Entries Tagged as 'Practice'

10 Things I Wish I’d Been told in College (and 1 I was)

Everyone loves lists.

Well. I love lists, and while there’s been a lot of talk over my three years actively blogging about theatre about the failings of the Theatre Education Industrial Complex, we’ve not really attempted to create a curriculum we approve of. Largely because, well, creating a new theatre education paradigm is hard. And I’m not going to do that here, because I’m not sure how to even begin.

Instead? Herein lies a list of things I wish someone had told me over a beer the night of graduation. “Well… you made it, and now you’re ‘In the Club’ so here’s all the things you weren’t taught.” This does include stuff we’ve talked about here in the past. But not all in one place.

I also want to include the one thing I WAS told outside the framework of the program that really helped.

In no particular order:

  1. Read Everything.
    Consume media.
    Consume the world around you.

    An “artist” with nothing to say is “retired”. You need life experience, you need ideas and emotion flowing through you when you’re actively creating, but even more so when you’re not. There’s a reason that a musicians first album – culled from years of struggle and real life intruding on creation – is generally the most alive.
  2. You’re not done learning.
    And the know-it-all attitude you’re sporting will not endear you to the in-the-trenches veterans you’re now talking with. Lose it. And keep the war stories in their place. They’ve all done crazy things on a show before too, save it for beer later.
  3. This isn’t Bohemia
    You are not a Romantic Poet. You will not die of consumption in a garret, starving for your art, unless you’re stupid enough to not (y’know) go get a job and pay rent. Those Romantic ideals NEVER work out for the hero. Dead isn’t a career move unless you’ve already got a few films in the can.
  4. You’re an entrepreneur now.
    Actor, singer, dancer, tech, producer, doesn’t matter. You’re in business for yourself as soon as that tassel flips. Figure out what that means for you. What’s you plan? You have a plan right?
  5. Have a plan.
    You’re not going to show up in Major Metropolitan Area and get discovered while working at Florsheims. No. You’re not. So how are you going to make that happen? What are you going to do when it doesn’t? Is that really what you want?
  6. Make a friend. Make Five. Make TWENTY.
    No matter what mama said, you are NOT god’s special snowflake. There are 20 or more of you in every major metropolitan area. I suggest while waiting for a break, you MAKE a break. You’re not going to go from graduation to Great White Way. So be Bill Rauch. Find people you love and a thing you love making and do it. People will notice.
  7. And it can be where you are
    If you need to get out, get out.
    But there is an audience for what you do right where you are. If you’re most happy living on the New Hampshire Seacoast? DO IT. And find people who are making the theatre you like and bring them baked goods until they let you play. 
    There’s no such thing as “Never Made It Out”. There is only choosing what makes you happy. Portsmouth is as deserving of great art as Brooklyn.
  8. About the money…
    About that Plan…
    There’s no money here. Or there. Or over there.
    The very best can make a living if they hustle hard.
    So learn grant writing. Learn business modeling, and budgeting. It’s going to be tight, but you don’t have to go broke making art. Or entertainment. Or whatever it is you make.
  9. Leverage what you know, and keep increasing what you know.
    If you want to do more than a couple of shows you need to be adaptable and unafraid of the new. You can’t eschew the computer for the ol’ quill and parchment in every instance. You can’t avoid networking because ‘you hate that shit’. Here, we’ll call it “hanging out with different people and talking to them like you actually care”. Now go DO IT.
  10. There’s no time limit.
    Unless you want to be a Broadway ingénue. You haven’t failed if you haven’t done “X” by 25 or 30. You “fail” if you stop. You rarely stop something you are still in love with. If you stopped because you don’t want to do it anymore? You didn’t fail – you changed. You don’t owe theatre anything.

The one Real thing I was told off the record was by Nancy Saklad. During a rehearsal in a very large ice storm with the power out butchering a monologue from Terranova over and over again:

“You can do this you know. Professionally.
If you want it, you can do this.”

After 5 years of college and 3 years in high school she was the first person who ever said such a thing to me.
And then she stuck the landing:

“But you have to work at it.”

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)

Once More With Clarity

I have written three different posts responding to a comment about this post, all three stunningly muddled. Which is why you’re not reading those. I was trying to clarify the need I see for an ongoing discussion between theatre tribes on a local level to help eliminate the wheel recreation cycle that RLewis brings up in his comment. Clarity eluding me, I retreat into the actor’s role and use someone else’s words

This is something that Chloe Veltman nails in her discussion of space creation (name checking the Exit Theatreplex, one of my very favorite places in the universe), and something we here in Austin discussed with the staff of the still incubating Long Center recently.

Venues for artists to talk to one another. To create relationship. To pass on information between tribes. To facilitate a wider information dispersal so more groups can get over the nuts and bolts production problems inherent in any start-up and move on to actually presenting their art.


How about you? How have you created relationship with other groups?

Is there a way for you to leave a breadcrumb trail for others without losing your momentum?

Is there an easy way to leave a manual for your community to ensure that there is some sort of institutional memory?

Why is it SO hard to blog process in production?
(I’ve meant to in three of my last four shows, and only sort of vaguely managed it once)

In Defense of Pretension

If you are in the business of creating art for public consumption, have a reason for doing it, and try to show some skill.

On Sunday, July 2nd I saw what I have since been referring to as the ‘worst thing I’ve ever seen on stage’. Which is of course not quite right, and is instead shorthand (as such hyperbole often is) for a more complicated truth.

It was the worst show I’ve ever seen by a reputable company with considerable buzz going on. Which means of course that we had the classic failure to meet expectations. I was hoping to write a review of the piece in this space, but it was so off-putting that this is the closest we’re going to come.

The travesty of July 2nd was supposed to be a faux modern dance piece set to the music of a rising local musician. I like (most) modern dance. I like clever deconstructions. I like local musicians. So I ‘treated’ my fiancee to a show.

This was however not a deconstruction. There was no modern dance except by the most loose of definitions, and the ‘movement’ on stage had absolutely no relation to the music. This piece also fell prey to the most insidious of fallacies: Announced Lack of Pretension.

Oh pretension, enemy of the common man.

Everyone “hates” pretension. In the same way that ‘everyone’ hates Linkin Park (still sell half a million every time out), and every one hates Jerry Bruckheimer. They don’t.

People hate things they hate, and then pick a reason to tack on later. Pretentiousness is an easy bugaboo to tack on because in our ‘egalitarian’ society the only thing worse than socialism is elitism. And elitism is only elitism if it leaves you out.

Insofar as theatre production, the pretension that people mean when they toss it about as a slur is almost always directed at the intent, not the execution. A character behaving pretentiously won’t get slurred (though that character will almost always be a villain), a producer throwing around words like deconstruction generally will.

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Here we run into the problem of dictionary definition versus accepted colloquial use. M-W.com has some useful definitions, 1. Poseur, 2. Ambitious. Colloquial usage almost always means ‘elitist prick’.

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I get accused of being pretentious all the time. And well… the accusers are mostly right, by all three definitions above. But the difference between 1 and 2 is success, and the difference between Merriam-Webster and the colloquial is the audience’s understanding.

If my work doesn’t overreach my boasting I am a poseur. And if my work doesn’t get through to my audience I am at best a poor storyteller and at worst… well – elitist prick it is.

But there is nothing more pretentious (definition 1) than announcing to the world that the work you are presenting is for the Common Man! Unlike the elitist pricks over there! Announcing lack of pretension is the equivalent of apologizing in advance. If you aren’t trying to do something with your production, no matter how low your aim, it starts dead and can only rot from there.

The very act of asking that people pay to see you do something is pretentious. It assumes that what you are presenting has real world value. So in return for that pretension offer them a real product made with some skill for a reason. The reason doesn’t need to have four syllables and be vetted by Jill Dolan’s Performance as Public Practice coterie. They can be very simple.

  1. I/We want to make people laugh
  2. I/We want to make people cry (I use this one quite a bit)
  3. I/We am/are really good at dance
  4. I/We like singing and think people should pay us for it
  5. I/We want to change your mind about the plight of banana farmers

The July 2nd travesty failed because it wasn’t trying to do anything. If it had been a deconstruction of modern dance, if it had begun as a ‘straight’ dance piece and devolved into the muddled contact improv mess that it was with the same amount of glee that the performers were exhibiting? Or if it had been about freeing dance from the structure of modern dance and focused on just feeling the music while doing the Living Room Boogie. It would have been riveting. But pretentious.

I need to confess… my fiancee and I were among the few that didn’t stand during curtain call. The house loved it. They almost sold out their entire Thursday to Sunday engagement.

So I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about.

HOMEWORK

Why am I wrong?

How can we achieve pretentious goals without being elitist pricks?

Is there a good example of art made for NO REASON that was any good?

Institutional Memory

Isaac Butler linked an old article from the Guardian today featuring an interview with David Lan the artistic director of the Young Vic. Mostly it’s a run of the mill quick hit interview, and I’m going to steer clear of the writer/performer debate it raises for a moment.

Is there anything we’re particularly good/bad at in this country? What do you think are the industry’s real strengths and weaknesses, compared with theatre elsewhere?

We’re fantastically good at acting and designing and production management. We’re not very good at writing any more. We have some brilliant directors but no means by which directors can learn from each other. We’re far more interested in European and Asian theatre than we used to be which is good. We’re bad at continuity. We’re always starting again with few lessons learnt.

It’s not just your country Mr. Lan. Promise.

Theatre, and small theatre in particular, has no institutional memory. This is largely due to a combination of the localized nature of the form, and the fleeting nature of most organized companies, but a shame none the less.

Each new person on any given scene feels the need to begin their own company, each with their own particular blindness to the strengths and weaknesses of the given scene. They try to create a certain kind of product, often unaware of what has come before unaware of the proclivities of the theatre-going public in their area.

How do companies in open competition with one another for talent, space, and funds find a common ground to meet on? How can we share the knowledge each of us has gained in out journey to this point? Simply MEETING theatre professionals outside of your sphere isn’t easy. Never mind being in contact often enough and intimately enough to create honest relationship on any level.

If I knew properly I’d write a book and sell it to you. But my best guesses are as follows:

  1. Attend each other’s shows.
    A gimme? Maybe. But it solves the myopia of the always producing theatre professional (what else is going on in town? Are you duplicating efforts in the same artistic space?) and it gives you the opening to create an artistic dialogue. Plus there are better than even odds that they will attend your show in return.
  2. Festival Programmers and Planners can save us!
    Theoretically.
    The structure of the San Francisco Fringe offers lots of opportunity to meet, have discussions with, and hit on other artists over the course of the Festival. Frontera Fest here in Austin (in the last iteration) had no such opportunity.
    Part of the problem is the availability of space and the location of that space. But a festival atmosphere is such a great, low-key way to meet other artists, often after having seen their work, that it seems a shame when those opportunities pass us by.
  3. Established companies can save us?
    This of course requires resources AND ego swallowing… but indulge me. If a company has succeeded for say (arbitrarily) a decade.. they have something to offer in the way of knowledge. Maybe all they have to offer is what works in this market at this time, but that’s a pretty valuable maybe. If they reached out and offered assistantships and internships to folks they can pass on their brand of knowledge.
    Would folks take the the positions? I don’t know. Will theatre professionals have any idea how to pass that information on? I don’t know. But we need the info in their heads.
  4. BLOGS can save us!
    A certain subset of the population anyway.
    There is something wonderful about wading hip deep into an honest discussion of you field. If every community was chronicling it’s exploits and being aggregated in the way the Theatre Forte does for the broader theatre blogosphere don’t we all win?
    Mark Jackson’s chronicle of starting up the Art Street Theatre completely changed my way of thinking about theatre (I’m a text based human) and honestly it was pretty much a blog that had been edited and printed. How is Clurman’s The Fervent Years any different than a true insider blog?

One Sentence Summary

Networking isn’t just for the suits.

Homework

Where is my blind spot?
Why won’t networking pass on the collective knowledge?

In the beginning

As I mentioned in my introduction, this space is intended to primarily be a place for me to unravel what it is I want to do in my own theatre life, as well as wrestling with the larger “What is Theatre?”, and “What Do I Think Small Independent Theatre Should Be?”

I’ve decided that I would approach this impossible existential test by answer the questions I know that I know the answers to first.

Small Theatre Aesthetics

I have spent the last 10 years of my life in the small theatre scenes of San Francisco and Austin. Along with the sundry shows I have personally been involved with, my part-time gig as the assistant production manager at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco allowed me to see many MANY shows. I was also privy to the process of many of those shows, and the approaches that companies in varied stages of development took in regards to the technical aspects of their shows.

A fundamental truth of small theatre is that companies lack capital resources. I understand that all too well. Unfortunately, rather than accepting this truth and dealing with it, most small companies adopt a vicious victim complex and then try to pretend they have capital resources.

To the grave detriment of their productions.

You (the production team) have control over everything your audience experiences short of the baggage they bring in with them. You make the decision as to what that is going to be.

You can play the martyr’s role, highlight the fact that you have no money, and duct tape together a Noel Coward living room out of some Goodwill furniture and paint.

Your audience will pity you. You will win martyr of the week. But they also aren’t taking your show seriously. You are going to be salted away in the audiences mind as a Double-A production, almost regardless of the actual performance level. (ed note: there are of course no absolutes)

You have also spent money you likely don’t have to achieve this non-effect.

There is no logical reason to decide on that aesthetic for your work. The only reason to approach a show in that manner is because you have set in your mind what you feel a “big-boy theater” would do for a set, so you make a run at that ideal on the money you have.

No win scenario – see above.

The two resources that small theatre companies DO have are people and time. Leverage them.

Accept the limitations of your budget. Not as a curse, or the obvious oppression of a war mongering administration, but as an opportunity to create a solution. The benefits are obvious.

  1. You and your team create an aesthetic that is specific to you and your show. One that specifically addresses the obstacles you are facing, and one that highlights the tone and intent of your production.
  2. You spend the money you have. That you actually have. Maybe it’s $50. But you’re not mortgaging future productions for a half-assed production today.
  3. You can begin to create a company aesthetic.
    In a brand name world that matters.
  4. You give yourself the ability to fold in the edges. The better you live within your theatrical means, and the simpler your production concepts, the more likely it is that your production will look finished. Which is all an audience really requires vis-a-vis production values. That you completed what it seems you intended to do.
  5. The cleaner and more finished your production aesthetic the better your production shots look for the publicity, the archive, and for future possible donors.

One Sentence Recap:

When facing a fully staged production design within your means, and present a fully realized concept without apology, not a poorly executed gesture towards what you sort of think you meant to do if you had more money.

Homework:

What am I missing? Why am I wrong?

Why are companies spending money they don’t have to cobble together sets they hate that don’t accomplish their goals?

How have you creatively solved set/production problems on a string and a couple of nickels?