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After the Wind Down

Friday was Cambiare’s presentation of Seven Jewish Children for World Theatre Day, and frankly, it went beautifully.

The cast held up their end of the bargain, the audience was thirty strong in the flesh and another 15 in the ether viewing the live stream.

But the highlight of the evening was the audiences reactions.

First let me share with you Caryl Churchill’s unadorned text (.pdf link) and then:

Cambiare Productions’ Working Script for Seven Jewish Children by Caryl Churchill by Travis Bedard on Scribd


My goal was to ensure that this emotional piece was focused on the emotion rather than on the intellect, and had a time of it getting a very smart, very engaged cast to let go of thinking.

The only reason I feel we succeed on that score was that the audience reacted emotionally rather than politically. We had guests with histories from all over the world. They all sat pole-axed for the beginning of the talkback, leaving Mr. Faires and Ms. Newman treading water while the audience came to.

And then they started sharing. The anger that we feared we would have to sidestep and assuage never really materialized. Instead we got sadness and an overwhelming disappointment at  the conceived truth adults will feed to children.

It was a truly wonderful night, standing in a room full of smart people reacting honestly to a piece of art that we had all seen together.

In the Run Up

As I mentioned, I will be directing a reading of the hot button Seven Jewish Children as my contribution to World Theatre Day here in Austin. In between trying to keep up with the amazing, indefatigible Latifah Taormina who is wrangling the event, and trying to lock down additional cast members, I am reading and rereading the play to come at it from the best possible angle.

As I mentioned in the post before that, I tend to be cephallic in my approach to art. There are benefits, but in approaching Seven Jewish Children I don’t think it serves.

Seven Jewish Children wasn’t written cerebrally. There is ample craft, but at its core it is a gut level emotional response to an event. If you approach such a piece too cephallically you end up creating deadly theatre.

I want to hold off breaking down my thoughts on the play publically until I share them on Friday, but if you direct an emotion-work with your brain you will render it mawkish and inert, and that will be my internal struggle as we rehearse this week.

If you want a thing done

For the four of you who don’t know, I have been spending quality time with a wonderful group of theatremakers from all over the world (Vancouver, Chicago, London, and Toowoomba!) trying to think of ways to raise the profile of World Theatre Day in our various localities, and especially here in North America.

We’ve flooded Twitter and our personal networks with requests and suggestions for activities to mark the day.

To be quite honest, I have lagged behind the group. I pushed and pushed on folks here in town, but aside from the ever-on-top-of-it Hyde Park Theatre who will be holding a reception after their show next Friday, I got no response from the Austin crowd. I was pretty frustrated, but the gang in town is pretty busy right now, so I was trying to move on to other ideas.

My wife, being helpful as wives are, asked what I was doing for World Theatre Day. Dozens of e-mails and Facebook bombings and Twitter strafing aside… nothing.

Until Monday.

On Monday I met with Latifah Taormina, the head of the Austin Circle of Theatres. I am pleased to announce that on World Theatre Day, March 27, 2009, Cambiare Productions in association with the Austin Circle of Theatres will be presenting a staged reading of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children (.pdf) at the Dougherty Arts Center here in Austin.

Featuring some of the very finest performers that Austin has to offer, to be followed by a discussion facilitated by Robert Faires and C. Denby Swanson, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the power of spoken word, and to really dig into discussion of a piece that has really caused such a firestorm in the theatrical (and blogospherical) world.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

This is WORLD Theatre Day after all, and with the gracious permission of Ms. Churchill and her representatives, we will be  livestreaming the event! That’s right fake people who live in my computer, you too can witness our event in real time. It will be embedded here on CambiareProductions.com so keep you eyes peeled.

I am dreadfully excited to be able to present this, and to work with such fabulous folks in doing so. Whatever your take on the controversial Seven Jewish Children, it’s a powerful piece and will elicit reactions, and isn’t that the point of theatre? To get through?

Spread the word near and far.
If you’re in Austin come on down,
it’s free and it will be fascinating.
If you’re not in Austin?
Log on and check it out. 

Public Service Announcement

 

When all others are losing their heads?

Do NOT Show your work

I don’t often discuss acting theory here, because honestly there are people you should be listening to before you come to me for any ideas on theory.

But Trilby Jeeves asked a question on Twitter the other day that got a lot of response, and is worth writing about in a little bit more depth. She asked what we did to “get out of our heads”.

As someone who spends an awful lot of time on stage and off lock in his head… that rings for me. So what is my solution? First, a rant.

Talk all you want about the lies of the MFA degree, or the problems with BFAs, or BA’s in theatre or reading that one book by that one guy about theatre that one time as an experiment in college…

There is one lie that hurts live stage performance more than anything else. And I will dispell it now.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ACTING TECHNIQUE.

You heard me.

There are acting styles naturally. Those styles are not attributable to any one teacher or book.

What you are talking about Oh Killer of Shows when you are talking about ‘acting techniques’ are of course rehearsal techniques. There are a wide variety of ways to put a show together, and having a common vocabulary about how you’re going to do that is absolutely vital. I have myself been trained by some wonderful professor in Stanislavsky, Hagen and Meisner, and find a blending of techniques to be most useful in a process.

And if you can see me doing any of them on stage I have failed.

If I see YOU doing them on stage I will mock you mercilessly behind your back. I don’t charge you $15-25 to see my homework and I expect the same courtesy.

In answer to Trilby’s question: I re-add some sort of physical or improv work into either my preshow or rehearsal to focus on something other than the analysis or line work that my brain fixates on.

But the meta fix is of course to hit rehearsal so hard that all of the work falls away by the time you get to running the show. And of course to not still be dependant on any of my rehearsal techniques by the time we let people in the door. If you’re imagining your dead dog on the night of performance? You’re doing it wrong.

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Is there anybody out there? Or: Why World Theatre Day

I’m not really a joiner. I lurk, and then I lurk, and then I lurk some more. So how the hell did I find myself mixed up with a super committed group of theatre makers pushing to better establish something that had no direct pay off for our already overbooked lives?

Mostly wrong time, wrong place, and a dash of big mouth, but really it comes down to one thing:

Community is damned infectious.

The thing that surprises everyone who ever commits to a new community fully and deeply is how many folks Just Like You there are, and how quickly bonds grow. It was true in the quick pseudo-families that grew out of Usenet and IRC in the mid-90’s and it’s true of tech like Twitter (broadcast, single-channel IRC) now.

We as theatremakers spend a lot of quality time with 3 or 4 or 50 people in tight quarters under looming time/budget/artistic constraints, and we cultivate a deep and pervasive bunker mentality.

If you don’t believe that, you’ve never talked to an indie theatremaker, or read a 22 year-old’s mission statement asserting that THEY will be the one group in any town doing new work.

Then you read a broad swathe of theatre blogs, or talk to the trajillions of theatre folks on Twitter, and they’re all going through the same things you are. And you get the desire to swim with the larger tribe for a minute, not just the pod you create with.

Combined with my strong desire to tie my local community more tightly together and I think it’s pretty obvious why I’m not sitting this one out.

There are of course cynics who want ROI and TPS reports, and budget numbers on every activity. Chris Wilkinson seems to embody this cynicism with a mention on his Guardian blog post:

So it’s nice to start this week’s roundup on a more upbeat note. According to Rebecca Coleman at the Art of the Business blog, the International Theatre Institute‘s World Theatre Day is coming up on 27 March. Coleman has teamed up with the Next Stage blog to throw a World Theatre Day party. “Everyone’s invited,” she exclaims. To kick it off, they have created a new blog for people to exchange ideas about how to mark the day.

This is all great in theory, but there does seem to be something paradoxical about the idea of a World Theatre Day. After all, it is true that great art should be able to reach across cultural and geographical divides. But theatre, as a live and communal event, is something that cannot easily be separated from the location in which it takes place. As such, it is surely impossible to create any kind of meaningful theatrical experience which can be shared by people around the world. But maybe we should just wait until 27 March and see what happens.

World Theatre Day isn’t about creating a global theatre experience. It’s about celebrating the local theatre experience globally. World Theatre Day is an acknowledgement that we are all doing this thing that we love.

And the internet allows us to share those local celebrations and revel in the fact that we’re not alone in our pursuit, and that no matter how many times they try to prove it to us mathematically, theatre is not dead.

So on a theoretical March 27th:

Mr. Walters and his students do a free reading on the quad in Asheville, and take pictures or video and share them on the World Theatre Day media hub (hosted on Tumblr) where if you scroll down a little bit you see folks from the Player’s Ring in Portsmouth reading Augusto Boal’s address before their show, and then there are some pictures from an alumni gathering at a performance at the Barksdale in Richmond or a Middletown town celebration after an opening weekend performance of Cotton Patch Gospel at the Wayside, then some video from My First Time in Vancouver, and pictures from the theatre community parties in Austin and Chicago where all of the theatremakers not performing have gathered to celebrate the life that is in theatre even in this global anxiety attack.

Maybe I’m naive.

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that seeing a couple of thousand folks who are all paddling in the same direction I am exist, and want to celebrate with me even if we are separated by geography is spectacular, and would energize me….

But I’m pretty sure I’m not.