Bill Kenzie of DayTrippers Dinner Theatre: “Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”
“When you’re feeling really low and you feel you can’t go on with whatever it is you do, say out loud to yourself, ‘I Quit!’ And take a half an hour or an hour or a day and do absolutely nothing — and you know what? You’ll find that you can’t quit. And gradually you’ll find yourself continuing to do, continuing to create, and continuing to work.”
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Kenzie.
Bill Kenzie is the Founder and Director-Producer of the DayTrippers Dinner Theatre (based in Bloomington, Minnesota). DayTrippers Dinner Theatre produces comedy plays and musicals with a scrumptious buffet lunch prior to each show. As an expert on theatre and the arts, Bill Kenzie is well-versed on what goes into orchestrating a successful play, the future of the theatre industry, the fundamentals of running a theatre business, and much more. www.daytripperstheatre.com/
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I started out on this career path as an actor when I was a teenager. The main backstory is that I wanted to do something, even for a few hours, that would take me out of the ordinary events of my life. Acting is such a breath of fresh air, because you can pretend you’re someone else for awhile and get away from what society is always telling you what you need to be thinking about as a young adult. And then as life moved along, I realized I was much better at directing shows than acting. I realized I also enjoyed the work of producing as well.
When I started DayTrippers Dinner Theatre seven years ago, many of my friends and acquaintances in the theatre industry were group leaders, tour operators, theatre club members and matinee club presidents. Their organizations pursued almost exclusively daytime activities. I also knew that most of these group leaders and their organizations tended to dine along-side whatever event they decided to undertake. So the idea of serving this niche in the theatre market was born in me and I put it into action.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book that made the most significant impact on me is A Sense Of Direction by William Ball, the founder of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. It’s one of those books that grows on you. During a first reading, you’re left wishing that there was more. But then as you begin to refer back to it and reflect creatively on what he’s giving you throughout the book, you begin to realize how enlightening the book is. It’s an inspiring book that makes you want to go out and direct a play, even if you’ve directed quite a few already.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
One reason to be hopeful is for all of the other live theatre lovers around the world. Obviously, the virus is impacting theatres everywhere. Broadway in New York is shut down for the time being. London’s West End, (which had vowed to carry on) closed all theatres indefinitely. Cirque du Soleil, which operates all over the world, has closed down. That said, I’m not worried about the theatre business.
First and foremost, the theatre is an art form, and art never stops, never dies; as long as there are people living, there will be art. In the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, 675,000 Americans died. Theatres were shuttered; quarantines were imposed. And theatres flourished afterward, as they surely will when this pandemic passes. The more important issue here is to think of your neighbor, don’t hoard, be kind and helpful, and do everything within your power to “flatten the curve”.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
It is so important to make self-care a priority right now. For example, I enjoy relieving anxiety by hiking. Something that struck me as a way to relax and keep going was included in an interview with a hiking expert who had through-hiked the Appalachian Trail many times. He was asked, “What is the secret for the stamina, the strength, the ability to withstand the elements out there on the trail that takes months to hike? What’s the equipment you’ve got to have? What are the shoes you’ve got to get?” and so on. The hiking expert said, “It’s not complicated, but you have to be willing to accept the bare simplicity of it. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other for hours, days, or weeks at a time.”
There is a great lesson in this; when you’re feeling anxious and you think you don’t know what you’re doing (and who doesn’t feel that way from time to time), perform the actions and do exactly what you know how to do and keep doing it. Also, have the mind-set of expecting things to get hectic, because they will. And when they do get hectic, solve one problem at a time, no matter how small or how large. There’s a great temptation to say to yourself, “I don’t have time for this!” But there’s always time. Take time.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
If you’re having bouts of anxiousness, there’s no sense fighting them or resisting them. If you can shorten the episode though and think of it as a bridge to the next one, you begin to gain control over yourself. Then you’re not so concerned about the next one coming on, because you feel that you can shorten that one a little more than the previous one, and you thereby lessen the power of them. Of course, I highly recommend breathing exercises, which I do all the time every day. They contribute to so many aspects of healthy living, not to mention being advantageous for your everyday voice and speech.
So much goes into producing plays at DayTrippers Dinner Theatre, such as spending a great deal of time in casting in order to get a very nice ensemble cast that will deliver what the playwright intended. Then there’s the meetings with designers of set, lighting, and costumes. And let’s not forget maintaining good connections with your group leaders. Selling groups is essential to the business of my theatre — it’s a full-time job in itself. So that needs to be a part of every workday. On top of all of this, I have meetings with the chef and staff of the physical plant at the theatre. And of course the actual period of directing the plays and getting them “up” as I like to say. With all of this, there is no such thing as staying stress-free. Stress is a by-product of tension, and tension is a good thing, so long as you use it properly. Think of tension as an energy of life that you can use; that you can create with and perform tasks with. Of course you’re going to get tired, and when you do, indulge in that most basic of all things; get a good night’s sleep. The great producer–director-writer George Abbott (produced and directed over 50 plays on Broadway in a 70-year career) said, “There better be a damn good reason for me staying up late at night, or it just isn’t worth it.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite lesson quote is not a quote, but more of a trick: “When you’re feeling really low and you feel you can’t go on with whatever it is you do, say out loud to yourself, ‘I Quit!’ And take a half an hour or an hour or a day and do absolutely nothing — and you know what? You’ll find that you can’t quit. And gradually you’ll find yourself continuing to do, continuing to create, and continuing to work.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could start a movement in theatre, it would be to merge the world of the non-profit theatre with the commercial theatre. More to the point to merge the audiences of the commercial theatre with that of the non-profit theatre. It would enrich and make for a much more satisfying environment artistically, financially and just in terms of excitement and fun for all parties — producers, actors, directors, and designers. There would be more work and more varied work for everybody. Audiences would benefit too, from experiencing all that theatre has to offer: Comedy, Tragedy, Philosophy, Farce, Ideas, Family, Politics, Religion, and History.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!