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The Gap in the Gap

On another note, I’d be interested in reading your “What’s Wrong With Theater” post. If there’s something that we’re all whining about but not changing, I’d definitely want to know what that is.

And I’ll admit some hostility toward your “War on the audience” concept, even though you haven’t articulated it yet – hostility connected to baggage. I’ve just been through a binge of seeing theater because of the Fringe Fest here in NYC. I saw a lot of different styles and genres of shows, rendered with different degrees of skill, but all presented with joy of performance and a desire to connect. I couldn’t detect a shred of hostility toward the audience.

Maybe that’s not what you mean by the term. I’m just saying that as a fairly regular theatergoer, if there really is a rampant breed of plays getting produced at any level that are designed to attack the audience, I still haven’t seen one. I see this type of theater referred to by bloggers from time to time, and I’d like someone to properly explain to me what it is.

– Mac Rogers

This is actually part of the reason I wasn’t going to go into it. In the stereotyping discussion I mentioned that we shouldn’t care about the plays exhibiting the worst of these stereotypes, because it generally meant they weren’t good, so it is true of most of the things that are “wrong” in theatre. The folks who care enough to be doing something about it aren’t generally the one’s who are perpetrating the harm.

By the War On the Audience I mean Deadly Theatre. Specifically, theatre created without that joy of performance and desire to connect that Mac mentions. Theatre that is so rooted in concept and conceit that it is only accessible to other members of the club. This sort of production is honestly most often the domain of the evangelical university student and the recently graduated.

I don’t think that it is an active hostility, to my thinking it’s the passive aggression of “fuck’em if they don’t get it”.

I strongly believe that in pursuing this particular art form you cannot ignore the experience of the audience no matter how high your concept. By all means challenge them (and no, they don’t have to like it), but allow them in on some level, it’s not their fault they didn’t choose to also pursue this art form, don’t punish them for it. 


As Mr. Rogers and Mr. Walters both expressed interest in a “What is wrong with theatre” post, I went back to work on it. It was 1300 words without being fleshed out before I abandoned it as a flawed concept.

Everything that is “wrong with theatre” is wrong with theatre as I intend to do it in Austin in 2007 with my level of funding. It’s not relevant to a playwright in NY, or a professor in NC. Those are things for me to work out on my own as applies to my own practice.

There are of course the universal ‘wrongs’ of lack capital and space, but we all know what those are, and all I was going to say about that was “quit whining”, which no one wants to hear.

But let me ask this, because my fiancee asked me:

What good does that discussion do?
Aside from the “all theatre problems are local problems” truism, what benefit is there to being an echo chamber for whining? It’s just adding negativity to negativity about hypothetical hypotheticals.

Look at the defensiveness and hostility in this community when anyone tries to criticize anything. Look at the response to George Hunka and 100 Saints,  or Isaac and dramaturgy. The theatrosphere isn’t interested in honest discussion of this stuff, they are interested in tuning their war drums and having at it with people they’ve (largely) never met.

For myself, I think that we need to focus on what we love about this art, what we want to do with it, what we want to do next, and how we can improve our methods on that path.

See: Hal Brooks

If you are in Austin and want to talk about what I think needs doing here in my own theatrical house, and how we can go about getting that done? Drop me an email… we’ll get coffee.


Also? In RE: Walking out of a show…

I never have. But unless you have a position on the show or some other obligation to the production I have no problem with it, even my own. [though for my part I’d prefer you stayed for the whole thing and gave me notes over a beverage afterward].  I can’t do it. I’m not advanced enough a theatre artist to be able to pass up a chance to see someone else’s take on anything. I can’t improve my craft if I’m not learning and I learn at a much lower rate on my couch at home than sitting in an audience being engaged, however deeply engaged that is.

Homework!

  1. What project of your own are you most looking forward to in the next six months?
  2. What is the worst thing you’ve ever sat all the way through (feel free not to use names)
  3. What did you learn from it? What was your takeaway?

Mind The Gap

We’re going to cover a little bit of ground, so bear with me.


I promised my salvo into the late lamented “What is Wrong with Theatre” barrage, but that battle has cooled for this cycle, and honestly? We all know what is wrong with theatre, we all whine about it, and then we keep on at it anyway. The gist of my post was that the primary problem is the attitude of theatre artists in general (viv-a-vis wanting the moon for free) and the War on the Audience in particular. But we know, the theatre world doesn’t need me repeating it. So I won’t. Yet. That battle will come around again if I get all ornery about it later.


I am in heavy information acquisition mode. Reading every blog under the sun, movie after movie and 4 shows in the last two weeks. I now have a better understanding of the theatrosphere’s reticence to review shows. For my (non-renumerated) purposes, if you can’t do it honestly and really gain something from the analysis why do it? And in a community this small how can you do it honestly without stubbing toes?

Yeah I don’t know.


Isaac’s Question earlier this week leads into what I was going to post about anyway, so let’s turn two shall we?:

In what ways is collaboration valuable
(or: how come we take it as a given that it is, if it is not)?

Collaboration is valuable (to my thinking) in three primary ways:

  1. It helps any given artist paper over their gaps.
  2. It allows artists who don’t have a singular vision the ability to make art.
  3. It allows for synthesis of ideas outside of the vacuum of one mind.

I am a cerebral person. Well, that gives me rather more credit than I deserve, but I haven’t found a word that fits that doesn’t give more credit than I’m trying to claim (intellectual, academic, they give more of a sense of focus than I’m really talking about – maybe analytical is what I’m looking for). When I begin a project I jump in headfirst. Generally It’s also head last.

This is useful in that the show gets a thorough going over and I take care of the themes and subtleties of the show quite well. But it means that I tend to be hamfisted about the physicality of a given show, and my productions lack sex almost as a rule.

I’m not really sure how this blind spot opened up. But it’s there and it’s something that I need to stay aware of while working any given show. It’s something I forgot about in the run up to my last show, and it suffered for it.

Intermission (said last show) was a collaboration between myself and my current partner in crime Will Snider. We had three months from go to curtain to create and stage a show. Will and I pieced together the concepts and Intermission became a relationship anthology set in a bar/club with a live band playing music original to the show. The cast improvised their dialogue, and they fine tuned details of their relationships.

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And the show was just okay. It was mushy. (It lacked specificity as Peggy Rae would have chastised me). It suffered in the way George Hunka would have told me before hand that it would suffer. It lacked a singular declarative voice. (please note: the preceding is a paraphrase)

Further, due to the aforementioned blind spot, it lacked sex. A relationship anthology that lacked sex. Not that we didn’t talk about it. It just wasn’t the underlying tension. We missed it because it’s my blind spot, and unfortunately one that my collaborator shared. Given the nominal writer and director both not thinking about the sex of it, and a largely young cast… the sex was dodged when it wasn’t ignored.

I was also in the show. (This process was just chock FULL of great ideas). My scene was a five-year-later meetup between two people who had only known each other briefly in passing and now were meeting again under changed circumstance for both. Would they connect for real this time? Were they meant to be together? Is there any such thing as “meant to be together”?

It’s been done, sure, but it comes up again and again because it’s a real situation, and Will and I were (and are) very interested in Fate as a concept. But because Will and I sat in my living room for two months and hashed out faith versus free will the scene became the most talky go-nowhere scene you can imagine. There was never the “Will They?”/”Should They?” tension that should have suffused the scene. (That’s what rewrites and remounts are for….)

In the best of all possible worlds one of Will or I wouldn’t have the sex blind spot. It would make our collaboration stronger, because we would be covering a hole in the other’s approach. Instead the similarities in approach meant that our flanks weren’t covered.


What are your gaps?

How do you combat them?

What do you find beneficial in generative collaboration?
(i.e. not when you’re telling a designer how to do their job, but in REALLY collaborating)

Control

I have my requisite ‘what I think is wrong with theatre’ post underway (and only two weeks after that virus came and went again) but I have a sub-issue in my head that needs some sussing out.

Before I get into that, a hearty welcome to Mr. Grady Burnett Walsh, and congratulations to the happy healthy Mom (and Malachy I suppose).


I have a running fascination with the way the Right Wing in this country control the language of any issue up for debate. It raises the question of why the Left has ceded that ground when so much of that population is obsessed with words, but that’s a question for a different day, and a different blog.

While in my freshman and sophomore years at the very underrated University of New Hampshire, I (along with my class and cast mates) was hammered by Professor Peggy Rae Johnson with one word.

Specificity.

Along with Acting 1 and 2 she also taught the Voice and Diction and Oral Interp classes so you can just imaging how that particular word sounding coming out of her mouth.

Specificity.

Some things just stick.

But it also strikes me that specificity is what is missing in our discussion of the theatre universe on a meta level. The discussion is mushy because blogging as a form is mushy, and because we share an artform, but no history together. But the majority of theatre bloggers try to stay ‘folksy’ and off-the-cuff with assumed familiarity.

The vocabulary of theatre, theatre theory, and theatre criticism is bathed in subjectivity and experiential meaning.

What does post-modern mean?
(when used in a promotional slug, not a text book)

Experimental?
Performance Piece?
Good?
Revolutionary?
Edgy?
Avant Garde?
Fringe?

Blogging is a short-form medium generally, but when we are trying to communicate larger issues (like say a blogger trying to piece together what they think is Wrong With Theatre) you can’t cut corners. You can’t shorthand the language, and you can’t assume shared experience.

Rather – You can, but not without pissing a lot of folks off.

We (read: I) need to remember to fully flesh out ideas and turns of phrase. Right down to what we think those ‘short cut’ words mean. Are there more specific words and phrases to communicate with?

This is true with all audiences real and virtual.

Each of you is God’s special little snowflake.

Well that right there was a fun little week in the theatrosphere.

You got your bile in my vitriol!

PREVIOUSLY ON THE THEATROSPEHERE:

Scott Walters got back on his horse named Provocation, or, as Nick over at Rat Sass aptly metaphored, strapped his guns back on. Six weeks of the New Civility Code imploded over a seemingly slight infraction, Iowa 08 pokes some (alleged) lazy fun at the Midwest. And Scott rode down that fun and trampled it to death.

Mac Rogers called bullshit on Scott calling bullshit, and then everyone piled on. It was pretty stunning all in all.

There’s nothing quite like a glove-slap charge of cultural hegemony to wake up the Persecuted.

The always civil, mild-mannered Joshua James posits that because he (Mr. James) from Iowa, and lives in New York that Scott has no idea what he’s talking about, with a wonderful highlight  being the absolutely unbiased:  

I’m not going to link to the Blogger, simply because I don’t want to send anymore traffic his way. He’s not in New York, he’s neither a writer, director, actor or producer. He’s a theatre professor.

After a brief respite (happy anniversary Scott) Mr. Walters returned to a flaming inbox and tried to retrench his argument, and answer for his return to provocateur.

And then everyone said they didn’t understand and didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Except Scott. Who despite some unfortunate language choices, really does want a solution, not a war.

Everyone comes out looking pretty bad, except for Australia and Freeman.


So what are we talking about really?

Are we really so upset that Mr. Walters pointed out again that New York is biased towards New York?  Is that news? I was unaware that this was an open question. of course New York is biased towards New York. Isaac sums it up pretty well: the history of America is at least in part a history of outright antipathy between The City and The Country.

So why isn’t the response from The New York chapter simply the same as Scott’s response to Allison Croggon’s charge of Scott’s US-centrism?

“I write what I know”.

Theatre is local. Theatre is for a local audience. It isn’t New York’s responsibility to be writing for a southern audience, or writing about issues germane to Southern culture. North Carolina isn’t under the gun to write trenchant commentary about the gentrification of Park Slope.

We all use stereotypes as shorthand, why do we have to lie about it? All a writer can do (on either side) is be honest about the caricature, or try harder to write true depictions of those from other subcultures.  That’s it. That’s all you can do. If a playwright isn’t writing honest characters into being with why do we care that they’re writing cultural stereotypes?

So we honestly need to let NYC off the hook a little bit. New York isn’t a national theatre. It is New York theatre. The single biggest flaw in the repeated shotgun blasts from Mr. Walters is that he lumps the broader media in with theatre, and frankly they have different scopes and different responsibilities and it’s muddying the picture.

Los Angeles on the other hand is squarely on the hook. L.A. is national media. L.A. sets the tone for our national dialogue in a way we only wish that live performance could. And they are just as lazy about cultural stereotyping as Mr. Walters says. Again I am surprised that this is an open question. Are we all watching different mainstream media?


As to the rancor over bias:

I am biased.

All I can do is be aware of my biases and not let them destroy my work.

  • I am am biased against musical theatre
  • I am biased against children’s theatre
  • I am biased against community theatre
  • I am biased towards word plays
  • I am biased toward political themes
  • I am biased toward didacticism
  • I am biased toward cleverness (text or performance)
  • I am biased toward over-exposition
  • I am biased against “issue” plays
    (no this is not in conflict with above)
  • I am biased toward new work
  • I am biased against mature actors
  • I am biased against cultural conservatism

I’ll add on as more come to me. This of course will feel different than, say, being biased against the Country (to borrow Isaac’s construct), but they are just as destructive to the work, and towards building community (which I take as part of my responsibility as an artist). Besides I’m not sure where I fall on the City/Country scale with my 24 years in New Hampshire, 5 in San Francisco, and 3 in Austin.

I have more raw years in New Hampshire, but the large percentage of my adult life in urban and semi-urban environs.


Follow up sins:

  • “I am not biased therefore New York is not biased” is fallacious.
  • Claiming to rep your old hood while in New York is disingenuous.
  • Trying to use lack of specific data backing up an editorial as a terminal point is weak, especially on such a broad topic. Argue the premise. It’s not a journal article.
  • The New York theatre scene is not [any more] persecuted [than theatre anywhere else]. Not matter how many times Scott Walters calls you out. It’s just different persecution. The criticism comes with being in first place. (Ask the Yankees)

Go see:

In New York?

Madagascar, by New World Theatre; written by Wry Lachlan, Directed by Meghan Dickerson, featuring members of my former tribe all over the place.

In Austin?

The King and I by Forklift Danceworks.

Brilliant Traces by the Vestige Group featuring the always good Andrew Varenhorst.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – over at Scottish Rite – featuring old ArtSpark mate Illy herrin as Puck.

and last but not least: The 2007 ArtSpark Festival is here! Check it out.