As part of our dedication to transform lives through the power of theatre, CATCO offers acting and technical apprenticeships to recent college graduates which are funded by generous individual and corporate donations. This year, five wonderfully talented individuals have stepped into our apprenticeship program to spread their wings and create meaningful art together. They volunteered to share their thoughts on what it’s like to be a CATCO Apprentice:
Matthew Sierra (Artist Education) of Fostoria, Ohio studied musical theatre at Bowling Green State University before moving to Columbus seeking acting opportunities. His interest in acting used as a mechanism for social justice fits right in with CATCO’s outreach initiatives. He has appeared as Alfred Douglas in Gross Indecency and Mr. Locks in Goldilocks.
Janin Rosas (Costumes & Wardrobe) of Ft. Lauderdale, FL studied theatre arts at the University of Michigan with a concentration in costumes. Since taking on her role at CATCO, she has been working to fill her personal portfolio while making our characters come to life. You may have seen her work in Gross Indecency or A Seussified Christmas Carol.
Ben Tracy (Artist Education) of Minneapolis, MN studied acting at Wright State University with the long-term goal of performing in New York City. In CATCO he found a perfect stepping stone, as the education portion of the apprenticeship caters to his interest in children’s theatre. You may recognize him from various roles in Baskerville and Gross Indecency.
Abby Worden (Artist Education) of Cincinnati, OH studied theatre and public relations at Capital University, where she discovered an interest in stage management. As part of her CATCO apprenticeship, she pursues this interest in backstage work along with displaying her talent on the stage. She is currently performing multiple roles in the cast of Baskerville.
Nick Murphy (Lighting & Sound) of Clinton, New York studied politics at Wesleyan University, but spent much of his time on technical work in the theatre. Though his interest in protecting the environment may lead him in other directions in the future, right now he makes our stages shine. He has run lights or sound for every Riffe Center show since An Act of God.
A Day in the Life
Life as a CATCO apprentice is essentially divided into two parts: running a show, and the time in between. Between shows, the Artist Educators work on monologues, help each other practice, and serve in our education programs. Janin performs alterations, creates patterns, and helps with costume fittings, and Nick helps with repairs and maintenance to keep the studios ready for use both for theatrical purposes and events. Leading up to and during shows, each apprentice performs their own duties to help the production run smoothly, some of them in the cast, and others backstage. They may oversee quick costume changes, hang lights and speakers, program cues, manage props, or run lines with one another.
The Meaning of Theatre
When asked about the deeper meaning of theatre, the apprentices gave mindful and heartfelt responses. Here are a few…The goal of working backstage is to make sure the audience only sees the “rabbit coming out of the hat.” It takes a community to build a show and ensure everyone experiences the magic. An actor gets to live as many lives as their imagination can handle. We bring people to understand different perspectives, and help them view human nature from all angles. What things look like from the outside translates to life in general. Our job is to make people say “I get that. I dealt with that.”
Message to our Donors
Thank you for all you do! CATCO presents a great learning environment. Having funded full time apprenticeships is rare, and the experience is supremely valuable. In a country where arts are leaving schools, it’s incredible to see people who give to the arts. CATCO has its heart in the right place, and nothing we do isn’t worth supporting because we give back.
INVESTIGATIVE INSIGHT: FINDING WORDS
Finding the right words in any given situation can be difficult, and that goes for more than just word search puzzles. CATCO strives to provide opportunities for all members of our community to find words, thoughts, and inspiration through our various productions and programs. One of our special community projects, called Finding Words, is centered around this concept.
Finding Words is a five-day training program that began in 1998 as a collaboration between CornerHouse, a nonprofit interagency child evaluation and training center in Minneapolis, and the National District Attorneys Association. In the following years, the program spread across the nation as the leading method of teaching investigators and social workers how to safely evaluate whether a child had been physically or sexually abused. Though many states now call the program ChildFirst, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office continues to offer courses in Finding Words, and has collaborated with CATCO on the project for the past twelve years.
One of the requirements for completing the program is to conduct a practice interview with an actor playing the role of an abused child. CATCO and CATCO is Kids provide artists to act “in role”, providing developmentally appropriate depictions of children for these interviews. In doing so, our artists use their gifts to make a difference. Many of the actors who participate in this partnership come from our Artist Education Apprenticeship Program, and are generally young adults in their early twenties. Their experience working with kids through CATCO’s other education programs gives them the background knowledge to create and realistically inhabit the character of a child, usually between the ages of six and ten. Each actor must undergo at least ten hours of training to participate in the program.
While the actors provide useful experience with children, the Attorney General’s Office provides the various scenarios, each of which involves some form of physical or sexual abuse. One example features 8-year-old Eric Gordon, who speaks with his teacher after watching a personal safety video about different kinds of touches. After being referred to the school’s social worker, with whom he talks about an uncomfortable experience he had with his father, Eric’s case is then taken to social services, where the forensic interviewer (the course participant) now meets Eric (one of our actors). Each actor may be on duty for hours at a time, during which they never break character, even outside the interview room. All interactions between participants and actors are immediate and authentic; the actor is Eric, before, during, and after the interview.
This project has its roots in the Phoenix Theatre for Children which merged with CATCO six years ago. Since that time, the company has continued to develop projects that reflect a commitment to social justice. Other ongoing projects include work with children at risk of failure in the classroom, and a program that assists men incarcerated at Marion Correctional to write plays about their childhoods, their adolescence, their incarceration, and their aspirations for the future.
CATCO and CATCO is Kids are investigating other opportunities like Finding Words. Similar programs might be arising with the National Criminal Justice Center (centered around human trafficking) and the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. The next session of Finding Words will run from October 24-28, 2016.
Eric Barker and The Elephant Man
SETTING THE SCENE FOR THE ELEPHANT MAN: A CONVERSATION WITH CATCO SCENIC DESIGNER, ERIC BARKER
When we go to the theatre, the happenings on stage are on display for our viewing pleasure, but imagine if your entire life was on display for the world’s viewing pleasure…
CATCO opens its 2015-2016 season with The Elephant Man, the story of the tragic life of John Merrick whose horrible physical deformities render him a constant exhibition—both as a sideshow freak, and later as a medical experiment in a hospital.
Scenic designer Eric Barker used this theme of Merrick as spectacle as inspiration for his set design for the production.
Barker knew the set for this show needed two key elements: Victorian Era style, and the illusion that Merrick is always being observed. Images of a bell jar inspired his design.
“The illusion of the set as a bell jar tells the audience that Merrick is always on display,” Barker said.
Barker has worked closely with Producing Director Steven C. Anderson to execute his vision, in addition to lighting and costume designers all helping to unify the concept of Merrick on display.
“I like working with CATCO because everyone is excited about the collaborative process,” Barker said. “Contributors in all disciplines are committed to working together and creating a finished product that is based upon original visions.”
For the audience, the set on stage is a visual element that exists to help the actors tell the story; but, as Barker tells us, there is always something more to that story than meets the eye… a lesson we all should remember as we join CATCO at the theatre for The Elephant Man later this month.
Last year, we welcomed Johanna Breiding and Andrew Protopapas to the CATCO family as apprentices, and this year we are happy to share that they have returned—this time as full-time staff members! Let’s get to know Andrew and Johanna!
Q: How did you hear about the CATCO apprenticeship? Andrew: A good friend of mine, Emily Turner, was an acting apprentice the year before I was. She spoke highly of the program and is the reason I looked into CATCO more. Johanna: I was accepted into a CATCO internship while I was attending classes at Columbus State. My instructor and mentor, Frank Barnhart set it up. During the internship, I worked as the Assistant Stage Manager for a CATCO is KIDS show, Isabella e la Bestia and acquired college credit. Through this opportunity, I met the current CATCO apprentices and learned about what exactly they did for the company. Working with Joe Bishara directly is what solidified my desire to be a part of the CATCO family, and thanks to him, I can now proudly say I am.
Q: What is your title and role within the CATCO staff? Andrew: I am an Artist Educator. I work with Joe Bishara to set up residencies and educational programming at schools in and around Columbus. Many of our residencies are playwriting and acting programs at “at-risk” schools in Columbus. We use drama to help students understand the material that they are learning in their classes. I have also been helping with summer camp planning and social media. Additionally, I spend some time building sets in the scene shop. Johanna: I am CATCO’s Production Technician, which means I work in many of our departments and perform a lot of different tasks. I do, however, spend a large amount of my work days in our scene shop. I can also be found doing Stage Managing for the CATCO is KIDS shows and working with our Master Electrician.
Q: What was your most embarrassing moment as a CATCO apprentice? Johanna: I’m not quite sure that I can remember a “most embarrassing moment” but whatever that moment was I am pretty sure Steven Anderson caught it on tape. He never misses a good picture. Andrew: We had a live television appearance to promote A Christmas Carol last year. While being interviewed, I decided to try cracking a joke that I thought was hilarious. I made the joke. No one laughed. It would have been the perfect time for crickets to chirp. Luckily, I recovered and kept going, but I was definitely embarrassed.
Q: How do you think your apprenticeship prepared you for full-time employment with CATCO? Andrew: The apprenticeship program helped both refine and expand my skills as a theatre professional. I learned how to do a little bit of everything, and I improved the things that I could already do. Since the beginning of my apprenticeship, I thought CATCO’s educational work in the schools was one of the most important things that we do. I am beyond blessed that I get to work in that capacity with the company. Johanna: I became accustomed to working with professional technicians, actors and directors in a setting that was very different than the community theatre world I was used to. I learned invaluable technical skills from our Master Electrician, Keya Myers-Alkire, our Technical Director, Joe Wolfle Jr. and our shop foreman, Greg Sutton. Mostly, my apprenticeship taught me that I was well-suited to work in live theatre.
Q: What made you want to continue your experience as part of the CATCO family? Johanna: Working in live professional theatre can be tough to really accomplish, but when you come across a company like CATCO who is willing and eager to mentor and teach their apprentices enough to the point of full-time employment, you see how devoted they all are. It is a company full of friends, teachers, mentors, and hard workers. When asked if I would be interested in becoming staff it was really a no brainer. Andrew: I think the answer is in the question. CATCO is family. It’s always felt like a second home to me. Plus, the company is made up of some of the most passionate people who seek to create quality art and provide invaluable educational opportunities. Being around them makes me not only a better artist, but also a better human, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what art itself is all about?
The CATCO Acting Apprenticeship Program provides an opportunity for recent college graduates to have a real experience working with a professional theatre company. Right now, CATCO has named two apprenticeships for patrons who have shown generous support for and engagement with CATCO for many years—Ms. Kitty Morton Epler and The Crane Group.
CATCO in the Classroom
We all know and love CATCO for what we see on stage, but an initiative that has always been near and dear to our company’s heart is what we do for the community in the way of outreach, especially in our local schools.
Our theatre school residencies began in fourth grade classrooms with current CATCO Producing Director, Steven C. Anderson when he was with the Phoenix Theatre for Children. Students in Columbus City Schools were having trouble passing their fourth grade proficiency tests, so the program involved artist educators going into schools and working with students who were considered “at risk of failure in the classroom” to write plays that provided a creative way for them to learn the necessary academic subjects they needed to succeed.
Thanks to generous support from organizations, American Electric Power, the Barbasol Foundation, Honda of America Foundation, the Harry C. Moores Foundation, and the Riley Family Foundation, CATCO has been able to both continue, and expand upon the “at-risk” residency model.
The support from these organizations helps increase our capacity to reach as many classrooms as possible, and enables us to try new approaches to the pre-existing program.
CATCO Associate Producing Director, Joe Bishara is currently piloting a program, which features a new twist on “at-risk” residencies, at Starling STEM/STEAM PK-8 School in Franklinton. Joe calls this program a “multi-grade level residency.” The residency involves approximately 250 students in grades 3 through 7 participating in both playwriting and acting.
“This approach fosters a subconscious mentorship program by encouraging students in many different grades to all collaborate with one another,” says Joe.
At Starling, Joe has facilitated the writing of two plays called “The Great Flood and the Time Travel Clock” and “Dear Mr. Sullivant.” Both of these plays have historical themes, specifically focusing on the unique history of Franklinton.
“I want them to discover as much as they can about the special history of their area so they can develop some pride in their neighborhood,” says Joe. Joe thinks that it is especially important that this school has a program and that it is a good choice for the pilot of the multi-grade level residency. “Starling is a new school in an area of the city whose population has historically struggled to master core curriculum; however this school has a lot of really creative and innovative teachers that think outside the box,” he says.
The real impact of these programs, though, transcends the stage. The work that CATCO staff does in schools like Starling gives the students an opportunity to garner skills that they might not be able to realize anywhere else such as confidence in public speaking, having respect for others, and the ability to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses.
“The objective of these programs, is to put children in the best situation possible to succeed,” says Joe.
With committed CATCO staff, and continued support from our invaluable partners, our company can do exactly that.
The Scene Shop
BEHIND CATCO’S CURTAIN: THE SCENE SHOP
Earlier this season, we had the opportunity to delve into the birth of the visual story that we all see come alive on stage when we spoke with Eric Baker about his unique set design for CATCO’s production of The Elephant Man. But where do Eric’s plans come to fruition? The answer: the CATCO Scene Shop.
The Scene Shop has been in the Vern Riffe Center since 1988 when the building first opened, and even before it housed Ohio’s state government. Today, it is one of the only places like it in Columbus, and it’s pretty busy–producing 35 to 40 sets per year for theatre companies around the city.
Joe Wolfle, who serves as CATCO’s Technical Director (TD) and calls the Scene Shop his office, shares the plans for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as he describes how a new set is born.
He says that the whole production team, including set, costume, lighting, and sound designers meet about three to four months before a show begins to discuss preliminary concepts, which provides a format for the TD to provide feedback based upon time and budget constraints. Eventually, the set designer will provide the TD with both a paint elevation package that details colors and material suggestions, in addition to plans outlining the actual labor that needs to be completed.
From there, the TD will put a bid packet together with all of the necessary supplies for each element of the proposed set design and labor priced out. Final negotiations are made with the client after that.
Jon Baggs, who handles most of the technical direction and install for shows produced by the Jewish Community Center’s Gallery Players, adds that these negotiations are often difficult to reconcile when it is important to the technical designer to have a well-crafted set, but it also matters to the director that their vision is carried out.
“There is a delicate balance between what we can get away with and the time and money that we actually have,” Jon said.
Joe says that he has always enjoyed the collaborative nature of the Scene Shop, as well as live theatre in general, and Johanna Breiding, CATCO’s Production Technician agrees.
“I like working through tasks as I go along and being able to creatively problem-solve. I also like working on art projects with multiple people and being able to see the finished product on stage,” Johanna said.
Shop Foreman Steve Puhl, Jr. says that he also enjoys the finished product of the work that the tech crew does in the Scene Shop, even though sometimes after a show is over the entire set has to be disposed of.
“It’s nice to see things repurposed as much as we can, but seeing our finished product and how it works with the actors on stage is fulfilling enough to me for it to get thrown away after,” Steve said.
Steve and Joe proceeded to say that when they went to the landfill to throw away the set from The Elephant Man earlier this season, they disposed of it right next to a dead horse, and as they were pulling away, a garbage truck unloaded two dead deer right on top of the horse. What a way to say goodbye to several months worth of work!
This story was told in jest, however, and Joe stresses that it is important for live theatre productions to have well-crafted sets.
“If the audience is not distracted by the set, then it’s doing its job, and it’s the same with a poorly-made costume or a bad actor. Nothing should distract the audience from the story being told on stage,” Joe said.