Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on ArtStream

By • Mar 22nd, 2007 • Category: Interviews

Listen to Mike talk with Patricia Woolsey, president of ArtStream and director of their upcoming show, That Thing Called Love [MP3 14:26 4.1MB].

Mike: Hi this is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Patricia Woolsey who is the president of Artstream and also the director of their upcoming show, That Thing Called Love. Good morning Patricia.

Patricia: Good morning Michael. How are you?

Mike: I’m doing OK. How are you?

Patricia: Going great.

Mike: Tell us a little about Artstream. We saw last year’s production of The Arkansaw Bear. We remembered thinking at the time, “We need to learn more about ArtStream because they’re doing really neat stuff.”

Patricia: ArtStream was founded about a yer and a half ago by a group of artists. The goal was to take the arts into under-served communities. We focus on working with people with disabilities and seniors. We’ve been doing some hospice work. We’re hoping soon to go into hospitals and organizations like that.

Mike: How many people were involved in getting ArtStream started?

Patricia: There are about five of us who are considered the founders.

Mike: Were you all working together on previous productions? How did you meet?

Patricia: We had known each other from previous work. Many of us had met working with the performing arts and disability community. We were really interested in expanding this work and doing more. We saw such a need for it in the community. We have really exploded. We’ve gone from two to four companies in one year. Obviously it’s fitting a niche and a need in the community. We’re excited and thrilled about that.

Mike: So is ArtStream like the umbrella group? What do you mean by you have four companies now?

Patricia: We have a company of actors with disabilities that are going to be performing this weekend in Arlington. We have a group that’s going to be performing in Silver Spring in collaboration with Round House in Early June. Then we have two companies in Gaithersburg that are performing, also actors with disabilities at the end of June. We inherited two companies from Imagination Stage who are refocusing their mission on children. They have two companies of actors with disabilities. ArtStream took those two companies over. This is our inaugural season with these companies, although we’ve been working with many of these actors for many years. That’s what I mean when I say we’ve grown from two to four companies in one year.

Mike: Is that confusing or a ton of extra work having to coordinate companies that are so far apart?

Patricia: It’s not confusing, but it’s a lot of work doing all the producing. Each director does the producing and the writing of the show as well. It’s quite a unique process that we go through. Quite a long process.

Mike: How long did it take to work on That Thing Called Love?

Patricia: The format that we use. We rehearse for six months once a week. Our particular Arlington group rehearses on Thursday nights for two hours. What we do is we voted on an idea at the beginning of the year. We brainstorm and vote it down until we get one idea. This year their concept was love. We do improvisations about love.

The directors then develop a script based off of those improvisations. What I do is I record all those improvisations that we do and try to take as much language directly from them as I can and incorporated it into the script. I wrote it around December and then took a couple months to develop it and then it’s just traditional rehearsals from then on. I make an audio tape of the script. We block it, rehearse it, hire the set designer, costume designer, lighting designer. We get a space and we go.

Mike: Wow.

Patricia: It’s quite amazing. The focus really is to highlight the abilities of all of our actors. Each part is taylor made for the group that we have that year.

Mike: So what kind of disabilities are you working with right now?

Patricia: We have several actors with Down Syndrome. Some with Pervasive Developmental Delays. I think that is most of our group. Other groups have people with Autism and Asbergers Syndrome and some other disabilities. It’s quite a variety.

Mike: What kind of training do the directors need to have to work with groups like this?

Patricia: Most of us have life experience. Many of us have been working at Imagination Station for years. We have several people with Master’s Degrees in Special Ed. General training. We also have an internship program through ArtStream and we train other artists who are interested in working with these communities. There is a variety of ways people get trained to have experience with these populations.

Mike: What is the goal for the performer when they do a show?

Patricia: The goals for the performer or our goals for the performer?

Mike: Could be either or both, I guess.

Patricia: I think the shows are two fold. I think for every human being it’s their right and their desire to have creative expression. We really really believe in the power of the arts. The power of the arts should really be available to everyone. Everybody has need to express themselves creatively. So that’s number one, that it gives these actors who may not get a chance to do this other places to really do this. They have ownership in this because they know that they helped develop this. They recognize that the improvisations and the words are theirs. That’s number one.

Second of all we really want to educate the community in how much capability our actors have. It’s really a great show. These shows are absolutely amazing. Everybody who comes is so touched. They can’t believe it. I’m really excited for these shows and I’m always excited for the community to come and see what we do. The actors feel great about themselves. It’s great to find something you’re really good at. These actors are good at it. I’m telling you. They’re great.

Mike: How do you find the actors? Do you have auditions?

Patricia: We have auditions.

Mike: Where do you audition?

Patricia: Last year we auditioned where we rehearsed at the Lee Community Center. It’s to be determined where we will be rehearsing this year. We’re still negotiating spaces and all those things. Generally we rehearse at the theater where we will be performing or at the rehearsal space. Usually they’re two different venues.

Mike: Is there a lot of overlap between the differnt performers in the different groups? Or are they pretty stand alone?

Patricia: No. One of our goals also is to get out into the community. I’m trying to focus on Arlington and the DC area that’s near Arlington. The other group that does Silver Spring is hoping to pull from that part of Montgomery County. Then we have the two groups up in Gaithersburg. Nobody is doing any of the other companies mostly because of location. Also they know it’s lot of work and a lot of commitment. It is a six month commitment plus memorization of lines and the shows. All of our actors are required to sign contracts that they understand the nature of the commitment.

Mike: The Arkansaw Bear wasn’t a home grown show, was it?

Patricia: It was not. It was written by Aurand Harris. He is a children’s playwrite. We thought that show really fit in with our vision of doing hospice work. Every year we do a pro bono show for Camp Caring, which is a camp for children who have lost parents.

Mike: When is that?

Patricia: That usually happens in May.

Mike: So That Thing Called Love has a basic theme of love. Tell me a little bit about that show?

Patricia: We want to explore some of the dfferent aspects of love. Originally we had talked about exploring some of the different kinds of love. Familial love. Sibling love. Friendship love and that there is all kinds of loving. Society and loving. Until it just got really big. So we honed it down. It really is mostly about romantic love. There is a character who is really exploring the theme and doesn’t understand what love is.

A lot of the scenes start off with, sometimes love is patient or somebody has a very flippant attitude towards love. Then there’s a scene at a high school reunion. They’re at a high school prom and they never hook up, but they meet at the reunion and they find each other again. Then there’s a scene where two people are friends and they try it out and then they decide they really need to go back to being friends. It ends on a very hopeful note that you don’t really know what love is, but you do know that it exists. It’s sort of an open ended show. When they picked love I said, “Oh my goodness. What are we going to do with this? It’s such a broad topic. A difficult topic.” It is an original musical.

Mike: Oh, it’s a musical.

Patricia: We have nine actors who have disabilities and we have three mentors who mentor them on stage. We have a musical director who wrote all the original songs. We have a couple snippets of already existing songs. The music is live. It’s just a very sweet, funny, touching play in explanation of this very difficult topic. It very much organically came from the actors.

Mike: I don’t want to be patronizing.

Patricia: Sure.

Mike: But do the actors kind of follow everything that’s going on? How cognitively awake are the actors?

Patricia: Very aware. Absolutely very aware. They are a part of the development process. Sometimes they have questions. The woman who is doing the main exploration of love, saying, “I don’t really understand what this is.” She had some questions because some of the concepts that she explores are a little more abstract. So we talk about it. We’re alwys willing to sit down and talk about anything. I am also in process willing to change anything. If there’s a word that I hear that is difficult to pronounce or if there’s something that they don’t understnd. I am always willing to tweak it. I want them to shine. It’s about them. I want them to succeed and look great.

Mike: Is it fair to judge works like this with other theater works?

Patricia: That’s an interesting question. I think it is an amazing process. I think it is amazing, but it is different than other theater. It really is. There were times when you won’t obviously hear every single word. But it’s just so beautiful and so human. It always shocks our audience at how good the quality is. But no, it is not judged on the same level as a professional theater company I would say.

Mike: Do you think audiences are shocked because they aren’t aware how capable some people with disabilities are?

Patricia: Yeah, I think it’s that. Whenever you see a side of society you don’t se all the time that it’s just eye opening. There’s this whole other world that you don’t know about. One of my friends came last year to see our company and he was just so amazed by the quality of the work. He had no idea. And even I. I work with hem, but I work with them in a very close setting.

A couple summers ago we had a camp and we had different art experiences around town. We went to the theater. We went to museums. We’d go out to lunch and do all these things. Everything was traveling. We’d be on the metro and then we had a studio we went in the afternoon. It was intersting to be in society with some of these actors. I felt for them. Some of the people on the metro would not sit near us. Some people would give us funny looks. I thought,”Wow.” Even having worked in this for fifteen yers I’d never really been out in society on the metro with them. It was so surprising. A lot of people were vey nice, but some people were very uncomfortable. I hadn’t experienced that and it was so naive of me. It was quite eye opening.

Mike: How would the process work if you were to go out into the community? You were talking about going to retirement homes or other places. How would that work?

Patricia: Well, what we do now. We have a contract actually with CSAAC which is Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children. They contract us to come in and we offer dance and poetry classes to their clients. What we would like to do is have nursing homes maybe go in a grant together or have them contract us to come in and provide these performing arts experiences for their clients and for people who live there. We are very interested in going to where the need is and to where the people are.

Mike: That is very exciting.

Patricia: It is very exciting. It’s some great stuff. It’s some great work.

Mike: Do you see maybe growing other umbrella organizations in other cities that can do similar projects?

Patricia: That’s quite funny because we’ve been approached by somebody in Florida and somebody in Massachusetts who have some interest in this. I don’t know. Maybe in the future, but I want to make sure that we expand at a rate that we can always do quality work. That’s the most important thing to me. I think a lot of organizations make the mistake of growing too fast. I want to make sure that we are growing at a rate that keeps the quality up. But, who knows we could be national some day. That would be wonderful. I think this work needs to be everywhere. We hope to expand out. It’s a matter of having artists who are qualified to do it and finding the space and gathering the relationships.

Mike: The plays that you have already put together like That Thing Called Love. Would that be available to other groups to perform?

Patricia: That’s interesting. We have not pursued that yet, but that’s an interesting thought. I think it would be great. It’s more about the process, although we could make the scripts available. I would like to empower other people to learn this proces from us of actually trusting their own play-writing ability and also really using the abilities of the actors that are there. Every year you have different abilities. Some people can initiate lines. Some people can respond. Some people are non verbal. So it really is finding what their best quality is and then highlighting it. So I think it works better than imposing an already existing script onto them.

Mike: That makes perfect sense. So tell us how people can get tickets and where they can see That Thing Called Love.

Patricia: We’re going to be performing at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Community Theatre, which is in Arlington Virginia. It’s on 125 Old Glebe Road in Arlington. Tickest are going to be sold at the door. We’re not taking reservations. It’s a big theater. It’s $10 and we accept cash or checks at the door.

Mike: What nights are the performances?

Patricia: It’s Thursday the 22nd and the 29th. Friday the 23rd and the 30th. Thursdays and Fridays are at 8 PM and then Saturday the 24th and Saturday the 31st at 3 PM.

Mike: Give us your web page adresss and how people can get in touch with you if they have more questions about ArtStream?

Patricia: It’s

Mike: Ok, well thanks very much for talking with me today. I appreciate it.

Patricia: Thank you for having us on.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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