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Ellen McLaughlin on Theatre and Democracy

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 1 comments

Recently, my friend (and amazing playwright/actor) Ellen McLaughlin sent me the commencement address she'd written for the students at A.R.T. This address came out of their collaboration on Ajax In Iraq, a harrowing play about the trauma of the Iraq war mirrored through the story of Ajax.

The address itself looks at the twin births of theatre and democracy in Athens, and how the gift of empathy from the former enabled the creation of the latter. For me, it further articulates some of the ideas living here, and continues the difficult work of talking about value begun here. It is an eloquent, moving call for theatre makers to consider our essential responsibility to civic life.

The address is 15 pages in total - it begins with words specific to the occasion, and ends with contextualizing the central ideas within the opportunities of our current political climate. I have excerpted (with her permission) pages 4-11, which constitute the heart of this particular agon. Please read and respond with your own thoughts!

"Don’t forget that when you’re feeling flattened and thinking why oh why did I choose this ridiculous, humiliating profession? Remember what you’re really part of when you’re engaged in a life in the theater. Times like that, you might find it heartening to think about the Greeks, because they basically came up with the profession you’re entering into, and while they were at it they came up with, well, Western civilization. And they did it at about the same time, in the same city and with the same hammer and nails. Theater seems to have come first, but not by all that much. The city of Athens birthed two extraordinary local creations: democracy and theater. And essentially she gave birth to them as twins. Coincidence? Probably not, as anyone who has ever worked in the theater can attest. Theater, like democracy, by definition can only be done in collaboration. Both must be responsive to the needs of the moment, and they happen in the present tense. Both are done on the breath, in public; both are dependent on speech and the mysterious human grace of empathy. They must happen right now, in front of us, and we all share the same air.

The Greeks didn’t come up with the rudiments of theater: ritual and storytelling. Remnants of early Greek civilizations show us what we see everywhere in the beginnings of human societies: people dancing and singing, often in groups, telling stories and talking about gods and heroes. The innovation happened when one particular singer or speaker--tradition has named him Thespis--became what we must call the first theater artist when he turned from the people watching him and spoke to another person on the stage, who could then respond in kind. Something momentous and essential to theater was created in that moment: dialogue. Greeks called that splitting of voice in dialogue or debate the agon, and once they’d invented it,
they fell head over heels in love with it. Ultimately, they would use the agon for everything and everywhere, from classrooms to courtrooms to halls of government, but its first home was the theater, and there it defined the form. Without agon or dialogue, what’s happening on the stage may be many things, but it’s not theater. It’s ritual, it’s storytelling, it’s one voice speaking one authoritative truth to a passive audience. It’s a useful form, and we need it. (I need it right now.) But it ain’t theater. Because when dialogue enters the world, something profound changes in the dynamic with the audience. I like to think that when Thespis broke all the rules and spoke to another actor, everyone watching sat forward for the first time, and they’ve been sitting forward ever since. Because suddenly they had a job to do. Much would be asked of them. Theater, like democracy, makes demands. We, as an audience, have to do more than show up and get our orders. Theater turns an audience into citizens instead of just spectators. With the advent of dialogue, the truth no longer belongs to any single speaker. The truth must be found in the exchange. An audience has to follow the agon, the debate, enter into a sympathetic understanding with one speaker and then another, try out each position in order to discover what’s really going on. It’s confusing. There are times when everyone seems to be right, just as there are times when no one in the forest of voices is saying what needs to be said and it’s everything we the audience can do not to warn the actors on the stage or comfort them or just yell at them for being so blind to the truth that would be apparent to them if they were only sitting outside it as we are, listening to the agon and watching the mess onstage.

This is what theater looks like, but it’s also what democracy looks like. The theater teaches us that the validity of ethical principles, beliefs, and laws must be debated in full view of everyone concerned, in the open air of the public space. Theater teaches us that the struggle to make sense of things is what we are here to do. And we must do it together if we are to do it well. It is our work. And we do it in public.

There is a kind of brilliance to the light in Greece that you don’t find elsewhere. Something about the angle of the sun. Things are simply more visible there than they are anywhere else. So it’s not surprising that Greek thought is filled with notions of visibility and hiddenness.

Ajax himself, not exactly an introvert, has a speech about how it is inevitable that all things will come to light eventually. For the Greeks this was not just an unavoidable truth, it was something of an injunction. “Know thyself” was the singular command and warning of the Delphic oracle, after all. Whether we will or not, the truth insists itself. It wants to be known.

Our natures are mysterious and terrifying. We all know this. There is a personal darkness we are familiar with inside us, even if we have never had to stare it in the face. We can shut it deep within us, but we’ve heard it thumping around in there on quiet nights when we are alone with the worst of ourselves. We all need help with that. The Greeks had this rather outlandish notion that if we could see ourselves from the length of an auditorium, look at ourselves outside ourselves, as played by actors, doing the awful things that we, human beings, know we are capable of doing, and suffering the worst that we can imagine, we might be purged of our own darkness by the terror and pity such experiences in the theater provoke in us. It’s not surprising that theater festivals were frankly religious events for the Greeks. That ancient notion that there is a spiritual component to what happens in theaters won’t strike this crowd as odd, I trust; there’s a reason so many here have chosen this profession. We’ve all felt it, onstage and off, that transformative thing that can happen as we watch actors, those intimate, necessary strangers, acting for us and as us out there in the merciless light.

What are actors after all? You are the spelunkers. The rest of us are standing in the open air above the ground, trying to guess at what’s beneath our feet—all that scary unfathomed darkness and intricacy and danger. Playwrights come up with maps of what we can make out of the hidden terrain beneath, but we give them over to the actors because actors are the ones who will strap on the headlights and throw the coiled ropes over their shoulders and go down into the deeps for us and thread their way through that blackness to find out what’s really there. We call them actors because they act for us. They venture into other selves and show us what they find. There are bumper stickers that say something like, “Got freedom? Thank a soldier.” I would suggest we campaign for a bumper sticker that says, “Got self-knowledge? Thank an actor.”

Of all the things the Greeks teach us, perhaps the most essential for our purposes today is that there are worse things than failure. If I could give you only one piece of advice today it would be to live by their example and risk failure. Just look at those plays. Look at the size of what they are grappling with—they’re sounding the depths of what it is to be human; time and again, the dilemmas they pose just seem impossible to contend with, yet they take them on. These are plays of astonishing ambition and they never cease to humble me and inspire me to reach farther and risk more as an artist. Why not try to address the hardest things? The alternative is to make nice, neat plays that offend no one and do nothing much because they don’t attempt anything much. Why not risk failure and try to make, well, art? What is stake other than the size of my soul?

Finally, I want to talk about empathy. The Greeks didn’t invent it, but with the creation of dialogue, they came up with a form that demands it and makes a home for it. With the invention of dialogue, an audience can move freely from one mind to another on the stage, entering different perspectives and judging their validity by holding them one by one against our own hearts. We must empathize in order to make sense. I have to put myself in her shoes, then his, then hers, and through that radical spiritual exercise I arrive at a new understanding of the world that I simply can’t reach when such demands are never put upon me. And the Greeks don’t make it easy for you. Often the characters who at first glance seem to be obviously in the right, or out of it, become figures of ambiguity or disturbing familiarity and pathos when we bring the force of empathy to bear upon them. Hundreds of years of use and scholarly analysis of these plays and still they defy reduction. They work an audience hard and wrack our hearts as we feel through them, searching for ethical balance as we struggle to find it in our own lives.

But that’s what civilization asks of people. It asks them to work. Civilization doesn’t let us get away with waiting passively to be told what to think. We have to engage with dialogue and connect with one embodied truth and then another and another. With the invention of dialogue, I realize that your pain is my pain because I am free at last to feel it. And as a participant in the world, as a citizen in this civilization, it is my right and my duty to feel it.

It is the act of empathy that teaches us how to be civilized. It is the act of empathy, which the invention of theater taught the people of ancient Greece, that makes civilization possible because it makes democracy possible. If you can learn, through the theater, what it is to leap empathetically out of the tiny circle of your own needs and concerns and enter into the souls of those apparently different from you, then you realize that the sufferings and desires of others are like your own. In theaters, we feel through the human dilemma together, in collaboration and breathing the same air. Here and now, we learn to make it up as we go along with this new knowledge of the connection between us.

It’s a strange profession you’ve chosen and no mistake, this alchemical business of what happens when one actor on a stage turns to another. So remember that when you engage in making theater, you are engaging in the business that began it all.
You are making civilization."
-Ellen McLaughlin, excerpted from her 2009 Commencement Address to the students A.R.T. Read the full story

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Five Bloggers On Fire

And speaking of discipline, a shout-out to five bloggers who have been on fire lately:

Adam Szymkowicz: is on a tear interviewing all sorts of interesting playwrights

Sean Williams: the multi-faceted Gideon producer is rocking production posts, reactions to shows, and in-depth thinking on larger issues confronting the field; all with candor and warmth

Leonard Jacobs: Twitter tells me Leonard's posted SIX (count 'em!) new posts this morning, including two reviews, a report on the Democracy Restoration Act, and an example of a theatre weathering the recession. Economics, politics, aesthetics - Clyde Fitch is expanding the frame of what arts journalism means in exciting ways.

Createquity: Each post from Ian David Moss needs four additional posts to unpack all the rigorous thinking contained; the business of the arts, from the detailed to the conceptual, he's been bringing it

Bekah Brunstetter: On the other end of the spectrum, the world of Bekah's blog feels a lot like the world of her plays - funny, warm, surprising, strange (oh, and the Atlantic? Awesome)
Read the full story

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Two Quotes On Artistic Discipline

Monday, July 27, 2009 0 comments

"Not to show off, but to show; not to exhibit but to transmit the tenderness of the human spirit through the disciplined action of a human body."
-Merce Cunningham (h/t Marilyn on Superfluities)

"Don't bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
Then labor heavily so that they may seem light."
-Wislawa Szymborska, Under One Small Star

In thinking about the conversation on quality, it's humbling to remember that all of our disciplined work and heavy labors simply clear the way for something else to happen; a moment of the spirit; quick, tender and light. And rare. Read the full story

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American String Conspiracy this Sunday

Saturday, July 25, 2009 0 comments

Did you love the song Elvis wrote for GL's Mother in Riding the Bull?
Or the rocking Good Day To Die in Angel Eaters?

Then you need to check out our collaborator and friend Gary Keenan's band, American String Conspiracy! Gary was just nominated by the NYITA for Outstanding Original Music for Angel Eaters, and he's got a set this Sunday you should check out:

Gary will be playing this Sunday July 26 at Spike Hill (www.spikehill.com) Ernie Vega on bass, Shu Nakamura on guitar, Suzanne Davenport on violin/chin cello, and Charlie Shaw on drums. Please join them at 9PM set at this swell and ultra-convenient (across the street from Bedford Ave on the L train) club, featuring some rocked-up country blues, original songs about loves won and lost, some cool-yet-smoking guitar instrumentals, and maybe a rockabilly stomp or two.

Spike Hill
184 & 186 Bedford Ave--
Williamsburg, Brooklyn 718-218-9737
Sunday July 26

6PM Argyle Johanson
7PM Caitlin Rogers
8PM Ryan Greene & Annie Blackbird
9PM American String Conspiracy with Suzanne Davenport-violin/chin cello; Gary Keenan--electric mandolin, guitar, vocals; Shu Nakamura-lead & slide guitar; Charlie Shaw-drums; Ernie Vega-electric bass, vocals
11PM Ward Morford
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Revolutionary Compassion

Thursday, July 23, 2009 7 comments

A few days ago, David Cote at Time Out New York posted Nine Wishes For NYC Theater. This post generated some thoughtful responses from 99 Seats, Rob at Wicked Stage and Matthew Freeman, with most of the focus on the fifth wish:

"5. Bloggers: Engage/enrage
This item will generate noise (and that’s the point): I wish bloggers would mix it up more. Does it take a Rachel Corrie fiasco to generate heat? The theater blogosphere has been dull, insular and quiet lately. We need more arguments, more dirt, more bloody knock-down-drag-out fights. Not just self-promotion, obscure manifestos and production diaries. And here’s hoping for a new breed of long-form critics worth reading."

This also prompted some negative comments from George Hunka of Superfluities , which led to this strong response from David on TONY's blog, Upstaged.

I would like to suggest an alternative model for #5.

First, let's give rage it's due: it can be a powerful motivating force. It can take the form of a necessary righteousness in the face of legitimate oppression.

But rage comes with a significant cost. It obscures, rather than clarifies. It sees stereotypes instead of complexities, enemies instead of allies, two dimensions instead of three. It is more interested in defending turf than affecting change. Above all, rage believes with 100% certainty that it is right. Where there is no doubt, there is little opportunity for change.

That may sound Jedi-ish, but I mean it practically. It is almost impossible to change someone's deepest convictions though battle unless you are willing to obliterate them.

The best way to create a change is through compassion. Not a passive pity, but a deep empathy that is transformed into action. It begins from a place of humility - I don't know the answers. It moves to a place of empathy - this person's experience might have something to teach me. Then sympathy - finding a positive value in that other experience. And from that deep knowledge, acting to improve our mutual existence - compassion.

Compassion is more difficult then rage, but ultimately, more effective. If that seems a little too much like a John Lennon song for bare-knuckle theatre-o-sphere, I would suggest you haven't considered the true revolutionary possibilities, and practicalities, of compassion.

Two things driving this post: Flux went to the Kennedy library in Boston last weekend to research our next play. Among other things, we watched an extraordinary video on the life and death of Bobby Kennedy. Whatever his flaws, the compassion he had for others, and his legitimate wishes for peace and human dignity, broke over me in waves. It was far more devastating than a fight, and the fire from that video has only begun to play itself out in my own life.

Second example: at the NYIT Awards this week, the revolutionary act of making the Indie theatre field engage critically with itself through peer evaluation manifested in a moving celebration. This is only one example - nytheatre.com has been doing this for years. It goes beyond just showing up and saying this has value, though of course that act is important. They are teaching the next generation of theatre artists to engage compassionately, and yes critically, with each other's work. If you don't believe that's had a profound affect on the quality of the field...well, I'd say tell me what angle you're looking from. From here in the fray, it's plain to see the impact of the revolutionary compassion of organizations like nytheatre.com and NYITA.

I'd like to widen the lens just a little bit. Please read (or better yet, listen) this speech Bobby Kennedy gave in South Africa in 1966, the speech that his brother read at his funeral, and for a moment, imagine two things:

1. He is talking to you
2. And he is talking about a change in which your theatre will play an essential role:
(the highlights are my own)

"There is a discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; and millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich; and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere.
These are differing evils, but they are common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows.

"But we can perhaps remember - even if only for a tirne - that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek - as we do - nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

"Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

"Our answer is to rely on youth - not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress. It is a revolutionary world we live in; and this generation at home and around the world, has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.

"Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal.

"These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

"Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

"For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

"The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.

"Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live."

What if we tried to hold our conduct to that standard?
How would we make theatre differently?
How would we engage in each other's work differently?
How would we use the astonishing creation of the internet, this thing that allows for an unparalleled freedom of communication, how would we use it to further the great work of making a more compassionate world?

Well, I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out. This blog is one way to do that. Sometimes it's the necessary self-promotion of a raffle. Other times, it's about sharing our process, or championing the work of artists we love, or taking a wider angle at the challenges of the field and how we can help solve them. Post by post, we're feeling out the best ways to do that, learning from those like nytheatre.com, NYITA, Fractured Atlas, and others who are already leading.

My hope is that is we will always do so from a place of compassion, and with a humility that doesn't shirk from our responsibility to each other and the world.

I don't know. But I do know NYC theater is much bigger than me, than Flux, than any one reviewer or blogger or artist or audience member; sometimes I think it is a much bigger thing than we have allowed ourselves to hope; and no one person gets to decide who belongs to it, and who does not; that belonging is decided solely by the work of our own hands; and the sum total of that work will only be reached if we stop shouting at each other and start believing in the unique dignity each one of us brings to the great work.

It is the work of our own hands.
There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth.
In any event, it is the only way we can live.

Read the full story

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A special Food:Soul serves up Volleygirls

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 0 comments














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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Buy a Raffle Ticket!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 4 comments

We hope that you are able to attend our 2009 Fundraiser for our upcoming production of August Schulenburg's The Lesser Seductions of History on Sunday, August 9th (more information here) If you can't join us, that will make us sad, but you can still participate in our raffle! The money made from the raffle will go directly towards financing the production. We greatly appreciate all of your support.

Raffle tickets are as follows:

$3 gets you 1 ticket
$5 gets you 2 tickets
$10 gets you 5 ticket
$20 gets you 13 tickets (wow, that really increases your chances!)
and the ultimate deal: $40 gets you 30 tickets (insane!)


This year, you can increase your chances of winning by CHOOSING which prizes you want to win! For example, if you buy 5 tickets, you can put 2 tickets into the running for The Daily Show, 2 tickets for The Bacchae and 1 ticket for the paid background role on As the World Turns (or you could put all 5 into one prize - however you want to do it!)

So you want to purchase a raffle ticket? Click HERE to find out how!

Prizes!

Be a Star for the Day! Tour the CBS studios with Marnie Schulenburg who plays Allison Stewart on As The World Turns. Meet the cast and crew. AND to top it off you will get the opportunity to work as a background player and get paid! (must be 18 years of age or older)


Tickets to The Daily Show with John Stewart on December 3rd




Tickets to Light Night with Jimmy Fallon on August 14th




The Mystery Box
Just what is inside this mysterious box? We can't tell. But it is something really awesome. Buy some raffle tickets and you may find out...


2 tickets to Shakespeare in Central Park (the Public Theater)
In the 2nd show in the park this year, The Bacchae, JoAnne Akalaitis returns to The Public Theater to present the Greek tragedy as it was always meant to be seen – in the open air of the city.


Dinner for 2 with the Flux Member of Your Choice!
Jason, Tiffany, Gus, Christina, Kelly, Heather, Michael, Cotton, Candice, Angela, Jake and, of course, Isaiah...take your pick!


A personal tour of Google's New York City headquarters
Flux member Kelly O'Donnell takes you on a tour of the NYC Googleplex. Learn about the little startup that grew into a search giant whose name has become a verb. Tour finishes with a lunch in one of their famous cafeterias. Yum!


A handmade purse by Jason Tseng
Jason, a writer for the Bilerico Project, made this purse just for our raffle. Click the image to see the purse.


Kneading Foot Massager by The Quality Life
Sit back, relax, and enjoy this heavenly little foot massager....ah yes...life is good...valued at over $250.



A Jawbone BlueTooth headset
Dubbed "the best headset created" it also features the best noise elimination out there.



Gift Package at Soho Sanctuary
Includes a manicure, pedicure and your choice or a facial or makeup application.
http://www.sohosanctuary.com/


10-Class card to Area Yoga in Brooklyn
Voted Best Yoga Studio by New York Magazine. As a hatha and vinyasa yoga studio, Area yoga is for everyone. http://www.areayogabrooklyn.com/



Jewelry by Ashley Faison
Ashley Faison has created this 1960s-themed necklace to complement our upcoming production of The Lesser Seductions of History. Click on the image to see a larger view.



2 tickets to Epic Theatre Ensemble's Mahidi's Extra Key to Heaven
A poetic and haunting love story about crossing human and political borders in this time of unyielding violence. Runs Sept/Oct 2009.



2 tickets to New Perspectives' By Popular Demand
6 short plays developed by writers in the Women's Work LAB



Two Free Seasons with NYC Social Sports Club. Gift certificates are each redeemable for any 7-week season offered by NYC Social Sports Club. Sports include Kickball, Ultimate Frisbee, Inner Tube Water Polo, and more. All sports are casually competitive, and all games are followed by post-game parties.

click HERE to purchase raffle tickets! Raffle drawing will take place on August 9th.


If you have any questions about a particular prize, contact Kelly at kelly@fluxtheatre.org









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7 NYIT Award Nominations for Flux

It was great night!

We were nominated for 7 awards - 6 for Angel Eaters, and 1 for 8 Little Antichrists:

Outstanding Full Length Script: Johnna Adams
Outstanding Actor In A Lead Role: August Schulenburg
Outstanding Original Music: Gerard Keenan
Outstanding Costume Design: Emily Morgan DeAngelis
Outstanding Lighting Design: Jennifer Rathbone
Outstanding Sound Design: Asa Wember
Outstanding Set Design: Caleb Levengood

Also exciting were the 17 nominations for our friends at terraNova Collective, the love for the amazing production of Universal Robots, nominations for our friends at Piper MacKenzie for The Granduncle Quadrilogy, for the New York Neo-Futurists, and for APAC.

It was also a chance to learn about exciting new (to me) companies like Babel Theatre Project and Zootopia Theatre Company, both of whom were shown much love; and to see long time institutions like the Gallery Players, La Mama, Manhattan Theatre Source and HERE get nods for work they produced or presented.

So much thanks from all of us at Flux to Shay, Jason, Nick, Founder's Ward winner Akia and all of the staff and volunteers who so warmly made the event a night to remember!

(A grace note: part of any awards ceremony is recognizing the amazing work that somehow slipped through the cracks. From outside Flux, any list that doesn't feature Patrick Shearer's performance in A Colorful World or Rebecca Lingafelter's in Artifacts of Consequence missed out; and from within Flux, Richard Watson in Rattlers gave a performance I literally watched every night because it was so disturbing, moving and funny.)

Thanks again! Read the full story

Everyone needs a little foreplay

Sunday, July 19, 2009 3 comments

Heather here. As those of you who've been following Flux for a while now know, we have produced several exploratory reading series prior to various full productions. Each of these series are thematically connected to the full production that follows, and one might go as far to that these reading series are a Flux trademark. But a trademark without a name? That can't last forever.

Each of the reading series has had its own identity, but we hadn't found the right name for the overall project...until recently. First there was "The Dream Project" leading up to our production of Life is a Dream (2007), then "The Imagination Compact" which led up to A Midsummer Night's Dream (2008) and most recently "Poetic Larceny" preceding Flux's production of Pretty Theft (2009). Since The Dream Project occurred before there was a Flux blog, it warrants a brief explanation. The Dream Project was an exploration of Pedro Calderon de la Barca's La Vida es Sueno through a series of staged readings of various adaptations of Calderon's masterpiece
, including Jose Rivera's Sueno, Octavio Solis' Dreamlandia, a reading in the original Spanish, and The Dream Chain, an adaptation by seven playwrights each adapting one of the scenes from the play.

Flux had come up with other names for our other recurring events. There's
Have Another, our bar series (click HERE and HERE) and Food:Soul, our potluck staged readings (learn more HERE, HERE and HERE), but what about this series? Well, a few weeks ago my friend Ashley was talking about creativity, and I guess her words of inspiration seeped into my subconscious because that night, I had a brainstorm. I knew what we can call our pre-full production exploratory reading series!

ForePlay

Consider this the official announcement and "trademarking" of Flux's ForePlay series. In discussion is a ForePlay to wet your appetite for our upcoming The Lesser Seductions of History. Still in the early stages, this ForePlay series would likely feature artists from a variety of disciplines (painters, sculptors, musicians, etc.) creating new work that is inspired by the 1960s. Stay tuned.

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Exploding Moments: Infectious Opportunity

Friday, July 17, 2009 0 comments

In order to move forward this conversation regarding quality, we are putting some of those principles into practice with a new blog series, Exploding Moments. We'll be exploring how quality productions work through the prism of individual moments. By asking the artists involved how they created a particularly successful moment, and examining how it works in production, we hope to find take-aways to apply to our own work. At the same time, we hope to celebrate excellence in the field through this specific, detailed, useful exploration of what works.

What better way to start than with a look at the recently extended production of Infectious Opportunity? I asked actors David Ian Lee (Wes) and Rebecca Comtois (Jenny), and director Pete Boisvert and playwright James Comtois a few questions about a powerful moment that occurs near the end of the play...

SPOILER ALERT: Do not continue reading if you mind spoilers. Go see the extension and then come back!

SYNOPSIS: Wes Farley is a screenwriting student who, through a measure of empathy, manipulation and accident, winds up claiming he is HIV+. The sympathy this lie engenders helps his career profoundly, winning him a cushy teaching job and eventually, an Oscar nomination. As his success grows, it becomes ever more linked to the lie that started it, and the psychic cost of maintaining the lie starts weighing heavily on him.

At a moment when those pressures grow nearly unbearable, Jenny, a student smitten with Wes, waits for him after class. Out of love and respect for Wes, she has also been writing about AIDS, though she is not HIV+. In this moment of feeling powerless, he takes his lie further than ever before, with a scaldingly hypocritical attack on his student for her lack of honesty. As she tries to look away, he slaps her face into attention. That slap, and the scene that preceded it, were some of the most fiercely exciting moments in the play.

The scene:
JENNY. You feeling okay, Wes?
WES.
(Half to himself.) No one told me how many times I’d have to field that fucking question every day.
JENNY. Wes…?
WES. Yes, Jenny. What do you need?
JENNY. Well, I’m having a bit of difficulty with this script I’m working on. I think I’ve hit a roadblock. And I was wondering, well…
WES. Well, just bring the pages next week and we’ll see what we’ve got, okay?
JENNY. Okay. But I was wondering…I know this isn’t really how we do it, but if you would be at all willing to read what I’ve got on your own and let me know what you think…unless you need to go back to Los Angeles.
WES. No.
JENNY. Oh. Well. Maybe tonight or tomorrow night. If you’d like to come over and see the pages. I could even cook dinner if—
WES. Why are you writing about something you don’t know anything about?
JENNY. Mr. Farley…?
WES. Do you think this is glamorous? Do you think it’s heroic? One of my best friends from college died from toxoplasmosis. Do you know what that is? You get it from cats. His brain just shut down and when they found his body, he had shit himself. Speaking of shitting oneself, there’s also clostridium difficile, which causes the sufferer to literally shit himself to death. Then there’s the old standard, Kaposi's sarcoma, which gives you those sexy lesions and causes you to incessantly cough up blood. And this isn’t theoretical. It’s not poetic. It’s what I have to look forward to. So please, Jenny, either put that in your work, or stop riding the coattails of my sickness.
JENNY.
(Trying hard not to cry.) …okay…
WES.
(Pause. Takes a deep breath.) I’ll see you next week, Jenny.

What made this sequence so powerful? For answers, the artists:

1. James, what was your process of writing this scene? Was it part of early drafts, or did it come later? Did it pop out perfectly the first time, or was it part of rewrites?
James: Actually, this scene was added later during revisions. In the original draft, Wes was a little more passive and kind of just "going along with the ride," with his original lie. A few people who read it felt I was being too soft and pulling my punches, and they were right. So, when I rewrote it, I added a few parts where Wes was much more active in exploiting opportunities that came up from people thinking he was sick. Two scenes/exchanges I added during the revision process was the scene where he tells his mentor, Professor Franklin, that if he accepts the teaching position at the university, he'll need a salary bump to pay for the cost of medicine, and the scene where he chews out his student, Jenny, for "riding the coat-tails of his sickness."

2. Pete, David and Rebecca, please describe the process of rehearsing the scene. Was the slap a suprise?
Pete: The exchange between Jenny and Wes at the end of the final classroom scene is one my favorite sequences in Infectious Opportunity. We built it in rehearsal through a combination of improvisation and a close analysis of James’ script; of course, isn’t that always how you find the really good stuff?

The scene comes at the crux of the play, as the lie Wes has been living finally begins to slip out of his control. The direct catalyst for Wes’ breakdown is the phone call he receives from his agent, Brent (Daryl Lathon), informing him that he’s been nominated for an Academy Award. Towards the end of the phone call with Brent, Wes lets his mask slip for a second, grousing that Brent is building his success off of Wes’ (faked) illness. He lets a bit of the sarcastic demeanor he has been using in his exchanges with Josie (Andrea Marie Smith, playing the embodiment of Wes’ conscience that has been harassing him throughout the play) bleed into his phone call with Brent. Brent immediately senses a change in Wes and apologetically retreats, leaving Wes in horror at the gaffe he has made.

Two more slips of the mask occur in rapid succession as Professor Franklin overhears him calling out for Josie as she initially abandons him, and again as his internal monologue turns external when he complains about the aggravation of having to field questions about his health in front of Jenny. The façade that he has smoothly perfected over the years is rapidly falling apart under the increased pressure he feels as a result of the nomination.

The “Oleanna” moment (as we jokingly referred to it in rehearsal) is a twisted mirror of the first classroom scene near the top of the play. Wes is flattered by Jenny’s infatuation with him, but is always a bit uneasy at the similarities between her attempt to fictionalize her relationship with Wes and his own fraudulency. The crime he accuses Jenny of (leveraging a false experience of illness to further her writing career) is, of course, the precise sin that Wes has built his entire career and identity on. Where he initially tries to dissuade her gently from her topic, his reaction in the final classroom scene takes on a dark and violent tone as he desperately tries to reassert his ownership of the lie.

The moment of the slap was not something I had come up with prior to rehearsal. I wanted Wes to put a full court press on Jenny, intimidating her away from her subject matter as a way of protecting his own territory. The steady, inexorable cross to drive a point home is one of my favorite staging techniques, which you can find examples of in many of the Nosedive shows over the years.

Rebecca: Reading the play, this was the scene that drew me to the play, and made me go up for the role of Jenny. I do think this is Wes’ cruelest moment in the play, to answer another one of your questions, because to some extent he is aware of how he is ruining this girl. While his world is beginning to spiral out of his control, he attempts to reassert his dominance and control, and who better to do that with than Jenny. Jenny who he knows won’t put up a fight. But Jenny has her own story playing out. She has misinterpreted an earlier warning shot as approval. In the earlier classroom scene Wes tries to steer her away from, “the whole AIDS angle” in her writing, but he is soft with her, and she reads that as approval, and respect for her as a writer. She then gets to go off for a week (unseen) and fantasize about what step she will take next. She writes a few more pages, presumably involving a love scene between the high school teacher living with AIDS, and the sexy yet dedicated young grad student who has been observing his class for credit to get her teaching license. So she returns to class, her plan being to invite him over for dinner, to read the pages with the hope being that the power of her writing will make him fall head over heals in love with her. His admiration igniting a deep seeded lust for his protégé. Trashy dime store romance novels got nothin’ on this girl. So Jenny has had a week to fantasize about this, to play out every conversation in her head and, she believes, every possible outcome. She is, of course, wrong.

Going into rehearsal I had all of my book work done, all of my intentions mapped out and then, like Jenny, the scene just didn’t seem to cooperate with the vision of it I had in my head. I wasn’t anticipating the unabashed vitriol that was turned her/my way. Like in the scene itself, Wes’ attack started smaller, more constrained in the beginning and then is only fully unleashed as the attack continues. It was the same in rehearsals. It was several passes at the scene before we arrived at the tenor that you see in performance. I think it wasn’t until we got into runs that the scene really hit its stride, and David could use the momentum of the whole play to really rip into Jenny with the ferocity that he does in performance. But being under fire such as she is from this man she admires, if not adores, it’s hard not to see disengagement as her only option.

David: This scene was one of several which I auditioned with, and I had the privilege of reading opposite Rebecca. Most of the beats that made their way into the final production seemed to arrive organically in that first cold read, and under Pete’s direction the scene and monologue took a more refined shape. I remember Pete wanting the monologue to have a slow burn. He had a specific image for the beginning of the speech – hunched over the desk, eyes forward – and wanted me to restrain much of the furor and vitriol that I initially leaned into.

As I remember, it was in one of our final runs before tech that I spontaneously grabbed Becky’s chin and chucked it up: I (as Wes) was pissed that she (as Jenny) had lower her eyes and escaped me -- I was offering her the courtesy of not blowing my top, but she couldn’t offer me the respect of looking into my eyes. I chucked her chin up…and I (as Wes) immediately felt the shame in what I had done, felt surprise and regret, and was touched by the fear and pain I saw in Becky’s eyes.

There’s a quote by Jack Nicholson that I think is very helpful for actors in rehearsal: “If you get an impulse in a scene, no matter how wrong it seems, follow the impulse. It might be something and if it ain't: Take two!” In that moment I wasn’t thinking about the legitimacy of chucking Becky, I just knew it was the psychological “heart” of what I wanted to do, even if that impulse would ultimately be expressed in some other fashion.

After that rehearsal, I remember checking in with Becky, making sure she was physically okay and that I’d not crossed any lines by throwing some improvised physical biz into the run. Becky was gung-ho.

Still, I was uncertain about the chin-chuck (which morphed into the slap) because it is such an impermissible act for a teacher. I checked in with Pete, asking if he was sure we could go there: Wes has got to know, immediately after touching Jenny, that he could find himself in trouble with the regents, the University, the tenure review board…Hitting students is a big no-no. And Pete said, “That’s how far Wes has gone. And that’s how complete his lie is: Jenny’s not going to tell anyone. She’s not going to take on The System and The Superstar.”

Rebecca: Thank god for David coming up with the chin grab that turned into the chin slap. Every time it’s startling. It takes me out of my head, and then the autonomic responses can begin to work. That tightness in the sternum, the lump in the throat, and then it’s not about the book work, or what Jenny had planned, or really anything going on in the play- for me- and this is going to sound strange I’m sure- It becomes being 9 years old girl in a play house playing “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” with my friend Derek. Except after satisfying my part of the arrangement- Derek in turn promptly left to go tell on me. So... yeah that’s a little weird, but that’s the scene that just pops into my head whenever we get to that part of the play. It wasn’t something I had planned on, but I guess for me it’s just about the pure shame and embarrassment of rejection mixed with fear at having perceived to have done something wrong. I think Jenny leaves that scene feeling as though she’s the one that’s crossed over the line. That everything Wes has said about her is true, and that she is a terrible person, “riding the coattails of his sickness.” And that’s not something I saw when I read the play, but something I feel when we perform it.

3. James, Pete, and David, how much of that scene is Wes transferring his self-loathing onto her, and how much is him being so used to the part, he actually believes what he's saying?
James: Wow. Good question. Although it's a little bit of both, I think it's more of the latter, though personally, I don't think it's so much that he believes what he's saying so much is that at this stage of the game he has absolutely no qualms whatsoever about exploiting his fake illness. My line of thinking while writing it was to show that he's so comfortable with the lie that, at that moment, he doesn't have the slightest sense of guilt about posing as a person with HIV. He's lashing out at her because he's feeling smothered and trapped, but doesn't believe for a second that his feelings of being trapped is in any way his own fault. So I guess it's not so much that he believes what he's saying as he feels a thoroughly unearned sense of entitlement.

David: Wow. That’s a tricky one… As an actor, I tend to think I’ve little to no control over what an audience’s individual thoughts about a character may be, or what they perceive of a character via projection of their own experiences and feelings. But here’s how I (as Wes – how annoying are these codifying parentheticals?) often view the scene (I say often, because performances should be living things in flux): Jenny keeps hitting on me. I’m already frustrated and pissed off and feeling trapped, but now I’ve got this chick crossing the line, not taking the hint, and making me quite uncomfortable. Also, I’ve not been laid in ten years: There’s always THAT. The monologue is honest for Wes, as he touches on the very real pain and horror at having lost dear friends and loved ones to the disease. He talks with conviction about the horrors of Toxoplasmosis and KS because he saw what it did to two people he loved, and so he takes it very seriously; Wes, I believe, actually has a great empathy for people with HIV and AIDS, and takes genuine offense to Jenny’s ill-conceived story. From there, it’s just a little white lie, a tiny nudge, to add in the “Oh yeah: And I have HIV, too,” element.

4. For all: do you think this scene is the cruelest Wes ever gets in the play?
James: The way it's staged? Yes. For me, when I was writing it, I think Wes was at his cruelest when (minor spoiler alert) he emotionally strings along a very lonely and vulnerable young woman with AIDS. Though to be fair, he isn't trying to be cruel in that scene.
David: I think slapping Jenny is certainly unacceptable. But, as with all of Wes’ behavior, I don’t think it ever stems from cruelty. Don’t get me wrong: Wes commits amoral, unforgivable acts over the course of Infectious Opportunity, and he’s not a guy any of us would want in our corner. But…I don’t think he’s cruel. It’s that old cliché: If you’re gonna play Iago, you can’t view him as the villain. I don’t think of Wes as a cruel character… He’s a guy who wants to be loved, who keeps trying to do the right thing, and just doesn’t get what a fuck he is; he knows he’s a fuck, and a big one at that, but cannot perceive the abysmal depths of his fuckdom.

5. For all: how do you think this scene changes Wes' relationship to the audience?
James: I think, as I said before, this is the scene where the audience sees that Wes feels entitled, sees himself as a victim, and is completely without any scruples about what he's doing. It definitely shows him at his most contemptible.

Pete:
The slap is the first of three physically aggressive contacts Wes makes in the last 10 pages of the play. It’s followed shortly by the blown kiss he smacks off of Josie’s forehead as he finally cuts all ties with her, and again after his final monologue to Brent as he plants a wet kiss Bugs Bunny-style off of the top of Brent’s head immediately following the final reversal of the play. These moments of physical contact serve as a rhythmic punctuation to three of the most intense moments of the play, and show Wes stepping fully over the line of acceptable behavior.

As Josie is in essence another facet of his mind, and Brent is either left in the dark as to the true meaning of Wes’ rant, or alternately becomes complicit in Wes’ retreat from the truth (depending on your interpretation) they don’t have the same brutal effect on the audience as the Jenny slap. That is the moment where Wes fully crosses the line, and a reasonable audience can no longer sympathize with him, no matter how charismatically he comes across.

David: When I read the play, I saw it as a coal-black comedy, and I initially approached the material with a much broader brush. Pete slowly pulled me back, and got me to trust Wes and to play it straight. That makes for a fun ride for me, and a very odd show: I don’t know how people take to this guy. I think that what the moment of Wes slapping Jenny achieves, however, is it shows an audience that the rules are no longer on the table for Wes: This is a guy who can do anything, who is unpredictable and a maybe even dangerous. As an actor, that’s a gift.

The Take-Aways
The intent of listing take-aways is to establish a language of aesthetic best practices that can be used as tools or catalysts for future choices
1. Logical extremes: Rewrites should explore pushing initial choices to logical extremes; staging should see how far the text can be pushed into action
2.
Slips of the mask: Foreshadow major moments of character revelation through preceding "slips of the mask"
3.
Funhouse mirror: Inverting previous scenes with their negative/opposite gives both additional power
4.
Ambiguity's wake: The path of a boat through water is completely clear; it is the the wake that ripples in many directions. Ambiguity in action confuses; ambiguity in meaning satisfies.
5.
Inexorable cross: Staging text that has a strong action by having the speaker cross slowly towards the subject heightens tension and the text's power
6.
Popping the kernel: Don't rush to the emotional climax of a moment or scene. Restrain the action/emotion until the heat of the slow burn makes the pop of violence inevitable.
7.
Guillotine: A strong physical moment can knock actors out of their heads and shock both audience and actor into immediate, authentic response.
8.
Cruel only to be kind: In the cruelest action, identify the kindest impulse. The friction between intention and action gives the moment heat.
9.
Game changer: Never let a scene or play continue for long without rewriting the rules of what is possible/acceptable/expected. These game changers must come out of the genuine needs of the characters or the audience will feel manipulated.

If you saw
Infectious Opportunity, what other moments did you find effective?
If you didn't, was this post specific enough to be useful anyway?
What do you think of the take-aways, and how can we make Exploding Moments more useful?
Is there a show you've seen recently that has a moment worth exploding?

Read the full story

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Have Another Pictures

Thursday, July 16, 2009 0 comments

DRINK ME
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Nancy Franklin)
Have Another was back! And we had a great time - thanks to the audience, and in spite of the basil, it was our best yet. To see what we did and who did it, go here.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured Jake Alexander)
Jake Alexander, the Have Another Maestro, captained the whole affair from start to last call, and do you see how charming he is? Very.
(Photo: Heather Cohn. Pictured: August Schulenburg, Brian pracht, Jane Taylor, Marnie Schulenburg, DeWanda Wise)
It's one thing to be a crazy talented playwright/actor who is capable of writing plays in rhyming hexameter (we're looking at you, Johnna Adams). It's quite another to whip together the wax head of Marie Antoinette the night before. Hooray for Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens!
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Nancy Franklin, Ryan Andes, Matthew Archambault)
Mary Fengar Gael's first scene from Opaline had the audience howling and the gift of the evening was one particularly funny moment where the mighty Ryan Andes, with a sweeping gesture, knocked Nancy ever so slightly in the head, and to apologize (in character), gave her a sideways hug that stopped the play with laughter; and just when the laughs seemed ready to ebb, Nancy expertly leaned her head just so against Ryan's chest, as if to say, all is well; and the laughter swelled again. Little gifts of live theatre (in bars).
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Nick Monroy, Jake Alexander, Ingrid Nordstorm).
The night ended with Aaron's gorgeous end of act 1 scene from his play, We Are Burning. The lovers above can't be fully happy, because...
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Nick Monroy, Tiffany Clementi)
...because the memory of lost love is so perfect.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
Our audience (spot director Alexis Williams!) was warm...
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
...our minds were rapt...
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
...and a lovely time was had by most (and maybe all).
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: David Ian Lee)
Did we mention David Ian Lee was brooding and enigmatic as Prometheus? Did you see him steal Amy Fitts' beer in the scene? Now that's acting.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Tiffany Clementi)
This one speaks for itself. And now...
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: artsy awesomeness)
...you're obligatory Isaiah artsy logo in action shot...
(Photo: Heather Cohn. Pictured: Isaiah Tanenbaum, Marnie Schulenburg)
...and a bonus Isaiah acting shot.

For all the pics, go here. Check them out, and let me know if there are any others that MUST be posted here.
What were your favorite moments in the night? Comment below!
And THANK YOU to everyone who came out - it was a great night, and we were thrilled to share some of our plays in development with you. Read the full story

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Questions For Artistic Directors

Dylan Stephen Levers is starting a cool new blog called Questions For Artistic Directors, featuring his interviews with ADs of Rising Phoenix Rep (friend Daniel Talbott!), Fluid Motion Theatre and Film, and as of a few days ago, Flux.

This interview was conducted a few months ago, and it's interesting to see how quickly my thinking has changed, especially since the NET Summit. I'm also amused that, politician style, I completely ignore his first question to talk about something else. There also appears to be at least one place where I repeat the same point as if it were two points. Lord I was born a rambling man.

The other interviews are definitely worth the read, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Dylan does next! Read the full story

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Out and About, III

Saturday, July 11, 2009 0 comments

MONDAY, BUSY MONDAY:
This coming Monday, for those of you who aren't going to the opening of this, and aren't participating in the next workshop of this, you should check out Zack Robidas' company At Play Production's next installment of their 24 hour play festival. Zack was Jeremy in 8 Little Antichrists and Bobby in Pretty Theft, so if you saw those, you know anything he's working on is worth seeing.

Also, our friends in Bird House just got a crazy good review - check it here. And any plugging post would be remiss without a reminder of Nosedive's Infectious Opportunity extension.

Those looking for summer Shakespeare may went to check out Flux Sunday regular Drew Valins in Drilling Company's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Carissa Cordes in Hudson Warehouse's Hamlet.

And have you bought your tickets for the New York Innovative Theatre Awards party yet? It's a great opportunity to support an organization that does so much for Indie theatre - hope to see you there!

Anything I missed that's worth seeing? Post in the comments, please!
Link Read the full story

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What's Cooking At The DC Fringe

Friday, July 10, 2009 1 comments




For those Flux friends who are in DC, there is a bunch of cool stuff happening in the Capital Fringe Festival, including a production of Riding the Bull, the genesis play for Flux Theatre Ensemble. The Riot Actors of Washington are producing the play, and I'm seeing it tonight!

But wait, there's more. Who else has a play in the DC Fringe? None other than Pretty Theft playwright Adam Szymkowicz. His Herbie, Poet Of The Wild West was read at Flux Sunday two or so years ago is being produced by the Doorway Arts Ensemble. There is a sequence involving a bear that alone is worth your ticket, so check it out!

Finally, friend Isaac Butler is directing the latest incarnation of The Honest To God True Story Of The Atheist, which I've heard many good things about from all sorts of smart people.

DC folks, what else down there is worth seeing? NYC folks, there are $20 buses... Read the full story

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Flux Sunday, July 12th

Thursday, July 9, 2009 0 comments

What is Flux Sunday?

So much to catch up on! Have Another last night (it went well), a shout out for Infectious Opportunity (go see the extension), an update on the quality discussion and more NET unpacking. But for now, a quick update on our last Flux Sunday!

BACK ON OUR FEET, BUT WOOZY
Thanks to Tiffany, we were back on our feet staging things. While everyone likes the ol' read around the table, there's a special alchemy when the right director and rights actors play for an hour and something alive breaks through. The flip side (or in honor of Bird House, the Lop Side) is things get messy, and that was definitely the case last Sunday, as we ran nearly half an hour over!
But good work was accomplished. We read more from Johnna Adams' Lickpittles, Buttonholores and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens and David Ian lee's In The Year Of Nothing, or So Goes The Nation; both big cast beasts, one the rhyming hexameter play featured at last night's Have Another, and the other a gritty cinematic look (or so I think early on) at the trickle down of corruption.

HONEY ON THE HANDS
I then staged two new scenes from an old play of mine, Honey Fist. Finally finished after a year's hiatus, Ingrid Nordstrom and Candice Holdorf took turns as Gretyl Barnes, the kidnapped pop star maniuplating her hijackers in all sorts of surprising ways. My favorite part was Aaron Micheal Zook's portrayal of Sul - first time through, he played up what appears on the page like sarcasm, but in the run he played it sweet and sincere - and it landed just as I'd hoped.

PAINT ON THE FINGERS
Next up was Zack Calhoon's Paint, featuring the recently divorced couple Sarah and Ray trying to work through Ray's violence against her son, David. As Ray and Sarah, David Ian lee and Karen Sternberg (first timer!) really found both the attraction and ugliness in this relationship, and it was off set beautifully in the youthful rush of David (Brian Pracht) and his girlfriend's (Caitlian Kinsella) post coital laughter. The legacy of violence raises its head in this scene, as well, and the question of both couple's survival hangs in the air.

GREEN IN THE EYES
Then we returned to Mary Fengar Gael's Opaline, another play featured at last night's Have Another. And much like last night, this scene was playing like gangbusters. A line about a damned horse doctor stopped the scene as the room rocked with laughter, and Johnna's sudden seduction of Matthew Archambualt's Hargraves was a delight. More of this play, please!

BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
We ended with the first scene from a new play by Aaron Michael Zook, whose We Are Burning was another Have Another. This scene, Graves and Worms and Epitaphs, started silly, turned a notch of darkness when Jane Taylor as Liz exploded against her ex-husband's door, and then turned very dark indeed as Mariam Habib as Josh told just how that ex-husband became a shut-in. A lovely way to end the day with a red sun setting of sorts.

We're back on our feet again, energized from this last Have Another...but more on that anon. Read the full story

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An Evolving Aesthetic

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 5 comments

UNPACKING NET, PART 2: DEFINING OUR AESTHETIC

One of the challenges of NET for Heather and I was talking about the work Flux does, aka, "The Elevator Speech". This is the phrase for that woefully inadequate yet necessary 30 second pitch about your company's work, a pitch useful primarily in elevators and, well, national conferences.

We're not there yet, so if you see us in the elevator, don't expect it.

But having to talk about the work we do to those who haven't seen it really helped articulate some hunches into thought. Also, at our last Flux retreat, we talked about the kind of work we're drawn to, and that conversation, along with the push of the NET summit, has led to this post.

I love Pandora's Music Genome Project; the idea that rather than music being identified solely by stodgy genre, it is rather composed of hundreds of interacting parts that together comprise the song's DNA. This approach allows songs to talk to each other across genre and discover surprising connections; it allows for complexities and fusions and restless boundaries; it allows music to be defined by the sum of all the myriad ways we can imagine talking about it.

You see where this is going. What follows is a rough guess at the aesthetic genome of Flux - the commonalities I see in the work we're doing - but it is very rough, and needs to be hacked at by all the Members and FOFs (or anyone reading this post for that matter).

Here we go:

1. NARRATIVE CATHARSIS: We are drawn to work that uses the imaginative empathy of character and the rising conflict of narrative to purge emotion.
Examples: Riding the Bull, Rattlers
In Practice: While we love to experiment with narrative structure, that experiment is never at the cost of the audience's bond of imaginative empathy with the characters, nor the integrity of those characters' journey through the story. But this leads into #2...

2. NEGATIVE CAPABILITY: This is Keats', talking about Shakespeare "I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."
Examples: Other Bodies, A Midsummer Night's Dream
In Practice: We are not drawn to plays with obvious morals or themes, nor where the actions of the characters are explained or explainable. This follows #1 because it serves as a necessary friction - we want the empathy and catharsis, but only if they lead away from certainty and into mystery.

3. TONAL DISSONANCE: In music, dissonance is considered an unstable chord, a tension that needs to move forward in order to resolve, and we create tonal dissonance in our work through juxtaposition of opposites - broadly comic moments following tragic scenes (Life Is a Dream), naturalism chased by expressionism (Pretty Theft) - often within the same moment ("So I made love to her" "What's wrong with me?" "And Ted here killed her").
In Practice: Along with #2, #3 keeps the impulse of #1 from becoming easy. This embrace of tonal dissonance is also the aspect of our work critics have the most difficult time with; I think perhaps because tonal dissonance is usually used to disengage an audience from narrative and character; with Flux, this dissonance is used to deepen and widen that engagement.

4. AUDIENCE INTIMACY: The fourth wall has been broken in 10 out of the 11 plays Flux has or will produced. In some cases, direct address is the primary motor of action. The bond of imaginative empathy, under duress from the necessary shocks of Negative Capability and Tonal Dissonance, is reaffirmed by the complicity of direct address.

5. EPIC SCOPE: None of the 11 plays have conformed to the three unities of time, place and action; when it comes to time, many leap rapidly through the years (The Lesser Seductions Of History, 8 Little Antichrists, J.B.); with place, several have so many locations a sense of traditional place is destroyed (Other Bodies, A Midsummer Night's Dream); and with action, not a single play follows only one plot (except maybe J.B.). Several have more than 5!
In Practice: Epic scope is one more way of fighting against tug of Narrative Catharsis to deepen and widen the impact of the play's action.

6. METAPHYSICAL REALISM: Flux creates worlds that embrace magical realism with a twist: it's not just the intrusion of something magical into an otherwise realistic world, but a metaphysical conflict incarnated into an otherwise realistic world.
Examples: Other Bodies, Angel Eaters Trilogy, Life Is A Dream
In Practice: These conflicts have included: the fluidity of identity, the question of free will, cosmology, the nature of time, divine justice and more. In Flux's work, those conflicts take human form as the hearts, bodies, wills and realities of our characters are transformed in otherwise realistic worlds.

7. BIG CHARACTERS: We like characters of size, with size defined as their capacity to change and be changed by the world of the play and their own actions.
Examples: Lyza, Bottom, Joann, Segismundo, Allegra, Terry, Martha

8. TRANSFORMATIVE STAGING: Because of the Epic Scope of the plays, (and perhaps a little because of the un-epic scope of our budget), our staging uses the complicity of the audience's imagination to create the world: with a word, a single prop, a sound cue, we create the vasty fields of France; and then use these same tools to mean both that thing and something new.
Examples: The poles in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the kisses in Pretty Theft, the sounds in Other Bodies
In Practice: When something is transformed by an audience's imagination into something else, it never fully loses its previous incarnation, and these layers of meaning can build into a potency of expression that is unique to theatre.

9. ROUGH MAGIC: Flux loves the rough magic of theatre! Crazy fight scenes (Rue), on stage magic (Angel Eaters Trilogy), dances (Pretty Theft), rodeo showdowns (Riding the Bull), music (A Midsummer Night's Dream), all those dirty tricks of show business that feel good.

SO! That's a start.

What do you see in our work that I'm missing here? And what is the DNA of your own work? And how do we cram all that into 30 sexy seconds? Read the full story