On stage, classically trained actors win the affection of fans and critics every night through their compelling performances. Off of it, the chaos of putting on such a show can test even the most seasoned theatre lifers. The hectic – and humorous – nature of what it takes to bring a stage play from rehearsal to opening night is the focus of the acclaimed comedy/satire THEATER PEOPLE, created by Matt Anderson and now streaming all of its 4 seasons on Seeka TV (see additional links below).
As is the case with its current set of episodes (10 in total), each of THEATER PEOPLE’s first 3 seasons center around different people in different behind-the-scenes settings. Despite their offbeat personalities and frequent conflicts, the characters of THEATER PEOPLE bravely massage the egos of dominating auteurs and temperamental stars. In addition, they go way above and beyond the call of duty to fix every disaster that ensues before showtime.
While past seasons of THEATER PEOPLE took place in the high stakes, high pressure world of professional theatre, season 4 is set in a smaller yet no less competitive side of the performing arts: college theatre. When an unemployed ex-actor named Elise (Stacia Rice) rejoins her alma mater as the director of the same youth acting troupe she once performed with, she finds that the company she’s straddled with is clearly not ready for opening night.
This exasperating ensemble consists of the alpha male-turned wannabe thespian Danilo (Paul LaNave), aspiring lawyer/right-wing advocate Cassidy (Adelin Phelps), freshman Yukon (Alex Choi), and transfer student Andy (Jay Owen Eisenberg). Two of the troupe’s other stalwarts are Grete (Briana Patnode), whose deceptively prim and proper appearance belies a rebellious streak, and the infectiously upbeat Gaby (Reyna Rios), the most experienced actor of the bunch.
Luckily, Elise has some help as she tries to turn her amateurish group of Broadway hopefuls into marquee stars. Beth (Katie Willer)’s working relationship with Elise continues as she transitions from stage manager to assistant director, but not everything is as smooth as it seems when she begins her instructional outreach to the university’s motley crew of young actors.
When it comes to being in the director’s chair, Nic (Yinka Ayinde) is suddenly on the outside looking in once a “professional” takes over his position. As one of the school’s newest faculty members, Kayla (Sara Marsh) is happy to be reaching young minds through education. However, the axiom of “once an actor, always an actor” comes into play as she eventually rediscovers the spotlight of the stage.
With Minneapolis-St. Paul as his longtime stomping grounds, Anderson cut his teeth in area theatre before applying his acting and directing talents to the moving image. “I was an actor for about 10 years here in the Twin Cities. I started acting because I thought it would make me a better director, but I loved it and was fortunate enough to get a decent amount of work, so I did it for a long time,” Anderson says. “I ended up needing to focus more on film and was out in L.A. for a bunch of years doing that.”
When his attempts to break into Hollywood stalled, Anderson found that home would be where his heart – and his idea for THEATER PEOPLE – really was. “When I came back to Minnesota and wanted to start a web series, I knew that world (theatre) had an endless supply of material and would allow me to work with a lot of the actors I used to act with, so it was a good fit.”
While THEATER PEOPLE will undoubtedly resonate with actors, directors, set designers, costume makers and curtain raisers, Anderson found a small degree of creative inspiration in his own memories of working in community theatre. “There are actually only a couple of direct inspirations for the elements of the show – almost everything is so common that I could point to a number of possible examples, so there wasn’t anything I really needed to worry about treading too closely to, which is a good thing.”
THEATER PEOPLE’s four seasons are replete with comedic moments that even the most hardened theatre veterans will relate to. “A couple who split up but still runs a theater company together? (There’s a) bunch of those. A big theater bringing in a difficult “name” star? Happens all the time,” adds Anderson.
Compared to its first 3 seasons, though, Season 4 of THEATER PEOPLE may be the most relatable of all for its creator. “The closest I think the show has gotten to real life is our current season, which is very much inspired by my time in a youth outreach theater troupe when I was in high school,” Anderson explains.
THEATER PEOPLE gave Anderson a chance to return to his hometown theatre roots, but it also introduced a unique way for him to make his series feel like a new experience in every season. “It seemed like it’d be interesting to have each season focus on a different kind of theater,” Anderson explains. “Season 1 was about independent theater, so we shook up season 2 and made it about site-specific theater. Season 3 was about bigger, regional theater and improv. Now, season 4 is educational/youth outreach.”
Self-contained yet frequently updated story arcs will make THEATER PEOPLE appealing to new viewers. “It (new storylines in every season) is a way to keep the show fresh, and it means that, to a certain extent, each season is kind of a standalone,” adds Anderson. “You don’t need to have seen the first 3 seasons to completely enjoy season 4, though there are some nods to earlier seasons – some references and returning characters – that are more fun if you’ve watched what’s come before.”
THEATER PEOPLE’s cast, all hailing from Minneapolis-St. Paul, may not be as large in numbers as it was in the show’s previous 3 seasons. However, Anderson responds, the combined talents of its current group of actors have helped make production of the show’s fourth set of episodes a successful undertaking; one also enhanced by the increased resources that Seeka TV has allocated to Anderson’s project.
“The majority of the show takes place in one location with a smaller ensemble than we’ve had before, though 9 people isn’t all that small. That allowed us to produce these longer episodes with the time and money we had,” recalls Anderson. “Beyond that, it’s still very much the same show. The sensibility is the same, the sense of humor is the same…it’s all just on a bigger, hopefully more professional, scale. While each season has been unique, this season feels like the show that the show has always wanted to be.”
Despite the unavoidable problems of scheduling shoot dates for THEATER PEOPLE’s entire cast, Anderson marvels at the depth of native talent he’s worked with throughout every season of the series.
“…The biggest advantage we have is absolutely the availability of so many remarkable actors in the Twin Cities,” he replies. “That level of performance is what fuels the show and makes it special. So it’s both sides of the coin and, on balance, it’s always worth the logistical nightmare to end up with the casts we’ve had.”
In addition to having new characters in a new storyline for its fourth season, THEATER PEOPLE’s visual style is also unique from its previous seasons. However, as Anderson reports, that style owes everything to an award-winning HBO comedy about a profession that’s often been called “show business for ugly people”.
“With Season 4, I knew I was going to be largely shooting it handheld, and I watched a lot of VEEP to get a good sense of that show’s energy in that aesthetic. And now I watch new episodes of VEEP and frequently think, ‘oh, that’s totally a THEATER PEOPLE joke,’ so I think that show’s worked its way into our DNA as well,” Anderson says. “You know, we’re operating on a completely different level. These are master-level shows, but they’re definitely things we can aspire to.”
Making production even more enjoyable for Anderson and his colleagues is the backing of Seeka TV, one of the newest streaming platforms devoted to indie series content. After hearing Anderson discuss the series in a radio interview, Seeka TV CEO George Reese would find an important addition to his network’s growing lineup, and a vital opportunity to join forces with a talented filmmaker.
“When we launched Season 3, Minnesota Public Radio did a really great piece about the show and I got an email later that day from George Reese, one of the founders of Seeka,” Anderson remembers. “They were still in the very early stages of putting together the platform and were starting to think about content.”
Anderson was instantly intrigued by the web series medium, and by Seeka TV’s mission of making quality indie content easier to search for on the web. “I loved what they were doing – as someone who’d hardly even seen a web series before I started developing my own, one of the first things I did was spend time looking around the landscape to see what was out there.”
Every day, more viewers confront the challenges of keeping up with original video content that’s popping up almost by the second. Anderson isn’t alone in that situation, as he describes his own difficulties in keeping up with new series. “There basically *wasn’t* a landscape. There were a ton of shows – and more every month – but you couldn’t find them,” he says.
Luckily, Anderson was won over by Seeka TV’s commitments to making original web series available in an easily accessible portal, and its development of a strong social outreach to fans and content creators. “The idea of building a platform to connect audiences with content was so needed,” responds Anderson. “On top of that, they were really focused on filmmakers. George is a filmmaker himself, so he has that perspective.”
Thanks to Anderson’s partnership with Reese, season 4 of THEATER PEOPLE would make history for the young video platform. “We (George Reese and I) started talking and several months later, we had a deal in place to make our fourth season exclusively for Seeka TV – the first Seeka TV original,” Anderson adds. With Seeka having provided more funding, production and promotional power than any other season of THEATER PEOPLE has enjoyed, Anderson focused on improving the series from a creative standpoint.
“This season has been our most ambitious, by far. A lot of that is due to the fact that we increased our budget significantly with Seeka’s support,” he says. “They were also looking for longer episodes than we’d done before – we’d been living in the 10-15 minute range and they were talking 15-20, which is basically a broadcast sitcom model. So, we embraced that mode and really went full sitcom (mode) with season 4.”
From giving him the ability to finally compensate his hard-working cast and crew, to its multi-pronged promotional and distribution efforts, Anderson has much to praise the management of Seeka TV for as his partnership with the service continues to thrive.
As THEATER PEOPLE has benefitted from its association with Seeka TV, so too has the network it’s exclusively part of.
“In terms of distribution and promotion, they (Seeka) have worked tirelessly to get the word out – not just for THEATER PEOPLE, but for all the shows on the platform,” he says. “It’s folded in really naturally with their own awareness campaign for the site, so we’ve been fortunate to be onboard from the beginning. Having the good people at Seeka taking care of that side of things while we’re still in post-production has been a godsend.”
Now that THEATER PEOPLE has established itself as a core part of Seeka TV’s programming, Anderson feels that the series will only get better. “I hope we made a show that people enjoy. I think we have,” says Anderson. “I hope more people are able to find it – based on things like our Facebook likes and Twitter followers and things like that, it seems like they are.”
Through its presence on Seeka TV, Anderson strives to lure even more audiences to THEATER PEOPLE, even if they’ve never watched or partaken in the unpredictable world of theatre. “Gosh, I hope lots of people would like to watch it,” he says of the series. “There’s certainly added appeal if you’re familiar with that world – with theater – but hey, if you’re not, there’s still a lot of fun to be had getting a fly-on-the-wall look at something that’s often totally nuts.”
Note: Regarding closed-captioning of THEATER PEOPLE, Anderson says: “Not yet – we’re working on that sometime soon. I know Seeka hopes that all their content will be captioned in the not-too-distant future.”
To watch THEATER PEOPLE on Seeka TV, visit: