On Retreat

Sunday, August 23, 2009 0 comments

We're off to Flux's 4th Annual Retreat at beautiful Little Pond Arts Retreat - we'll have lots to report upon our return! Read the full story

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Viral, Tolstoy, Rattlers and Imaginative Empathy

Friday, August 21, 2009 0 comments

(Photo: Deborah Alexander)
“The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced by those around him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, almost indecorous incident…and this was done by that very decorum which he had served his whole life long.”
–from The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolostoy

"Since you're already planning to take your own life, there's something you can do that will make a lot of lonely people very happy."
-From Viral, by Mac Rogers

"I built up this little fantasy for myself. That she suffered. You know? That she knew she was going to die and she couldn’t stop knowing it. And she tried to find peace in the lord, but she was too scared. I saw her laying on the asphalt in a pool of her own blood there knowing she was going to die, like a train was headed for her and she couldn’t get out of the path. And I almost couldn’t live thinking she suffered like that."
-From Rattlers, by Johnna Adams
“How can they still have war?”
It took me a few seconds to leap across the conceptual gap between the highly personal and particular conversation we’d been having and this eternal conundrum.
“They couldn’t,” I told her, “if they felt the loss of each life the way you are feeling this one."
How could that happen? How could those who make and profit from war be given the opportunity to experience the fullness of loss created by their enterprise?
-From Arlene Goldbard's talk at the NET Summit
(Cheery start to a post, no?)

First, go see Gideon's production of Mac Roger's Viral. There are liable to be some spoilers in what follows, but it's a play worth much discussion. Here I want to talk about how it mirrors The Death Of Ivan Illyitch, and how these works, and Johnna Adams Rattlers, serve as one possible answer to Arlene's question.

For more on The Death Of Ivan Illyitch, go here. Done? Then let me add that reading this novella my Freshman year of college was a shattering experience. The terror Ivan feels at the certainty of his death and the waste of his life haunted me for weeks. The uneasy truce I'd made with my own mortality years back was broken, and I felt again, keenly, the size of loss in a single death.

Viral is a mirror of Ivan Illyitch: where Tolstoy gives Ivan a Christian rapture, Mac gives Meredith a secular redemption; where Ivan runs from death, Meredith runs towards it; where Ivan's death causes his estrangement from his community, Meredith's draws her into one; where Ivan's dying is linked to spiritual awakening, Meredith's is linked to sexual awakening.

Both stories, however, do not sugar coat the terror of death, sought or not; and both make the audience feel the full and final loss of a single life. It is their unyieldling focus, and there is no refuge of sentimentality to soften the blow.

Why? Why shatter that truce with mortality and open our mind to that terror and pity? Because these plays stand in direct opposition to the way death is portrayed in our mainstream culture. Heroes stride through fields bloodied with faceless villains; detectives stoically unravel violent crimes with those who bear the loss treated as scondary characters; grandparents are carried off by flights of angels all singing "it was their time". Death and murder are portrayed as necessary, even heroic, parts of life; and little time is spent with the nameless, faceless dying; unless of course, they die with violins and a twinkle of wisdom in their eye.

It's no wonder - it feels better to think of death and murder as necessary - but only one of them is inevitable. In our urge to take the sting out of death, our stories have taken the sting out of murder, and war persists as an inevitable and heroic thing:
"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner."
-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
History bears out the Judge's claim. But maybe the imaginative empathy I experienced through Viral and The Death Of Ivan Illyitch, those experiences that make me seemingly incapable of watching action movies without uneasiness and pain, maybe they can (as Arlene believes) actually save us.

Which brings us to Rattlers, Johnna's play that feature two men dealing with the death of the woman both loved more than the world itself. The quote above comes too late, of course - the murderer finds the remorse of empathy only after the fact - only when he is alone with her dead body. And maybe that's what we need more of in the theatre, painful as it is - plays that take all the wounded and dead together and put them in the room with us; so that we cannot escape witnessing their question.

This is not a license for bleakness - far from it. Rattlers and Viral only work because they are filled with humor, light and hope. Nor am I calling for an end to action movies. But we cannot deny the extraordinary power the stories we tell each other have over our actions. And right now, I think we need more stories like Rattlers, Viral, and The Death of Ivan Illyitch.

So go see it! Read the full story

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Core Value - Ensemble Structure

Thursday, August 20, 2009 1 comments

One of the Core Values being discussed at our 4th Annual Retreat at Little Pond is Ensemble Structure. This value is currently given this rough phrasing:

"Flux values a collaborative decision making process that respects the voices of all Ensemble members involved."

In practice, Flux votes on the plays and directors of the season. Occasionally we open up other decisions to the Ensemble as a whole, and try to solicit Ensemble feedback during the process (I have many pages of notes from our last Lesser Seductions workshop to work through).

But collaborative decision-making can quickly become cumbersome, and it's impossible to keep all Members equally informed on the factors involved in a particular decision.

Additionally, in a culture that values the efficiency of the corporation, models and best practices of non-hierarchical structures are hard to find. It was partly to address this need that the Network of Ensemble Theaters was formed.

However, reading through John Laurence's excellent The Cat From Hue (researching the Vietnam War for Lesser Seductions), I was struck by this quote:

"In the bubble of unreality that surrounded the daily war news, the farther away you were from the front lines, the less you knew what was actually going on. Men like Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and William Westmoreland, who were the farthest from the front and consequently knew least about the reality of the war, were the very ones who were planning the strategy to fight it."
It's dangerous to extrapolate from the tragedy of war, but taking into account the difference in the scale of loss, the warning is the same. Truth is diluted with each turn it takes in a bureaucracy, and struggles most swimming upstream. In a hierarchical organizational structure, those with the first hand experience of a crisis are often the furthest from those finding a solution.

The box office staff hears all the angry complaints over a choice senior management made; but by the time the complaints reach senior management, they've been diluted by the desire to sugar over the bad news. Each rung on the ladder adds a little more sugar, so that like a game of telephone, the original message bears little resemblance to its final incarnation.

The tech crew knows what is possible in the changeover, but their feedback doesn't reach the designer; the actor knows the moment isn't working, but isn't given access to the playwright; the volunteer knows the audience leaves grumbling, but the Artistic Director only reads the big review.

Whatever the flaws of artist-produced theatre and ensemble structure, the front line truth is much less diluted. The artist-producer feels the consequences of their choices first-hand. It may be that the value of that front-line experience is worth the cost of consensus-building, multi-tasking and knowledge-sharing. Either way, articulating that balance is a big part of our conversation at this upcoming retreat.

What is your experience of this tension between the differing strengths and challenges of hierarchical versus collaborative structures? Is it possible to find the best of both worlds? Any thoughts you can post will be greatly appreciated. Read the full story

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Food:Soul Benefit Thanks and Raffle Winners Announced

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 1 comments

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to support us at our Food:Soul Benefit Party on August 9th; everyone who purchased raffle tickets and donated items to the raffle; and those who couldn't attend but made a tax-deductible contribution toward our 10 lives, 10 years, $10,000 campaign! We are 36% toward our achieving our goal!

Flux is delighted to announce the winners of our Food:Soul RAFFLE prizes:

1) Star for a Day! - Stephen Lee

2) Daily Show Tickets - Johnna Adams

3) Jimmy Fallon Tickets - Amy Carickhoff

4) Mystery Box - Luis Cobo (and in case you were wondering what was in the box...the 1960s-themed goodies included: two tickets to The Lesser Seductions of History, a hardcover edition of Life: The Classic Collection, a lava lamp, a free facial at Aveda spa and pack of Starburst)

5) Shakespeare in the Park (The Bacchae) - Luis Cobo! Yes, he won twice, but well-deserved as Luis bought 100 tickets

6) Dinner for 2 with a Flux member - Marnie Schulenburg (and who's she going to dinner with? Her own brother and Artistic Director of Flux, Gus Schulenburg)

7) A tour of Google's NYC offices - Lesley Magaril De Lia

8) Handmade purse by Jason Tseng - Marnie Schulenburg (again!)

9) Foot Massager - Deb Clementi

10) BlueTooth headset - Greg Tagaris

11) Gift certificate to SoHo Santuary - Michael Rubenstein

12) Area Yoga gift certificate - Mandy Chan

13) Handmade 60s necklace by Ashley Faison - Liz Crommett

14) Two seasons with NYC Social Sports - Amanda Crommett

15) NYC Theatre Package (ArsNova, Epic Theatre Ensemble, New Perspectives) - Carissa Cordes


We want to thank everyone who attended the event--those who bought tickets in advance and those who paid at the door (apologies to the few of who whose names we don't have, but a particular shoutout to Rob & Carol Ackerman's friends who came to support):

Rob & Carol Ackerman, Johnna Adams, Thed Allyn, Karin Anderson, Ryan Andes, Camille Averso, Mariette Booth, Erin Browne, Amy Carickhoff, Eleanor Casey, Carissa Cordes, Liz Crommett, Jennifer Conley Darling, Jessa DeLia, Joan & Dick Firestone, Matt Freedman, Ken Glickfeld, Mark Gordon, Jason Gullo, Sean Harvey, Jessi Hill, Kara Knapp, Alano Miller, Paul Mischeshin, Matthew Murumba, Chance Parker, Nicole Potter, Brian Pracht, Zack Robidas, Michael Roderick, Marnie Schulenburg, Barry Shapiro, Ken Shieh, Doug Strassler, Michael Swartz, Daren Taylor, Jason Tseng, Mark Weston, Jodi Witherell


We also want to give a shout out to everyone who bought raffle tickets in advance and the day of the event (please forgive us for not having all the names of those who purchased tickets the day of):

Luis Cobo, Matthew Archambault, Michael Rubenstein, Mike Tsouris, Johnna Adams, Betty Astle, David Astle, John Cassidy, Deb Clementi, Carissa Cordes, Billy Ehrlacher, Ken Glickfeld, Leah Grip, Sean Harvey, Lesley Magaril De Lia, Faith Rosen, Greg Tagaris, Jane Taylor, Karen Tortora-Lee, Brad Bender, Jackie Berg, Marilou Cassidy, Mandy Chan, Cathy Cohn, Garrett Cronin, Dylon Curatolo, Amy Dechowitz, Kurt Ebrahim, Brian Griffin, Kate Marks, Paul McEnerney, Rachel Meyers, Sandra Morgan, Rany Ng, Warren Nichols, Frederick Olmstead, Catherine Porter, Patrick Schoonveld, Adam Smoler, Mark Valdez, Claire Mazur, Mariette Booth, Becca Firth, Meghan Formwalt, Andrew Glenn, Justin Hoch, Becky Kelly, Alison Klurfield, Kelsey Lebeau, Molly Metzler, Alissa Moore, Renee Nilson, Heather O'Brien, Eliza Bent, Linda Fung, Lindsay Hockaday, Colleen Jasinsky, Toni Quan, Heather Shock, Jen Thatcher, Camille Averso, Megan Dieterle, Nicole Estvanik Taylor, Crystal Skillman, Doug Strassler.

Hope to see you all at The Lesser Seductions of History in November!

Read the full story

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Pictures from Food:Soul - Volleygirls edition

Here they are! When Isaiah Tanenbaum wasn't busy heroically playing Xavier, the hard-nosed journalist and announcer of the Ladyhawks, he was taking these pictures - most are from our rehearsal that day, but a few are from the party itself. For more info on the event, go here; and to read artist/audience thoughts about the event, go here.

(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: The cast.)

(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Matthew Archambault as Coach)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Tiffany Clementi, Cailtin Kinsella, Christina Shipp, Jane Lincoln Taylor)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jessica Angleskhan, Cailitn Kinsella)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: David Crommett)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jane Lincoln Taylor)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Christina Shipp, Catherine Porter, Cotton Wright)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Candice Holdorf, Tiffany Clementi, Jessica Angleskhan, Cailtin Kinsella, DeWanda Wise)

(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: DeWanda Wise, Jessica Angleskhan, David Crommett, Tiffany Clementi, Elise Link)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: The Volleygirls with Coach Matthew Archambault and director August Schulenburg)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jessica Angleskhan, DeWanda Wise, Elise Link, Christina Shipp, Cotton Wright)

(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Catherine Porter, Matthew Archambault, Candice Holdorf, Cotton Wright)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. The Volleygirls and Coach!)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Food homemade by Fluxers)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Matthew Murumba, Frosty Beverage)

(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Matthew Crosby, Christina Cohn)
(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Tiffany Clementi, Raffle Ticket)

(Photo: By Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Rob Ackerman)
Read the full story


Out and About, The Fringe Edition

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 4 comments

Just when I'm ready to post about the Fringe it feels like it's halfway finished! BUT my tardy post is no excuse for missing the following Flux-infused Fringe offerings:

Member Cotton Wright (Pretty Theft, Angel Eaters, Rue) is appearing in a musical called Gutter Star, The Paperback Musical. If you've never heard Cotton sing, remedy that now.

Member Isaiah Tanenbaum (Angel Eaters, Midsummer, Life Is A Dream) is appearing in The Secret Of Our Souls - A Kabalistic Love Story. It features some beautiful voices and a bear mauling two Cossacks. What more do you need?

Flux friend Amy Lynn Stewart (Rattlers) is teaming up with Exploding Moments (Infectious Opportunity) vet Rebecca Comtois in Mac Rogers' (Imagination Compact, Poetic Larceny) Viral, a play that I am SO EXCITED to see that I must egregiously use CAPS to describe my excitement. Trusted reviewer Patrick Lee has already given it a rave here, so this one feels like a must see.

Flux bud Todd d'Amour (Pretty Theft) is in the intriguing sounding Ether Steeds, which has already scored a sweet review from likewise trusted reviewer Aaron Riccio, so add this one to the list.

Flux vet Zack Robidas (8 Little Antichrists, Pretty Theft) is a producer for At Play's Al's Business Cards, running through August 22nd and recipient of a great review from the Times.

The playwright master of Flux ForePlays Jeff Lewonczyk (Imagination Compact, Poetic Larceny) turns director for Trav S.D.'s Willy Nilly, a musical exploitation of the cult murders of the psychedelic era. Yes, please.

Carissa "non-stop play machine" Cordes is in an all-female production of Jen Genet's Deathwatch in a translation by Obie Winner David Rudkin. It's killing me that my schedule is making me miss this one (sorry).

Did we mention that time is running out to see Lynn Kenny (Pretty Theft) play freakin' Medea in a modern adaptation called Maddy? I'll be seeing this Friday night - hope to see you there!

THE MAJORLEANS are playing: this Thursday at 9PM at the Sidewalk Cafe on 6th Street and Avenue A. Select Majorleaners rocked out our ITBA acceptance video and our last Food:Soul party, so show some reciprocal love to this great band.

Michael Swartz (Midsummer) is showing off more of his classical chops in the ATA's Iphigenia In Tauris at the end of August, if you're hungry for more Flux friends post-Fringe.

Speaking of, fellow NET company Hand2Mouth is traveling from Portland, OR to play at The Ontological-Hysteric Incubator from8/27 to 9/5. We met the creator of Undine Faith Helma at the NET Summit and she is awesome, so be sure to check it out.

Damn, I'm just tired writing all that. Imagine how exhausted and satisfied you'll be after you see all of it.

Anything I missed? Anything you'd recommend? Mauled by any bears? Read the full story

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Finding Core Values

Flux is heading next week on our annual retreat at Little Pond, and we have an ambitious schedule for a week of relaxation, balancing internal questioning with play development.

One of the major goals is to begin articulating our Core Values into clear, evocative, actionable items. To do so, we're not only looking inward and sharing our own personal values, but also identifying successful models in the field.

Here are three ways you can help:
1. Do you know of any theatre companies with clear and evocative values that are truly reflected in their actions? If so, please post links to their values web page in the comments.

2. Have you gone through the process of articulating core values for your company? If so, do you have any advice on useful tactics or pitfalls to avoid?

3. Do you feel strongly that Flux should list a certain value among our Core Values? This may be a quality you already see present in how we work, or may be a goal you feel we need to work towards.

Though all Fluxers are currently preparing for this session of the retreat by answering more detailed versions of these questions, sometimes an outside eye can see things we miss, so please post your thoughts in the comments below.

For further detail, here is our working definition of Core Values:
VALUE: Something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable
CORE: a basic, essential, or enduring part; the essential meaning; the inmost or most intimate part
A Core Value are those values that Flux holds as basic, essential and enduring. Our decisions and actions emanate from and are measured by these values.

Two examples of strong Core Values statements:
Cornerstone Theater Company
Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Please comment away! If you're feeling especially inspired, why not check out our earlier post regarding our evolving aesthetic and comment on that? This will be another big session for us, and any feedback or thoughts you have going in will be very helpful. Hopefully, you'll be seeing the fruits of these sessions in September. Read the full story

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Wallace's Engaging Audiences, or, Don't Fear The Amateur

Monday, August 10, 2009 0 comments

Andrew Taylor at the Artful Manager has posted a link to the PDF of the Wallace Foundation's Engaging Audiences, a report that came out of their Grantee Conference in Philadelphia this April. Some parts feature the uneasy truisms of social media; other parts feature interesting anecdotes of one time fixes to long term problems.

But one section stood out: the relationship between the professional and amateur artist. Here is an excerpt:

"(Wolf) Brown cited several surveys of audience members that indicate a strong correlation between the extent to which people engage in various forms of musical, theatrical, dance and artistic experiences in their lives and their propensity to attend professionally-presented events.
For example:
ƒ -Among current subscribers, former subscribers, and single ticket buyers across six orchestra audiences surveyed, 71 to 77 percent reported experience singing or playing a musical instrument.
ƒ -Among a sample of Steppenwolf Theatre Company patrons, 43 percent reported frequently or occasionally reading plays for their own enjoyment and 12 percent reported frequently or occasionally writing, performing in or working on plays or musicals.
ƒ -People taking music lessons or classes, acting lessons, performing dances as part of a group, or visual arts or crafts classes at least once a week were much more likely to attend performances of these art forms than people who had less or no personal involvement in the practice of music, theater, dance and visual arts."
This is not new - Scott Walters has been working with the importance of this idea for some time, including one of my favorite posts regarding the decline of piano sales and the rise of radio here.

But sometimes you have to listen to something a number of times before you actually hear it. Now I've heard it. And the first question I have is why is there such a divide between the professional artist and the amateur?

Fear, probably; when professional arts organizations perceive their value in a state of siege, they must draw rigid lines to protect it. Logical allies are pushed aside out of fear their amateur status will somehow contaminate the brand. The idea of a professional artists' quality over the audience must take precedent to their value to the audience.

But, as Lynne Connor states later in the report:
"I believe what today's potential arts audiences most want out of an arts event is the opportunity to co-author meaning. They don't want the arts; they want the arts experience....They want to retrieve sovereignty over their arts-going by reclaiming the cultural right to formulate and exchange opinions that are valued in the community."
The second question is, of course, what can be done about it. It has to go beyond blog posts and comments (though if you saw Volleygirls, please do comment!) and education programs (though they are important). I think it will ultimately take a reconsideration of the value of ownership of the arts; a reframing that does not diminish the awareness of quality, but places it in its proper context. To re-purpose Byron, the professional artist must be among them AND of them; the amateur must be an equal partner at the table; the audience must be empowered by excellence to create themselves.

How to apply that practically? I don't know. I do know that an excellent example can be found in the work of the SITI Company. For all the recent talk of experimental versus traditional structures, SITI Company has created an immensely devoted following for very experimental work. How? Anne Bogart says:
"An acting student at Columbia once told me that her father is a surgeon and that surgeons have a saying: "Study one, do one, teach one". When I heard this, I jumped with the knowledge that this formula is exactly true for me, too."
Teach one, study one - it's not enough to simply do one. How this will play out in Flux's work, I don't yet know. But I am coming to believe that this is one of the essential steps we need to take as artists - to expect more from our audiences so they will expect more of us. Read the full story

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Volleygirls, the day after

The event went really well! Thanks to everyone who made the trek on a grey day to support our work and share in Rob Ackerman's Volleygirls. Our extreme staged reading was a whirlwind process, but we landed in a good place, and thanks to the commitment of the cast, the reading captured a little of the kinetic thrill of Rob's play.

We'll be posting pictures and a deeper round-up, but I wanted to try something new on the blog by first directly soliciting feedback from the audience and artists who were there in the comments section: what did you like? Any performances or moments you thought were particularly successful? Any sets you weren't quite able to spike? Any thing we could've done to make the event run more smoothly? PLEASE post your responses in the comments.

As for me, I'm remembering many things fondly, but here's a few specifics:

1. Tiffany's Jess chastizing Isaiah's Xavier immediately after kissing him.
2. DeWanda's 'nice' face as Ingrid - it still makes me laugh when I think about it.
3. David's Phil and Jane's Carla rocking out to the Ladyhawk's cheers.
4. Jessica's delivery of "passing" as Marisol - a little detail that probably no one noticed but me - but she captured Marisol's conflict of needing to lead but being afraid of the consequences in that one moment (and throughout).
5. Cotton's "And I am by myself. All alone. Do you get that?" as Katie, the girl who has dominated everyone she meets, and by doing so, made herself entirely alone - in that moment, Cotton showed us the cost.

As for things we could have done better, I wish I'd taken Rob's suggestion for Jocelyn's entrance - she rocks out privately to some MJ before realizing she's being watched, then runs from embarassment - and I chose to have her notice the audience watching her. Despite Caitlin's hilarious and heartfelt cut-loose dancing, I think Rob's suggestion of having Katie (another character) walk by and notice her might have played more clearly - I had thought the convention of the audience being an equal partner in the play would carry the discovery, but I think Rob was right.

SO how about you? What do you think worked? What didn't? And THANK YOU again for everyone who showed their support! Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions: Night Letters

Thursday, August 6, 2009 2 comments

As we lead up to our fall production of The Lesser Seductions Of History, I'll be posting things that inspired the play's writing or echo its concerns. I heard Stanley Kunitz read from his poem Night Letters in the days before the second Iraq War, at a Not In Our Name gathering during a blizzard in Manhattan. He was in his late nineties then, reading a poem written during Hitler's rise, and craned up to the mike to deliver his poem; and the excerpt I give here lives at the center of The Lesser Seductions Of History, especially those last six lines:

I suffer the twentieth century,
The nerves of commerce wither in my arm;
Violence shakes my dreams; I am cold,
Chilled by the persecuting wind abroad,
The oratory of the rodent’s tooth,
The slaughter of the blue-eyed open towns,
And principle disgraced, and art denied.

My dear, is it too late for peace, too late
For men to gather at the wells to drink
The sweet water; too late for fellowship
And laughter at the forge; too late for us
To say, “Let us be good to one another”?
The lamps go singly out; the valley sleeps;
I tend the last light shining on the farms
And keep for you the thought of love alive,
As scholars dungeoned in an ignorant age
Tended the embers of the Trojan fire.
Cities shall suffer siege and some shall fall,
But man’s not taken. What the deep heart means,
Its message of the big, round, childish hand,
Its wonder, its simple lonely cry,
The bloodied envelope addressed to you,
Is history, that wide and mortal pang.

Read the full story

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Arlene Goldbard on Imaginative Empathy

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 0 comments

I had meant to post a link to Arlene Goldbard's talk at the NET Summit in San Francisco some time ago, but time keeps on slipping, slipping. However, now is still as good a time as any, maybe more so after posting Ellen McLaughlin's commencement address on the twin births of theatre and democracy.

Both are concerned with art's role in civic life, and both engage with that concern by widening the possible/necessary in exciting ways. Read together, they offer one compelling answer to the question of value I raised here.

Here is an excerpt from the talk to tempt you into going to her website and downloading the whole thing:

"Now it’s up to us to apply this knowledge to the problem of national recovery and the challenge of building a humane, sustainable civil society right here in the United States. Now is the time for a radical re-understanding of the social role, the critical importance, the public interest in creativity, specifically artistic creativity. We can close the gap in understanding that has prevented so many people from seeing that artistic and cultural creativity is not just a nice thing to have around, and a really special amenity when you have the resources to invest in something extra, but a necessity for recovery, survival and sustainability.

How do we do that? We have to begin by enlarging our own thinking, speech and action. I estimate that I have been in about a trillion conversations, read about a billion arguments, that end in the slogan, “support the arts.” Accustomed to long-term deprivation, conventional arts advocates tend to think small, focusing on saving the tiniest government agencies, on hoping not to lose too much more this time around. Many conventional arts-support arguments are silly; for example, the “economic multiplier effect” of buying theater tickets: people who go to the theater may eat in a restaurant or pay to park their cars, they may have a drink after the performance. Each additional expenditure multiplies the economic impact of a dollar spent on tickets. That’s the economic multiplier effect, and, yes, it all adds up to jobs. But so what? Going to a dog show or a football game or lady mud wrestling has the same economic impact. And that’s one of the strongest conventional arts-support arguments! After decades of this stuff, conventional arts advocates have worn themselves thin stretching a point, with almost nothing to show for it. Adjusted for inflation, even the recently expanded 2009 NEA budget is worth only a bit more than half its value in 1981, the year of Ronald Reagan’s first budget cuts.

In a time of economic crisis, when people are worried about surviving, when it is hard to fund schools, housing and medical care (but still not so hard to finance war, unfortunately), arts support arguments become even more half-hearted and desperate, and therefore even less effective. You don’t need me to tell you what’s happening to your own organizations and your own communities right now. I am reminded of the dream of right-wing crackpot Grover Norquist, who said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” That is what has happened over the last three decades to the arguments for arts support, which are circling the drain as I speak.

The remedy isn’t more shrinkage but the opposite, to think big. Conventional arts advocates claim art enriches, beautifies, expresses and entertains. These are important social goods. But the elephant in the room right now, the large, unacknowledged truth that we had better hurry up and shout from the rooftops, is that in a uniquely powerful way, art can save us.

Does the grandiosity of that assertion make you uneasy? Just give me another ten minutes before you make up your mind whether to listen to your uneasiness or to your hopes."
Read all of it here - and it's worth the read. Read the full story

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Cast Announced For Volleygirls

Monday, August 3, 2009 2 comments

(Look at how much fun raffles are! Jason and Christina are having fun! And so can you!)

And what a cast:
by Rob Ackerman
directed by August Schulenburg

COACH: Matt Archambault
DIRK: Jason Paradine
PHIL: David Crommett
CARLA: Jane Taylor
BEN: Jaime Robert Carrillo
LAUREN: Catherine Porter
JESS: Tiffany Clementi
REF: Candice Holdorf
SALLY: Kelly O'Donnell
INGRID: DeWanda Wise
LIV: Elise Link
MARISOL: Jessica Angleskhan
CRASH: Christina Shipp
KATIE: Cotton Wright
JOCELYN: Caitlin Kinsella
XAVIER: Isaiah Tanenbaum

Literally studded with stars. And here (once again) is what it's all about:

Flux is thrilled to be presenting a staged reading of Rob Ackerman's Volleygirls as the next installment of our potluck play reading series, Food:Soul. We've helped develop this play over the past months, and were so thrilled to see it produced at A.C.T. We very much hope you'll join us Sunday, August 9th at 4:00 PM at Blondies Sports on The East Side at 1770 Second Avenue (Bet. 92nd & 93rd).

But this is no ordinary Food:Soul. In order to help raise money for our upcoming production of The Lesser Seductions Of History, we're making this one a party! With live bands, $3 drafts, and Flux's homecooked delights, we sincerely hope you'll join us to celebrate Rob's play, and help us meet our mid-season fundraising goal.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Click here now to get your tickets and save! The doors open at 4 for Flux-cooked food and cheap drinks, the staged reading of Volleygirls starts at 5:30, and the bands start rocking at 7! If you can't make the reading, come after 7 for the bands for only $10 and party late with Flux.

Out of town on August 9th? Don't worry, you can still be a part of the action by joining in our raffle. We have some great prizes - check it out here!

Whether you join us for the party, participate in the raffle, or just choose to make a mid-season donation here, your generosity is helping us meet our goal of landing on the moon with The Lesser Seductions Of History. Thank you for your support!

To learn more about past Food:Soul's click here, here and here. To learn more about our development of Volleygirls, click here, here, and here, for a little taste.

We very much hope to see you there!
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Out and About

Sunday, August 2, 2009 0 comments

Today at 8PM is your last chance to see Founding Member Candice Holdorf in the excellent Never/Cracked.

It's also your last chance to see Flux friend Carissa Cordes in Hamlet.

And then next week, Lynn Kenny from Pretty Theft plays Medea (yikes!) in a modern adaptation called Maddy - be sure to check it out.

Also next week, Flux friend Connie's Avant Garde Restaurant plays the Ice Factory - if you haven't been to this amazing (and delicious event) ((and even if you have)) - go now.

And also also next week, Rising Phoenix Rep opens Daniel Talbott's Slipping - Heather and I saw a recent preview and it was really lovely work (and includes an unsettling must-see performance by Adam Driver) - make sure you see it before it closes August 15th.

Then it's FRINGE TIME...but that's a big thing and really a whole different entry.

What did I miss? What would YOU recommend?

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Exploding Moments: Two Girls

Saturday, August 1, 2009 3 comments

Heather here. Exploding Moments #2 features the play Two Girls written and performed by Gabrielle Maisels, produced by Dina Leytes. Before launching into the exploded moment, I should say that you have one chance left to see this play:

Final Performance of Two Girls
Sunday, August 2nd at 6:00pm
The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre - 312 W. 36th St., first floor
Tickets: www.midtownfestival.org

About the Play

"South Africa, 1988. Two girls—Lindiwe, Black, and Corinne, Jewish—are coming of age in the twilight of apartheid."

Two Girls is a remarkable one-woman play tracing the journeys of two children of apartheid South Africa: Corinne, Jewish, and Lindiwe, black. Gabrielle Maisels vividly portrays nine characters, delving into the deep pain politics can inflict, and the fierce hope that the two girls struggle to sustain. The play is written and performed by Gabrielle Maisels, who is the granddaughter of Israel Aaron Maisels, leader of the defense team that secured Mandela’s acquittal in the 1956 Treason Trial.

The Exploded Moment

Midway through the play, the elderly house keeper, Beauty (mother of Lindiwe), finds out that Lindiwe did not pass her regents exams, which means she may not graduate high school. Beauty, who up until this point has held her head high, showing love through her tough demeanor and discipline, crumbles in this moment. All her hopes and dreams that her daughter will live a better life than she herself has are crushed, and Beauty literally collapses to the ground in a fit of hysteria. Gabrielle navigates this emotional breakdown for Beauty with such grace while simultaneously popping out of that character to portray young Corrine and Corrine's mother coming to Beauty's aid. I wanted to discover how Gabrielle's training and rehearsal process led to the seamlessness and tragedy of Beauty's collapse.

The Questions

NB: I asked the questions in one order, but rightfully so Gabrielle chose to answer Question 2 before Question 1, so I present the answers to you that way:

Question 2: You never lost the precision of motion/movement even in Beauty's collapse. What was the process for writing this scene? And how did you rehearse this scene?

GABRIELLE: The answer to this is in the acting technique that I use, which is Carol Fox Prescott's “Breathing, Awareness and Joy.” She has this brilliant idea – which is sometimes very hard to comprehend as a new actor, but which is the linchpin of my acting, I think – that the “joy” she talks about comes from letting every possible human emotion flow THROUGH you, and RELISHING that experience. So, if you're playing someone who is bitter, or anguished, or murderous, or despairing, or any of those emotions that you wouldn't think would feel good to feel....the joy is in 150% filling yourself with that experience, because there is something delicious and pure in being fully human in that way, and expressing something that every human feels whether to a very small or very large degree. And, perhaps most importantly: it's not “yours.” Beauty's anguish is not “mine.” It is flowing THROUGH me, PHYSICALLY, and in a split second, another experience can flow through me – because, as Carol says, we all have the entire universe of human experiences within us at every moment, so it's simply a matter of being a supple and receptive instrument and being brave enough to let an experience that big flow THROUGH me, without getting overwhelmed by it, or resisting it in any way, because I know that, as long as I keep my breath moving and my energy releasing, then in the next second, I can access something else (in this case Myra, and her concern for Beauty.)

The process for writing the scene: I had written a scene in which they all discover that Lindiwe hasn't passed – but it was a much “smaller” scene, emotionally. Beauty didn't show her reaction. Then, after performing that scene a time or two (rehearsing? I think) and dramaturging/rewriting the play, I think I could sense that I was “hiding” from something big in that scene because it was somehow “scary” to me emotionally – and potentially embarrassing, as a performer. So, again, this is where I go to my technique and try to let the impulses flow – and I think I did that on my feet? If I let myself be free, physically, then the emotion of the moment arises in me – and then I knew how huge this would be for Beauty. I hadn't “known” that before. It's all a process. I think I remember improvising it rather than writing it first? But i'm not sure.

Question 1: Throughout the play I was struck by the precision, almost choreography, of your physical movements. How did you discover/rehearse the stylization of the piece?

GABRIELLE: In terms of the “precision of motion/movement” – that's interesting to me, too. Because I don't use a specific physical “technique.” I just fully inhabit the characters, and, again, FULLY release my energy – and then my body wants to do what that character does. It's much more about getting OUT OF THE WAY, than about “doing” something physical. There's nothing cerebral about it. I never made decisions about certain postures or gestures for each character. (Carol has beaten into me her prohibition against “making decisions” about anyone! Because it kills the process. How can you decide something about a full human being? Humans change all the time.) So, the technique has more to do with courage, again. If I am brave enough to let my own mannerisms and protections fall away, then impulses arise all the time – and I have trained myself to follow those impulses, and trust them, and release that energy fully, and then a full character emerges in a split-second.

In terms of “choreography” – I know that Beauty collapses at that moment in the play – but my guess is that I do it differently every time? I think Joey [the director] might be able to speak to that. [Joey's answer below]

When I don't trust my technique, and my impulses (e.g. when I was first rehearsing this, and was worried that the audience wouldn't be able to distinguish characters) then the transitions between characters actually gets muddier. Because then I'm in my head, “trying” to “show” the audience that “Now I'm Corinne!”. Again, from Carol: I have to just do it for MYSELF. If I try to “show” something, then it gets stiff. If I just have the experience, 200%, for myself, and relish it, then the audience just gets to join me on the wild ride.

JOEY (the director):
When we began the process of staging this play, I knew we had to find the landmarks that would guide Gabrielle through this story. We would find the structure that would give her the freedom to bring these people through. We began at the beginning and found the map that felt the most organic and "right." We rehearsed one moment at a time. It was like being on a treasure hunt. Each gem lead us to the next. We didn't decide how each character moved or talked, it was more like we gave them space and structure so they could come through.

The moment that you are talking about is one of my favorites as well because four different people come through with no transition time and you get the sense of how everyone is reacting in the moment as if you can watch all of them separately and then you realize they are all coming through one person. It is a little different every night, but every night it is incredibly precise because of Gabrielle's commitment.

Question 3: I don't remember Beauty coming back again after that scene. Can you talk about why we don't see her again?

GABRIELLE: It wasn't a decision. I hadn't noticed that, until audience members started telling me they missed her in the second half. (I miss her too! I love her.) But I think it's just right, so it happened that way. In some way, Beauty's story is over. Beauty is so, so much a product of apartheid, in that incredibly painful, terrible way. She's amazing. But she isn't the future. Lindiwe and Corrine have to wrestle with the future. It's theirs.
This "joy" that Gabrielle speaks of most certainly comes through in her performance. The first thing I mentioned to someone when talking about the show was how giving Gabrielle is as a performer. As an audience member, I felt so welcome and loved. And now with the insight above--learning about Gabrielle's training and process--I understand why.

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