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Flux Sunday, January 24th

Sunday, January 31, 2010 0 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Playwrights: Johnna Adams (The Anguishers) , Mary Fengar Gael (The Gallerist), Kitty Lindsay (The Pipe Cleaner), Isaiah Tanenbaum (The Transendental Etudes)

Directors: Heather Cohn, KL, August Schulenburg, Christina Shipp

Actors: Becky Kelly, Ryan Andes, Richard Watson, Ingrid Nordstrom, Brian Pracht, Gretchen Poulos, Nancy Franklin, Anthony Wills Jr, Alisha Spielmann, Ken Glickfeld, Cotton Wright, Paula Roman, IT

After a week's hiatus, Flux Sunday returned with what can only be described as a vengeance. We looked at 4 plays, staging them all, and welcomed Paula Roman and Alisha Spielmann to the group, as well as enjoying acting stalwart Kitty Lindsay's first pages.

Highlights include:
-The mutual slammings in frustrated desire by Richard and Cotton, orchestrated by Christina in Johnna's The Anguishers
- Ryan Andes' proving that he is the king of Twin Peaks creepy-time naturalism (Opaline anyone?) as the nightmare plumber of Kitty's The Pipe Cleaner
- Becky smiling grimly, but politely, at the imaginary (?) animals in Laura's (played with warm daffiness by Alisha) cages in The Gallerist
- Ken Glickfeld miraculously navigating every bit of ornate direction in my over ambitious attempt to squeeze too many of Isaiah's pages into too short a time with too many actors. Shall we go with the Napoleon theme and say it was my Waterloo?

If you were there, what did I miss in the highlight reel? Read the full story

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Food:Soul #5 - Lickspittles, Buttonholers, and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens

Saturday, January 30, 2010 5 comments

Flux's next Food:Soul is Johnna Adams' rhyming madcap comedy
Lickspittles, Buttonholers, and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens
(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: August Schulenburg, Brian Pracht, Jane Lincoln Taylor, Marnie Schulenburg, DeWanda Wise; Lickspittles scene from Flux's 3rd Have Another)

Flux is THRILLED in a caps kind of way to announce the 5th installment of our potluck play reading series, Food:Soul. We're featuring Johnna Adams' (The Angel Eaters Trilogy) brilliantly funny rhyming comedy, Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens, directed by John Hurley, and featuring a cast of TBA Flux favs - so save the date!

LICKSPITTLES, BUTTONHOLERS, AND DAMNED PERNICIOUS GO-BETWEENS
By Johnna Adams
Directed by John Hurley
Wednesday, February 17th
Food served at 7:30, reading begins at 8PM
At Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square Park
As part of Judson's Bailout Theater program
Cast: TBA

This Food:Soul is special, not only because it represents our chance to share Johnna's work (and free food!) with you, but because it represents the beginning of our relationship with Judson Memorial Church, home of the famous Judson Poets's Theater.

LICKSPITTLES, BUTTONHOLERS AND DAMNED PERNICIOUS GO-BETWEENS
In a rhyming, metered world, the offbeat rules.

Three extraneous Danish court officials: a professional loud mouth (the buttonholer), a kiss ass for hire (the lickspittle) and a successful dastard (the go-between) are tossed out of court just as Denmark ’s merchant fleet becomes of strategic importance in the Napoleonic war. The three men journey to France and meet Napoleon’s top lickspittle, buttonholer and go-between, their female counterparts. Plots abound, flying machines are destroyed and the head of Marie Antoinette is discovered during the madcap struggle to save Copenhagen from British howitzers. The main characters speak in rhyming alexandrine verse, while a host of supporting characters converse in sestinas, haiku, free verse, limericks and sonnets.

Read the full story

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Have Another #4, Pictures

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jane Lincoln Taylor, Katie Hartke's arm)
It was a great night! For details on who was there and what they did, here's the post with the goods. For pics from past Have Anothers, click here, and here, and here, and here.
(Photot: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Elise Link, Drew Valins)
Here's a shot from Corey Ann Hayu's Moving Statues, a play about two teachers in love and free fall, finding solace in street performance and alcohol, and sometimes, each other.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jane Taylor, Matthew Murumba, Ben Fine)
Jeremey Basescu's The Will was up next, and featured some comic tour de forces from a cast of unseemly talent. Here, our lawyer heroes hold a seance with the deceased patriarch to interpret his enigmatic will.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Katie Hartke, Benjamin Ellis Fine)
One of the great things about Have Another is it gives us a chance to work with actors we've admired but never hooked up with, like all stars Ben Fine and Matthew Trumbull.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Matthew Trumbull, Jane Lincoln Taylor)
But there were several Have Another veterans, as well, including 2-timers Jane Taylor, Angela Astle, Drew Valins and Gretchen Poulos; and 3-timers (holy crap!) Michael Davis, Brian Pracht, and Christina Shipp.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbum. Pictured: Matthew Crosby, Brian Pracht)
And it gives is a chance to connect with artists we've worked with and love, and don't want to lose touch with, like Matthew Crosby, Elise Link, Matthew Murumba, and Katie Hartke. Wasn't it great to hear Matt and Gretchen sing that song (written by Flux friend Jerry Ruiz!) in Crystal Skillman's beautiful scene from The Sleeping World?
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Matthew Crosby, Gretchen Poulos)
But most of all, it gives us a chance to share the work we're developing with you! So what were your favorite moments from the night? Post away! After all, we may not get another Have Another until June... Read the full story

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The Homing Project

Friday, January 29, 2010 9 comments

Homing - the ability of certain animals to return to a given place when displaced from it.

The Homing Project is the proposed name for the project described in this post, A Simple Plan.

Here's how we got here:
Recently, books and reports like Outrageous Fortune, The Gates of Opportunity, The Sands Report, NEA's Public Participation In The Arts Report, combined with movements like 50/50 by 2020, convenings like Arena's New Play Institute, and the conversations of the blogosphere have led me to hope that we are at a singular moment of change in new play development.

To aggregate the many issues facing new play development into overarching themes:
- There is a shrinking audience for new plays.
- There is a divide between institutions and playwrights.
- Female playwrights, and playwrights of color, are underrepresented on our stages.
- Great plays are not being written because good plays are being developed instead of produced.
- Overly influential playwriting tracks at elite MFAs may be creating educational inequity.
- Royalties do not provide enough income for playwrights to live.
- Playwrights no longer feel as if they have homes.

That last issue may be the root of them all: the most local of narrative arts has lost it's sense of home. Theatre has lost its place in our culture because it has lost its sense of place. There is no "there" there.

Here's where are now:
I'm proposing a project to change that. For right now, I'm calling it The Homing Project, and I'm hoping to apply to the Pepsi Refresh Project to get started.

The idea is simple, if a little crazy. RVC Bard rightly wondered if I'd taken my meds.

The Homing Project is a creative stimulus package that imagines a critical mass of the 4,000+ producing theatre organizations each producing 3 plays from a unique playwright over 3-5 years time.

In other words, this project believes we can work together as a field in an intentional way to create meaningful artistic homes for playwrights.
It believes that by doing so, we can shorten the divide between theatre leaders and playwrights.
It believes that while doing so, we can equitably represent the diversity of our field.
It believes by doing so, we will help good playwrights write great plays by actually seeing their work produced.
It believes these great plays will be more likely to connect with an audience the playwright knows from a sustained relationship over time.
And, it hopes that these great plays, through connecting to a specific audience, deepening the playwright/insitution relationships, and equitably representing the diversity of our country, will lead to an increased hunger for new plays and a more sustainable living for playwrights.

I don't believe that the new play machinery of our country is so impossibly divided and complex that it can't collaborate intentionally on a project of this size. All it will take is leadership from a few playwrights and organizations to get the ball rolling.

Here's how it might work:
A robust online platform that plays matchmaker between playwrights and theatres must be created. The playwrights would create a profile that would use a range of aesthetic tags to place their work into a searchable context. While that may sound like a rough tool, Pandora has shown it can be sensitive enough to work.

So a participating theatre would then enter the kind of work their mission supports and be given a list of possible matches. Playwrights would have a series of page samples available online. If the theatre liked what they read, they could contact the playwright or agent for a full script.

Theatres, isn't that better than all those playwrights sending you plays your mission could never support? Playwrights, isn't that better then the current process of mystery and secrecy?

Once a theatre finds some playwrights they like, the courting process begins, until a deadline arrives where every theatre must have chosen their unique playwright. And then, over the next 3 to 5 years, that theatre produces 3 plays from that playwright.

It sound daunting, but all we're asking is 1 play a season for this project. You can still produce A Christmas Carol and A Comedy of Errors. And if you didn't get the playwright you wanted most, produce her work, too. You just need to commit to creating a home for 1 unique voice for a short 3-5 years.

Do you want to reach 50/50 in 2020? What better way than a nation wide collaboration where you can see in real time the gender breakdown of participating playwrights. And if you don't like what you see, let that inform your choice.

Do you want to see more opportunities for playwrights of color? Now you can create them, and see who else is doing it too, and find ways to collaborate and build new audiences together.

Do you want to see greater geographic diversity? Start a petition for your local college to produce a local playwright, and then find that playwright in the online database.

Playwrights, you don't want your work produced by that community theatre that's fallen in love with you? That's fine. But maybe you're passing up an audience that, over 3 years time, would become devoted to your work. Why not say yes? It doesn't mean you can't have other plays produced elsewhere.

Where it takes us:
So let's say 1/10th of our 4,000+ potential partners sign on. In 3-5 years time, 400 playwrights will have written 1,200 new plays in a sustained partnership with unique institutions in unique communities.

Maybe some of those partnerships will last, and playwrights will move home to be supported by the communities they left for New York.

Maybe we reach 50/50 in 2015.

Maybe we break through all the good plays and start making some great ones.

Maybe our capacity to collaborate on a project local in impact and national in scope allows us to raise our profile in this country, and become more essential to our culture.

And then maybe we do it again, and this time 1/2 of the 4,000 partners join us, and 2,000 playwrights have a home that leads to 6,000 new plays written for specific communities.

And then maybe we don't need to do it again, because we can't imagine ever going back to a way of making theatre where audiences, artists, and institutions treat each other like strangers. We don't need to do it again, because we've actually created artistic homes.

What do you think? I'll be posting the 1st step I think we can take shortly. Read the full story

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A Simple Plan

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 3 comments

On the other hand, maybe it's simple.

The IRS reports 1,982 not-for-profit theatres with a budget over $75,000.
AACT lists 1,034 community theatre members.
A rough count lists 265 theatre on Indie Theater.org (that's in NYC alone).
TCG has 88 theatre programs as University Affiliates, and Twitter peeps tell me the number of programs is around 200-300.
*01/29/10: Adam hooked me up with a search engine for colleges - searching for theatre specific programs yielded 1,118 results - so the numbers that follow are actually potentially higher.

So let's say there are roughly 3,500 current theatre producing entities in this country (probably a conservative count, but there may be some cross over above as many community theatres have a sizable budget, and for the purposes of the thought exercise of this post, the exact number is not critical).

What if these 3,500 organizations each committed to produce 1 play a year from 1 unique playwright for the next 3 years?

You would have 3,500 different playwrights each developing a unique relationship with a company and community over 3 years.

Those playwrights would have the opportunity to see 3 of their plays fully staged, which, as J. at 99 Seats so rightfully points out, is the only way good playwrights learn how to write great plays.

And in 3 years time, 10,500 new plays would see the light of stage.

Some of the relationships developed at these theatres might turn long term, some wouldn't. But all of the communities served by all of these theatres would see a nationwide commitment to new plays and living playwrights being treated as essential.

What would this do to the national profile of new plays and playwrights?

Of theatre in general?

Some might prefer to leave community theatres off this list, but to me, our national decline in straight new play attendance demands as inclusive an approach as possible. If playwrights don't want to be produced by a partner organization, that is their prerogative. And they can certainly continue to have their work produced elsewhere, they'll just (for 3 years) be able to count on a home for their work.

Impossible logistically? Not at all. London's Bush Theatre created a website for producers to find plays, and a similar model, properly administered, could be used to play matchmaker-matchmaker between participating theatres and playwrights. The 365 Plays/Days, Lysistrata, Free Night of Theater, and The Laramie Project all serve as examples of successful national collaboration between theatres.

Some playwrights would be besieged with offers, and others would still be left out. Some theatres will protest having to work with their second or third choice, but if they don't have a list 20 playwrights deep they'd like to work with (I do), they're not reading enough (or the right) plays. And this proposal doesn't mean they can't also produce Proof, Doubt, and Twelfth Night; they just also need to produce, once a year for 3 years, a truly unique voice.

Even if only a 1/4 of the hypothetical 3,500 participated, you are still looking at 875 theatres and playwrights working together over 3 years in a program that is local in impact and national in scope. You are still looking at 2,625 deserving new plays (and yes, I think there are that many out there) seeing the light of stage.

Imagine it like a creative stimulus package for new play development. And just like the stimulus, there will be waste and mistakes. But there will also be a clear message to audiences and artists that new plays matter. And maybe, the connection between a theatre and playwright will kindle into the long term relationships idealized at the start of Outrageous Fortune; our Chekhov will find his Moscow Arts Theatre, our O'Neill will find her Provincetown Players, and our national theatre will find its way (or at least its mojo) again.

Crazy, right? Right. Though it may be crazier to continue to make small fixes to big problems.

I don't know. But, what if instead of just talking about supporting playwrights and doing new plays, we all agreed to do it. Not a huge change individually, but a sea change together. Read the full story

Outrageous Fortune, Some Take Aways

I'm late in my final post, and Matt, 99Seats, Scott, Mead, and Isaac have all done great work in summing up the shock of the book's overall impact, and made some useful suggestions on how to move forward.

Most of those suggestions, however, have been in strong opposition to the professional theatre as it currently exists. Both here and in other forums, the thesis is that the institutional system is broken.

I don't think the system is broken. I know there is important, beautiful, valuable work happening in institutional theatres. I know there are many worthy artists and administrators working hard in difficult situations to bring that work to a passionate audience. I know a number of artists and administrators are making enough money from that work to piece together a middle class life.

The system isn't entirely broken. But it may be reaching its natural limits.

The difference is more than semantic. We can acknowledge the good work happening in a flawed and limited system, and advocate for changes within that system, even as we look for alternate models to expand the adaptive capacity of the field.

This is not a zero sum game.

Remember that the regional theatre and Off-Broadway movements were once breaking radical geographic and aesthetic ground, and if they have calcified into institutions more intent on self-preservation that fulfilling their mission, that calcification came choice by difficult choice in response to the real life pressures of trying to make theatre in difficult environments.

We need to advocate for change within institutions even as we ourselves make change happen from without.

4 changes within:

1. Playwright residencies: It's not enough to fund playwrights for temporary residencies in communities. Institutions need to commit to longer term relationships, and playwrights need to accept that their role in that relationship may involve more than just writing plays. Why can't Literary Managers or Education Directors also be Playwrights in Residence? Wouldn't their ability to write for a community be enhanced by actual contact with that community? If playwrights are willing to teach and write for TV/Film to support their theatre work, why not do so instead by working to support the theatre supporting them?

2. National New Play Network: In Chapter 6 of Outrageous Fortune, this organization is rightfully presented as a positive model for how theatres can collaborate to extend the life of plays past premiere. This is an example of positive change already in motion.

3. Transparency: Institutions need to be clearer about why they choose particular shows for seasons. Any organization receiving public money owes a degree of transparency and accountability to that public; and as there is no more significant decision for a theatre than what plays they produce, the current opacity of that process is unacceptable. This transparency goes further than explaining after the fact why decisions are made; it means reaching out and involving the stakeholders, artists and audience, in that decision making process from the beginning.

4. A Hand Up The Ladder: Larger institutions must reach out to smaller theatre companies and create space for their work. In the comments section of this post on Theatre Ideas, David Loehr, David Dower, and Scott describe efforts at Arena Stage, Steppenwolf, and NC Stage to do just that (I believe New York Theatre Workshop has or had companies in residence as well). This was a theme of the Black Playwrights convening, as well, with the desire that larger institutions should support less-resourced culturally specific institutions, perhaps as Signature Theatre Company recently did with the Negro Ensemble Company.

I've already talked a lot about changes outside the institutional structure (Flux is, after all, an Indie theatre company), most recently in my 12 Holiday Wishes, and so won't do so again right now.

But I think it's important to note, as Matthew Freeman does, that our flawed system of making theatre is part of a larger dysfunction in this country. As Culture Future mentions here and I wrote about here, a large part of that dysfunction is a bureaucracy of specialists and managers that insulate decision makers from the consequences of their decisions.

Looked through that lens, Outrageous Fortune is not just a diagnosis of flaws in our new play development system; but a reminder those flaws are part of a larger, cultural dysfunction that places a higher value on hierarchical, specialist productivity than on holistic, communal collaboration. And it is good to remember that when we hold the mirror up to our theatre, we are reflecting the reflection of our nature. So, ask not what your country can do for theatre... Read the full story

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Flux Sunday, January 10th

Sunday, January 24, 2010 0 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Playwrights: Rob Ackerman (Throwing Gumballs), Johnna Adams (Tumblewings), Katherine Burger (Legends of Batvia), Isaiah Tanenbaum (The Transcendental Etudes), Anthony Wills Jr (Eddie Falls)

Directors: Michael Davis, Kelly O'Donnell, August Schulenburg, Christina Shipp, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Anthony Wills Jr

Actors: Gretchen Poulos, IT, JA, RA, Nora Hummel, David Crommett, AW, Brian Pracht, Ken Glickfeld, KB, Cotton Wright, Richard Watson, CS, Ryan Andes, Katie Hartke, Jason Paradine

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was our first Flux Sunday of 2010.

Highlights included:
-Kelly O'Donnell's brilliantly funny direction of the newly revised final scene of Legends of Batvia, which included a hilarious mountain climbing montage
-David Crommett's moving performance as a the big hearted patriarch of Tumblewings, fighting and then affirming a move to a senior center (though as this a Johnna play, I kept expecting the natural rhythm of three generations hunting to be sabotaged through an invading angel or demon).
-The ensembles of Throwing Gumballs and Eddie Falls, who fearlessly navigated two plays of wild physical invention - Flux Sunday was never such a workout

But the day ended without time for us to share the work being done on Isaiah's The Transcendental Etudes, the first time in recent memory we've been forced to end a Flux Sunday without seeing all plays present. It was heartbreaking, and I'm determined to be better disciplined about the balance between reading and staging scenes.

Artists who attended, did I miss any highlights? Read the full story

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Outrageous Fortune, Chapter 5

Thursday, January 21, 2010 1 comments

Whose Audience Is It, Anyway?

This question is the title of the 5th chapter of Outrageous Fortune, TDF's new book profiling the the life and times on the new American play. As part of Isaac's blogging group, I'm writing about Chapters 1, 5, and 6. My thoughts on Chapter 1 are here.

I share my Chapter with Scott Walters of Theatre Ideas and CRADLE fame, and in some ways, he has been writing his eloquent response to the issues addressed in Chapter 5 for years. This frees me up to be more personal in my response, but first, a brief overview.

Chapter 5 acknowledges that all of the issues addressed in previous chapters stem from a dwindling audience of diminished passion. The NEA's ironically titled "All America's A Stage" report shows that the percentage of Americans who attended a nonmusical play over a twelve-month period fell from 13.5 percent to 9.4 percent between 1992 and 2008.

And according to the interviewees of this book, the audience that remains is increasingly conservative in their taste. They do not want plays of formal innovation, cultural difference, complexity, or ambition.

Artistic Directors believe that playwrights are increasingly writing for themselves, drifting away from the concerns and interests of their audience. Playwrights believe there is a different audience out there, but theatres don't know how to reach out and retain them.

The idea of an artistic home once again is proposed as the solution: playwrights writing for specific audiences, audiences following the long term arc of playwrights.

Additionally, several conceptual shifts are recommended: audience should shift to community, product should shift to process, and marketing should shift to contextualizing. These are all ideas that have been advocated for here and elsewhere; and much of my chapter partner Scott's work has been to advocate for a uniquely local approach to artist/audience engagement. I look forward to reading his response.

I'd like instead to focus on a more theoretical question underlying this chapter: who should playwrights be writing for - themselves or the audience? And if the audience, who should be in that audience?

The Old Question
"...the old question which transversed the sky of the soul perpetually, the vast, the general question which was apt to particularise itself at such moments as these, when she released faculties that had been on the strain, stood over her, paused over her, darkened over her. What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one....Mrs. Ramsay saying, "Life stand still here"; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent...this was of the nature of a revelation"
-Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse
That's why I do theatre: to make life stand still, to make of the moment something permanent, to strike an unexpected match in the dark. I want to know the meaning of life.

And because I suspect that meaning is fluid, experiential, communal, and contradictory, I make theatre instead of novels. Fluid, so the meaning must happen in real time. Experiential, so the meaning cannot be summed up as anything less than the full sequence of events. Communal, so the meaning isn't fully realized until struck by a variety of perceptions. Contradictory, so that no single experience can be the sole proprietor of truth.

My audience is anyone who shares a hunger to know that meaning, and shares a faith that the communal act of play can illuminate it.

In recent posts, I've talked about my increasing conviction in the importance of the audience's role, and therefore the importance in developing that long term, collaborative relationship between an audience of diverse perception and an artist.

In other words, I write for an audience in order to write for myself; to take a collective grasp of that old question and for a moment, make life stand still here.

Flux has tried to create the kind of home for artists described above through our Flux Sundays development process; and we have opened up that process to our audience through our Have Anothers, Food:Souls, Fore:Plays, and this blog. We are trying to build that community of seekers to take that collective grasp through the obscured cotton-wool of life:
"Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself."
-Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being
I like the sound of that, though I'm not so sure it's true. But I am sure I can't come near the heart of it alone. So let's play.
Read the full story

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Casting Your Audience

Sunday, January 17, 2010 1 comments

If the audience is as important as the actors in making a play work, why don't we spend as much time casting an audience as we do casting a play?

A backdrop for that question:

This weekend, I was lucky enough to observe the American Voices New Play Insitute at Arena Stage's convening on black playwrights. I was there on behalf of my goodly employer TCG, live tweeting the event @tcg and hashtag #newplay. Also make sure to check out Parabasis, Mission Paradox, 99 Seats and the New Play Blog for some in depth analysis of the event later this week.

At the convening, a playwright was discussing the impact of a racially charged joke early in her play on a primarily white audience. They froze, afraid to laugh; but as marketing tactics paid off and the audience diversified, black audience members who laughed at that moment gave the white audience members permission to do so, too.

What this example illuminates is the potential for a diverse audience to echo and enrich a moment on stage through the conflict and confluence of their different perceptions. You are aware not only of the meaning of the moment on stage, but of the meaning of your response in relation to rest of the audience. And this doubling of awareness and meaning doesn't necessarily distance you from the story, but makes it more visceral and immediate.

For more on how an audience's perception affects a play, check out these recent posts on A Different Case For Diversity, Let Me Down Easy, Quantum Darwinism, and More On Presence.

Which all leads us to the question: if the composition of an audience is as essential to a play's alchemy as the make-up of the cast, why don't we pay as much attention to casting the audience as we do to casting the play?

Obviously, I don't mean holding auditions for audience members; I mean considering the composition of the audience as carefully as we do that of the cast.

So who needs to be in the audience for the play to be fully heard?

Who is the choir for this play to preach to, and who is the power this play needs to speak truth to?
Both that power and that choir should be in the room together.
Who is this play about in the community? Are they represented in the audience?
And who in the community doesn't know about the people in this play?
Because they should be in the audience, too.
What are the conflicts in the play? Have all the sides of that conflict represented in the house.

Now, a theatre can only fit so many people, and we only have so much time in the day. But another take away from the convening was the power and necessity of reaching out to local partners who can advocate for you within the communities that the play needs present.

And with the aid of social media, we don't need to guess at who our audience is and how they think. We can ask. We can discover the complex and unique perceptions of our audience without relying solely on the blunt tools of demographics.

I could be very wrong: it could be our best way is to appeal to a devoted niche from an ever more fragmented culture.

But when I think of the audience I want to write for, act for, and sit in; it is an audience of diverse experiences united in focus, multiplying the power of our mutual awareness through our different perspectives.

Now, how do we make that happen? Read the full story

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Have Another, Tuesday the 19th

Saturday, January 16, 2010 2 comments

Have Another is back!
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Nancy Franklin, Ryan Andes, Matthew Archambault)

It's back! Our next instalment of Have Another is this Tuesday the 19th at 7PM (holy short notice, Batman!). We'll be returning to the friendly confines of Jimmy's #43, located downstairs at 43 East 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Ave. There is no cover, but a 1 drink minimum.

It may be short notice, but it's also can't miss. Just check out this line up:

The Will
Written by Jeremy Basescu
Directed by Michael Davis
Featuring Benjamin Ellis Fine, Katie Hartke, Matthew Murumba, Jane Lincoln Taylor, Matthew Trumbull

Moving Statues
Written by Corey Ann Haydu
Directed by Angela Astle
Featuring Elise Link, Drew Valins

The Sleeping World
Written by Crystal Skillman
Directed by Christina Shipp
Featuring Matthew Crosby, Gretchen Poulos, Brian Pracht

Why is this line up a must see? Because Have Another gives you a chance to see the plays that Flux is developing at Flux Sundays, all the while tipping back a beer or two and enjoying Jimmy's great locally inspired food (local theatre pairs well with local food, no?) It's one of our ways of sharing our development process with you.

And this particular line up of scenes features a seance, sensual physics, stale bagels, clown makeup, duets, unfinished masterpieces and more! Things get started at 7PM, but stop by any time, we usually go late!
Read the full story

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Outrageous Fortune, Chapter 1

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 6 comments

So I'm going to be blogging about TDF's new publication, Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play, as part of Isaac Butler at Parabasis' posse of bloggers. Today, all of us will be addressing Chapter 1: Dialogue in the Dark, Playwrights & Theatres. In the days to follow we'll be focusing on individual chapters, and I'm thrilled to say that I'll be joining with Scott Walters next Tuesday to talk about Chapter 5: Whose Audience Is It, Anyway?

But for now...Chapter 1: Dialogue in the Dark, Playwrights & Theatres.

First things first: the most important thing to note about this study is the limit of its scope. 94 theatres and 250 playwrights were surveyed, with an additional 31 playwrights and 67 artistic leaders/educators/agents/producers rounding out the survey results over a series of roundtable discussions.

When you consider the IRS reports 1,982 theatres with a budget over $75,000, and the latest New York Innovative Theatre demographic study lists 900 playwrights responding to their last survey; you begin to understand how small a slice of new play activity the report is actually covering.

In some ways, this isn't significant, as the study is specifically looking at playwrights who are "successful", a term defined loosely in the book, but understood to mean playwrights who are regularly being produced at a regional and Off-Broadway level. The survey focuses on a sample of those playwrights, and the theatres that are able to financially produce at that level.

In other ways, it is very significant, because the invisibility of the theatres and artists not covered in the study obscures one of the most powerful solutions to the problems addressed in the book. We'll get back to that. It is simply important to remember that the book addresses a statistically significant slice of new play development, but a slice all the same.

Still with me?

Because of the above, the other important thing to note about the book is the data is primarily self-reported. Most of the data concerns what playwrights and theatre leaders are saying and thinking about themselves and each other. In that light, it is extremely interesting.

But, with all of the controversy surrounding new play production, the primary take away of this book is our desperate need for a real time mechanism to report the true demographic breadth of play production in this company. Maybe that road runs through the play publishers, who would have information on rights and therefore the most representative data. Or maybe that road runs through organizations like nytheatre.com, who could work with other regional organizations to give monthly snap shots of local and national break-downs of percentages of plays written by women, people of color, new plays vs classics, etc.

In the end, we will need to have some accurate, comprehensive, and timely mechanism to measure those demographics, or we will continue to be uncertain of where exactly we are, where exactly we're trying to get to, and what actual progress is being made.

Still with me?

Good. All that aside, the book is a triumph, and a real asset to move the conversation of new play development forward.

It starts with the divide between theatre leaders and playwrights. From the playwright perspective, the pressures of declining audiences, corporate boards, and communities of aesthetically conservative tastes force artistic directors to take avoid taking risks with new plays. From the artistic director perspectives, playwrights are either writing plays of lower quality; or plays of high quality but formal difficulty that do not speak to their audience.

In other words, each side believes a large measure of blame rests with the other, though both this chapter and the book itself feature anecdotes of relationships that are working.

Underwriting both opinions are stark financial realities detailed in later chapters. Most new plays don't make money. Most playwrights don't make a living writing plays. Whatever lack of communication driving the distance between playwrights and theatres is fueled by this dire economic reality.

The equation of this distance seems to be something like this:
1. Most new plays don't make money, so...
2. Theatres cannot afford to keep playwrights permanently on staff, which means...
3. Playwrights cannot stay in a local community, so...
4. Playwrights move to cities where they form communities with other playwrights, and...
5. End up writing plays that will be seen primarily by an audience of their peers, which is...
6. A small audience, so smaller theatres are chosen, which leads to...
7. Smaller plays being written for a specialist audience, which then...
8. Make artistic directors hesitant to program these plays that don't speak to their audience, and so...
9. The artistic directors program the few plays that are hits, which...
10. Still don't necessarily speak to their specific community, and so...
11. They don't make money even on the hit plays they program, which means...
12. They can only afford to do hit plays with small casts, which gives us...
13. The current system of new play production, wherein a small number of small cast plays with a traditional narrative that are anointed as hits receive many productions, and so...
14. To change this dynamic, the funding community gives to new play development, focusing on premieres, which leads to...
15. The much bemoaned development hell and premieritis, which ends up...
16. Perpetuating a system where most new plays don't make money, and most playwrights don't make a living.

One potential solution is ironically present in the very first paragraph of the very first page:

Think about the relationship between playwrights and theatres, and images will spring to mind: Chekhov, surrounded by the actors of the Moscow Art Theatre, reads his play to them. Moliere, starring in his own work, gets carried from stage to deathbed by his company - his literal and figurative family - for whom he writes and with whom he brings his comedies to life. A wharf in Provincetown, fog sifting in and water lapping at the floorboards - Eugene O'Neill's first sea play is being performed by the band of passionate amateurs who discovered him. Or think about Brecht directing his own play with the Berliner Ensemble; Caryl Churchill discovering hers through research and improvisation with the Joint Stiock Theatre; or August Wilson traversing a country in step with not one theatre, but many partners in ambition, vision, song. And then there's Shakespeare, looming over all of them, a player among players on the banks of the Thames, at home in his Globe.
Shakespeare, Moliere, and Brecht were not separate from the financial decisions that brought their work to life, but directly responsible for it. They were shareholders in the life of their company. They brought their own strawberries to market. And they did so with a particular community of artists that, like the Provincetown Players and Moscow Arts Theatre, had made a commitment to long term collaboration with each other under an artist/producer model.

Flux Theatre Ensemble functions under this artist/producer, long term collaborative model. I believe that artists can and should be responsible for the consequences of their plays in a community; and I believe a producer should have their hands dirty with the theatre they're making. The silos of our specialist corporate culture may no longer be the ideal for making theatre. But whether you are a traditionally structured company or one of Travis Bedard's bands, all roads to recovery lead one way: to the audience.

We'll talk about that on Tuesday. And make sure to check out Isaac's blog for links to the other bloggers covering the book! Read the full story

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A Different Case For Diversity

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 0 comments

I wanted to follow up on an idea introduced in my post on Anna Deveare Smith's Let Me Down Easy because I need to lay some groundwork for my contributions later in the week to Isaac's project on TDF's Outrageous Fortune.

Most approaches to encouraging greater diversity in theatre stem from moral or practical imperatives:
-A community should have its full cultural diversity represented by its cultural institutions
-If theatre does not diversify its audience base, it will continue to shrink in vitality
-The field should fairly represent artists regardless of race, class, gender, etc.

These are strong, compelling arguments, but they could apply to any art form; in fact, they could apply to any civic communal activity (and I think they do).

But what if there were an aesthetic case for diversity, unique to how theatre works? That would serve as a rebuttal to what 99 Seats calls the "quality dodge", and provide a theatre-specific motivation to diversity.

This case rests in the ideas put forward on my post on Quantum Darwinism. In brief, the audience's perception serves as a crucible of each moment, evolving the actor towards the fittest choice. If this is true, then the audience becomes extremely important in increasing the vitality of every play and theatre as a whole.

So what kind of audience is best able to provide the most piercing kind of perception? What kind of audience can best evolve a play in the moment of its playing?

In my post on Let Me Down Easy, I argue that it is an audience of diverse perceptions. Perception is influenced by the blunt objects of race, gender, age, sexuality, geography and class; but also by the subtler influences of self-selecting cultural identities. An audience of science fiction fans will react differently than an audience of Wagner's Ringnuts. An audience of die-hard Red Sox fans brings in a different set of expectations than an audience of born again Christians. And as all of these experiences, passions, and identities overlap in a single individual, giving rise to their unique perception; so does a group of these individuals create an audience of diverse perceptions; and I believe an audience with the greatest diversity of perception leads to the most powerful theatrical experience.

It's easy to see how: an older audience member will laugh at the Woodstock era joke that the younger might miss. The devout audience member responds to the character of faith without the judgement of the atheist. And so in an audience of diverse perceptions, it's as if each member has grown more ears. They are able of catching things as a group they would miss as individuals. And what they do catch collectively is amplified by a diversity of contrasting responses.

In this scenario, the actor isn't preaching to the choir or hollering over the town hall but somewhere in between; and will naturally elevate their performance because of the diversity of perception bearing down on it.

What kind of play is best suited to create and engage this kind of audience? A play with a similar diversity of perception. To diversify our audience we must diversify our plays. One of Shakespeare's eeriest abilities is to disappear behind characters of wildly different perceptions, none of which can be said to be wholly right. Writing for an audience that was as diverse in perception as Elizabethan London, Shakespeare smashes together the worlds of nobles, rude mechanicals, fairies, and lovers into a single play.

So a truly diverse theatre wouldn't say, everyone is welcome; a truly diverse theatre would say, everyone is necessary. Read the full story

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Flux on Best of 2009 Lists

Monday, January 4, 2010 6 comments

It's the listing time of year, and happily, Flux is featured in a number of Best of 2009 lists:

Just Shows To Go You: Patrick Lee featured The Lesser Seductions of History among his Sixteen Most Outstanding Shows of 2009. I also loved reading his 10 Memorable Moments At The Theatre This Decade.

That Sounds Cool: Aaron Riccio included The Lesser Seductions of History as part of his Theater of 2009 roundup.

Show Showdown: Wendy Caster included The Lesser Seductions of History as part of her Top Ten-ish of 2009.

Visible Soul: Zack Calhoon included The Lesser Seductions of History in his Top Six Plays of the Year.

The Guardian: Chris Wilkinson included this blog as one of his Top Five Theatre Blogs, along with other Flux favorites Scott Walters, Parabasis, Superfluities and On Theatre and Politics. This is especially exciting because The Guardian is a model for how a media institution can have a meaningful online presence.

On Theatre and Politics: Speaking of Matthew Freeman's blog, he was kind enough to include Flux on his Support Small Theater This Year list. And hey, why not support us this year, too?

But the past is the past, you say, what about the future? Well...

Broadway World: Michael Roderick featured Flux as one of his 10 to Watch in 2010!

New York Innvoative Theatre Awards: And why not move through this next year marking the days on the NYITA's 2010 Calendar, which features an October image to remember.

This past year also included great reviews for Pretty Theft, our 1st NYITA award for Asa Wember's Sound Design of The Angel Eaters Trilogy, and our Citation for Excellence from the ITBA. Thank you to everyone who made 2009 such a positive year for all of us in Flux.

And though they don't feature Flux on their lists, be sure to check out Martin Denton's diverse and fascinating list; Time Out New York's great compilation of David Cote, Adam Feldman, and Helen Shaw's lists (it's interesting to see where they overlap); and Terry Teachout's wider angle national best list (2009= The Year of David Cromer?)

Hopefully, we'll be posting our Best Of 2009 lists later in the week, but thank you to all the folks listed above for your support. Here's to a great 2010! Read the full story