Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

The Aaron Kopec Interview Pt. 2: The Beginnings of the Alchemist

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Alchemist Theatre co-founder Aaron Kopec had a somewhat circuitous path to building the theatre/bar that is now entering its second year breaking even with a nearly full calendar. Back in mid-December of last year, I talked with him about he origins of the Alchemist.


THE BUSINESS MODEL

Aaron Kopec: I don’t like—and I fully understand why it’s a necessity—I don’t like artist begging for money. If you make a painting and sell it for $25, then you should get that $25. I don’t think you should sell that painting for $25, but then still ask taxpayers or donors or whatever to support you until you sell another painting. That bothers me.

Me: Which is kind of against what everybody else in the established fine art world is doing. . . pretty much.

Aaron: Right. And I understand it, it’s just it bothers ME a little bit. And the big thing. . . and we’ve been chastised for it . . . and I’ve talked about it with a lot of people is the Milwaukee Shakespeare thing . . . they went out of business. They had a good following. They’d sell a lot of tickets. They have a lot of season subscribers. And they’re telling these people, “sorry, we can’t do a season without $3 million.”

Me:
[laugh]

Aaron: You can’t do Shakespeare? That seems like a slap in the face to me. All these people were paying for tickets and buying the season subscriptions and everything else and they’re saying, “we didn’t get all this OTHER money donated to us, so we simply can’t do it.”

AND THE BEGINNING?


Me: And getting back to the . . . you said you had a recording studio before this?

Aaron: Yeah, I had a little studio.

Me: And was that self-taught? How much fo what you’re doing tech-wise is just toying around with it?

Aaron: I’m a tech freak in certain aspects. Like, I’ll download manuals for software that I don’t have and read that before I’ll read a book . . . so. I think if I have any actual talent, it’s keeping track of what things do and how they react to each other and knowing when the time comes, what pieces to shove together to make something else. If that makes any sense.

Me: So when you’re working o a show, it’s all based on research you’ve already done. You just know how to snap I all together?

Aaron: Yeah, for the most part, I mean . . . I’m very proud of most of the stuff that I’ve done this first season.

Me: And you’re experienced with carpentry and things like that?

Aaron: Yeah, I was a carpenter for a while. I had a business. I worked for a remodeler. I guess that’s my other complaint—you hear about Milwaukee Shakes going under and the amount of money that they spent on sets and things and even though they’re much larger. I think the quality is quite high here. I think the most we’ve spent on a set is $300. Ad that was kind of splurging on things that we didn’t really need. Like cigarettes.

Me: [laugh] Directly put into the set.

Aaron:
Yes. As I was painting.

Me: What’s that like? You’re onstage, for instance with [Rudolph] you’re onstage n character and you’re looking at a set that you built lit by a lighting scheme that you designed.

Aaron: Yeah. in fact, just last night we had a wire come loose back by the sound. The show stars out with a DVD [projection] and there’s audio and . . . the audio wasn’t working. I was backstage, ready to go on. I didn’t know what was happening, so the lights went off and Lee and I went on and proceeded to go into the scene and the lights went down and I made a bee line for the back of the stage knowing that I had about 30 seconds before I had t get back on before the lights came back, so that kind of thing happens. I try to keep all the hats tucked under one big hat. And this isn’t to take anything away from the people actually back there, but I program all the lights, so that next scene you can click a button and they go by themselves. I set-up the website for tickets and handle the website and all the events and the calendar and things like that. But none of it is without help from [co-founders] Erika and Kirk and the regulars here [like] Patrick Schmitz or the “broads” from [sketch comedy group] Broadminded. They’re always a phone call away.

Me: So you’ve actually got them doing stuff for you offstage?

Aaron: Yeah. The really great thing about the people that work out of here is . . . they’re the kind of people you usually don’t have to ask. They’re on it. If my hands are full and I’m halfway through the set and I still have to do lights and sound or whatever, someone will come in with something that I was meaning to buy . . . they’re the kind of people that know you’re busy.

TOMMORROW: Aaron finally gets down to talking about the origins of the theatre--How many trips to a chain home improvement store does it take before you realize you’re committed to opening a new theatre space?

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