Spotlight on Vpstart CrowBy Laura & Mike Clark • Jul 20th, 2009 • Category: Interviews
Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Darrell Poe, the company Manager for Vpstart Crow in Manassas, Virginia. Thank you for talking with me today, Darrell.
Darrell: No problem. Thanks for having me on Mike.
Mike: To tell me a little about the history of Vpstart Crow.
Darrell: Vpstart Crow has ben around for about fifteen years and there is a lot of information about it up on our website: Vpstart Crow you can read about the different seasons that we have done, see the photos from a lot of shows in years past.
One thing that is interesting and a lot of people may or may not know about this. Somewhat plunged back into its infancy a lot of the leaders and founders of the company decided to move on to other challenges and if not for a small group of people, Vpstart may very well have disappeared. Joan Bull key among them. Over the past several years the company has sort of grown. We have brought in some great people. We have gone through a little bit of an adolescence if you will.
And I think now where we are we have sort of emerged as what I would think of as a really cool group of people. We really want to make good theatre. We have selected our new season for 2009/1010 which you have put up on the website. We appreciate that.
We have the up coming audition for our show Macbeth. We are eager to bring on new talent both on stage and off. I have been with the group for over a year now and I have seen the team really gel over that time. It has a lot of folks working on shows consistently and it is a really cohesive group. We have a lot of fun and we are eager to bring Vpstart Crow back to the quality it was years ago which people may or may not remember.
Mike: It seems that Vpstart Crow does a lot of arty type shows or a lot of classic type shows. Is that a fair assessment?
Darrell: Our mission officially is to do classic theatre in an upstartling way. That has been the underlying mission throughout previous years and it is is sort of how we try to approach each concept with our shows is to do the classic theater, but give it a new twist. Do something that sort of changes it up and makes the audience think. We want to challenge them when we put something up on stage.
Mike: Your next season has been announced. Aren’t you still playing shows right now?
Darrell: We are currently in the the middle of our run of Tartuffe, Moliere’s classic play. It is playing Friday, Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM for the next two weekends (closing July 26th) so there are six more chances to see it. It is a lot of fun. This cast and crew has been amazing to work with.
As I have said before I have been with the company for about a year and each show just gets better and better. Not only the quality of the show in terms of production quality in my opinion, but just the work experience. Everybody gets along everybody is having a good time. We just want to go out and make people laugh. So far the audiences has liked it. We hope to se more people come out.
This Saturday (the 18th) is our champagne reception. So basically we have a short meet and greet with the cast and crew with champagne and food beforehand and then enjoy a great show. It is all for the same ticket price. It is a great opportunity to meet some of the actors and mingle and enjoy a really good show.
Mike: And then Sunday the 19th you are having a talk back after the show?
Darrell: That is correct. It is typically student focused and we try to get student groups to come in and thy have an opportunity to ask the actors and the crew about the process of taking the show from the page to the stage. A lot of our audiences enjoy the talkbacks so that is scheduled for this Sunday the 19th.
Mike: Is it a community theater or a professional theater? Tell me more about how you actually work.
Darrell: The organization itself is a non profit professional theater group. There is a small stipend for actors and crew involved on the show. We are supported largely by donations and grants from the city of Manassas, Prince William County, etc. That is basically how we operate. Like I said we are always looking for new talent. We have the Macbeth auditions coming up. It is an open casting call. So head down to the Cramer Center and give us a shot.
Mike: Do you have to live in Prince William or can you be from anywhere?
Darrell: You can be from anywhere. Our grants do not require us to work only with residents, we just have to perform in the areas where we are receiving the grants from. So that is inside Prince William County or inside the city of Manassas. This is why the Cramer Center is such a great location. We hope to continue performing there for as long as possible.
Mike: I know a few years ago there was a concern that the Cramer Center may be closed down or sold. Do you know anything about that or is that not an issue anymore?
Darrell: It is not necessarily my place to speak on it, but I know that Steve Cramer is trying to sell the building. we are hoping that someone who is friendly to the performing arts will buy it and allow us to continue performing there. I personally would like to see other groups perform there as well. I understand there are some logistical challenges that go along with changing venues and moving to a new location. I have a personal affinity for the space. I really like it and I like working there and I would love to see it get more use and really become a more cultural epicenter of downtown Manassas. It has the ability to be that so hopefully somebody who has that same vision will come along and buy it up.
Mike: So talk a little about the general philosophy. Talk about how that Vpstart Crow is a non profit and focused in Northern Virginia. Is there anything else that we should know about?
Darrell: We are a professional non profit, but we operate under the notion that theater in an of itself is not a competition sport. There are several groups in the area that also perform and are in the same quote “league” as we are. But the way we see it and the way I myself and several of the other staff have approached it is this is one community and each of us as groups will survive or thrive or fail as a community. We’ve worked closely with PWLT (Prince William Little Theatre), we’ve worked with Dominion Stage, we’ve worked with several other groups in the area volunteering our time to help them put on shows help them strike and help them build sets to help them get their shows up just as a form of out reach because we want to see the community responding to theater and the better that each of us do individually the better we will ll do as a whole.
That is something that I have taken up. A very good friend of mine put it in a similar way,” Theater is not a competition sport.” I learned that from someone who worked on one of the first hows I worked on here at Vpstart. He helped out from PWLT. Dave Warner he helped us build our set. Helped us design and build our set and without him the show would not have been the success that it was. He did it out of the goodness of his heart. He put out his own money to get supplies, I’m certain he was reimbursed. But without that kind of energy and without that kind of philosophy we would not have been able to put that show on and that really has helped shape the way I have approached theater over the past year.
Mike: Do you get a sense that there is competition between groups for people to come out. Not necessarily performers, but audience members?
Darrell: Well, certainly I think everybody in an industry like this and a community like this, I think there is only so much fun money in each household especially in an economy like this one. If people can go see one show or the other, it’s not likely that they will be able to go see both. My wife is an actor and she auditions with other groups. I started out working on whatever show she was working on, helping out behind the scenes. I have taken to working exclusively here at Vpstart Crow. You hear talk.
I was at an audition for another company and I mentioned that I was producing a show at Vpstart, and I was told, “Oh just come on over from the darkside.” And I thought to myself, “Wow, that is unfortunate that somebody would say that about another group and certainly not the group I was working with.” That kind of clued me in that we need to change the way we re perceived if that is how people are thinking of us. At the same time sort of promote this notion that we are all good people. We are all trying to make entertaining and engaging theater and the more we support each other the better off we are all going to be.
Mike: Do you think that groups like the Prince William Arts Council, I know they help with funding, do they have other resources that kind of help groups share skills. I hear from a lot of groups that they can’t find crew people to run shows. Has that been an issue for Vpstart?
Darrell: I’m not sure about the Prince William Arts Council, I can’t really speak to that. I know that finding technical help has been a challenge with many of the groups I’ve worked with. It is valued greatly when it is found. We have been fortunate to bring on a good technical director in Christy Swaney. She has got a lot of experience with his space and theater in the community. We have a master electrician named Morgan Sexton. He is actually moving up to New York, but we do have a replacement coming in.
Hopefully with this technical internship program that I am working on. This is currently in it’s very very early developmental stages, but that is going to be a way for us to help rising seniors and folks who want to have a career and future in theater get some experience working in the trenches so to speak. And then move on to either college or a position in another theater company with some good experience and it will keep us staffed technically. So it is a win win in that regard. Plus it is a way to give something back and help somebody come on and learn and get their foot in the door so to speak. Build their resume and like I said it helps us stay staffed.
Mike: So tell me more about the technical internship that internship that you mentioned?
Darrell: Currently, like I said it is in its early developmental stages, but what it would essentially entail is bringing on a number of technical interns. We are also throwing around the idea of acting internships or fellowships as well. There is some growth and development that the company needs to do before we are in a position to do something like that.
Essentially what it would entail is bringing on some young energetic high school students were recent grads that want to work in this area and want to work in theater and have an interest in it. They would be able to come on and shadow with some of the senior staff that we have. Either work closely with some of the sound designers or lighting designers. They would run the boards for the show. They could work with our set designers, work closely with the folks who are putting the shows together and really see the process.
A lot of the high schools in the area have better facilities and better equipment than a lot of the theaters that a lot of theses theater kids are going to work in. This would give them sort of a real world dose. We do not have a whole lot of operating budget. We don’t have the most state of the art equipment, but we are able to put on some really entertaining theater. We have gotten a lot of good feedback from our audiences.
This would be what I see as a great opportunity for some students to spend a season with us. Get a chance to work on all the shows and see all the different aspects of this collaborative process: From the direction, th sound design, the light design, the set design, the construction, running the show, cue to cue, and really getting that insight and that experience. We have had a number of high school students work with us in the past. We have a recent graduate of West Springfield High School running our light board for this show. It has been a great experience for him just being a part of the group and seeing how it s done in the real world versus at a high school.
On opening night he was amazed that we actually started on time because apparently this is not something that happens often in theater. It has been a lot of fun and hopefully we can develop that and make it a more formalized process where we would actually have applicants and interviews and we would eventually like to work with some of the local higher education facilities like NOVA or George Mason or even some of the universities and developing our curriculum to suit their programs to help these students actually get into various theater programs at various schools that they would like to go to. But that is a long term project. It is kind of a pet project of mine here at Vpstart and certainly when more information is available I will pass it along.
Mike: Definitely do. I know I hear that from a lot of groups. They have a hard time training and keeping and getting staff for backstage of all types.
Darrell: It’s tough and a lot of times if you don’t have the right environment. If you don’t have the right culture it can be thankless work. Fortunately the way things work at Vpstart we the staff all recognize just how valuable that is. I have worked on shows before where the tech folks are not treated that way. I think that is the key. If you make people feel valued, if you make people part of the process and part of the group then it will be rewarding. I have found it to be anyway.
Mike: Well thank you, Darrell for talking with me. It has been informative learning more about Vpstart Crow.
Darrell: Well thank you, Mike for your time and if anybody has any questions or wants to learn more about Vpstart Crow they can head over to our website. It is Vpstart Crow
. A lot of people ask this and I’ll just throw it in here at the end. Vpstart Crow is actually an old english ‘u.” But they did not have a “u” back in Shakespeare’s day so it looks like a “v.” So if anyone out there is confused with what is this v.p.start crow or vipstart crow? It’s is actually Vpstart Crow, it is just written with an old English “u.”
Mike: Ok, well thanks very much.
Darrell: Thanks Mike, I look forward to talking with you again.
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Laura & Mike Clark 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.