70/30's Midsummer In Knoxville: An Interview with Tyler Gregory

by JP Schuffman

This weekend we met up with Tyler Gregory over at 70/30 Creatives and talked shop about their upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, running this week only (May 26-28).

KTC
Tyler, for those who don’t know you, what’s your theatre background?

TYLER
My theater experience began about ten years ago as an instrumentalist in musicals at Roane State, I graduated to Pit Director and eventually Music Director. In 2013, while studying Studio Music and Jazz at the University of Tennessee I began working as Music Director for Shakespeare on the Square, and I became obsessed with theatre from then on. Since that summer I have been involved in the production of ten different Shakespeare plays, a production of The Complete Works Abridged, and now teach theater at Inskip Elementary through UT’s University Assisted Community Schools program.

KTC
Let’s jump straight into the deep end. Why do you do theatre at all?  And why do it in Knoxville specifically?

TYLER
I'm going to answer in reverse. Why Knoxville? The easy answer is: That's where we are. But to go beyond that, I am of this place. I love and cherish Knoxville and our community. I was raised on tales of the World's Fair, attending Vols football in the fall, and the Downtown art scene. Regardless of the artform I've pursued, rock and roll, jazz, film, theater, the primary goal was always to “succeed in Knoxville” because we need it. And, “Why theater at all?” Because theater, to me, offers a limitless expanse of potential for creative expression, both individual and collaborative.

KTC
What was the genesis of this project, and why did you choose to produce Midsummer in Knoxville now?

TYLER
70/30 found ourselves in a transition period at the end of last year. I spent New Year’s Day reading Dream. In the following days Saki Marie Harp and I were discussing our desire to produce a Shakespeare play, and the future creative direction of the company. I said something like, “Which is your favorite comedy?”. She responded with, "The Dream," and the next thing I knew we were inviting people to audition and booking rehearsal space. It was a whirlwind.

KTC
What makes this production different and unique from other versions of Midsummer that people in Knoxville might have seen or heard of?

TYLER
The edit. [The show runs about 80 minutes.] Also, the emphasis on the language. But perhaps most of all the raw nature of it. I'm raw as a director. We're raw as a company. A good deal of our cast has little to no experience with theater, let alone Shakespeare, our set design is raw and minimalist, our budget is basically nonexistent. But, this is still as talented a cast as I've seen, and I think we do an incredible job of telling an authentic story.

KTC
The show is going to be staged in three separate locations around the city over three days. Why did you choose that route? Has it raised any unique challenges or opportunities?

TYLER
We did that to challenge ourselves and intrigue audiences, and because - obviously - we don't have our own performance space. It's raised a lot of unique challenges, but I'm not sure I can accurately attest to the specifics until we've after we've performed. It's put me in a place as director to entreat the actors simply trust the language and text, trust your intents and motivation, your instincts; it is the same story regardless of our location-- just go tell it!

KTC
What is your ideal audience demographic for this show? After seeing the show what do you hope that audience will take away from the production?

TYLER
I hope we have a universal appeal! Human beings love hearing and telling stories. We have since the beginning of time. We're simply filling that role in Knoxville, Tennessee in May of 2017 C.E. I hope our audience walks away having had a few laughs, maybe feel a few feels or relate with a character, but mostly just have an enjoyable time at the show.

KTC
What do you say to people who may be uninterested in Shakespeare? Does this show have something to offer them?

TYLER
It definitely does. I believe someone who is intimidated by the language can come see our show and learn that Shakespeare's work is a lot more accessible than you think; it's entertaining storytelling with relatable characters. We've all been involved in domestic disagreements, crazy ex-partners, passionate new loves, emotional confusion, and that one guy at work or school who: Just. Doesn't. Know. When. To. Stop! You get all of that real life stuff (and some magic too) in just 80 minutes.

KTC
Can you break down your rehearsal process? How much time was spent on editing the text, table work, traditional rehearsal, etc?

TYLER
We've had, in my experience, a very atypical process. At our first company meeting I told everyone involved, “This isn't commercial theater. This isn't nonprofit theater. This is a workshop that ends in performance.” For the first six weeks we met on Sundays and did exclusively table work and language workshops. Over the course of the next month or so we moved on to blocking and scene work, and a more traditional rehearsal process. But we've had to navigate and accommodate scheduling for cast members’ other projects, which has led to a more drawn out schedule than most people are accustomed to. But mainly, a huge portion of this play has been worked, “off of its feet” because it was most important to me that the actors know exactly what they mean when they speak and emotionally invest in everything they are doing.

KTC
What has been the most rewarding aspect of this process for you?

TYLER
Watching people grow. The tangibility of actualized potential. I can't do it justice in words. And just the gratifying nature of leading a project. Every time I do a shadowcast, or film, or play, I just write down all the names and look at the list of people that have agreed to go on this journey with me, and I'm moved and humbled beyond measure. The only thing I love more than doing this is the people that do it with me.

KTC
Do you have a favorite moment from rehearsal that you can share?

TYLER
If I had to choose one, I would say it was the first time we walked through the whole show together. Lovers, Mechanicals and the three main Fairies had all been rehearsing separately from each other for those first several weeks on our feet. So, seeing how the show flowed, and seeing the cast watch and react to the parts of the show that they hadn't been privy to was a really awesome experience.

KTC
As the Knoxville theatre scene changes and grows, what role do you hope 70/30 will have in its development? Where do you see your company fitting in?

TYLER
I hope we have a say in the future, and can be a positive agent to propel this community forward, but we'll be wherever it is we're needed. We're malleable.

KTC
What projects are in the works for 70/30 in the future?

TYLER
Lots of exciting stuff for stage and screen. We have a mockumentary in pre-production being spearheaded by Saki Marie Harp, Raine Palmer and Caleb Burnham. We are also exploring opportunities to branch out with new shadowcasting projects in addition to producing the longest running Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast in town as The Knoxville Transit Beams in this fall.

And with regards to more Shakespeare, we've got some very exciting things in the works in the very near future. We are keeping our cards close to the chest for now, but expect an official announcement soon concerning this year’s fall/winter project.

You can keep up date with our goings on by finding Seventy Thirty Creatives and The Knoxville Transit Beams on Facebook.

* 70/30 Creatives', Midsummer Nights Dream runs May 26-28 with performances at Market Square, Ijams Nature Center, and Modern Studio.