2AMt http://www.2amtheatre.com thinking outside the black box... Thu, 23 Mar 2017 03:44:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 http://www.2amtheatre.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-2am-32x32.png 2AMt http://www.2amtheatre.com 32 32 From the people behind 2amtheatre.com comes the 2amt podcast. Sometimes an interview, sometimes a roundtable, 2amt's first podcast talks about ideas for theater companies at every level, from the tiniest storefront theater to the largest regional theater.<br /> <br /> Follow along on Twitter by searching for #2amt.<br /> <br /> 2amt. Thinking outside the black box. 2AMt clean 2AMt david@2amtheatre.com david@2amtheatre.com (2AMt) Copyright 2010 by 2amtheatre.com 2amt 2AMt http://www.2amtheatre.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/2amt-podcast.png http://www.2amtheatre.com 21027262 Stoking the Fires http://www.2amtheatre.com/2017/03/22/stoking-the-fires/ Thu, 23 Mar 2017 03:43:59 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4821

I often feel alone.

My life experiences and the demands of my day-to-day are so specific to my life producing and performing in small budget theatre that it often feels that outside of rehearsal I can go for days without running into (a non-wife) someone who truly understands what I’m going through on a gut level. I’ve worked with car dealers, lawyers, engineers and scientists and they’re all tolerant and interested in my other-work stories but they don’t have analogous struggles.

That changed for me in 2006. While sitting in an empty office waiting for rehearsal to being I performed a Google brand internet search for theatre blogs to add to the burgeoning collection of blogs I had plugged into Google Reader. I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me before but the search was fruitful enough. It turned up Scott Walters, Isaac Butler, Tony Adams, Garret Eisler, Adam Szymkowicz, Tom Loughlin, Don Hall, Adam Huttler, Rob Weinert-Kendt, Adam Thurman, Bob Fisher, Devon Smith, Aaron Anderson, Andrew Taylor, Matt Freeman, Matt Trumbull, George Hunka, Lois Dawson, J. Holtham, Qui Nguyen, James Comtois, Alison Croggon, TravSD, Shawn Harris, Kate Foy, Marisela Orta… just… they’re not folks you know necessarily but they were writing passionately both for themselves and to each other. They were talking about the theatre that I recognized in a way I would talk about it.

The fire that these folks brought the the table in discussing topics as large as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and My Name is Rachel Corrie or the Todd London book Outrageous Fortune was amazing. Outrageous Fortune’s time in the theatre blogosphere of course overlapped with the rise of Twitter usage and carried over into the height of the conversation that spawned the #2amt hashtag and this site. I felt like I had a back office. I felt that my three person theatre company was one small node in a massive network of nodes large and small all fighting to tell stories.

That height of the conversation is what Scott outlined in his post on Creating a New National Conversation over at Creative Insubordination. He does a bang up job of highlighting a white-hot online moment, the Rocco Landesman #supplydemand debate. It was a really fun week. My post on it is here. it was electric to have that large a group honestly and passionately talking through a single issue. Talking, listening and writing. But moments like that are unsustainable.

Having that network of activated thinkers is necessary for the growth of the field.

The nodes of that network  being as diverse as possible in every parameter is necessary for the growth of the field.

  • A robust conversation, as we so blithely call it:
  • Keeps the lines of the network alive so folks can find it.
  • Keeps institutional knowledge alive and FLOWING.
  • Allows for smaller sub-networks to form and break and reform as artists find their forms and their people and then new forms and new people.
  • Exposes the field quickly to ideas, innovations and issues.
  • Shines light in under-resourced corners
  • Levels the playing field for non-institutional voices.

But it also means not feeling alone. You’re not the only one tired of fundraising. Or drinking bad coffee at the day job after you were up late painting the floor last night. Or stuck on the third rewrite of Act 2.

We’re here.
We know.

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Attemping to Find a Moral http://www.2amtheatre.com/2017/02/13/attemping-to-find-a-moral/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2017/02/13/attemping-to-find-a-moral/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 01:45:20 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4805

There is good conversation and bad conversation.

We’ve all been party to both. We’ve all had those talks that go late into the night and feel like you’re solving the world. Additive conversations where active listening provides the fuel for synthesis of new ideas better than the preconceived notions of either party. It is the ideal of collaboration we ‘re all referring to when we hold “community” up as a goal. We have all also been on the other side of that communication chasm – the black hole of no listening, of ideological bullies monologuing over each other to the annoyance of everyone within earshot. This is what people accuse all social media of being. (They’re wrong but I’ll be an ideological bully about that another time.)

A few years ago more theatremakers moved onto social media platforms and the conversation that I’d been having about leveraging this platform for small company and entrepreneurial theatre production moved toward social justice and diversification of content. I took a seat. I have little to add to that conversation given my experience so I used what little standing I had to amplify what I considered good content and listened and learned.

But first I had to admit to myself that there was something to learn. I was having trouble listening to the hundreds of new voices in my ear teaching me about privilege and misogyny and the litany of -isms that infect every institution and theatre not least of all. No (non-sociopathic) person believes their personal beliefs are wrong or hurtful or they would change them. I have yet to prove myself a sociopath, so having my personal and artistic beliefs challenged so relentlessly required serious buy-in to listening and to self-examination.

The first and most important step was to stop believing that any of it was personal. It can be difficult when your name is tagged right there in a message to not feel like a barb is personal, but usually it isn’t. It can also require a dampening of your emotional gag reflex to not feel that the loud voice across the table saying something challenging about something you love is attacking you personally. They may be asking you to open up your consideration of that thing, but that’s not an attack, that’s an invitation to synthesis, to new thought.

This week Howlround published a post by Matthew Clinton Sekellick entitled “No More Mamets” that stirred the pot pretty successfully. Sekellick holds that Mamet’s plays put poison out into the world so they shouldn’t be programmed by responsible directors. For this thought exercise he is being pilloried as a censorious fascist. Very little listening or processing is going on around the idea that artistic directors who claim to care about social justice need to program in a way that reflects that claim. You don’t by any stretch need to be an artistic director who cares about social justice. The idea is that if you are that you shouldn’t be programming work that is antithetical to that idea and that (according to the author of the post) that’s what Mamet and Labute are. Why would an AD deserve a cookie for checking the social justice boxes if they aren’t programming that way?

Eckhardt and Stiles in Oleanna

In this vein, Jack Viertel, artistic director of Encores, responded to a positive Laura Collins-Hughes review of Big River in the Times with a scathing open letter that missed the point entirely (and ignored similar concerns from Jesse Green at Vulture). Collins-Hughes and Green each question what value producing Big River has in this moment and whether or not producing the show damages recent purported gains in our view of race in the community. Viertel doesn’t indicate that he took even a moment to question if Collins-Hughes and Green were right, he simply lashed out. He appeals to authority, his own (“I’ve done so many shows I know what I’m doing”) and Mark Twain’s (“Twain is Twain and we did Twain the Twainiest”) and doesn’t ask the questions we ask about Taming of the Shrew and Merchant of Venice. They are very much of their time and should we still do them in a  culture that is very different than they were created in? Do they matter? Are there works we could be doing instead that are their equivalent artistically and don’t come with the dated baggage that they do? No one is questioning Viertel’s abilities or Twain’s. They are asking foundational questions we should all be asking about all of our well-made art all the time.

Once one achieves a point of sufficient quality we ought to be open, truly open,  to conversation about what a piece of art does and its place in our broader community. The tearing down of those who are questioning whether pieces like Oleanna and Big River take up unnecessary space in our artistic universe is a radical overreaction to a pretty basic probing point or criticism. Much like suggesting a very good, well respected athlete might not be a Hall of Famer, positing that a 30 year old text might not be the best use of resources and talent isn’t an attack.  We have to have the patience and self-confidence to accept that or we can never have the good conversations.

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The Guy from New York http://www.2amtheatre.com/2017/02/12/the-guy-from-new-york/ Sun, 12 Feb 2017 05:46:36 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4798

This past weekend on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Scott Simon talked with David Marcus, a senior contributor to The Federalist and the artistic director of a theater company in New York City, about defunding the National Endowment for the Arts.

Go ahead and listen. I’ll wait. And if you’re angry by the end, don’t blame Scott, he’s just doing what a journalist should. It’s important to know this point of view is out there.

I will say, it’s rich to hear that point of view from a theatre artist in Brooklyn. Or, well, anywhere in the greater New York area. Let me present a different point of view from the heart of Kentuckiana. (Note: I spent many years in the greater New York area. Eighteen years in Indiana, I’m still called “the guy from New York.”)

As someone working in the arts in a rural area–we’re near Louisville and Cincinnati, but far enough away that our county has a total population of just under 25,000–I can say that without the NEA supporting the state arts council and thus the regional arts council, we would not have been able to produce theatre here. Not “would have had to produce more cheaply.” Not produce at all. Moreover, there would not be the arts programs that currently exist here. We established a beachhead when we started, and more groups and artists have been able to build from that with their regional arts grants. Part of why we were able to get money at all when we began was because “there’s no one else in the region doing this work,” i.e. professional live theatre.

The funny thing about living in an economically depressed area, big sponsors aren’t likely to jump up and support live theatre as a “new business springing up.” As it is, most potential supporters and sponsors we’ve dealt with locally look for that Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that comes with NEA support. It’s the “if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us” theory. Because they’re not interested in hearing about your grand artistic visions or trying to gauge whether they’re worth the time and money; that’s a waste of their time and money. But support from the NEA? Boom, easy, here’s your matching grant money.

Even working as bare-bones as possible–and we have and do–we couldn’t produce solely on NEA money. With our theatre company, we’ve tried to maintain Equity contracts and salaries for our actors. They’re the largest line item in our budgets. As the occasional playwright, I waived a salary on more than one show just to make sure the actors got paid. The benefit of the lower cost of living around here is that I could usually afford to do that. It would be nice to be able to pay everyone who works with us a living wage.

Part of why we haven’t produced as much in recent years is that we’ve been focused on work that pays us as well. For my part, I’ve slid into podcasting with sponsors, paychecks, and a larger audience. Great for me, but where does that leave the local population? Well, it’s allowing me to build up support from the outside to create a locally produced music and comedy series not unlike a certain Minnesotan writer did a few decades back. So we’re still able to serve the local audience as well. But that’s not the same as fully-produced professional live theatre.

Is the NEA perfect? God, no. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s there, and I love the people I’ve known who work there, but it is by no means perfect. And, compared to the rest of the U.S. budget, it is to that as a single pack of chewing gum would be to a typical household’s budget. So they’re seriously underfunded, too. (Note: the pack of gum post is from six years ago, but the proportions are still roughly the same.) So when someone pulls the “your tax dollars are going towards these ‘arts'” line on you, know that it is a comparatively miniscule amount of your tax dollars at most. My tax dollars go toward all kinds of things I may not like or support–that’s part of the social contract we have in a free democratic republic.

When we’ve given free performances, the room has been packed to capacity. Without NEA funding and additional support, we couldn’t have done that. A lot of those audiences only come to the free shows because even our ticket prices are too much for some around here. Not much more than a movie ticket–and movie tickets around here are still in single digits–but there it is.

Sidebar: progressives, do you want to reach the people in the heartland? Want to connect with the working class? Come out here and make free-to-the-public, live professional theatre. Find the money to make that happen, you’ll be surprised who’ll show up and who might listen. If you’re worried about what kind of shows to put on, don’t. We’ve never chosen work because we thought it would play well in a small town, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised that it has. Just saying.

This isn’t a “wealth transfer,” which is the default position of the so-called small government types. For one thing, it’s actually used to pay for goods and services. It goes towards quality of life–Michael Dove explains the idea of “social profit,” which fits perfectly here–especially in regions underserved by the arts or big business. A “wealth transfer” implies money shifting from one account to another and doing nothing more. Kleptocracies specialize in that. If these people were truly concerned with small government, they might look at something bigger than that proverbial pack of gum. ($400,000 a day for protecting the First Lady in New York City. That’s going to add up for no good reason. Or, say, a wall…)

Here’s a crazy idea: maybe urge the NEA to stop sending the bulk of its support to places like New York and other major cities where sponsors can–and should–be able to step up and support such things. Maybe they should focus on the underserved, underfunded parts of our country that could use access to the arts, professional live theatre, etc without having to drive 1-2 hours (or more) each way. The nearest major regional theatre to me is Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. That’s an hour. With gas prices being what they are, even I don’t get down there as often as I’d like. Between gas and ticket prices, I doubt a lot of the local population is making it down either. Happily, they’ve made a great start with the Our Town community building and creative placemaking initiatives. But it’s just a start.

Assuming we could shift more of that support, then we could encourage sponsors in these regions to step up and to do so on a more consistent basis, allowing companies and artists to build and grow without worrying about the day to day, week to week so much. Because that worry does take away from your time and energy toward making the art.

Maybe if his theory is so surefire, Mr. Marcus should get out of Brooklyn and test it somewhere out here in the heartland. Doesn’t even have to be a county as small as this. Let’s spot him 75,000 and go for an even 100,000 people. But I’d bet it’ll still be tough to start from scratch in between the two or three part time jobs he and his staff members each might need just to survive day to day out here…

UPDATE: Check out an even more detailed rebuttal from Trey Graham here.

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Why we need plays about Capitalism http://www.2amtheatre.com/2017/02/03/why-we-need-plays-about-capitalism/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2017/02/03/why-we-need-plays-about-capitalism/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 16:17:54 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4793

It’s no accident that ancient and renaissance playwrights were drawn to write plays about heroes and nobles. Not only were they aspirational figures whose lives would be ripe for curiosity by potential patrons and audience members, heroes and nobles also made decisions that extensively affected the day to day experiences of most people. People had a reasonable interest in exploring the ways in which those decisions might be made.

While the aspirational interest in powerful individuals still applies to 21st century audiences, more of the decisions that affect our day to day experiences are made through huge, largely impersonal processes, especially those associated with the economic model of capitalism. These processes get less artistic attention than individuals for a variety of reasons, but I here argue that as a result there is a theatrical niche available examining these processes and that plays in that niche would serve a useful social purpose. Making it good art I leave as an exercise to the artists.

Let’s start by looking at what capitalism, at its best, does for us as a civilization. It has four main jobs which are linked and interdependent, but still distinct:

1. The price system: by providing open, free, and competitive marketplaces for goods and services, it aggregates the preferences and opinions of hundreds of millions of individuals who, by selling and buying in an environment of supply and demand agree to values of different goods and services. Try to charge too much and people will buy from your competitor instead.
2. Resource allocation: by providing particular marketplaces for labor and investment which are driven by the broader price system, it steers resources towards activities that produce goods and services that are in high demand and away from those that are in low demand.
3. Incentives to work and invest: People who have time, capability, and skill to work and those who have wealth to invest engage with the marketplace to seek returns for exerting their labor and for risking their wealth. Many people are strongly motivated by the opportunity to increase those returns, so they are likely to continue engaging with the economy in a way that keeps it running.
4. A distribution scheme: Responding to these incentives, individuals work and invest, then receive payments that allow them to obtain goods and services they want and to build wealth thereby allowing them to be active participants in the capitalist economy. People need to receive enough in this distribution scheme to survive and enough excess to allow them to participate substantially in marketplaces, otherwise their preferences will not contribute to the accuracy of the price system, and the whole model will fall apart.

For a large complex civilization to function, something has to do these jobs, and while capitalism has plenty of flaws and failures that I’ll be getting to shortly, other economic schemes that have been tried (such as serfdom and slavery) have depended on even higher levels of violence and injustice than capitalism uses. Evangelists for capitalism draw attention to the distributed decision making that it permits contrasting with centralized decision making in other models. In a large society, it’s difficult to get the right information to a central decider and it’s difficult to prevent that central decider from becoming corrupt. In response, fans of capitalism see its emergent order as preferable to an imposed order. In any event, we’re probably stuck with capitalism in some form for quite a while, and so it behooves us to understand it even if only to be in a better position to reform it.

Capitalism falls short of accomplishing its four jobs in many ways. Economists call these shortfalls “Market Failures” and most economists recognize a role for the state to exercise political power to accommodate them. However, once we start regulating markets, we introduce the possibility of unintended consequence – attempting to encourage one thing then actually provoking other behaviors.

For example, there was a widely observed phenomenon that home owners in the US were predominantly more economically successful than renters. A theory emerged to explain this that said property owners had greater investment in the community and therefore participated more and tried harder. This led to a series of tax policies, asset securitization practices, and lending regulations to encourage home ownership. The resulting regulatory framework created a niche for profitable creation and resale of dodgy loans. Welcome to 2008, when we all learned that the cause/effect relationship between home ownership and economic success probably ran the other way – the ability to buy a home was actually a marker of emerging economic success. A population of previously wealthy people got wealthier while the population the regulatory scheme was trying to help got poorer. Almost certainly unintended consequences, although there was some overlap between the designers of the regulatory scheme and its beneficiaries.

So we face an unsatisfying but necessary embrace between market failures that require state intervention to adjust to and the unintended consequences of that intervention that can fail to correct the market failures or even make them worse. Keep that tension in mind as we walk through examples of both.

One big vulnerability of the price system is that it tends to be present-focused rather than future-focused and can therefore fail to price a good or service high enough to account for its real long term cost. A familiar, if controversial, example of this would be that gasoline or petrol tends to be priced based on a combination of the cost of extracting, transporting, and refining petroleum and the ability of petroleum producers to ration supply. An infinitely wise version of capitalism would also add to that price a hefty fee to build a fund to deal with the pollution and climate change impacts of burning that fuel. By buying inexpensive fuel today, we defer environmental costs to future generations or in the most pessimistic estimates our own old age. Even the most radical fans of free market capitalism admit that these kinds of factors (which they call “externalities” because they are seen as outside the basic economics of the individual transactions) often justify political intervention into marketplaces, but they can argue for a long time about the size and nature of that intervention. In most places today, there is a government tax added to fuel costs that makes it more expensive and therefore discourages consumption, although in many cases that revenue is used for road building rather than any kind of contingency fund to address environmental issues. Government intervention specific to environment and vehicles has mostly been about setting regulations for fuel mileage and emissions, which represents a different way, besides manipulating prices, that a state can try to correct market failures.

Another category of failures in the price system starts as soon as government begins regulating either the production or trading of goods and services. Because economic power can be exerted to acquire political power, wealthy established firms in a particular industry often use that political power to further secure their economic power. Sometimes that takes the form of reducing government regulation of their industries as is almost certain to happen to the US banking industry during the Trump administration, which is just starting as this article is written. Surprisingly, sometimes industries actually use their power to increase the scope or complexity of government regulation of their own industry to increase the costs of potential competitors entering the marketplace. Established hotel and taxi operators are currently maneuvering in that way to limit sharing-economy entries into the marketplace. Once in place, these kinds of business coddling regulatory schemes can be very difficult to unwind. Search the web for “US Sugar Subsidies,” and you will find opinion pieces from all over the US political spectrum calling for an end to this particular form of “Corporate Welfare;” articles going back more than 10 years and still those subsidies persist. In either case, whether trying to relax or tighten regulation, wealthy firms influencing government regulation prevent markets from operating freely and fairly to establish sensible prices.

Resource Allocation is distorted by many of the same factors that distort the Price System. The relatively slow implementation of renewable energy solutions in the US has partly been achieved by manipulating regulatory schemes to make current fossil fuel generation appear to be much more cost effective. Arguably, ineffective regulation of the banking and investment management sector has led to overinvestment in that sector at the cost of more directly productive industries. If banking had been regulated to stay closer to its classical role of loaning money for interest and providing safe storage for uninvested funds, it might not have been able to offer the huge salaries that made banking and investment management an obvious career choice for mathematically savvy individuals. More of them may have chosen engineering careers instead and delivered broader benefits to society. That’s a little further out on the limb than the other observations in this article, but it isn’t completely unreasonable and shows how the Resource Allocation function can go awry.

Incentives get perverted in other ways beyond Resource Allocation overvaluing less productive endeavors.

Probably the most significant failure of incentives might be thought of as working too well. This is one category of human failing within capitalism that does get a fair amount of theatrical attention. The character who has lost touch with all sources of motivation except for financial gain has been looked at in theatre at least since Comedia del Arte, and continues to show up today. Perhaps Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the most popular piece of literature often adapted to the stage that highlights the miser and asserts that he would be happier with a more balanced set of motivations. The success of works of art exposing this pitfall of capitalism serves as evidence that art exploring other pitfalls might also succeed.

Growing income inequality represents a different kind of incentive failure. Free market faithful try to argue that inequality doesn’t matter as long as people at the bottom of the distribution are still receiving enough to make a living. However, research in the emerging field of behavioral economics is providing evidence of something you probably already know from common sense – feelings of well-being in humans are driven almost as much by a sense of relative standard of living as by absolute factors like available calories per day or available square feet of living space. Just knowing that there are others working in the economy who are compensated much better than oneself can be de-motivating, even when on a world wide scale, one has a good standard of living.

The Distribution Scheme gets distorted by all the earlier market failures described above, but in our age of rapid technological innovation, it has one special problem all its own. I am indebted to economists Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Piketty for this insight. Running any productive enterprise requires both labor (effort) and capital (stuff). At low power levels of technology (and in industries where technology contributes little), most of the productivity comes from the labor. In those circumstances, a relatively large proportion of the earnings of the enterprise are returned to labor, especially skilled and organized labor, because labor is the dominant input producing the earnings. At higher power levels of technology, capital, in the form of complex, capable machines, contributes a lot of the productivity. A bus driver without a bus can’t transport many people. As a result, the distribution of earnings tends to shift away from labor and towards the providers of capital. This shift even makes a certain amount of sense on a transaction by transaction basis, but in aggregate across the economy it has led to a concentration of wealth and income unprecedented in the electrical age. Nobody knows what effect that is going to have going forward, but it certainly distorts the price system since the wealthy few exercise greater influence on the system as they have the income to participate in more and larger transactions. As a result, the preferences of the poor will be less reflected in the economy, which will likely bend it even further away from meeting their needs.

Capitalism has also driven some assumptions deeply into culture that impair it working properly for the majority while protecting the interests of elites. The least discussed of these (and this is insidious) is the way in which most people have been convinced that talking or even thinking about money is distasteful. Discussion of both income and wealth is broadly thought to be unseemly. In most non-unionized private sector companies, the earnings of individual employees are deep secrets. This cultural phenomenon makes fact based exploration of pay equity extremely difficult. Similarly, people are made to feel embarrassed by discussions of wealth which makes it hard to honestly explore wealth distribution. In a strange way, Parade Magazine, an advertising supplement in many weekend newspapers, commits a subversive act each year by running a cover story that identifies the annual earnings of a few dozen US residents. This field of awkwardness surrounding any detailed discussion of money serves to keep most of the population from paying much attention to the real functioning of the economy, leaving elites a wide scope for unexamined action. (This paragraph owes a debt to Mike Daisey whose Last Cargo Cult sniffs around the edges of this topic as part of a broad inquiry into the phenomenon of money.)

A related cultural belief that probably helps to repel playmakers and other artists from looking too closely at capitalism is the broad conviction that everything to do with commerce is dirty, repulsive, and anti-intellectual. I’m speculating wildly here, but this complex of beliefs is so widely held and reinforced in so many ways that it often feels to me like there may have been an active conspiracy at some time to keep life-of-the-mind types from paying much attention to business which continues to echo through the culture and do its work centuries later.

So hopefully that little tour of what good capitalism can do and a scattering of ways in which it goes wrong have convinced you that it might be a worthy topic for the stage, but is there really a shortage of plays engaging the topic? I needed to convince myself of that as well. My first hint was that I see or read about 100 new US plays each year routinely, and I’ve seen very few plays that take on economic issues at the root. Concerned that I had just been unlucky, I logged in to the National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange and searched for keywords Capitalism and Economics, filtering for plays that were available to download. That gave me 41 plays, all of which I skimmed and some of which I read completely. Here’s what I found.

Plays with the Economics or Capitalism tag are mostly about:
1. People suffering in a climate of reduced employment opportunity.
2. The broad impact specifically of unscrupulous and unconstrained capitalism on the less wealthy.
3. The villainy of specific bad economic actors and its consequences.
4. Classism and isolation between the wealthy and the poor in general.
5. Send ups of the absurdity of profit seeking as a primary motivation.

All of these are important topics, and I was favorably impressed with the vast majority of the scripts. However, only category number 5 really spoke to any of my example capitalism failures, and almost none of the plays revealed a sophisticated model of capitalism as part of their structure.

There were two plays that specifically spoke to economic theory, in the same way that Copenhagen speaks to physics or The Hard Problem speaks to brain science. (I’ve seen productions of both of those plays recently, so may be a little over-prepared to see more work with a hefty academic basis.) Clearing Bombs by Eric Samuelson imagines a conversation between two major 20th century economists stuck on a rooftop during WWII and passing the time with a deep but lively economic debate. Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets the Crowd by Ian Thal is a short play that essentially presents a case study of crowd sourced creativity as a vehicle to steal ideas from people without having to pay them – well larded with good economic thinking. These stood out to me as good examples of scripts we could stand to have more of.

Those two aside, most contemporary plays I encounter that engage the issue of capitalism can be accurately if uncharitably reduced to “Our economic system is unfair and it causes suffering.” This is true and significant, but most of the audience knew it before we walked in. I contend that by digging deeper into the workings and failings of capitalism and the institutional artifacts it has driven into our culture playmakers could produce works that would better prepare their audiences to both understand and respond constructively to economic and political realities around them. Further, by creating plays in which characters pay attention to the economy and invite the audience to do so as well, playwrights can be as transgressive and path breaking as previous generations of playwrights were exposing issues of race and sexuality.

So, capitalism is a big important thing in our civilization that hasn’t received much theatrical attention. There are powerful elites who don’t want you to pay attention to it. That should be catnip to playwrights and other playmakers. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

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Dancing With Myself http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/29/dancing-with-myself/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/29/dancing-with-myself/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 05:05:50 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4784

I’m almost as busy as you are. In that rush of “on to the next thing” I currently get most of my news on the fly from my Twitter and Facebook feeds. On a quick scroll through Twitter I caught my friend Reina Hardy crowing about her pending crossing of the border for something called Monologues for Nobody. I chased it down through a few links, saw that this was a Toronto Fringe project curated/commissioned by longtime #2amt contributor Jordan Mechano, read just a little about it and got excited to share this project more broadly. I asked Mechano a batch of questions I had about Monologues for Nobody and I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did.

Travis


So what is “Monologues for Nobody”?

Monologues for Nobody is an experimental theatrical project that I am producing at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival. The Toronto Fringe is a traditional Fringe model, whereby artists are drawn from a lottery and are assigned a venue for their show. Toronto Fringe has 14 traditional theatre venues, but they also have what they call their Shed Shows. In the Fringe Club beer garden they construct a small shed that is designed for intimate pieces of theatre presented under a Pay What You Can structure. That’s where Monologues for Nobody is happening.

The conceit of the show is straightforward: One patron at a time will be given the opportunity to select one monologue from a list of 20 that were written by a variety of playwrights. The patron will take the monologue into the Shed by themselves and, for five minutes, perform the monologue with no one watching (except for themselves). They are cast as both performer and audience, as observer and observed.

It’s a chance to hear the words of some great emerging contemporary writers in the sound of your own voice, in a completely safe environment.

What is the idea born from? Have you seen or heard of other pieces that led you to this?

I’m always wary to assume any of my thoughts are original, but I can’t think of any examples of theatre pieces that do a similar thing to this idea, which originally came to me in the form of a question – Is it still art, even if it’s just for you?

I think about the person on the bus writing poems in their notebook they’ll never show to anyone. Or the person whose hard drive hides an old novel that no one has ever read, or the person who sings softly at home with no one to hear. Those moments and those acts of creation have profound meaning to those individuals, and just because they aren’t offered to an audience doesn’t mean they lack artistry or substance.

So because I’ve brought this line of thinking to the medium I work in, theatre, the question then becomes – Is it still theatre if no one is there to watch you?

Lots of people, trust me, lots of people reactively say ‘Uh no of course not’. But I think that isn’t the case.

I perform for myself all the time. I sing in the shower. I make faces in the mirror while I’m getting ready for work. I put on funny voices as I do the dishes. I hold long conversations with myself in my apartment, sussing out some problem or another, switching between perspectives like a performer switches between characters. All of these things possess theatricality.

And it’s okay that those moments are just for me! In some ways those moments may be me at my funniest, or most grounded, because I’m free of that dreaded self-editing that can occur when I perform in front of people. Of course as a writer and performer I desire an audience to share my ideas and feelings with, but we can have both!

Some of my greatest experiences with art occur when I am alone, with a book or a song or a movie or a painting. So really what I want to find out is if that can also occur with performance, in addition to replicable, physical objects of art.

How did you come to select your stable of playwrights?

I had a few different goals. I wanted some Toronto Fringe veterans because I thought that our local audiences would respond well to them. I wanted some writers that I know personally, to champion their work, and some that I’ve never met before so that I could broaden my own circle. I wanted some new writers to give them a chance to have their work read for the first time.

I wanted some writers from outside of Canada. My friend Héloïse Thual is a French citizen living in Scotland, and Reina Hardy and Brian James Polak are both Americans whose work I came across via the wonderful New Play Exchange.

I wanted diversity, and to be self-critical for a moment, I am disappointed in myself for not being more successful at bringing on more people-of-colour than I did. Norman Yeung, Christina Wong, and Jiv Parasram are all terrifically talented Canadians of Asian decent, and I’m lucky to have them on board. But if I do this project again I have to work harder to include non-dominant voices, and be much better at showcasing an equitable roster of writers to match the diversity of Toronto and Canada at large.

Did you give them any guidance or a lane in terms of content?

No guidance in terms of content. I did tell them about the practicalities of the space, the fact that it was ideally meant for non-performers, and specify a word-count limit, but outside of those things I left them alone. Because I gave the writers room to work, the monologues turned out to all be very different. Some are quite straightforward speeches, but others present a real challenge, even for experienced performers. The characters are varied, the subject matter is varied, the genres are varied, and I think the participants will be better off for it.

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If theatre is live performance for an audience, what is THIS?

I do contend that this will be an event of small, individual performative moments, so in that sense I still call it theatre. As I said above, I am audience to myself all of the time. There is performance art theory that argues that we constantly perform our lives and our personas every day, which would expand the concept theatre to encompass all that we do in life. I think that is an important and difficult position to consider, and much has been written on the subject that I can’t do justice to here.

Having said that I certainly don’t want to water the term down, the medium of theatre means something to people, and there are plenty of other terms for experimental works that are hard to categorize, for example Live Art (which I wouldn’t classify this as). The contemporary art world is far more forgiving of works that are hard to define. We should have the same attitude as theatre artists. It’s live, it’s performance, it’s theatre.

Do you think this will appeal to non-performers i.e. does this touch the modern audience drive for interactivity/immersion or is this a step beyond that?

I’m producing this first and foremost for non-performers, so yes, I hope it taps into that drive. I think people want to feel more included in their entertainment experiences, which is something that I’ve been slowly adding to my personal creative practice.

If this work steps beyond the interactive works as we typically know them, it only does so to speak to the fact that artistry needs more broad distribution and representation. We need more amateur artists, and we need for that word to stop being a pejorative. Professionals need to unlock the doors and let everybody in. We’ll always need experts, we’ll always want times where we can sit back and simply let someone else take us on a ride, but we need to actively move forward from the model of creators on one side and consumers on the other. Monologues for Nobody doesn’t go all the way with that, but I hope it adds to the conversation.

What do you intend for an audience member/performer to walk away from their time in the Shed feeling or thinking?

The act of sitting alone going over a monologue is something actors do all the time, and it’s weird! It’s a strange thing that very few people get to do, sitting alone in your bedroom playing with an alternate persona and falling into a sort of bizarre trance for a little while. So I hope that the non-actors that participate get a greater sense of what that is like.

I also hope that they connect to the writing. I hope that they can have a sublime moment with what I think are truly artful pieces of text. I hope the participants are moved, just as any writer hopes.

And I hope that, for the more theatrically savvy participants, they come away will a little more of that nuanced debate that I want to provoke about how we define theatre and performance, and how those experiences can be experimented upon.

If nothing else, I hope people have fun.


Featuring monologues from Kat SandlerRebecca PerryNorman YeungJiv ParasramLaura Anne HarrisBrian James PolakChristopher DuthieReina HardyChristina WongHéloïse ThualCate D’Angelo, and Jordan Mechano,  Monologues for Nobody opens at the Toronto Fringe on July 1st (Info here).

This is the sort of playfulness I loved when I first discovered Fringe Festivals with my first SF Fringe in 2000 and I would love to be standing outside the Shed when folks come out to get their reactions.

If you are near the T.Fringe and partake in the show I would love to hear your feedback below.

If you’re not going to make it to the T.Fringe: Is this a sort of Fringe piece you would like to see in your area with local writers featured?

Would your non-theatre making friends ever do this?

 

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Hashtag 2thtr http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/17/hashtag-2thtr/ Fri, 17 Jun 2016 18:52:15 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4779

After careful consideration and conversation, it’s time.

The 2amt hashtag is shifting to #2thtr.

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This week’s events and hashtag fever have been catalysts, but we’ve been moving towards a second act for a while now. Some of those plans and ideas have been percolating for a while–stay tuned–and some spring up when you least expect them. This would be the latter.

What does this mean for the website?

The website and the Twitter handle etc will remain the same, it’s only the Twitter hashtag that’s changing. Or evolving. We’re bringing those late night 2 a.m. conversations out into the daylight, into the theatres, into the organizations, and hopefully putting them into practice. Some of us have gotten a headstart on that in the last year or two, but there’s more to be done.

Why 2thtr? Several reasons. It keeps a link to our identity as 2 a.m. theatre. And it gets the “amt” out of the tag to avoid any miscommunication or auto-complete issues with people not interested in theatre conversations.

Best of all, it reflects what we do and who we are. Where do we go to work, to play, to live? 2thtr. Where do our communities go to come together, to learn, to be entertained, to connect? 2thtr.

What’s ahead?

Going forward, we’re going to be bringing back our flagship podcast series, and possibly adding some new ones, including new play performance series. That’s first on the list. After all, we fell into becoming a think tank by chance–making the art and filling the rooms and building communities is what we do in real life, and have been doing more and more in the real world of late.

Think of the 2amt site and the 2thtr hashtag like Alan Ayckbourn’s plays “House” and “Garden.” We can go back and forth between the two, just like we go back and forth from the virtual to the real world.

See you there!

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Hashtag 2amt http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/17/hashtag-2amt/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/17/hashtag-2amt/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:11:47 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4774

About six and a half years ago, we started the #2amt hashtag on Twitter. If you’re on this site, you know it’s a conversation about theatre–performance, production, promotional ideas, outreach, what have you. It’s been a wonderful conversation and community–and continuously active on the hashtag–from day one.

This week, it’s being overrun with 2nd amendment supporters.

Most are polite when we point them to the right hashtags, some say “you don’t own a hashtag”–though in Twitter’s terms of service, tweeting off-topic repeatedly to a tag can be reported as spam, so yes, established topics are a thing. It’s not a big deal–most are happy to find the tags and conversations they’re looking for, and it only takes a minute. (And still, the worst pushback we’ve gotten has been from theatre PR people who want to advertise shows on the tag, go figure.)

It’s happened off and on in recent months, usually an app auto-completing the tag without giving any context. And it hasn’t been a big deal until now.

All of a sudden, today, tweets from the @2amt account are not showing up in the tag we founded. It’s not suspended, it can still tweet and @ people, but they’re not showing up in any hashtag searches as far as we can tell. We’ve tried multiple apps, multiple platforms, still the same problem. We’ve contacted Twitter to find out what’s happening.

In the meantime, we’ve been thinking about the future and whether a name change is in order. It might make life easier, but there’s several years of brand equity here. Do we shift to a longer hashtag like “2amtheatre” or “2amth”? Possibly. If Twitter is loosening its limits on characters per tweet to not include links or hashtags in the total count, then maybe–the beauty of “2amt” at the time was its length. Looks like “2thtr” is available. Brevity is the soul of twit, after all.

There’s no telling when or if Twitter will fix this. The longer it goes, the more off-topic tweets will show up. We don’t want to change the tag, obviously, but we may not have a choice.

And, of course, in the grand scheme of things, there are far more important issues than maintaining a hashtag name.

So, since this started as a large conversation in the first place, what say you? Shall we start a new tag?

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Peel out the Watchword http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/13/peel-out-the-watchword/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/06/13/peel-out-the-watchword/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 06:13:49 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4757

The Chicago Reader published as careful and deliberate a piece of investigative journalism covering the arts as I can ever remember reading.  In the piece Aimee Levitt and Chris Piatt laid out a history of mental and physical abuse and cultish insularity at Chicago’s Profiles Theatre that mirrors much of that theatre’s intense production history. In an era of hot takes and sound bite reporting I want to thank the authors for doing the leg work, and taking the time and real estate that digital print offers to not cut corners. It seems that most of the theatre world has read it already, but if you haven’t I recommend you take the time. If you are sensitive to stories of abuse it’s going to be a tough read.

The central figure in this harrowing drama sprung to life is Darrell W. Cox, a lauded, award-winning actor and director, co-artistic director of Profiles Theatre and, if the Reader article is to be believed, a narcissistic, megalomaniacal, sociopathic, serial abuser. As callous as this will sound – Cox isn’t what interests me in this situation, nor is his level of “guilt”. He didn’t bother denying any specific action in his response to the Reader piece, doesn’t seem to understand what exactly what he is accused of, and I am not a governmental entity burdened with rendering official judgement. Scores of people with nothing to gain corroborate the story. I don’t need to spend anymore brain-time with Cox. Anyone who has been in this field for even a minute knows the Cox type, whether the Cox analog in your experience is sociopathic serial abuser or not, likely you had another face in mind as you read the piece.

For me the haunting figure in this Chicago noir is the man who stands in the shadows behind Cox: co-artistic Director and founding member, Joe Jahraus.

Every gate that an adrenaline junkie like Cox has to slip through is minded by someone. Someone has to let the Coxes through, someone has to let them continue and and someone has to choreograph the moral and mental gymnastics necessary to justify valuing intensity in performance over artifice and abuse over care of your employees you label “family”.

Who is that person? How does that person operate?

My thinking keeps returning to the cipher of Joe Jahraus because the abuse is criminal, the abuse is horrifying and each and every one of those actions are on Cox, but the “serial” portion of the abuse belongs to Jahraus. Every confrontation, every act of violence in anger rather than art, every time the touching of a new actor crossed the line, every punitive rehearsal and every time a relationship traveled from the text into real life was a checkpoint. Every instance was a moment where Jahraus could have said something and chose not to.

The truth is I don’t know a single thing about the person Joe Jahraus. I know nothing about the man except the negative space that limns his passivity in this story. I consider his passivity a horrifying danger, because Coxes are a viral threat to every community but passivity is the medium that allows that threat to grow. As someone who cares deeply about the theatre community, in times like this I try to push for action not simple kneejerk outrage.

In this case it’s more vital because the response nationally wasn’t shock, it was a knowing nod. This sort of activity is everywhere, in every corner of the theatreverse and not wanting it to happen doesn’t mean it doesn’t. I’ve myself failed at least once I know of in the same way Jahraus did. In a show I produced I missed intensity substituting for artifice and an actor in my employ mistreated another of my actors for effect. The abused actor took my silence for consent. It was never brought to my attention because they thought I already knew and chose the abuse in that moment.

I missed it. I found out years later from a third party. It happened in my show and I didn’t see any of the signs and I wasn’t clear from jump that if that sort of activity was going on that I wanted to know and would end it. The offending performer did the same sort of thing in at least one other show that I know of. My multi-hatted fog during production endangered at least two actors.

In the conversations I’ve had about it this sort of behavior this week no one is sure what they could possibly do to counter abuse. I’m not sure either. While I don’t have a specific answer, I have some thoughts. What I feel serves our communities best is activated concerned artists backed by strong aware communities. To that purpose my framework would be:

Point Source Solutions are not the Answer, they’re a framework to Us being the Answer
The effort Not In Our House is making on the ground in Chicago and as a model for non-Equity houses nationwide is a great start. The Code they have drafted is a great basis for how your company should behave. But it’s a version of the Equity Code of Conduct and other corporate charters and codes of conduct and with no enforcement capabilities they aren’t a final step.

We, individually and collectively, need to have the spine to specifically tell our companies and our casts that we will not bargain for art with their safety.We require their vulnerability, but we will never abuse that.

We do not choose intensity over artifice.
We do not choose to risk our actors’ mental or physical well being.
If a situation is making you uncomfortable we can and will find a way to tell this story that isn’t damaging to you.
We want to know.
We reject the narrative of suffering trauma for the sake of the story.
We have to personally make that commitment to them.
Not just a contract.

We Have to Accept Risk
There are times when the abuse or unacceptable behavior is going on outside our home, outside of our show or our theatres. There are hundreds of performers who cycled through the classes and shows at Profiles. It wasn’t their house and gigs are rare, good gigs rarer, good gigs at Places That Matter are Unicorns with Pensions. We have to enable the community to take the risk and say something. First to ask the apparent abused if they’re okay and need help and secondarily to make sure that others know. Out loud. Confronting abusers in a position of power is difficult but can be made possible if you know you community is standing behind you.

We Have to Take Part in Community
Skim the Reader article again. Read the Chris Piatt mea culpa. Cox is the abuser, Jahraus the enabler, but a broad community with its head down and eyes on its own paper did nothing while “everyone knew”. No one asked the next question. No one walked out on the ice to save the next victim, because it wasn’t their place.Fair enough. It might not have been.

But we need to begin operating in each and every city in such a way that what is going on at every theatre is our business, as it effects everyone.We joke about unsafe electrical systems and holes in walls and platforms that are ready to collapse but we do nothing and the same is true for these sorts of ethical and moral lapses. We don’t paint or patch or reinforce or question. We need to.

Do we get paid enough to do it?
No.

Will caring about the next theatre down the road take time from making your art?
Yes, it one hundred percent will.

But part of your place in a community needs to be ensuring the viability of that community full time and in perpetuity not just your six weeks in a rental a year.

We Have to Be Aware of Our Own Context
I don’t know of a business as siloed as making live stage performance. I’m sure every industry has it’s head in the sand in some way, but in every other field I see makers talking about others making similar apps, or products, or services and how each intersects the field and the consumer. In theatre I see folks making the thing they make and then disappearing back into the room to make the next thing. There are mini-networks that intersect in every community but there is little or no interest in knowing so much as what other companies are doing this season, never mind next season, or how they speak to one another.

What opportunities exist in the community for people of colour? Size? What is your community’s gender diversity ratio for writers? Directors? Performers? Are you one of 3 companies producing a history play employing 60 men total? Should you gender flip it, maybe select a new play? Have you produced a run of plays about abused women for a decade without noticing?

You should know.
You should care.

I don’t know yet how writers and critics, as harried and underpaid as the rest of the field, can better help contextualize a community. But we need to remember that they are not the enemy and they likely know as much about our world as we do, or more.

Diversity Everywhere is the First, Best Step.
The fewer times the same bodies and the same sorts of bodies are in the same positions the less likely we are to see the sort of calcification that allows for this sort of abuse to flourish. Diversity in the styles of text performed from the pens of different races and and genders and sexualities, serving a broad range actors, helmed by a battalion of (actually extant) directors  would serve as an inoculation against this infection.

These are outlines of first steps to enabling broader personal and community self-policing

What do you think can help keep our communities free of this sort of abuse?
What do you feel are the best ways to enable our artists to protect themselves in such a vulnerable industry?

Edited to add (6/15/2016):

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Reading on the Profiles Theatre Issue:
Original Chicago Reader Article
Chris Piatt Mea Culpa
Darrell W Cox Statement
Emily Vajda Statement
Chris Jones Statement
Arts Integrity Initiative Coverage

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Becoming Effortless http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/03/01/becoming-effortless/ Tue, 01 Mar 2016 15:00:39 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4752

Effort. Webster’s defines effort as “work done by the mind or body: energy used to do something.”

I spend more time than you can imagine thinking about, analyzing, and trying to minimize effort required by a body to achieve anything – including the effort required to do nothing. My senses are actually assaulted by the overwhelming effort exerted by bodies on a daily basis. This has always been one of my reasons for working with actors (and performing artists in general) – to give the bodies attached to the actor/dancer/vocalist the ability to be effortless in creating their art. Watching an artist on stage struggle (in my eyes, don’t worry, nobody else is seeing it the way I am) just to live inside a character and speak (or sing) those words is actually painful to me. Watching the actor in real life (my clients, artists throughout NYC, in a talk-back, or even in still photos at a meet-n-greet) and seeing the toll that struggle is taking on his/her instrument is excruciating – primarily because I know that it doesn’t need to be that much work. Stay with me as I explain?

The Bartender Story
I’m currently one-third of the way through a pilot program for bartenders (sponsored by Rutte Distillers). Over 12 weeks, I’m teaching a dozen bartenders self-myofascial release, to recognize and change their patterns of skeletal disorganization, Pilates-based strengthening work, and then applying all of that to retraining how they shake, stir, pour a drink, and how they stand behind the bar. In other words, we’re building a dozen effortless bartenders in New York City – and we just so happen to be using as our raw material some of the best in the business! Bartenders (along with chefs and front-of-house staff) are (like performing artists) one of my specialties. What all of you have in common is the fact that you have extremely physically rigorous jobs that also require great vocal integration.

Within the Rutte Pilot Program (#RutteBPP), I see participants in class once weekly for 1.5 hours, assign homework, and then visit them on the job to help apply the principals and see what is going well and where we still need work. Because most bartenders are in constant (at least low-grade) pain and discomfort, the bartenders who signed on for the program have jumped in with both feet. They may work a 14-hour shift and get home at 4 am, but they will work on their forearms and spend a few minutes in resting position before they fall into bed, only to wake to do their Pilates homework before the next 14-hour shift. They create time for this work because they are recognizing the impact a few minutes of work and some small changes are making in how they feel and what they are capable of physically compared to that of a month ago. They have “bought in” and tare coming to class reporting that their backs, necks, and feet don’t hurt at much. Shoulders that were on their last legs are getting a new life. And they are utilizing their new tools to “get out of trouble” when something starts to go physically wrong.

Aside from the fact that they look so different from their colleagues, the thing that stands out when I make my weekly visits is how much less effort they are exerting to do the same job they did a month ago.

How This Applies to Actors
Now let’s turn back to the actors I work with and how/why you care about my bartender program results. Short story? The same damn thing happens to my actors and dancers.

Imagine what it would feel like to have to apply 50 percent the physical effort each night to create and/or live inside your character’s body? Imagine if just the walk to the subway felt effortless? Imagine if you spoke, sang, or screamed and a resonant sound came out effortlessly because your instrument just showed up to do its job, instinctually, because it not only was physically trained to do that, but also because there were no physical patterns or stuck fascia getting in the way? You would be effortless. And because harder physical work requires (even subconsciously) greater mental and emotional work, your talent, coupled with your study and the practice of your craft would have so much more space and freedom.

I’m told (a lot!) that this work is for young actors and training programs. “Experienced actors know all of this.” I’m told training programs already have this piece of the puzzle down and/or no time or money to apply these principles. But what I see are actors struggling to survive inside bodies that are exerting extreme effort – and losing the battle against forward head position, bunions, and vocal ease, among other things. I see one shoulder dropped, social media posts about getting to the chiropractor to “fix” a neck (weekly), and shows set before 1990 where everyone has rolled shoulders and forward heads (if that is not an acting choice). Does the rest of your audience notice this? Perhaps not. But does all of this mean you are working at least 50 percent harder than needed? Yes.

So Why Do I Care?
Recently, somebody sent me a note about something related to services I offered for their fundraising efforts. She said, “Thanks for the great idea! I investigated it and now we are getting similar things from within our community, so we don’t need your offer, but if you would like to donate money…” Well, my actor/singer/musician/vocal teacher student, my Shakespearean actor with 40 years on-stage, my 23-year old well-trained musical theatre actress who in her words “fell apart” on her first post-college tour and found me to “fix” her all consider me part of your (theatre) community – just like my gracious, generous, grateful bartenders do theirs – because they all grasp that I love and am awed by what you do in the world, I just don’t want it to require so much effort.

What You Can Do Now

  1. Look in the mirror or at some photos. Where is there imbalance? Stop believing that is because of your “scoliosis” and you can’t do anything about it. [Note: I have and do work with many severe scoliosis clients with great success, but the reality is, most of us at some point have been diagnosed with some degree of scoliosis. I’m not meaning to make light of that, but simply to suggest that your imbalance may be a product of habit and muscle imbalance in relationship vs something you cannot address and be empowered to change.]
  2. Learn about your fascia and how to care for it yourself.
  3. Explore how you are using and caring for your instrument. Be open to new practices and ideas. Practice change in your everyday life, the hours at the gym can’t combat what you are doing the rest of the day.
  4. Have a professional analyze your movement (outside of their space) and show you your patterns of disorganization (and how to address those in your daily home practice).
  5. Make that daily practice a part of your everyday life. This means days you work and days you don’t. Vacation too. You have one instrument, taking care of it is your most important job.
  6. Dump the idea that abdominal muscle engagement is “tension” – this is 90 percent of what is getting actors into trouble and one of the biggest changes we need to make in your world! In fact, the next time someone tells you to “release” your abdominals or “belly” – pinch them!
  7. Remember that we are all on a journey when it comes to caring for ourselves and awareness. Don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t know or what isn’t yet second nature. Our world is changing and its impact on us is as well. Yes, we should have all learned this stuff in grade school – but we didn’t so each time you practice awareness and alignment you are taking a step forward.
  8. Ask for help, but make sure that the people helping you truly understand how bodies work and are able to explain the logic behind anything they ask of you so that it makes sense to you. Don’t do anything just because some “expert” told you to (including me!)!
  9. Don’t trust your precious instrument with anyone who isn’t open to new ideas or constantly working on their own instrument – none of us are perfect, we’re all on the same journey, some of us are just a little ahead of or behind you in ours.

Be in this conversation. The biggest thing that has happened in my bartender community is that we are now all talking about the issues with which they all face and that there are solutions!

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Arts marketing lessons from my church http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/02/11/arts-marketing-lessons-from-my-church/ Thu, 11 Feb 2016 20:07:40 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4735

Although I was raised in the Catholic Church, I am not a practicing Catholic. The few times I have been in a house of worship in the past two decades involved either a wedding, a christening, or my mother’s funeral in 1995. Therefore, no one was more surprised than me to find myself at Trinity Church’s St. Paul’s Chapel earlier this year.

I should explain that my boyfriend lives near Wall Street and we walk past this historic little church quite often. Trinity is the oldest Anglican Church in Manhattan, founded in 1697 and helped to form the Episcopalian Church after the Revolutionary War. St. Paul’s Chapel was founded as part of this movement and it mostly known for surviving 9/11 intact, even as the World Trade Center’s fall, which was directly across the street from their location, took down other larger buildings.

Trinity’s friendly signage had often drawn our attention and having survived a rather stressful holiday period, the offer of a “candlelight service with music” on a Sunday night drew us in.

StPaulsChapel_RTcolor

“What does this have to do with marketing?” you ask. In a nutshell, Trinity has a slew of audience development activities that could serve as a model for arts organizations.

Pre-“show” prep: The journey starts on their website, where they very clearly explain each and every activity, including age-appropriateness and exactly what to expect. The language is friendly and accessible and by demystifying the events, they encourage new and first-time visitors to attend. Calendars are kept up to date and the visitor info is accurate and helpful.

Wilkommen, bienvenue: Upon arrival at St. Paul’s Chapel that evening, we were greeted by staff members who asked us if it was our first time and upon hearing a yes, they proceeded to explain the evening’s activities, including where we might want to sit, and how long the program would last.

Helpful “Playbills”: Later that week, we went back for the Feast of the Epiphany (admittedly, we may have been convinced to attend by the promise of a post-service pizza dinner…) Before the service started, we were handed programs that were extremely detailed and included not only the sequence of events, but which staff members were participating and their bios. The program included the text for all of the service, so even if you had never attended, you would be able to follow along. It gave instructions for items like receiving Communion, something that could be intimidating if you had never done it. It also listed options for gluten-free wafers, drinking (or not drinking) the wine, or just asking for a blessing in lieu of Communion.

Staff was diverse: The clergy and lay staff really looked like the people of New York, reflecting folks from all walks of life. My experience at church had always been this: An old white dude lectures me, tells a really boring story that has nothing to do with my life, and explains why I’m a sinner. I doze off. This service was more celebratory and open, and the sermons were relevant to my experience. And they were believable, coming from people that I could relate to.

Intermission fun: Christian ceremonies tend to have an exchange of peace. The priest says “Peace be with you” and the congregants shake hands with the nearest people. This was extended at the service I attended (and moved up to happen a lot earlier in the ceremony than usual.) The longer period gave everyone a chance to mill around and socialize for a bit, adding to the feeling of community earlier in the service.

Post “show” party: More audience mingling! Everyone likes a party. Or at least free wine. A nice post-service supper was served with a beer/wine/soda open bar and (Three) Kings cake for dessert. Congregants mingled and got to know each other and the staff. We had already read something about the staff in the programs so we felt like we knew them a little and it was not hard to approach them.

Photo ops: The church created a “Three Kings” themed photo booth, complete with take-home Polaroids. (I may have dressed up as one of the Magi, ahem…) Those of us who are marketers know the power of pictures, both as keepsakes and for social media purposes.

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Web/tech friendly: Service was broadcast via web for those that couldn’t attend. Services and events are also archived on their website. It’s a fantastic way to engage folks who are housebound or too busy to attend. Their weekly e-newsletter is also informative and in addition to marketing their fun events, like the upcoming Mardi Gras party, contains a reminder of the times for Sunday services. Also, huge props to the social media team whose speedy response time to all of my posts about them has to be faster than 12 parsecs.

This was truly one of the friendliest and most interactive services I’ve ever attended. We enjoyed it so much that we went back again later that week — and two weeks later, we attended “Neighborhood Movie Night.” You see, this church has as many supplemental activities as they do core religious services. And that’s okay. Because we now consider ourselves parishioners. And it all started with free music and the lure of a pizza party.

Someone on that staff is thinking about how to engage people and create a real sense of community. How can we apply these lessons to the arts?

 

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What if every DC tourist saw a play? http://www.2amtheatre.com/2016/01/20/what-if-every-dc-tourist-saw-a-play/ Wed, 20 Jan 2016 16:16:58 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4730

This post may skate on the edge of self-promotion, because I am going to be drawing attention to a brief e-book I’ve co-authored; but I have a good story to tell about how this book is an example of the kind of unconventional theatre promotion we need more of.  This is much more a “Steal this idea!” pitch than a “Buy my book!” pitch.

 

The book is called Just the Ticket (http://smile.amazon.com/Just-Ticket-Washington-Quarterly-Entertainment-ebook/dp/B019ZUAMHQ)  It presents 12 curated evenings of dinner, a play, and a bar afterwards around DC all during Jan-Mar of this year.  There’s also a bit of supporting material to help people unfamiliar with attending the theater or navigating in DC feel more comfortable experiencing the evenings.  The primary target market is visitors to DC.  A desirable but harder to reach secondary market would be DC area residents who are not aware of the local theatre scene.

 

We got the idea for the book because we’ve started buying short, cheap, insiders guide books on Kindle when we travel to unfamiliar places.  There’s a growing market for this kind of thing.  Great places to eat with your kids in Hong Kong.  Singles guides to Rome.  DC is served more lightly than some other destinations, so we figured we could jump in and sort of lay a snare that might lead some visitors into seeing plays while in town.  DC is a fertile place for this because most visitors are much more aware of daytime things to do than of nightlife.  A lot of them are actively looking for things to do once the Smithsonian closes.

 

There are three main reasons I encourage other theatre promotors to have a look at the book.

 

First, I think we’re on to something by putting theatre attendance into a full date night context.  Even though we are asking more of people by suggesting they do three expensive things in the course of an evening rather than one, the format emphasizes the value proposition of an integrated evening out.  Many people who aren’t playgoers are partly blocked by not understanding how to fit it into a lifestyle.  We’re trying to tell them – “You are a fun, sparkly person who eats well, appreciates culture, and has drinks afterwards.”  A lot of conventional theatre marketing instead says – “You are a good, diligent person who appreciates culture and wants to be elevated by it.”  I think it’s possible that everyone who wants to see themselves in the latter way is already a regular playgoer.  People who want to see themselves as fun bunnies represent a largely untapped vein.

 

Second, we put a lot of work into trying to emphasize, in our descriptions of the plays, what will be enjoyable about seeing the play.  I started with a little bit of a recipe of trying to include a HOOK that would initially keep the person reading the paragraph, a WOW that primes the person to enjoy something specific about the production, a MEMORY that suggests something that will probably stay with them afterwards, and an ABOUT because people always want to know what the play (movie, book, etc) is about.  Again, most conventional copy about plays tends to emphasize why they are worthy rather than why they are enjoyable.  The worthiness speaks to the audience we have.  The enjoyability may need to be shown to the audiences we want.

 

Finally, I hope this book will spur imitators in other markets.  New York doesn’t need this book, because attending a play is already on the canonical tourist’s checklist for that city, but other markets with strong local theatre such as Chicago, LA, and Atlanta might well benefit from a home grown version.  Even in smaller markets where it is harder to generate a theatre opportunity in every week of a quarter, a broader cultural evenings out book might be valuable.

 

Oh, and if you’re coming to DC on a visit or particularly if any of your less theatre minded friends are headed this way, please encourage them to have a look at the book and try one of the evenings.  We’ve committed to keep at this for at least 5 more quarters.  By then, we hope it will have grown into something we can hand off to somebody else as a going concern.  I’m looking forward to what we learn.

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Important Poo http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/09/23/important-poo/ Wed, 23 Sep 2015 15:31:34 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4717

I spent all day absorbing what people said about New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players’s now cancelled performance of The Mikado at NYU’s Skirball Center. I read blog posts, groaned at comment threads, and rolled my eyes when the Artistic Director of NYGASP posted that defensive statement on the organization’s homepage. But no matter how much I parse the points of view and attempt to see the other side of the argument, all of the justifications for mostly white performers donning yellowface or some kind of Japanese drag boil down to this:

It is more important for white people to be allowed to tell poo jokes in kimonos than it is for the American theatre to acknowledge my most basic humanity.

Maybe you’re thinking: that’s not what this all says! This is about preserving an enduring work of art, heeding a company’s mission statement, and the way a repertory company functions. If that’s the case, then let me break this poo down for you:

1. If you’re telling me the only way to preserve an enduring work of art is by performing it in a way that is racist and outdated, then you’re telling me that white supremacy is so central to the work that it’s not an enduring piece of art. Enduring art can be revisited and reconceived to speak to people of a different time and in a different context than the ones in which it was created — you know, it can endure. Frankly, I don’t believe white supremacy is so central to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan or to The Mikado specifically that it’s reworking would mean nothing of value would be left in the show. It could be produced in a way that speaks to the broader audience of people that make up New York theatregoers. The most important thing to preserve in The Mikado is not the fact that it was conceived from ideas of white supremacy in a time and place of unchallenged white supremacy. The important things to preserve are catchy tunes and some poo jokes.

2. If you’re telling me that the mission statement of NYGASP only allows it to produce The Mikado in an “authentic” way that supports white supremacy, then you’re telling me that the mission of NYGASP is white supremacy. What I generally consider to be authentic to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are the aforementioned catchy tunes, lots of witty jokes (about poo and other subjects), and a poo ton of people onstage. I watch Pirates of Penzance and think, “I love that Modern Major-General song. Also, swashbuckling is cool.” I don’t usually think, “Oh, good: this reaffirms my feelings that white people are the master race!” I have serious doubts that the true mission of NYGASP is white supremacy and that anyone wants me to leave their productions thinking it is.

3. If you’re telling me that putting up The Mikado in yellowface or using other aesthetic methods of cultural appropriation (costumes, wigs, and so on) are the only ways NYGASP can put it up due to the mechanisms inherent to running and casting from a repertory company, then you’re telling me that the mechanisms of this repertory company are white supremacist mechanisms. It’s a company of almost all white people, and…

You know, I actually don’t know where I can go with this in a funny way that broadens perspectives. If you fill an entire company with mostly white people, say you can only cast from those people, and say you can only cast non-white roles with white people, because you can only cast from those people, because you’ve filled an entire company with mostly white people, that actually IS textbook white supremacy. I mean, we know Asian people can sing, because Lea Salonga, Jose Llana, and K-pop. And we know black people can sing, because R&B, Kathleen Battle, and Gospel Choirs. And we know Latinos can sing because Enrique, Shakira, and the entire country of Cuba. Plus, you made up those rules, so you can unmake them by just deciding something like, “Hey, social justice is important to me. I’m going to use less white supremacy in my rule making.” If NYGASP nevertheless chooses to favor white people that overwhelmingly, then that is white supremacy.

See where I’m going with this? If you’re telling me the core value to protect in The Mikado is its outdated use of white supremacy in performance, by a company whose mission is to preserve the authenticity of white supremacy, that’s central mechanisms are a mostly white repertory company assembled through practices of white supremacy, then you are flat out telling me that you’re racist. That NYGASP is racist. That Gilbert and Sullivan are racist. You’re saying there’s no possible way to perform The Mikado except by being a racist.
And this clinging to white supremacy means you think I am less human than you, because I’m not white.

Frankly, I don’t believe that’s true. Contemporary theatre makers are a clever, remarkable group who could find a way to have their poo joke and eat it, too. (Gross.) Many artists have already tried. Many other artists and audiences believe those attempts to be successes.

If you don’t think they were successes, and you either don’t want to figure out non-racist ways of doing The Mikado that would be successful, OR you don’t think it’s possible to perform The Mikado without being racist but you want to do it anyway, then you’re racist. Stop pretending you’re not. You’re racist. You. Are. Racist.

And so, thankfully, I no longer have to tumble around in my head all of the reasoning that leads you to believe that white people telling poo jokes in kimonos is more important than my basic humanity. Because it’s not, and you’re dumb. You’re a dumb racist who wants to put on racist shows with racist motivations. Making sense of your logic based in fear, stubbornness, and deluded self-righteousness would require more mental gymnastics than trying to figure out why my cat used to sleep with her nose in my ear.

So unless you want to come sit at the grown up table of not dumb people whose thoughts are more interesting than those that lead a cat to sticking her nose in my ear, unless you want to sit and figure out a way to preserve the values that actually are enduring in Gilbert’s and Sullivan’s and others’ classic works …

Sayonara, Felicia.

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#SayNoToMikado: A More Humane Mikado? http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/09/16/saynotomikado-a-more-humane-mikado/ Wed, 16 Sep 2015 17:01:49 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4701

A roundup of articles about the current and recent productions of The Mikado and the controversy surrounding them.

Leah Nanako Winkler from Sept 2015: The Mikado in Yellowface is Coming to the Skirball Center of the Performing Arts and We Should Talk About It

Howard Sherman from Sept 2015: Putting On Yellowface For The Holidays With Gilbert & Sullivan & NYU

Ming Peiffer from Sept 2015 at 2amt: Here’s a Pretty Mess

Chris Peterson from Sept 2015 at OnStage: The Mikado Performed In Yellowface and Why It’s Not Okay

Sam Sanders from August 2014 at NPR: Why We’ve Been Seeing More ‘Yellowface’ in Recent Months

Melissa Hillman from Oct 2014: On Protecting Racism in Theatre

Erin Quill from Sept 2015: …it made me NYGASP in horror…

#SayNoToMikado

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#SayNoToMikado: Here’s a Pretty Mess http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/09/16/saynotomikado-heres-a-pretty-mess/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/09/16/saynotomikado-heres-a-pretty-mess/#comments Wed, 16 Sep 2015 16:45:57 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4694

Why the Mikado is a No-No, and Other Painfully Obvious Realities About Race Representation in the Theatre

Nearly 4 years ago, as a fresh face on New York’s scene, I attended the inaugural Asian American Performer’s Action Coalition (AAPAC) meeting held at Fordham University. A multicultural caucus of over five hundred Asians and non-Asians alike we were gathered to discuss the severe lack in quantity and quality of stage roles available to actors and performers of Asian descent. At the time, I was relatively green in my understanding and in my ability to discuss the troubling realities concerning the diversity gap on stage. However, I was passionate and increasingly hopeful about the progress I was witnessing towards a more inclusive theatre. After all, how could we fill a venue this large and with so many diverse voices if the issue at hand was not one of extreme importance? Why would so many artists spend an evening discussing race representation over precious art-making unless real change seemed possible? Imminent?

Immersed in an eclectic buzz of impassioned monologues streaming in from all sides and in all directions, I remember thinking: How amazing is this!? We are FINALLY having a conversation! Things are CHANGING! What an exciting time to be diverse! To be an artist! To be Asian! Boy oh boy, was I superbly mistaken.

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I thought of umpteen ways to begin this article.

I thought about being funny.

I thought about trying to come off well-read, eloquent, intellectual.

I thought about falling back on my usual sarcasm (a preferred method of discussing race) exploiting the inherent racism in The Mikado with (what I narcissistically imagine to be) a palatable yet scythe-like wit.

I thought about writing really ridiculous image laden sentences (like the many strewn throughout) in an attempt to lyrically brainwash you into understanding everything that I was saying was legit.

But sometime, halfway through the 18th rearranging of the same topic sentence, I finally gave up.

I literally said FUCK IT.

I threw my fingers in the air and unleashed a wide range of expletives. An activity which (unfortunately for everyone) has now trumped engaging in any sort of meaningful conversation about such issues with like-minded colleagues or friends. Because honestly…

I don’t know what to say anymore that hasn’t been said.

And I no longer derive comfort from the dozens of private conversations I’ve had about race with those who “get it”, when I know that these conversations should be made public. Even at Columbia University, an academic environment made for knowledge expansion and intellectual discussion, I am consistently either actively or passively silenced with regards to discussing the issue of race and representation, and have often questioned my own sanity (and whether or not I learned anything) as a result of it. In retrospect, I realize I did learn something. Many things. But mostly, I learned that since attending that AAPAC meeting 4 years ago, has been no significant change in representation for Asians.

At the drop of a hat, I am able rattle off a literal scroll’s worth of well-known names, prestigious venues, and award-winning ensembles that have mounted productions where I felt morally compelled to get up and walk out due to blatant racism enacted on the precious few Asian bodies on stage. I add “moral” because I am usually the only patron of Asian decent in the audience and often one of the few women of color. And so I feel compelled to take a stand when I look over my shoulder at a sea of white faces, throwing their heads back with the ease of Pez dispensers, cackling out sugar-laden guffaws at racist jokes and offensive stereotypes (especially since my stoneface and exaggerated sighing seems to be doing the opposite of the trick.)

But, before we begin a séance and start conjuring up nightmare worthy ghosts of racist theatre past…Let us focus on the ever-evolved, present-day, New York stage (!) where plays like The Mikado can still be performed with an almost entirely white cast, complete with actors donning #Yellowface, at a prestigious university that prides itself on educating and invigorating the city it supposedly reflects. Why must we once again go through the panoply of politically correct racial discourse to explain why [INSERT OUTDATED ASIAN MUSICAL HERE] is offensive. Is incorrect. Is *racist*. Notice I use the word “RACIST” here, and not “problematic”, because I’m done pussy-footing around this.

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I am done attending shows simply to justify my frustrations with this industry and this country. I’m done seeing shows where the only people of color are killed on stage as scene transitions or glorified theatrical devices. I’m done waiting for the privacy of my own home to voice my disgust when I watch jokes made at the expense of the colored persons’ identity. I am done monitoring my own language when others are allowed to spit racial slurs out like coins and theatre companies (like NYGASP) continue to use the most offensive racial slurs, stereotypes, and exploitative caricatures in the guise of “satire”. The mental state and historical perspective of a racist society is not, and never was, a sufficient “big reveal” to breathe life into these productions time and time again.

I don’t need you to “show me” racism. I get enough of that real representation in my daily life.

I don’t need to watch the indulgence of White Guilt in an attempt to display the “awareness” of it.

What I really don’t need is to watch an entire play, set in a fictitious Japan that exploits and belittles an entire race and culture simply to highlight, or “poke fun” at the absurdity of those silly Brits! A facebook user commented:

“Yellowface is THE WHOLE POINT of The Mikado. Call it dumb, call it racist, but if you’re going to tolerate the show AT ALL it makes no sense to demand an Asian cast. It’s almost literally a minstrel show (the hero sings a “Wandr’ing Minstrel I”) [where the] British are lampooning the British while playing childish dress-up–they knew basically nothing about Japan at the time. Personally I think the show should be retired for a while.”

I disagree with this comment.

Firstly, because it operates under the assumption that audiences inherently understand the satire Gilbert was trying to accomplish. Secondly, because it ignores the fact that using an entire country or culture as a backdrop for white people to make jokes about white people, is in itself a problematic erasure of a race of people. Thirdly, because we cannot censor the work, I feel that the only possible way I personally believe this show might be staged without being deeply and permanently offensive is to follow in the footsteps of Mu Performing Arts’ production directed by Rick Shiomi. They produced the show with an all-Asian cast, and an updated script. Even then, I am still skeptical due to the sheer backwardness of the entire script. Perhaps a further overhaul, like Brandon Jacobs Jenkins’ An Octoroon, is the only way for Asian people to reclaim the identities systematically ironed out by the creators of the show and those (NYGASP) that continue to produce it.

The saddest part is that this is the second article I’ve written where I’ve had to put my own creative endeavors aside to criticize the programming of some of the most well-respected theatrical venues in New York, the mecca of the theater world. As an Asian American artist who strives to be seen as an artist, as a human, and also as an Asian American–I cannot shake the feeling that this is yet another all nighter I’ve spent fruitlessly arranging my thoughts in an attempt to make someone (anyone) hear them.

At that AAPAC meeting years ago, one moment in particular continues to shine out brighter than the rest of the memories my mind recorded that night. A question was posed: “What do we [the Asian American community] need to do to gain recognition in theatre?” The artistic director of one of New York’s most respected theaters (a white guy serving on the Asian American panel—Hilarious? Maybe) offered the fact that years ago African Americans, in response to blackface, used to picket outside of theaters …and suggested that we might do the same. This comment was met with more than its fair share of skepticism, and even disbelief. The idea that in the twenty first century, in a society where the term“post-race” has been used to death, our community must gather outside and brandish signs to keep racism at bay was our best option was shocking. I remember thinking:

Surely we are beyond this.

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But a sad, slow realization has brought me to this juncture. To this very sentence where I don’t know where to go or which keys to press. It is now painfully obvious that we are so far from “beyond this.” Be it racism, inequality, misogyny, homophobia, class discrimination, or any of the social mores embedded in our society that we have not yet begun to dismantle.

This embedded racism is evidenced by even a top-notch education center like NYU Skirball, that should know better, hosting a performance with such flagrant racist themes. Even worse is the thought that culture centers like these don’t view the donning of Yellowface, regardless of the play’s content, as the inherently racist and entirely unacceptable practice that it is and has always been.

I don’t know what to do. So instead, I ask you, Dear Reader–

How can I be seen as real? As multidimensional? As idiosyncratic? Must I be portrayed with the lazy stereotypical costume, stylized giggling, just the “right” application of eye make-up, and maybe a thick accent with broken English thrown in for laughs?

How can I, a biracial female artist of Asian descent, finally be portrayed as human?

#SayNoToMikado

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An Empty Space Followup http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/09/14/an-empty-space-followup/ Mon, 14 Sep 2015 11:00:03 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4681

I have long had an interest in arts groups using transitioning commercial and retail spaces to alleviate space crunch. On hearing that Matt Cosper and his Charlotte-based ensemble XOXO are taking part in such a venture I asked him to write a little about the process and after it was over to reflect on the benefits. Here is the second of his two posts – Travis Bedard



XOXO 2amt image 4  

When last we spoke, my company and I were roughly halfway through our month long residency as Skyline. All was proceeding smoothly and we were very much enjoying ourselves, immersed in developing material for our new full length performance event: #cake. Now would be the ideal dramatic time to reveal that everything fell apart and was a disaster, or conversely that an angel donor saw our workshop sharing last week and wrote us an obscene check. Alas (?)…neither of these potentialities occurred.

What did go down was decidedly not disastrous but every bit as miraculous. We worked for another two weeks, created a complicated (and very cool) installation and also made a dance, some hypnotic action loops, collaborated with a bevy of local artists, like Basic Cable Media Company, Diana Valeryevna Mnatsakanyan, Robert Childers, and Matthew Steele, learned valuable lessons about our work, and shared our findings with a huge group of party goers at an egalitarian artparty. We also learned that Skyline Arts has been granted a stay of execution, a very exciting development that bodes well for the program’s and the model’s longevity.

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The showcase element of this program is pretty special. As if the 24/7 access to the space, and the budget provided weren’t exciting enough, the showcase is an event unlike anything else happening in generally staid, programmed within an inch of its life, Uptown Charlotte. On Friday, September 4th at 6pm folks started trickling into the building to see the work on display. At one end of the building, Robert Childers was showing his Arthurian Inflected Southern Gothic Punk Rock Comic paintings (on wood, on brick, on tiny little coffins he has made) while Robert Childers and His Luciferian Agenda and the Modern Primitives melted faces and small children ate popsicles. In the largest, central space, sculptor Matthew Steele was showing his 70 foot long metal construction, Lure, while people ate the most amazing tamales on the earth. In between those studios, we built an installation that was equal parts Hell House and Acid Test and which people generally deemed “So Cool!”.

XOXO 2amt image 5

More importantly we learned some important lessons about the intersection of projection mapping and hazer technology, and our intern blew our minds with some really fancy light bulb sequencing. In our main studio we shared our new performance loops and a dance sequence, which was a hold over from the first draft of #cake six months ago. We crammed a lot of people into the room to see that work, and had the pleasure of surprising them with a very spare, very raw arrangement of Strange Fruit performed as a collaboration with A Sign of The Times, and #OnTheHook (an organization of Charlotte artists dedicated to addressing and eliminating white supremacy). It was a good night.

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What sticks with me at the end of this amazing program is that wonderful evening. Somewhere around 500 Charlotteans came to a free art event, drank free booze, ate delicious treats and saw work from across the aesthetic spectrum in a carnival atmosphere in the heart of Uptown. Yes, in the very belly of the beast, where art musn’t happen that hasn’t been polished to death, there was an explosion of raw artistry free to the public did I mention that THE ARTISTS GOT PAID! And, as far as I know…nothing was being sold. Nothing that is except for some tamales and the idea that Art might be worth the investment of a city that wants to put itself on the map. Or rather: that if you give money and resources directly to artists, they will make something, and it will likely be beautiful.

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Epilogue: About that Stay of Execution I mentioned. The Amys (Herman and Bagwell) could definitely give you a fuller and richer explanation, and I recommend that you ask them because they are smart and charming and super duper on the ball about making this very cool thing a long term reality for Crowntown. The quick and dirty version of the story is that more funding has been found, and there will be an additional round of residencies in October, with some added TBD programming to occur in November. And one gets the feeling that Charlotte’s business community (at least the segment of that community that has the long view in mind and aren’t mere parasites) is very interested in making this thing work.

This is exciting, yes? Yes. Stay tuned.

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Rethinking The Actor’s Instrument: It Shouldn’t Hurt http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/08/24/rethinking-the-actors-instrument-it-shouldnt-hurt/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/08/24/rethinking-the-actors-instrument-it-shouldnt-hurt/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 14:30:03 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4675

We are not doing a great job of teaching our actors to care for their instruments properly. This is clear to me when I read (regularly) about an actor in a particularly difficult physical role answering questions with an attitude of “of course my back hurts every day,” “I have an inversion table,” or “I see my chiropractor to ‘pop’ things back into place frequently.” Social media has almost made me an insane person between reading Tweets about an actor on Broadway waking up and not being able to move his neck, and hearing about yet another actor on vocal rest. For an actor who lands a Broadway contract, we have teams of physical therapists and the best vocal physicians on call, but we still do little to catch a problem when the actor can solve it. We just aren’t giving them the tools to recognize and prevent injury, let alone those needed to thrive.

The story we are telling actors, those working at all levels and those studying in our BFA/MFA programs, is that a chronic level of physical “discomfort” is the norm if you want to work in the field. And because our 16-25-year-olds are walking into programs already banged up from life (read Technology and the Actor’s Instrument), and learning from working artists who have not been introduced to the feeling of absolute ease in their own instruments, it continues to be accepted that it is not an option to feel effortless and do the job.

It is not supposed to hurt to do your job. If I could get only one new idea into the realm of actor training, that would be it. Acting is a physically rigorous job, but we need to forever eradicate the myth that the rigors of the job will result in constant chronic, nagging discomfort. It is time to change the future relative to longevity and thriving within the field.

One of the primary issues we deal with – as humans – is that our bodies are amazing little adaptors. A body will do anything to stay upright and keep moving. If something goes wrong, we teach our bodies to “override” the dysfunction and we turn off our awareness (to the very thing going wrong) at a speed almost imaginable. We adapt – another part of the body takes over and begins to handle the situation. As soon as that happens, we are working less efficiently and certain parts of the body are getting overworked while others aren’t working at all.

This is a norm in bodies and life. It is an issue Pilates teachers deal with all the time. A body working out of alignment is prone to injury. In clients who aren’t performing artists, frequently we can find that source of the original injury or dysfunction and quickly solve the issue to put things right again. But those non-performer bodies generally have one or two physical and/or vocal things to do on the job and can limit their physicality or adjust an activity as they relearn efficient use of their bodies. Performing artists don’t have this option. Perhaps the extremely financially successful can take a month off and simply focus on rewiring his or her instrument, but I find it hard to imagine many artists (much like Pilates teachers) who want to or can say no to work.

This is one of the biggest problems I deal with when it comes to working with actor clients –budgets (time and money) are tight and they almost always make the choice to put off addressing the physical issue they feel (or that which has been identified for them) in favor of something more important – work.

Frustration
Another big problem is the frustration (often greater than with my non-performer clients) my actor students experience as they are pursuing the work of realignment. I believe part of this comes from a greater ability to recognize dysfunction when it’s identified. Actually, I think most of my performing artist clients know something has been going wrong – they’ve just pushed it away because they don’t think there’s a way to solve it.

The other reason for the frustration is the humility forced on someone who is a professional mover when he/she realizes they don’t have the control over their body they think they should. Pilates is great at teaching humility in that fashion.

We’ve spent a lifetime training our bodies into the alignment, power, and endurance we find them in when we approach change. We have to recognize that it will take more than a session or even month to make real change. Frustrated or not, my actor clients are often the quickest to gain new awareness and succeed in realignment and integration of new patterns in their work. I think that is because of all the things that go right in the training and craft of acting!

Where to Start
I can take you through a list of what I call “actor patterns” and identify why these issues occur and the negative impact they have on instrument access, wellness, longevity, and the ability to be compelling. But as an actor friend pointed out, “that just overwhelms us and pisses us off.” Instead he asks what everyone I meet and evaluate in person asks, “Just tell me what to do first.”

1. Gain pelvic stability.
This is the first step to correcting the root of most of the issues you deal with vocally and physically. I’ve discussed before a neutral spine and how to find yours. Practice neutral on the ground. Take a Pilates class (yep, I’m really just going there) to gain tools to stabilize and engage in neutral. Learn how to take that information and translate it to standing in real life. And build your pelvic floor, adductor (inner thigh), and hamstring (from origin to insertion) strength. This will impact your cheat out. Much of the instability found in an actor’s body is a result of not holding lateral stability of the pelvis when cheating-out. And yes, we do need to actually properly teach a cheat out without dysfunction.

2. Learn about your fascia.
Learn to release and care for your own fascia. Learn the fascial patterns common among actors. Work on myofascial release daily. And if you can’t get back to healthy fascia on your own, hire someone trained in myofascial release and get it done once. Then create a daily routine to keep up with it.

3. Check your alignment daily.
As you regain structural alignment, develop a practice of using resting position and engagement on the ground daily – twice daily if you are in rehearsal or anywhere in the production process. We frequently miss the subtle change or issue that becomes a major dysfunction because we aren’t checking in. By doing so twice daily, you return to your own body each day, and will be more aware of taking on character patterns.

4. Stop overtraining in the gym.
Please stop overtraining in the gym. So many of the issues I deal with are a direct result of too much time in the gym. I’m not opposed to building the instrument you want. If you want to put on a ton of muscle mass and you have that body type and testosterone level to do so, that’s great. But building muscle on a body already out of alignment is going to make it harder to correct your dysfunction. And building bulk versus a balanced body with muscles trained from origin to insertion (and healthy fascia!) will give you less access to your instrument. We are destroying vocal resonance, creating vocal issues and injury, and decreasing flexibility with this body type. We are also only telling one story physically. I hear and manage the concerns of actors in the midst of a training program and those in the first decade of their career who are being encouraged to “go to the gym, casting directors are looking for ‘that’ type.” Some just haven’t reached physical maturity to even put that kind of muscle on their frames. And both those who can and those who are building “big guns” and a huge chest are alarmed that they can’t actually straighten their arms. They should be concerned because – as mentioned earlier –overdevelopment at the belly of the muscle is going to negatively impact flexibility. Specifically, overdevelopment of the chest and biceps are helping to create forward head position, a dowager’s hump, and vocal strain and injury.

Recently, as if designed as a vehicle for me, someone Tweeted the following:
“If only I took care of my body half as well as I take are of my cooking knives and cast iron skillets.”
Followed by:
“In fairness, I treat them with excessive reverence.”

All I want is for us to train actors (current and future) to take the best care of their instruments possible – to have the choice to treat them with “excessive reverence” so that they can physically and vocally have complete access, and gain power, endurance, and flexibility as they age. Oh, and to get the idea across that it isn’t supposed to hurt to do your job.
[huge_it_share]

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In Empty Spaces http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/08/18/in-empty-spaces/ Tue, 18 Aug 2015 18:39:32 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4669

I have long had an interest in arts groups using transitioning commercial and retail spaces to alleviate space crunch. On hearing that Matt Cosper and his Charlotte-based ensemble XOXO are taking part in such a venture I asked him to write a little about the process and after it was over to reflect on the benefits. Here is the first of his two posts – Travis Bedard


Here in Charlotte, NC we are in the midst of a real estate boom. One might more accurately put it this way: land owners and developers in Charlotte are in the midst of a real estate boom. Please don’t read any snark into this. I’m a booster. As far as I’m concerned this means a lot of very cool things for Charlotte.  We’re growing into a proper mid-sized city and that means more audience. It also means we finally have good ramen.

What it also means is that real estate is at a premium and generally independent artists can in no way afford space in which to work. XOXO, the ensemble that I lead, has responded to the issue (as well as other concerns more aesthetic than economic) by making work in non-traditional spaces in the area. For the past few years, we’ve moved away from producing in theatres and have been staging original works on street corners, in punk rock clubs, in 14 passenger vans and on a historic farm across the SC border.  It has become central to our work that we are interested in experimenting and exploring variations on the site of the theatrical encounter. Producing in non-traditional spaces has had a major effect on where we are spending money in production, but it hasn’t solved the problem of rehearsal space. It was a blessing, then, to be invited to participate in the SkylineCLTarts.

What, pray tell, is SkylineCLTarts? Well, the short version is this: Crescent Communities is a development firm out of Atlanta who have been developing some major projects in Charlotte. One of those includes the site of a former Goodyear tires store in Uptown Charlotte. (don’t get me started on why we call it Uptown. It’s a Charlotte thing. For our purposes here, just understand that I’m talking about the urban core of Charlotte.) Crescent solicited proposals for what use the building could be put to while awaiting demolition later in 2015. Two visionaries by the name of Amy Bagwell and Amy Herman (to be referred to henceforth as The Amys) proposed a three month artist residency project which would look a little something like this: each month, from July through September 2015, three artists or collectives would be invited to have a studio in the building with 24/7 access and a $1000 budget. These artists would do whatever they damn well please in their studios but a) at the end of the month they would show work at a public party and b) they would change the building somehow. Some of the work created would be a permanent addition to the doomed structure. At the end of the residency, when demolition is to occur, the building will have become a collage of sorts, and the demolition will be a glorious Viking funeral, and we will celebrate the ephemeral in art, as Crescent prepares to build a giant commercial tower. Money still wins, but we get to act as pilot fish, feeding off the refuse of late capitalist America in ways that are vital to us as artists: Money, Space and Time.

So we’re about half way in to our residency at Skyline and things are proceeding pretty smoothly. We moved in at the beginning of August and set to work developing a second draft of our new performance work #cake. #cake is conceived of as a suite of looped performances around the topics of class, race and privilege taking place in various locales across Uptown Charlotte. Our first draft, in April of 2015, focused on generating material and developing rough character outlines. For this draft, we are focusing on design elements (after all we have been given a space with the mandate to transform it) as well as dealing with the technical demands of creating and sustaining looped sequences of action.

In the past two weeks we’ve been generating a lot of loops, and also experimenting with the endurance required in performing those loops over an extended period of time. While the actors have been focusing on that work, our design team has been busy transforming our main performance studio. While the work in that space has been limited mainly to paint (there are plans for a sandbox that no one will give me a straight answer about), we’ve been busy in other parts of the building as well: creating a series of five discrete installations: hallways twenty feet long by five feet across which will be complete environments containing performance loops of their own. This has been the ultimate gift of this residency, the space in which to experiment without need for a successful box office at the end of the rainbow.  Our mission is strictly to experiment.  In that way, this residency is the gift that keeps on giving. We’ll take what we are learning and developing now and inject it into our later work, as we prepare for a premiere of #cake in 2016.

 

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On Being Right http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/08/06/on-being-right/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/08/06/on-being-right/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 15:58:06 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4666

There is a mental habit formed early in the development of the modern American psyche: the immediate and perpetual recentering of yourself as the underdog. Our prevailing American narrative is one of rising above great (or more usually impossible) odds to achieve our heart’s one true desire. In the narrative the underdog is always right, always righteous, and inherently worthy, due to their status as underdog, of their heart’s desire. It’s problematic enough in our films, teevee programs, and songs but when folks begin  doing it in real life it really is a disaster. The dissonance of the intensified discussion of privilege and failed intersectionality of civil rights of the last few years is exemplified in the pivot to underdog and gestalt worthiness; If one believes that they are the oppressed in every situation (regardless of circumstances) how can one ever be an oppressor? Or even simply a negligent ally (centering yourself is the short road to Bad Ally Bayou)?

That narrative is even more prevalent in the arts. The language of the arts of one of holiness and righteousness. The words “God” or “Jesus” are well-nigh interchangable for “art” or “theatre” on most t-shirts. The asks for support are almost identical. Both American mainstream cultural religionists and artists have persecution complexes too deep to ever reliably confront. I have watched various theatre disciplines snipe at one another (unironically) about who was the least respected.

All of which seems like a lot of words to say that as the One True Underdog in any given situation we believe that our rightness is paramount, our cause is just, and any level of pushback at the perceived oppression is appropriate. There is no way that as the perpetually aggrieved, the perpetually unprivileged, the little guy that we could be being unfair. That we could be punching down.

That we could be the bully.

This is a lesson that has taken me all of my forty years (and a lot of patience on the part of those around me) to begin to unpack. My backpack of privilege, a moderately sized platform and a strident voice meant that I was bruising a lot of people unintentionally. Speaking truth to power to Rocco Landesman is one thing, throwing elbows in the paint with random Twitter denizen #4 is another. I treated them all the same. It was a mistake. Mostly I’m better about that now (we all have our bad days).

But this isn’t a lesson everyone has learned and the Great Internet Outrage Engine is no respecter of persons.

Being right isn’t a license to kill.

(on the internet)

The Northland Words Theatre put out a disastrous call for submissions for their 2015 Original Short Play Festival and the horde descended.

To be clear: the call for submissions is a lesson in worst practices for an open call for submissions. I myself amplified the original attention shining post from Donna Hoke and the follow-up overview from Howard Sherman.  It was a worst practices moment that deserved to be highlighted, the issues explicated and the conversation had. I felt like both of the posts I amplified were pretty reasonable. Most of the rest of the response I’ve seen hasn’t been. In the post-Bush “with us or against us” formulation, a company that could put out a disastrous call for submission like that is simply the enemy. No nuance or additional thought necessary. Northland Words becomes an analog for every group, or company, or theatre that has ever called our work a hobby or compared it to a third grader’s class project. They get the full blast of vitriol we want to give the nameless other that oppresses us.

We other them to make ourselves feel better.

Our being right doesn’t make our every action right.

Northland Words being wrong doesn’t revoke their humanity.

They’ve explained.
They’ve apologized.
A parent of some of the Northland Words kids have engaged respectfully about the issues.
The Outrage Machine rolls on because [GENERALIZATION] no one reads everything and no one follows up on comments and conversation.

And because the adrenaline feels good.

Fight the fights where we need to.
And #playwrightrespect is definitely a fight worth fighting for all conscientious theatremakers
But we need to learn the value of proportional response and we need to rehumanize other.

Northland Words Theatre isn’t the enemy, they are us.
They are a scrappy theatre trying to make stuff they love on a wing and a prayer.
They got something wrong. So we help them fix it and help them to understand why we’re so shocked at the call.

We go ahead and believe them when they explain why and how it happened and we move on together.

We’re on the same team.

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Unauthorized Game Change Keynote http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/06/02/unauthorized-game-change-keynote/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/06/02/unauthorized-game-change-keynote/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 18:27:27 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4656

I am not a keynote speaker for TCG this year, but if I were, this is what I would say.

 

The Theatre Communication Group national conference this year is called Game Change.  As both an avid participant in that movement and an enthusiastic game player, I offer some thoughts on changing the game of the American Theatre movement.

 

First, we need to get over the speed bump of calling an endeavor that is beloved and valuable a game.  The term Game Change is used here primarily to challenge us to employ ways of thinking that improve performance in games to improve the performance of our movement and our individual institutions.  It is an invitation to look at your theatrical practice as though it were a game.  What game are you playing?  What are your victory conditions; that is how do you win this game?  Is it a competitive or a cooperative game?  What rules are you playing by?  Are there moves that could improve your position on the board that are allowed in the rules, but that habit or something else has blinded you to?  Looking at your practice through the lens of a game may offer perspectives to create positive change that your current point of view isn’t offering.  A more playful approach to playmaking can also help keep you connected to the joy of our endeavor which for many of us is a major source if not our only source of compensation.

 

Let us contemplate some general tactics for improving outcomes in a game and how they apply to our movement.

 

ENRICH YOUR LINEUP.  Last year’s Crossing Borders conference focused mainly on this issue, and increasing the diversity of people involved in playmaking has been a major theme in every TCG gathering I’ve attended.  Two useful themes have emerged during those events that relate to changing the game.  First, whether you believe greater diversity is a self-evident good or not, it is useful.  Combining and empowering truly different people offers an organization a wider range of perspectives – different people see the board from different angles, notice things others would miss, and perceive sequences of moves that other people don’t recognize.  Seeing the game from multiple perspectives reveals winning moves you wouldn’t see from your own chair.  Second, even when you thoroughly embrace the concept of diversity as a good, incorporating true diversity in your team will add dissent and friction.  To derive full benefit from a rich roster, you need to build an environment of tolerance and trust that lets people disagree without the team falling apart.  A more diverse team supported by a strong culture will lead to better performance in the game.

 

DO WHAT THE OTHER PLAYERS AREN’T DOING.  Ryan Sturm podcasts about board games – how to play them and how to win them.  This is his Swiss army knife strategy.  In almost any game, competitive or cooperative, if everyone is trying to play in the same way bad things happen to the whole game.  They all consume the same resources, leading to shortages of things they all need.  They all build the same capabilities, so no one enjoys a unique advantage.  If players instead pursue different paths to victory, then a variety of different resources are consumed and a variety of different capabilities are created.  This leads to a more interesting overall game experience for everyone and permits everyone to learn which tactics triumph or contribute most in this particular situation.  This tactic should encourage you to look around your particular playmaking ecosystem and discern what you and your team could bring into the mix that is fundamentally different from other offerings.  If we, as a movement, are to draw into our audience people who are not responding to currently available programming, it is essential that individual companies come into being or change their current programming to offer novel bait to attract new playgoers into our worlds.

 

PLAY A COOPERATIVE GAME RATHER THAN A COMPETITIVE ONE.  Monopoly is the top of mind competitive board game in America.  It was originally designed to teach the evils of property.  Played by the box rules, the quantity of money entering the game is always a little bit less than the quantity leaving and wealth slowly concentrates bankrupting all but one player who, in the end, is left with 100% of a smaller pie than existed at the height of the game.  Running a not-for-profit theatre in America shouldn’t feel like that, but sometimes does.  Cooperative games form a relatively new category of board games in which all of the players are working together to win while some feature of the game presents challenges and creates the possibility of all players losing.  You could do worse than to try one of these with some friends to really get into your bones what this means.  Matt Leacock’s Pandemic is a good, approachable, and widely available example of this category.  In Pandemic, each player has a particular specialty within the Centers for Disease Control.  Together they work as a team to try to contain, treat, and eliminate diseases spreading around the world.  If you see your job as the leader of an art theatre as keeping your organization afloat in a resource deprived competitive landscape of other theatre companies, then you are essentially playing a competitive game.  The gains enjoyed by other companies are losses to you.  However, in most communities in America only a small fraction of the population are high frequency playgoers.  Instead of playing a multipoint game of tug of war over that small population, we could invent a cooperative game in which we all work together to create more high frequency playgoers.  The cooperative approach would lead to more resources for playmaking, would allow more of our community to experience the joy of playgoing, and would remove some of the institutional awkwardness between artists and administrators from different organizations that currently tends to block deeper collaboration.  The cooperative game of enriching the whole theatre biosphere might be more fun and rewarding than whatever you’re doing now.

 

MOVE THE GOALPOSTS.  Change your victory conditions, or just the way you think about them.  Because we’re not really playing a game, this isn’t cheating.  Many theatre leaders I work with see the thing they create as “a set of opportunities to experience a well produced theatrical performance-” a good show in front of a bunch of available seats.  That describes the economic product of most theatre companies – tickets available for purchase in the marketplace.  Such an attitude leads to a stark discontinuity within the organization.  Once the play is produced and tickets are available, it becomes the job of another part of the organization to sell those tickets.  They are essentially playing two different games.  Too often, this leads to a deep division in the organization between playmakers and play sellers.  If tickets don’t move, each side blames the other either for poor product quality or poor sales tactics.  The full creative power of the organization isn’t focused on the same end goal and motivation suffers in both parts of the organization.  As members of artistic endeavors though, we don’t need to let the marketplace drive how we see ourselves or how our organizations function.  If everyone within the organization sees winning the game as producing “people who have attended the play,” then there is no discontinuity.  Further, if you extend the victory condition to be producing “people who have [derived some particular benefit related to your mission] from attending the play,” then you are connecting more deeply with the social good responsibilities we take on when we operate not-for-profit organizations.  I will grant that in some ways this is a small conceptual step, but it is a step which, when sincerely taken, will transform relationships within the organization and your organization’s relationships with its public sufficiently to change your game.  While people still play their positions, they are all playing the same game and will be able to unlock perspectives and synergies that are not currently available.

 

I hope these four playful suggestions prove useful to some and provocative to many.  The ideas that propel the American Theatre Movement to its next radiant moment will not come from a middle aged volunteer, but neither will they come from brilliant theatre professionals if those professionals feel so mired in the world as it is that they cannot apply their creativity anywhere beyond the stage.  Whether or not you’ll be joining us in Cleveland, please play along on the quest to find ever better ways to make and share the art form of theatre.  Do something to challenge your own expectations about what is possible and share what that inspires.  Write the rules for your new game.  Play it with gusto.

 

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The Tyranny of Me and You http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/04/22/the-tyranny-of-me-and-you/ http://www.2amtheatre.com/2015/04/22/the-tyranny-of-me-and-you/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:46:10 +0000 http://www.2amtheatre.com/?p=4648

I’m fascinated by observing chefs interacting with food. Unlike most folks who create they can’t avoid their work outside their “studio”, they need to eat after all. They are cursed to combine all the creativity of a visual artist with the what-about-me demands of an IT person visiting their family… “you’re going to cook aren’t you?”

So it’s instructive to eat with them, to spy out the sorts of things a pro chooses. Speaking generally? They choose comfort food and simple food made well. They also find the seams in the menu, the places where another chef has obviously added something fresh or something they love mixed amongst the regular offerings, the “kitchen item”.

I don’t find culinary folks to be particularly evangelical. They may go on a prolonged brussels sprout kick or extol the joys of farm to table or tongue to tail but mostly they’re not going to deride your jalapeno bacon mac and cheese for not being authentic enough.

Why are so few theatre makers as accommodating? Recently Polly Carl posted a line of thinking on Facebook that tickled my brain:

An inquiry that has determined the trajectory of my entire career surrounds the question of taste. How do we know what we like and how do we use the power of our aesthetic sensibilities to define ourselves as artists and curators and tastemakers? I’m obsessed with why we think in the theater that our personal reaction to something should be definitive, and how that confidence in our individual sense of beauty and our individual sense of what stories matter should determine who is included and who is excluded from the opportunity to make art. What defines excellence and can we be so sure that our personal definition is always the most important one to consider? This is what I’ll be talking about tomorrow in Diane Ragsdale‘s beauty course.

In my experience, modern American theatre artists tend towards believing the capitalist drone of “theatre is dying.” They conflate the business of art and the making of art to such a degree that every discussion is essentially a defense of their art and their place in the field. Wade around in the on-line discussions about theatre and you’ll find a variety of slurs about others’ art. Broadsides about musicals (stupid!) or performance art (pointless!), the dangers of polished aesthetics (empty!), Shakespeare (overdone!), canon (irrelevant!) or new work (underbaked!). The loudest will essentially aver that there is no good work save the work the speaker or their friends are doing.

It is deadly.

The arts work best when the work and the workers each point to the next piece and the next artist. If the artists are continually griping to anyone who’ll listen that no art (save theirs) is good and how stupid the people who like such things are – why should audiences give a damn? Why should other artists give a damn? Why should communities give a damn?

I understand. We all have that midnight voice (for me it’s a 3am voice but it’s the same fella) telling us that we’re impostors – that we’re not good enough and never will be. To fight that, a lot of us spend daylight hours explaining to anyone who will listen why the one thing that we love or that we’re good at is the only one true way. But we do a lot of damage to the field, our communities, and each other. This isn’t a zero sum field and never has been either in terms of resources or attention. We have to stop treating it that way.

We have to stop telling people that the things they like are frivolous.

Folks looking for creme brulee ain’t gonna like the kale smoothie.

We have to stop telling people that old plays are dead.
Sometimes you want Mom’s baked ham.
We have to stop telling people that raw new work is pretentious and unapproachable.
Some folks are going to want to try the Versatile Chicken in Aspic
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Your dislike for something is personal. Your experience isn’t universal.

I really like ox tongue sliders from Contigo.
And Korean barbecue rabbit from Luke’s Inside Out and performance art and Barr Hill Gin and subversive punk puppets and Shakespeare and negronis and triple ginger cookies and smart new work from pissed off women and smart new work aching to be a comic book and dumb musicals that make me cry – which is all of them.

And you don’t.

But why does it matter that you don’t?
Why as artists is it so common to find the internet littered with what are essentially diatribes about the existence of bacon mac and cheese and how it’s a threat to local artisan ramen or posts screaming bloody murder that McDonald’s is crowding out the grilled cheese truck down the street.

You don’t need to abdicate your taste you need to advocate for it.

Instead of raging against everyone and everything else.

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