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?”