Archive | Rants RSS feed for this section

From Erik Ehn’s Soulographie project

3 May

Erik Ehn is a playwright with a long-term commitment to peace and justice. He is writing a play cycle on genocide through the lens of American history (Soulographie). He regularly visits Rwanda with students and others, contributing to the development of peace and justice through art-making and the work of bearing witness.

This is from his Soulographie project’s website, and is the most cogent response I’ve yet read to the recent death of Bin Laden.

Frames and authors

26 Feb

I was inspired to write the following by Polly Carl’s post on the new play blog, HowlRound. (After putting this in on Howlround a “comment”, realized it was a large hefty rant of its own so I’m reposting here.) HowlRound is part of a new push to extend the conversation about building new work in the American theatre; check it out here.
*******
As Polly Carl points out, Benjamin was amazingly prescient in his prediction that every audience member would become a writer, re-wiring the traditional author/ audience relationship. I will return to this exciting idea later, but first, let’s look at how the not-for-profit theatre currently frames the audience/ author relationship.

The “frame” or “authorship” of the work of art in the age of regional theatre can be read through the physical stage, which in its architecture is a metonym of all the authorial relationships within which it’s embedded. It’s nestled within the building (product of a successful capital campaign running into the millions) which is nestled within a web of marketing, financial and programming relationships. And outside of this set of interlocking Russian dolls, the playwright and other freelance (labor for hire) artists wait anxiously.

If “authoring” means framing an experience through access to its means of production, then playwrights are less and less this “author.” The frame in many ways IS the story (McLuhan), and in the not-for-profit theatre, that frame is bought and sold by funders, boards and artistic directors, and put up in physical space. To then put a play in that space frames it as product, content, for a pre-ordered set of aesthetic rules which the theatre, not the playwright, has defined in both physical and metaphorical space. That frame may be congenial or poisonous to the play, but in either case, the play doesn’t have the wiggle room to define its own, and (as product) it isn’t supposed to. Continue reading

Talkback: a Play About Talkbacks

11 Jan

Finally, a really good use for the verbatim research technique in theatre (OK, that’s 2 posts in a row from Flux, but this one is laugh-out-loud funny for any playwright who’s waded through the muddy swamp of development). By the very witty and talented Liz Duffy Adams: TalkBack: A Play About Talkbacks

Homes and Home Brew for Playwrights

9 Jan

Just came across this post from Gus Schulenberg of Flux Theatre. Gus also works for the TCG so has a good sense of both the ground and the top floor of the theater scene nationally. There is definitely a groundswell around re-thinking the relationship of playwright to theatre. It’s worth reading all of Gus’ post, but in brief: he’s proposing this:

“The Homing Project is a creative stimulus package that imagines a critical mass of the 4,000+ producing theatre organizations each producing 3 plays from a unique playwright over 3-5 years time.” Gus goes on to suggest a matchmaking/ mapping that can make the links between artists and producers. I think this is a great idea!

Theatres seem to love culinary metaphor in their promotions (tasters, menu, smorgasbord, etc.). I wonder if the culinary parallel here (with Gus’ suggestion of matching playwrights to theatre) might be the Slow Food movement, or its cousin the Local Foods movement? The regional theatre’s been heading towards a kind of theatrical….let’s say Panera or The Olive Garden rather than MacDonalds. You know: you can get a nice reliable pasta fagioli and generic crusty bread. A nice reliable WIT or DIRTY BLOND or RABBIT HOLE or A CHRISTMAS CAROL. But it all tastes pretty much the same, and the only local thing about it is the parking.

Slow Food or Local Food theatre might be ratty sometimes; might be surprising and unusual. There might not even be pasta. But we’d have the pleasure of knowing it grew in the back garden, and wasn’t trucked in by our industrial betters. We could even see it being made and have a beer with the writer at the local brewhouse as she tore chunks of her hair out over that pesky second act. Continue reading

Public and Roundabout Change Policy in Playwrights’ Favor – NYTimes.com

25 Mar

Public and Roundabout Change Policy in Playwrights’ Favor – NYTimes.com.

This is really good news, and in no small part due to the activism and advocacy of Richard Nelson, Todd London and Ben Pesner, Craig Lucas and others. Todd and Ben put out in public (Outrageous Fortune) the stark facts of how little most playwrights make, and now there’s a response.

19 Jan

Guantánamo, again. The back-stage, behind-the-scenes gruesome theater of the US war on terror continues to cast its long dirty shadow.

This is a Harper’s article about the faking (as suicides) of the deaths prisoners who, it appears, were instead tortured then murdered by their US captors or interrogators. It’s well researched and argued and well worth reading.

Study Focuses on the Care and Feeding of Playwrights – NYTimes.com

14 Jan

There’s some great discussion in the blogosphere regarding this:

Study Focuses on the Care and Feeding of Playwrights – NYTimes.com.

Curious: That NY Times headline could just as well substitute “Giant Pandas” for “Playwrights”… and the playwright-in-residence solution parallels the zoo or conservation park.

The same logic pertains: the problem for both endangered species (playwrights and pandas) is that the environment to which they’re adapted has changed and no longer supports them. Pandas can’t do much about it but maybe playwrights can. Form companies. Self-publish.

Or maybe it’s time to find the other door in the wall.  Maybe I”ll write fantasy novels or work for a video game company designing games for teenage girls where they don’t have to blow up the world in a muscle suit to have an absorbing adventure.  Any other suggestions?


Out and about

4 Dec

I’ve been out in the argy-bargy theatre world lately. In meetings and seeing shows. A nasty recent epiphany (talking to a financial sponsor/ board member at a recent opening): In the US, there IS no “not for profit” theatre any more. The rhetoric continues, but the reality is that it’s all tap-dancing for the dollar. And with less funding (and the cultural argument for serious arts subsidy pretty much lost–hello, the US can’t even get first world health care) there’s more emphasis on the whims of the wealthy who want to see their money effectively and flatteringly deployed. Outcomes! Outreach! Messages! Is this what art is about or for? Imagine this formula applied to science and what it would do for innovation and discovery, which usually presents itself as heresy or nonsense —at first. So much for R&D in the arts, which basically runs on failure in order to find stuff out.

I think of the art and artists who have ripped a hole in the fabric of my cosmos–Beckett, Kane, Churchill, Parks–and I’m damn sure I’d never have seen their work if it depended on the current arts climate in the US to thrive. Instead I would have seen cute, quirky, topical and earnest little fables from artists who don’t threaten the bottom line, who are “topical” in a slug-line kind of way, and with whose bio the producers can tick the hot, or young, or minority, box on the funding application.

OK, I’m taking a Tylenol and going to bed.

“How the Future Force Warrior Will Work”

25 Nov

HowStuffWorks “How the Future Force Warrior Will Work”.

I’m fascinated by the interface of war and virtual reality–the moral questions it embeds as war becomes more possible to conduct at a distance (from the US anyway), and the ways in which video games and war are working together to create virtual environments in which real people get killed.

Here’s a little sample of the article (linked above) which describes the next generation of technologically-augmented US warriors, to be unleashed in battle within 10 years:

“Soldiers will utilize a voice-activated, drop-down screen in the helmet to access information without having to put down their weapons. Embedded in a pair of transparent glasses, the display will appear to the soldier as a 17-inch screen. This screen can display maps and real-time video provided by a forward-positioned scout team, satellite or aircraft. According to DeGay, “We are working to have the graphic user interface inside the computer systems to either replicate computer graphic user interfaces or even Playstation 2/Xbox graphic user interfaces,” because most of today’s soldiers are already familiar with how those systems work.”

So Playstation 2 and XBox become the screen model for actual war fare. Among other unforgettable phrases in this article (from the HowStuffWorks site):
“Imagine a platoon of soldiers wearing suits that turn an ordinary person into a real, live superhero.”

I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of young guys playing a sort of war-adapted XBox while able to leap tall buildings and crush living enemies to death kind of terrifying.

So, this is nominally a blog to do with theatre. What do virtual warfare and robotic soldiering have to do with theatre? I think the answer is something to do with the troubled notion of liveness–of co-presence. Historically the “live” aspect is at the ontological core of theatre, but increasingly, as the theatres empty and cyberspace fills up, as the country wages war with no end-game in sight but we see nary a body—there’s no “there” there. We are shifting radically away from what “presence” used to mean–cohabiting physical space, but the hunger for co-presence, and new ways of achieving it, haven’t gone away (here i am typing into the white-space of the screen after all, dear reader).

I’m interested in how theatre can deal with this, create spaces of witnessing and co-presence that acknowledge that live and virtual are no longer separate categories but commingled in almost every aspect of everyday life.

Will Ferrel’s health insurance video

24 Sep

OK, everyone has already posted this.. but that’s because it’s really good!

And, while we’re at it, there’s also this which is even funnier: (No. 37… yep, that’s a big number.)

Coming from a country with a public option (we call it, er, Medicare) I can attest that most people actually quite like it. It’s not very exciting and dramatic or character-forming to be able to break a tooth without risking bankruptcy and eviction, but there you have it. People get used to it. All sorts of people, mostly not left-wing politically active types. Although I’ve always wondered about librarians… and bus drivers… and nannies…