Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

Following the Cords in the Cieling: Aaron Kopec pt. 3

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Alchemist Theatre co-founder Aaron Kopec has been able to claim a great degree of success for his one year-old theatre space with a number of sold-out shows. It took a lot of work to get there. Mid last month, he talked to me in the theatre’s bar about the early work he put in transforming the storefront space into a theatre space and its future.

Aaron: . . . all the pipes were leaking . . . it took a year just to get to the empty shelf stage before I could actually start building. There was so much damage done to the building.

Me: And you’d had experience working on that before?

Aaron: Sure, yeah. I’d worked remodeling and construction. I mean, don’t look too close, some of it I left a little crooked. That’s why we keep it really dark in here. . .

Me: [laugh] And your experience with sound . . . you’d wired all the sound.

Aaron: Yeah, I’d designed the sound system. Every little detail . . . we made our own speakers. And we’d saved a lot of money. When I see people owning a restaurant and they’re hiring people to do everything. I can’t even imagine . . .  I can’t see how you can stay open with such a tremendous loan over your head.

Me: You’re a year into running the theatre. Are you figuring out the rhythm of a season?

Aaron: Yeah, we’d discovered through this first season how long it takes to build a set and get the lights read, get the sound ready . . .

Me: “cause prior to your work here you’d never had experience ding ALL of that. Did you know how much work that was going to be?

Aaron: yeah. I did. We . . . me and some other people did a multi-media thing for a band . . . a lot of televisions and moving set pieces and costumes and stuff and we rented Dale [Gutzman’s] theatre out for one night . . . and so I had some idea that it was going to be kind of a crazy thing, plus I was onstage for that, so literally there were times where I would go offstage, press some buttons to change some lights and come back out.

Me: And being more tech-heavy are you not more interested in getting back into film?

Aaron: No I’ve kind of lost interest in that. The thing that I like about theatre is that it encompasses everything, I mean . . . there’s sculpture, pain and music and sound and video (obviously we use a lot of video here.)

Me: The same thing could be sad of film.

Aaron: Yeah, that’s true. The thing I like about theatre is that it’s a temporary kind of art. It’s kind of like a snow sculpture. You go and you see it and it’s like “holy cow, that’s a lot of work,” but it’s only going to last two weeks. That’s crazy. We have 18 people putting hundreds of hours into [Rudolph.] That’s insane. I look at these things and I’m kind of in awe. Even if it’s our own show . . .  I see all the work tha’sinvolved and I’m like wow . . . what are you people doing?

Me: Do you ever get a chance to do that while you’re onstage? Just zone out and think abut that?

Aaron: Every time you see me miss a line, that’s exactly what I’m thinking about, yes.

Me: [laugh]

And this show in particular [Rudolph] I’m so blown-away by all the young talent. There’s so many times . . . I’ve zoned out and thought . . . wow . . .

Me: Are you the type of person who would be onset and your eye would wandr over to a part of the set and think, ”I should’ve done that better,” in the middle of a performance?

Aaron:  [laughs] I don’t know that I can do anything better, Russ. . .

Me: [laughs]

Aaron: no, but I’ve had moments when I’m thinking, “oh my god, is that plugged in?” Or “what’s going to happen when the next cue comes up, because I’m not sure if there’s a disc in . . . “ You will see me racing the cords on the ceiling every once in a while . . .


Me: Are you satisfied with the space itself, or are there upgrades that you would like to do?

Aaron: Yeah, there’s a few things that I’m hoping to do. One of the things is some stairs that go down to the basement from the stage so that we could have some really cool entrances at some point. Some things I can’t change. I wish it was jus a foot or two longer or wider.

Me: And is . . . where are you ultimately trying to go with the space? Is it a project by project thing for you?

Aaron: It kind of is. As far as the theatre goes I think we’re all VERY happy. I mean, this last season . . . without being able to afford much advertising we’ve practically sold out all shows and the last two or three were complete sell-outs. So theatre-wise and artistic-wise, I think . . .

Me: You would be happy on this level.

Aaron: Yeah, but now we’re trying to focus on bringing the average joe in . . . to come in every once in a while and have a drink in the bar. Besides just breaking even, it’d be nice if I could have a car again . . . some day.

Me: [laugh]

Aaron: you know . . . little things like that.

and just selling out there isn’t going to do that for you?

Aaron: That’s correct. I mean, it’s part of the concept of thisplace is that we give so much back. This show that’s going on right now [Rudolph the Pissed-Off Reindeer]  . . . there’s 18 or 1 people in the cast and they’re all going to walk away with about $150 . . . maybe $170. So . . . we’re not taking any money from the artists or any of the art that happens there [in the theatre.] We’re really trying to make all our money and fund the building and the rent and the insurance and things like that with drinks.

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