Garrett West, Artistic Director for Bunbury Players – IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Written by Staff on January 1, 2024
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Garrett West, Artistic Director for Bunbury Players, by J Hunter.
Bottom line: COVID kneecapped everyone in some way, be it in their work life, their family life, their social life, or any combination of the above. This was never felt more than in the worldwide arts community, which has always lived on the margins from a financial standpoint. The music community & the club community – here and elsewhere – found ways to bring live tunes to the people a few months later, but the theater community was left in limbo.
However, nature abhors a vacuum, and there’s no way you can keep performers from performing for very long. Both organized groups and enthusiastic individuals engaged YouTube’s need for continuous free content and started putting together Zoom productions of public-domain plays. (In the two years of Lockdown, I did four online shows, including two Shakespeare plays.) Was it a perfect substitute for going to a theater and seeing/performing plays like we’re used to? No, but it did offer much-welcomed relief, both for viewers in need of an arts fix and performers who… Well, need to perform!
Things eased eventually (even if COVID has not), and most of the theater groups in RadioRadioXLand are back up and running. But for the online performers who found a new way to play & new people to play with, there was one big question: How do we transition what we’ve developed to the analog world? One local group who’s succeeded in answering that question is Clifton Park’s Bunbury Players, now in its third season of analog productions and is about to set up their second festival of one-act plays.
Garrett West is Bunbury’s Artistic Director and a longtime veteran of RadioRadioXLand’s theater scene, working with (among many others) Hudson River Shakespeare Company, Glens Falls Community Theatre, Home Made Theater, Confetti Stage, Not So Common Players, and Classic Theater Guild. Garrett was good enough to step In The Spotlight and talk about the birth & growth of Bunbury Players.
RRX: What were you doing (theatrically and otherwise) when Lockdown hit the fan?
GW: My partner Katie Hawksby and I were assisting a friend on a youth production, as well as appearing in Galway Players’ production of Annie (her as Miss Hannigan and I as Bert Healy)
RRX: Did you do any online productions prior to Bunbury’s creation?
GW: Not at all. It was a brand-new phenomenon to me. Well, we did experiment by doing private Zoom readings of Star Wars, but the less said about those the better!
RRX: When did the idea of doing an online production come up, and how did that turn into Bunbury’s first online show?
GW: I believe I saw that some other groups were attempting to put together some Zoom productions and I thought “Well, why not?” So I gathered some of the cast from the aborted Annie as well as some other theatrical friends and decided we should try presenting one of my favorite (public domain) plays: The Importance of Being Earnest, which is where we get our name from.
RRX: What kind of issues did you run into with an online show that you wouldn’t have to deal with in real life?
GW: Communication, most definitely! It’s a much easier thing when you’re all in the same building and you can physically call cues, but completely different when you hope by the grace of whatever almighty being there may be that one remembers to pop up on screen… and unmute themselves… and make sure their camera is on…. and…. Well, I can go on and on. Also, not everyone necessarily has the best internet connection all the time or are that technically savvy.
RRX: When did the idea of transitioning Bunbury Players into an “analog” group first come up, and what was the process like?
GW: After our second Zoom production (Pygmalion), we toyed around with the idea of doing a staged production that could be filmed and released digitally – with proper social distancing offstage, of course. However, we soon learned that audiences were now allowed to return to seeing shows in person (with precautions) so we jumped at the chance. We also live-streamed the production – a revue we entitled As We Stumble Along – for those who were still cautious of seeing shows in public. We have always put making theatre accessible as our first priority, which is why we also never charge a ticket price and are totally donation-funded.
RRX: Bunbury Players is one of several groups in the Capital Region without a brick-and-mortar home base. How hard has it been to find performance spaces, and where are some of the places you’ve played & rehearsed?
GW: We are lucky to have the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Clifton Park, who have provided us with a rehearsal space since Stumble. Finding a performance venue is a totally different challenge. Since we began online, we have had actors from all over the Capital Region, so we attempt to perform in places all throughout the area. Lately, we have performed primarily at the Albany Barn, as they are wonderful hosts, but we will soon be returning to the Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls for two productions this season.
RRX: Bunbury is also the first non-Summer Theater group in Clifton Park. How have you been received, both by theatergoers and by local actors who’d like an easy commute to their avocation? Also, how has your communication been with Not So Common Players, who have been a CP staple every summer?
GW: Luckily, Clifton Park is a somewhat central location for rehearsals, so it’s really not been a problem getting the actors we need. As for performing in different locations, we have found that theatregoers will go anywhere if they really want to see a show. Also, there is a misconception that Glens Falls and Albany areas are so far apart, but it’s far from the truth (no pun intended). NSCP has been great and has offered to loan us whatever we need. I am actually set to direct for them next fall as well.
RRX: Sadly, COVID is still around, and has waylaid more than a few shows in RadioRadioXLand. How has COVID impacted the post-online Bunbury Players, and are you implementing any programs or rules to minimize that impact?
GW: Early on, we were incredibly diligent about requiring both masks be worn and proof of vaccination be shown at all performances. We also required all actors to be vaccinated to audition and to wear masks when offstage. We’ve relaxed since then but are still very aware of the potential dangers and update each other about the situation at board meetings. I believe we’ve only had to have performers drop out during tech week for one production and luckily it was a cabaret, so it was easy to adjust. We did have to cancel some shows during our second season due to the spread of the disease, but luckily, it was early on.
RRX: Bunbury is already deep into its fourth season (three in analog years), and you’ve got auditions coming up for the group’s second one-act play festival. Please talk about the shows you’re doing, who’s directing them, and what kind of people you’re looking for.
GW: We have six one-act plays:
- The A.I. Method, written and directed by Jason Cromie, is about a distraught man who buys a device to help improve his state of mind.
- Animal Kingdom, written by David Simpatico and directed by myself, is about a man and a woman who, against all odds, find their perfect mate in the jungle of contemporary dating.
- Basic Accounting, written by Emily Golden and directed by Jason Cromie, is about a woman’s first day at her new accounting job, but what exactly she’s tallying up and for whom is a bit of a mystery.
- A Capitol Idea, written by Jack G. Hyman and directed by Helen Annely, is about two women who are pitted against each other when a major historical and political act occurs, and we wonder what truths will ultimately come out and how will they deal with the aftermath.
- Cent’Anni, written by Rosemary Parillo and directed by yours truly, is about a senior center that tries to celebrate the 100th birthday of a beloved resident who refuses to participate.
- Forward Pass, written by Lawson Caldwell and directed by Michael Nichols-Pate, is about two mothers who must come up with a plan to protect their sons after they were discovered kissing in the school library.
We are looking for people of all ages, races, and gender identities to come audition, as there are a wide range of roles for just about everyone. Audition information and signup can be found on our website, www.bunburyplayers.weebly.com.