Truth in Theatre

This week, Time Out New York & the Public Theater sponsored a panel on the post-Mike-Daisey question of Truth in Theatre, moderated by Adam Feldman.

Panelists inlcluded: writer-director Steven Cosson of the Civilians (This Beautiful City), playwright-performers Jessica Blank (The Exonerated) and Taylor Mac (The Young Ladies of…), and critic-reporters Peter Marks (Washington Post) and Jason Zinoman (The New York Times).

Listen to the audio of the event at 2amt.

Why Experiential/Immersive Theatre?

We figured it out. You’re welcome.

From Class Today

From Class Today

Why I Really Want to be a Part of Gob Squad’s Kitchen, or: Why I Shouldn’t be Picked for Gob Squad’s Kitchen

Shows that involve audience participation are so exciting to me, because whenever I see a theatre piece, at least part of me wishes I was performing in it instead of sitting in the audience. My enjoyment of theatre is almost always slightly colored by the inescapable jealousy I feel toward the performers. Though I think this is something I specifically experience because of my love for performing, I don’t think stage-struck people like me are the only ones who can feel this way. Even those who are incredibly shy but love theatre, I would venture to guess, on some level have a desire to participate. It is this desire that Gob Squad and other groups are playing off of in pieces like Kitchen.

The key for them, though, is not to pick people like me to bring up on stage. I love being in front of an audience or in front of a camera…or both! Sure, I’d kiss a woman on stage. But I don’t know if it would be as interesting or dramatically compelling for the rest of the audience to see someone on stage who is essentially in their comfort zone. Now, of course, there still would be a level of discomfort because I (or any person with a performance background in this situation) would be unfamiliar with the situation, text, etc, but it wouldn’t be as pronounced as it is when the audience member is really taking a leap.

The man in the DVD of Kitchen who was chosen for the “screen test” portion was significantly less interesting to me than the woman in the “Sleep” scene. He seemed to me to have a level of confidence that bordered on irritating. At the same time, the participant Ilana described who was so shy she had to hide under the covers doesn’t sound like a particularly pleasant viewing experience either. But maybe we need more discomfort in the theatre. It’s too bad that it had to come at the expense of that woman, but she absolutely put herself in the situation and could have taken herself out at any point.

This new movement to break down the fourth wall, in fact to break down all the walls, is so exciting and beautiful and wonderful to me. “Demystifying” the theatre was one of the words that came up today in class, and I think it’s a really great one for what happens in this kind of piece. For much of my life I loved theatre as a sacred, vaguely magical event that I engaged with in a very serious way, whether I was acting or viewing. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I probably would have thought that demystification was a bad thing, because it risks taking the magic out. But now I feel like bringing in people who don’t necessarily love theatre with the fervent passion that those of us who make it do is one of the best things that could happen. The energy of freshness, spontaneity, and surprise that comes from a non-performer is something that no actor, no matter how talented, could really replication.

So I suppose if I have deemed myself unfit to participate in these interactive theatre pieces, my best option is to go out and create some myself.

The Mike Daisey Conundrum

Over the past week, Mike Daisey’s critically heralded monologe, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (TATESJ), has had a change of fortune, and has prompted a backlash in both the theatre and journalism worlds. (Full disclosure, Mike is a friend, and watching this unfold has been rough.)

The barest attempt at a backstory of events: Concurrent with Mike’s effort to bring attention to the plight of Chinese workers in Apple factories, the mainstream media was also digging into the story. (A huge investigative series appeared in The New York Times, for instance.)

Ira Glass of This American Life (TAL) saw TATESJ and asked Mike to adapt an excerpt for a full-episode broadcast, which he did in a piece called Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.  It was one of their most popular episodes ever (888,000 downlads, and 206,000 streams). It brought enormous amounts of new attention to Daisey’s work, and to TATESJ in particular. Daisey was invited to appear in various major media outlets to talk about his experiences in the Foxconn plant (as he detailed them in TATESJ), including Bill Maher’s show, Nightline, and the Op-Ed page of The NYT.

TAL, which holds itself to high journalistic standards, did call out certain moments of the original broadcast for lack of factual corroboration. That was on January 6th. On March 15th, TAL dropped the bombshell that they were retracting the episode —  an unprecedented move on their part — because, as Glass said, “Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.” It also put together an entirely new episode detailing all the factual problems, and featuring interviews with Daisey about his motives.

Then all hell broke loose.

I’ll link below to a selection of the vast amount of coverage this has sparked — much of which is outraged, some of which tries to probe the assumptions about fact-based-art and where our moral/ethical responsibilities rest on that spectrum. Most interesting to me is the distinction between theatre and journalism, and what happens when the artist steps off the stage.

(I’ll add that Daisey has made a point over the years of picking extended and detailed fights with critics, sometimes reveling in bringing their perceived stupidity  to light. A few of the the dancing-on-the-grave flavored posts from the past few days feel mildy influenced by this.)

I feel so conflicted. I believe that art does not have a responsibility to fact. But I also feel like when it leaves the stage, there are other expectations that can’t be ignored. As James Carter notes, “Mike has a two-line disclaimer in the Playbill for The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in all caps: THIS IS A WORK OF NONFICTION. SOME NAMES AND IDENTITIES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE SOURCES.” The accusations against TATESJ go far beyond changing names to protect sources.

{Sidebar: I am particularly miffed at one of Ira Glass’ points in his confrontation with Daisey, and I take issue with Glass totally separately from the circumstances of TATESJ. I otherwise think Glass is pretty smart, but in the retraction episode from this past weekend, he says the following: “I feel like I have the normal worldview. The normal worldview is somebody stands on stage and says ‘this happened to me,’ I think it happened to them, unless it’s clearly labeled as ‘here’s a work of fiction.’” IS this the normal worldview? Someone on stage in a theatrical work says “this happened to me” and you take that as unmitigated truth? REALLY?  …For a really great example of this exact artistic issue, see Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die. Lots of personal monologues, probably lots of people who thought when she said they’re true that they happened to her. But they didn’t. Does that make her show a lie? No, I don’t buy that.}

…Anyway.

Here are the links. I’m sure there will be more to come.

From Mke Daisey:

Mike’s first response

Mike’s second response — audio from the prologue he added to the final show of the Public Theater run on March 18th.

Mike’s third response

Mike’s talk in Georgetown on March 20th — his first long-form response

From the Theatre:

Polly Carl, editor of HowlRound.com, and part of the American Voices New Play Institute

Howard Sherman, former director of the American Theatre Wing and current arts pundit

Alli Houseworth, former Marketing Director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre, which developed TATESJ

Holly Hughes, a lesbian performance artist and member of the “NEA Four

From Popular Media Outlets:

Mark Oppenheimer, in Salon.com

The staff of Salon.com

From Gawker Media

James Fallows in the Atlantic

NYT’s David Carr on Theatre Disguised as Journalism

Transmedia on Daisey

Apple’s Steve Wozniak on the media explosion

AND SOME VERY CURRENT EVENTS IN RESPONSE:

- A theatre company in Louisiana that had scheduled a run of TATESJ after Daisey had released the script, has to figure out what to do in the wake of the TAL retraction.

- Theatre artists in New York put together an emergency panel called Truth in Theatre for March 22nd at the Public Theatre, which just closed a run of TATESJ on the 18th. (PS: That link just above is really worth reading.)

“Women in Downtown Theater: Producing Your Own Work”

Last Sunday Young Jean Lee organized a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum about women in downtown theatre and how they get their own work done. Unfortunately, my bus didn’t get in to New York until the discussion was well on its way, but I did receive audio of it and now am kicking myself even harder for missing such a great opportunity. It would have been like a mecca for my quest! But I do have a list now, and some really helpful information.

Due to it being just audio, I couldn’t always attribute what was being said to who was speaking but that was ok. Young Jean Lee said she came up with the idea for this discussion because she wishes something like this has happened when she was starting, and someone told her what to do/ not do. She spoke a lot about the administrative stand point, and how it is important to have people to work with who can manage what you need done to be able to focus on the artistry. She said the beat advice she received on how to continue making theatre came from a mentor who told her “all you have to do is survive.” This went along with one of the other panelists who said the best advice she got was to “just get one thing done each day.” That really resonated with me because if I had things my way, I would do everything myself before I went to bed or ate a meal. But you can’t survive that way.

Another idea from the discussion that was brought up a lot was that you need to have your own reason to do this kind of work, and it needs to be a good strong reason. Even if you are the only one who thinks it is, you have to believe that reason is exceptional. Holding on to that reason will bring people who want to reciprocate your efforts, and work in a collaborative way. Lee said specifically that you should avoid asking anyone for anything, unless you know that you have something they want too. Rejection is tiring, and avoidable. There was much debate about the terminology of ‘ensemble’ or ‘theatre company’ and it was overall decided that they all just wanted to make work that they could call their own.

Many of the women on the panel had their own company’s (despite what they wanted to call it, or felt it actually was) and spoke about the benefits and downfall of how they were structured. Young Jean Lee said that being a 501c3 was really a pain, and hadn’t realized you didn’t have to be one.  Another woman, who i think did more dance type projects, was filed as a TBA which is the most basic small business. It sounded like the more simple you kept the business aspect the easier.

The best advice I got from the entire discussion was early on though. Coming out college it feels like there are a series of steps, and ladders you have to climb up to get to the people you want to work with. They are far away and inaccessible to varying degrees. What one of the women said was that instead of thinking about it as a ladder, imagine it as expanding circles. The largest your circle is, the more people you have to work with, because you need all of them. And you shouldn’t “hope to be good enough” to meet these people, you just have to share what you uniquely have.

IMB UPDATE: You can listen to the raw audio of the panel event HERE.

(Panelist featured as listed on the event were Kelly Copper of Nature Theater of Oklahoma, playwright Sibyl Kempson, Young Jean Lee of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, Annie-B Parson of Big Dance Theater, and Tina Satter of Half Straddle.)

“Who do you think you are to be immune from tragedy?”

Since the start of the semester I have realized that being a “Lady Director” (as I prefer to call it) is not a path without battles. I mean, no profession in the arts is, but this path is one covered in all types of land mines that no one has set off yet. This past week in New York I met the artistic director of BEDLAM theatre company at a bar (their current production of Saint Joan looks awesome, btw). He asked what type of things I wanted to direct, and what my aesthetic was. It was the first time someone asked me that outside of an academic setting, and so I was incredibly terrified that what I was saying made no sense, or sounded immature and naïve (and I was at a bar…). I realized I wasn’t nervous because I was a girl defending my ideas, I was nervous because this is still new. Standing on fresh legs is exciting, but scary. I feel more confident when I have more knowledge, so this nervous energy is something I can do something about.

Since that, I have decided to be more active on my quest to find these “Lady Directors” that I want to look toward for guidance. I will put aside my collegiate know-it-all attitude and ask them for help. I know that I am scared that if I go out looking and asking, I could end up let down because my ideal might not exist yet. But that will be ok, and I won’t know until I try and find out. Asking can only help me find out more about the ‘being new’ thing and everyone has in common that they did that before. And ladies seem more approachable to me then all of the men that I read about so frequently. And since I get kind of lost in these blog posts, this gives me a task. An obligation. To find you all some awesome lady directors that you probably know about, but I am going to tell you more!

So, enough about me! My current Lady Director crush is Young Jean Lee. This should not come as a surprise since I have probably mentioned it already a million times. And yes, she is also a playwright and general theatre maker, but that does not mean she can’t qualify for my quest! After watching The Shipment, I sat down and watched We’re Gonna Die, which could not be more different (just like every other project that she tackles) and more challenging. I don’t think her newest project Untitled Feminist Play is available online due to it being done entirely in the nude (or maybe just not on sites I frequent).

OK! We’re Gonna Die. We’re Gonna Die is a series of stories and song performed by Lee, backed up by the band Future Wife. All of the pieces are connected by the feeling of loneliness when awful things happen to you, and are inter cut with really cheerful pop rock songs that further the story. It is sure that the point of songs isn’t too showcase a singing ability, but to add the lightness and accessibility that pop music is capable of. The stories move from being very removed from the hurt, to a zoomed in experience that brings clarity. It begins focusing on someone else feeling pain, to over hearing pain, to seeing pain, to feeling pain, to experiencing pain first hand. Each story is told from the first person, or some as someone Lee knows, and I did not doubt that. I then saw a little snippet on Ms. Ilana Brownstein’s facebook wall (which I totally wasn’t creeping on… it just popped up!), where Young Jean Lee says none of the stories are her own except the second to last story where she talks about her father’s death. And that doesn’t bother me. In retrospect, her performance was incredibly connected during that story, but just as much as when she talked about breaking up with a boyfriend who moved out and asking him to rearrange the furniture.

I like that this play can be performed by anyone. I want to perform this play. I’m not incredibly talented in the singing department, but I don’t think that is the point. The stories told in it are so universal, and something I feel really connected to. Story and song is how we connect with each other when we are lonely. Society uses these tools all the time to pass on dirty jokes, or stories about romance and good fortune, but it is a really effective way of talking about awful things. And accepting that the shit happens, but knowing that we are ‘gonna die’ allows it to be really freeing. Not upsetting, or depressing like Charles Isherwood suggests in his review in the New York Times (from reading reviews, I have decided that I do not care for Isherwood because all he seems to focus on is Lee’s “expensive looking” hair cut, her skinny jeans, and that the material was depressing and a real downer).

The performance ends with the band joining Lee in a dance at the front of the stage where they all move together in kind of awkward but joyful dance moves. It is bizarrely choreographed, but just like celebrating that we are all going to die, I am totally ok with it. I was dancing along myself! It was nice to see that someone could be so happy, and free, after telling 45 minutes of ironic tragedy.

All in all, I really liked this piece. It was not what I would expect out of a theatre piece, but the fun cabaret style made the heavy material very accessible for the average Joe. It went along with Young Jean Lee’s theme of picking projects that are all different and terrifying to do, and I think it was a success. I admire her bravery and her commitment to challenging herself when there are enough challenges out there already. Young Jean Lee totally fits my criteria of ladies to look up to as trail blazers. She recently spoke at the Brooklyn Museum about women making their own work, and after I listen to the audio from that I’m sure I will have something else to say!

So, until next week when I am obsessing over another fantastically creative lady, good night! xx

Throwing Tennis Balls and Pushing Boundaries

Director Daniel Fish, and an ensemble of 5 actors, are producing a piece at Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, Queens. The piece is based on audio recordings of the late and highly popular David Foster Wallace. I was drawn to this article because it seems very similar to the production of Gob Squad’s The Kitchen we watched for class, but has a few differences.

Fish reads text and directions based on works by David Foster Wallace to the actors, who listen through headsets they wear for the entire show. Fish uses a different script each time, so the performance is never the same. The actors never know exactly what they are going to be doing or saying. These actors must be fearless. It is challenging enough to perform a rehearsed piece of theatre in front of an audience. The actors must also have an incredible amount of trust in Fish, and in each other.

The article I found had a picture from a rehearsal for the show. Three actors are wearing  headsets, and two of them are dumping a box of tennis balls on the other one. It definitely appears to be a non-traditional piece of theatre.

I would be very interested in observing their rehearsal process. I’d like to see if they practice certain movements, or bits that they use every time, or if the story is completely new each performance.

This show might not make any sense, in fact it might be really bad, but that’s not the point. If we don’t push boundaries theatre is going to disappear. We have to continue to be creative and innovative in order to keep the art alive, even if that means we make really weird plays.

More Thoughts on Writing for Film, TV and the Stage

Last night, I arrived back to NJ and while sitting by the TV with my Mom, she urged me to watch Lars and the Real Girl with her.  I agreed to watch the movie, and as it began, I thought immediately of our conversation on Friday morning.  My mom kept commenting on how much she loved the acting, and although there were some great performances, I knew the film’s gift was its writing.  I kept being surprised by twists in the plot and the well arced characters.  I had the feeling this writer had written for more than just film.

This morning, I discovered Nancy Oliver was responsible for the wonderful script and I learned that along with Lars, she has written for Six Feet Under and True Blood. I also discovered that she did went to Florida State for undergrad and a wrote a whole lot of plays starting there.  I knew this was an artist who was from the theatre; however, it seems as though Ms. Oliver isn’t writing so much anymore.

When thinking about Ms. Oliver and the conversation we had Friday morning, I think about when I first got interested film production.  I remember thinking that it was a lot easier to say what I needed to say without words.  It was liberating to think imagistically and then to allow the words to permeate the composition.  Also, I found I can understand a film or TV character’s background even if their exposition is not in their text.  I don’t know if a writer for film or television is noticing this shift from stage to screen differently.

I think this trend we were discussing in class has the potential to be more than about money.  How is the craft of writing for Film and TV more liberating?

Different Approaches to Filming the Phantom

The debate over whether or not theatrical events should be filmed has been explored here in the past, but I’d like to bring back the topic, since I now have a bit of first-hand experience. Two weeks ago, I saw a screening of Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much derided sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I’m a huge Phantom fan (not a huge a fan as I was in my angsty high school years, but still a fan) so though I wanted to see the show, I was nervous. I mean, the story already has an ending, why would you mess with that? But that’s not the topic of this post. I also recently watched the DVD of the 25th Anniversary production of Phantom at the Royal Albert Hall. Leaving comparisons of the shows themselves out of this discussion, there were notable differences in the way these shows were filmed and presented. Love Never Dies was filmed without an audience over the course of three days. Scene transitions were edited out, and the interior of the theatre was never shown. The Phantom DVD, on the other hand, openly acknowledged the audience. Certain shots from the very upper reaches of the theatre allowed you to see all the levels and seats within the hall. Sometimes the camera seemed to be in one of the orchestra seats, so that the viewer could see the stage over the heads of other audience members in the front rows.

Clearly, the difference came down to the fact that the creators of Love Never Dies were trying to make the audience forget that they were seeing a stage show, while those involved with Phantom made no attempt to hide the theatricality of the event, even if they weren’t particularly emphasizing it. I think both these approaches have merit, and I don’t have a strong preference toward either. I wouldn’t be surprised if, as this becomes a more popular practice, which I think it will and should be, more shows are filmed in a way that does not emphasize the fact that it’s a live performance in a theatre. This will probably draw a larger audience, as some people who are not theatre fans may be turned off if a movie feels too much like a show.

Overall, I would say I am personally a big fan of this trend toward filming shows. It’s great to be able to intimately see the actors’ responses and gestures. Though it will never, ever replace the experience of sitting in a theatre, I think this is a great way for people to have access to art to which they would otherwise not be exposed.

Secret Lives Behind Bars

Recently on the outskirts of London, artist Mark Storor produced an installation play called A TENDER SUBJECT. This site specific piece takes place in a prison, and shows intimacy between gay male prisoners. I found it intrigue how displaying “tender” or intimate moments between two gay  men, that was not merely sexual, upended the notion that gay men are hyper sexual and demonstrated the universality of human connection instead.

One man in the audience who participated in the experience, was deeply affected by an image of two men laying next to one another. For him, having just had his family break-up, he didn’t se the two men as being gay. Rather he saw a man laying with himself, struggling trying to figure out where he went wrong. Here a straight man saw himself.

Perhaps the most difficult task in producing this work was convince the prison to all the play to take place on theirs site, prison simply didn’t see the point. Many of the prison staff were completely unaware of who was gay in their system and who was not. Many of them also didn’t think that there could be intimacy between two gay men, because in prison homosexuality is often depicted as aggressive and violent. However in the end the staff was able to see the “person behind the prisoner.”

In terms of the site-specific nature of this work, Jon Savage and I have been working a lot on understanding how space functions. Starting with everything from the abstract, and ending with the most site specific. This theatrical experience really crystalized a great deal for me, in regards to understanding site specific space. The contrast between being confined in prison, and finding freedom of intimate expression is incredible. On the one hand the prison acts a cage to display these intimate acts, and on the other it serves as a private place for lovers to hold each other– which is extremely effective for the story telling.

A Tender Subject really has me thinking as an artist, specifically as an artist, who is interested in race-relations. At its  core the piece is educational and challenges society, but also its simple convention makes the piece accessible.

This year is the centennial of August Strindberg’s death, and to honor his legacy there are a number of Strindberg events going on.  This past weekend Harvard hosted an August Strindberg Symposium and myself, Edmund, Britian, and Nick all attended.  Events were going on from 9am to 7pm Friday and Saturday but what we attended was a lecture on the history of Strindberg in the American Theatre, a talk by the Artistic Director of The Intimate Theatre in Sweden (the theater Strindberg founded, this guy’s grandparents were friends of and in the founding ensemble with Strindberg, he had pictures of them with him, so cool), and finally watched table/scene work be done on various Strindberg pieces by Robert Brustein (founder of Yale Rep/ART) and David Krasner (Acting Professor at Emerson).

I was lucky enough get picked for the final question asked of Brustein; about balancing the naturalism in the action of Strindbergs texts with the expressionism of the imagery.  We had a very cool little exchange about how Strindberg explodes out of his own style and although he defined himself as a naturalist he is most certainly not one.  This idea with playing the boundaries and definitions of a style, or -isms, is now really on my mind as I prepare to go into rehearsal for my Thesis, Strindberg’s Creditors.  I’m very interested in blurring the line of naturalism in the play, and I think the themes and imagery totally support that.

This is a small part of a larger whole, I’ve been obsessed with the practice of re-imagination of old work all year, because I think it has a large place in the future of theatre in this country.  I love this article from the NY Times about Calixto Bieito and his work, Don’t focus on the orgies, he has vision. The central of idea of the article, to not dismiss him as a provocateur, is really important.  Seeing past the radicalness of a re-imagination to the core of what it is saying as a new piece is essential to the development of this style of theatre.  The greatest texts, Shakespeare, Strindberg, Ibsen, etc, lend themselves to this because they were at their time so epic and groundbreaking, they already exist on the edges of style.

Broadway Backwards

Have you guys ever heard of this?- Broadway Backwards is a charity show that is put together by Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids. It is a night where Broadway stars perform a number of songs, but they sing roles traditionally sung by the opposite gender, and have women singing love songs to other women, and men singing about other men. It was started at the LGBT community center in NYC 7 years ago, in an effort to let people in the LGBT community see their own stories on stage.

The show will be performed at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on March 5th.

We’ve talked a lot in class about how there aren’t enough roles for minorities- which is absolutely true, but this feels like a step in the right direction. Even if it is only done once a year, the exposure of same sex couples and non-traditional gender roles on stage can have an a positive impact on expanding ideas of what is “normal” and what audiences want to see on stage.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about how women are portrayed in the media, and how it is impacting current and future generations of women in this country. One of the main points is that if young women and girls don’t see examples of powerful intelligent women, they are not going to believe it is possible.

That’s why I think Broadway Backwards is so great. If more people in the LGBT and theatre community see these stories on stage, maybe we will see a rise in plays that tell the stories of the LGBT community and others.

Watch the video!


CARRIE: Finding the Natural in the Supernatural.

Every since my senior project for musical theatre class in highschool, I have been obsessed with the CARRIE the musical. The music is horribly wonderful. I mean if you’ve seen the movie, you already know about the pig’s blood that gets dumped, so imagine that moment theatrical on stage. Incredible.

Unfortunately just because the movie’s a hit, doesn’t mean all spin off material or stage adaptations will be too. Carrie: The Musical is a prime example of that. When the musical hit broadway in 1988 it was a complete flop. The creators felt that the book wasn’t ready, and all audience/critics knew is that they thought it was a technical disaster. Since its epic fail, the creators have decided to go back and redeem their work.

As I have been living in MONSTER land for the past 2 months, everything seems to be centering around the relationship between creator and creation. Posing the question, what happens when you abandon your creation?  Stephen Sondheim seems to believe, “‘musicals are never really finished; they’re simply abandoned.” With the chance to reclaim their creation the creators are leaning to exploit the more naturalistic elements and thoughts of humanity, as opposed to the supernatural elements they exploited in the 1988 stage-version.

Could it have been that the American Theatre wasn’t prepared for the Carrie, and that a newer audience might receive it better?  I don’t know, but I’m curious to see what the re-work brings. And to see if there truly is something intimate, and fragile at the core of this bloody mess.

The Artist- The Outlaw

This week in particular I’ve been struggling with the how to articulate more specifically the work I am interested in, and exploring how its relevant to society. These thoughts triggered a larger question for me concerning how art is relevant today. As an artist I of course believe that art is necessary for all communities, but when I try to assess why that is I end up with emotional responses that are difficult to verbalize. I still haven’t found the statistical side to express why art is necessary, which is something I’d love to explore.

There were two articles that really helped trigger this thought for me. The first being an article in the UK, that discussed the UK Post Office declaring, “Acting is not a Proper Job.”  The second being about Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker, who has been sentenced to prison for six years and prohibited from making films, due to a controversial film he created. I found both these readings to be alarming, and it made me ask the question: If people consider acting, or being an artist not to be a proper job, then what about it is provoking enough to sentence a man to prison for creating his art?

In Panahi’s case, reasons around his arrest are questionable. While he was technically arrested due to protesting, it is believed that his real crime may have been the remarks he made — and green scarf he wore, a symbol of resistance — as jury president at the Montreal Film Festival.

Panahi recently smuggled his project “This is not a film” out of the country, and now the film will be showing at several film festivals.  In the “film,” which he recorded via iPhone, we over hear Panahi’s conversation with his lawyer.  Panahi’s struggle makes me extremely thankful for freedom of speech.I often return to Vaclav Havel, a Czech playwright, whose work was banned for it’s content.  In America censorship is seemingly so far away.

What we have to say as artists will not, and most of the time will not align with. Art challenges our perspective. As long as Art can provoke, it holds value.

Troublemaker

This past summer, I was lucky enough to land an internship at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, one of the foremost developmental theatre companies in the country. I could write for days about how amazing my experience was, but I want to talk about a specific play. As an intern in the literary office, I was the lit rep for two shows: a gorgeous two-person musical called The Shadow Sparrow, and a new play by Dan LeFranc called Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright. I was so excited to learn yesterday that this play is getting its world premiere next season at Berkley Repertory Theatre. You can read the Playbill article here.

I’m excited to see this play get produced not only for personal reasons, but because I think it is a unique play that will bring something new to the national theatre scene. Dan calls it a “tweenage epic,” and it really is epic in scale. There’s an on-stage boat race/battle, for one thing. It reminds me of the sea battles we talked about in DR101, though this one won’t (presumably) involve flooding the stage. The point is, it’s theatre on a grand scale. Not technically grand–it’s not a play that asks for elaborate sets or effects–but with a grand scope. It’s fast paced, with many different characters, settings and situations. Though I’m all for Ibsenite dramas, I do feel that sometimes things need to be shaken up a bit, and a play that feels like an adventure film is not a bad way to do it.

One of my other favorite things about this work is that it’s about children, but not for children. It’s an adult work that is focused on preteen characters and their delusional but also truthful worldview. In today’s often distressing, often depressing world, I think this play will be very well received. It’s escapism but it’s not mindless. It’s entertaining, but with a point.

I’m not doing the play any justice in my attempt to explain it. But just trust me: Troublemaker is a fresh, exciting work and I’m so pleased it’s getting produced. I just hope I find some way out to Berkley to see it…

Peeping Tom from Belgium!

When put to the test to figure out what theatrical companies are resonating with me right now, my mind automatically goes to Europe (I wish mind and body always traveled together…)  More specifically, I think of one of the companies I have both worked with and seen in performance: Peeping Tom.

Talk about awesome!!!  The first experience I had with Peeping Tom was in Paris.  I was with a group of dancers in a program called MADE in France through Washington U. in St. Louis and one day, we were given the opportunity to work with a vocal artist named Euridike de Beul.  One of the first exercises we did with her was hold our breaths until we couldn’t breathe so that air would literally rush into our lungs.  Later in the workshop, I sang “On The Street Where You Live” while she put me in a backbend and pushed into my mandibular joint to release my sound.  It was CRAZY, but really wonderful.  I took away a lot from that workshop, and I definitely wanted to know more about this company.

A year and a half later, I was in Arezzo and our movement teacher, Claudia, informed the students that Peeping Tom was coming to Rome to perform.  Well…I had to go…and I did.

The piece they were performing was called 32 Rue Vandenbranden and it was a masterpiece of voice, movement and set design.  The best way to describe the dance-theatre company’s work is through their own words:

“Their work explores the idiosyncratic behaviour experienced in close relationships and personal experiences, making the audience voyeurs to the realistic yet dreamlike world they create.”

This statement accurately describes their work, but what it doesn’t take into account is how these elements are exploded.  The way the actors contort their bodies is breathtaking and shocking.  The way the voice interacts with the action is stark.  The set design is malleable and eery, especially the one used in 32, and has the potential to artfully overwhelm the players.

This company makes unbelievable work that challenges what we know theatre and dance can be.  For me, seeing there work made sense of what I need from “dance” as a theatre artist.  I highly recommend checking them out (there’s a link at the top and they have TONS of youtube clips).

Also, I stayed by the stage door after the show if Euridike remembered me.  She started singing “On The Street Where You Live!”

50 Faggots

After having read Sonia’s post, and while in the process of mourning the end of Execution of Justice, I am reminded of the work I did in Chicago this past summer.  For two weeks, I worked on a documentary series called 50 Faggots: How Gay Do You Want To Be Today?

Here is how my friend Randall Jenson, the director of the series, describes 50 Faggots:

“50 Faggots is a new, online documentary series educating, exploring and celebrating how individual effeminate gay men survive and thrive in today’s American queer communities. It uses longitudinal, auto-ethnographic documentary filming and educates audiences with the unprecedented access to the lives and experiences of effeminate male activists, artists, professionals and educators perspectives rarely discussed within most cultures. The series addresses the dearth of self-acceptance among effeminate men, young and old, with humorous anecdotes, important wisdom, and inspiring models of resilience. By offering individual alternatives to dominant constructions of American masculinity and heteronormative gay lifestyles, this film illuminates the on-going issues relevant to queer communities.”

I would say that’s an accurate description.

I found Randall and the series when I stumbled upon a link my drag friend Cyon Flare posted on his Facebook wall.  Suddenly, as a sophomore at the end of my wits, I found someone, rather a whole group of men, who were talking about what I wanted to talk about.  I was elated to know that there was dialoguing happening between gay men about what it’s REALLY like to be a part of what is so often referred to as “the Gay Community.”

I quickly sent an email to Randy telling him how much I appreciated that the series was in existence.  About a month later, I got an email back in appreciation of my interest and Randy and I have been friends ever since.

This is a much longer story than I can post online, but working on the documentary this summer, which meant working and living with Randy, I met a lot of the cast members and I met important people in Randy’s life.  I had many challenging conversations, many good, some bad, and found myself in several moments on the verge of tears or in the process of passing out (literally).  I’m not kidding when I say it was the best of times and the worst of times.  I had to ask myself a lot of important questions in relationship to what being “gay” means to me.  Furthermore, I had to ask myself what kind of community am I looking for right now.

I posted the link to the website on top of this post.  This is a topic I love to discuss, and I think the first webisode, or even the Season 1 trailer, can be interesting for anyone.  Please let me know if you get a chance to look at it!

Facing the Reality of Sexism in Playwriting

When US researcher Emily Glassberg Sands sent out identical scripts to theatres in the US in 2009, half with a male name and half with a female name, she found that those believed to have been written by women were rated significantly worse by artistic directors and literary managers than those written by men. This was even the case when many of those artistic directors and literary managers were women. With my thesis approaching; a play called The Cracking Hour, written by Jahna Ferron-Smith, I found this study particularly disturbing and frustrating.  And it’s not even the sort of thing that we can just blame on complacent white men in power- women are part of the problem too. There must be some expectation deeply engrained in our society that colors our perception of female writers.

Of course, we need to keep in mind that theatres are doing classic plays like Shakespeare and others, but even then the numbers are grossly uneven; the most recent research done by Sphinx Theatre Company shows that only 17% of produced plays are by women.

So how can we counteract this?  If the idea that female playwrights are inferior is somehow woven into the fabric of our society, so much so that female and artistic directors and literary managers hold an equal bias, what is there to be done?  Several theaters have begun operating under the  rule that plays be submitted anonymously so there is no chance for gender bias.  I think this is a good start and should become expected of theatres- why the heck not?  If we know that our view is going to be colored, even subconsciously, shouldn’t we remove the chance for bias if we are able to?  It seems like an easy choice to me.

Pre-Peter Pan

This show sounds really exciting to me, and I wanted to share it with you guys.

Peter and the Star Catcher has its Broadway premier at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre next month. It is a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s novel “Peter and Wendy,” and tells the story of how Peter met Captain Hook and became Peter Pan.

The show was developed by Disney Theatrical Productions and had an Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop in the Spring of 2011. The Off-Broadway run starred Christian Borle as Black Stache (the Captain Hook Character), and Adam Chanler-Berat as Peter.

Peter and the Star Catcher will perform at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, with previews beginning on March 28. Borle is not likely to return due to his commitments to the new show “Smash,” but Chanler Berat will be returning to his role.

This is the part that sounds exciting to me, the production has 12 actors playing over 50 roles. The actors create the world of the play together, with minimal props- including a rope and a ladder, in a sort of story theatre style.

This feels like a new kind of theatre for Broadway. It is not billed as a musical, but has more than a few musical numbers. From the clips I’ve seen, the staging and story telling are very imaginative, and not what you usually see on a Broadway stage.

This play has all the excitement and imagination of a big musical, but in my opinion, feels more artistic and creative. I think this show has the components to be a really great production- great creative team, talented actors, a classic and well written story, and most importantly, exciting story telling.

I might have to make a trip down to NYC to see this show in March, who wants to join me? We can hit up Matilda too!

I also found this fun video on how the poster was made- John W. Long is cool old dude working as a woodworker in Vermont. He is a self-described “artist in wood.” Very cool guy!


What plays are featured?

I was just checking out Ilana’s segment on the round table discusion
(http://goo.gl/IxeIU — about 30 minutes in) and it made me really
think about mission statements. That was talked about by a lot of the
other speakers, but we all know Ilana, so lets watch her, ok?

I had always thought about mission statements as helping the audiences
understand what type of theatre they would see from a company, but I
had never thought about it as limiting the types of shows a company
can choose from to perform. I have been working on creating a mission
statement for my theatre management class and this made me think about
how broad or specific it needs to be. Do I only want to do one type
of play? What does the area need? Do I want it to be broad so I can
choose from anything?

I started looking at some of the mission statements for company’s I
have been interested in contacting for work opportunities with this
lens and realizing many of them wouldn’t be performing the types of
the theatre I want to make. It is not within their mission. I want to
work with new playwrights. I want to still find influence from classic
texts. I want to explore locations.

I found Brave New World Rep, which is based in Brooklyn, and they
conquer all of this in their mission statement:

“Brave New World Repertory Theatre is a company of Brooklyn-based
theatre professionals dedicated to creating dynamic productions of
classic plays, as well as new works by Brooklyn writers. The company
performs in unique and historic Brooklyn venues, reaching out to
under-served audiences to promote a love of theatre.”

I got really excited by this statement, but then took a look at their
performance history. Very few of their work with new works were actual
productions. There are lists and lists of readings, but not ‘dynamic
productions’ of these new plays. There are readings of Charles Mee,
Lynn Nottage, etc but not full shows. What a let down! I was so
excited by the mission statement but disappointed that it was not
really clear as to what was put in to practice. Just because new works
was listed second, I wouldn’t assume that meant it was not focused on
in productions.

So, these mission statements are far more important than I had
realized. Because if they aren’t clear, people will feel let down.
Like me.