With no shows to critique or even help publicize, I wanted to offer this column to Artistic Directors of New Orleans’ theater companies to let us know what was going on when things shut down, what they’re doing now, and what plans they have for the future.
For the second installment of PAST PRESENT FUTURE, Jon Greene of The Radical Buffoons shares his thoughts with us. Reviewing 2015’s Faustus, I wrote “Greene, making a noteworthy New Orleans directorial debut, provides a visually & aurally stunning mise en scène.” Describing The NOLA Project’s The Spider Queen in 2017, I thought “Greene’s direction is worthy of an epic.” I also greatly admired his performance in 2018’s Balloonacy and co-direction (with Torey Hayward) of Barbecue last year.
The Radical Buffoons (TRB) was one third of the way through our 3rd, and most ambitious, season when the stay-at-home order took effect in New Orleans (how apropos).
The season began with parties – A Season Announcement in July and As The World Burns, our anti-gala, in October – to help us grow and connect with the communities that support our work. In December, we produced our second Young Audiences Track production, Rap Unzel. Directed by Torey Hayward, who worked closely with Austin-based playwright Jeremy Rashad Brown, it was a joyous NOLA-centric music and dance experience for families, and forged our connection with several local elementary schools.
By the time 2020 rolled in we were picking up steam.
We’d started workshop/explorations with 5 collaborative NOLA artists for our LAB Track Dreams project(set to premier in June), and green-screen-filmed a series of virtual reality segments for our April Main Stage Track co-production with Delgado Community College of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which had begun rehearsing March 2.
Organizationally we had hired two new amazing staff members, Torey Hayward and AshleyRose Bailey in the positions of Associate Artistic Director and Managing Director, respectively. We’d moved into an office space, grew our Board, honed what membership in our collective can and could mean, and ensured that our newly enlarged season budget prioritized the artists we were working with.
But alas, what started with a bang, ended with a whimper (for now).
Though we’re an ambitious organization that dreams extra-big (just look at our mission statement), we are actually still quite small. This has given us a unique ability to bend – without breaking – to the current state of the world.
Obviously, some difficult choices were unavoidable. We had to immediately halt our rehearsals for R and G and plan a postponed presentation in Season 4 (more on that below). We also had to cancel our June LAB production of Dreams.
While these decisions meant that our third season would end in abrupt disappointment, there was a silver lining. Participating artists were included in every discussion so that their health and safety as well as their artistic integrity played a part in the decisions we made together. It was a profound reminder to me – who had been so deeply head down in the ‘business of theater’ – that, in the end, no matter which track or what show, our work is only successful if the humans we work with take precedent. Taking this lesson to heart, we’ve been using our forced sabbatical to focus inward and assess who we want to be when we get to the other side, whatever that may look like.
In our recent announcement of the Dreams cancellation, I wrote that for the time being the only certainty is uncertainty. Luckily, a lot of theatrical work – and especially the comically dark kind – thrives on a sense of ambiguity. To move forward, we’re trying to strike a balance between making plans (but not too many) and letting go lightly in the event of…well, you know.
Our fourth season will start July 1 (which feels both like tomorrow and a century away).
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern has been postponed to August 26-31, essentially making it the first production of the season. We’ve been discussing a variety of options for the show because we clearly don’t know what rules for public gatherings will be like then. But as before, we’ll ensure that the entire producing, production, and performance teams are involved in making the decision as to how we can possibly move forward.
Beyond that, production-wise, there isn’t too much to say yet. We have selected some really wild plays for our Main Stage and YA track, and we’re very hopeful that we will be able to share them. Until then, we’re working alongside many other companies in New Orleans to assess the future and create innovative ways to address the necessary changes to how, for now, we assemble publicly and present our work.
Meanwhile, we’re going to invest time and thought into continuing to grow our LAB Track – our home for new work, wild ideas, and experimentation. We have two exciting projects in early stages that we’ll be cultivating. We’ve also been asking ourselves the question of what a theater company can be during a time when it perhaps can’t present content. Our answers (and more questions) have been exciting and focused us on some really great community building initiatives that we hope to roll out over the summer months.
We have GiveNOLA Day coming up June 2 and we’ll be fundraising then. Follow and like us on social media @theradbuffs on Instagram and Twitter, on Facebook (facebook.com/theradbuffs), and visit our webpage (www.radicalbuffoons.com) to join our mailing list and stay up to date on what’s coming down the pike!
On a personal note, I had considered changing the epigraph we use at the bottom of our company emails because, as we’ve grown, it felt like shifting the tone might be appropriate. The quote is from Mel Brooks and reads, “Humor is just another defense against the universe.” So it is, especially now.
Jon Greene is the Artistic Director of The Radical Buffoons. An award-winning director, his productions have been nominated for 11 Big Easy Awards, selected for “Top Ten Plays of the Year” in NOLA.com, and seen by over 3000 theatergoers. Outside of New Orleans, he has developed, directed, and performed theatrical work in Boston, Minneapolis, Deadwood, SD, Chicago, Indianapolis, Singapore, Argentina, Italy, and Prague. He holds a BFA from Boston University, is a Kennedy Center Directing Fellow, and a Teaching Artist for Young Audiences of Louisiana.