Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer - Part II

An Interview with SW Michigan's "Listen To Your Mother" Producer Kim Jorgensen Gane 

This is the second part of a two-part interview with author, educator, and consultant Kim Jorgensen Gane, discussing her experience as a first time stage-play producer, bringing "Listen To Your Mother" to Southwest Michigan. (Read Part I.)


Ami: What are some of the challenges you faced with this production? How did you meet them?

Kim: We face similar challenges producing this show today that my husband and I experienced fifteen years ago when we owned a restaurant in downtown Benton Harbor. Berrien County is an incredibly diverse community, yet Benton Harbor and St. Joseph remain pretty segregated. This bothered me as a child, and it was a situation I worked hard to combat in our restaurant. 

After living other places, this is something that has stayed with me, motivating me in our inaugural season to focus on outreach and inclusion. The fact that this was a directive handed down by our national team across the country only made me more determined to find a way to make it work here. They wanted all the voices of motherhood represented, and I did, too.

I called Beth Haire-Lewis, who emcees and co-chairs the annual "Gene Harris: Coming Home, Coming Together Concert," has appeared in "The Vagina Monologues" locally, and sings with the band Sankofa. We had a very frank discussion, and I asked her to help me fulfill my vision of producing a show that represents our two communities as equally as possible, while first and foremost providing great entertainment. Without any previous experience with Listen to Your Mother to bank on, she took a big leap of faith when she agreed. 

Meagan Francis was a part of the NW Indiana cast in 2011, so she already knows what's special and incredible and life-changing about Listen to Your Mother. And she’s a big fan of community theater, recently playing Alma in The Christmas Schooner, with an impressive online following. When the national team put us in touch, we were both like, “You mean there’s another blogger in St. Joe?!” Meagan believed in what we wanted to do with every piece of her heart, too. We three make a great team.

And we’ve all been blown away by how beyond our expectations the local talent has delivered. And we’re thrilled to give these thirteen amazing writers and performers, some of them for the first time, a stage. And a microphone. 

Key Takeaway: Don't try to do it on your own. When faced with challenging circumstances, enlist the help of those who have shown themselves capable of meeting those challenges head-on. Build your team!

Ami: What advice would you give potential producers for casting amateurs?

Kim: I certainly can’t speak as an expert. But we’ve learned a few things that I hope we’ll improve upon in future years. 

I think the word “audition” can be a little off-putting for those who’ve never dreamed of doing this before, but who have a story they feel compelled to share—and story is what Listen to Your Mother is all about. It’s so very different from anything else we’ve seen. 

Some of our auditioners interpreted our call for auditions like a homework assignment. We tried to convey that it’s more about a moment that defines motherhood for you. And we tried to convince everyone that it’s so much more than a show by mothers for mothers. Even so, we only had one man audition--John Berecz--but his story was wonderful and we cast him. 

We’re open and we want you to succeed. We happen to be moms, but we were all something before we were moms. And we’re just regular people. I think we create a welcoming, supportive audition experience, at least I hope we do. 

Though it’s natural for our first cast to come largely from our direct circles of influence, I’m hoping, after a year under our belts we’ll be able to reach out further into the community. I hope after seeing a show folks will better understand what it is we’re looking for. As difficult as it was for us to choose among the auditions we heard this year, I can’t imagine what that process will be like later on.  

Key Takeaway: When casting amateurs, a supportive environment holds the key to success.

Ami: What tips do you have for finding and working with local sponsors?

Kim: Oy! Well, I’ve learned that I have a bit of a social anxiety about picking up the phone, which is not conducive to connecting with potential sponsors. 

But what if no one comes to my party!?
There’s a story in my past, about not being invited to a party in kindergarten, about being turned away at the door by the birthday boy while my best friend wiggled her fingers from mine and stepped inside. This translates into me being afraid nobody wants to come to my parties either. It’s often paralyzing and it’s something I’ll be working to further conquer before next year. 

It helps that I know and love a number of business owners who have been incredibly supportive. And I have Meagan as my secret weapon. She reached out to Celebration Cinema and got them on board as a major local sponsor, for which we’re so grateful. 

But one of our favorite things about Listen to Your Mother is the charitable aspect of the movement. 

Since 2010, they’ve raised over $50,000 for local charities that impact women and children in the communities that welcome the show. So, I guess, first pick a great charity partner. We certainly did. Readiness Center, Inc. is so easy to go to bat for. It’s because of them that we found some of our cast members, and some wonderful support from Brenda Layne at WSJM, and from The Herald Palladium (local media). Which is unusual for a first year show. But we had an idea that this community would welcome LTYM with open arms. And they have.

Key Takeaway: Don't let past problems or present anxieties hold you back. Your sponsors become your partners in producing a show you believe in.

Ami: What have you learned that you wish you’d known going into this project?

Kim: I think we’ve all learned SO, so much. As I’ve watched the seeds of our vision blossom into the show we’ll be putting on for Southwest Michigan on May 9th, I’ve learned to trust myself. And to put my trust in others.

I’m not terribly good at delegating, and that’s something I hope to improve upon in future years, too. 

It was a huge risk just auditioning in Northwest Indiana last year, and I’ve enjoyed some major payoffs. I’m sure Meagan would say the same thing of her experience in 2011. 

Even if I wouldn’t have been cast in the show, the experience of auditioning—of sharing my words and my truth, however difficult it was, out loud—was life-changing by itself. I didn’t crumble. The earth didn’t swallow me whole. Lovelyn Palm (NW Indiana director/producer) didn’t turn me away at the door. She didn’t point her finger at me and shout, “YOU WEREN’T INVITED!” Rather, tears filled her eyes. She laughed in all the right places. And she heard me. I want to gift that experience to as many other deserving writers in my community as I possibly can.

Key Takeaway: There is always room for improvement. There is always room for growth. And you can always look forward to the next production for both.

Thanks so much to Kim Jorgensen Gane for this interview. 
Have experience with producing using amateur, local talent? What key takeaways did YOU get from the experience?

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