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Jacob's House Artists Reveal: Kelly O'Donnell

Saturday, June 26, 2010 0 comments

(Ed. note: Ridiculously late, but this interview completes the set! Thanks to all the Jacob's House and Divine Reckonings artists that participated)
What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

Kelly O'Donnell
Director, Jacob's House

Previous Flux Experience: co-founder of Flux. Played Tegan in The Lesser Seductions of History. Directed Rue, Riding the Bull, Life is a Dream and 8 Little Antichrists. Directed Food:Soul This Storm is What we Call Progress.

Do you have a favorite Bible character?
Jesus. Like most of my childhood friends, I don't talk to him anymore.

Are you blessed?
As a verb, no. As a 2-syllable adjective, absolutely.

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?
The transmogrifying Irish whip.

What would you do for more life?
Anything - as long as it doesn't hurt or inconvenience anyone. Until someone creates a magic longevity pill, I'll stick with leafy greens, better sleep and I'll always wear a helmet.

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?
My parents used to have this really creepy 3 x 4 1/2-foot painting of a sad clown in our attic. I don't think it's there anymore but it still haunts all of us who saw it.

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?
I went to Catholic School for my entire life so we studied it a lot. The nuns, however, made a point to ensure that we understood that it was the "old" testament and what we really should focus on is the new one. I'm still waiting for the third testament to be published to see how it all wraps up. I always did very well in Religion class because I love stories.

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?
I always imagine God to be like Ralph Richardson's portrayal of The Supreme Being in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits. After a radiant entrance, he says "Oh I do hate appearing that way, it's an entirely noisy manifestation. Still, rather expected of one, I suppose."

Read the full story

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Divine Reckonings Artists Reveal #15:
Michael John Garcés

Friday, June 25, 2010 0 comments

(Ed. note: My sincere apologies, this lovely interview feel through the cracks! I truly hope later is better than never...)
What is Jacob's House?
What is ForePlay: Divine Reckonings?

Michael John Garcés
Playwright, Divine Reckonings

Previous Flux Experience: First timer!

Do you have a favorite Bible character?
The “voice” of the psalms.

Are you blessed?

If you were wrestling an angel, what moves would you use?
I don’t know any wrestling moves, but I’d definitely cheat.

What would you do for more life?
If threatened, probably anything, as would most animals. If made a cold offer, nothing.

What's the weirdest thing in your parents' attic?
Every Olivia Newton-John album ever pressed.

What is your prior experience with the Old Testament?
Growing up in a catholic country.

If you believe in a deity or deities, what kind do you believe in?
I don’t.

Bio: Michael John Garcés is the artistic director of Cornerstone Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Recently, his play in the Zone was presented by Red Fern Theater Company as part of “+30 NYC.” Next season needtheatre in LA will produce his play THE WEB. Michael is a resident playwright at New Dramatists. Read the full story

A Poem for Patrick Lee

Thursday, June 10, 2010 4 comments

Readers of this blog know in what deep esteem I held Patrick Lee, the reviewer behind the vital Just Shows To Go You. Hearing of his untimely death yesterday, I could not quite wrap my mind around what we've lost.

After loving his reviews for years, I asked him to write the introduction to the published version of The Lesser Seductions of History, but that request was not in time, and I am left still wanting (as we all are now) one more brush with that singular vision of clarity and generosity.

I wrote this sonnet in an effort to better say how much that vision meant to me.

Patrick Lee
Is a review a mirror or window?
Do its words reflect their author or reveal
The thing itself? On Just Shows To Go You,
You did both, seeing what was most real
In the play by seeing through yourself.
That kind of double-sight made for honesty,
Generosity, not filling a shelf
With heaving cleverness, but the brevity
You need to pierce the waking dream in flight.
We met three times, I think, and every time
You asked, "what should I see?", with the delight
That knows to seek is better than to find.
Not a mirror or window, death's a door;
We're left now looking through your words for more.

Rest in peace. Read the full story

Theatre and the Cognitive Surplus

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 1 comments

A fascinating debate has erupted over the impact of the internet on our brains. In one corner, the utopians, led by Clay Shirky and Jonah Lehrer; in the other, the contrarians, led by Nicholas Carr.

In the contrarian corner, Carr's book The Shallows posits that the hyperlinked, multi-tasked, interruption-driven nature of the internet has robbed us of our capacity for deep attention. “Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

In his New York Times review of The Shallows, neuroscientist Lehrer politely debunked much of the research driving the book, presenting a more complex picture, saying, "There is little doubt that the Internet is changing our brain. Everything changes our brain. What Carr neglects to mention, however, is that the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the Internet and related technologies are actually good for the mind."

Clay Shirky made a similar case on June 4th with his WS Journal post Does The Internet Make Us Smarter? Carr responded the following day with Does The Internet Make You Dumber?

Then several articles from the New York Times came out more or less supporting dystopian Carr's view of our perpetually distracted, dumbed down future.

But Shirky's case, that we are witnessing The Great Spare Time Revolution, leading to what he calls a Cognitive Surplus:

"Free time has mainly been something to be used up rather than used, especially in postwar America, with the rise of suburbanization and long commutes. Suddenly we no longer lived in tight-knit communities and therefore we spent less time interacting face-to-face. As a result, we ended up spending the bulk of our free time watching television...Someone born in 1960 has watched something like 50,000 hours of television already...But once we stop thinking of all that time as individual minutes to be whiled away and start thinking of it as a social asset that can be harnessed, it all looks very different. The buildup of this free time among the world’s educated population—maybe a trillion hours per year—is a new resource. It’s what I refer to as the cognitive surplus."
However, both these utopian and contrarian viewpoints miss an essential question, one that not only theatre makers but all artists need to ask themselves, one that occurs to me every day with increasing urgency:

Are online technologies simply a new means to old ends, or are they an end in themselves?

When theatre makers talk about online technology, they talk about it as a means to an end. Whether we call it marketing, or marketing's classier cousin, audience engagement; the idea is the internet serves to better connect artists and audiences in order to bring them together in the theatre.

But what if this online world isn't the means to an end, but the thing itself? What if the role that theatre (and other media) played in our culture is now better fulfilled online?

In the past, I have countered this fear by exploring the value of Presence, the unique junction of life playing out in real space and time through our shared attention. This idea, of the intrinsic value of liveness, is something most of us believe in without question.

But the idea of Presence, of a unique identity expressing itself in a particular place and time, has been shattered by our increasing engagement in the online world; where place, time, and identity are fluid, where connection is incredibly intimate and yet disconnected from the body; where community is unbound by the responsibilities of physical proximity.

We have entered an age of quantum personality, where an identity can't be said to reside in anyone place or time, but is rather a series of probabilities dependent on who is observing, when, and with what platform; where nothing is local.

And what does that mean for theatre, which is above all the art of here and now, of a local presence, of intimate identities sharing the same air?

Says Shirky in a different context: "organizations that are founded to solve problems end up committed to the preservation of the problems. So Trentway-Wagar, an Ontario-based bus company, sues PickupPal, an online ride-sharing service, because T-W isn’t committed to solving transportation problems. It’s committed to solving transportation problems with buses. In the media world, Britannica is now committed to making reference works that can’t easily be referred to, and the music industry is now distributing music that can’t easily be shared because new ways of distributing music undermine the old business model."

Is theatre a bus, an encyclopedia, an album; and archaic means to an end? Or is it the thing itself?

I don't have answers, but this question comes to me again with greater urgency than ever, as what it means to be human continues to rapidly shift beneath our feet. Read the full story

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Words, Words, (new) Words

Friday, June 4, 2010 2 comments

In my college, most acting students participated in a Shakespeare Tour, and on this tour, our professor would warm up our high school audiences with a brief shout out to the Elizabethan era. "New words were invented every day!", he'd proclaim, which would lead his sarcasm-stained students in the wings to invent a ridiculous new word, then throw our hands up, shout "New word!", and dancing zorbicly* about.

But, he seems to have been right: the Elizabethans seem primed for the invention of new words, and Shakespeare is often credited with coining thousands (most importantly, puke).

I think we are undergoing a similar expansion of the language, driven in part by new technologies that need new names (hello, blog), but also by the way those technologies allow us to communicate. A few examples:

  • The Boston Globe looks at how the word malamanteau moved from online coining on May 12th to its own wikipedia page to entry in Wordnik to entry in the Urban Dictionary in less than half a day. (What does it actually mean? "A neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism, ex: misunderestimated").
  • The crowdsourced experiments of allsorts, where Twitter users propose new name sets (i.e., "a murder of crows") for things (recent examples: "a ted of bears", "a grind of baristas", "a gloat of ipads"). Users vote on their collective nouns from competing attempts.
The first example shows the speed and reach of coining; the second, how many brains can now collaborate on creating change in the language.

And whether or not the changes above leave lasting marks on the language, I believe we're having an Elizabethan moment, where the possibilities of what our words can do is expanding rapidly.

The questions is then what theatre is going to do about it. The Elizabethan era may have been the perfect time for a linguistic explosion, but it was Shakespeare's artistry that made that widened circle of expression the vital center of our language. Right now, it feels like hip hop artists are driving linguistic invention far more than theatre artists, possibly because of the demographics of our audiences and where they're willing to go; or possibly because our jank imaginations have lost interest in this kind of creative expansion.

So, readers, I offer this comments section to you, and whatever new words you want to coin. Who knows? Maybe they'll even make the Urban Dictionary, and last as long as a Football Minute.

*"New word!" Read the full story

Back In The Saddle

After taking a week (or so) to recover from Jacob's House (and if you haven't left your thoughts on the play here, please do!), Flux is back in motion. Here's a quick peek at what you can expect:

  • The return of our weekly development series, Flux Sundays
  • The completion of our interview series for the artists of Jacob's House and Divine Reckonings (only a few more to go!)
  • The post mortem of Jacob's House - some of which we'll share online
  • The announcement of our next season
  • The announcement of our next installments of Have Another and Food:Soul
  • Updates on Playwrights Reviewing Playwrights
  • Updates on The Homing Project
  • More Exploding Moments
  • Further updates on our evolving Mission, Values, and Membership Structure (maybe you've even noticed our trial Mission newly updated above?)
  • Lots more random theatrecentric posts about this fascinating world
I'll be trying to keep things moving here on the blog, though somehow our off-production time seems even busier (in the middle of trying to finish two commissions!), so, we'll see how it goes. Thanks for reading. Read the full story