Adrianna True founded her own theatre troupe in Cheyenne, Wyoming called, appropriately enough, the True Troupe. Her troupe’s first production, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, had its triumphant staging from August 23 – 25, 2018 at the McIlvaine Plaza on the campus of the Laramie County Community College (LCCC).
Before we dig into the details of your founding of your Troupe, let’s start with your vision for the future. What makes the True Troupe unique in the Cheyenne Theatre scene?
What I think makes True Troupe so unique is that we are not as focused on doing “traditional” shows or work. We as a troupe are focused on making theatre a more accessible medium for the Cheyenne community. I think that sometimes people see theatre as something for only people of higher education, or only for the people who are “artsy enough to get it.” I want to change that stereotype and to help our community see the benefits of having not only theatre but the benefits of having all art in a community.
Most of our shows will focus on having women playing almost all the roles. Shows that are not majority-women will be focused on LGBTQ themes as well as current social themes. We may do some gender bending of traditional roles, there are a few shows that I am looking into for our next season that would be really fun to gender bend. To me, our next show [Love/Sick] is going to show that side of our company in a great way.
What kind of shows will you do in the future?
We are always looking into female heavy productions, and productions that push the molds of what theatre “should be.”
Social dramas with LGBTQ themes is a good way to put it! I also think that we are interested in shows that make people think about their lives a little more, shows that people can enjoy, but can also take home and think about some of the themes or dialogues we created.
I think as a community and a society it is incredibly important for us to have conversations, even if we can’t or don’t want to change our minds or views. I guess the simplest and shortest way to put it is our Troupe is focused on creating a social discourse and more opportunities for women.
When did you decide to found your own theatre company?
I was fresh out of college when I started thinking of opening my own troupe. I had worked for other troupes in the region and wanted to bring some fresh ideas into Cheyenne theatre.
I had submitted a few ideas for shows to Cheyenne Little Theatre but they were not interested in the scripts or ideas I offered. Back in my college days, I had taken lots of theatre and dance classes, and it had always been my dream to be a director. I had considered moving to a bigger city like Denver or Chicago, but financially it was not possible for me.
I have been a licensed Real Estate agent since I graduated high school, and had taken two semesters worth of business classes at LCCC, so I already knew the basic mechanics of things.
It took me about a year of grants writing, paperwork filing, and research before I was able to get the True Troupe off the ground and operating.
What skills are necessary to run your own theatre company?
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to running a theatre troupe. You have to know a decent amount about finances, time management, conflict resolution, marketing, and theatrical production.
Unfortunately, when I went in for my Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the University of Wyoming, they did not offer any classes on running your own company or being a producer. I managed to take lots of classes in all other aspects of theatre, from designing any and all technical elements to acting and different acting styles to dialects to teaching young people theatre.
I diversified both my Associates degrees and my Bachelor’s by taking as many credits as possible and diversifying my portfolio of work. By the time I graduated, I had almost 200 credits (for reference, 120 is the minimum to receive a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming).
In addition to all the classes I took, I was able to also complete several different internships that helped me learn more about being a producer.
I was a Teacher’s Assistant for the LCCC Music Department which was an amazing experience for my knowledge of musicals and rights and how to acquire them. However, the best learning experience I had was working in Laramie with the Queen’s Players Theatre.
Amy Hollon, owner and producer, worked with me as an actress in one show and asked me to sign on as a teacher for her at-risk youth program. After working with her for a year, she helped me begin writing grants and helped me find a fiscal sponsor (Albany County Theatre) for my first year. Amy mentored me not only on how to start a theatre company but where to find grants and who to ask for. I also learned a lot about production and company values from working in other theatres in the region, such as Relative Theatrics in Laramie and Bas Blue in Fort Collins. They both create a community around their work and that is something that I strive for with True Troupe.
Please expand on your theatrical resume throughout your college years
The first show I ever directed was out at LCCC, and it was called Almost, Maine by John Cariani. I had been an assistant director for Jason Pasqua on two shows before that, and he saw I had a drive and passion for directing.
Our show was through the LCCC Theatre Club and was an incredible success within the college and the community.
After that, I directed multiple children’s shows up in Laramie, and was an assistant director for a number of community shows. Unfortunately, while I was at the University of Wyoming, there were not many opportunities given to students to direct, and instead I sought opportunities through the Theatre companies in the town, which was how I met Amy Hollon. She gave me the opportunity to not only direct with her at-risk youth program and direct children’s theatre, including the world premiere of her show The Funny Little Woman, but also to work on all her other shows as either a designer or an assistant director.
The only Shakespeare I have been in was The Comedy of Errors at CLTP, and in a small Shakespeare scene when the First Folios came through town in 2016. I had taken lots of Shakespeare classes in college, including an English class focusing specifically on Shakespeare’s most popular works.
Now a bit on the educational background. I grew up as a bookworm in the age of video games and visual stimulation. As a young child, my parents decided to home school me when I was 6. Growing up that way was an amazing experience, as I was able to fully focus on what my passions were and grow them.
Even at a young age, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and at the age of 17 started studying and taking classes to get licensed as a real estate agent. I had already at that time started on classes at LCCC, and one month before I turned 18 I had published a short story in the LCCC High Plains Register, graduated high school, and was accepted into Phi Theta Kappa as an outstanding member.
When I started at LCCC as a business major, something never seemed quite right. I always knew that the major wasn’t what I wanted to focus on, and after two semesters of the classes, I slowly had begun switching degrees. I then moved on to pursue my major in Music, which I knew would take me 2 years to complete.
I had decided to pick up theatre classes on the side just to finish my degree sooner. Once I started, I knew I wanted to also finish LCCC with my degree in Theatre. By the time I had graduated, I was on my way to UW with theatre as my major, and only took a few music classes at UW. At the University, I had always planned on pursing my Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Acting, but scheduling did not work out for me in terms of the classes that were only offered every other year.
It turned out to be a blessing, as at that point I changed by major to a Bachelor of Arts, which was then a much more general degree which enabled me to take not only more design and tech classes, but also enabled me to complete my degree within the two year time frame I had desired. After completing my Bachelor’s, I moved back to Cheyenne and took a summer internship at CLTP as a costume designer, before going full time into my Real Estate career and shortly after opening True Troupe.
Was A Midsummer Night’s Dream your first choice for your troupe’s first production?
I had the idea in my mind for True Troupe before talking with Katie Delicath on our Shakespeare project, but was did not have the Troupe created at that time. Midsummer was not the show I had intended to do as our first production, but what with weather timelines and grant deadlines and other shows I was involved in, it all fell into place that way. Love/Sick was the show I had hoped to premier but when I saw the opportunity to do an outdoor show right at the end of summer, I knew that I had to pursue the opportunity for it.
Why A Midsummer Night’s Dream over another Shakespearean comedy?
I had wanted to do a Shakespeare in the park piece for a long time but had been unsure of where. CLTP did one two years ago simply in the grass with some platforms and microphones, but I wanted to do something a little different.
Sometime around March, I found out that LCCC had finished construction on the McIlvaine Plaza, and at that point I knew exactly where and what show we would be doing there.
I chose this play because it is one of Shakespeare’s easiest to understand, easy to make all female, and I also love the quirkiness that is Midsummer. There is something so different about the plot of Midsummer that always has drawn me into the show, with so many different storylines overlapping while all making sense. It is a play that I felt was truly Shakespeare was ahead of his time on, and I had always wanted to put a modern twist on it but didn’t have the inspiration until I had what I would call a “late night brainstorm” or a mid-rehearsal “if we weren’t working on this show what would you want to do?” session. After that, everything really fell into place, given a lot of hard work.
So how does one set up one’s own theatre troupe?
There is a lot of paperwork to start any business, theatre in particular. There was filing business reports with the State of Wyoming, as well as the federal government. Then of course we had to write and file our grants, find a fiscal sponsor for our first year, and draft all our contracts for our actors/designers. In receiving the grant from Wyoming Humanities, Amy [Hollis, her mentor] had spoken to me about that potential and the potential of getting funding through the Wyoming Arts Council (who will be sponsoring our next play Love/Sick by John Cariani). I knew some potential for getting funding through some other sources, which while we did not receive for this season, we are working on getting for next year.
First you assembled your production crew
Our stage manager, makeup artist, costume designer and sound designer were all recruited before casting. They were on my team to cast the show as well. Katie Delicath (Costumes) had been instrumental in helping me bring the entirety of the vision to life from the start, and Kelly Gaskins (Makeup), Jacob Marquez (Sound) and Amber True (Stage Manager) were all involved starting about the first of the year. Our crew members were recruited throughout the summer, and our assistant stage manager was actually recruited on as props master only after our other one resigned sometime in July
Describe how you cast the show
I waited until we had confirmation on funding to put out audition notices. We utilized Facebook, word of mouth, and flyers to help us reach out to the community.
Word of mouth spread pretty fast, and the audition process was two days of auditions (both lasting about 3-4 hours). We held our auditions out at the Plaza in order for us to hear actors projecting in the space and see how their physicality worked and if it was big enough to be visible in the space.
I had a few friends who were interested in the project, but a lot of our cast and crew were members of the theatre community who love Shakespeare and wanted to be involved in more theatre.
I have a habit of working lots of shows where I might not be friends with the cast and crew when we start the show, but as time goes on we grow very close. I have acquired a lot of friends over the past few years that way!
A lot of our actors heard about the auditions through word of mouth or from Facebook.
Did you find that all actors use Facebook these days, or is it mainly the younger generations who are familiar with social media?
It is an interesting phenomena in Cheyenne in particular, in that I have actually found that more of the older generations like to connect through Facebook, while I have better luck with word of mouth and in person conversations with younger people. Most of the cast for Midsummer was through a lot of word of mouth, but some of our actors like Erin Kendall found out through Facebook. To me, it’s an interesting perspective. Social media has been one of our biggest advertising tools, as you can use it at no cost and word can spread very fast. However, as a producer I still continue with flyers, posters, and word of mouth, as I know social media only reaches into our community so far.
I worked incredibly hard to spread the word to not just the Cheyenne community, but to Fort Collins, Laramie, and as far away as Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I wanted people for this project who were talented, hard-working, and enthusiastic, and that was exactly what I received.
Your stage manager/sister also has significant theatre experience
Amber was not originally to be my stage manager, but I am glad she ended up in that position. She was instrumental in keeping everything scheduled, organized, and managing when things weren’t going exactly right.
Amber and I would spend very late nights and early mornings working on the show, from setting up a schedule that worked for the actors, to designing some of the lighting and outdoor elements, to finding rehearsal spaces when it was raining or too hot, to keeping me going by bringing me coffee.
Amber always kept everyone on track, ran lines with actors when I was busy at work, and even when she started her full time job would still come to rehearsals to give me and the actors support and push us through to the end of the show.
She was incredibly important to my process and I wouldn’t have picked anyone but her. This is her first experience being a full stage manager and she was fantastic.
You staged the play at an outdoor venue – McIlvaine Plaza on the LCCC Campus
McIlvaine was always my first choice, although I did look into alternative options. After research, I wanted to use McIlvaine as it would be not only the first show for my Troupe but also for the space. I felt that it was very symbolic in that sense and I’m a bit of a sucker for symbolism.
You had to overcome a few obstacles
When we first rehearsed at McIlvaine Plaza there were lights we expected to use…then the power to them was cut while constructing the library.
In addition to the lights, the outlets had stopped working. Luckily I have a friend who is an electrician who was able to fix our outlets before the show.
We always struggled with weather and had to complete our final dress rehearsal in the LCCC Playhouse. Often on Sunday afternoons we had to rehearse at the Laramie County Library to keep our actors from overheating. Some days we had to cancel rehearsals until rain cleared off. It was a struggle at times but also a blessing to see how many of our cast would show up anyway and we would figure out a dry place to practice.
Will you always do outdoor theatre?
Our shows [will] not always [be] outdoors, this one in particular I felt needed to be.
We chose to stage this outside, as Shakespeare can sometimes seem like a stuffy art form to people who aren’t familiar with his work. I chose to keep the play in an outdoor setting as Shakespeare-in-the-park always seems to me to encourage more participation and audience interaction. Granted, it is also cheaper, but we also have the support of the LCCC theatre program, who have promised a donation of their space free of charge for every show we do this season and into the next one, so cost to me wasn’t the issue.
Many of your cast members have appeared in Cheyenne Little Theatre productions
There has been a nice mingling of people who are involved in CLTP productions, but also are not part of the higher up leadership of CLTP, and people who don’t get involved with very many productions at CLTP.
Our troupe’s goal is to encourage more theatre in Cheyenne, and I think that in doing that we will recruit people who are not always involved with CLTP productions.
My goal is to involve people who cannot be involved with full 6-8 week productions, but who can be involved for a few days or a week.
During the journey from script to stage for Midsummer, what did you learn about being the producer and manager of your own troupe that you’d wished you’d known beforehand?
I think the thing I wish I would have know was more about how amazing the people I was going to work with were going to be. They always brought so many amazing ideas to rehearsals, and I had greatly underestimated their drive and ambition.
I wish we could have done a lot more with the show, especially more physicality. If I could have done anything differently, I would have auditioned a week earlier and put the show up for two weeks.
To qualify for your grant, you had to have talkbacks for every show, with an “established” moderator – such as the professor from Laramie or Mary Godfrey who stepped into the breach.
A talkback moderator and having a talkback was one of those requirements, and Mary Guthrie was instrumental in that. I would love to continue having talkbacks. It is something that I like to do, and with our next show, while the show itself will not have talkbacks, we will have one at our invitation only open dress rehearsal.
I believe that encourages community involvement and outreach and starts discussion on things that we normally don’t deal with.
You want to be very involved in the community in Cheyenne. How will you do outreach?
I have almost too many ideas for how I want our company to be involved in the Cheyenne Community.
I hope to have our actors working in not just being in the community but in giving back.
I am in the works for creating a fundraiser for a locally based charity and will know more about that in the coming weeks. I also want our company to give back by helping to create discussions about art and about the way we as a community view and value art.
What are the 48-Hour Relays?
They are [part of] our outreach to the community who wants to be involved but can’t commit every night for 6-8 weeks.
These are meant to be a 48-hour process of putting on a short show, skit, dance piece, etc.
They are a fun and exciting project to work and I am excited for those.
We will also be doing some workshops in the future, including but not limited to:
- Auditioning and where to start,
- How to get involved in Tech,
- The safety of theatre and building, and
- The designer and the tech: What’s the difference?
We hope to do one of these at least once a month when we are not putting on shows.
Any advice for someone who might like to start their own theatre troupe?
My best advice is to build a team of people who are just as excited about what you do as you are.
Surround yourself with people who are just as committed to helping you as they are to helping your company, and who want to see things grow and change just as much as you do.
It really helps having a team and community supporting me and I can’t thank them all enough for all they do!
Anything else you’d like to share?
What I would like to share with all your readers is that sometimes, new ideas take courage. Don’t be afraid to try something, even if you are scared it will fail.
I tell our younger kiddos that all the time, “Do not be afraid to do something wrong, there is not a right and a wrong answer here. There’s simply ideas that work better than others.”
That’s my biggest lesson I have used in all my teaching, and it’s one of the ideals I strive for with our troupe.