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Jacob's House Artist Reveal #2:
Zack Calhoon

Monday, March 29, 2010 0 comments

What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

Zack Calhoon
Actor, Jacob's House

Previous Flux Experience: Flux Sundays as playwright, actor, and director

Do you have a favorite Bible character?
King David

Are you blessed?
Yes, I am blessed with an amazing wife and many wonderful friends.

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?
Half Nelson, Scissor Hold, perhaps a Body slam.

What would you do for more life?

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?
Lots of guns. My dad is a retired colonel in the Army.

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?
Extensive, I went to Catholic School for 8 years, and placed second in the Oregon State Roman Catholic Challenge (A modified version of Jeopardy where the host is a nun instead of Alex Trebek).

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?
An all knowing and all powerful one.

Anything else coming up for you that Flux readers should know about?
My play The Weird Sisters is getting two staged readings in April as part of Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s PlayFest.

Zack Calhoon: Zack graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with BFA in Acting. As an actor he’s worked with Dreamscape Theatre, ShakespeareNYC, Boomerang Theatre, Judith Shakespeare, Milk Can Theatre, Expanded Arts, Clubbed Thumb, and Actors Shakespeare Co. His plays have been performed and developed by East 3rd Productions, Living Image Arts, Flux Theatre Ensemble, Oberon Theatre Ensemble, New Mummer Group, and Dreamscape Theatre.

Read the full story

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Chess and Playwriting

Sunday, March 28, 2010 5 comments

In a recent game of chess, I felt the pull of the weird intuitive current that I usually only feel when writing plays. It was mid-game, and all of a sudden I knew which direction my pieces needed to move without actually knowing the exact moves I needed to make. It felt very much like the muscle that takes over in playwriting when a certain amount of momentum has been achieved, and I follow that intuitive current wherever it wants to go.

So I was thrilled when reading a Scientific American article that described this process in the mind. The Secrets Of The Expert Mind looked at how chess experts analyzed a board in contrast to amateur players. Among their discoveries:

  • Statistical formulas of skill predict the outcome of games with remarkable reliability
  • Good players examine more possibilities than weak players, but great players examine better possibilities than good players
  • Grandmasters do no better than weak players at general tests of memory, while doing remarkably better at chess-specific tests of memory
  • Random positions on a chess board are much harder for grandmasters to analyze than positions achieved through authentic play
As a result, theorists believe that chess mastery is learned through effortful study, the 10,000 hours of practice rule, and not through innate ability. Further, this mastery manifests itself in an ability called "chunking" which directly connects to my thoughts about writing plays.

Humans can only contemplate five to nine items at a time. Chunking is the capacity to pack information into hierarchies to get around this limitation. Says the article:
"Take the sentence 'Mary had a little lamb'. The number of information chunks in this sentence depends on one's knowledge of the poem and the English language. For most native speaker of English, this sentence is part of a much larger chunk, the familiar poem. For someone who knows English but not the poem, the sentence is a single, self-contained chunk. For someone who has memorized the words but not their meaning, the sentence is five chunks, and it is 18 chunks for someone who knows the letters but not the words.

In the context of chess, the same differences can be seen between novices and grandmasters. To a beginner, a position with 20 chessmen on the board may contain far more than 20 chunks of informaion, because the pieces can be placd in so many configurations. A grandmaster, however, may see one part of the position as a "fianchettoed bishop in the castled kingside", tgether with a "blockaded king's-Indian-style pawn chain", and thereby cram the entire position into five or six chunks...Simon estimated that typical grandmaster has access to rouchly 50,000 to 10,000 chunks of chess information."
It is not a far leap to replace chess strategies with narrative strategies. My experience of writing Jacob's House in two days convinced me that the ideal way to write a first draft is as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it is like playing a chess game over several weeks, a few moves a day, with the overall heat and feel of the whole lost.

But of course, it is very difficult to write effectively that quickly. The Lesser Seductions of History took me a very long time to reach a credible first draft, in large part because it employed very difficult, complex narrative strategies I'd never used before. And this brings us to another key point of the study:
"Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but 'effortful study' which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time."
After truly finishing The Lesser Seductions of History, I found it much easier to write credible living drafts of Dark Matter and Jacob's House very quickly. I think this may have something to do with the challenge of writing Lesser Seductions expanding my capacity as a playwright, so that I was able to better analyze the 'chunks' of narrative strategy, making the first draft more of a downhill slope of a thousand slaloms than a cross country trek of slow and deliberate choices.

Looking at my journey as a playwright, I notice a similar pattern: a play of difficulty that stretches my capacity as a playwright, followed by one or two plays that come easy. Night and the Maiden leading to Carrin Beginning, Riding the Bull and Kidding Jane leading to Good Hope, Other Bodies leading to Honey Fist.

Lately, I have felt that capacity accelerate, and I believe it is directly connected to Flux Sundays. This is for two reasons: one, I am forced to write more frequently than I ever have before; and two, I am seeing my work staged in front of an audience on a weekly basis.

I highlight that last sentence because I think it is so critically important. Writing plays that are never staged is like playing chess with yourself. You'll learn something, but that growth can in no way match the growth created by actually seeing your work staged.

So I take away from this the importance of continually writing plays that stretch my capacity, as well as plays that allow me to synthesize that growth; and to get the work on its feet, where real experiential knowledge lives. Flux Sundays does that, and allows us to create that opportunity for other playwrights and artists we believe in, and to learn from each other.

As the article says:
"Capablanca, regarded to this day as the greatest 'natural' chess player, boasted that he never studied the game. In fact, he flunked out of Columbia University in part because he spent so much time playing chess. His famously quick apprehension was a product of all his training, not a substitute for it."
Are there other playwright who have experienced this feeling of growth in capacity? Or do we really believe that inspiration is solely the gift of some capricious fairy that may or may not settle on our shoulder as we face the blank page? Read the full story


Happy World Theatre Day!

Saturday, March 27, 2010 0 comments

Flux will be celebrating by, well, rehearsing theatre all day.

BUT, if you're not in rehearsal all day, there are all sorts of exciting things happening:

- If you're in NYC, check out the NYC World Theatre Day Coalition for flash and mobs and more
- If you're in the USA, check out my goodly employer's webpage for more national and international events, and a great address from Lynn Nottage
- If you're on our little Earth, check out World Theatre Day's blog for even more excitement

It's always good to be reminded that we are a small part of something much larger than ourselves, so whether you're flash mobbing or just blocking, have a wonderful World Theatre Day. Read the full story

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Divine Reckonings Artists Reveal #3:
Rob Ackerman

Friday, March 26, 2010 0 comments

What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

Rob Ackerman
Playwright, ForePlay

Previous Flux Experience:

Have been to many Flux Sundays, had a scene in a Have Another, spent a day at a Flux retreat, and Volleygirls had the honor of being featured as a Food:Soul. (Also, Dear China and Human Resources were featured in the ForePlays Imagination Compact and Poetic Larceny, respectively.)

Do you have a favorite Bible character?
Hagar. And who's Hagar? You'll find out.

Are you blessed?
Absolutely. The English etymology of the word involves blood used in consecration. In French, it's the word for a wound, and that's a factor for me too. I consider myself fortunate for and wounded by love and work.

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?

What would you do for more life?
Live more passionately.

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?
My love letters from college.

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?
I sang in choir so I was in church almost every Sunday when most of my friends were in bed sleeping off hangovers. The preacher read Old Testament passages to the congregation. Sometimes I liked what I heard, and sometimes I wanted to stand up and do battle with it. The Old Testament is harsh. It's not for the faint of heart.

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?
I believe that God exists within every person. I know that to be true. You wanna fight about it?

Anything else coming up for you that Flux readers should know about?
I'm working on this play for Flux and it's pulsing in my blood as I write. Not sure how it's gonna turn out. And that's fun.

ROB ACKERMAN (Playwright) wrote Tabletop (2001 Drama Desk Award, Best Ensemble), Disconnect (produced by The Working Theater in 2005), Origin of the Species (made into a feature film starring Amanda Peet), Icarus of Ohio (staged at NYU's Tisch School). Volleygirls (commissioned by ACT), and Call Me Waldo (workshopped at the Lark Play Development Center last month).
Read the full story

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First Day Of Rehearsal(s)

Last night, Flux had our first rehearsal for our upcoming production of Jacob's House. First rehearsals often seem to go one of three ways:

  1. The first rehearsal is treated as the thing you need to get through before real rehearsals begin: the creative team is guarded and cautious, and the actors throw the read through away casually; or
  2. The creative team is connected, enthusiastic, and focused: the actors take the creativity of the designer presentations and run with it, actually using the reading as a means to begin exploration of the play; or
  3. Personalities clash as a sense of doom begins to set in: the actors appear miscast, the creative team unprepared, and the script far from finished, and the reading sets off the brave faces and spiraling rationalizations of how it will all work out in the end once X, Y, and Z are fixed.
I've been in all three of these situations, and while the first rehearsal doesn't always determine the course of the production, it can have a surprising degree of impact. And to that end, I've found it pays to be as prepared as possible, and to treat the first day of rehearsal as a kind of show the producing organization puts on, putting the artists involved in a state of trusting, relaxed, excitement.

Problem is, so much depends on the personalities of the artists involved, that no amount of preparation can inoculate you against options #1 and #3.

So I'm pleased and relieved to say that our first rehearsal for Jacob's House fell in #2. Highlights included actor Bianca LaVerne Jones saying" There's no place I'd rather be right now", setting off similar affirmations from the rest of the creative team; costume designer Hannah Rose Peck telling the first timers how much they'd enjoy working w/Flux, and then presenting a power point powerhouse of a design; actors Matthew Archambault and Jessica Angleskhan making everyone laugh; SM Jodi Witherell providing a beautiful space for our first read through; and above all, a dynamic read through with newcomers to the process Zack Calhoon and Kelli Holsopple giving especially sharp reads.

To make matters more sweet, coming off the train I bumped into John Hurley, artistic director of Impetuous Theater Group, fresh off their first rehearsal for Crystal Skillman's The Vigil. John was buzzing with the energy of their read-through and post rehearsal costume design meeting, and it reminded me how Flux is a part of this larger Indie Theatre community.

Meanwhile, Facebook tells me Theatre of the Expendable also had their first rehearsal last night for Almost Exactly Like Us. I love the thought of three creative teams gathered around three tables to bring three very different plays to life in the same city; and I know it is happening all over this country, theatres big and small trying to make that critical first rehearsal count.

Any good first rehearsal stories? Or did you, too, have a first rehearsal last night? Leave it all in the comments, please. Read the full story

One Danger of Angel Wrestling

Thursday, March 25, 2010 1 comments

In honor of our upcoming production of Jacob's House, a riff on the story of Jacob wrestling the Angel, I offer you this Thursday afternoon cartoon from Married to the Sea, (h/t Daniel John Kelley @funwithiago), artist currently unknown. Read the full story

Under Construction

You may have noticed our humble little blog is going through some changes. These changes will hopefully make the blog cleaner, clearer, easier to read, and easier to navigate, and give a better sense of what Flux is all about.

However, there is a lot of work to be done within this lovely New Arthemia template to make all the links work, and to bend the template to Flux's specific needs. Stick with us as we put it all together! Read the full story

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Good Vibrations

There are some good vibrations going on in the blogosphere towards Flux these days:

  • Isaac Butler and Tim Bauer have kindly takes on the absurdly short amount of time (@62 days!) Flux has to take Jacob's House from first draft to full production. After finishing a 3rd draft on Sunday, we had a production meeting that gave me hope the crazy staging gauntlet I tossed down at the end of the play will be ably taken up by Jason, Kelly, and company.
  • Bekah Brunstetter, recently profiled ForePlay playwright, gives a shout out here for ForePlay, and talks about her own process in participating.
  • Marc Vogl of the goodly Hewlett Foundation, writes about the Grantmakers in the Arts 2009 Conference, and references our Managing Director Heather Cohn's take on the open source philosophy you'll find here at the Flux blog.
Thanks to Marc, Bekah, Isaac, and Tim - you're giving us excitations. Read the full story

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Divine Reckonings Artists Reveal #2:
Bekah Brunstetter

What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

Bekah Brunstetter
Playwright, ForePlay

Previous Flux Experience: This is my 3rd year doing foreplay: I wrote Pretty Pretty and the Asshead McGee for the production of Midsummer, right? And Old People, Making Out for Pretty Theft.

Do you have a favorite Bible character?

Definitely Esther. Why, I even had an Esther action figure growing up! Not only was she beautiful, she was also very smart and brave.

Are you blessed?

Um, YES.

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?

Bribery, via baked goods.

What would you do for more life?

shave head?

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?

N/A, no attic that I know of? Or is this a metaphor?

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?

I went to baptist sunday school my whole life, and still go to church with my parents when I'm home. I LOVE the stories in the Old Testament, and love write plays which modernize the stories, even! I love juxtaposing The Then and The Now.

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?

le God.

Bio: Bekah Brunstetter’s plays include Oohrah! (The Atlantic Theater), Miss Lilly Gets Boned (Lark Playwright’s Week) and You May Go Now (Finborough Theater, London .) She is currently working on commissions for Ars Nova, Naked Angels, and the Roundabout Underground. Member: The Women’s Project Lab and the Primary Stages Writer’s group. www.bekahbrunstetter.com

Read the full story

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Jacob's House Artists Reveal #1:
Anthony Wills, Jr.

Sunday, March 21, 2010 0 comments

What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

Anthony Wills, Jr.
Actor, Jacob's House

Previous Flux Experience: Frequent Flux Sundayer. Appeared in two past ForePlays: Imagination Compact and Poetic Larceny.

Do you have a favorite Bible character?
Jesus duh?

Are you blessed?

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?
Sleeper hold.

What would you do for more life?
I'll just have my portion thank you, whatever it is. I want to see if there's anything next.

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?
I've never been in my parent's attic.

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?
I disobeyed a lot of it.

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?

I believe in the possibility of them all.

Anything else coming up for you that Flux readers should know about?

David London's Sunday Circus (DC, Chicago), Finian's Rainbow (New Harmony, Indiana).

Bio: Anthony Wills Jr is an actor, singer, writer, director, choreographer, artist guy. He's worked with American Theater Co. (now American Blues), Black Ensemble, Brave New World, Culture Project, Kaliyuga Arts, The Hypocrites, Journeymen, Looking Glass(NYC), Lookingglass(Chicago), Milwaukee Rep, Steppenwolf, Surflight, Target Margin, Utah Shakes, and many others www.anthonywillsjr.com
Read the full story

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Divine Reckonings Artists Reveal #1:
James Comtois

What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

James Comtois
Playwright, DR#1: Secrets and Lies

Previous Flux Experience: Wrote "Joseph and Cotton" for Flux's "Poetic Larceny;" participated in Flux Sundays.

Are you blessed?

I feel quite blessed to have met the folks at Flux (cue the "Awwwwwwww" and "(gag)").

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?
I'd have to fight dirty, wouldn't I? I mean, let's be honest: I'm gonna lose this match. Let's not kid ourselves here. So I'd have to use as many unsanctioned moves as possible. No, wait! Is this a friendly wrestling match with an angel pal? If it is, and if angels exist, then so does hell, presumably. Now that I think of it, it may not be best to cheat.

What would you do for more life?
I'd gladly trade yours in for more life. Just kidding. I really have no idea. How much life are we talking about? I think the angel would have to make an offer. Because I'd feel really stupid if I decided to rob a bank or sacrifice a virgin for more life, and the angel was thinking more along the lines of, "going to church" or "eating more greens."

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?

My dad has a collection of santa dolls that come out every Christmas. I'm not just talking about 3 or 4. I'm talking, like, 20 or 30, in all different shapes and sizes. There's even an "American" Santa up there, riding a motorcycle and wearing an American flag top hat. It's...weird.

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?

Aside from having read reading Genesis, and the Books of Job, Jonah and Ezekiel, pretty limited.

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?
Wow. So we've gone from asking about wrestling angels to deeply personal religious views, I see. All right. My views are pretty agnostic. I suppose I believe in God, but beyond that I don't have many juicy details. If He exists, I suspect He's pretty hands-off in our silly humanimal affairs. But then again this is coming from someone who has limited experience reading the Torah.

Anything else coming up for you that Flux readers should know about?

Well, I did just plug this in my bio, but why not reiterate it? I have a new play coming up called The Little One, Nosedive's 10th Anniversary production, at the Kraine Theatre on East 4th Street from June 10 through July 10. It's about vampires. Lady vampires. You should go.

Bio: James Comtois is co-founder of Nosedive Productions, which was named as one of nytheatre.com's "People of the Year" in 2009. Plays include The Adventures of Nervous-Boy, Colorful World, and Infectious Opportunity. His latest play, The Little One, a vampire tale, will go up at the Kraine Theatre this summer.
Read the full story

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Meet the Artists:
Divine Reckoning / Jacob's House

Hi all!

Isaiah here. Heather and I are curating "Divine Reckonings", this year's ForePlay. The first one is on Monday. I'm in it. Afterwards, there's a party with an open bar. You should come to one of these fun events; better yet, come to both!

But I'm actually writing tonight for a more general purpose.

ForePlay, as you may recall from past years, is a series of staged readings leading up to our Spring production. Besides being a cool way to explore the themes related to that show, ForePlay allows Flux to work with a much a wider group of artists than any single production ever could. "Divine Reckonings," like ForePlays before it, brings together 16 playwrights, 24 actors, and 4 directors. And of course, there's the actual cast and creative team of Jacob's House, another 18 (!) people. And as if that wasn't big enough, "Divine Reckonings" is part of Epic's Passion Play Coalition, a ForePlay-like series leading up to their production of Sarah Ruhl's biblically-themed Passion Play.

As always, amidst all those dozens and dozens of artists are both familiar faces and new Flux Friends. Wouldn't you like to know a bit about them? Of course you would!

So, we sent out a few questions to everyone involved in Divine Reckonings and, for the first time ever, the mainstage cast, too. Serious questions about theology; silly questions about wrestling moves, pluggy questions about future shows. Over the next few weeks we'll be posting their responses, because we think that the more you know about the people creating the work, the more we can bring you, our audience and fellow artists, into that process.

I've posted the questions in the comments. How would you answer?

And see you tomorrow at Judson! Or, failing that, at the party. I'll be the guy with the camera, coming off a performer's high. If I don't know you, stop by and say hi! Read the full story

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Dimensions of a Play

In February, I posted about about the dimensions of character in an oh-so-accessible post entitled A String Theory of Character. Simply put, that post explored the idea that richness of character is determined by the directions in which the meaning of a single action can resonate. When a one-dimensional character acts, the meaning of that action is simple. When a multi-dimensional character acts, the meaning echos in a number of often contradictory directions. The action is simple, the meaning is complex.

A hopefully simple example: a man blinds himself. Without the context of dimensions, it is simply a violent, incomprehensible act. But as the man is a king, the act takes on political dimensions. As he is a man of destiny, the act takes on metaphysical dimensions. As he is an infamous mother lover, the act takes on erotic and familial dimensions. And as is he is a genuinely good and supremely confident man, the act takes on moral dimensions, too.

A single act that echoes in many different, often contradictory, dimensions. And what goes for richness of character goes for the world of the play, too. One of the first questions I think about when approaching a play is how many dimensions are present? In how many directions can a single act echo?

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a supreme example: there is the meta-world of the theatre itself, the fairy world, the political/legal world of Theseus and Athens, the world of the lovers, the mechanicals, the play within the play that combines them all; each of those with its own set of moral, physical, and emotional rules, each with their own language. I also believe there is a seventh dimension, one of transcendence, touched through Bottom and Titania's union; working on the play I sometimes felt the dim shape of an eighth dimension hidden in the relationship between Puck, Oberon, and the world of shadows.

And when the play is done right, and all seven + dimensions are open, an action in the play can echo in seven different directions, so the reconciliation of Oberon and Titania is a reconciliation of magic, law, love, of the play itself, of theatre; and an end to the possible union of human and divine that their discord created. You could argue the dimension of gender adds an entire, more painful dimension to this reconciliation, as Oberon has won her love back in a misogynistic way. Additionally, the dimension of loss, introduced to the play through Titania's love for her dead Votress, adds an ambiguous note to the reconciliation, as who can say if it is good or bad that she has moved on from the memory of this woman she loved so much?

It may seem strange to consider a dimension of loss on the same footing as a dimension of law, but we are interested here in the directions in which meaning can move.

A Midsummer Night's Dream may be the supreme example, but Flux is drawn to plays that are multi-dimensional in this way. Jacob's House, our upcoming production, has at least five dimensions: family, as the siblings gather to interpret their father's will; memory, as they argue over the slippery legacy of their parent's actions; manifest destiny, as the lives of their parents seem to have stretched over the course of America's bloody history; hunger and fullness, and how ideas of morality wrestle with primal hungers; and divine blessing, as the characters deal with the gift and curse of being touched by the divine.

A single action in Jacob's House, if we do our job right, will echo in at least these five directions, and so a series of very simple things will happen, but what they mean will move to an increasingly rich ambiguity that is Flux's home turf.

It has always seemed to me that plays the obscure the story, and make the journey unnecessarily difficult to follow, are playing a shell-game where confusion masquerades as complexity, and vagueness is made up to look like ambiguity.

I've always been drawn instead to stories that take me down a road I know well, to a room I'm familiar with, to a door I've seen before, but when I open the door, I realize I don't know the road or room or door at all, and I'm falling in darkness, and just when the light above has almost dwindled entirely, the play hands me a pile of feathers and says, 'quick, make these wings'.

What plays do you think have that richness of dimension? Read the full story

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ForePlay: Secrets and Lies (and then a party!)

Friday, March 19, 2010 0 comments

So our ForePlay series Divine Reckonings kicks off this Monday the 22nd at Judson Memorial Church, 243 Thomspon Street, at 7:30PM! To sweeten the honey pot further, we've added a kick-off party afterwards with an hour open bar at Down The Hatch, starting at 9PM. Monday is clearly the new Friday.

Here's the skinny:

Divine Reckonings, Part 1
Monday, March 22nd @ 7:30PM
Judson Memorial Church (243 Thompson St)
Secrets and Lies
Plays by Johnna Adams, James Comtois, Kristen Palmer, & Brian Pracht
Directed by Jordana Williams
Featuring Ken Glickfeld, Catherine Porter, Zack Robidas, Raushanah Simmons, Alisha Spielmann, & Isaiah Tanenbaum
Secrets and Lies will focus on the stories of Queen Esther and David & Bathsheba
$5 Suggested Donation
Email heather@fluxtheatre.org for reservations

Party Afterwards!
Down the Hatch (179 West 4th Street)
9:00 - 10:00pm OPEN BAR
After 10pm - $4 drinks, $1 mugs of beer
Only $10 admission

See you there!
Read the full story

Cast and Design Team Announced for Jacob's House

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 3 comments

Jacob's House

What would you do for more life?
Playwright: August Schulenburg
Director: Kelly O'Donnell

Preview: Thursday, April 29th
Opening: Friday, April 30th
Runs April 29th-May 22nd, Thurs-Sat @8PM and Sunday @7PM
At The Access Theater Gallery
380 Broadway (At White Street) Map? Click here.
Tickets available here

Cast and Characters
Dinah: Jane Lincoln Taylor*
Joe: Zack Calhoon*
Tamar: Jessica Angleskhan*
Jacob: Matthew Archambault
Leah: Tiffany Clementi
Rachel: Kelli Holsopple
The Messenger/Lawyer: Isaiah Tanenbaum
Isaac/Young Tamar: Johnna Adams
Rebecca/Laban/Young Dinah: Bianca LaVerne Jones*
Essau/Sheck/Benjamin: Anthony Wills Jr.*

Creative Team
Stage Manager: Jodi Witherell
Set Designer: Jason Paradine
Costume Designer: Hannah Rose Peck
Lighting Designer: Kia Rogers
Sound Designer: Betsy Rhodes
Assistant Director: Cat Adler-Josem

*Appearing courtesy of Actors' Equity Association Read the full story

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3 Smart Audience Engagement Tactics

Monday, March 15, 2010 2 comments

I'm increasingly interested in tactics - tangible actions - that we can use to make our audiences feel welcomed into the process of building our creative home. 3 smart tactics that I stumbled across recently:

- Theatre As Community Newspaper: I know, having a theatre publish a newspaper sounds like Stegosaurus grabbing onto Triceratops as they both sink deeper. But according to ARTSblog, the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts is finding success as a publisher of a community newspaper in Clayton, WI. In both cases, the Center is serving as a conduit for the community's stories, and generating additional revenue, to boot. This probably wouldn't work in media-saturated NYC, but the philosophy of serving your community through an innovative, mission-based, revenue generating service is smart.

- Theatre As Story Telling Hub: David J. Loehr, one of the folks behind the impressive 2AM Theatre blog, and one of the best theatre Tweeps out there, has a great idea for hosting informal story sessions called 360 Storytelling. The money quote? "They didn't get a look at the process. They were the process."

- The Monkey Says Thank You: I left the kinetic joy that was Piper McKenzie's Craven Monkey and The Mountain of Fury not quite ready to leave that crazy, warm-hearted world. So imagine my happiness when I was tagged by Piper McKenzie in a photo of a monkey on Facebook with the phrase "The Monkey Wants To Thank You". I went to their Fanpage and saw they'd done the same for everyone who was already a fan. And now, I'm off to vote for them for the NYITAwards, and not just because they deserve it, but because that funny little tag of gratitude makes me want to take that extra step for them.

Any other smart audience-loving tactics out there in our land of monkeys and newsies? Read the full story

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Flux Sunday, February 14th

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Still trying to play catch up on the Flux Sunday reports, and a rainy day does indeed help. So, cast your minds back to the far gone day of February 14th, where a last minute change of venue has us scrambling to a location where we can only read the plays, and not stage them.

And yet...as you might have hoped...some good work happened. Armenian verse dramas, girls possessed by monkeys, agribusiness, pirate love, and unexpected house guests all paid a visit to this Sunday's Flux.

Playwrights: Johnna Adams (Hripsime), Katherine Burger (The Guest), Fengar Gael (The Gallerist), Kristen Palmer (Sacrifice), Adam Szymkowicz (My Base and Scurvy Heart)

Actors: Paula Roman, Alisha Spielmann, Mariam Habib, Ingrid Nordstrom, Brian Pracht, Nancy Franklin, Michael Davis, David Crommett, Carissa Cordes, Ken Glickfeld, Anthony Wills Jr, Matthew Archambault

Highlights included:

- Mariam and Anthony's powerful showdown as Hripsime and the lusty king Tiridates in Hrispime. Stichomythia fans, it doesn't get better than this.
- Mary's exciting twist in The Gallerist that made Laura's attempt to exorcise the monkey possessing her friend a wee bit more complex.
- Alisha Spielmann's continued channeling of the precocious and mercurial Emmie in Sacrifice.
- David Crommett's perfect capture of Dennis' over-confidence and loneliness in The Guest.
- Johnna's heartbreakingly funny pirate-in-love in My Base And Scurvey Heart. Read the full story

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Audience Demographics, Lesser Seductions

After The Lesser Seductions of History closed, our Marketing Director Kelly O'Donnell created a power point presentation that broke down the demographics of the audience that attended. While her presentation featured some salty jokes regarding the process, not to mention some choice photos, perhaps discretion is the better part of valor here, and I will only share with you the salient statistics.

For The Lesser Seductions of History, we had:

644 total unique audience members (not counting repeat attendance)

of which
274 were first time attendees - 43%
276 had seen a Flux show previously - 46%

of which (there is some obvious overlap in these categories)
85 were family members of the cast or company - 13%
299 were friends or co-workers - 46%
38 were alumnae of past Flux full productions - 6%
93 had worked with Flux on a project other than a full production, + their guests - 15%
95 donors, + their guests - 15%
235 were involved in some way in the NYC theatre community - 36%
16 press, + guests - 2%
73 unidentified audience members

As you can see, a large part of our audience remains our friends, co-workers, family, and the larger NYC theatre community. On the one hand, this represents the traditional diagnosis of the limits of the indie theatre audience.

On the other, nearly half of our audience had previously seen a Flux show, which is a good sign. I was also excited to see that nearly half (38 out of 80) of our past show alumni attended Lesser Seductions; and we had a strong showing of donors and other collaborators. As Flux is trying to develop a creative home for our artists and audience, this show of support from our core circle is heartening.

This is especially important when looking at the number of audience members who came to us through online notices: 14 (that was a question posed online). Clearly, with almost no money to advertise, the need to empower that core of artists and audience to bring in new people is the key to sustainable growth.

One of the interesting ideas regarding audience development at this level of resources is the maxim that bigger cast size means bigger audience. Here is what our records show:

Lesser Seductions: (668/11) = 61 per actor
Pretty Theft: (597/8) = 75 per actor
Angel Eaters: (866/25) = 35 per actor
Midsummer: (715/18) = 40 per actor

As you can see, # of actors is related to audience size, but not in a completely quantifiable way. I'd be curious how this broke down for other companies.

In October of last year, Matthew Freeman called on theatres to release more data surrounding ticket sales, budgets, and more. I agree - I remember talking recently with another artistic director who said their company routinely played to a capacity of over 90% in a 99 seat house; and another who painted a very different picture of frustration with audience growth. Identifying what theatres at our resource level are growing audience successfully is the first step to identifying tactics to share and grow our field as a whole.

So, there's our two cents. Any other theatres want to ante in? I'd love to learn how others are doing, and how they're doing it.

(And speaking of breaking down statistics, Fractured Atlas has proved once again why they're awesome with this live map of their Membership. Really cool). Read the full story


Flux's Next ForePlay - DIVINE RECKONINGS

Friday, March 12, 2010 0 comments

DIVINE RECKONINGS - ForePlay just got biblical.

Our exploratory play reading series, where playwrights riff on the themes of our mainstage production, is back. This ForePlay, called Divine Reckonings, will feature 16 playwrights re-imagining 8 stories from the Old Testament, inspired by the upcoming production of Jacob's House, our modern retelling of Jacob wrestling the Angel.

Flux is part of The Passion Play Coalition, a collaboration of theatres exploring the themes of Epic Theatre Ensemble's upcoming production of Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play. For more information on The Passion Play Festival Coalition, click here.

The ForePlay Schedule - Divine Reckonings
Monday, March 22nd @ 7:30PM
Judson Memorial Church (239 Thompson St)
Secrets and Lies
Featuring works by Johnna Adams, James Comtois, Kristen Palmer, & Brian Pracht
Directed by Jordana Williams
Secrets and Lies will focus on the stories of Queen Esther and David & Bathsheba

Monday, April 5th @ 7:30PM
Irondale Center (85 South Oxford St, Brooklyn)
Featuring works by Rob Ackerman, Jeremy Basescu, Bekah Brunstetter, & David Ian Lee
Directed by Angela Astle
Journeys will focus on stories of Abraham & Sarah and Ruth & Naomi

Monday, April 19th @ 7:30PM
Irondale Center (85 South Oxford St, Brooklyn)
I and Thou
Featuring works by Leila Buck, Christine Evans, Michael John Garces, & Bill George
Directed by Heather Cohn
I and Thou will focus on the stories of Moses and The Binding of Isaac

Monday, May 10th @7PM
Access Theater Gallery (380 Broadway, 4th Floor)
An Awesome God
Featuring works by Erin Browne, Fengar Gael, Mac Rogers, & Crystal Skillman
Directed by Michael Davis
An Awesome God will focus on The Creation Story and The Rebellion of Korah
Read the full story

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Flux Interviews

Thursday, March 11, 2010 0 comments

Michael Davis is interviewed by his home town theatre company's blog - read it here to learn more about your favorite King of Shadows/piano savant/Segismundo serenader. Just look at him below, poised to answer any questions...

(Photo: Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Michael Davis, Candice Holdorf)
While you're at it, have you checked out my interview at the New York Theater Review's new blog? I talk of rabbits, among other things...

Speaking of talking, I'm not sure I ever posted a link to my interview at The Road 2 Shambala, which features a dialogue between myself, Stolen Chair's Jon Stancato, Wide-Eyed Productions' Kristin Skye Hoffman, and our gracious host, Sam Dingman. Read the full story

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Flux Sunday, February 7th

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 1 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Yup, I'm WAAAY behind in this and many other aspects of the blog. This is my good excuse. But I'm going to do my best to catch up, so hop in the Delorian with me and journey way back when to the early days of February, when the Olympics were just a looming dot on the horizon.

Playwrights: Zack Calhoon (Stolen), James Comtois (McTeague), Fengar Gael (The Gallerist), Kristen Palmer (Sacrifice), August Schulenburg (The Sea Concerto)

Directors: Rob Ackerman, ZC, Heather Cohn, AS

Actors: David Crommett, Anthony Wills Jr, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Nora Hummel, Ken Glickfeld, Matthew Archambault, Brian Pracht, Kelly O'Donnell, Richard Watson, Alisha Spielmann, Ingrid Nordstrom, Paula Roman, Catherine Porter, Travis York, Ryan Andes

A different time to accommodate the Super Bowl (1 to 4PM) allowed longtime invitees like Catherine Porter to finally attend! And though none of our highlights were nationally televised, they included:

-Paula Roman's sexy manipulation of Travis York as Petra (and Nick) in Zack's Stolen
-Rob Ackerman's hilariously frenzied direction of Kristen's Sacrifice, with Alisha and Isaiah channeling two idealistic teenagers staging the changing world with every bizarre prop we had in the room - ah, the soda can versus the water bottle!
-Nancy Franklin's heartrending breakdown in the very same play - a haunting read of a woman knowing something important is being lost but uncertain of what
-Ryan Andes' continued hilarity in the part of McTeague, as James' play turns merrily darker by the scene
-Speaking of those, how about when James' halting Arthur and Ryan's hopeful Bertram fell for each other in Mary's The Gallerist? This might have been my favorite moment ever, let alone this Sunday...
-David Crommett tearing up hurricane Jimmy's intrigues in The Sea Concerto - well hello, exit applause.

So, if any of your memories stretch back that far, Fluxers, what were your favorite moments from that Sunday, so long ago? Read the full story

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Big News About Our 2009-10 Season

Friday, March 5, 2010 1 comments

In a way, we asked for it...

After all, when you name your season the Season of Give and Take, something will be taken as sure as given.

And due to rights issues, Flux will not be able to produce Archibald MacLeish's play, J.B. We will truly miss the chance the stage that beautiful play, especially because we had an exciting cast, design team, and staging concept already in motion. But you know us...

In its place, Flux will be staging a play inspired by the loss of J.B. - the world premiere of August Schulenburg's* Jacob's House!

Have you ever seen the trick where a magician pulls a sheet out from under a bunch of glasses without disturbing a single one? Well, I took the themes, style, design elements, staging concept, and cast of our production of J.B., and used them as inspiration to write my own riff on the story of Jacob wrestling the Angel.

And because we just got the bad news, I did it in two days. Now we have two months to get this very brand new play ready for production - can we do it?

You know there's only one way to find out.

Jacob's House
By August Schulenburg
Directed by Kelly O'Donnell
Preview: Thursday, April 29th
Opening: Friday, April 30th
Runs Thurs-Sat at 8PM and Sunday at 7PM
From April 29th-May 22nd
at The Access Theater Gallery
380 Broadway (at White St)

Tickets go on sale March 17th!
Jacob's House
What would you do for more life?
When three siblings argue over a strange provision in their father Jacob's will, allegiances shift as secrets are uncovered. As the full danger of his power is revealed, Jacob's sons and daughters must decide what to do with their enigmatic inheritance. This darkly comic riff on the Biblical story of Jacob explores the legacy of violence and power, and the cost of wrestling with the divine. Director Kelly O'Donnell and playwright August Schulenburg team up again for the first time since their award-winning collaboration on Riding the Bull.

*aka, Me. Read the full story

Where We've Been

Yup, the Flux blog has been incognito of late. But that's because we've been crazy busy in the realosphere, with some good, bad, and big news to announce today or tomorrow. Hopefully, after reading that news, you'll forgive our absent ways. We'll be posting pics from our last Food:Soul, updates on Flux Sundays, more ideas for The Homing Project, and much more. So stay tuned for some serious-sized news shortly. Read the full story