Revival of WAITERS by Terry Beck

WAITERS - photo by Travis Widrick
WAITERS – photo by Travis Widrick

Year: 2012-2013
DanceForce Member: Elaine Gardner
Artist: Terry Beck
Community Partners: Fredonia Opera House; SUNY Fredonia Dept of Theatre & Dance
Audience: 1,134
County: Chautauqua

Beck first created WAITERS in Philadelphia in 1989 for Terry Beck Troupe. This work was originally commissioned by The Baltimore Theatre Project with funding provided by both the Pew Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. The premiere of WAITERS took place both in Baltimore and Philadelphia before a three week sold out performance at the Edinburgh Festival. From there it went on to tour Europe and the US. The recreation of WAITERS for these series of Fredonia performances marks the first time it has been performed since its last sold out run at the London Institute of Contemporary Art.

WAITERS combines modern and ballroom dance with strong theatrical performances to create an evening’s length dramatic Dance/Theatre work described in numerous reviews as a “tour de force”. Nine characters come together in their search for love and
connection in a theatre transformed into a ballroom. The storyline is revealed in the lyrics of songs from the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. WAITERS is funny, tragic, powerful and always timely dance theatre that audiences around the world have embraced.

Planning for the recreation of WAITERS began in the winter of 2011. Discussions and partnership with SUNY Fredonia began at that time with the initial work starting in the spring of 2012. Casting happened throughout the year and regularly scheduled rehearsals
began as early as August of 2012. For this recreation of the original work the idea was to bring together faculty, alumni and students of SUNY Fredonia along with professional members of dance organizations in the Buffalo area to perform in a community venue. It was emphasized that while SUNY Fredonia was a partner in this project (providing funding to obtain the community venue – The Fredonia Opera House) this was not a SUNY production but an independent work. Technical and choreographic support from the original creative team was also included for this recreation. They included Curtis Dretsch, Professor of Technical, Set and Lighting Design of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and Choreographer/Dancer Nancy B Hill of Philadelphia PA. SUNY Fredonia Faculty member Sam Kenney made her Fredonia performance debut in WAITERS. Also included in the cast from the Buffalo dance community were Travis Widrick of Buffalo’s premiere tango organization – Tango X, and Phil Wackerfuss from John Lehrer Dance Company. Alumni from SUNY Fredonia included Rick Doetterrl and Amanda Sahr. Students Steve Russell, Noelle Lazor and Adam Ali made up the additional cast.

As a faculty member of SUNY Fredonia’s Dance and Theatre Departments Beck was able to acquire rehearsal space at the university. Initially, the rehearsals began in the Dance Departments studio but quickly moved to the Music School in Mason Hall. This move was necessary due to the fact that as part of the design for the work, any theatre that WAITERS is performed in is turned into a ballroom. This requires a large number of chairs. (75 chairs were used in performance that were graciously donated by the White Inn in Fredonia, NY). The music school allowed us access to chairs that we could use during all rehearsals. Again, rehearsals began in August of 2012 and due to the varied schedules of the nine dancers and the availability of the rehearsal spaces, rehearsals could only happen as a full group one day a week for a four hour block.

Smaller rehearsals for the various solos, and duets happened whenever schedules would allow, usually once or twice a week for again a minimum of four hours. Some of these rehearsals happened at the University of Buffalo’s Dance studios in order to accommodate the dancers living and working in Buffalo. They included Rick Doeterrl, Phil Wackerfuss, Amanda Sahr and Travis Widrick. Additionally, the tango sections of WAITERS were rehearsed at the studio/home of Travis Widrick in Buffalo. These tango rehearsals happened for a minimum of three hours a week. As choreographer and director, I worked alone weekly in the dance studios of SUNY for four to six hours a week. During SUNY’s winter break in December 2012 and January 2013, rehearsals with Nancy Hill (former Associate Artistic Director of Terry Beck Troupe and one of the original performers of the work) happened for 20 hours a week over a total of five weeks. These rehearsals happened with me and also happened with Amanda Sahr who was dancing a solo originally danced and created by Ms. Hill.

In order to include the community of Fredonia into the project, the Fredonia Opera House was chosen as the venue. The four performances and tech/dress rehearsals happened during May 13 through the 19th (three evening performance May16, 17, 18 and a matinee on May 20th). These dates were also deliberately chosen in order to take full advantage of the Commencement activities that same week and to accommodate the number of families taking part. The theatre, while beautiful, presented a number of challenges. In the original work, at the top of the piece, the audience was allowed to see the performers ‘getting ready’ by dressing in order to enter the ballroom. Most venues allowed us to show this dressing scene throughout the theatre. Given the site lines of the Opera House, these individual scenes had to done in the small pit and boxes of the theatre. In order to visually create separate spaces, platforms needed to be built to accommodate the illusion. These were built by a hired local craftsman. Also, the Opera House is a ‘dead-hung’ space meaning simply that we were not permitted to move or refocus any of the lighting. We had to rent and bring in additional lighting in order to create the visual design. Additional expenses were also accrued when we had to hire tech personnel to replace the Opera Houses Tech Director who was not available for all four performances.

During August of 2012, Margaret Logan was brought on board to take on all publicity activities. This included articles and interviews for newspapers and magazines, radio interviews, posters, postcards, mailings in conjunction with The Fredonia Opera House, hiring photographers and videographers, web-pages (both for Terry Beck and the Opera House) and regular social networking announcements (Facebook etc). Additionally, a Kickstarter campaign was planned and then launched in order to raise an additional $4000 to supplement the salaries of all the artists involved. A full description of the work was part of the Kickstarter narrative and a short 4 minute film was created using film from the original work. This film was originally created by PBS as part of a project focusing on Philadelphia artists and shown throughout the years of 1989 and 1990.

Kickstarter is an ‘all or nothing’ campaign meaning that if the total amount requested is not raised, no funds would be distributed. I am happy to report that we were successful and raised the full amount (monies from this campaign will be received in late June 2013). A partnership with the SUNY Fredonia Foundation was also started at this time. The Foundation was able to acquire a $500 alumni contribution. An additional $150 was obtained from CCB Bank in Dunkirk, NY.