September 2021 marks five years since Post Productions was founded. A lot has changed over the course of this theatre company’s existence. A lot hasn’t. I find myself reflecting on all of it.
In 2016, Post Productions was just an idea Michael O’Reilly and I hatched from dreamy “what if” conversations at Gennaro’s café. In the five years since, we’ve added two partners (Fay Lynn and Nikolas Prsa), produced 19 plays (8 of them brand-new), worked with 44 actors and 29 artists of all kinds and 20 crew members, founded the Windsor-Essex Playwriting Contest and The Shadowbox Theatre, hosted dozens of performances by other companies and artists, collaborated with other theatre professionals to offer workshops and courses for experienced and novice theatre artists, and hosted the first-ever summit of local theatre companies. No wonder we’re tired.
The idea for Post Productions arose from a shared desire for change. Although we’d had great experiences and made many close friends acting for other theatre companies in Windsor-Essex, O’Reilly and I had grown tired of acting. Our hearts lay in producing and directing. But, try as we might, there didn’t seem to be any place for us as producers and directors among the many existing theatre companies.
Moreover, we had an appetite for certain kinds of plays that weren’t often produced in the region. There were plenty of musicals, farces, camp comedies, family-friendly dramas, and shows for kids. And we enjoyed them. But what we wanted most to see were emotionally intense stories packed with ideas. Stories that punched us in the gut and sent us away with a lot to think about and discuss. And we wanted those experiences to be intimate – staged in close quarters, with minimal distance between the audience and the actors, so people felt like they were part of something real – not just spectators.
We talked about these things over a series of meetings at Gennaro’s. We talked about the company we wanted to create, as well as the company we didn’t want to create. Both of us had become disappointed with the culture of the local theatre scene at that time, characterized by gossip, in-fighting, decades-old grudges, and alienation. What if we created something that refused to be, or behave like, competition to any other company, that actively promoted collaboration and sharing and a sense of camaraderie? Maybe we could inspire others to help us create a more welcoming and community-oriented theatre industry in Windsor-Essex. Maybe.
That’s how Post Productions was born. In the beginning we only had a statement of principles (http://www.postproductionswindsor.ca/about-us.html) and plans for two productions. Sam Shepherd’s True West was going to be our first, but eventually we decided to start with Oleanna, by David Mamet — logistically simple, requiring few resources and only two actors, and uncomfortably intense. Would anyone come to see it? We had no idea, so we scheduled just four performances.
In those days, Post Productions was homeless. Thankfully, rehearsals could be held in a classroom down the hall from my office at the University of Windsor. We searched the city for an appropriate and affordable venue for the performances. Most venues were too large, too expensive, or both. Finally we found a temporary home with the artistic collective at SHO Studios on Monmouth. The people of SHO were terrific, the cost of renting wasn’t outlandish, and best of all the performance space was just what we wanted. The audience would be right up against the stage in a room with no distractions, able to become engrossed in the action onstage.
Our first season brought us into contact with several artists with whom we’d end up developing wonderful collaborative relationships. We met painter Nora Harvey through SHO; she loaned us a painting for the Oleanna set – and two years later she contributed paintings for the set of Nothing but the Truth, one of which was sold as a raffle prize. Graphic designer Kris Simic was hired to design the poster and program for Oleanna, and has designed the posters and programs for every one of our productions since. We first worked with a local musician on True West; George Manury came on board to compose and record atmospheric music for the scene transitions (which we packaged and sold as a CD called “Between You, Me, and the Crickets”. Manury is back with us this year, composing and recording an original score for Blasted, which hits the stage in October. True West also featured our first collaboration with Matthew Burgess, who came on as a set painter and has since designed, built, and painted the sets for nearly all of our productions.
Oleanna was produced at SHO Studios in April 2017. And people actually showed up to see it – a lot of people, in fact! Maybe this could work after all. By the time we produced True West at SHO in October 2017, we were starting to plan other productions – an entire season for 2018. We were now rehearsing in Gennaro’s roast house, thanks to Enzo’s generosity. It was there we created our third play of 2017 – The Worst Thing I Ever Did – which O’Reilly and I wrote and directed with Fay Lynn, who had starred in Oleanna. That experience was so much fun we started writing another one together and by September 2017, Lynn had joined Post Productions as our third partner.
Around this time we all realized that we needed a venue of our own – somewhere we could rehearse without interruption, store props and set pieces, build sets, and produce plays all on our own schedule. So while True West was enjoying a well-attended run, we searched for space we could convert into a small, intimate theatre. Eventually, Lynn and Tova Perlmutter (a fine artistic mind in her own right, and O’Reilly’s wife) found an old dance studio in the former dairy building at the corner of Howard and Shepherd – a location that seemed to float between downtown, Ottawa St Village, Walkerville, and Via Italia. It was run-down, but we could immediately envision how to make it a theatre.
That space became The Shadowbox Theatre, home to Post Productions since January 2018 – and host to productions by many other theatre companies, as well as workshops and courses, magic shows, fundraisers, stand-up comedy nights and more. We had a month to renovate the space in time for our first production of 2018, John Patrick Stanley’s Doubt, which was scheduled to open at the beginning of February. Due to a gas leak, we had no heat in our unit until just before the play opened, so we worked in the cold by moving space heaters with us, room by room, often in the middle of the night.
2018 was a big, tumultuous year. Apart from opening The Shadowbox Theatre, we started the Windsor-Essex Playwriting Contest, collaborated with two local musicians on two different productions (Flower Face on Stop Kiss, Dave Nisbet on Equus), collaborated with a local writer on a brand new play (Matthew St. Amand’s Shelter in Place), and worked extensively with another local musician, Sam Poole, to create the anti-musical Another Fucking Christmas Play: A Fucking Musical, which Lynn, O’Reilly and I had started writing the previous summer. We even recorded an album of music from AFCP over two days at Poole’s house. In fact 2018 ended with two of the most difficult and complex plays we’ve ever staged, back to back. Both of them are still among our top earners, ever. Yes, 2018 was a great year with a lot of firsts, but by the end of it we were exhausted.
So we went into the 2019 season with a mission: keep things as simple as possible, work full-time on just one play at a time, and make sure we have room and time to breathe. For the most part that strategy worked – No Exit, Nothing but the Truth, American Buffalo, and Autopsy & A Haunting in E Flat (the double-bill of winners from the 2018 playwriting contest) were fairly straightforward, easy-going productions. But then there was The Pillowman. Once we decided that the stories told in that play would be projected as either live-action or animated short films, the workload ramped up considerably. Since it turned out well, and gave us the opportunity to take new risks and collaborate with new artists (Mitchell Branget and Kieran Potter, most notably), we decided to forgive ourselves the indulgence.
2019 was a landmark year for us: for the first time, the bulk of our audience wasn’t part of the Windsor-Essex theatre community. When Post was starting out, we did what most theatre companies in the region do: we relied on other members of the theatre community (actors, directors, producers, etc.), plus family and friends, for ticket sales. However, we also knew that the long-term viability of the theatre industry depended on reaching people outside of those little bubbles, developing an audience of people who do literally anything other than theatre — but are eager to experience a good story. In other words: people who will attend theatre for the same reasons they’d go see a movie. Building this audience was part of our brand development strategy from the outset, and it drove the way we promoted and advertised our productions. By the time American Buffalo opened in July 2019, more than 50% of our audience wasn’t directly connected to theatre. That percentage has grown steadily ever since.
This is where we must mention the critical support that local media provide. Without the early and consistent support of 519 Magazine, Windsorite.ca, Eyes on Windsor – and recently, even The Windsor Star and Windsor Life – it would be impossible to build and sustain an audience. These outlets have played a critically important role in the success and growth of Post Productions. With time, we hope they’re able to expand their operations to offer even more coverage of local arts.
Things hit a snag, as you might have guessed, in 2020. And to be fair, 2020 got off to a great start. In January we were finally able, in collaboration with the Arts Council Windsor Region (ACWR), to host a summit of the local theatre companies to discuss how we could collaborate and make progress as an industry. Representatives from more than 20 companies attended, as did many independent theatre artists. We left the event feeling buoyed by a spirit of goodwill and shared purpose. Our first production of the season, Edele Winnie’s Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands (the 2019 playwriting contest winner) was a lot of fun and brought in sizable crowds. The rest of the season – Negatunity, Betrayal, Fatboy, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane – promised a diverse slate of stories for diverse audience tastes. And we had shows by other theatre companies, courses, and workshops booked throughout the year. 2020 promised to be our biggest year yet.
But you know what happened. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, theatre was shut down for most of the year. Harold Pinter’s Betrayal was cancelled. Matthew St. Amand’s Negatunity was rescheduled three times then finally filmed for online distribution in the spring of 2021. John Clancy’s Fatboy and Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane managed to hit the stage in the brief period we were allowed to re-open in Fall 2020 at 25% capacity.
Yet 2020 wasn’t all bad. We had a lot of time to reflect during lockdown and realized the workload was getting to be more than we could handle, so we welcomed our fourth partner, Nikolas Prsa, who’s been a godsend since joining the company in June 2020.
Somehow, 2021 is nearly over, and the future is uncertain. We released Negatunity in the spring, staged George F. Walker’s Criminal Genius in July, and we plan to finish out the year with Sarah Kane’s Blasted in October, followed by John Gavey’s Dead Bear in November/December (winner of the 2020 playwriting contest). Auditions have just been held for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, which will open a jam-packed 2022 season after being rescheduled from this year. Other theatre companies are being scheduled to occupy the Shadowbox in between our productions, and our educational program of courses and workshops is starting up again.
We have big plans for Post Production’s future, some of which will be announced over the next few months, and as always we stand ready to support, encourage, promote, and collaborate with other theatre companies and artists. There’s still so much to create and accomplish. Over the next five years we’d like to see The Shadowbox Theatre truly become a hub for theatre artists of all kinds, constantly bursting with activity, a venue where something is happening every night.
We’ve enjoyed working with all of the companies and artists who’ve performed at The Shadowbox over the years – particularly Rob Tymec and Revolution Youth Theatre (the latter seem to leave the theatre cleaner than it was when they arrived).
The building that houses the Shadowbox has changed a lot since we moved in. In January 2018 it was nearly empty. Since the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Accelerator bought the building in February 2018, we’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go. There’s a buzz of activity throughout the building that we enjoy being a part of, even though there have been some trying circumstances – such as the unit next to us being occupied by a boxing gym, and now a skate-park. Both are very loud.
Over these first five years we’ve certainly made our fair share of mistakes, from which we’ve learned a lot. And there are still things we haven’t quite figured out – like, how to make a website that’s both functional and attractive, how to avoid becoming buried under props and set pieces, how to finish the auditorium floor that was never quite finished, how to endure the teeter-totter of financial instability that seems to plague all theatre companies. Yet we’ve never felt our underlying principles were mistaken.
In fact, we’ve become even more determined to make sure the artists we work with are financially compensated – and gradually increasing the level of compensation over time. This is something we believe all theatre companies in our region can accomplish if we work together.
The truth is, the future has always been uncertain. The pandemic just forced us to acknowledge this fact squarely, in a way we’d rather avoid. Uncertainty needn’t paralyze us. Instead, it should help us appreciate the value of what we’re able to experience as we strengthen our virtues of resolve, adaptability, gratitude, and patience. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and exciting at the same time.
We at Post Productions can’t wait to discover what fresh challenges the future brings. We hope you’ll join us in meeting them.