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Showing posts from 2007

Resuming Posts January 2nd

Dear Readers (or by now, after months of silence: Dear Reader): I will resume regular (and, I hope, daily) blog posts starting Wednesday, January 2nd. I promise.

Almost Back!

Dear Readers -- I am so sorry about the long, long silence; my production of Thousand Kites totally engaged my time. I plan to return to action shortly. In the meantime, I recommend the following website: http://www.theaterisdead.com/ Pay particular attention to the link "A More Regional Theatre?" by Greg Lawless. Good stuff!

On Isaac's Discussion of "Apathy"

Isaac over at Parabasis has written a few posts that are resonating with me personally right now. It began with "A Conversation We Should Get In On," and was followed up with "More On Apathy and Our Generation of Theatremakers." It should be clear by now that I am not a member of Isaac's, or most of the blogosphere's, generation. I am 49 years old in an established career with security and job satisfaction. However, I confront in my students every day the same sense of frustration and fear that Isaac is talking about. And perhaps archetypally, as I near my 50th birthday, I am questioning myself and how I approach my own ideas.

In response to Isaac's first post, I wrote:

Are you asking why theatre people don't "do something" about the current theatrical malaise? If that's the question (is it?), I guess I'd say that doing something requires a level of courage that is difficult for most people to consider. It means confronting the pow…

Thousand Kites Blog

Some amazing things have been happening with this production of Thousand Kites, Donna Porterfield's and Appalshop's wonderful play about the effects of the prison system on inmates, guards, their families, and communities. I just sent out the following email to the university campus, and I'd like to extend to my readers as well the invitation to follow the rehearsal process through opening night.

On November 14th, the Drama Department will open the world premiere production of "Thousand Kites," a drama about the effects of prison on inmates, guards, their families, and the community (a "kite," in prison lingo, is a letter or message). The multi-disciplinary arts and education center Appalshop, who created the play to accompany their award-winning documentary "Up the Ridge" about the Wallens Ridge supermax prison just outside of their Whitesburg KY community in Big Stone Gap Va, have been filming rehearsals to make a documentary about our…

Welcome, Asheville Readers

Today, the Asheville Citizen-Times posted a guest commentary I wrote concerning a proposed performing arts center being planned for downtown. I was opposed. Not because I don't think we need venues for the performing arts in Asheville -- we do. What I oppose is the creation of yet another generic arts palace "anchored" (in the sense of sunk) by a 2400-seat auditorium that will house the symphony, but for most of the year will be filled with second- and third-tier touring shows from New York. Here is the text of my letter:
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I have been involved in the arts for more than 40 years. I care deeply about the arts, and think they are crucial to creating a vibrant community. So I find it painful to find myself in opposition to the proposal for the new $80 million performing arts center (PAC) proposed for downtown Asheville. But I am, and here is why.Unlike other creatively vibrant local and regional arts organizations like, for instance, Handmade in America…

Travis Bedard -- Midnight Honesty at Noon

I am in the midst of a HUGE blogger's block right now. It isn't that I'm not having ideas, but most of them are about me rather than anything that is useful to anyone else -- like stuff about my own career path and stuff. Nothing that the world needs to know about...

In the meantime, check out Travis Bedard's posts about theatre education. He extends Tom and my own thoughts quite nicely. And while he says he disagrees with his "elders" (thanks for that one, Travis) about production, I actually think I (I won't speak for Tom) would agree that more production would be a good thing -- but that we faculty don't have to be behind it in order to give it legitimacy and prestige. There would be nothing that could make me happier than if I had auditions for my mainstage production and nobody showed up because they were all already committed to their own projects. Then I would know that we've really done something for the students. Then I could compete with…

Theatre Education and Critical Thinking

In my previous posts on theatre education, I have focused a great deal on helping young artists develop their own unique voice and way of looking at things rather than homogenizing into another cog for the theatrical machine. This is important not only for artists, but for all human beings. Self-authorship is the first step to making a contribution to the world in which we live (although sometimes the process of making the contribution is the path toward understanding that underlies self-authorship.)

An important part of that process involves the critical thinking skill known as self-reflection. It is crucial that every artist, and every citizen, learn to examine their ideas and their underlying assumptions to make sure that they are doing more than universalizing their own values without thought.

Recently, perhaps because, as Don Hall suggests, I have been thinking about it, I have been noticing how very smart people whose opinions I endorse fail to notice that they are reproducing in…

What Might Have Been

Back when I was in my late teens, I stumbled on American resident theatre pioneer Margo Jones' inspiring book Theatre-in-the-Round (1951). In the late 40s and 50s, Jones brought into existence a resident theatre in Dallas called Theatre followed by the year: Theatre 47, Theatre 48, etc. It was a brilliant idea that created an annual New Year's Eve ritual of gathering patrons together to ring in the theatre's new name each year.

I recently reread this book, which I recommend highly not only for its spirited endorsement of the arena theatre form (and she makes an excellent and very practical rationale for it that still stands up today), but also for an indication of the values of the original regional theatre movement in America. I would like to quote extensively from the early part of the book, and ask you to imagine how the American theatre might have been different had we followed Margo Jones instead of Tyrone Guthrie.

I believe it is imperative in creating new resident pro…

Fired Up? Ready to Go?

Folks -- I just watched this video of Barack Obama telling a story about a SC alderwoman who inspired Obama and a roomful of people with her repeated cry "Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?" I read it right before reading Tom Loughlin's inspirational final post in the theatre education series we've been doing, and it fit so well. Tom's call to action is powerful and inspiring, and echoed Obama's ringing conclusion: "And it goes to show you how one voice can change a room. And if it can change a room, then it can change a city. And if it can change a city, then it can change a state. And if it can change a state, then it can change a country. And if it can change a country, then it can change the world. Are you fired up? Are you ready to go? Let's go change the world!"

Tom calls for us to raise our voices in order to change a room, and from there we can change the world. Most importantly, Tom writes:

"It is imperative for artists to becom…

Theatre Education Part 5 -- Suggestions for Improvement

OK, Tom at A Poor Player and I are finally coming to the end of the series, where we make recommendations for how theatre education can be improved. I'll warn you: I've been listening to business guru Tom Peters today, so I am feeling blunt and honest.

I want to start by quoting from a book entitled Making Their Own Way: Narratives for Transofrming Higher Education to Promote Self-Development by M. B. Baxter Magolda, a college professor who writes books about education. She writes:

"Educators have multiple expectations for the journey that is called college education. For example, we expect students to acquire knowledge, learn how to analyze it, and learn the process of judging what to believe themselves -- what developmental theorists call complex ways of knowing. We expect students to develop an internal sense of identity -- and understanding of how they view themselves and what they value. We expect them to learn how to construct healthy relationships with others, relat…

More on Tasering

"University spokesman Steve Orlando defended the officers' actions in an interview with the Associated Press, but said an internal investigation would be conducted to make sure they acted appropriately. "He apparently asked several questions -- he went on for quite awhile -- then he was asked to stop," Orlando said of Meyer. "He had used his allotted time. His microphone was cut off, then he became upset."That's where we are, folks: you get tasered if you go over your allotted time. I think I'll start tasering students who turn their papers in late or show up late to class while I'm talking. Have we lost our mind????

How Is This Justified in America?

I would really like to know why this is acceptable in America? It is outrageous. It should be condemned as police brutality bordering on fascism. Those officers should be fired, and prosecuted for assault. Period. What is this country coming too????

Theatre Education Part 4.1 -- Things We Do Well

Adding on to Tom's post, I think there is something that is being taught very well: skills. Very rarely do I go to professional productions where the direction isn't solid, the scenery isn't interesting, the lighting isn't efficient, the costumes aren't accurate, and the acting isn't believable. (For some reason, that latter comment about acting doesn't apply to Broadway, where I have seen some absolutely awful acting. For some reason, once actors make it to Broadway, they have acquired the habit of mistaking speed, line pickup, and loudness for actual acting. I am regularly astonished at how totally unbelievable as human beings so many Broadway actors are.) Most of the artists responsible for these productions have received their training at university, and their competence reflects well on their alma maters.

I think that theatre departments are generally teaching the how-to's in a solid fashion. Yes, when I attend a college production, the quality wi…

Theatre Education Part 4 -- Strengths (Tom Loughlin)

Part 4 of 5 on Theatre Education that Tom (A Poor Player) Loughlin and I have been writing. This time, we will be discussing what we think theatre education is doing right. I'll chime in soon.

Five Strengths

Thanks to Laura Axelrod, who tagged me with a meme called "Five Strengths." Instructions read:

"Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It's not really bragging, it's an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you'd like to see share their strengths."

OK, here goes:

1. Willingness to ignore the status quo. There are times when I think my theme song is the Marx Brothers' Whatever It Is, I'm Against It. My tendency is to question almost anything that is accepted as being "correct." Sometimes, that puts me in very strange company, but I think the act of questioning is the reason for my #2 strength.

2. I have lots of ideas. Thanks, Laura, for that one -- me too. There are days when my head feels like a birdcage filled with parrots all chattering at…

Theatre Education Part 3 -- Production

Over at A Poor Player, Tom Loughlin has posted a thoughtful essay about the conservative nature of most drama department production programs. His most provocative paragraph says: "Why must theatre departments feel they need to produce seasons at all? If it’s the case that there are relatively few audience members, why go through all that trouble? Is it really the best type of training?" He goes on: "If theatre is to become more innovative, I think that the time we take to produce a theatre season might be better spent allowing students to be creative rather than re-creative. Given the opportunity, young people can be astoundingly expressive. If the usual time spent in rehearsals were spent as time learning how to write and do shows in found spaces, we’ve be better able to make some breakthroughs, perhaps, in theatrical form, in writing style, in thematic content, and perhaps in many other areas."

I, too, have made that argument. In fact, one year I turned my annua…

Laura Axelrod

In a few clear, reflective, and ultimately painful paragraphs, Laura Axelrod looks back over her time as a blogger, paying particular attention to her time as a theatre blogger. As one of the earliest members of the theatrosphere, and as of a month ago one of those who has given up writing about the theatre, she offers some trenchant remarks about her experiences. The one that particularly lodged like a burr on a sweater was this: "I noticed how my very best entries got little response from [the theatre] community." I have noticed this as well. As someone who often checks my hit counter and tries to figure out what the readers seem to be responding to, the answer too often seems to be "dustups" -- my hit count soars the minute someone finds something I've written offensive. Nevertheless, posts that the recent ones Tom and I have been doing about theatre education have seen a consistent growth in readership. So I find it puzzling how few comments there have been…

Theatre Education -- Part 3.0 (Loughlin)

Tom Loughlin at "A Poor Player" continues our series on theatre education with a great discussion of the purpose and expectations of Theatre Department productions. As usual, it'll get you thinking. I'll chime in soon -- probably later tonight or tomorrow.

Theatre Education 2.2 -- Corporate Training

As a drama professor, I represent our department at many university Open Houses where potential students and their parents come to see what we offer. We have our brochures and production photos on display boards to dazzle the students, and of course we don't have a stack of handouts showing the latest Actors Equity employment figures -- no sense scaring people away, right? But we do have a plastic file for the parents that is filled with a hand-out called "What Can You "Do" With a Theatre Major?" This hand-out lists 25 "special advantages" that a theatre major has over other majors as far as employment in the corporate world. These run the gamut from "oral communication skills" to "self-discipline," and are designed to mollify fearful parents who worry about junior's employment fate. Junior now will have a repost when someone makes the inevitable "you want fries with that" crack. The central argument is that business …

Theatre Education Part 2.1 -- Addendum to Tom Loughlin

Tom Loughlin's description of theatre education's Big Lies does an excellent job of laying out the false advertising most theatre departments use to sell their programs to the young and hopeful. Given the way "The Biz" is currently configured, academia is churning our far too much theatrical cannon fodder to be considered rational or ethical. Even at liberal arts colleges such as my own, whose focus should be less on pre-professional "training" than on using theatre as an educational "lens" through which to learn about the world for four years, we teach semester-long courses in auditioning. Auditioning! The end result of all this pre-professional careerism is a bevy of actors who are simultaneously desperately needy (to quote A Chorus Line, "I need this job, oh God I need this show!") and incredibly passive ("I'll do whatever I'm told") and ultimately lacking in a sense of personal aesthetic values to guide them in dec…

Theatre Education Part 2 -- Loughlin's Take on The Big Lie

Another great post by Tom Loughlin at Poor Player. It's called "Theatre Education Part 2 -- The Big Lies," and it is a great post...if a little unnerving.

Theatre Education Part 2 -- Loughlin's Take on The Big Lie

Another great post by Tom Loughlin at Poor Player. It's called Theatre Education Part 2 - The “Big Lies."

Great stuff, if a little unnerving!

Theatre Education Part 2 -- Loughlin'

Congrats, Ian, You've Had Your First American Blogger Controversy

Over at Parabasis, there is a discussion about how to have more productive discussions in the theatrosphere.

Ian, from "Theatre Is Territory," wrote in the comments box: "One theory that keeps coming up is that the U.S. was founded on a particularly individualist note (its what gives you your right to bear arms – i.e., "don't get between me and mine.") that has never really left the public conscious. And why should it have?"

Here is my response:

Ian,

As an American blogger, I am deeply offended by this sweeping generalization. I demand that you provide specific and broadly based evidence to support your assertion. When you do, I will then discount said evidence as unrepresentative and provide as counter-evidence posts by six American bloggers who are really nice and never get angry at all, and I'll demand that you apologize to all my American homies. When you assert that the counter-examples don't invalidate the general assertion, I will demand t…

The Older I Get...

...the more Moliere's Alceste makes sense to me...

"Esteem, if it be real, means preference,
And when bestowed on all makes no sense."

"A man should be a man, and let his speech
At every turn reveal his heart to each;
His own true self should speak; our sentiments
Should never hide beneath vain compliments."

Act One Scene 1 between Alceste and Philinte reminds me of some blog discussions I've had. Perhaps Dan Trujillo should have set his rewrite, which he called Angry Young Man, in the theatrosphere instead of the theatre! Meanwhile, over at Parabasis, Isaac raises the question of how we can have less vitriolic discussions. At the moment, I have a headache and am out of ibuprofin, which makes me cranky and prone to snarkiness. Nevertheless, Tony's proximity rule seems a good one: "would I say it if I were in the same room"? I've had a lot of passionate discussions in my day, and learned a lot from them. But if somebody impugned my honesty to my f…

Political Mashup

What if the progress in the War in Iraq was evaluated in the same ways schools are in the horrible No Child Left Behind Act? Bush is pretty lenient in his evaluation of Iraqi progress while being harsh with schools who have struggling students and serious socio-economic challenges. But then we shouldn't expect consistency, right? Why not??? Isn't it time we stopped smiling cynically and expressed our total outrage? I marvel that I have allowed myself to shake my head over all the Bush offenses. Suddenly, I understand how the German people let Hitler come to power and stay in power. Yes, Hitler! And Stalin. And Mao. And every other totalitarian dictator throughout history. We must stop this creeping fascism!

Tom Loughlin Describes His Journey

As promised, Tom Loughlin at A Poor Play has supplemented my post below by describing his own journey through the theatre education lanscape in his wonderful post "Theatre Education Part 1 -- How We Got Here." I encourage you to read it in tandem with my post on the same subject below.

Theatre Education Part 1: How We Got Here

As I mentioned in my previous post, Tom Loughlin at Poor Player and I will be doing a series of posts about theatre education. It is an area that, understandably, I am very interested in, since it is how I make my living, and because it is personally important to my mental and spiritual health that I be doing "good work," work that has some value and contributes to the betterment of the world in which I live. But I am also interested in it because I feel it has gone terribly awry, and that, in fact, theatre education is now feeding the stagnation and entropy -- to borrow Tom's image from a series of his brilliant posts that I should have paid much more attention to at the time, but I was much too self-involved in my own tempest to consider Tom's thoughtful analysis -- feeding the stagnation and entropy that, to my mind, is killing the theatre. (Sorry, Matt -- I'm with Tom on this one.)

How did we get here? I am tempted to simply create a link to scholar Joseph Roa…