Monthly Archives: August 2011

Grrr! Banks!

I hate dealing with banks. If you don’t hate dealing with banks I dare you to take the BNTC banking challenge. First, open a regular bank account. This should take one afternoon. Then decide to move to a foreign country and learn that your bank does not offer international monetary transfers. Open another account with a bank that does offer international transfers.  This should take another afternoon.

Okay, that was step one. Step two is a little more involved.

Now that you have your home country bank accounts set up, move to a foreign country. Open another account. Live there for about a year. Move back to the first country but keep your savings in the foreign account so that you can get a visa to work in the foreign country. Three months after leaving the country, once you have received your visa, decide not to move back to the foreign country. Attempt to redeem the money you have saved in the foreign account. Jump through the various hoops the home and foreign banks seem to have invented so that you will never see your money again. Finally get your money transfered to your home country. This will take about three more months.

Do you hate banking yet? Don’t worry, there’s still time to change your mind.

Step three. Move to another state. Try to close out one of your home country accounts and transfer all of your money into a bank in the new state. This will surprisingly take at least one phone call per day (minimum 20 minutes on hold per call) for about two weeks. When all of your money is finally in the new account, set up automatic bill payments. This will shockingly take a week  and will include about fifteen calls to various banks and at least three trips to the local branch. Now that everything is set up. Sit back and relax knowing that everything is under control.

Still don’t hate banking? Well, just wait until step four!

Step four. About a week before all of your bills are due, realize that your online account is now showing up as inactive. Call the bank about a hundred times. Get told different things every time you call. Wait for the people from the hotline to work out the problem (they say it will take a couple of days). Get back online a couple of days later and realize that your account still isn’t active and your bills are due in two days. Go to the branch to find out what’s going on. When you get to the branch, sit there and watch the branch manager make the same calls to the same hotline you were calling and two hours later have him tell you that there was a “glitch in the system.”

Now do you hate banking?!!! Oh wait there’s more!!

This was just your personal bank account. You haven’t even started your business bank account yet. Do it all again! And this time, with gusto!!!

If you can complete the BNTC banking challenge and not hate banks when you are done (in a year and a half!) you are a more heavily sedated person that I. Aren’t you special!

Speaking of money…check out our new fundraising campaign:

Help BNTC move to Austin


The Brand New Theatre Co. is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of The Brand New Theatre Co. must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The Search for a Home

So far, the most interesting challenge about opening an acting studio in a new city has been selecting the right location. I’ve done a lot of space shopping in the Austin area and the decision never gets easier. The dilemma isn’t uncommon or surprising. Though I’ve never undergone this kind of search before, I watch enough HGTV to know that it’s the same simple dilemma everyone faces when searching for the right place: Do I pay more and sacrifice a lot of what I think I want in order to be in a more trendy location? Or, do I choose the right space at the right price even though it isn’t centrally located?

In my case, I’d really like to believe that the famous real estate adage, “Location, Location, Location,” can be interpreted loosely. (Notice I didn’t say, I hope the adage is wrong.) I found a place pretty early in my search that was exactly what I was looking for in terms of square footage and layout and I even got an offer that was considerably lower than the advertised rate. The space itself looked like a great find but I wanted to be closer into the city. I kept looking around, thinking I’d find something similar somewhere else but  the more I looked the more amazed I was that a big empty room could be so hard to come by. I checked out availabilities on  the East side, where all the cool kids go to make art, and I could see why it is becoming such a popular place to create. There is a lot of cool stuff going on there and there is an exciting mix of people from various backgrounds but as soon as a place starts getting cool it also starts getting expensive. That means the spaces in my price range are really small. I’d have to decrease my class sizes and rehearsal requirements just to make them fit into the space and, with so many people in that area making theatre on a larger scale, I just don’t think a cramped little acting studio could compete.

The first location I looked at was pretty far north of Austin  so it would be a long drive for city dwellers but North Austin is a highly populated area. It isn’t a place where people commute to work or play. It’s a place where people make their homes and send their kids to school. I’m sure there are tons of families in the area who would be happy to pick there kids up from school and not have to drive back into the city to take them to acting class. The part I’m less sure about is the location’s ability to attract working theatre artists.

A major aspect of my vision is to create a space where actors, playwrights, and various collaborators  can come together to train, get feedback on their work and exchange creative insights. I believe that in order for a studio to be successful, it has to not only provide great training and be a source of excellent work, it also has to feel like a creative home to a core group of people who see it as a place to turn for inspiration and support. If I have to drag artists out from the East Side to my North Side studio, they may be willing to commute on a short-term basis in order to be involved in an interesting project, but it is doubtful that they will keep coming out for training and feedback when the project is over. If, on the other hand, the quickly growing population of Austin’s North Side is home to a number of talented theatre artists who would love to work in a creative space that doesn’t involve a twenty minute drive into the city, I might have a very good chance of making the North Side BNTC’s new home.

The more I look at my options, the more attached I get to this possibility, but I’m not just going to jump into something that I hope will work out. So, like the responsible business person that I am, I’m in the process of conducting preliminary research to find out if there is a hidden well-spring of theatre artists on the North Side who are searching for a creative home.

Now this is the point where those readers who have had even the most minor experience in real estate are starting to get uncomfortable. Why are they uncomfortable? Because they are remembering what I said earlier about finding the North Side location “pretty early in my search.” A good space doesn’t just sit on the market waiting for people to complete their research. I stumbled upon this location while I was just looking around to get an idea of price ranges in different areas. I didn’t mean to find what I wanted right away!

I was feeling pretty pressured for time when I went out the other day to take another look at the space but I learned while I was there that another space with the same layout would be opening up in October. I went home feeling encouraged that this new information had possibly bought me some time and I emailed the leasing agent to let him know I’d like to be the first to hear when the other space became available. After sending the email, I went to bed feeling relieved from the pressure that had been building with each passing day since the first space had hit the market.

The relief lasted exactly 24 hours. When the leasing agent wrote back, it was to say that they were going to start aggressively marketing both spaces next week. For those of you who have searched for a home or work-space, or know anyone who has, I’m sure this story is a tired repeat of the same old ups and downs that you are all too familiar with yourself. Nonetheless, I’m sure you also remember how important it feels when it’s happening to you.

At this point, there isn’t much I can do. I can’t rush into something unless I know it will work for my business and I can’t make them save the space for me until I’ve finished my research. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow afternoon with a guy who is part of a professional theatre company on the North side. The company started just a few years ago so they have first hand experience with the challenge of finding artists to work with in this area. I’m hoping he will be able to give me some much-needed insight about what lies ahead and I’m also hoping (as I always do) that our companies will find ways to benefit from one another’s work rather than viewing ourselves as competitors.

The list of things I need to get done if I’m going to move into this space is ever increasing and yet the main priority right now is to determine if the North Side is actually the right place for BNTC. With that in mind, it’s time for the “call to action.” The part of the blog where I ask you to help me out. If you know of any individual or organization associated with the arts in North Austin please put them in contact with me. If you are a theatre artist or parent of a child who is interested in acting, please let me know if you think you’d like to part of BNTC. Finally, no matter where you are located, if you are supporting this project even just by keeping up with how things are going, please let me know who you are. Here’s a form to fill out so you don’t even have to go to your email account.

BNTC in North Austin 

Update: Immediately after posting this, I received word that the space I was looking at got leased to someone else. The other space with the same layout is still available but now the pressure is really on. *Sigh!*

The DBA and the Inspirational Penguin

Filing for my DBA at the County Clerk's office.

Happy DBA day! I have just received word that there is now an official public record in existence stating that I, Kara Saunders, am doing business as the Brand New Theatre Co. in Austin, Tx! Considering the fact that it took all of fifteen minutes and $18 to file, my excitement may seem like a bit of an exaggeration but when you are in the early stages of establishing a presence for your business, you need all the reminders you can get that you actually are, in fact, “doing business.” Here is the other evidence I have so far: 1. A letter from a bank saying that I have a business checking account in the city of Austin. 2. A website. 3. Several social networking outlets (Facebook, Twitter and this blog). These are all very good signs, however, there are some pieces of evidence that are glaringly absent at the moment, most notably: 1. A studio. 2. Students. 3. A daily routine that actually involves teaching people and creating theatre.

I’m so close to having these things I can feel the floor of the studio space on the soles of my feet but waking up every morning to another day of not seeing it in reality can be very discouraging. It would be easy for me to look around and say, “It does not appear that I am actually doing business at all. I suppose I should stop trying.” That’s why receiving my DBA is worth celebrating. It is one more tangible expression of the fact that I am actually doing this.

Actually doing something you want to do is a funny process. Consider how many things you think about doing in a day compared to the number of things you actually do. The second an idea (however small) occurs to you, your brain files it into one of two categories. There is Category A: I’m thinking about it but I know I’m not actually going to do it and there’s Category B: Hmmm…I think I really will do that.
Here are some highlights from my personal Category A:

  • Mopping. I hate it and I probably won’t do it.
  • Answering those emails I’ve been putting off. Nope!
  • Doing something about that raccoon that’s been eating the dog food. I don’t know…those things can be mean!

The idea of making BNTC a full-time commitment has been in my Category A for years. What kept it from moving to category B? The same thing that keeps the items on the list above from moving to category B.

  • There are aspects of making the effort that I just don’t enjoy.
  • Another time always seems like a better time.
  • Fear

So, with a list like that, how does anything get moved to category B? In my case, I was faced with some really painful realities that made the transition seem less terrible than the present. I know that’s not exactly the most inspiring statement. Perhaps it would be more impressive to say that the shift was brought on by “passion for my work,” or “determination to overcome obstacles,” or “a perfect love for my art form that has the strength to cast out all fear.” Any one of these phrases would be a great start for a motivational poster. But the truth is, at the point that I made the decision to commit to BNTC, I was identifying a lot more with those “demotivational” posters from Despair Inc.

Some of you may know that I developed some health problems when I lived in London. When I came back to the US, I dug straight into what turned out to be a surprisingly long period of desperately attempting to move forward with my goals (namely: getting my visa and becoming gainfully employed in the UK) but being knocked down at every turn by an illness that began to seem incurable. As the wait for my visa grew from weeks to months, the wait for my health to return grew from months to a period of about a year. Needless to say, this gave me some time to reflect. In the end, my reflections resulted in the following “category shifting” conclusions:

  • I was already suffering quite a lot, so doing things I didn’t enjoy in order to gain access to something I really could enjoy didn’t seem as painful as it would to someone who already had access to lots of short-term enjoyment.
  • The illness I struggled with was unpredictable. Lot’s of days I was fine but, any time I expended too much energy, the effort would come back to me and I’d end up spending several days unable to get out of bed. This made it impossible for me to get a job but not impossible to work for myself. It turned out I was a really sympathetic employer. I didn’t pay well at all but there was no limit on sick days. Suddenly the “another time is a better time” excuse made way for “we’ll it looks like this is the only thing I can do right now.”
  • The fear I had about committing full-time to being self-employed was based on the anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That fear (like a fear of wild raccoons) is a legitimate fear. It has to be taken seriously. However, illness (like a tub of dog food) brought that fear right to my doorstep. When I had a full-time job, I could avoid that fear and, by doing so, I could also avoid the joy of overcoming it. Being unable to work made that fear a reality I simply had to deal with and, as it turns out, the only way to deal with fear of going broke is just to keep doing what you can to make money and not be stupid/wasteful with whatever resources you’ve got.

So, that’s what I’m doing. Due to events beyond my control I have been driven to the desperate decision of actually taking a risk and following my dream.  It’s not so much my Aspirations that have brought me to this point as it is my Limitations

Actual Motivational Poster - "If you're not afraid of failure you will seldom have to face it" Really? I'm pretty sure that guy hit a big rock right after this picture was taken.

Demotivational Poster "Until you spread your wings you'll have no idea how far you can walk." - Yep...that pretty much sums up what I'm feeling right now.

Every day I get up and try my best to actually keep doing things. I do not feel that I am soaring on the wings of my dreams but I do feel good about trudging forward the best that I can. I want everything to come together right now and work out perfectly but it doesn’t work that way. It’s a long slow trudge from here to the fulfillment of my goals and the scenery is bleak, with miles to go between little sign-posts of success. That’s why I’ve become so attached to the Demotivational Poster with the penguin trudging along a barren landscape. I too have spread my wings! Now I just have to keep waddling along until I get somewhere.

Up to Now

BNTC started in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2005 as a name to put on my various directing/producing  projects. I didn’t really have any ambition for the company at the time. I just thought the title “The Brand New Theatre Co.” would look better on a poster than, “Something Kara Saunders Decided to Do.” BNTC’s first production was the world-premier of a one act play by David Ives called Roll Over Beethoven. Interestingly, a major theme of the play was the importance of letting go and learning to approach art playfully rather than feeling that you have to become the master of it.  It’s a theme that has come to resonate with me even more deeply as theatre devising has taken on importance in BNTC’s repertoire.

Roll Over Beethoven was presented at a one act festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma and, though it was well received, it didn’t exactly rocket my directing career straight to the heights of Broadway (or wherever people go to actually make a living directing theatre). Over the next couple of years I did some freelance directing under my own name and used BNTC’s name to land such illustrious jobs as writing/directing the entertainment for the Bama Pie Company Party, and playing the role of the Princess of Katroo at a six year old’s Birthday. At that point, BNTC wasn’t so much a theatre company as it was an excuse to make a few extra bucks and score some free hors d’oeuvres.

In 2007, I had started to teach high school and middle school drama part-time and I realized I probably knew enough kids who wanted acting lessons, that I could put party appearances behind me and start offering acting classes on a regular basis. I reunited with an old friend from my childhood theatre days (because, of course, I had been a child actress) and we started advertising acting lessons primarily to students at the schools where we taught. It turned out that she had been directing an Improv group for a number of years so I decided to do some producing as well. BNTC helped Crayons Improv to transition from a season of scattered un-paid shows to a schedule of monthly professional performances that got them voted “Best Improv in Tulsa” in the 2008 “Best Of” issue of Tulsa People Magazine.

By 2008, regular professional productions and ongoing acting classes were starting to give BNTC its shape and I was starting to deepen my interest in theatre devising (aka: collaborative theatre creation). What started out as acting exercises with my students was coming to result in some exciting work but I didn’t feel that I had a firm enough grip on the process of playwriting. Fortunately, with a name like Brand New Theatre Co. even the slightest internet presence was enough to attract the attention of a few playwrights. I contacted some experienced writers and some complete novices (like myself) and we began meeting regularly to discuss our individual work and brainstorm ideas about creating in community.

Steam was starting to build behind my ideas for the company but I felt that I was also beginning to hit a wall in terms of the progress I could make in a city that was not known for supporting the professional careers of its theatre artists. I wanted to make actor-training my primary vocation and needed to deepen my understanding of the training I had received as an actress in order to do that. I also wanted an opportunity to focus my energy as a director on the work of devising theatre so I needed to be in a city that was home to a large concentration of professional actors and playwrights.

I moved to England in the fall of 2009 to earn a master’s degree in Actor Training and Coaching at one of the country’s top Drama Schools (University of London: Central School of Speech and Drama). While studying there, I held a position as a visiting tutor at another major Drama School called Rose Bruford. I also took advantage of the city’s  vast resource of professional actors to expanded my work in devising by offering workshops in Viewpoints and Composition (a technique developed for theatre by an American director named Anne Bogart) .

When I returned to the U.S. in 2010 I was excited about the possibilities I saw for ongoing actor training with professional actors and I was eager to explore a number of new approaches to theatre devising. I also began restructuring the training programs I had previously developed for young actors in order to provide a more in-depth ground-work for advanced training (should my young students choose to continue acting as adults).

With a clear vision for the future of BNTC, I began offering short term workshops on advanced acting techniques while I visited various U.S. cities to research the best location to launch the next phase of the company’s development.  I arrived in Austin in May of 2011 and was immediately struck by the amount of pride Austinites take in their city’s creative culture.

Austin is known as a center of both artistic and commercial creativity that starts from the ground up. People here seem to start collaborating before they have finished their first cup of coffee in the morning and they are not precious with their creative resources. Whereas, in other cities I heard phrases like, “it’s a hard place to make a start but if you just trust the system you’ll get there eventually,” in Austin people would listen with delight to my ideas and reply, “I know a guy who might be interested in that!” Rather than feeling overwhelmed with a sense that there was an all powerful “industry” that needed “breaking into” I felt that people in Austin had grabbed the idea of “being their own industry” and run with it.

In other cities I heard, “Well I don’t know how you’re going to get an audience. People here only want to see things they’re familiar with,” but Austinites said, “That sounds cool! I know some people who might be able to help you. I’ll send you a link to their Facebook page.” Rather than resisting new ideas or discouraging “competition” the people I met here seemed to be thrilled to support any creative endeavor they encountered. I have been amazed to find that absolutely everyone I’ve met has not only had some resource or connection to offer but they have also offered it without a hint of fear that there aren’t enough resources to go around.

By late June I had finished making the rounds and investigating possible cities and had decided to make Austin BNTC’s new home. I’m looking forward to being a part of the vibrant creative community that makes this city such an amazing cultural center. I’m still settling in and feeling like I’ll never learn my way around but I think I’ll start feeling like I fit in here the first time I get the opportunity to listen to someone else’s creative vision and say, “I love that idea. How can I help?”