Interview – Patrick Jordan
Barebones Production is a Pittsburgh theater company that isn’t afraid of pushing boundaries or toeing the edge. Take their most recent play, The Mother****** With the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis. It’s visceral and fast-paced and definitely tastes more bitter than sweet. The show has been getting raves (like here and here and here) and every time I log onto Facebook, I see someone talking about the wonderful cast or the sharp, cutting comedy of the play.
I was fortunate enough to chat with one of the actors in The Mother****** With the Hat and also Barebones Production’s artistic director Patrick Jordan. Talk about talent! This man created a theater company with not much more than a friend, an empty space and a lone stage light and now, he’s celebrating 10 years! He’ll be premiering A Steady Rain next and is already looking at the next ten years.
Congratulations on your ten-year anniversary of Barebones Productions! What an accomplishment! And congratulations on launching your newest season with such a cool play, The Motherf***er with the Hat. You’ve been getting a lot of write ups about the season and the play. In fact, the Post Gazette just did one on you today! The entire article was great, and one thing that really struck me was when you said how much time you put into just preparing your theater season! Can you tell us what sort of things you think about and if you have some kind of mental checklist you go through?
It is a never-ending checklist. It usually starts over a year out in choosing the play then thinking about a location to perform it (or checking the availability of the theater). Then availability of an artistic team Designers/Director/Cast etc. Then the ever present fundraising which is by far the hardest part for me, because I have such a hard time asking for money…Which has kind of doomed me to middle management, but I am working on it. And I am not even going to get into once the show is in production.
You’re the artistic director of Barebones Productions. It’s a theater company known for its theatricality and pushing the envelope. You’re not afraid to go after shows that tackle tough subjects! Can you tell me a bit about the company’s inception and how it’s evolved throughout the years? A lot can change in a decade!
While the heart of Barebones has not changed over the last decade we have learned a lot along the way. The company was formed because we saw a void in the Pittsburgh theater landscape. There were plays and playwrights that were being passed over by the more established theaters. Because we are so small and were doing the shows out of pocket at the start we had the artistic freedom to do what we wanted to do. We started in a storage room behind a vintage clothing shop under Forward lanes where you could actually hear people bowling above us. We used 3 practical lights and the stage manager had 3 plugs and a power strip. Our next show was in Modern Formations art Gallery with clip on work lights and we had 12 different bands play after the shows and after that we performed in warehouses vacant store-fronts, a converted firehouse (that is now the Clemente Museum) old night clubs. For the first 6 years every show was a suggested donation or pay what you can. Now we are able to hire a full design team and preform in a theater, which I never thought would happen 10 years ago.
Another thing that struck me in the Post Gazette article was when you talked about the very beginnings of the company, and how it was such a small operation with just a couple footlights, a curtain and a power strip. I love that! And now you’re working with award winners and stage veterans and producing some really incredible works. Can you believe that you’re celebrating ten years and that the company has really taken a hold in the Pittsburgh arts community?
Honestly, in my mind we are still doing shows under a bowling alley.
I can’t believe it has been 10 years. For me, being embraced by the Pittsburgh community is to me the most rewarding part. I am from here, and I find it more gratifying and humbling having people appreciate what you do here more so than anywhere else.
The cast for the play is amazing! You have the indomitable Ruth Gamble who is just a firecracker on two legs, Obie Award winner Edwin Lee Gibson, Leandro Cano and Diana Michelle Griffith. How has it been working with such a stellar cast?
It has been a pleasure to go to work every day without the bullshit and drama that usually goes with this line of work. This cast who are all ridiculously talented, wanted to be there and believe in the project and I hope barebones mission. Everyone was fearless from the start and willing to try things that would make most uncomfortable and in some cases play characters they would not normally get to play. Of course this was all guided by our director Rich Keitel…Who may sound like he is from Brooklyn but I’m thinking of making an honorary Pittsburgher.
Finally Patrick, advice time! It’s so cool that you’ve managed to turn your dream into reality! What advice would you give for anyone looking to start their own theater company?
Go with your gut, especially at the start and only choose a play that you HAVE to do. Don’t think about whether or not it will be accepted and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Otherwise what’s the point? Then above all, say it how you feel it.
**Tickets are still on sale to this show which ends its run this week, December 7!! ! Buy here!