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Annette Trossbach “Training, curating, and promoting talent”


NAME: Annette Trossbach

TITLE AND COMPANY: Producing Artistic Director, The Laboratory Theater of Florida

YEARS WITH THE COMPANY: Founder, since 2008

YEARS IN COUNTY: I have lived in Lee County since 2003. I started Lab Theater in 2008

NATURE OF BUSINESS: Nonprofit theater company

EDUCATION: East 15 Drama School (University of Essex) in London, U.K.

What are three key challenges your industry is facing? How is your company responding to these?

National funding is on the chopping block, so staying involved in politics is important. Balancing a season is always challenging: some shows have more recognizable names than others or are flashier crowd-pleasers, and those need to be balanced with lesser-known outstanding work. It’s a difficult industry to break into, so making sure we are giving opportunities to new artists — playwrights, actors, directors, designers — is very important.

Name the top three elements or practices that have been absolutely critical in the success of your business?

Passion: there is no theater without passion for expressing all the wonder and foible of man, the richness of human history, the beauty and horror of life.

Penny-pinching: Board member Louise Wigglesworth often says I pinch a nickel so hard the buffalo cries. In all seriousness, there are a million ways to spend money on a production, but it’s important to watch the bottom line. We are saving for a permanent home for the theater as well as trying to expand our team. Donations and support from creative partners and business sponsors help to offset expenses. For example, one donor gave money specifically for training people in lighting design. Other grants and donations fund special lighting equipment, speakers, stage carpentry supplies, costumes, and other elements that make a production come to life.

Togetherness: The Lab grows by inviting people to be a part of the theater and use their skills to make art. I was asked years ago why I decided to incorporate the theater into a 501(c)3. It is because I want the board; I want everyone’s opinions and personal and financial stake in the company to carry weight. I see the Lab Theater as a joint effort; the board and I, along with creative team members, are in this together.

What are two things you’d like to change about your industry now?

There is a misconception that great theater happens only in New York City, The West End, or other major cities — and rarely anywhere else. It’s just not true. Outstanding productions are created in regional theater, in community theater, and in high schools. We are proud of and grateful for the amazing talent in Southwest Florida. Theatergoers often buy tickets at the last minute. The more people are in the habit of planning their nights at the theater in advance, the easier it is for us to make business and creative decisions. People often wait for a review before deciding to attend a show, and that is fine — we love meeting new audience members this way! We also value how returning patrons, season ticket holders, and business sponsors support our season all year long.

Within the context of your current marketing/ promotional strategy, how do you differentiate your company from your competitors?

In short, education. Almost every Lab Theater director comes from an education and/or professional theater background. It’s important that actors learn and grow through our productions; they are increasing their skills with us, and then, as they go to other theaters in Southwest Florida, they take their new skills with them. We take our part seriously in training, curating, and promoting that talent.

What’s your superpower?

I founded this theater because I love the way theater speaks a universal language. I like to see people learning from theater: discovering universal truths, relating to one another, and raising our social consciousness. I want to bring more people together, and to raise people up, and I believe a theater is a perfect place to help make that possible. If bringing creative people to the same place for the betterment of a community could be a superpower, that’s one I’d like to think we have.

What is your “finish line?” Or, what does success look like to you for 2016?

We are excited that this year we are looking to buy a building to be our permanent home (Lab Theater is renting its current space). We also look forward to expanding our education program and hiring more staff. There is no true finish line to this work, though. As someone important once said, “art is never finished. It’s merely abandoned.” Theater scratches away at the human need to understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Self-awareness and learning are itches that just about everyone’s got: you can scratch that itch by reading articles on Facebook, by reading biographies or novels, by watching your favorite TV show, whatever floats your boat. The difference between those pursuits and theater is that the former are basically solitary occupations. Theater is communal. We are all sitting in the dark, being taken on a journey together, reacting together, and that immediacy is addictive. We don’t need to read anyone’s feelings in the comment thread - we were all present, we all felt it, we all could hang out afterward and talk about what we saw.

How is social media impacting your industry or business this year? What’s in store for 2017?

Audiences can find us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram: @LabTheaterFL, and we actively promote our productions there. Being active on social media is an important way that we empower our creative team, board members, and volunteers to share with their friends the work they’re doing. Theater lends itself well to social media, because it’s all about sharing experiences. Plus it’s a very visual medium. We hope to do more with video in the next year.

We are also working on more grant writing and funding projects to help us reach broader audiences. In our year long grant-funded production, the Rauschenberg Project Play, we coordinated about 200 different stories and creative people in our community to tell true experiences of LGBTQ young people in Southwest Florida. ¦