“Women’s Meet and Greet” with the Sapphire Theatre Company

Poster for the Sapphire Theatre Company’s inaugural production

Last Monday, I took an hour off as “personal business time” from my day job so that I could drive downtown to the Circle Centre Mall to attend the “Women’s Meet and Greet” event sponsored by the new, professional Sapphire Theatre Company.

It was a very exciting hour!

The “Women’s Meet and Greet” was a chance for several women from a variety of walks of life to get to see the new theatre space on the fourth floor of the mall and to meet Bonnie Mill, Sapphire’s artistic director, and Nan Macy, the actor who plays the title role in “Lysistrata,” which will be the Company’s first production. 

(“Lysistrata” opens this Friday, October 24, 2008!  More about the opening in a moment.)

It was also a chance for us to hear about the Sapphire Theatre Company itself, all while nibbling on scrumptious little gourmet snacks prepared by caterer Mary Chittenden and sipping wine poured by bartender Brian Grant.

The event was hosted by the director’s mother, Sylvia Mill, and her monthly wise women’s group.  The other members include Jane Lawrence, Joyce Coalson, and Claudia Grant.

The Company

Bonnie Mill is Sapphire’s artistic director.  Her husband, David Orr, is the producing director.  She grew up in Indianapolis.  He came here when he was in his early 20s.  At some point, they met, fell in love, and moved to California for a while, working as professional theatre artists.  When they decided that they wanted to run their own theatre company, they looked around for the best city in which to do so.

Their research told them that….Indianapolis would be the best place for them!  Indy’s development has accelerated in the past several years so that now there are lots of opportunities.

(I agree with the results of their research, but I had to laugh when I heard this story. I had a similar “Really?  Indianapolis? You’re kidding!” moment when I was trying to figure out where to live after living in Tokyo, Japan for five years.  Indy is one of the best-kept secrets on the planet.)

Yet sometimes people ask Mill and Orr, “Why support another arts group here?”

Their answer is that healthy cities have deep and diverse cultural offerings. ‘Simple as that.

Mill’s mom and her friends say that more cultural offerings means that more of their adult children will want to come back and live here, which is what they (the moms) want most of all.

The mission of the Sapphire Theatre Company is “to produce professional theatre that entertains, inspires, and connects in order to enrich the human spirit, compensate artists for their talents, and contribute to the cultural growth in Indianapolis.”

Mill says that paying the artists is a key component.  “It is the only way to grow continuity fast and deeply and to keep talented people here.”  Their first show, “Lysistrata,” employs thirty-three theatre artists in a total of 260 paid weeks of work.

The Venue

Sapphire will present “Lysistrata” in a renovated retail space on the 4th floor of the Circle Centre Mall.  David Orr has managed space reallocation projects for several local businesses, including Agio’s Restaurant and a local art gallery.  Because of this the Simon Mall people felt comfortable talking with him about renovating the mall space for a relatively short-term lease.

I had mixed emotions after hearing that the mall will not be Sapphire’s permanent home.  Right now, there is nothing else there on the fourth floor except Sapphire, so when you step off the escalator you feel as if you are entering a deliciously private and intimate creative space in which there are no distractions, only professional theatre.  Yet you also get to stop in at all of the mall stores on your way back down the escalator to the parking garage afterwards.  After the “Women’s Meet and Greet” event, I enjoyed being distracted by all the lovely things there are to buy in the world.  I had forgotten how much fun it can be to shop in person instead of online.  What a pleasure it would be to see live professional theatre and then treat myself to a bottle of perfume or something.

On the other hand, I have been boycotting Simon Malls for years because they wanted to charge me a fee to buy a gift card.  I understood that I was being charged two dollars for the convenience, but it still struck me as greedy and petty.  I found it more convenient to do all of my shopping elsewhere after that.

Still…the Simon company helped to make it possible for Sapphire to put on their first show.  Hmm.  If Simon were to sign on as a real sponsor and let Sapphire use mall space for free, it would go a long way towards bringing me back as a shopper.

But that’s just me.  And in the meantime, I don’t have to spend money in the stores in order to enjoy going to the theatre.

In any case, Sapphire plans to present professional theatre pieces in a variety of alternative venues over the next year or so.  

Eventually, they would like to have their own building in which they will host other professional companies that provide a variety of art forms in addition to live theatre – e.g. film, visual art, bands, etc.  The Sapphire building will also have a coffee shop and a cocktail lounge.  Mill says, “It will be funky and fun, someplace you would want to go just to see what’s going on.”

The First Show – The Story

Mill says she always asks herself, “Why this play right now?”

“Lysistrata” was written 2500 years ago but its themes are still relevant today.  Unfortunately, we still have political wars that go on and on and on.

In fact, in 2003 “The Lysistrata Project” happened in protest of the war in Iraq.  More than 1000 readings of “Lysistrata” took place on a certain day in 59 countries with 300,000 people involved.  In some locations the event couldn’t be widely publicized because it was too dangerous.  A blogger at the time called it a “raucous blessing.”  People came together to laugh and to hope for peace.  Just like the women in the play, people asked, and are asking, “When is this war going to end?”

However, beyond the deeper issues, Mill says this is a comedy, a “saucy, sexy, sassy, smart comedy.”

The story is that in ancient Greece, two nation states, Athens and Sparta, have been sparring for twenty(!) years.  The women on both sides are tired of supporting their troops by giving them up to die. 

A woman named Lysistrata (Nan Macy) unites the women on both sides.  They conclude that since the men can’t seem to stop the war on their own, the women will have to take over.  They decide to do three things:

  • 1. Take control of the treasury/war chest.
  • 2. Go on a sex strike.
  • 3. Doll up and tease the men mercilessly to further convince them that they should negotiate with each other for peace.

Mill says, “Don’t bring your children.  It’s very bawdy.”

Then she adds, “But maybe we call it ‘bawdy’ because it is a play about women’s sexuality.  It’s like a construction worker reversal scene.  (This piece) is a celebration of healthy sexuality.  After a period of no sex, the women start getting as frustrated as the men.”

This is good, says Mill. “Let’s be honest!”  Men need peace as much as women do, and women need sex as much as men do.

There is no nudity, though.  You have to pay extra for that, and this is a fledging theatre company.

The First Show – the Design Elements

At the “Women’s Meet and Greet” event there was some “hot, fun, mamba” music playing while everyone mingled.  Mill told us later that that was music from the show.

She said that all of the production design was done “through the filter of today.”  At one side of the room was a display of costume sketches from the show.  They are modern fashions but with a timeless quality.  Many of today’s fashions actually have a draped, ancient Greek silhouette.

We could see that scenic designer David Orr had already started painting the Greek countryside on the back wall of the set.  It is deceptively peaceful and lovely.

When I asked about the lighting design, Mill told me that Orr had been able to create the effects he wanted by adapting track lighting that was already in the space.  His lighting design will be much easier on the audience than regular theatre lights in such an intimate space because the smaller lights are not as hot.

There will be low risers for 160 seats, and a small wall separating the box office/lobby area from the performance space.

The First Show – The Process

Mill says that she prefers to hold open cast calls.  “I think the actors appreciate it and (open calls) allow me to familiarize myself with the talent here.  I won’t hesitate to pre-cast a show in the future, but I like to keep an open mind, even as I get to know people.  There are lots of good, new Butler and University of Indianapolis theatre grads, too.  It is exciting to be able to introduce them to the community.”

For the “Lysistrata” auditions, she asked each actor to do a monologue and then tell her a joke.  Many of the actors hesitated because the only jokes they knew were…maybe offensive?  She said, “It’s ‘Lysistrata!’ Go for it!” She heard some great jokes.

Mill says about Nan Macy, the actor who plays the title role, “The heavens dropped her into my life!”

Macy says, “This (being part of this production) is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. I come to rehearsals even when I don’t have to be here!”

Macy lives in Columbus, Ohio but she has done professional regional theatre all around the country, including in Atlanta, Tallahassee, Louisville, Austin, and more.  She is approachably beautiful, with a warm smile and a sexy, earth mothery energy that is very appealing.  I found it very easy to imagine her uniting the women of Athens and Sparta.

She talked a little about her creative process as an actor.

She brings to every rehearsal a #2 lead pencil with eraser, a notebook in which to record the pearls of wisdom that fall from the director’s lips, and her copy of the script.  “It is very exciting to open a new script and start highlighting your lines.  (Then) Bonnie moves you around and you learn what your actions are (to go with the lines.)”

Macy said that as an actor she has “no interest in the concepts behind ‘Lysistrata’ (the play.)  That’s for Bonnie to understand and communicate through other facets – the blocking, the lighting, etc.  My job is to figure out and communicate who Lysistrata is as a woman.  What is she doing in each moment and why?”

Comedies were different in ancient Greece than they are today.  There is very little instruction for character development in the script.  However, Macy says, “You can find moments in the action that are not scripted but that grow out of your knowledge of the character.”

She described for us a scene in which Lysistrata is interacting with two young men.  Macy believes that Lysistrata’s husband is dead and that her sons are of military age.  Lysistrata is desperate to stop this war. 

“I remember what it felt like to sit in college student lounges with my male friends, listening to the draft numbers being called out…I use these memories and memories of my own 21-year-old son to understand Lysistrata’s fear and hope and love for the young men in the play.

“That is how theatre happens,” Macy says.  “It is real and deeply affecting to me and, I hope, to you.”

The Future

John Strachan, Chair of Sapphire’s Board of Directors, popped in to the “Women’s Meet and Greet” event to thank us for coming and to encourage us to tell our friends about the show.  He said that when the board members read the script aloud at a meeting, they almost wet their pants, it was so funny.  “And that was just with amateurs reading it!”

I also met Sapphire Board secretary, Chrissy Walling.  She brings good organizational skills to the Board.  She is proud of the Board’s diversity, not only in terms of skills but in terms of age, race, sex, and background.  I agree with her: diversity is a strength for any organization.

There are immediate plans to produce three plays in 2009.  The title of the next play – and the production’s location – will be announced during the run of “Lysistrata.”

 “Lysistrata”

Mill says the show is “fast and furious and funny.  It runs 90 minutes with no intermission.” 

The opening night performance at 7:30 this Friday night will serve as a fundraiser and include a party afterwards, so tickets for that are $40.  Tickets for performances after opening night will cost $25 each, with discounts available for students, seniors, and groups.  The show runs this Friday, October 24, 2008 through Sunday, November 15, 2008, with shows at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays, and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30.

You may purchase tickets online at http://www.sapphiretheatre.com/ or by calling 317-966-PLAY (7529).  When you get to the Circle Centre Mall to see the show, park in the Sun Garage and take the escalators up past the food court to the fourth floor.

According to the press release, this show is “Rated ‘A’ for Adult Content.  (Parental discretion is advised for persons 17 and younger.)  ‘Lysistrata’ is loaded with sexual innuendos, strong language, and heightened states of arousal.”

‘Sounds like my kind of show!

************** 

By the way, one of the many fascinating women that I met at the “Women’s Meet and Greet” event was Shirley West, Vice President of Volunteer Services for The Wellington Group.  West organizes 3000 volunteers to serve as ushers for over 20 theatres and dance companies around town. 

One of the Wellington volunteers, Sue Warwick, was also at the “Women’s Meet and Greet.”  I first met her when she was ushering for the 2007 Indy Fringe Festival.  I know that she finds volunteering through Wellington very rewarding.

West told me that anyone who is interested in being a volunteer usher may contact her at home (317-255-3279) or on her cell (317-903-9898) for more information.  It is a great way to see the shows for free!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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