By Nathan Bergstedt
The beginning of last month saw the one year anniversary of when the Uncommon Loons began. The funny thing about anniversaries is that they, once recognized, trigger something in your brain that makes you remember stuff you thought you had forgotten. This is for better or for worse, but I took the opportunity to recall how things lined up in my life for that particular day to have significance for me, even without knowing that it would turn into a theater company and a fulfilling creative partnership with the Schroeders.
But since it did turn into a theater company and a fulfilling creative partnership with the Schroeders, and since we’ve successfully finished our opening weekend of our second Shakespeare in the Park production, I find myself recollecting how the last year of independent theater unfolded.
The first thing I recall is the feeling of stress prior to the opening of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Fortunately, our expenses were minimal, so there was no worrying about going bankrupt with the production, but we didn’t know if we were going to have an audience, let alone whether or not they’d like the show. What’s more, the weather forecast wasn’t looking promising for opening night. The first Shakespeare in the Park production in Grand Rapids, and we were facing a thunderstorm.
Looking back, we certainly had enough justification in worrying, but in reality we really lucked out. We only had a rain location for one performance, and that happened to be the night that it rained like hell. And despite the lousy weather, we had a huge crowd inside the MacRostie Art Center, which we temporarily adapted into a theater for the evening. We all walked away with big smiles on our faces from knowing that the gallery was standing room only for the show.
The next couple performances, for which we didn’t have a rain location, were blessed with weather that was almost unseasonably gorgeous for the first week of September. And once the run was completely over, we got to bask in the reality of how wrong we were on our initial audience-size estimates: we anticipated 30-some per show, and we got 100-some.
When we first thought about doing “Shrew,” there was no actual plans for having it be anything more than a rag-tag group of thespians getting together to do a show in the park. There was strong allure to that idea, actually, as if we had shucked the bonds of organized arts bureaucracy in order to create our gonzo vision of what Shakespeare could be in the 21st century.
And that’s how it stayed for awhile. Sure, there was talk about doing another Shakespeare show the following summer, especially after we heard so many people say they looked forward to seeing what we did next, but we still collectively imagined that it would be another “rag-tag thespian” effort. But in October (my memory for dates is nothing short of awful, so I’m doing my best to narrow it down to a given month), John Schroeder and I talked about doing another show, this time just a one-act play, and to have it done during the monthly First Friday art walk in Grand Rapids. “Shrew” was the first time the theatrical arts were incorporated into the art walk, and we wanted to keep it going. John recommended we revive “Not Playing with a Full Deck; or Something Has Gone Tarot-bly Wrong,” a play I wrote and he directed earlier in the year for InsomniActs, a theater project wherein a play has to be created from scratch within 24 hours. The original production turned out really well, but given the fact we only had a single day to put it on, we thought it could be done better.
This raised a few questions, like “what were we doing?” Was this to be an ongoing thing, where every couple months we’d come up with a new idea for a show that we planned on producing? If it was, should we have a name? If so, what should we be called? John and I were sitting at the VFW listening to Sam Miltich and Friends play their particular flavor of gypsy jazz when the idea of reviving “Full Deck” was brought back up. If this was to be an ongoing thing, I thought we needed a name. I remembered John blurting out the name “Uncommon Loons” the first time it was ever proposed that “Shrew” be advertised under a company name, so between pitchers of beer I asked “How about Uncommon Loons?” to which he responded, “Sure.” We then ordered another pitcher and continued with the plan for how “Full Deck” would be produced.