Caroline Allen’s CCS Profiles and Features class in Spring 2007, now in blog form.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Interview – Monstrous Little Productions

Pam Capalad, Naomi Solomon, and Chelsea Sutton are Literature Majors in the College of Creative Studies who, in fall 2004, began their own theater company called Monstrous Little Productions. While they are graduating this June, their student run company has created an outlet for students who many not otherwise get theater experience for three years. A few of their productions include Madwoman of Chaillot, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, And Then There Were None, Twelve Angry Men, and Alice in Wonderland. Their current production, 99 Impossible Things, written by Chelsea Sutton, will be performed in June. All plays Monstrous Little Productions puts on are free and on-campus, so students have easy access to theater.

What is each of your jobs’ in the production company?
Naomi: Well, Chelsea and I sort of take turns directing. We co-directed a couple times. We all label ourselves producers, which basically means we get all the stuff done that needs to get done for the play to come off. Just in general, I work on getting donations and handling the money, Chelsea does set design and lights, and Pam does lights.

Why did you begin the theater company?

Pam: Robyn Bell!

N: It’s true!

P: Me and Naomi were in A Midsummer Night’s Dream freshman year, and we all put on the play, and we wanted to do more! The next quarter Graham Talley put on The Importance of Being Earnest, and Robyn Bell stopped me in the hall and said “Hey, you should keep doing this.” And I stopped Naomi in our room and said “Hey, Robyn Bell says we should keep doing this.” Robyn Bell’s a pretty inspiring person.

N: So it kind of had a lot of weight with us.

P: Yeah, she thought we were capable of it. So, we e-mailed the Drama Department, talked to them, Robyn Bell started talking to them, and they really didn’t want to have anything to do with us. So we figured the best way to do it was to start a club on campus, get Robyn as our advisor, and just see what happened. The first play we did under the name of Monstrous Little was in fall, 2004, and they were short plays by Steve Martin called WASP and Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

N: The first production we did that was just us, without directors, and not in the Old Little Theater was Madwoman of Chaillot.

P: When we were doing the David Ives one acts, All In The Timing, we also didn’t perform in the Old Little Theater. There was a mix up between us and the musical theater class, so we had to scramble for a room. We ended up performing in Room 136 in the CCS Building.

Chelsea: It was very much like Little Women in the attic doing plays. A lot of people really liked it.

P: Yeah, because the whole play was about breaking the fourth wall.

C: Besides those two, all the other plays we’ve done have been performed in the Old Little Theater.

N: And even there we had problems. One time, our lights went out just when on stage somebody died. The light board went out. But audience members were like, “Oh my God, how’d you do that?!” We said our guy accidentally unplugged the light board…but aren’t we brilliant?! Then we ad libbed in the play, and it worked out really well.

P: In Alice and Wonderland, a chair broke onstage.

N: But at a really dramatic moment.

P: And everyone asked “How did you get that chair to break?!” Basically, we’re amazing improvisers.

C: We do all sorts of plays. We don’t limit ourselves to a specific genre.

N: I mean, there’s always the usual theater problems. Always on closing night, almost like a tradition, lines are changed. Sometimes more than they should be. I guess that was only one question!

P: We interview ourselves!

What’s the hardest part about putting on a production? Funding, casting, talent?

C: It depends on what you’re doing. If you’re the director or the actor. From a director’s point of view, it’s getting everyone to come to rehearsal. There’s something about a rational human being when they get into a play if they’re an actor. Their IQ drops, and their ego elevates.

P: I think they just get more talkative.

C: The concept of a schedule loses all meaning.

N: It’s one of the side effects of being completely unofficial, and usually nobody gets units for our plays.

P: I think during Alice in Wonderland we had an easier time with scheduling. I don’t like to think it’s because people were getting units for it, but most likely. Getting money is hard too. And getting people to come. Picking the play! You need to consider how popular it is. If it’s a play people will recognize and think, “I want to go,” or if it’s completely unknown, how to sort of publicize it.

N: The toss up with that is if it’s a really known play, some people are attached to it. We’ve done several interpretations of plays. We changed the ending of the play version of And Then There Were None, to make it the same ending as the book version, because we thought the play version totally cheated the heroine of being a heroine basically. We gave her back what we thought she deserved. There were some people who, in the end they liked it, but when they heard what we were doing initially did not like it. I think it’s one of the best productions we’ve done. I think it went really well for such a complicated play.

P: We reinterpreted Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, and we experienced some backlash against it.

C: If there’s a dialogue about it, that’s fine. You’re not going to please everyone.

P: Every play there’s always a new different problem. We have a high retention rate. The crowd we get for auditions is very interesting. There are always girls who you can tell acted in high school.

N: One of the nice things about having a growing theater company in CCS is the dialogue between them. People from the Paperback Theater Company came to our auditions to say hi and to tell us if there was anybody we can’t cast, they could use extras. I wish there could be a non-musical theater company next year. As of now, it looks like we won’t continue next year.

C: Another reason we started the company was to allow non Drama Majors to perform. The Drama Department people kind of have their own culture.

P: And we wanted to provide something for people that aren’t in drama. And also, it’s a point of pride for us to do stuff on limited resources and to deal with problems in unconventional ways.

C: In high school I only did acting. But when I got here, I realized somebody needs to direct, somebody needs to find the couch that’s used in Scene Three.

P: It’s interesting to have a hand in all that.

C: No one’s gonna do it for us. The final result I am always really proud of.

P: Me too.

Is it supported by CCS? Or any other departments?

C: Robyn Bell has always been supportive, but she hasn’t necessarily gone out and found money for us.

N: But she totally lobbies and advocates for us. She’s the one who advocated having Alice and Wonderland as a class. She’s always been a big supporter in the background, and of course never takes credit for anything. And the Office of Student Life has always been very good to us. They make it relatively easy for us. They give us 200 – 500 dollars a quarter, and our plays cost 400 dollars on average, maybe a little less. Turns out making the programs is what costs the most money.

P: It has been interesting not having a department to back us though. Just all of us being Lit. Majors, it’s been interesting to dip in the Music Department and going to other emphases in the college and seeing what they can do for us.

N: And also how we can co-exist peacefully!

P: And Leslie Campbell has always been super nice to us.

ALL: Oh Leslie!

P: She’s always so nice to do us, and does as much as she’s able to do. Especially with scheduling.

C: Emily Parsons has also been really good about scheduling in the Old Little Theater.

N: We require a lot of hands on activity from our actors. With sets. And we network through them.

C: Some of the plays we’ve done don’t even require sets.

Do you want to pursue theater after college?

P: No. Chelsea probably. It was fun to do in college, but it’s not something I can see myself actively pursuing as a career. Having been an actor for the past four years has really helped for what I’m going to do after college. I have a job teaching kids about money and I have to basically be on all the time, and be comfortable on stage, comfortable improvising, and comfortable talking loudly.

C: You’re in charge. So it’s the experience that comes with that.

P: And I could put it on my resume. We ran this. And the satisfaction of having a play at the end. The sense of accomplishment. Look what we did!

N: And to meet people we wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Because it’s a small community […] You have to move into the community more, to publicize, and get businesses to give you things. It helped me get to know Santa Barbara a little better in a lot of ways.

P: I probably won’t do anything directly related to theater, but I know I’ll benefit from it.

N: Same here.

C: I kind of want to do theater. I’ve been doing a lot of playwriting. I’m been involved in the playwriting department since sophomore year. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve found my voice playwriting. I’ve always loved theater. I did a lot of theater in high school […] I’m doing it on my own, understanding every part of what goes into theater makes you a better director, and makes you a better writer.

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