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Let Me Down Easy

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 4 comments

Two nights ago I saw Anna Deveare Smith's play about health care, Let Me Down Easy. I was deeply moved by the play, and haven't stopped thinking about it, as it touched on many of the ideas we've been discussing on this blog.

First, on Presence: It absolutely mattered that this was a play and not a movie. Throughout the play, Anna's characters reacted to their unseen interviewer; and at other times, the characters solicited input directly from the audience; so that subtly over the course of the play, we became the interviewer, directly participating in the action. The set design captured this brilliantly through column-like mirrors that created a reflecting ampitheatre.

Second, on Diversity: In thinking of how the audience matters, this particular night's audience was notably diverse in both race and age. And while it's stupid to assume that Audience Member X vocally responded to a particular moment simply because of their age or race, very different responses were happening all around me; and that made me notice things in the play I might have missed. Which is to say that a truly diverse audience is one of truly diverse perceptions; and that having multiple perceptions strengthens the quantum Darwinism of live theatre. I hope to come back to this as a way of exploring diversity as a uniquely theatrical need, rather than simply a general obligation.

Third, on Imaginative Empathy: One aspect of Imaginative Empathy that is particularly important to me is its power to shock us with the wonder of a single life, and makes us keenly feel the size of its loss. Anna accomplishes more than that - in the singular insight of the New Yorker review:

Smith is doing more than opening up a much needed discussion about the dying and those who minister to them. The purpose of the enterprise, we realize, is for the playwright herself to learn how to die.
And because we have been subtly led to become the interviewer, we are also learning how to die. (And who wrote those beautiful words, New Yorker? The review is unsigned!) I found myself turning over each word of the end of the play like a rough tool in my hand, as if somehow I could use them to build an edifice of comfort or courage against my end.

Fourth, on theatre as an engine of democracy: The play's great political insight is that health care is not only about public options and triggers; it is also about how we deal (or don't) with suffering and death in our culture. At the heart of the play are two interview excerpts from physician Kiersta Kurtz-Burke and Dean of Stanford's School of Medicine, Phil Puzzo. The first makes clear the cost of treating health care as a commodity; the second exposes one of the reasons our culture chooses to treat it as a commodity - an unwillingness to consider death as the inevitable end of life. Whatever your feelings on the intricacies of the health care bill, facing the human costs of health care failure in our country, and acknowledging the emotional roots of that failure, is one of the unique gifts of this play, and something theatre is uniquely able to do.

It was an inspiring evening, and even though I agree with Alexis Soloski's smart take on the play's failings, what matters about this production overwhelms the flaws. Let Me Down Easy reminds us that while the answer to life's question is death, the answer to death's question is live.

And as I am a juxtaposition junkie, I leave you with this YouTube pitch from the Manhattan Beach Project, a coalition of scientists hoping to end aging by 2029...which may or may not have an impact on the health care debate. Read the full story


12 Holiday Wishes for the Theatre

Sunday, December 20, 2009 5 comments

Here are my 12 wishes for theatre in the new year:

1. An Online Audience/Artist Community: This is #1 because it makes almost every aspect of #2-12 more possible.Whether it is the Audience Engagement Platform or something out of Project Audience, the goal is to connect audience, artist and institution in a robust arts-centric online platform that allows a diverse, vibrant field to find allies, collaborate on mutual opportunities and challenges, share best practices, develop increased audience ownership through a more transparent process, and leverage this revitalized online community to achieve real world goals.

2. A Truly National (Local) Theatre: The invaluable work of Scott Walters at CRADLE (the Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education) seeks to create a truly national theatre that serves not just not the coasts and population centers, but exists as a right of every American community. Until every citizen has access to a theatre that empowers it's local community, we will continue to experience political resistance to the arts as an essential part of our democracy. His work with CRADLE emphasizes geographic diversity, local stories, and the empowerment of community members to engage directly with their own creativity, and theatres like Cornerstone, Appalshop, Double Edge, and Mo'olelo serve as examples. I think that #1 could greatly increase the efficacy of #2 by connecting underserved communities directly with artists in oversaturated areas.

3. New Models of Sustainability: The model of corporate hierarchy that currently dominates the internal structure our major theatres, and the framing of theatre as a charity equivalent to feeding the hungry, have both come under increasing scrutiny. The new models of sustainability proposed by Stolen Chair's CST, Chris Ashworth's "Process is the Product", and New Leaf's Partnership Model re-imagine the audience/artist funding relationship as more sustained and reciprocal; and the Ensemble model of companies like Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble give example of a more flexible, horizontal, and holistic internal structure. For companies to thrive in wish #2, they are going to need to consider the models of #3.

4. El Sistema for American Theatre: The Venezuelan economist, activist, and musician Jose Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema as a model for arts education in 1975, and it has since grown into an internationally recognized engine for social change. Focused on providing a rigorous classical music education for students of poor socioeconomic background, El Sistema has shattered the perceived elitism of classical music by transforming the lives of its participants, improving attendance rates, dropout rates, crime rates and launching the careers of artists like Gustavo Dudamel. While an American theatrical version of this would (and should) look different, I believe theatre can have an equally transformative effect on education and community; and without a sustained nationwide commitment to arts education, Wish #2 may never have the support it needs to flourish.

5. Increased Diversity: The debate inspired by Arena Stage's Defining Diversity conference has flourished online, and projects like 50/50 in 2020 have set clear, achievable goals for more a more equitable, inclusive field; but this is an old discussion, and diversity sometimes feels like theatre's favorite stationary bike; we love working up a sweat, but we're not going anywhere. My hope for the new year is to see a clearly defined persuasive argument for why diversity in theatre matters; a model for which kinds of diversity we need to prioritize; a comprehensive demographic study of where we are now; a clear and tangible goal of where we'd like to be; and an inclusive strategy to cross that distance. This Wish is intimately linked to Wishes #1, #2, and #4; in fact, I'm not sure lasting diversity can be achieved without a truly national (local) theatre, empowered arts education, and the kind of online community that could provide real time metrics of progress and foster self-selected cultural connection.

6. Indie Theatre Repertory: While this Wish is local, I'm sure other communities experience the difficult transition from one union contract to the other, and the resulting lack of traction and growth opportunities for smaller companies. This wish is detailed here and here, and I'm hoping to make some progress with it in the new year.

7. Idea Bank: In talking with people about Wish #6, I found out that a similar idea had been proposed years ago, and this unknown recycling of ideas continues because the field has no central warehouse. It seemed for a moment this might happen over here, and perhaps Google Wave (or Wish #1) will make this achievable; but however it happens, a platform for storing, improving, acting and following up on the field's ideas and conversations is essential.

8. Assessing Cultural Impact: Wish #8 belongs to point 3 of a 5 point proposal made by Arlene Goldbard at the NET Summit in June:

How would our cities be different today if policy-makers had brought imaginative empathy to the cultural lives of the neighborhoods emptied out to make way for new sports stadiums, performing arts complexes, freeways and downtown ghost towns? We would emulate the law that requires us to assess possible environmental impacts of regulations, interventions and projects, and begin to assess cultural impacts in hope of ensuring that decision-makers consider the well-being of communities and their cultural fabric before approving plans.
Here here.

9. Bridging the Amateur-Professional Divide: Linked to #2 and #4, I talked about this unnecessary divide here, and the gap in adult arts education funding here. Simply put, if no one is playing baseball in their own backyard, they're a whole lot less likely to watch it in yours. Empowering a community to a lifelong connection to their own creativity is essential, and the divide between amateur and professional is increasingly damaging to the health of the field.

10. Embracing More Critical Voices: The Indie Theatre field owes a great debt to nytheatre.com, offoffonline, the Clyde Fitch Report, the folks at Show Showdown and all the newly flourishing critical voices online. For little to no money, these critics soldier into productions that otherwise might find no coverage, and a few do so with more clarity of thought and generosity of purpose than their mainstream brethren. And yet, we still look to the mainstream press as the ultimate gatekeepers of quality, even as we increasingly don't connect with their criticism. We need to engage with all reviewers, but especially those mentioned above, as equal partners in the process of improving the field. That means actually engaging with reviews rather than using them for pull quotes, and reading and responding to their work even when it isn't about us. We can't complain about the outsize power of a few reviewers without also empowering the many.

11. Improving Quality: This is especially true now, when the latest NEA report shows participation in the arts dropping, and we must confront that unseemly elephant called Quality. Just because it is very difficult to define quality doesn't mean it's entirely subjective. I talked about the difference between quality and value here, and we've tried to host a conversation here about what makes theatre work through our Exploding Moments series. Internally, we've added aesthetic feedback to our production post mortem, and I think we need to go much further with that process. All the noble goals espoused above and on this blog count for nothing if a play is boring.

12. Partnering with Science: Readers may have noticed a more scientific bent to this blog of late. This comes from my increasing conviction that science and the arts are natural allies. The increasing pace of breakthroughs in neuroscience, genetics, and physics are revealing how theatre functions in the mind, even as they are rewriting the meaning of what it means to be human. On a more short-term practical level, augmented reality pulls the connectivity of the internet into our local world in ways that may offer profound opportunities for theatre.

So, what do you think? What are your wishes for the theatre in 2010? Read the full story

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Quantum Darwinism

Thursday, December 17, 2009 4 comments

In this blog post we're going to fly from quantum mechanics to Darwin to theatre as quickly as possible, using only links and the single engine plane of my mind, so hold on. Ready?

One of essential differences between classical and quantum physics is probability. At the incredibly small Planck level, particles are neither here nor there, but a probability wave of both, a superposition of states. When observed, this wavefunction collapses into the familiar one location/state of classical physics (perhaps you've heard of our hapless feline friend, Schrodinger's cat). But the probability wave is real, and the physics that surround it incredibly accurate and exceedingly strange, giving rise to quantum entanglement and theories of parallel worlds.

The process of wavefunction collapse, and the obscuring of the bizarre quantum world, happens through a process called decoherence, which I talked about in theatre terms here. The actual process of decoherence remains uncertain. But in this process lies the answer of how our observable classical here-not-there cause-and-effect lovely world emerges from the quantum weirdness.

Physicist Wojciech Zurek came up with a theory based in an unlikely source: Darwin's theory of evolution. The probability wave of the quantum world insists that a particle is both here and there until it is observed; Zurek believes that observation is a kind of selection, whereby the particles that interact with the probability wave select the location/state that is most useful to them, aka, the fittest; and then deliver the information of that state into the world; and though other particles may interact with the wave in a different location, they are overwhelmed by the process of selection that says this particle is most fit here, not there.

Two beautiful things about this idea: the first is that the probabilistic nature of the quantum world does not collapse, as if the superposition of states was some foreign magical universe; but rather we only see the fittest version, based on a process of selection below the Planck level. The second is that if correct, the framework that underpins all of life's astonishing diversity is theoretically connected to the way the universe moves from possibility into being.

Pretty enough, but what on earth does this have to do with theatre?

Recent posts have wrestled with my fear that Presence, the essential difference of theatre to other narrative communal arts, isn't an essential enough difference to make up for its shortcomings. But here, with quantum Darwinism as a model, we have a possible conceptual framework for why the live audience/actor experience matters.

In theatre, the actor is the probability wave, and the audience is the force that pressures each evolving moment into the fittest choice. No matter what a rehearsal process has been, a play will inevitably move towards what an audience wants; as many a despairing director returning to a long run discovers. An actor makes a choice, and if enough audience members connect viscerally with that choice, a current runs from house to stage and changes the way that actor plays; they hold longer for a laugh, or go further with a big choice, emboldened by that current of yes.

In this feedback loop, an audience is shaping the performance in a way that is fundamentally Darwinian; choices that fall flat, arcs that don't work, will quickly find extinction as the play evolves under the selective pressures of the audience. In The Empty Space, Peter Brook bemoans a production that played with beautiful detail in one country, only to becomes coarse and simplistic in another; but really, the production was doing exactly what a play should do - evolve to meet the present moment.

When we say a great actor has Presence, what do we mean? What do we mean when we say In The Moment?

I think we mean that a great actor's performance is like that probability wave of quantum mechanics: it is both here and there, a superposition of possible states; until, acted upon by the pressures of the audience's perception, that possibility crystalizes into a choice; and if that actor is very good, we keenly feel the the current of that feedback running through each moment we make together.

So in this way, theatre is more than the observation of a human moment; it is the practice of shaping it. In this framework, the audience is participatory in more than just passive terms; they are the essential pressure which gives the play life.

And in this way, theatre is linked not only to the evolution of life; but to each present moment crystalizing out of quantum possibility into the only world we know.

A play is possibility, then the pressure of perception making the present, then the past. Read the full story


More On Presence

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 8 comments

Exhibit A: Your partner walks into your bedroom to find you watching porn on your computer. Your partner's reaction may be pissed off or turned on, or merely indifferent.

Exhibit B: Your partner walks into your bedroom to find you watching several people having sex on your bed. In this scenario, indifference seems less likely of an option.

Why? Presence.

And as silly as those exhibits are, understanding why that difference is important is essential to articulating why theatre is important. Is theatre important for what it is, or what it does? What seems like a semantic question is a little slipperier than that.

Two weekends ago at the Defining Diversity conference in DC, Taylor Mac talked about the nostalgia people have for their narratives, how difficult it is to let certain beloved narratives go. He was referring specifically to traditional narratives of marriage, but for me the question expanded to theatre itself.

Is theatre essential? Or is it just a beloved narrative that we're all hanging onto as (according to the most recent NEA study) our audiences dwindle and move on? Are arts practitioners, as Fractured Atlas Adam Huettler puts it, in the typewriter business? Typewriters now have nostalgic value for what they are, but have little value for what they do.

So if theatre is important for what it does, it may eventually be completely replaced by film, video games, or holograms; because if the good that theatre does can be mass distributed for less cost and greater good, theatre is a vehicle of nostalgia, and we are the last followers of Zeus.

But if theatre is important for what it is, that difference lives in Presence. And I think the difference between Exhibit A and B is that, while we're just watching in both, we are also participating in Exhibit B; because we're not witnessing an artifact indifferent to our existence, but participating in a shared moment, unique in time. Our watching matters.

Does it matter enough? Does that difference between A and B justify holding onto a medium manifestly less efficient than the media of mass distribution? Most of the traditional arguments for theatre completely ignore what it is in favor of what it does (education, local business enhancement, community building) ignoring that there may be many more cost effective ways for a community to accomplish those tasks. And when we do discuss Presence as essential, it usually is presented as an unquestionable virtue. Well, it is to us. We so love our nostalgic narrative of sacred theatre.

But that narrative is increasingly foreign to a culture where story is as free as air, and virtual connection only a click away. When our culture cares about Presence, it is usually celebrity Presence, which owes more to the power of other media than to theatre. The case for theatre as an enduring human activity can take many forms, but it must have this question of why Presence matters at the root.

Or we'll be left with Exhibit A, and go on clapping uncertainly at the end of movies. Read the full story

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Flux Sunday, December 13th

Monday, December 14, 2009 3 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Playwrights: Throwing Gumballs (Rob Ackerman), Red Horses (Johnna Adams), Going Out Dancing (Katherine Burger), McTeague (James Comtois), Moving Statues (Corey Ann Haydu), Untitled Russian Project (David Ian Lee), Dark Matter (August Schulenburg), The Sleeping World (Crystal Skillman)

Directors: Angela Astle, Rob Ackerman, Katherine Burger, Crystal Skillman

Actors: Ryn Andes, Matthew Archambault, Carissa Cordes, David Crommett, Nancy Franklin, Candice Holdorf, Ingrid Nordstrom, Gretchen Poulos, Jane Taylor, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Richard Watson, Cotton Wright

Sometimes, I plan things out just right...and then there was this Sunday. We went way over time, though for good reason - we had a ton of great material, and actors and directors who wanted to dig deeper.

Highlights included:

-Isaiah Tanenbaum playing Luke Wilson, a Bengali physicist, an elderly shut-in, a miser, and a friendly barkeep all in one day
-Carissa Cordes as a fierce Bright Wing in Johnna's prequel (!) to Angel Eaters
-Ryan Andes' lovably simple McTeague facing down Richard Watson's drunkenly embittered Marcus (the fight scene hilariously directed by Rob Ackerman)
-Katherine's direction of David Ian Lee and Jane Taylor in her Going Out Dancing - I'd previously seen this play at a much faster clip, which put the epiphany in the hands of the audience: here, the more deliberate pace gave Jane's Anna the full opportunity to realize what was happening, and to a degree, accept it
-Working with Cotton on Crystal's The Sleeping World, where complex emotionally rich moments must move quickly - a surprisingly challenging script for a seemingly naturalistic play
-Matt Archambault and Candice Holdorf got to let their hair down a little in Corey's Moving Statues, and the result were two relaxed, highly present, and engaging performances

Artists who attended, what were your highs and lows? Read the full story

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Free Artists Of Themselves

Rereading Harold Bloom's book on Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human, I was struck anew by this passage on page 56 regarding the uniqueness of his characters, excerpted here:

"Instead of fitting the role to the play, the post-Marlovian Shakespeare creates personalities who never could be accommodated by their roles: excess marks them not as hyperboles or Marlovian overreachers, but as overflowing spirits, more meaningful than the sum of their actions...characters who are 'free artists of themselves' (Hegel on Shakespeare's personage's), and who can give the impression that they are at work attempting to make their own plays...they give the sense that all plot is arbitrary, whereas personality, however daemonic, is transcendent, and is betrayed primarily by what's within...And they are never reduced to their fates; they are more, much more, than what happens to them"
Bloom goes on to list some of the characters he believes are "free artists of themselves"- Hamlet, Iago, Edmund, Lear, Rosalind, Edgar, Falstaff, Macbeth, Cleopatra - and will spend much of the book unpacking this central idea. And though I don't always agree with his particulars, I agree wholeheartedly that some of Shakespeare's characters have a vitality that seems to overwhelm their plays.

What recent characters have that vitality, that overabundance of life, that makes them "free artists of themselves"? Please post your suggestions in the comments, and read on for three suggestions of my own.

I think Meredith in Viral is my most recent example. We only receive hints of her past, but her actions in the present flood our imaginations with the things she might have done. Meredith gives you the feeling you are watching only the final play in a sequence of the many plays of her life. Alternatively amused and repulsed by this latest play she finds herself in, there is an awareness and vitality (ironic for a suicide) that makes her different from the other characters, who while compelling, seem to belong only to one play.

Everett from Rattlers is another: almost from the beginning of his long scene with Ted, he knows he is talking with the likely murderer of his wife; and yet he plays with this man for a long time before revealing what he knows. He is possessed by a relentless self-awareness - he sees through everything, especially himself - and refuses to properly participate in the revenge drama he finds himself in. Instead, like a twisted mirror of Rosalind courting Orlando, Everett disguises what he is, finding a surprising intimacy with his enemy.

Marco in Pretty Theft also seems like he's just left a different play, and will move onto the next after this one. Unlike Joe and Allegra, beautiful creations who belong completely to their play, Marco's negative vitality transcends it; his extreme powers of perception pierce everything but the void in himself.

Allegra meeting Ted seems bizarre; but somehow I can clearly imagine a scene where Meredith, Marco and Everett meet in some dive bar in Texas (and woe to the bartender!) What other recent characters have that kind of play-transcending vitality? Post 'em in the comments!

The reason I'm wondering is I think there's a link between this kind of vitality, and the adaptability of theatre, mentioned in this post:
"The greatest plays are also the most adaptable; there is something in them that allows for so much multiplicity of meaning that they are not bound to their cultural time and place. Each group of audience and artists that plays a play shift the meaning to fit their our own unique needs of the moment, while at the same time engaging with the legacy of past productions."
I think that's especially for true for plays with characters like Rosalind and Everett, Iago and Marco, Meredith and Hamlet. Their sheer size means there will always be room for a new interpretation; we will never quite be done with them, or as Bloom might put it, they will never quite be done with us. Read the full story

Out and About, Early December

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 0 comments

When your play closes
the job transposes
to seeing other folks showses
(everyone knows this)
So, here we goeses!*

-Ken Glickfeld's in Israel Horovitz's Scrooge and Marley at Barefoot Theatre Company.

-Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant returns to the Bushwick Starr December 18th, 19th and 20th (and have you read her must-read post about restaurants and theatre?)

-Sound Designer Asa Wember has a new project, 13P's production of Julia Jarcho's American Treasure, closing this weekend so get on it!

-The Production Company got a huge thumbs up from trusted theatre-goer Sean Williams for their production of Meg's New Friend by Blair Singer, now through December 20th.

-Heidi Handelsman directs Erin Mallon in Brilliant Traces (no doubt, brilliantly)

-Michael Swartz and Zack Calhoon star in the Christmas WWI play, In The Fields Where They Lay. I've heard rumor that Michael will be singing, which is not something you want to miss.

-The Flea's production of The Great Recession features The Bats AND those playwrights who sit at The Cool Table. They might just let you sit with them...but you'll have to see the show.

-The ever daring folks at Working Man's Clothes are staging Chisa Hutchinson's She Likes Girls

-And it wouldn't be an Out and About without something inventively playful festival at The Brick: Fight Fest looks fierce, and features pals from Piper McKenzie doing Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury. Now that's a mugful of eggnog for you.

So what did I miss? What are you excited to see in between shopping?
*Sorry for that
Read the full story

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Flux Sunday, December 6th

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 4 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Playwrights: Throwing Gumballs (Rob Ackerman), Projects (Erin Browne), Yellow Wallpaper (Katherine Burger), McTeague (James Comtois), Untitled Russian Project (David Ian Lee), Dinkles and Holly (Zack Robidas), Caged (Adam Szymkowicz)

Directors: Angela Astle, Heather Cohn, Nancy Franklin, August Schulenburg

Actors: Matthew Archambault, Jaime Robert Carrillo, Carissa Cordes, David Crommett, Becky Kelly, Ingrid Nordstrom, Gretchen Poulos, Brian Pracht, Jane Taylor, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Drew Valins, Richard Watson, Travis York

We're back! And as you can see from above, we had a full house. Highlights include:

- Zack Robidas' first pages, the Christmas-themed romp Dinkles and Holly (best line: elf-improvment?)
- Travis York's first FS, rocking out the disturbing-funny Man of Adam's Caged and the disturbing-frocked John of Katherine's Yellow Wallpaper.
- Becky Kelly's picnic enthusiasm as Trina in James' McTeague
- James showing the actors how it's done with his hilariously serious turns as Paul and Santa (yup, the Claus)
- Gretchen Polous' third rock star Flux Sunday in a row as the lonely/under pressure Emily in Erin's Projects
- Angela's moody environmental direction of David's Untitled Russian Project, with an all-star cast and lighting cues to boot (I'd pay to see Captain Adam ordering Zack to be funny)
- Rob Ackerman playing himself in Throwing Gumballs. 'Nuff said.

I was also fascinated by the speed of the first scene in Erin's Projects - usually in her work, the pauses are as important as the words, but the rapid pace made for an interesting dynamic. I also had a great time trying Adam's bird scene three different ways with Ingrid Nordstrom - that kind of trial and error is what makes these Sundays so valuable.

Artists who attended, what were your highs and lows? Read the full story

New Blogs, Play Development Edition

I've added some new blogs to the blog roll:

New Play Blog: This is the blog of the NEA's New Play Development Program at Arena Stage, currently hosting the fascinating fruits of their Defining Diversity forum (more on that anon).

The Lark: For some reason, this wasn't on our blog roll - problem fixed. Their monthly post features long form insight into different playwrights' process.

Touchstone Theatre: Our dear friends at Touchstone have a blog focusing on their young playwrights program - looking forward to learning more.

Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company: Artistic Director Seema Sueko previously posted some insightful comments on Mo'olelo's process in our Conversation vs Information post, and I hope their blog features more insight into their community based process.

And for good measure, I've added the cross-disciplinary online journal InDigest Magazine, which recently featured Rachel Cole's interview of Heather and I; and playwright Kristen Palmer's Daily Plays, her (almost) daily reading and writing about plays (my favorite recent posts include takes on A Loss Of Roses and Look Back In Anger).

Any good blogs worth adding that I've missed? Read the full story


American Homicide

Sunday, December 6, 2009 1 comments

Quite a title for a theatre blog, yes, but a new book by Randolph Roth of the same title posits a fascinating link between homicide rates and faith in government. Sifting through four centuries of history, his research points to one consistent connection: when individuals trust their government, homicide rates fall. When they don't, they rise; and Roth links this relationship to America's persistently high homicide rates. To quote:

"The predisposition to murder is rooted in feelings and beliefs people have toward government and their fellow citizens...It is these factors, which may seem impossibly remote from murder, that hold the key to understanding why the United States is so homicidal today."
Read the whole article here. What emerges is that the predisposition to murder may be linked to a narrative of social distrust. While the methodologies described in the article seem perilously open to interpretation, there is a potential takeaway for theatre makers. Those narratives of social distrust should be wrestled with in our work, increasing our mutual capacity for imaginative empathy, and creating the possibility for civic compassion.

This doesn't mean that theatre is responsible for, or capable of, lowering murder rates; nor that theatre should indulge in feel-good message plays. Quite the opposite: imaginative empathy only matters when the devil of violence is given its full due; and the necessity of civic compassion only becomes clear when opposed against its opposite. But as this blog continues to explore the conceptual case for theatre as an integral part of democracy, this seemed a good article to highlight. Read the full story

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Interview With InDigest Magazine

(Photo by Tyler G Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Jake Alexander, Tiffany Clementi, Michael Davis)

Director Heather Cohn and I were interviewed about The Lesser Seductions of History by Rachel Cole for InDigest Magazine, an online literary magazine dedicated to dialogue about and between the arts. Rachel's column Play by Play previously featured a lovingly detailed review of Laika Dog In Space, and she brought that same detailed perceptiveness to our interview, asking questions that unpacked political legacies and quantum connections. It's a fun read.

A brief note about the interview - Heather arrived half-way through, so I didn't monopolize the conversation quite as much as it may seem. And as ever, if this interview inspires you, go to our audience response page and share your thoughts. Read the full story

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This One's For The Children

Saturday, December 5, 2009 0 comments

Check out a fascinating conversation regarding arts education funding over at A New Landscape in American Theatre, the Facebook page administered by Antonio Sonera. To quote Tony:

Currently in Portland, Oregon there is a group called CAN (Creative Advocacy Network) that is trying to establish a platform to bring to the voters which would enhance the funding for the arts in Portland. Our initial understanding was that this would be funding that would make a significant difference in funding for organizations. Now the word is that the" public" is mainly in support of Arts Education and Public Access. This was determined by polling some 400 people who vote in a tri-county area.
The executive director of CAN has promised two things: that there will be organizational funding, but that in order for the tax initiative to pass that "children must be a focus" and promised that children and arts would be used in a campaign.
He goes on to voice his concerns about this shift, worrying that mission creep towards arts education may inorganically happen to obtain the funding, that "public access" devalues art by making it free, and that the emphasis on children lowers the value of the arts for all, or as Jan Powell in the comments puts it:
Arts funding would be more truly helpful if it were apportioned in approximately the percentages we think are reasonable to ask of artists--say 80% of their time should be spent creating art, and 20% devoted to access and education. Unless society thinks artists should actually be teachers, and not artists.

Education and access should be outgrowths/offshoots of the artist's work, not the primary focus. Tail wags the dog, otherwise.
This reminded me of the fascinating Centerpiece published by my employer TCG that details the breakdown of resources allocated in education programs by age demographic. 81% of those programs were geared for the age group 5-18 compared to 12% for ages 19-25 and 9% for ages 26-40 (percentage total 118% due to statistical model used). If this sample of 102 theatres is consistent across the field, it looks like theatres are abandoning audience education right at the moment when we are most likely to lose them.

This also reminds me of Scott Walter's excellent work over at Less Than 100K project (soon to be renamed CRADLE), and his belief that the professional artist should empower audiences to access their own creativity. In a recent post, he links to a post at Faith and Foolishness that says much the same:
We put forth a lot of effort figuring out ways to nurture and support their budding talents, and our kids reap the benefits as both their abilities and their confidence soar. And yet, once those children and teenagers turn into thirty-somethings or fifty-somethings, that encouragement evaporates.
So arts education is reduced to teaching children when it could be expanded to empowering all members of a community towards their own creativity. It's like there's a huge chasm between children and middle-aged arts patrons, and we're allocating all of our resources to push kids towards that fall and no resources towards building a bridge.

Beyond our weekly workshop Flux Sunday, and our more inclusive ForePlay series, Flux doesn't have much to offer yet towards this particular vision of arts education as creative empowerment. What companies offer better models? I'm thinking of Cornerstone Theater right now, which empowered the creation of Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras, the theatre company comprised of LA day laborers who met at a Cornerstone project and decided to start their own company.

So join the conversation over at A New Landscape for American Theatre, and post examples of similarly successful models below. Read the full story

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Joe Mathers on Lesser Seductions

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 0 comments

(Photo: Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Matthew Archambault)
I was thrilled to see that one of our co-founders and former members Joe Mathers had started a blog (covering stage combat - I hope he'll be covering Fight Fest at the Brick) and even more thrilled he saw The Lesser Seductions of History and blogged about it. He is not alone in having philosophical differences with the play, and if you are like him (or even if you loved every bit of it), I hope you'll take a moment to post your comments here. In the next two weeks, I will respond more in depth to the wonderful feedback in those comments, and talk about the future life of the play, so I hope very much that if you were thinking of commenting but just hadn't done so, you will comment now.

Thanks, and be sure to follow Joe's blog - I've added it to our blogroll.
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The Transcendental Social

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 1 comments

Three interesting things regarding the brain and how we tell stories:

The Transcendental Social: A Denmark study that found that praying to God activated regions of the brain associated with talking to a friend, reinforcing a theory linking religious faith to theory of mind, the idea that our capacity to imagine the intentions and thoughts of other beings was a defining cognitive evolution. In other words, our capacity for empathy may have led directly to our capacity for faith.

This led anthropologist Maurice Bloch to coin the term Transcendental Social:

Uniquely, humans could use what Bloch calls the "transcendental social" to unify with groups, such as nations and clans, or even with imaginary groups such as the dead. The transcendental social also allows humans to follow the idealised codes of conduct associated with religion.

"What the transcendental social requires is the ability to live very largely in the imagination," Bloch writes.

"One can be a member of a transcendental group, or a nation, even though one never comes in contact with the other members of it," says Bloch. Moreover, the composition of such groups, "whether they are clans or nations, may equally include the living and the dead."

It's not a big leap to imagine how theatre connects to the ideas above: the evolutionary need to live in the imagination as a means to develop empathy and balance individual desires within a social framework lives in the practice of theatre. The Transcendental Social may be a direct result of the cognitive evolution of what Arlene Goldbard calls Imaginative Empathy, and an essential part of the relationship of democracy and theatre.

Twitter and the Global Brain: Dean Pomerleau wrote a fascinating article about how Twitter is beginning to mirror the way our brains create meaning. Basically, the way synapses develop relationships is similar to how tweeting, retweeting and following moves information through Twitter. Dean suggests ways that Twitter could mirror our brains even more, reaching a semi-autonomy that would lead to something approaching a global consciousness.

This is an imaginative world, the Transcendental Social, on an enormous scale, with information moving and relationships developing organically in real time. However, this world lacks the Presence of theatre, and it is an open question if true Imaginative Empathy is possible without presence. This may be the essential question theatre needs to ask if it is to survive in a future where connection and story are only a click away.

The Baboon Skull: Michael Finkel's article for National Geographic about the Hadza of Tanzania gives us one possible answer. The Hadza are one of the few remaining true hunter-gatherer societies left. They practice no agriculture, have few possessions, they don't have wedding ceremonies or funerals, they don't practice any codified religion, they don't celebrate birthdays; they hunt four to six hours a day, and spend the rest in relative autonomy, in stark comparison with our over scheduled lives of social obligations (the article makes clear their challenges, though, trying to avoid romantic notions of what is a difficult existence).

But they do have theatre, and it is undoubtedly a theatre of Presence. Here is an edited account of Michael's version of a story told after a successful baboon hunt - read the whole thing here:
With the baboon skull still in the fire, Onwas rises to his feet and claps his hands and begins to speak. It's a giraffe-hunting story—Onwas's favorite kind...Onwas elongates his neck and moves around on all fours when he's playing the part of the giraffe. He jumps and ducks and pantomimes shooting a bow when he's illustrating his own role. Arrows whoosh. Beasts roar. Children run to the fire and stand around, listening intently; this is their schooling. The story ends with a dead giraffe—and as a finale, a call and response.

"Am I a man?" asks Onwas, holding out his hands.

"Yes!" shouts the group. "You are a man."

"Am I a man?" asks Onwas again, louder.

"Yes!" shouts the group, their voices also louder. "You are a man!"

Onwas then reaches into the fire and pulls out the skull. He hacks it open, like a coconut, exposing the brains, which have been boiling for a good hour inside the skull. They look like ramen noodles, yellowish white, lightly steaming. He holds the skull out, and the men, including myself, surge forward and stick our fingers inside the skull and scoop up a handful of brains and slurp them down. With this, the night, at last, comes to an end.

It is always dangerous to infer too much about a different culture, particularly from a second hand account. But the article does remind me of the importance of Presence to story, how it passes on the essential meaning of experience, how often our theatre fails to thrust forward that baboon's skull, and how exciting it is when that call and response reminds us what it means to be human. Read the full story

Next For Flux, Next For Blog

Monday, November 30, 2009 1 comments

So, while there are a few more posts regarding The Lesser Seductions of History still to come (most importantly a detailed response to the audience responses), I want to talk quickly about what Flux has coming up, and what role this blog will play, and how you can engage with us here:

1. Flux Sunday will be starting up again this Sunday! I'll be reporting on the return of our weekly workshop process here.
2. Food:Soul and Have Another: The next installments will hopefully be announced soon - these public showings of plays and scenes in development at Flux Sunday are our way of sharing our process with you, and we're looking for more ways to open up that conversation here (for an example, read the comments responding to our last Food:Soul, Volleygirls.)
3. We hope to bring back Foreplay, the reading series that surrounds our full productions, for our upcoming production of J.B. Heather Cohn has some cool ideas for just how to frame this particular ForePlay, so stay tuned.
4. And yeah, we're producing Archibald MacLeish's 1959 Pulitzer Prize winning play J.B. as the culmination of our Season of Give and Take! We're still figuring out the whos and whats and wheres and whens, but director Kelly O'Donnell has some really exciting ideas about this play, and as always, you'll get the inside scoop here.
5. Unfinished business from our annual retreat: We need to further articulate our core and aesthetic Values, strategic planning, timeline, Membership rights and responsibilities and more. Maintaining the retreat momentum has always been difficult for us in production, which makes December a pivotal month for moving those conversations forward. We'll continue posting that progress when appropriate.

In addition to reporting on the projects above, the Flux blog will continue to reach out to the wider community, including previous projects like:
1. Out and About: Our listing of shows and events we're excited about, especially when they feature Fluxers and friends of Flux.
2. Exploding Moments: Our examination of what makes great shows work through interviews with the artists involved, focusing on the mechanics of specific moments.
3. Responding to plays we see, when we feel our response can add something of value.
4. Indie Theatre Rep: I'm hoping to push this idea forward into something more tangible

I'm also hoping to continue blogging about science and theatre, social media, new models, audience engagement, aesthetics and politics, and dramatic structure; and move to host conversations about all of the above here, like online town halls. I'd like to reach out to other Ensemble theatres across the country to report out on the challenges and opportunities they face, and find opportunities for collaboration; I'd like to reach out to other artistic disciplines and do the same.

But...there is only so much time in the night and early morning. In the end, this blog is here to serve the artists and audience closest to Flux, and when it can, expand in circles outwards to take in whoever wants to join the conversation. Which is a long way of asking: what do you want to see here?
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Remembering, Forgetting, Theatre

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 0 comments

I want to write a little about how the scale of the way we remember and forget is changing in our culture, and what that might mean for theatre.

A few things recently caught my eye: the discovery and subsequently rapid spread of Vivian Maier's photography. Unknown as a photographer in her lifetime, John Maloof acquired her negatives at an antique auction. He discovered 30-40,000 stunning pictures, many of which had not even been developed. He has been putting her work online, and admiration for it has been rightfully spreading.

I happened upon Vivian's work via Twitter, around the same time that GeoCities and its 38 million user built pages disappeared (though efforts exist to preserve that information).

These two examples are a way of saying that because our culture can remember more deeply it can also forget more completely. We need to examine what this shift in cultural memory might mean to theatre and its role as carrier of cultural meaning. What is unique about the meaning theatre creates?

Saying a play isn't theatrical is like saying a Cabernet doesn't taste like grapes. But certain wines take advantage of the unique strengths of their terroir, and so it is worth considering what is unique in theatre's terroir. This is especially true now when our cultural meaning exists in a relentlessly evolving and expanding conversation online; when story is as common as air, and nearly as free; what essential meaning is left for theatre to carry?

Here are five aspects of theatre's terroir I've been thinking about lately:

1. Narrative Experience: This one is old as the hills, but worth remembering: theatre provides meaning that is irreducible from the experience of its story. In our current ocean of stories, this does not make it unique, however; and its cost in time and effort make this reason increasingly less persuasive.
2. Presence: Almost as old as Narrative Experience, the power of theatre "actually happening" has been held up like a talisman against film for years. Usually, it's simply stated that theatre is better because the actors can hear you, but why is that better? If a bad house decreases the quality of the playing (which happens), isn't it better to quarantine the art from outside influence?
Or, if the ability for the audience to affect the performance is important, shouldn't that make video games a more essential medium, where the audience's will is the performance? And for those who laugh at that, read this New York Times article about the next generation of video game designers who are dedicated to using what is unique about their medium to create meaningful art.
Yet any reckoning of what is unique about theatre must absolutely decide why presence is so important.
3. Four dimensions: Live performance exists in four dimensions, and while it's that third dimension that (unless you're wearing 3-D glasses) is the most noticeable difference between theatre and film, it's that fourth dimension that is most important. Film, breaking our experience of time's arrow, is the same played backwards and forwards (though perhaps harder to follow played backwards). You cannot reverse a play; the egg doesn't unbreak; the water doesn't pour itself back into the pitcher; this particular Hamlet will never speak of Ophelia's orisons in quite the same way again.
This is perhaps where Presence becomes important; the way we change the actor's performance as we both journey down the one-way street of time makes a theatrical performance significantly more like life than the two dimensional experience of film.
4. Multiple perception: In our recent interview with Rachel Cole at InDigest Magazine (not yet out), Lesser Seductions director Heather Cohn reminded me of something essential about all theatre that was especially true of our play. Theatre allows of a multiplicity of perception that is not possible (sorry, split screen) in quite the same way in film.
This is for two reasons: simultaneous action and symbolic potential. Because there is no camera to force an audience's eye, their particular journey through each moment of the play will be unique. In a play like The Lesser Seductions of History, where the characters' journeys mostly unfold at the same time, this is especially true.
Secondly, because theatre is not a literal medium (meaning that with film and video games, you are seeing the actual event, whereas with theatre, dance and the written word you are seeing a representation of an event), meaning can be created through the use of symbols. A light bulb dangling from a ceiling represents a year of the 1960's, and when lowered to the stage, becomes the circle of the moon. The light bulb has a literal meaning, and over time, accrues symbolic meaning as it is used to represent different things in The Lesser Seductions of History. And because everyone's imaginative response to these symbols will be so different, symbolic potential greatly increases multiple perception.
5. Adaptability: Theatre is a cockroach. Where film and video games need fancy equipment to exist, theatre exists anywhere there is a stage, someone walking across it, and someone watching (thank you, Mr. Brook).
Additionally, theatre adapts to the place and time where it is played, changing meaning like a chameleon blending in to fit its surroundings. The greatest plays are also the most adaptable; there is something in them that allows for so much multiplicity of meaning that they are not bound to their cultural time and place. Each group of audience and artists that plays a play shift the meaning to fit their our own unique needs of the moment, while at the same time engaging with the legacy of past productions.

SO! If you're still with me, the question remains: in a time where each evolving moment of cultural meaning exists online; and both factual and experiential knowledge are only a click away; and conversation happens across thousands of miles in real time; what does theatre have to offer?

Using the five aspects above, I think the four-dimensional narrative experience of a play, influenced by the mutual presence of artists and audience, creates a multiplicity of perception and adaptability of purpose that makes it an ideal vehicle for a particular kind of cultural meaning: the practice of human compassion.

Lofty? Not at all; poodle and chimpanzees do it. Like all social animals, they play to learn how to live together, and though we fancy ourselves infinitely more complex, the root need is the same. And because theatre remains the form of play closest to our experience of life, it remains essential.

So while I am thankful for the extraordinary powers of the internet (he says while blogging after all) to share information and foster conversation; I still believe that theatre is needed to pass on the compex cultural meaning of the practice of human compassion. Read the full story

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Vote for Lesser Seductions for the NYITA

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 0 comments

Until Sunday the 29th, the New York Innovative Theatre Awards will be accepting your votes for The Lesser Seductions of History. The audience votes count for 25% of the total, so your vote really does count. Flux was previously nominated for 7 NYIT Awards, winning one for Asa Wember's Sound Design of Angel Eaters, and we'd love to see the work of the amazing artists in Lesser Seductions recognized.

So, vote, before the tryptophan kicks in!

A note on the process - there are a limited number of Lead and Featured actor slots available per show, which put us in a difficult position in a show where every actor is equally a Lead and/or Featured. We thought a lot about the best way to navigate this, including only allowing votes for Best Ensemble; but that would mean no actors would have a chance to be individually recognized. The only fair way to do it seemed to undertake the arduous task of counting every line, and base the Lead vs Featured designation solely on the math. So we did! This is what you'll see when go to vote; not our feeling of which character is the most important, simply which character speaks the most.

Also, Jodi Witherell, our intrepid stage manager, handled a cast of eleven, a script of many rewrites, and a show of literally hundreds and hundreds of light and sounds cues spaced seconds apart. Consider this post our unofficial nomination of Jodi for the Outstanding Stage Manager Award. (And how does one nominate her officially, goodly NYITA staff reader out there?)

Do you need to remember who exactly played what? Put faces to names on our website.

So please vote for The Lesser Seductions of History, and warm-as-twice-baked-potatoes-thank-you from all of us. Read the full story

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Visible Soul's Zack Calhoon on Lesser Seductions

Monday, November 23, 2009 0 comments

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: The Cast)
Playwright/actor/blogger Zack Calhoon has some good thoughts on Lesser Seductions on his blog, Visible Soul. There has been a great mix in critical response divided between: those who know us, those who know our work well, those who know our work a little, and those who don't know us or our work at all. (More on all that anon).

Zack falls into the first category - we had a great time at Flux Sundays working on his play Paint. Here, Zack's knowledge of the company's past work is really helpful in tracking our growth. In that light, I especially liked this quote:
It was fascinating to see how like a costume designer, he tailored each character to fit the emotional flow of history and particular talents of the Flux core ensemble.
So, please read the whole post, and if you saw the show, vote for us in the NYIT Awards and leave your own thoughts on our audience comments post. Read the full story


Audience Response To Lesser Seductions

This is an open thread for our community of artists and audience to respond to The Lesser Seductions of History. This is an experiment for Flux, and its success depends on you. When you see the show, please take a moment to share your thoughts with us in the comments field below.

A few rules of the game: this is a safe space, so while criticism is welcome, snark and hostility are not. A good rule of thumb is simply to keep to things you'd feel comfortable saying face to face. While you can choose to post as anonymous, we encourage you to take ownership of your thoughts.

A couple of questions to prompt you:

-What were the moments of heat (aka, the moments you won't forget)?
-Where did you feel the play the cool off?
-To what character arcs did you feel the greatest connection?
-What balance are you striking in your own life between comfort and purpose?
-How would you compare the sense of purpose from the 1960's to now?
-What did you think of the simultaneous action?
-Were you more drawn in by the larger struggle presented by ONE, or to the individual relationships?
-Is there unfinished business from the 1960's our generation needs to carry forward?

Answer all, some, or just write what you want. Our sincere thanks, and see you at the theatre! Read the full story

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Michael Roderick on Flux and Lesser Seductions

Saturday, November 21, 2009 0 comments

(Photo by Tyler G Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Christina Shipp, Jason Paradine)
If you haven't met producer/artist extraordinaire Michael Roderick yet, don't worry - you will. There is no producer I know so selflessly dedicated to every aspect of theatre in New York City - from commercial runs to Indie theatre - he's either seen it or more likely, had a hand in it. He's helped out Flux before, most recently (I think) in helping us with our Poetic Larceny, and he understands just how important a vibrant, connected community is to the field, hosting events to introduce artists/producers to each other. Oh, and did I mention he also blogs about his adventures?

But you probably know all that. What you might not know is he now has a column at Broadway World, looking at the movers and shakers of Indie Theatre. Past columns have looked at Jeremy Bloom and Manhattan Theatre Source. His most recent column featured Flux, and is a great look at the ethos of the company and how it manifests in The Lesser Seductions of History. He compares our model to Steppenwolf's, and that is as much a charge to responsibility as it is an honor. I do believe that Ensembles can create a certain kind of work no other model can; but it is a difficult model to keep running, and we're just at the beginning.

My favorite quote on this one is easy, and one I hope you'll take to heart:
The show has a few more performances at the Cherry Pit before it takes its rightful place amongst the classics of Indie Theatre History. The book's still open so you can catch it before it closes.
Only 3 more shows and then we're done. So, read the whole column, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here. Read the full story

The Question Of New Models

Thursday, November 19, 2009 7 comments

The idea for new models of theatre is as old as Thespis stepping out of the Chorus. Lately, there has been some interesting ideas in adapting existing social models from other fields: examples theatre as church, and theatre as community supported agriculture.

This got me thinking about what other potential models are out there, and how they might be adapted to the field. Here's what I can think of off the top of my early morning head:

1. Sports (minor and amateur leagues probably being especially useful)
2. Politics (again, local practices probably being the most useful)
3. School (especially colleges)
4. Social clubs (whether book clubs or masons)
5. Non-arts charities
6. Social media
7. Science
8. Corporations (though I think theatres have already been pushed too far in the direction of this model)
9. Other arts (galleries, bands, orchestras, etc.)

What else? Please comment below: after Lesser Seductions closes, if time presents itself I may try to host on the blog interviews with representatives from these different fields to see what practices may be applicable to theatre. Perhaps there's already research in this area - if so, please post it in the comments below. Read the full story

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The Genes for Empathy and Memory

Two recent breakthroughs in neuroscience seemed worth reporting in the context of our work in theatre:

1. The over expression of a single gene, NR2B, caused a rat to remember things three times longer than her kin.
2. Individuals with a greater expression of a gene that regulates oxytocin score 22.7 higher on tasks that measure empathy.

Empathy and Memory: two qualities of personality central to the work we do in theatre, both linked in part to the expression of single genes, both now capable of being altered in our quest for self-improvement.

Of all the significant challenges facing theatre over the next 50 years, this is the one of the most interesting: if our capacity for empathy and memory are genetically enhanced past a certain line, will we need theatre as a cultural carrier of meaning and agent of empathy? If yes, will a new kind of enhanced theatre replace what we currently believe are masterworks of enduring beauty, reducing Shakespeare's work to drawings on cave walls?

And even if that kind of cognitive evolution doesn't happen, the moral questions regarding neuroscience need to be played out in the arena of theatre, or we will be like the playwrights of Universal Robots, handed a discovery with moral implications past our readiness.

On another note, are there plays that you've seen lately that are breakthroughs in our understanding of empathy and memory? They don't need to necessarily be directly about them, but find new ground for how we think about them. I'd like to believe that Rattlers and Pretty Theft both explored new territories of empathy: for Rattlers, how grief distorts our capacity for empathy; for Pretty Theft, how beauty does the same. And I think that The Lesser Seductions of History explores how we remember, both as individuals endlessly revising our lives, and as a culture, rewriting the meaning of the past to suit our present (in this regard, it is directly connected to Our Town and Universal Robots, two plays mentioned as kin that do the same).

One case that might be too metaphoric to make is that theatre is as much a laboratory of human behavior as the sciences, and as such, deserves funding for research that may lead to both dead ends and breakthroughs. But for that to be true, we would need to have some actual breakthroughs in how our theatre explores human consciousness - what have you seen that's breaking this kind of new ground? Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions review: Megin Jimenez, nytheatre.com

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 0 comments

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: The Cast)
Our first negative review! And it's a doozy, courtesy of Megin Jimenez at nytheatre.com. I suppose it's a sign of how well this run is going that the hostility of the review amused more than wounded; and made me almost feel badly for her, hating away there in the dark as the rest of us played joyfully on. But that sounds patronizing, and she is certainly an interesting writer - for proof, read her rave of the Fringe show Shelf Life; and she is also a poet - read her Poem.

(*Update*) The misquotes in the original review are being corrected, and so have been removed from this post.

And though you didn't like this one, Megin, I very much hope you will join us for the next. So, read her whole review, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here. Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions review: Judith Mahoney Pasternak, The Indypendent

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Jake Alexander, Candice Holdorf, Matthew Archambault)
Our 10th review comes from Judith Mahoney Pasternak at The Indypendent, and it is fascinating in its unique take on the politics of the play. I especially like how she noticed the subtle sexism present in the play, using this pointed example:
Schulenburg does get a lot of the Sixties right, especially the casual brutality with which so many male idealists treated women before Second Wave Feminism raised our collective consciousness. (“Far away stars die/Because they don’t have Marie/To clean up their mess,” declares one of Isaac’s haikus.)
I wanted the various isms of the decade to be present in a way that was casual (and therefore more dangerous) rather than heavy handed, but the risk of doing so is to underplay how powerful those forces were. To give these devils their due I tried to find them in the details, and it's good to hear they were at least partially received.

So, read the whole review, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here. Read the full story

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Interview with Patrick Lee at Just Shows To Go You

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 0 comments

My interview with Patrick Lee at Just Shows To Go You is up! This was an exciting interview for me - each question seemed to open up more questions, and because it wasn't a written interview, I didn't have time to craft my thoughts (though Patrick's done a great job of editing here). As a result, there's much less of a polished filter in this interview, which I suppose is a good thing, though Lord I was born a ramblin' man. Give it a read, and be sure to check out other installments of his interview series (including interviews with amazing actors like Adam Driver, Amy Lynn Stewart and Rebecca Comtois.) Read the full story

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A Thank You or Two

Monday, November 16, 2009 0 comments

A brief post of gratitude to:

Tim Errickson of Boomerang Theatre Company for mentioning Flux's ForePlay series in his interview with Leonard Jacobs as part of an article for Backstage regarding multi-disciplinary and dark night programming. On that subject, allow me to again voice my admiration for Electric Pear's multi-multi-disciplinary Synesthesia project, and welcome Thesia Arts, a new company dedicated to multi-disciplinary work.

Our beloved playwright Johnna Adams giving The Lesser Seductions of History a shout-out in her interview with Zack Calhoon at Visible Soul. It's a great read with insight into her process and good news about her amazing play Sans Merci (aka the play that destroys me in the good way).

Our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas for their continued support, and a big congratulations for exceeding 10,000 Members! Their Membership growth over seven years has been impressive, and from my perspective, that growth has come from providing genuinely necessary benefits, practicing generosity, and decision making based in the metric analysis Adam describes.

Of course, thank you to everyone who has made our first two weeks of The Lesser Seductions of History go so well (only one week left!)

And on a more personal note, my mother (in town to see The Lesser Seductions of History) brought me a signed copy of Mary Oliver's latest book of poetry, Evidence. And what better way to end a brief post of gratitude than with a section from "At The River Clarion", a haunting poem from that book:

There was someone I loved who grew old and ill.
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do

except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.
Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions review: Toby Thelin, OffOffOnline

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Michael Davis, Tiffany Clementi)
Toby Thelin's review for OffOffOnline is up, and it is lovely, taking into context Flux's trajectory as an Ensemble in a really thoughtful way. I especially like the attention he pays to the influence of Shakespeare. One (Candice's character) speaks most of the play in iambic pentameter, a tool I used to give her language a slightly heightened quality I hoped the audience would feel without noticing, and he finds other important parallels.

So, please read the whole review, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here.
Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions review: Karen Tortora-Lee, The Happiest Medium

Sunday, November 15, 2009 0 comments

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Raushanah Simmons, Michael Davis)
Karen Tortora-Lee's review for The Happiest Medium is up, and I absolutely love her description of the actors as acrobats:
Watching the Flux Theatre Ensemble bring August Schulenburg’s “The Lesser Seductions of History” to life is like watching seasoned acrobats performing an intricate, balletic routine; one which -in order to succeed- relies on trust, timing, and blind leaps of faith … knowing that your fellow performers are exactly where they should be and will deftly handle the assist, even as they fully commit to the leap they are taking themselves. One miscalculation and the whole thing comes tumbling down, and then forget about the net. But no one here falls; in fact, they soar.
This is the kind of play where every actor depends absolutely on the other - with all 11 actors on stage almost all of the time, and the scenes so tightly interwoven, you can almost never let your guard down.

She also has a beautiful take on the character of Martha, but to read that, you'll need to read the review, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here. Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions review: Doug Strassler, Show Business Weekly

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Jason Paradine, Candice Holdorf, Matthew Archambault)
Doug Strassler's review from Show Business Weekly is out, and I was especially happy that he noticed the sibling chemistry between Jason Paradine and Matthew Archambault as Barry and Bobby Tanner:
Meanwhile, both Bobby and his brother, Barry, find themselves haunted by their experiences in Vietnam. (It should be noted that these two fine actors demonstrate great rapport as siblings).
The play begins with 4 sibling relationships: Bobby and Barry, Anisa and Lizzie, George and Martha, and Isaac and Lee (they are cousins, but close enough to feel like brothers). All four of the sibling relationships will be damaged significantly over the course of the play, and only two of them will move towards repair by the end. And though the play is not about sibling relationships, so much of the action is driven by the complexity of these four sets of brothers, sisters, and cousins.

So, read the whole review, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here. Read the full story

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Lesser Seductions review: Aaron Riccio, That Sounds Cool

Friday, November 13, 2009 0 comments

(Photo by Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Ingrid Nordstrom, Kelly O'Donnell, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Jake Alexander, Jason Paradine, Christina Shipp, Michael Davis)
I read Aaron Riccio's review late last night after coming home from a second rough night at the theatre. This review saved me a little, especially because of this quote:
There are moments where Schulenburg struggles with his big ideas--and that's as it should be; that's how you know the ideas are big enough.
If that were a few words shorter, I might just get that tattooed somewhere so I never forget it. Anyway, it's a great review, so please, give it a read, and then get your tickets, and after you've seen the show, please share your thoughts here. Read the full story

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Conversation vs Information

Thursday, November 12, 2009 4 comments

Adina Levin has a fascinating post building on a theory of Dave Weinberger's called The End of Information, The Return of Conversation. In it, Adina persuasively argues that Information - who has it, who doesn't, and how it is distributed - is no longer the primary mover of our culture.

Now it is Conversation, through the form of social media, that is in the driver's seat. Rather than engaging the world through Information obtained from a single reliable source; the world is increasingly understood through the context of Conversation. Comments on blogs and Facebook, tweets and retweets, Google Wave and Wikipedia are more than just crowd sourcing information; they represent a fundamental values shift in perception. Asking the question, and hosting the conversation, have primacy over providing a single answer.

In her excellent recent post The Future Of Politics Is Mutual, Hannah Nicklin issues a call to arms for the creation of an open sourced WikiPolitics, something my friend Matt Cooperider has been advocating for at Open Government NYC. As Hannah argues, the structures of social media are ideally suited to creating a more open, participatory democracy.

What does this mean for theatre? Primarily, it means that if you claim to want Conversation, it can't simply be your old Information dressed up in social media's clothing. Flux is taking steps towards this by directly soliciting feedback for The Lesser Seductions of History, but this is only a start. As WikiPolitics and Open Government movements increase the access and leverage of engaged citizens, we must encourage a similar level of direct and meaningful conversation with our stakeholders. What theatre companies are doing this well? Please post any good examples in the comments field; especially those that move beyond using new media as a platform for old content, and instead let their audience sit in some meaningful way at the table where decisions are made. Read the full story