and experience. Perchance they will be inspired, or at least tell their friends.

Creating community is integral part of this show. From the outset the audience is told they are all here to solve a murder.  That bit of information makes them a unique group, suddenly they all have something in common. Some chose to work together, to team up on the actors, others went solo, but, to my recollection, no audience members worked against each other. There were many times when I heard people discussing their guesses with others, using their own powers of deduction to arrive at their best guess. People shared information willingly. Freely. It was amazing. Some friendships may have be newly formed there, others were strengthened simply because of a positive, collaborative experience. In the bigger picture, a group of strangers came together, worked together for an evening, and no one was unhappy. To me, that counts for something.

JG party
A new community: the Ruby’s cast with the audience after the show.

Finally, improving quality of life. This is such a subjective idea. And, really, how can we really pinpoint how quality of life is improved? It’s difficult to quantify. But that’s ok. As a theater group, have honor to bring people joy, to lift them out of their ordinary lives, if even for a moment, to let them forget their troubles for a while, to provide a temporary reprieve from burdens, to expand their imaginations, and, hopefully, reach and change them emotionally. That’s a lofty, and worthy, goal, and Ruby’s touches upon some of those things (though being changed emotionally is a stretch). The more pragmatic reason is that simply by providing entertainment we make our community more attractive. We offer something to do. We offer the possibility of new interests. Maybe even hope. And that counts for something.