Showing posts from January 24, 2010

A Ball Begins to Roll

David Dower applauds Gus Schulenberg's national new play initiative called the Homing Project, makes a connection to the New Play Development Program, and then makes his own promise:

I'll commit the Institute right now, in this public forum, to hosting a convening of playwrights and organizations committed to the residency model. And we'll use the weekend to investigate and develop the notion of The Homing Project.

Looks like this could get off the ground. Please put your seats in an upright position. AsDavid says, "2010 is the year we will look back on as the year the "next" was born. Let's make it so..."

P.S. David is anticipating a cry of alarm from me, I assume because these commitments aren't necessarily to playwrights who are in the community or committed to staying there. But at this stage of the game, I'm all for any innovation at all. It's not how I'll be doing things at CRADLE, but it's something I could see my Drama Dep…

Things I Disagree With (Adrian Ellis and Martha Bayles)

From the "Expressive Life" conversation at Adrian Ellis, the Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is very concerned that we not take our eye off the corporate non-profit ball by getting all crazy about people being creative all over the place and stuff, because:
"The institutionalized non profit cultural sector ... is tasked with, as it should be, stewardship of the highest expressions of humanity, with its transmission to the next generation intact if not enhanced, and with ensuring the widest enjoyment and appreciation of these defining achievements by as many people as it can engage -this mandate crosses material, visual, dramatic, literary and musical culture - voice and heritage."Hoo, boy. Really? "Stewardship"? The "highest expressions of humanity"? "Transmission to the next generation"? And this "mandate" includes, well, everything artistic (as long as they are, you know, the highest expression…

Random Story: Kurt Vonnegut

So I was having lunch with a friend of mine, Duane Davis, an internationally renowned expert on the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty who teaches in the Philosophy Department, and he mentioned something about Kurt Vonnegut. I mentioned that I lived next door to him in NYC on 48th St and saw him almost every morning sitting on his front stoop having a cigarette and looking really cranky. I never worked up the courage to speak to him, even to just say "So it goes" or "Hi-ho." Anyway, that prompted Duane to tell me a hilarious story about him. Apparently, he was a member of the American Humanist Association, which at the time was headed by Isaac Asimov. When Asimov died, Vonnegut became the new President of the group. At the first meeting after Asimov's death, Vonnegut stood up behind the dias, looked over the assembled crowd, and said, "Well, Isaac's in heaven now..."

Sending Something Out

Dudley Cocke, the Artistic Director of Roadside Theatre, once said to Arlene Goldbard:
I always make the proposition that we are the storytelling animal and that language and story has been our selective advantage, and that’s why we’re still sitting here having espresso in the afternoon. There have always been these contested narratives. If story is how we understand ourselves and understand the world, then there’s always going to be these contests of stories. If one just goes to a neutral mode and isn’t active in telling and trying to search for one’s own story individually and then in group, then somebody else will be there with a story and be there ready to tell your story within their story. It’s like a guy in Choteau, Montana — a dry land farmer — told me: “We got so much incoming. We want to send something out.” ("The Path of Stories")
This one farmer has put into a few words what I have been trying to say for so long -- why it is important to have stories that r…

Eric Booth

Big h/t to Ian at Creatiquity for this quotation from Eric Booth, Julliard arts education leader and author of The Everyday Work of Art:
For 30,000 years the arts answered a variety of humankind’s most basic needs. In recent decades something odd happened. We allowed the arts to become specialized, peripheralized. We allowed “the arts” to change their fundamental definition so that they resonate with relevance for a few. It isn’t that the arts changed; it is that we lost the vital connection between the purpose of the arts as they are generally understood, and the human needs of the broader community of people they used to, and still can, serve.Ian goes on that several times at the California Arts Advocates meeting where Booth served as facilitator, and where Arlene Goldbard was a keynote, people said " until we can have an honest conversation with these people who in some fundamental way(s) are very different from us, it’s going to be very hard to know what (if anything) we can d…

Who? You!

Over at, the discussion of "Expressive Life" continues, and Alan Brown (of WolfBrown, who released the report on the intrinsic value of the arts) writes:
This conversation reminds me of the time six years ago when Wallace Foundation and RAND released Gifts of the Muse - Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts. After providing us with a terrifically erudite accounting of arts benefits, the authors' lead recommendation in the last chapter was to "develop language for discussing intrinsic benefits." And I wondered, whose job is it to create this new language? (Frankly, I'd hoped RAND might make some suggestions...) I imagined a room somewhere in the sub-basement of the NEA where wordsmiths were earnestly hammering away at new framing language that will, once and for all, tickle the funnybone of policymakers and convince them that the arts really matter.The answer to Brown's "who" question, of course, is us. Bloggers, ar…

Rerun: MY Response to the Devilvet Challenge

From a little less than two years ago:

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.

Sick As a Dog

I am really sick today, and I don't think it is a coincidence that this comes after I've posted my last commentary on Outrageous Fortune. Staring at dysfunction, tunnel vision, and economic injustice for over a week, and then having people posting the same bullshit about how artists ought to quit whining and how nobody put a gun to their head to make them become a playwright/actor/director/designer has probably undermined my immune system.

Machiavelli once said "There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, that to institute a new order of things." There is more to that quotation -- something about how you earn the enmity of those who have succeeded in the old system, and the suspicion of those who have begun to experience a little success in it as well. That's been my experience. People prefer the known evil over the possible good.

So now people are talking about self-producing as an end in itself, a way…

Outrageous Fortune: Commitment-Phobia

Aristotle Said There's Supposed to be a Catharsis
But there isn't. Not in this book.

The first sentence of the last chapter, entitled "Positive Practices and Novel Ideas," tells us ominously that there is "no one solution," and then the first sentence of the second paragraph reminds us, in case we didn't read the first paragraph carefully, that there is no "magic bullet." The last words of the book indicates that this is "the start of a conversation." And in between, we are informed that this is just a "snapshot of the field" and that "our intention is description, not prescription." Like Zola and the Naturalists, London, Pesner, and Voss are giving us a slice of life with no interference from the author. Like a 2nd-grade kid on the playwright squealing with glee, "Wanna see something gross????"

It is unclear who, exactly, is supposed to have this conversation. Artistic Directors? Playwrights? Funders? Blog…

Gates of Opportunity

Last night, I finally got the opportunity to read David Dower's Gates of Opportunity report to the Mellon Foundation, which was release in November. For those of you who haven't read Outrageous Fortune, my recommendation is that you read this at the same time. It provides a needed corrective.

Outrageous Fortune, to me, is sort of like reality TV. Todd London has brought together a group of playwrights and Artistic Directors, locked them in a house together for a month, and we get to watch the sparks fly. Like reality TV, we get a lot of opportunities to hear the different voices of the participants express their opinions, frustrations, and often blame each other, or just a likely, blame the audience. The result is dramatic in a voyeuristic sort of way. All those statements about how the book is "disturbing" is the direct result of this quality -- an unfiltered immediacy. As you can probably tell from my postings on the book, it makes me squeamish and more than a littl…