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The Facebook Yes

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 2 comments

How much is a Facebook Event Attending worth in real butts-in-seats terms? With advance ticket sales rarer than ever, perhaps you find yourself (as I often do) refreshing your Event, hoping to see those precious number rise. But is a Yes on Facebook equal to a Yes in life?

Though not big/wide enough for a real representative sample, Jacob's House and The Lesser Seductions of History make for an interesting example. Produced within months of each other, with similar artistic teams, they suggest maybe there is a predictable correlation.

Jacob's House had 160 Yeses on the Facebook Event, and 502 real audience members, making each Facebook Yes predict 3.1375 actual peeps.

The Lesser Seductions of History had 217 Yeses on the Facebook Event, and 644 real audience Members, for a 2.9677 ratio.

Looking at it from another angle, TLSOH had 28% more ticket sales, and 35% more Facebook attendees, that JH. These numbers are close enough to make me wonder if there is some general average for theatres using Facebook events; though it's more likely that these ratios are Flux-specific, as we use a lot of social media, have no marketing budget and relatively small email list.

A potentially more interesting question is how many Yeses actually do attend; I may parse that at a later date. Are you more likely to attend after RSVPing on Facebook?

If you take the average of 3.0526 and apply it to our current 102 Dog Act Facebook RSVPs, we can expect an audience of 311 if we opened tonight - and this play deserves a much larger audience than that (I've loved it for nearly 10 years!)

So why not grab your $12 discount tickets for opening weekend (and the 8th!) with the code SQUISH here? Or, if you're not quite ready to seal the deal but want to show us nervous producer types you're coming, you could always...you know.

How does Facebook impact your theatre going or making? Do you notice a similar ratio of Facebook Attendee to audience member in your own work? Are you more or less likely to attend if you've promised on the World Wide Web? Or are you planning to egg the next Facebook event that steps on your lawn?
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Two More Interviews

Due to the nigh-on wild acclaim for the ground-breaking post, Two Interviews, I link now to two more interviews, because, well, there are two new Flux-related interviews in the world.

First up, Dog Act actress Becky Byers, she of People of the Year and Exploding Moments fame, continues to soar like a veritable air minion in this interview with Zack Calhoon at Visible Soul in his People You Should Know series.

Secondly, I completed the Piper McKenzie Mad-Lib interview for their upcoming Dainty Cadaver series (I am contributing to Team B). If you were thinking to yourself, where can I find 20 passes of attempted wit, deliberate nonsense, and occasional sincerity all in one place, this interview has you covered.

Speaking of interviews, surely you noticed that marathon man has passed 300? Amazing. Read the full story

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Have Another #5 Pictures

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 1 comments

(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Mike Mihm and surprise cameo artist Jane Lincoln Taylor)
It was good to have another Have Another! In spite of the holiday and cold weather, we had a big warm house to share scenes from Ever Ever, Sacrifice, and Denny and Lila. To learn more about the artists and scenes involved, go here, here, and here.

(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Ken Glickfeld, Jason Howard)
In Katherine Burger's Ever Ever, the mysterious Crocker Dial pays the sleeping Lost Boy Tiggy and dream bound visit.
(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Ken Glickfeld, Jason Howard)
Is Crocker Dial good or evil? Well, he's an agent of change, shall we say...and right now, he's pouring some change in Tiggy's dreaming ear.
(Photo by Matthew Archambault. Pictured: Alisha Spielmann, Isaiah Tanenbaum)
In Kristen Palmer's Sacrifice, teenage Emmie makes a play to change the world with the (very) willing help of a smitten Montgomery.
(Photo by Matthew Archambault. Pictured: Alisha Spielmann, Isaiah Tanenbaum)
For his efforts, Montgomery does not go unrewarded. But how long does happiness ever last?
(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jessica Angelskhan, David Crommett)
In Denny and Lila, con artist Lila may be making some headway with the good doctor Marcus.
(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Mike Mihm, Rachael Hip-Flores, Kari Swenson Riely)
Her con artist partner Denny is hitting it off with Lucia, much to Jabber's approval.
(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum)
What would a Have Another pictoral round up be without the magical program-plus-drink shot? For pics from past Have Anothers, click here, and here, and here, and here, and here. And if you were there, share your thoughts in the comments below! Read the full story

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Letter from Birmingham Jail, and Theater

Monday, January 17, 2011 0 comments

Isaiah here.

As I try to do on this day every year, I read through what I (along with Isaac Butler) think may be the greatest American argumentative essay, MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail, written to white, moderate clergymen reluctant to support his work protesting segregation.

The wonderful thing about returning to a familiar text on a regular basis -- something Jewish readers may be familiar with, with our Torah divided as it is into 52 bite-sized weekly portions -- is the way that each fresh re-read allows for new, deeper meanings. A little over a year ago, Perry v. Schwarzenegger kicked off another round of the increasingly less interesting "is it too soon for America to accept gay marriage?" debate. King's words echoed across the decades:

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

...There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Scathing stuff, even 45 years later. And since this time last year, Prop 8 was struck down; DADT was repealed; NY improv artists, the President of the United States, and even Kermit the Frog told bullied gay teens that It Gets Better (15 million views and counting!). As King himself later said to a different group of clergymen, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

This year, though, another pair of passages jumped out at me. King's nonviolent protest movement had come under fire for "causing tension" and he had been labeled an "agitator." He responded (emphasis added):
I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

...Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
These sections made me think about Gus' fascinating grappling on this blog with the intertwined theatrical values: Presence and Imaginative Empathy, particularly his most recent post on the latter topic, exploring the relationship between political speech and art, and the responsibilities of both towards the maintenance (or destruction) of our social fabric.

As artists seeking to help audiences achieve an Aristotelian catharsis, using the tools at our disposal -- namely, Presence and IE -- are we not engaged in the work of bringing hidden tension to the surface, so as to encourage growth and change? There was always a theatrical element to the nonviolent protest movement, and I say that in the kindest, most self-flattering sense of the word. Who could look at the images of peaceful men and women chased by dogs and blasted by firehoses for daring to sit down at the wrong lunch counter, and not think: "here is a drama, with protagonists I can identify with, with antagonists I recognize from the darkest places inside myself, and this drama is unfolding in my country, right now"? MLK made a distant idea (segregation) real and threw it in the nation's face. He made injustice Present, and a year after writing his letter stood behind Lyndon Johnson, watching him sign the Civil Rights Act.

Does all theater live up to King's ideal of a tension-revealing, boil-lancing growth engine? No. But I think, maybe, that all GOOD theater aspires to it.

And aspiration, after all, is just another word for the breath of life.

Readers, what passages stick out for you this year, from this or any other of King's work?
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We're Going To Make The New Stories

"We can try, we can try to re-write some of the moments, make the history different - the story different. Change the story. That’s the only hope cause it’s all rooted in there. All the hate and the power and the lack of care and the blindness – it’s all in the stories that we’re born with and we’re going to make the new stories and that is going to change everything."
-Emmie, Kristen Palmer's Sacrifice

Those words are part of Kristen Palmer's Sacrifice, her contribution to our Have Another #5 tonight, and touch not only the themes of the three plays, but also echoed my thoughts on the tragedy of Tucson. I was moved by them last night, and asked if I could share them with you here, and she kindly said yes, though of course, you'll hear them better in a room full of people born on the breath of an actor.

I hear such things differently on the day we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, and I'm taking part of today to listen to his galvanizing words, and think about how I can echo in my own actions. Today, it was these words from his Nobel prize acceptance speech that struck me the most deeply:

"I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality..."

Change The Story. And tonight, at around the same time we're lifting our glasses to celebrate the plays and artists of Have Another, the Public Theater will host an encore benefit performance of Being Harold Pinter to support Belarus Free Theater.

At around the same time, a few blocks down from us, The Horse Trade Theatre is hosting a panel on Diversity in Contemporary Theatre as part of The Fire This Time Festival. I wish I could be at all three events (I'm making appearances at two), but I'm thrilled tonight to end up at our Have Another, helping the community of artists I love make the new stories.

(Photo: Tyler G. Hicks-Wright. Pictured: Michael Davis, Jake Alexander, Matthew Archambault in THE LESSER SEDUCTIONS OF HISTORY, year 1963, before the "I Have A Dream" speech takes over the characters)

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Have Another and America's Adolescence

Sunday, January 16, 2011 0 comments

When we choose seasons, we pay special attention to the ways the plays speak to each other. But when choosing scenes for Have Another, we focus more on who the playwrights are, and which Flux Sunday scenes struck the strongest chords.

But while hosting the rehearsals for Have Another #5 this weekend, I noticed an interesting shared theme about adolescence and consequences. Growing up is above all taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions; of realizing things don't often work out exactly the way you expected; of making plans that prepare for the uncertain world; of owning the messes you make.

Under this definition, I feel our country has regressed again towards a kind of adolescence: putting off passing necessary environmental legislation; pretending it's possible to spend more, cut taxes, and somehow reduce the deficit; entering into wars without exit plans; and then acting with a childish denial of responsibility when obvious consequences come home to roost. I say this knowing my own actions still sometimes follow this adolescent pattern, despite my best intentions.

All three plays for this Have Another explore this theme in fascinating ways. In Kristen Palmer's Sacrifice, teenage Emmie looks around at a town where family farms have been devoured and manufacturing jobs have dried up; where the adults of her life have betrayed her or let her down; where she feels she has to take the responsibility the adults have abandoned and change things in dramatic fashion.

In Katherine Burger's Ever Ever, Peter Pan and Lost Boys have left NeverLand for an apartment in Manhattan but still haven't grown up. Now in their sixties, the boys and Wendy have their suspended adolescence upended by the "agent of change" Crocker Dial, a reptilian figure of mystery who one by one, brings the consequences of time and age to these defiantly childish adults. Ever Ever indulges in the pleasures of being a child while at the same time reckoning with it's limits.

In my play Denny and Lila, we meet that most bewitching form of American adolescent, the con artist. We've all met that charmer with the childlike vitality that admits no limits, who believes the night has no end. These charmers and con artists are almost irresistible, but they always leave someone else to clean up their mess. In some ways, contemporary America is the ultimate con artist, peddling a dream that everyone can have everything they want in a world of scarcity and loss.

As you might expect, none of these plays end well for the characters, though they have a great deal of fun as they fiddle and burn. Hopefully you'll see what I mean tomorrow night! Read the full story

Making Espresso, Or Diamonds

"All biological science works by collecting complexity and recognizing it is part of a limited repertoire of events. What's exciting about the genome is it's gotten us the big picture and allowed us to see the simplicity."
-Jon Cohen, "The Human Genome, A Decade Later", Technology Review

This rather lovely quote about the narrative of the genome's expression, resonating with how the narrative of story affects a similar compression, made me wonder about the ratio of stage life to real life.

Here's what I mean: kindly grant our average American 77 years of life, around 28,105 days, or 674,520 hours, or 40, 471, 200 minutes, or 2,428,272,000 seconds; each a single moment of experience that makes up the genome of our life's story.

A play compresses all that complexity into an average of 2 hours, just 120 minutes, a mere 7,200 seconds. In that little span, plays give us the illusion of an entire life; great characters feel as if they have an entire existence we don't see. So how much is a stage second worth compared to a second of human life?

A single stage second is equal to 337,260 seconds of a human life. Even granting that 1/3 of life is sleep, a stage second is worth 225,080 waking seconds of a human life. A stage second is worth 3,751 waking minutes, or 63 waking hours. A stage second is worth almost 4 waking days.

That is some potent compression. And it works the other way, too; our memory doesn't treat all
2,428,272,000 seconds equally, but the pressure of time compresses them into a string of significant moments that expresses the meaning of our lives. Theatre is a way to practice that painful, inevitable compression, to avoid being crushed like a used car and instead transformed into espresso, or diamonds. Read the full story

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Two Interviews About Collaboration

Thursday, January 13, 2011 0 comments

Check out this great interview at Works by Women of our own Heather Cohn! Heather has some great thoughts about Flux's programming, gender equity, and our upcoming production of Erin Browne's Menders.

While you're at it, our amazing Dog Act postcard illustrator Kristy Caldwell has a fascinating post about her process (and ours) here.

I post these links thinking also about the extraordinary legacy of Ellen Stewart, who passed today at 91. I particularly loved this quote about La Mama's genesis coming out her desire to stage her friend's plays:
"Not knowing anything about theaters, I thought it was like playing house...I would have this little theater and they would write plays and all their friends would be in them and live happily ever after."
She's a true inspiration for anyone trying to build or find a creative home. Rest in peace.

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Have Another #5

It's back! Our next installment of Have Another is this Monday the 17th from 7PM-9PM. 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, just some of our favorite scenes from Flux Sunday shared over drinks with friends.

2011 comes in with a roar - check out this must-see Monday line-up:

Ever Ever
Written by Katherine Burger
Directed by Heidi Handelsman
Featuring Ken Glickfeld and Jason Howard

Written by Kristen Palmer
Directed by Heather Cohn
Featuring Alisha Spielmann and Isaiah Tanenbaum

Denny and Lila
Written by August Schulenburg
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Featuring Jessica Angelskhan, David Crommett, Rachael Hip-Flores, Mike Mihm, Kari Swenson Riely

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 con artists, grown up Lost Boys, Neruda, plays within plays, crocodiles, and teenagers who will save the world! Doors open at 7PM, with scenes beginning at 7:30PM and running through 9PM.

Shall we lift a glass together? RSVP on the Facebook event! Read the full story


SpeakEasy, December 19th

What is a SpeakEasy?

A SpeakEasy is the regular gathering of Friends of Flux over drinks and food to brainstorm ideas, give feedback, and share updates about our mutual work. SpeakEasy is somewhere between a Town Hall, a party, and a gathering of the knights of the round table.

Our first SpeakEasy on December 19th, 2010 followed our Flux Sunday, which we hope to make the normal pattern. We had 20 or so FOFs show up at Half Pint for drinks, food and conversation about what exactly Friends of Flux means.

A lot of what we talk about will remain internal to FOFdom, but we'll share what we can. The main themes of SpeakEasy #1 were:

  • We went though all of the rights and responsibilities, reaching greater clarity about what the 6 A's mean.
  • There was excitement over the new website, which will include a social media aspect for FOFs, which will have messaging, calendars, and discussion board. Matt Archambault has made great strides with this, but it's not ready for beta testing quite yet.
  • Is Friends of Flux even the right name? Some wanted something with a little more oomph (Flux Capacitors); others wanted something even simpler, like Friends (as in Members of Flux are just called Members); others suggested (jokingly?) it could be called Friends With Benefits. For now, we're keeping FOFs knowing we may change the title.
  • There was a strong interest in having better knowledge of artistic opportunities that were happening, especially casting.
There's much to be done to make these meetings more impactful, but this was a good start, and with how it's taken to get Friends of Flux off the ground and moving, the start was essential. Onto the next! Read the full story

Arizona, Imaginative Empathy, and the Never Ending Story

Monday, January 10, 2011 3 comments

"What I cannot create, I do not understand."
-Richard Feynman, physicist

“Bring new light to what life might be.”
-Hugh Macleod, cartoonist

I had been thinking about writing a post like this for some time, and write it now under the shadow of the recent political murders in Arizona and Pakistan. A question J Holtham asks over on Parabasis about Giffords strikes at the heart of it:

"But...there's a difference between political speech and art, isn't there? (emphasis mine). Marilyn Manson can say, "I'm an artist, and this is a persona I use to tell a story." Can Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck hide behind the same definition? Wouldn't that discredit them entirely to say, "Hey, folks, this is all an act! I didn't mean anyone to take me seriously!"? Isn't there some level of responsibility there? If you go around saying our country is under attack, is at war, is being destroyed by our duly elected officials, sooner or later, this is what happens."

Yes, there is a difference, but I think the difference is one of degree, not of kind. All narratives - whether political, religious, or aesthetic - are an attempt to find patterns in the events of life; to reveal meaning from those patterns; and to share that meaning with others in hopes of affecting their actions. All stories ask Aristotle's question, "How are we to live?"

The evasion of art - that it is fiction, "all an act" - simply allows space for the artist to explore extremes that in political or religious narrative would be impossible. "I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

Every choice I make in life is influenced by the pressure of these political, religious, and aesthetic stories; I believe in free will, but the terrain of what is possible is created by these narratives, and I move choice by choice measuring my progress against the stories I've been told.

As Slate explains about Loughner, mental illness is not enough to explain violence; you are three times more likely to be struck by lightening than killed by someone with schizophrenia. Religious fundamentalists, like Taseer's murderer, are not mentally deranged, but rather perfectly arranged by the pressures of narrative to choose violence. Their minds are gardens without a single weed.

The answer is not to censor Sarah Palin but to present a more compelling counter-narrative. The temptation is to create a narrative of similarly primal power that will have a similarly national appeal; something that feels like empathy's answer to the cross-hairs of a rifle; something like the peace movement of the 60's, with its potent symbols of flowers, children, and free love.

But I don’t think the answer lies in creating a competing narrative of national size. The history of our green and blue rock is littered with stories of peace and compassion that have been co-opted by power to sell merchandise and justify violence. We need instead to take back ownership of the stories we tell.

Those old enough to have been young enough to be scared of Gmork, the wolf agent of The Nothing in The Never Ending Story, know that whoever holds the dreams, holds the power. In the 20th century, we largely outsourced our dreams to mass media; letting radio, film, and television tell our stories for us. A monoculture of thought, just like any other ecosystem without diversity, is less resistant to viruses, invasive species, and environmental stress.

Creativity is therefore not just a right of every individual; but also a responsibility. If we tell our own story, finding our own patterns and meaning in life, then we are more resistant to the simplistic narratives of power. This creative searching is not contained by what is traditionally called “the arts”; rather, this imaginative curiosity extends to politics, religion, and any other way we have of making meaning.

The internet is a powerful ally for this creativity, resembling the sequel to The Never Ending Story, where Bastian recreates Fantasia entirely from his own imagination. But while a thousand such imaginary worlds spring up every day on the internet, it has also exacerbated the perils of monoculture; allowing simplistic narratives to metastasize more quickly.

After all, Loughner was creatively expressing himself, however violent and strange his YouTube videos seem. It is therefore not enough to imagine that if everyone just expressed themselves we’d suddenly have peace on earth. While diversity of expression is essential to the health of a culture, there is an immutable quality all good stories must share, or narrative descends into demagoguery.

That necessary quality is empathy. Empathy is not warm and fuzzy, like its cuddly cousin sympathy. Empathy is the pity and terror and joy of feeling someone else’s life as keenly as if it were your own. Empathy is frightening because it reminds us that the worst of what others do lives as a possibility within us; it reminds us that the best of who we are lives within our enemies. Empathy’s children are caution as well as kindness; humility as well as compassion.

Empathy appears to be hard wired into our brains (thanks, mirror neurons); and when followed with any integrity, it naturally leads to stories of contradiction and complexity. These kinds of stories require more from us; in creating them, in watching them, and in living with whatever difficult wisdom they contain. But these are the stories that matter - as Feynman says, “what I cannot create, I do not understand.”

Here the monoculture presses its advantage; we’re a busy people, content to have someone else assemble meaning for us, especially if the stories we’re told go down easy. There is something soothing in believing that the answers have all been found; that the book is closed, and all we need to do is follow what’s already been written. We all have a utopia habit that's hard to quit.

Imaginative empathy does not permit the book to close, because it understands that each human being represents a unique story, an unrepeatable stab at what is possible. This kind of story-telling is restless, defined by a hunger that grows by what it feeds on. It is propelled by doubt and sustained by contradiction (each one of us containing multitudes).

For these reasons, it is resistant to the simplistic narrative that violence requires. And with violent suggestion now able to metastasize into action with a single click, we must advocate more strongly for this resistant kind of story-telling. Otherwise, the virus of violence will continue to sweep through our monoculture of thought.

With theatrical storytelling, the means of production are always local; this is a financial weakness, but an essential strength. It can happen in the churches of Manhattan, it can be done in the streets of Belarus, and where ever it is done, it is a uniquely local process that belongs to those doing it. In this way, it is a remarkably effective engine of empathy against monoculture. It is the way I love best, though not the only way.

But whether you’re making a play, or singing a hymn in church, or holding high a sign at a Tea Party rally; you are engaged in telling a story, whether you call yourself an artist or not. As cartoonist High Macleod writes:

“Bring new light to what life might be.” That’s what Creativity means. That’s why you were born; that’s why you are here. To bring some new angle to the human condition- if not to the broader world in general, then at least to your family and the people around you.

I’m not so naïve to think that this local story-telling of imaginative empathy will bring peace on earth. I’m just not sure what else will.

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Scavenger Time

Saturday, January 8, 2011 0 comments

(Photo by Tiffany Clementi. Pictured:Zack Robidas as Coke and Julian Stetkevych as Bud)

You've seen them roaming the post-apocalyptic, moonless world of Dog Act, stealing whatever isn't nailed down to reuse and recycle, according to the whims of their insatiable appetites and the orders of their enigmatic overlord, The Wendy (praise her usefulness! praise it!)

Above is a graphic image of scavengers in their natural habitat (aka, a rehearsal photo taken on Tiffany's phone). Observe their fierce tribal rites, and then, imagine how such creatures would clothe themselves.

Well, (if I may move reality from the parenthetical), our Costume Designer Lara de Brujin has spent some time imagining such things, and come up with the following wish list for their costumes:

Lara de Brujin's Recipe For Scavenger Wear
Old cutlery
Soda cans (with or without the tabs--I need both, separately)
Yellow nylon cord
Tin cans and tin can lids

If you can have any of these things you can donate to a scavenging theatre company, let us know at gus at fluxtheatre dot org, or bring it to our event on the 17th (more on that oh so anon).

Thank you, and let slip the hound-droogs, ah-oooh!
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Flux Sunday, January 2nd

Friday, January 7, 2011 0 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Playwrights: Katherine Burger (Ever, Ever), Brian Pracht (Wendell Wants), August Schulenburg (The Temptation Show)

Actors: Jane Taylor, Jason Howard, Ken Glickfeld, Gretchen Poulos, Alisha Spielmann, Kimberly Klein, Nora Hummel, Isaiah Tanenabum, Ryan Andes, Travis York, Matthew Archambault, Heather Nicolson

Our first Flux Sunday of 2011! And, pending how rehearsals/production of Dog Act goes, potentially our last for a little while, though we'll be trying to sneak in some in January, if we can.

Highlights included:
-Ever wonder what the definition of "crackling" look like in action? Well, if you had seen Jason Howard as Dial and Richard Watson as Hook read Ever Ever, you would wonder no more.
-Jane Taylor's moving read as the spurned Wendy in the very same Ever Ever (it was a good day for our flash forward Peter Pan)
-Wendell Wants breezing speedily through 30 pages as Brian turns the screws on our likable, but increasingly morally dubious, hero; memorably embodied by three (count 'em!) Wendell's, Travis York, Matthew Archambault, and Isaiah Tanenbaum

It was a socko day for our first 2011 Sunday...here's to many more, hopefully sooner than later.

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Dog Act Rehearsal Photos, Jo-Jo Sack Edition

I offer this picture, courtesy of AD Tiffany Clementi's phone, as a moment of zen on this snowy Friday. This is Becky Byers as Jo-Jo, the semi-feral teenage vaudevillian of Dog Act, escaping from her sack of captivity in a candid rehearsal shot. Yup, this first week of rehearsal has been fun!

(Cute, sure, but don't get too close. Very, very fierce.)
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Talkback: A Play About Talkbacks

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 5 comments

(Our amazing Dog Act playwright Liz Duffy Adams wrote this short play about the talkback process. Having lived it, I love it, and hope you will, too).

By Liz Duffy Adams
In Which the Great Majority of the Talkback Dialogue Has Been Collected Verbatim Over the Years, about Various Plays by Various People

The setting is a rehearsal room or small theater, anywhere plays are read to an invited audience for the purposes of “development.” Such a reading has just finished. A large cast of actors are standing about in front of a line of music stands and chairs (under which are scattered bottles of Poland Spring water, tissues, pencils and yellow hi-lighter markers), chatting animatedly with a number of earnest people, a mixture of young, snappily dressed and stylishly tattooed (fellow actors and their friends) and somewhat older, somewhat frumpier in vaguely bohemian fashion (artistic directors, agents, dramaturges).

In the audience a thin, sallow, youngish man with a wispy goatee and already receding hairline is sitting in the front row in a posture as close as to fetal as one can be and still be sitting upright. His large dark eyes are registering a combination of dazedness, pain, anxiety, relief, euphoria and a desire to seem open minded that is, in fact, physically impossible to register all at the same time. The playwright. A buff young man in a tight tee shirt and Teutonic haircut (the director) is speaking in a low tone in the playwright’s ear; in the other ear, a wiry young woman with bitten nails and no makeup (the dramaturge) is murmuring in counterpoint. A handful of other people are milling around or sitting in the audience gossiping, smirking, laughing raucously in a way guaranteed to rasp the playwright’s last nerve (friends, interns) or hunched and pale, scribbling in small well-worn hardbound notebooks (other playwrights).

A stately lesbian wearing a necklace of rough semiprecious stones as large as dog turds—literary manager or head of program, moderator of the event—sails through the crowd, touches the playwright on the shoulder.

Moderator: Okay, we’re going to get started. Ready?

The playwright stands, clutching his own small well-worn notebook, and follows her.

Moderator (to the room): Okay, people, we’re going to start the talkback now, if you’d like to stay and share your thoughts with the playwright.

A hushed stampede ensues as three-quarters of the crowd rush the door, stagewhispering “You were great!” and “We’ll talk!” to the actors, pulling cell phones and cigarettes out of their messenger bags as they flee.

The playwright and moderator take the actors’ place, facing the audience where everyone else settles in, some with the keen look of people mentally rehearsing incisive points, others with the smug and lively air of Romans anticipating a good Christian vs Lion bout.

Moderator: First of all, thanks so much to all of you for coming out tonight for the latest in our developmental reading series. I’m sure Bill appreciates it very much. This play we heard tonight is in a very raw state, as I’m sure you could tell, and before it continues on its journey of five more readings, two workshops, several aborted production discussions and sincere invitations from several important small theaters to send them his next play, we’re going to do our best to help the playwright understand what he’s done, what he should have done, and what to think about what he should do. All right? So why don’t we start with what’s wrong with the play. Okay, you, there.

Talkbacker 1: First of all, let me say I’m just in awe of your use of language. So powerful, so poetic, really, just, like, so evocative.

Bill: Thanks.

Talkbacker 1: But you know, you might want to think about that as a strength that’s really potentially a problem for you. Sort of a crutch, you know? Did you ever think about writing a play with really spare, you know, minimalist use of language?

Bill: Not really...

Talkbacker 1: Well I think you ought to try that. I think that would be amazing. That would be a play I’d want to see.

Moderator: Okay, you up there.

Talkbacker 2: Hi, yeah, I just wanted to add to that because, you know, yes, the language is amazing, but it’s so dense, so many words. I think you just need to edit, you know? I mean, you say something one way and then you immediately say the same thing in another way, and then you complicate it and contradict it and build on it and oh my God, you know? It’s like, the language and the images—which are great, by the way, so powerful, so poetic—but they’re just too much to take in. I just felt overwhelmed. It ends up being inaccessible. Like, leave room for me, you know?

Talkbacker 3: I agree and I’d like to add, there are too many monologues. Monologues are inherently untheatrical, they’re just lazy writing. Can’t you say the same thing in a scene? Like, instead of that “to be or not to be” speech—which also actually I had a lot of trouble following—couldn’t you show that he’s feeling suicidal instead of having him tell us? Like, he could try to stab himself and someone—oh, like, his girlfriend could stop him, and that whole scene could lead into the “get me to a nunnery” scene—

Bill (automatically): Get thee to a nunnery.

Talkbacker 3: Right, get thee to a nunnery, and I think it would have so much more impact.

Moderator: Yeah, about that though, I’m sorry, but I just have to say—I know everyone’s gonna say, oh, she’s so PC, but I have to say that the misogyny in this play really, really disturbed me. If that’s what you wanted to do, fine, but just know that. I mean, why does Olivia have to go mad and die? Are you saying that women are weak and overemotional? You’ve got wimpy crazy Olivia and then that mother, who’s either really stupid or, you know, just awful. And that’s it for women in the whole play. I just think that’s something that you really have to look at. (Bill murmurs something almost inaudibly.) Right, Ophelia, whatever, same point. Okay, you.

Talkbacker 4: There’s so much great stuff in this play, Bill, some of it is just brilliant. Really, very poetic, very powerful. But right now it’s really kind of a mess, you know, it’s all over the place. Like in the, what is it, the fourth act, when he comes back and tells us all that mishigas about switching the letters and being captured by pirates? Well, that’s just poor craft, poor playwriting; I’m sorry, but it just is. First of all, it’s ridiculous, I mean, pirates? And plus you just shove it in there, it’s so over-determined, you need him to come back for the play to keep going so you just have him pop up, say, oh, yeah, switched the letters, Guildencranz and Rosenstern are dead, rescued by pirates, la la la, let’s move on. It just doesn’t work, the audience will never buy that. It took me right out of the play.

Bill (mumbling): Rosencranz and Guildenstern.

Talkbacker 4: What?

Bill: It’s Rosencranz and Guildenstern are dead.

Talkbacker 4: Yeah, right, okay. I mean, who’s going to ever be able to remember that? I’m not sure what you’re trying to do with those absurdist names anyway, these absurdist guys, it just breaks the tone, it’s like “Abbot and Costello Go To Elsinore.”

Talkbacker 5: Yeah, I have something to add on that—first of all, Bill, it’s such a beautiful play, really, so powerful and poetic, and you know, evocative. So, just know that.

Bill (warily): Thanks.

Talkbacker 5: But I agree with a lot of what people are saying: it’s like three or four plays’ worth of stuff in there, and I think if you want the audience to stay with you you’re going to want to take a serious, like, weed-whacker to it. One thing I’d urge you to cut is that scene in the graveyard. It breaks the tone, like someone was just saying about Crazenrose and Guilderstein. I mean you’ve got this very serious existential play about the ethics of revenge (Bill looks startled for a moment) and right when Hamlet should be going for the kill, you derail all the dramatic momentum and take us into a—I guess it’s supposed to be a comic scene, black comedy—with the goofy gravediggers and the skull, and Hamlet remembering the dead guy, York or whatever—and I just, I’m not sure what that adds to the play. I think it’s a detour that we just don’t need.

Talkbacker 6: Yeah, I feel that there are too many characters. I couldn’t keep track and new ones keep popping up—that guy towards the end, with the challenge, and that Fortablau? Apart from it’s confusing, you’ve essentially written an unproduceable play. I mean, you have to be practical. You’re going to want to cut it down to five or six characters, tops, or maybe a little more if there can be doubling. Off the top of my head, what do you need Horatio for? He just hangs around for the entire play. I’m not sure I see what dramatic function he serves.

Talkbacker 7: I have to disagree, I really liked Horatio. I just wanted to know more about him. He’s just there as Hamlet’s friend, like, he doesn’t have a real voice of his own. I’d love to see him more fleshed out. Like, what does he really think about everything that’s going on? Does he think Hamlet should kill his uncle or not? What does Horatio want?

Talkbacker 8: I hate that the whole ending hinged on weapons. Suddenly we have to keep track of which one is the poisoned sword, who’s got the poisoned sword, and oh, there’s poison in the cup too, and so on. I don’t think we’re going to be able to follow that, the audience is just going to be confused. The death of Gertrude especially borders on melodrama—it’s really hard not to laugh. And then everyone’s dead! That just took me right out of the play. Really, it’s going to be hard for audiences not to just laugh, and I don’t think that’s your intention. It’s just way over the top. Then as if there isn’t already too much going on, you bring in Fountainbra! It’s like, too many endings. Does it end when the lead dies? Or when he achieves his objective of killing his uncle? Or when this Fountainbra comes in? I was over it by then. I couldn’t care less about what Fountainbra had to say.

Talkbacker 9: Listen, okay, I’ll be the bad guy and just say it. Is this even a play?

Talkbacker 10: I don’t think it is. There are certain natural laws of playwriting and you can’t just break them, like you can’t break the law of gravity. There’s no logical progression of dramaturgical structure here, no thematic unity. This is not a play. Maybe it’s a novel, maybe it’s, I don’t know, some kind of experimental postmodern performance art.

Talkbacker 11: Did you ever think of making it a one-man show, with Hamlet playing all the other characters, like they’re really in his head?

Talkbacker 12: Why couldn’t the lead character be a middle-aged Mexican?

Talkbacker 13: He’s so unsympathetic! Why should I spend a whole—too long by the way—play watching this, you know, whiney indecisive sociopathic ruling-class Danish jerk?

Talkbacker 14: Is he really crazy or is he faking it? That’s not clear. You need to clarify that.

Talkbacker 15: It’s over-written!

Talkbacker 16: It’s elitist!

Talkbacker 17: It made me feel stupid and I resent that!

Talkbacker 18: Have we even talked about why doesn’t he just kill the uncle in the first act?

Moderator: Okay, we’ve got to wrap up, so just one more comment. Okay, you.

Talkbacker 19: You know what, Bill? I think you’re working out some issues in this play. And I think when you figure out what those are, you’re going to write something really good.

General murmurs of agreement.

Moderator: This was great, this has all been very useful I think to Bill. Thanks to the actors for all their great work, to Trevor and Heather for directing and dramaturging, and thanks, Bill, for this wonderful play. I can’t wait to read it again after it’s been extensively rewritten. Thank you, everyone, and please stay for a glass of wine.

Applause, and the audience dissolves into a chattering crowd. Bill looks shakily at his copious notes. The director and dramaturge join him, handing him a plastic cup of wine.

Trevor: That was kind of rough. How’re you doing?

Heather: How are you? Are you okay?

Bill: Well…

Trevor: Lots of good points, though, I thought.

Heather: Why don’t we meet tomorrow and start talking cuts?

Trevor: Yeah, I really heard it this time. Too many characters.

Heather: Too many characters, too many words…

Trevor: Too many words, yeah.

Heather: So, what time’s good for you, Bill?

Bill: Huh?

Trevor: What time can you meet to talk about cuts? Or, I’m sorry, did you want to do some rewrites first on your own?

Bill: Oh, um… Actually, you know what? I like it the way it is.

Trevor: What?

Heather: What do you mean?

Bill: Well, I mean, fuck it. It is what it is. I’m going to leave it and write the next one. About too many characters lost in the woods one night in the middle of summer, with too many words, probably. I’ll see you guys.

Bill exits. Trevor and Heather look stunned and displeased.

Trevor: Wow. What a bad attitude.

Heather: Well, that’s too bad.

Trevor: Yeah, really. I mean he’s good, you know, but…

Heather: Yeah, he’s good, but he’s never going to get anywhere if he can’t collaborate.

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