Local actor Rebecca Pingree is well on her way to a new stage in life, thanks to the crowd-funding web site Indiegogo, and a little help from her friends.
Pingree, 32, is well-known to Bay Area theater audiences, having appeared in numerous productions, from drama to musical comedy. Pingree won a 2011 Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award for her portrayal of Gertrude McFuzz in Berkeley Playhouse's production of “Seussical, the Musical.” You might also run across Becca at the Berkeley Chess School, a day job that affords her the flexibility to audition and perform.
And now she's headed to the Shakespeare & Company's Conservatory program in Lenox, Mass., as a result of her successful online fundraising. Indiegogo is one of a number of new “crowd-funding” web sites, which allow organizations and individuals to propose projects and solicit backing—contributors receive some consideration, often customized (e.g., being included as a character in an author's graphic novel).
Project proposers set a target for the fundraising, and a deadline—some sites, such as Kickstarter, only charge the backers if the whole pledge goal is met by the deadline, while others, including Indiegogo, do not. All charge an overhead—in the case of an Indiegogo project, this amounts to roughly 10 percent of the money pledged.
Pingree's project was to sponsor her participation in 14-week conservatory session with the aim of reaching a new level as an actor. The pitch on the project page is succinct: “My modest proposal is that we make a deal: You hire me to do something for you in 2013 (after I return from the conservatory), but pay me now. Then, for the fall of 2012, I can go to Lenox, Massachusetts and change my acting career and my life. Or think of it this way: I want to trade you the skills I want for the skills I have.”
Shakespeare & Company is a thirty-five-year-old theatre company in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. They strive to create “theatre of unprecedented excellence rooted in the classical ideals of inquiry, balance, and harmony...[performing] as the Elizabethans did — in love with poetry, physical prowess, and the mysteries of the universe” while also producing new plays. “Actors, directors, writers, and teachers from all over the world come to work with the Company's faculty... training their voices and bodies with demanding classes, while delving deeply into their own imaginations, intellects, and emotional lives.”
Sponsors of her project can receive tailored (and in some cases, literally) rewards. For example, $50 contributed gets Becca delivering a “singing telegram” of a Shakespearan song or sonnet, $100 buys a rendering of a piece of Shakespeare text as art. For $500 she'll construct a custom Shakespearean costume, and for $1,000 (and one sponsor has taken her up on the offer already) she will cater an eight-person Elizabethan banquet.
As of mid-August, her project had raised more than $1,000 above the target—the deadline for pledges is August 23rd.
Do you know of other interesting local crowdfunding projects we should profile on Berkeley Patch? Tell us in the comments.
An interview with Becca Pingree, acting career entrepreneur:
I've had the theatre bug since forever. I apparently saw my first show when I was six days old, though of course I can't remember it. As my mother tells it, I was a real screamer of an infant, absolutely impossible, but when the stage lights came up I shut the heck up and watched, silent and entranced, all the way through. The first theatrical experience I can remember was at six years old: sitting in the Orpheum watching my aunt play Kathy Selden in the first national tour of Singin' in the Rain. So my family definitely instilled a passionate love of theatre in me, so much so that if I was suddenly unable to act, I know I would continue to work in the theatre somehow.
What kicked the whole, bigger adventure off?
Theatre Bay Area. I was in their ATLAS Program in 2010, which led to my being a TITAN award recipient in that same year. I'd applied to ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Actors to Success) because I had this vague, steadily increasing feeling that I was not getting where I wanted to be, and suspecting that having the acting career I most wanted was likely to require that I change my whole approach. As part of ATLAS, I created what TBA calls a Career Map, in which you assess your strengths and shortcomings, get advice from colleagues who know your work, and develop a plan to address your weaknesses, feature your strengths and take your career to the next level. Not surprisingly, it's a massively daunting document and one of the hardest things I've ever done. But one thing led to another: I wrote this brutally honest, intensely self reflective application, which led to a TITAN grant, which led to coaching and professional exposure, which led to 2011 being the most rigorous year of auditioning, performing and theatregoing of my life. And although it really was a whirlwind of awesome in many ways, it made me realize that the theatres I most wanted to work for still didn't think I was ready, so in the fall of 2011 I started researching professional actor training programs and literally dozens of professional actors and directors recommended I look seriously at Shakespeare & Company.
Whence the mad Shakespeare craft skillz? How did you end up a Renaissance woman?
I suspect most of my experience is pretty typical of actors: over the years I have taken an eclectic range of part-time jobs as I struggle to make ends meet while continuing to act, and I've been lucky enough to work with amazingly generous master artists and experts in various fields. My Indiegogo campaign seemed like a great opportunity to make use of all the skills I've learned over the years and leverage them into the training that will get me the skills I most want.
What about your current day job? What's BCS' role in all this?
I'm indebted to the chess school for being tremendously flexible with my need to work a very unorthodox schedule. Since the day I was hired they have been unendingly supportive and accommodating, despite a hilariously impossible litany of auditions, rehearsals and performances that regularly render me unavailable to them, sometimes for weeks at a time. Plus, I am especially grateful to have a day job I believe in, having seen first hand the way BCS' methods of teaching chess have changed the lives of their students. And, of course, I am over the moon to have paying work to return to after the Conservatory ends.
Indiegogo was clearly a win for you... How has the Internet, e.g., having a personal web site, on Facebook, changed acting for you?
For my Indiegogo campaign, Facebook was instrumental in allowing me to get the word out, and the response from the Facebook event alone has been absolutely overwhelming. I've also used Facebook to ask for professional advice to great effect: it was a Facebook post about actor training than eventually led me to Shakes & Co.
What roles would you love to get, when you emerge from your Lenox chrysalis?
I don't have any bucket list roles I hope to snag upon my return, but there are several companies I've not yet worked with that I hope will give me a look, among them Cal Shakes, Aurora, Marin Theatre Company, and Theatreworks. I've already been lucky enough to work with several fantastic ensembles and killer local directors, so my long-term acting fantasy is simply to play tons of intelligent women in great plays. I'd love to be considered for more classics like Shaw, plays by contemporary writers like Iizuka, Rebeck, Tennessee Williams, and Stoppard, and work with local writer-badasses like Anthony Clarvoe, Mark Jackson, and Jon Tracy. But in the immediate future, as you might guess, I'm dying to sink my teeth into some Shakespeare.