NYC – One theatre company in NYC is finding ways to produce live theatre while giving back to the community. Theatre Chat’s exclusive interview with Artistic Director Steven McCasland of Beautiful Soup Theatre Collective gives a behind the curtain look of an inspiring theatre company that is making a difference in the arts, while giving back to the community.
Theatre Chat: Why did you start Beautiful Soup?
Steven: “I went to a University that provided limited opportunities for its students. Not only in style and genre, but also the opportunity to grow into yourself as an actor. While at school, I started a student-run production company that worked in found spaces throughout the campus. When I graduated, feeling like the person I’d learned the most from was myself, I kept on going with the concept of a home for growth, creativity and exploration and created Beautiful Soup. But it was never supposed to be about money, so I decided we’d donate a large portion of our profits to charity, only keeping what we needed to break even and continue to grow.”
Theatre Chat: How do you pick your charity?
Steven: “Sometimes it’s the theme of the show. For example, our production of the musical Crossing Brooklyn (a musical about a school-teacher fighting PTSD after September 11th) benefited Artists Striving to End Poverty, which features an out-reach program for theatre in third world countries. But sometimes, if we can reach them, we let the playwright/composer choose the charity. In the past few years, we’ve helped The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, BC/EFA, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, The Fortune Society and The Arc of Westchester.”
Theatre Chat: How do you find your talent?
Steven: “The majority of our talent are non-union performers, along with non-union stage managers and designers. However, our one-week workshops and one-night-only events often feature Union talent. Right now, we’re gearing up for a reading of Arthur Bicknell’s My Great Dead Sister on September 9, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. That event will star Broadway’s Julie Halston, who a lot of people will know as Bitsy from Sex and the City. We’ve also welcomed other performers from the Great White Way, including: Alessa Neeck (White Christmas), Ashley Kate Adams (La Cage Aux Folles) and Tricia Burns of Fat Camp and My Big Gay Italian Wedding. We’ve developed long-lasting relationships with composers Brad Ross (Little By Little, The Times), Larry Grossman (A Doll’s Life, Goodtime Charley, Snoopy!!!) and Arthur Bicknell (Moose Murders).”
Theatre Chat: Does your talent get paid?
Steven: “The performers do not receive a stipend, but we try to lend a hand of thanks by giving them $5 of every ticket that they sell. It’s not a lot, but at this point in our journey, it’s the best we can do. Our designers and stage managers work for peanuts, and our board donates their time completely. The less we spend, the more we can raise for charity. I think everyone involved believes in that mission.”
Theatre Chat: How and where do you rehearse for Beautiful Soup?
Steven: “We rehearse on a very limited schedule, using up as little time of everyone’s lives possible. We cast early so that we can begin well on our way to being off-book and have a 3-4 week rehearsal process. Our musicals rehearse a bit longer to allow for time to learn the score. We are very lucky that the St. Jude School provides us with a free home in their chapel on weeknights, but we also often rehearse at the wonderful Joria Productions Studio.”
Theatre Chat: Do you consider yourself to be a tough director?
Steven: “Yes. Without a doubt. But I think that’s why we are able to rehearse in such a short amount of time. I am a task-master. I hate wasting time, not only my own but others’. But when it comes to crunch time, I expect everyone to be on time, on their A-game, know their lines and be ready to work. If you aren’t, you are not only wasting my time, but every other member of the company.”
Theatre Chat: If you’re so tough, why do people keep coming back to Beautiful Soup?
Steven: “Because I love them dearly and they know it. We welcome new members all the time, but almost all of our productions are cast within the Collective. With over 20 members, the Collective continues to grow every production. From that pool of 20+, I’m often able to cast over half of our production from the repertory pool. Sometimes, I hand-pick a show I know we have the perfect person for. It’s a home. Or at least I want it to be. And if I’m tough on them sometimes (and maybe like every other director out there I can be a little too tough), it’s because I want them to look good up there. Because they deserve it. Because every single one of the members of the Collective is not just talented, but so much more: they care about the community, they care about each other and they’re a part of my family.”
Theatre Chat: What’s in the mix for the Soup?
Steven: “Well, right now we’re in rehearsals for our production of Yentl, running October 10-21, 2012 at The Gene Frankel Theatre. And then comes our biggest event yet: the return of Moose Murders in its first New York revival, opening in January 2013.”
Theatre Chat: Where can people learn more about you and Beautiful Soup?
Steven: “They can ‘like’ us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/beautifulsouptc to stay completely up-to-date, or they can just visit us on the web at www.beautifulsouptheatercollective.org.”
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