In September, Tina Satter MALS ’04 was back on campus for the opening celebration of the Performing Arts Building. Tina is the founder and playwright of Half Straddle, a New York theatre company. Students and alumni performed readings from her play Seagull (Thinking of You), a response to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s Seagull that draws on Chekhov’s personal letters and details from early productions of the play in Russia.
“If you think experimental, deconstructionist experimental theatre must be dry and dreary, then Half Straddle has a surprise for you,” the New York Times said of the company, which has produced half a dozen plays since its founding in 2008.
Tina’s interest in experimental theatre was sparked when she was cast in a play at Portland’s Imago Theatre. She began a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at Reed partly as recompense for having spent her undergraduate years at Bowdoin College “majoring in field hockey and going to parties.”
As part of her thesis, she wrote and directed Program to Investigate the True Condition of Love, A Musical Fantasia in One Act. After the play’s final performance on campus, Prof. Craig Clinton [theatre 1978–2010], suggested that Tina keep going with it. Just because the thesis is over doesn’t mean the show has to end, he said.
“It was the idea that you can go out and make your own work happen,” remembers Tina. “That’s essentially self-producing, which is what propelled me my first few years in New York.”
Tina produced her thesis play at Portland’s Miracle Theatre, and at the age of 30 decided it was now or never for a theatre career in the Big Apple.
“I was too old to do the intern route,” she says. “But by going to grad school, I was able to step into it. In New York, there’s so many ways to show work in small ways if you’re not willing to wait for someone to take your piece as a playwright or hire you as a director. You keep making stuff and putting it out there.”
She spent her first year in New York skulking around the downtown theatre scene and observed that many theatre professionals she admired had come out of a program at Brooklyn College run by experimental playwright Mac Wellman. Tina applied was accepted into the program.
This year the company was awarded a grant from the OBIE Awards, celebrating achievement in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatre and is planning to tour Lisbon and Normandy.
She advises students hoping to succeed in the theatre world to study the trajectories of people and companies whose work you admire. What schools did they go to? What internships did they do? Get close to the work to see how it’s made.
“You don’t have to make a big, fat show that costs $15,000,” she adds. “You can make seven-minute pieces that—if you work really hard on them—will get you to the next steps.”
Running a theatre company is a moment-to-moment endeavor, lots of fun, but with many worries.
“I get to work with the coolest weirdos ever and I feel like I’ve found my place in this world,” says Tina. “Some days it gets so hard I think, ‘I can’t do this,’ and then some little thing happens and I say, ‘Okay, I’ll see what happens after we tour Europe.’”