Showing posts from February 24, 2008

Words from a Current Neo-Futurist

I received an email from Bilal Dardai, a current Neo-Futurist ensemble member, after I posted about the company. I took advantage of the company to ask whether they continued to follow the model that Quinn describes, and whether they actually have any ancillary activities. Bilal responded:
Indeed we do. The company does sell merchandise, for example, which includes books and zines containing things we've written as well as a CD and a video-taped production of one of our prime-time shows (TML is our flagship show, but we also put up three to four new "prime-time" shows a season). Much of our work is available for non-professional licensing; plays from TML are performed often by college and high school groups and a few of our prime-time shows have had new life at other theaters.

We do offer workshops in Neo-Futurism and other disciplines such as short-story writing and mime/movement; this allows us both to spread the aesthetic we espouse and to bring in income for the the…

Jacobs, Daisey, but More Importantly: A Tribe

Leonard Jacobs complains about Mike Daisy, Marsha Norman, and the annoying practice of actually discussing ideas instead of "taking action."

Mike Daisey responds point by point.

If you like dustups, it makes good reading. But for my money, the most important paragraph is this from Daisey:

I will say that we have created a model of a tiny ensemble—there are two members, we share all proceeds absolutely communally, and we have forged work that is successful because we are nimble, quick and obsessed with addressing the issues our culture isn't speaking about. I would not recommend it to everyone, but in these dark times it is a model we've made work for ourselves when many others sputter and fail.So: another example of a very small yet productive theatre tribe.

Example of Tribal Theatre: Neo-Futurists

As many of you know, I have been inspired by Daniel Quinn's Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure for the idea of a theatre tribe. Quinn uses three examples to illustrate his concept of the occupational tribe: the weekly newspaper he and his wife ran for a while; the small circus; and the Chicago Neo-Futurists. In 1999, when the book was published, he wrote a section called "Another tribal example" on page 155:

The Neo-Futurists are an ensemble of artists who write, direct, and perform their own work dedicated to social, political, and personal enlightenment in the form of audience-interactive conceptual theater. (These words from the group's on-line Statement of Purpose.) Working in a "low/no tech poor theatre format," the group put together a unique postmodern dramatic endeavor that features an ever-changing collection of thirty plays performed in sixty minutes under the umbrella title Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. This signatu…

Actor's Inequitiy

I urge you all to join Actor's Inequity!

devilvet Challenge -- Part 2

On Tuesday, I responded to devilvet's challenge to tell him in 250 words or less how I was going to change theatre for the better. I did it in 108 words, which, as you know if you've been reading me with glazed eyes, may be a record for succinctness. But devilvet was not one to be impressed by mere bullet points -- oh no! He wrote: "Great! I like it! Now I want an outline of tactics under each of the four points. Top 3 ways to achieve each of the four points." Now, I'm harboring suspicions that devilvet is actually hoping if I put all this out there in a bullet-point form, then I will have shot my wad and lapse into internet silence. We'll see. But I will accept devilvet's challenge. (beat the drums! sound the trumpets!) The numbered items are what I wrote Tuesday; the lettered items are the tactics. Here goes:

1. Decentralization. Get out of the major cities and gather somewhere else that isn't already choked with theatre. No drive-by guest artists fr…

Just In Case You Thought I Was Making It Up

Not to bring up old dustups, but for those of you who thought I was exaggerating the biases in the media, read this:

A movie about to be filmed in Pittsburgh is casting Gothic characters -- including an albino-like girl and deformed people -- to depict West Virginia mountain people, says David M. Brown in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (2/26/08). "Regular-looking" children need not apply. ... "It's the way it was described in the script," Belajac [the casting staffer] said Monday. "Some of these 'holler' people -- because they are insular and clannish, and they don't leave their area -- there is literally inbreeding, and the people there often have a different kind of look. That's what we're trying to get." ... "From the standpoint of being a lifelong West Virginian, it's upsetting, because there are so many wonderful people to come out of this area," said Jeff Pierson, director of arts for the West Virginia Division of…

On Rants

Because I value Nick's observations, I spent some time last evening reflecting on his criticism of my tendency to occasionally use this blog for rants against the current way we create theatre in this country. I asked myself what purpose I thought such rants served, and whether I could put those reasons into words that would make sense to other people. Because I want this blog to be more than a place people come for entertainment; I want it to be a place where people come for inspiration, and for hope, and maybe for some guidance. And the more I thought about it, the more I found myself thinking back to when I was a senior in high school in 1976, and the effect that Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant film Network had on me. I thought about how electrifying the scene below was at the time. If you have never scene this film, please rent it; if you have and think you remember, I hope you will watch this scene in its entirety anyway to remind yourself of the details.

(Isn't Peter Fi…

MY Response to the Devilvet Challenge

devilvet: "So tell me in 250 words or less how you are going to change theatre for the better?"

1. Decentralization. Get out of the major cities and gather somewhere else that isn't already choked with theatre. No drive-by guest artists from Nylachi.

2. Localization. Form an ensemble that will stay together for a while. Preferably with at least one resident playwright attached who writes plays for the ensemble. Become an active member of the community. Listen.

3. Tribal economics. Pool income. Take out what you need to survive. Each member brings more to the table than their theatrical specialty. Ensemble controls ancillary income. Everyone does everything.

4. Education. Teach young artists the entrepreneurial and collaboration skills needed to control their own artistic lives and truly co-create.There -- 142 words to spare.

Tony's Definition of a Changed Theatre: Perfect

Tony at Jay Raskolnikov has responded to devilvet's challenge with 250 near perfect words describing the goal of a theatre tribe. He writes:
We live in a fractured society; few know their neighbors; people are clamoring for community. I look toward a theatre that explores how stories and the art of storytelling can cross cultures, heal old wounds, reconnect peoples, create communal experiences and forge new paths forward. A healthy theatre should be a gathering place, like the town-squares of old; one that provokes and entertains, wounds and heals, challenges and affirms.Instead of the institution dominating the stage, the meeting of actor and audience sharing a story should dominate the institution. All should be paid what they earn together, equally—while sharing an equal burden for operating the theatre. All involved need to actively work at getting people in to see the show. We need to work as hard, if not harder, at this than at making a show. If one refuses to help earn reven…

Mission Paradox: Watch Out for the Game Changers

Over at Mission Paradox, we are asked how we will respond to the Game Changers. I'm going to steal a big chunk of the post, but hope you will read the rest and also watch the Seth Godin video. He writes:

While people get caught up in arguments about new plays versus classical works, or why people don't go to dance recitals, somebody is out there thinking about the theatre business as a whole, the dance business as a whole . . . and working on a way to change the whole damn thing.This person . . . these people . . . are game changers. And you need to be ready for them.Look at the music biz. For decades the big guys thought things could never change.But they did.When the wave of change hit they didn't respond to it nearly quick enough.So now many of those companies are fighting for survival. It is no different for the arts.Eventually somebody is going to figure out a way of funding and selling theatre that is going to allow for well paid artists, complex artistic expression…

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Nick at Rat Sass apparently thinks that Mike Daisey's essay and my rants are counter-productive. In his post "Pere Dayz Preempts Discussion," he finds great "dishonesty, self-deception, or spin doctoring" in the fact that Daisey's short essay in the Seattle weekly "The Stranger" is not as complex as his performance, and that it had a subtitle -- a subtitle! -- that bore the same title as his play. Daisey wrote about this on his website: "I know, the essay is subtitled with the name of the show—I wrestled with this, the editor wanted it that way, and that’s how it came out." If you have ever written for a newspaper, you know that this has the ring of truth -- critics, for instance, do not have total control over the headline over their pieces, for instance. But Nick sees some ethical breach in this, one that is worth dismissing Daisey's points. He writes: "I can’t judge how much Mike actually “wrestled” over the title. I’m not s…

Jonathan West on Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey links to Jonathan West's commentary on his essay How Theatre Failed America. West, "a Midwestern writer, actor, and stage director" who "co-founded Bialystock & Bloom Theatre Company... and served as the company’s Artistic Director for 11 years" oughta know better. What he gives us is is a very clear and vivid view of the self-destructive ethos that has made theatre an art form that refuses to support its artists.

He writes:

But now I need to go on a bit about the bug-a-boo I have with Mike’s contention that Theater failed America. In his article, I sense an underlying sentiment from him that somehow the American theater artist is inherently entitled to a middle-class existence. Entitlement is something I've never considered when it comes to having a career in the theater. If you ask any artist making theater in America today whether they made the choice to be an actor, actress, designer, director or craftsperson because of a need for comf…

Zachary Mannheimer in Des Moines

I just received an email from Zachary Mannheimer of Subjective Theatre, who left New York City four months ago to bring his theatre to a different part of the country. He is following three of the values propounded by this blog: decentralization, localization, and a new business model. Here reports in as follows:

Long time no talk. I’ve been busy, as you have been, of course. Been keeping up with your world out there, though.

Wanted to bring this to your attention – you all know why I moved out here – and it’s been about 4 months and things are moving rapidly. There was just a huge article on the project – I was on the cover of Juice (The Village Voice of DSM) and then the Register (The NY Times of DSM – take these comparisons as you will) did the article again on the front page of it’s arts section.

These are things that would never have happened in NYC. In 4 months I’ve compiled more support than in 8 years in NYC. Thought you might find this interesting. Here’s the article: