On November 1st, I met the cast and founders of, The Seeing Place Theatre at The Bean in lower Manhattan during their tech for their current show, Jack Goes Boating: Erin Cronican, Candice Oden, and Brandon Walker. I felt like I was walking into an artist colony. There were students, actors, and teachers mingling among the buzz of coffee grinding and aromas of pastries from behind the counter. We walked with our coffees to their intimate black box theatre space and chatted during a light cue-ing. It was the quintessential theatre experience. Their set also happens to look just like Friends’ Central Perk which would make anyone feel right at home.
AF: So why don’t you guys go ahead and introduce yourselves!
EC: I’m Erin, Managing Director of the Seeing Place. I’m a professional actor, singer, and producer, and career coach! Alright Candice… your turn.
CO: I am Candice- the other woman!
BW: I’m Brandon Walker. I’m the artistic director of The Seeing Place.
AF: So tell me about your theatre…
EC: Fifty-five seats in the theatre and we can put them anywhere we want. It’s a true black box…it’s empty. This play has like twelve or thirteen locations which is absurd, but we’re putting an audience on two sides of the actors so the actors are really doing 360 acting and therefore it’s super intimate and they’re using all the space.
AF: Well now that I’ve gotten the down-low…Let me say it’s so good to meet you guys! I had no idea anyone would ever reach out to my blog and want to have coverage on their show but this is such a cool way to discover your theatre for the first time! I know you’ve been around for a while but I am so glad to know now that you exist. Literally in the middle of your tech! Well today is just a fun time to talk about theatre, coffee, and how this theatre came to be! So Erin…first question…what are you drinking right now?
EC: I’m drinking a tall black drip coffee with pumpkin spice and a little bit of soy milk.
BW: I’m drinking black coffee.
CO: I am drinking the bean chocolatey smoothie. I got fancy.
AF: There must be caffeine in that…and sugar… so we’re good.
CO: Yes. Yes there is.
AF: You guys going to be up alllllll night! And what would you say your ideal cup of coffee is at home?
EC: Oh I have the best coffee… hands down I get it at Fairway and I buy flavored coffee but it’s really rich. I always have chocolate flavored and I have vanilla almond at home but I’ve had dolce de leche, and southern pecan is really good…they’ve got caramel… they have everything! They grind the beans. That’s what I make at home and it’s the kind of coffee that people who “don’t drink coffee” will still drink my coffee.
C0: If I have coffee, there are lots of other things in it. Lots of soy milk and sugar. I want it to not taste like coffee.
BW: My ideal coffee is French press coffee made a’ la Bulletproof Coffee so with MCT oil or butter.
AF: Well now that we know everyone’s coffee let’s talk about how everyone got to the city. So Candice…why don’t you start us off!
CO: I’ve been in the city for 12 years!
AF: So you’re a New Yorker!
CO: I’ll gladly take it.
AF: So did you go to school for theatre?
CO: I did not. I did not go to school I jumped on a cruise ship… Holland America. I did cruise ships instead of college!
EC: You probably learned more than me!
CO: I learned a lot about life. (laughter)
AF: Truly! In the middle of the ocean. And then you got connected with these folks!
CO: I met Erin through my ex-boyfriend. She has a coaching business and my boyfriend at the time was seeing her, for BUSINESS RELATED reasons, and I was secretly a little bit jealous because I really wanted a career coach but I thought…I’ll let him do his thing. But then he told me he could give me her information, and he thought it’d be really cool for me and I was like, “Ok!” (laughter) And then we met, and I knew we were going to be friends.
EC: And then I was like, “No! We’re going to be BEST friends!”
AF: And how long have you been performing?
CO: I’ve been performing for twenty-five years. It’s actually true… Yeah, I’ve been very lucky. Obviously I’ve been doing it my entire life. I love it so much. I started dancing when I was a kid because I wanted to be like my big sister. I had no interest in dancing I was just interested in being like my big sister. So I took dance class and the studio where I went was incredible and so supportive and they really raised me. They were my second family. They made me who I am today. In New York city my first professional gig was a workshop. I did a lot of those…where only Industry people were invited. My first job where my friends could actually come and see me perform was a Seeing Place show. The Seeing Place has been where people can actually come and see me work.
AF: They can see you! Alright Brandon…
BW: I’m from San Diego. I’ve been here for ten and a half years, although I still don’t really feel like a New Yorker. I came here because I was running away from a girl. I didn’t really know where I was going when I got in my car. I was either coming here or Chicago. I had never been to either place… really. I was actually never really considering leaving San Diego. I was vehemently against the artists that kept leaving… I thought, why is everybody leaving? If everyone just stayed we could have our own art scene here. It is a town where people go to die or to surf. It is very difficult to be an artist there. I moved here, I’d been studying with David Gideon, who is an acting teacher who teaches Lee Strasburg. I studied with a student of his beforehand in San Diego, Frances Girk. I have not gone to a traditional school. I went to a couple community colleges and got something like one-hundred-sixty credits in Social Sciences. I have no idea why I did that. I had no interest in graduating. Outside of that, I’d had a theatre company in San Diego for six or seven years. I’d pretty much done Shakespeare from when I was nine to twenty-two. And then I branched out a little bit and moved here when I was twenty-five. That’s me.
AF: Alright! That was a very cohesive answer. Last but not least…Erin.
EC: I’ve been here twelve years. I moved here from the San Diego area. I’m from a suburb of San Diego county. I knew Brandon from there, although we were not coupled at the time… it took many, many years for that to happen! I’ve been acting since I was nine.
CO: She won’t say how many years…she’s just gonna give you nine.
EC: That’s the way I do it! You do it the way you do it! Either way they’d be like… “But that’s negative years, Erin, ‘cause you’re not that old…”
CO: That’s right!
EC: As you can tell…age is an issue.
AF: What is age!?
EC: It’s awful in our industry that’s what it is. I feel like your career gets better and better and better as a guy. Women have such defined age ranges to be in. You are the ingénue and that is a certain type and if you don’t look like the ingénue well that’s it, you’re the character actor and you’re not gonna work until you’re forty. And then those people work, people like me who are Sopranos, all of a sudden can’t work and we have articles like Melissa Erico…talking about doing Finian’s Rainbow at forty-six and wondering if she can still be an ingénue. She chose to write that article to address the fact that she was very concerned about what people would think. You don’t ever see men writing, “Hmm..maybe I’m too old for this part…” Anyway… I am a militant activist. My background is in Musical Theatre. I went to school for theatre at Pepperdine in LA. I moved to New York in 2005 in search of the best pizza and found it. Brandon moved here in 2007 and pretty soon after that we were in touch and Brandon suggested we make some theatre and I was like, “Okay.” We started talking about all these ideas but didn’t do anything until 2009 when he formed an idea for the company and asked me to join and I said no. I was doing TV and Film and so I told him I was “busy.” I did the first and only revival of a musical called, Subways are for Sleeping. It’s a Julie Styne, Betty Comden, and Green musical that has really great songs. It only ran once on Broadway, flopped, and had never seen the light of day until this revival. Carol Lawrence, was hot of the heels as Maria in West Side Story and this was her next big thing. That was the first big thing I did and then other than our theatre company being around for now eight years, I am swinging in two Off Broadway shows right now! I’ve done lots of workshops to finally be doing something in the city feels good.
AF: I think if you are working in the city… you are successful. But then again…what is success? There are so many variations in this business.
EC: Yes…on that note. Talking about creating your own art… we did a production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and we were lucky to do it and then it got extended and went over the showcase code so we had to go on contract. But what’s really interesting is that when people would say, “Oh my God you played off Broadway, who produced it?” and I’d say, “I did,” they’d go, “Oh.” Like it’s not meaningful any more…
AF: My husband and I were just talking about this. I had a really amazing year last year with two Equity leading roles and the next performing event I have coming up is a concert of his music for his new musical. And he goes, “Annabelle! I’ve written a role for you!” I know it will do so well but it still doesn’t have the same weight as a regional contract. But that’s so stupid because all musicals and plays had to start somewhere… so who’s to say that that’s not successful to be part of this new work even if I’m cast because I’m his wife!?
EC: One thing we deal with in having our own theatre company is that when you create your own work you’re in control of how everything goes. For myself, I feel really artistically satisfied. And when you’re creating your own work and feeling artistically satisfied you go, “Oh wow… well then why am I auditioning for other things?” So then that becomes a question because you start to realize that the success is all wrapped up in, well is it artistic satisfaction, Is it money? And I started to realize it’s money and big contacts. In our company, a lot of times, actors will be in a new play because they want it to go somewhere, not for today’s experience. Always thinking, “How can we roll this into something else?” Sometimes you forget to take a breath and go, “Oh my gosh.” Like right now…we’re in a theatre… that’s in the middle of a tech rehearsal… it’s so awesome!
AF: So is that because of this day and age of social media, where everybody is constantly posting their achievements? You can never just be content in the present…
BW: Success varies from person to person. I don’t believe in good actors. We give people awards… huh? My teacher says to me a lot, “I wish you would stop trying to be an actor and be an artist instead.” And when you start to make that a goal, it’s much more fulfilling.
AF: What is the reason behind the name of the theatre?
EC: The Seeing Place is the actual translation for the Greek word for theatre. Theatre means the place we go to see ourselves. “Theatron.” It used to be a place for discourse. You went to the theatre to have a conversation about life and people got up and did skits and people debated about it. And then those debates got moved over many, many years later to pubs and public houses and now I guess it’s social media… and so what we’re trying to do is take theatre back to that place. We’re trying to create a conversation with our audience. It’s not just coming to see a play and then you go home. You come to see a play, you get to know the artists, you get a chance to talk to the artists, and really think about how this has impacted your life. We hope to ask more questions than answer them, and we hope to get them to start thinking about, “Who do I know that is like the people that I’ve seen?”
AF: That is so exciting. You guys have literally started this from square one. How did you come upon this location?
BW: I was trying to find a theatre on this block that was not the theatres that I’d already approached because they were all full. We were doing a production of, “The Scottish Play,” and we had lost the space we were planning to perform in so we had to get something last minute. We were looking for the same basic area… I literally pulled up theatres on Google Maps and picked one and called them and they said it was actually available during those weeks and that was that.
AF: When the timing is right…it makes its’ way.
EC: And then we rent wherever we can for the short amount of time that we get it. Or we’ll find rehearsal spaces or rehearse out of our apartment…
AF: Let’s talk about this show that you’re putting up! You guys are doing it all…acting, producing…
CO: The play is about four people finding themselves.
AF: And why should I come see this show? Is it contemporary?
CO: Yes, yes it is. It is a dark comedy.
BW: It’s about these four people, two of them are in a troubled marriage and they’re trying to hook up their friends who are extremely socially awkward and they plan a dinner get together…during which the two make a date for next winter to go boating but they’re both deathly afraid of water. So the whole play is about them dealing with themselves and being able to get to do that.
AF: How long is it?
EC: An hour forty with a ten-minute intermission. I think it’s funny as the artistic director, Brandon gives the story answer and I give the marketing answer. This is the tenth anniversary production of the play. It premiered at the Labrinth Theatre and they did it at the Public Theatre space… just up the street. The original play starred, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Beth Cole, and John Ortiz. It’s a very well-received, heartwarming play. It’s part of our season called, The Empathy Initiative. That’s our season theme… so the idea is that we are trying to pick works that all try to fight oppression through art, through theatre… so how can we have a conversation about oppression? As the three of them said, this is a play about how sometimes we are the most oppressive to ourselves, so if we can learn how to forgive ourselves and love ourselves then we can start to do that for others.
CO: Those were good answers guys.
AF: Well… I’d love to wrap this with “words to live by…”
EC: My favorite quote is Andy Warhol, “They always say time changes things…but you actually have to change them yourself.”
BW: My old one was, “Live to the point of tears.”
CO: So dark.
AF: Who said that!?
BW: Camu. I’ll give you the one that has been inspiring me for a little bit. It’s Lily Tomlin. “I kept waiting for someone to fix the problem and then I realized… I’m someone.”
CO: That’s nice.
(light cue-ing still occurring)
EC: I have to show you some of our light cues before you go…
AF: This is reminding me of Stranger Things…
EC: We’re in the Upside Down! We’ll be binging the second season as soon as we open the show…
CO: Mine is a Lily Tomlin quote, “I always wanted to be somebody but now I realize I should have been more specific.” Be specific people. Be specific!
EC: Here’s one that’s a bit more political…it’s a Sheryl Sandberg quote. “I want every little girl who is told she is bossy to be told, she has leadership skills.”
AF: I love that.
EC: How about we call it “like a boss” instead of bossy?
AF: You must be in marketing. Good with the words!
EC: Must be. Can’t help it.
Catch, Jack Goes Boating playing at The Seeing Place through November 19th.
Tickets here: http://www.seeingplacetheater.com