Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Feature: Bryce Alexander Dudley on Excuse You! (Fringe: Toronto)

The Small Town Boy and the Mob
by Bryce Alexander Dudley

Bryce Alexander Dudley was born in Cobourg Ontario. Since moving to Toronto he has worked for, Fringe, Next Stage, SummerWorks, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Massey Hall, The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, Toronto International Film Festival and various independent. Having worked for the Fringe itself for the past five years, and in various other performance outlets for eight, he's also Factory Theatre's current Front-of-House Manager and Special Event Coordinator. 

He trains volunteers and staff alike in the underlying philosophy - the customer is always right. Sometimes, however, the customer is not always right. What happens then? The stuff of tears and laughter, often, but always high drama. Mr. Dudley's play, Excuse You!, explores the many stories from his own experience and submissions from fellow customer service practitioners in theatres and venues across Toronto. Mr. Dudley has decided to move the "pre-show" to the main stage, and put the venue employees and its various patrons in the spotlight. With a script based on personal experience and research, he has headed back to the writer's desk to bring a voice to his observations.

Something was missing.  I had moved to Toronto, and was working in the food and beverage side of theatre, and around art all of the time, but… it had been four years since I’d worked on a creative project of my own. So, eight months ago, I realized it was the Fringe Lottery deadline… and I put pen to paper.
Having worked for the Toronto Fringe in various capacities over the past five years, I had a clear picture of how things ran, and I wanted this to be the place I made and produced a play. To apply, I needed to create a theatre company name and, as the clock ticked closer to the submission deadline, I kept trying to think of something… something clever, catchy and witty. And, then it came to me - Theatre on a Thought.  

I remember at my first interview, I was asked about patience

When I think back, I was home sick the night of the lottery, and keeping to myself. In fact, I had hardly told anyone I had submitted. So, when I awoke to a text congratulating me on my luck in the lottery, it seemed like it was the right decision to apply. But now, I needed to write a play! 

At first I had a completely different show in mind. I had been working on a script on and off for the past five years (taking year-long breaks in between), when my friend who works with me in the patron service industry suggested I do a show about our work, about customer service. And that was it. I knew instantly that I had to do a show from the perspective of customer service staff at a performance venue.  Every theatre and festival I have worked at has been a show unto itself, and has always inspired me to want to write a show about it. Finally, the opportunity had presented itself. I didn’t know how it was all going to happen, but I knew I would find a way. 
Upon moving to the city to finish school and start to work on a career in the arts, I fell easily into customer service. I remember at my first interview, I was asked about patience. I talked about my family and growing up with their belief that patience was a virtue, and I guess that, because of them, I believe it, too. I am really happy about that, and I am full of thanks to my family and for the way I was brought up. (cont'd)
The small town boy, second from left, and family around Gram

I am sure everyone is taught manners as a child, but for me it really seemed to strike a chord in my soul. I am that person who will have a conversation with himself on the subway after a long day when I am comfortably seated on a bench, and notice someone needs the seat (please note this conversation happens inside my head) more than me. Normally, it is either of my grandfathers’ voice that I hear (both of them were gentleman and wise beyond their years) and I would say seven out of ten times, I’ll give up my seat. But sometimes, after a 16-hour shift or two back-to-back shifts, my feet are a little sore and sitting is needed. I hope my respective grandparents, parents and family understand these three out of ten situations. Good sportsmanship was a lifestyle in my family. Actually come to think of it, I don’t think I have a single cousin close or extended who hasn’t been acknowledged for good sportsmanship. Looking back, from being told to “pick up my feet,” or “wait until we are in the car,” to “it’s not polite to point,” I am thankful for every lesson my family has taught me. I am well aware that I would not be who or where I am today without my parents, family and friends.  I love the city, but, at heart, I will always be a small town boy from Gore’s Landing. 
I start with the bare bones, a loose frame

Once I was done going down memory lane, it was time to get started on the script. After going through my own notes of random encounters with patrons, and talking to my friends and co-workers in the industry, the script began to take form.  I had more stories than I could possibly fit into the time allotted. I am a very visual person, where writing is concerned. I start with the bare bones, a loose frame, and then as I begin to filter in information an image slowly starts to form, and then the scene unfolds, as emotion and life attach to the image. The piece has a development and growth of its own, and little by little I get to see more, each time I sit down to write until finally the picture is complete and it is time to move to the stage. As I currently sit down to begin working on the next draft of the script, I still find myself getting lost in the process and happily passing hours away. 
The last time I put up a show, about eight years ago, I had the script done well in advance and could focus on directing, and enough fundraising and producing to cover my costs. This time, having a script in development, with a cast to workshop as we go, is a new and exciting challenge.  And inspiring! 

The Audition Process: Having not sat on this side of the table for some years, with friends and strangers alike auditioning hilarious and heartbreaking pieces of theatre, it took me a few moments to settle in. I remember how nervous I was going into the auditions, but as soon as the script was spoken for the first time with someone else’s voice, the nerves went away, and I found myself smiling at the enjoyment of the actor with the piece.  Casting wasn’t easy, and at the same time it was easy. Some people just stood out for me. I might not have known which role they would be best suited for, but  I knew they were an energy, talent and personality  that I wanted in the play. If I could have afforded it, the cast would have been larger--a couple people more!--but, as it is, I am very excited that the actors I offered the role to accepted, with utter enthusiasm.
I have started a theatre company, and now I have to bring it to life, to put on the producer’s hat. 

As the days move along and the clock ticks closer to that script deadline, I look forward to even more nights of writing, and nights of working out staging, transitions, costumes, selling tickets, and posters… the list goes on and on! What I occasionally forget as I get lost in the script at this point in the process of my Fringe show is that I am not just writing and directing a show, I have started a theatre company, and now I have to bring it to life, to put on the producer’s hat.

Whenever I am having those “How is this going to happen?” days, I always hear my Gram’s voice saying not to worry and that it will all work out. As a woman who lived through a war, depression, had four children and worked as a nurse, what she says goes – if she says it will work out, it will work out. In all the times in my life when I have needed to hear this, I hear her voice, and her message has always proved right.

With my Fringe show, there are things I am tackling, which are completely new territory for me. In all ways, it is an experience of great vulnerability. But it is the support of good friends and family that gives me the confidence to leave the nest and start exploring and to remember to enjoy the process along the way rather than stressing out.

Having just received my venue at the Toronto Fringe and knowing my seating capacity, now it is all about getting those seats filled and about learning to balance the creative growth and development of the show and the company at the same time. (cont'd)

Having worked at many of the theatre venues and festivals in the city, I have come in contact with an endless amount of people, as patrons and co-workers, and from this have found myself with a rather amazing network for the show, from real life stories for the script to behind the scenes.

I was never big on the whole networking thing. Perhaps it was the small town country boy in me, but I wouldn’t change it. As with the creative process, I would rather have the relationship develop on its own time, rather than rushing it (though from time to time a little nudge isn’t so bad).

With an amazing and eclectic team working on the show with various social outlets, not to mention a topic which everyone has an opinion about, I am hopeful and confident that my play’s customer service subject matter will interest people, and hopefully fill the seats. I am also working on strategic planning and marketing!

When wearing multiple hats on a production, it is important to have a connection with them all, but not let any fall short. It is also important to have the ability to focus in on one when needed, but not lose the others in the process. Like everything in life, theatre creation seems to be a balancing act. Life is a tightrope walk, after all.

Check Out “Excuse You!” playing at the Toronto Fringe July 3-14, 2013 at The George Ignatieff Theatre.

Is the customer always right? “Excuse You!” invites you into the hilarious and unpredictable world of providing even the most difficult customer the best service possible. Based on true stories and first-hand experience in a busy downtown theatre, “Excuse You!” reveals the highs and lows of service with a smile.

I hope to see you all there and Happy Fringing! 

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