Showing posts from October 2, 2005

The "I Wish I'd Said That" Department

"I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease. Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present, and here in the United States. Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believed in, (for all this hectic glow, and these melodramatic screamings,) nor is humanity itself believed in. What penetrating eye does not everywhere see through the mask? The spectacle is appalling. We live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy throughout. The men believe not in the women, nor the women in the men. A scornful superciliousness rules literature. The aim of all the litterateurs is to find something to make fun of. A lot of churches, sects, etc., the most dismal phantasms I know, usurp the name of religion. Conversation is a mass of badinage. From deceit in the spirit, the mother of all false deeds, the offspring is already incalculable.... The depravity …

Interesting: National Theatre Lab,11710,1585042,00.html

An Old Email About Hope, and the Local

I recently came across a series I emails I exchanged with my good friend, and mentor Cal Pritner, co-founder of the Illinois State University Theatre Department (some of his students included John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Cole) founder of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and author of Speaking Shakespeare and co-author (with me) of Introduction to Play Analysis. In it, we were discussing the local versus the national, the value of virtuosity, and Mark Twain’s comment that if you want to know a man’s opinion, you have to find out where his corn pone comes from. I’m only going to share my own emails:

The quandary I find myself in centers, like so much, around corn pone. It's corn pone that I know you can relate to, Cal: I teach. And I'm not certain that you can successfully teach a new generation without a firm belief in the possibility of positive change. How can you demand that students devote the time and energy and sacrifice to become tr…

Evidence of the Confusion

In response to a supportive comment I left for Joshua James in response to his post concerning "cover" plays (see below), he said the following that ties into our discussion of regionalitis:

"That being said, the pinnacle of theatre work is considered New York, is it not? That's where the majority of media is located, that's where the publishers and producers are, that's where the agents are - so we come here for big time work - especially if you want to make a living at it, writing, it's much harder to do in Idaho than it is here. You can write novels and maybe make a living, but not plays."

A common refrain, not that different from what alwaysabridesmaid wrote about actors. The very next paragraph reads:

"I actually get treated better regionally than I do in nyc - I get paid well, they respect the work and love having a living playwright to talk to. There is a profound disrepect running in a lot of the theatre world for living playwrights, and …

No More Covers

Playwright Joshua James makes an impassioned plea that we stop spending so much theatrical capital on "covers" -- i.e., productions of the classics -- and instead focus on developing our contemporary dramatic voices. (

Artaud said a similar thing in No More Masterpieces. ""Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us. We have the right to say what has been said and even what has not been said in a way that belongs to us, a way that is immediate and direct, corresponding to present modes of feeling, and understandable to everyone."

It is an argument that, despite the fact that I teach theatre history, has a certain persuasiveness. To me, the lack of full productions of new plays is indicative of several things:

1) Artistic cowardice on the part of theatre people. We know that Shakespeare is good; how do we know that Joshua James' play is? Plus, we can count on potent…

An Example of Helping the Audience to Appreciate Our Work

Thanks, Brian, for this description of Jones' model in action:

The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC has adopted a format similar to the one you describe. My parents have season membership to the theatre, and they are the only theatre that I make a real effort to attend anymore.

They generally do the following things:

1. A few months before a show they send out a glossy magazine called "Asides" which has essays written by the Dramaturg, prominent critics, the director, and the scenic and costume designers. Essays included topics such has the historical context of the play, the playwright's bio, the production history of the play, and each crew member talking about their process and production concept (in the early stages).The designers include their early sketches and other renderings. The director encloses his thought process as he tries to settle on his final concept. For instance, Michael Kahn is currently directing the Shakespeare Theatre's production of '…

Theresa Rebeck

Quotes from an article in the October American Theatre about the wonderful playwright Theresa Rebeck:

"Rebeck has also used her plays to build a community of actors. "I look for actors who can deliver their laughs and still keep the emotional level high," she says. Among those she counts White (who also played Rebeck's stand-in in The Family of Mann and appeared in the 2004 film version of Sunday on the Rocks), Nielsen, Reed Birney (The Butterfly Collection, Mann and Knit) and two newer cohorts, Marin Ireland (The Bells) and Austin Lysy (The Water's Edge). These collaborations have provided a new direction for Rebeck: writing specifically for actors. "Molière did it," she shrugs. "I think it's too bad that things aren't set up that way any more. You should attach a playwright to a regional company and let 'em hang out for a year and write something for that company."

Yup. Of course, we'd also have to have a resident company to …

Helping the Audience to Appreciate Our Work

In the October issue of American Theatre, Jeffrey Jones contributes an intriguing article mischievously entitled Thinking About Writing About Thinking About New Plays: Or, How the Visual Arts Audiences Got Comfortable with Radical Innovation, While Theatre Audiences Didn’t. Jones worries about “how off-putting it would be if the theatre just kept presenting the same kind of plays based on the same small set of templates – year in, year out, same as it ever was…” And he wonders, “How can anyone ever get an audience to accept and enjoy new and difficult work?”

Initially, I was impatient with the premise that there was somehow something wrong with the audience because they didn’t get jazzed about plays that are “weird, unpleasant, irritating, aggressive, manipulative and…a theatre of absence and withholding, rather than presentation and presence.” Just what, I wondered, is the intrinsic benefit of “difficulty” (read: obscurity to the point of opaqueness)? Isn’t daily life incomprehensible…

The Community

Both Angie and alwasyabridesmaid make eloquent arguments, and I appreciate their comments. The original intention of my line of thought was not to attack artists who work out of town, but rather to propose another model of thinking about the theatre that might be useful -- indeed, might create a stronger bond between theatre artists and their community, with the result of a healthier theatre scene. By definition, a new model assumes there is something wrong with the old model, and I must admit that I think there is, and it is illustrated by one of alwaysabridesmaid's comments:

"I work mostly regionally, and I love it, but I am cast out of New York. The auditions I attend are in NY, so I must be there to get the work. I lived in Boston prior to that, and found that they would rarely take Boston actors seriously enough to cast them. They went to New York to find actors. Frustrating, yes, especially because I love Boston and loved living there, but it is the reality, so I move…

Regionalitis Part 3 -- Clarification

I fear the points I am making about "regionalitis" and artists being a part of the community may be being misunderstood. Alwaysabridesmaid writes:

"To suggest that artists cannot come from NYC to work in other communities because we cannot understand how to speak to them is to encourage provincialism in the arts. Actors and directors live in NYC because that is where we get work. We are so dedicated to a life in the theater -- creating it, not teaching others how to do it -- that we need to be where the opportunities are, even if that means not getting to live in the bucolic mountains.We also like to be around and learn from a truly diverse community, because that is how to really learn to make art.To suggest that we all insulate ourselves into small communities and only perform for each other? Means that your student production of the Bronx-set Marisol should not exist. You have a white woman playing Marisol, a fact which I'm sure would make Rivera cringe. Under you…

New Theatre Blog

Jess Wells, a talented Asheville director and part-time critic and full-time thinker, has started a new theatre blog to cover the hot Asheville theatre scene. It is called Asheville Green Room. Check it out:

The first couple posts are about my production of Marisol, which closes today. Nice to see how the play affected others.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Jess!