Don't Know Much About Creative Writing MFA's
Reviewing the discussion of MFA's, it occurred to me that a large portion of my commenters were talking about something entirely different from what I was talking about. There seemed to be quite a few playwrights who were discussing MFA programs in creative writing. I know virtually nothing about such programs. My comments were confined solely to acting/directing/design MFA programs in theatre.
I am toying with the idea of changing my settings so as not to allow anonymous posters. While the MFA discussion didn't get that out of hand compared to some of the other shit storms this blog has seen, I was discomfited by anonymous commenters bashing people. I think if you want to participate in a conversation, you should at least identify yourself. For now, I am not changing my settings, but I would encourage those of you who usually post anonymously to consider signing some sort of name, so that we an keep the different commenters separate. If for some reason you really need anonymity, then make up a phony name.
Where Are the Actors?
Perhaps I'm not reading, or read by, the right group of people, but where are the actors in the theatrosphere? I see a lot of writers and directors, and even one or two designers, but actors seem notable by their absence. And I hardly ever get comments from actors. If you are a blogger who is an actor, please put your URL in the comments so I can add you to my reading list. If the actors aren't participating in these discussions, what are we to make of it?
TCG Database Weirdness
Thanks to Matt Slayburgh at Theatreforte for bringing this to my attention. He found it odd that, in my post on the lack of world premieres being done in LORT theatres, the TCG database listed Actor's Theatre of Louisville as having an annual budget under $500,000. "I followed your tracks," Slayburgh emailed me, "and TCG also told me that ATL is in their bottom budget range. So, I checked on Guidestar, which has actual copies of 990s submitted by non-profits. On their own 990, ATL reported an $11 million budget for 2006." Hmmmm. At the time, I remember finding other theatres that seemed odd in that category: Lincoln Center Theatre, Long Wharf, the Public Theatre, Steppenwolf, and the Yale Rep jumped out at me. I will try to track down information about this. This has little effect on my latest post on the distribution of theatres in the US beyond changing the color of the flags on those who are misreported. However, it does affect the data about new play productions. It may be that a larger percentage of big-budget theatres will be responsible for premieres. While my confidence in the TCG database has been shaken as far as financial information is concerned, so far it seems that the other info is accurate. At the very least, the addresses must be right!
Theatre = Film = TV = Commercials as Far as Acting is Concerned
In my last post on MFA programs, one of my anonymous posters wrote the following:
"it seems many people here think that actors or writers or artist should only be trained FOR THE THEATER - but that is a bit naive and willfully ignorant and also elitist. from Wikipedia - Actor: "An actor, actress , player or rarely thespian (see terminology) is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity. The ancient Greek word for an actor, hypokrites, when rendered as a verb means "to interpret"; in this sense, an actor is one who interprets a dramatic character. from the Greek - TO INTERPRET." - but, in your incredibly narrow definition, actors should ONLY interpret theater? or MFA programs should only train for that very narrow specialty? That is a bit ridiculous and again smacks of elitism. Doctors train for everything, THEN chose a specialty. Why should acting training be different?
This commenter, whoever he or she is, has perceptively identified something very important to understanding almost everything I write on this blog: all I care about is live theatre. So call me naive and elitist, not to mention willfully ignorant -- you won't be the first or last. If you define acting as "pretending that you are the guy" (my favorite definition of acting, by the way, brought to you by master acting teacher Cal Pritner), then maybe you can feel sanguine about this crossover from medium to medium. I happen to think that the skill set needed to be an effective stage actor is very, very different from that needed to be a good film actor or TV actor. And I think that it requires devoted and single-minded attention to develop those skills. I hate seeing a film actor failing to be able to fill a theatre space. I witnessed it firsthand when I acted in a production of Love Letters opposite a fairly well-known film actress. Sitting across the table from her, she was doing an excellent job, but the audience in this theatre of 500 thought otherwise. It was me who got all the laughs, and who afterwards spectator after spectator told I was by far superior to my film-star co-actor. Plus, she couldn't hold for a laugh or do a basic take in support of a laugh line to save her soul. These things aren't necessary for film -- the film editor creates your takes and holds for your laughs, and you don't have to project your personality more than a few inches beyond your face. In other words, it is a different world. As far as doctors are concerned, I don't know how they are trained -- it seems to me that they choose a specialty pretty quickly. Regardless, when my appendix burst I was really glad they called in a gastroenterologist and not a podiatrist, even though they both might have had similar basic medical training in their early years. Same with the theatre: when I sit down in my seat, I want to know that the actor, director, and designer are specialists in what they're doing. The MFA is a specialist degree, not gen ed. I think we would do well to focus on that very difficult art form and forget about the others. This applies to writers, too. When I was in grad school, the school I was had a new play contest every other year, and I volunteered to read scripts and provide evaluations. It was amazingly interesting to see how so many young playwrights didn't understand the difference between theatre, film, and television. I read so many scripts that did one of two things: either the play was told by cutting between dozens of short scenes, some as few as a line or two, as in film, or it was told in a series of 13-minute scenes with a break for commercials. I suspect that the writers in the theatrosphere will confirm that writing for the 3-dimensional stage is an entirely different animal from TV and film, and the demands of the theatre could take a lifetime to grasp. I know: elitist, naive, and willfully ignorant.