Friday, February 02, 2007


I am going to be in NYC later this month -- Feb 22 - 25 -- to attend the International Conference on Arts and Society. Any recommendations as to what I ought to see? A few groundrules:

1. No one-person shows. Back in the 90s when I was a grad student, I was really jazzed about one-person plays, because I thought they possessed a more dynamic and flexible theatricality. Now they just seem like theatre done on the cheap. I Am My Own Wife was fascinating, and would have been improved by a few more actors... So no, The Fever is out. In fact, having at least three actors is a definite plus.

2. I'm going to be there with my wife and her cousin, so I'm not looking for obscurity and/or disgust. If it's up to me, Mr. Sleepy can snooze to his heart's content. And anything that looks like this I'll take a rain check on. They are both smart, knowledgeable women -- and each have a wicked tongue when they feel the Emperor is unclad.

3. I do like to see things that display theatrical imagination -- i.e., that take advantage of the fact that there is a live audience, and that the theatre allows a great deal of imagery.

4. I'd lean away from a classic. I teach theatre history every day -- I'd like to see something newish. Unless there is a performance that is absolutely not to be missed.

5. If at all possible, I like to see something that didn't display the artistic version of the attitude of the itinerate evagelical: holier-than-thou preaching. Simplistic piety -- say, The Exonerated -- doesn't do much for me. I like plays that allow as how there might just be two sides to a particular issue, both of which are interesting. I love to discuss plays afterwards, and but it is hard to discuss moral melodramas.

That said, some of my favorite theatre experiences probably contradict the above:

I loved Wooster Group's Three Sisters -- especially the idea of having Solyoni played by televised clips from Godzilla films.

I was totally jazzed by Julie Taymor's Juan Darien.

I saw Mac Wellman's Crowbar multiple times.

I was fascinated by Peter Hall's Long Day's Journey Into Night.

And now you know why it is so hard for me to decide what shows to see -- everything contradicts itself.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What Makes Theatre "Good"

Recently, we had a discussion in my Theatre of the Oppressed class about the question: what makes theatre "good"? What are the characteristics of a theatre experience that makes it "successful"? One of my students, Mark Shell, wrote on his blog some of his thoughts, and he suggested that I post them to my blog and encourage the other students in the class, and (he hoped) anyone else who might want to join in, to contribute their insights. I am happy to oblige, and you will find Marks' thoughts below. Please feel free to contribute to the comments!
Realizing that it has been an eternity since my computer has pinged the address that is the existence of Live Journal, I was in class today and we were discussing: What Makes Theatre a Success?

I have my own ideas of this, as everyone does, but I feel bold enough to post them to the world. Although, frequently whenever I express my viewpoint and opinions to the class, or the world for that matter, I feel somewhat idiotic. So what? Here goes nothing.

1.) For theatre to be successful, it must have an appeal to the audience.- A personal example of this consists of back before I ever transferred to UNCA, before I even stepped foot into the world of theatre as I know it today, I was in the world of "home". This small, industrial furniture and textile based community is nestled snugly in the upright and rigid ideology of the Bible belt. Touring thru this community was the musical, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." A witty title, and daring plot, this musical put the audience uncomfortably on their toes. With every other word from the Sheriff's mouth an obscenity, the audience consisting mostly of the retired work force began to become offended and made no effort to stay to see the rest of the show. I myself was a bit uncomfortable with the content of the show.

However, now looking back, and knowing what I know now, I can say that the show was a success in the fact that it was technically sound. The actors, lived within the given circumstances of the plot, made dynamic and often stereotypical choices of southern characteristics. The house was packed, and despite the people who walked out, the show went on. Later, letters of complaint were sent to the establishment where the musical performed, but now that the show had moved on, I feel that it was a waste of paper.

To counterpoint, earlier in the year, another traveling show came thru- The classic "Fiddler on the Roof." Again selling out to a packed house of a nearly identical audience, the audience enjoyed every second of this show. Why? Most likely because of its content. It was less offensive than that out of the sheriff's mouth, or any of Miss Mona's scantily clad girls. Yet both shows were a success. Not in the opinion of the audience, only one gets a vote from them to be the success. It is my opinion, that my hometown...consisting of low income, government assisted industry workers, or to the Cadillac and Lincoln driving well to do Retirees, to the average middle class families, I believe that where I come from, the only reason people ever come to see theatre is strictly (and respectfully) for the sole purpose of entertainment.

2.) The theatre must be unified. - I feel that the theatre must be unified in all its areas of production. The set, the script, the acting. If all three (and who is to say that there are only three) of these elements are sound in the process of the production, I feel that the audience will accept the show as the "world" or in this case as I would call it, the contract that the show presents to the audience is believable. If something is not pulling the weight is should be, then some other aspect of the show must make up for it. In this circumstance, the show must be careful to not over-do it. If there is too much spectacle to make up for the not so hot job of acting, then the audience would most likely become bored.

3.) Believability- Someone made the comment in class today, how children wholeheartedly pretend. They become so fully immersed in their imagination they act "truthfully under imaginary circumstances." I find it humorously odd, that as theatre artists, actors specifically, that when we grow up, we loose this imagination, or rather, we depend on it less and become completely absorbed within the circumstances of the here and now. Then as adults when we try to re-master that creative imagination. We spend money on classes, learn techniques, and do everything we can to get back to being a kid again. Ironic? Just a bit.

4.) Simplicity- Simplicity works. Plain and simple. The grandeur and spectacle of a fire breathing dragon in the opening of Wicked looks great. It's one of the things that makes theatre "magical". But is it needed? I don’t think so. Last spring, TheatreUNCA acted as a community project and produced several community outreaching events which we called "Stage Left". I had the opportunity to participate in one of these events. I, along with several other class members, took children's story books and adapted them to the stage, then toured in public and private schools. Because we were touring, our set pieces consisted of about anything you could fit in the bed of a pick-up truck. A few cubes, mats, pool noodles, and various other set pieces. We took these simple items and used them in a fashion to where we could make an imaginary pirate ship, houses and monsters. Everything costing less than $100 total came to look like it was worth much more. I was taught in a drafting and design class to be creative. Use what's around you and if it's free, it's even better. That's exactly what we did. We took simple objects and endowed them to make these set pieces. Simple? You bet. Did it work? Indeed. Granted, these were children we were touring for, so their imaginations could be taken to that place where they saw a pirate ship. But who is to say that adults lack the capacity to believe the same thing? Mime Marcel Marseau has used nothing but a curtain and several of his students to work on a show, and the audience was enchanted.

Although I feel the list can continue, I will stop here, and let those who actually may stumble across this blog soak these things in, and I graciously welcome your additions and amendments.

Think Again: Funding and Budgets in the Arts

Every once in a while, I think I'll post a link or two to posts written earlier in the life of Theatre Ideas that seem worth revisiting ...