New World Iliads, #1

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 0 comments

What is New World Iliads?
How can I learn more about Ajax in Iraq?

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Brian Pracht, Rachael Hip-Flores, Matthew Murumba, Kari Swenson Riely)
By August Schulenburg, photos by Isaiah Tanenbaum

What an amazing night! I think this was one of our best ForePlays ever, in part because of the quality of scripts; in part because of the pairing of actors with roles and Kelly's playful direction; in part because of the beauty of the space and the spirit of the crowd; with all of the parts cohering into a really enjoyable whole.

It was also our first time partnering with Carrier Pigeon, the amazing fine arts and illustrated fiction magazine. Artist Frances Jeter shared a work to help inspire the playwrights, and she spoke with us a little about her process. If you have not yet become a subscriber to this gorgeous publication, we highly recommend it (and my play The Midas Touch will be featured in issue 4!)

Here are some pictures from Isaiah that hopefully recall the spirit of the night for those who were there, and shares a little of it for those who were not. Thanks to Jake and La Botega for the space, the actors, playwrights and director for their work, and everyone who attended and made it such a fun night!
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Chris Wight, Matthew Murumba)
The dread dog terror tortures The Bush in my play, Let Slip.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Rachael Hip-Flores, Kari Swenson Riely)
Rachael as Renna tries to persuade Kari as Riely that everything they know about history is wrong...and they may no longer celebrate Rumsfeldia.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Aja Houston)
Aja as Alcy in Johnna Adams Alecetis in Baghdad talk about her relationship with Apollo under an appropriately Apollo-esque light.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Chris Wight, Aja Houston, Brian Pracht)
Alcy faces down her husband Mike and his Sergeant, who may also be Apollo.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured:Rachael Hip-Flores)
Rachael as Fatima may not be as helpless as she seems.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Brian Pracht, Kari Swenson Riely, Rachael Hip-Flores)
In Erin Browne's Good Dog, war dogs come home to a support group.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Chris Wight, Matthew Murumba)
In the war dog support group, Bounder gives a little extra help to the new dog, Skippy.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured:Kari Swenson Riely)
In Liz Duffy Adams' Bama-Sama, Kari turned in a bit of tour de force performance as a passionate lecturer of history.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Rachael Hip-Flores, Brian Pracht)
Will Shrub find Sama? Not if she keeps moving that fast...or if he's trying NOT to find her.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: The cast)
The cast sings Amazing Race, the song that ends Sama-Bama (and our night of theatre).
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Frances Jeter)
The artists Frances Jeter talks about her haunting work that served as inspiration for the night.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.)
The good folks at Carrier Pigeon, sharing their (beautiful) wares.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.)
And of course, your requisite artsy food/postcard/program shot.

If you were there, what do you remember best from the night?

And don't forget to nab your $12 tickets before they run out! Read the full story


Rehearsal Report, Days 5-8

Friday, May 13, 2011 1 comments

(Learn more about Ajax in Iraq)
By August Schulenburg

(Photo by Tiffany Clementi)
The Sunday stumble-through, as might be expected, was both invigorating and exasporating. Invigorating, because the actors did a remarkable job of making it through this complex staging while still staying engaged with each other and present in the scenes. This is not only testament to their work ethics individually, but to the strong bond they already seem to be developing, which - for a play about soldiers - is essential.

Exasporating, becase we simply don't have rehearsal spaces that aproximate anywhere near the size of CSV-Flamboyan, our performance space. Judson thankfully comes close, but as this was our first day in such a space, there was a lot of confusion of exact placement. For some plays, this isn't a huge problem, but for a play with this many simultaneously moving parts, it may be our greatest challenge.

The run-through did reveal the two scenes I'm having the most trouble with: the Debbie/Athena and Larry/Judy/Fletcher scenes. Four of these five characters we've never met before and won't ever meet again, and we're intoduced to them at the moment of the narrative's maximum tension, where AJ's and Ajax's fate hangs in the balance. Why do we stop that action to hear from these characters at this exact moment?

On an intellectual level, I understand the meaning of the scenes - Debbie reinforces the centrality of the soliders' bond, and L/J/F expand the frame to take in the homecoming soliders recieve. Still, I didn't know why - or didn't know how to feel why - those scenes appear where they do. Without that vicseral understanding, I was unable to find a staging that felt right.

After the run, however, I recieved some good notes from our dramaturg, Heidi Nelson; and had a great conversation with Heather Cohn about those troublesome scenes. Sometimes, the best way into understanding a scene is not what it means, but how it moves and what it looks like; and trying various stagings can unlock the inevitability of a scene in a way intellectual discussion simply can't.

I'd wanted to make these two scenes feel surprising but inevitable - to emerge from the fabric of the play as a stretch, but not a tear - and to return to the central action of the narrative feeling like we hadn't lost momentum or changed direction, but simply expanded the frame hurtling towards collision or transformation.

The key was the cots. Throughout the play we visit the women's barracks, but peripherally - they are on the outskirts of our attention as some other action plays out. They are critical set pieces, but had never taken center stage. To that end, Heather suggested that the action of the play proper might continue, with soldiers/Chorus using the cots to build some fortification, when the power of the cots strcuk me as the answer.

The L/J/F scene takes us to Boston, in or around the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. I'd been thinking that the three monlogues of Larry, Judy, and Fletcher were seperate (as indeed they are), and therefore staged them each taking a different third of the audience, almost off the stage; as distant from the stage as the scene felt distant from the action of the play.

But what if we brought the cots on stage and transformed it into the Homeless Shelter? This not only solved a hundred smaller challenges, both in this scene and the play at large, but opened up a lot of new possibilities. I can't share them all - after all, I want you to see the play and not just read about it - but this was one of those marvelous cases where a simple rearrangement of the physical space completely solved problems that felt distinct from the set, and seemed beyond my reach.

Theatre lives in four dimenions, so that is where the solutions can be found.

Or maybe not - because we'll work this scene for the first time tonight. Cross your fingers!

And while they're crossed - why not get your tickets? We only have 10 of the discounted rate left...
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On Theater and Cosmology

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 0 comments

Hey all, Isaiah here.

You may know the Innovative Theater people for their annual IT Awards, which recognize excellence in the Off-Off-Broadway world (Flux productions have been nominated eight times; Asa Wember won Best Sound Design in '08 for his work on
Angel Eaters), but they also host a superb blog fittingly called "Full of IT." Our own August Schulenburg is this week's guest blogger there, and I encourage you to check IT out (har har).

As always, Gus brings that Wider Frame brain of his to bear in the first post of the week as he analyzes, oh, just the universe, life itself, consciousness, and technology. You know, those little things.

Taking Marcus Aurellius, who furrows away up at the top of this post, at his word ("he who does not know what the world is does not know where he is"), Gus analyzes each of these aspects of creation in turn. Specifically, he's interested in their individual and differing relationships to change, loss, and time. It's a surprisingly quick read for the breadth it covers, and I've been chewing it over all day.

I figured that while Gus, ever modest, wouldn't want to link to himself, I am bound by no such rules. So head on over. Myself, I'm more of a Kurtzweilian than Gus is (Singularity ho!), but either way I can't wait to see the next couple of posts.

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Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Awards

Monday, May 9, 2011 0 comments

We just found out that Dog Act was nominated as Outstanding Off-Off Broadway Show for a Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Award by the Independent Theater Bloggers Association!

Readers of this blog know my high esteem of Patrick's work as a reviewer, and my sadness over his untimely death, so this is especially exciting for us.

This is our second nod from the ITBA, (you may remember the unusual video we put together to thank them for the first nod), and I was also psyched to see Feeder:A Love Story from our friends at terraNOVA gain a well-deserving nod.

Thank you, ITBA!
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Rehearsal Report, Days 2-4

Friday, May 6, 2011 0 comments

(Learn more about Ajax in Iraq )

by August Schulenburg

The first days of a rehearsal are like the first years of life: a great deal is learned incredibly quickly, but you spend a lot of time bumping into things and falling down. Well, that was my fate these last three rehearsals - plenty of learning, plenty of stubbed toes. However, I’m feeling much closer to having a fundamental grasp of the play’s DNA.

One big question we’ve been batting around:

How much power does Athena have over the action of the play? At first, when I’d imagined AJ’s unit of soldiers as the DNA of the play, I saw the soldier Connie as the human opposite of Athena. Their need to understand the choices that AJ and Ajax made would drive the play, and the AJ’s unit would be at the core of each actor’s shifting characters.

But when we moved away from that DNA being AJ’s unit, and embraced the play’s wider reach of the totality of war, it shifted that Athena/Connie duality to Athena being the central driving force. More than a presiding deity, she directs our attention through the shifting scenes, but to what end? Her curiosity about the kind of mortal behavior she doesn’t have access to? Is that why she needs us, the audience? Is she changed by the journey?

From our work the past few days, and from several great discussions with the playwright Ellen, I’ve moved away from thinking that Athena is driven by strong curiosity about the characters’ behavior, or changed in any fundamental way by the action. Rather, the play is less an inquiry for her than a warning for us, the audience. She presents us with the action of the play, in all of its many voices, as a warning that we have replaced her central role in understanding war. Instead, we now operate as if war was manageable, knowable, reasonable and controllable.

This gives Athena a powerful action based in her primary scene partner: the audience. However, as soon as you unlock this question, a hundred more spill out. In particular, we’re curious how much control she has over the scenes, and how often – if ever – she is surprised by their outcome. Is she aware of how often the scenes she presents undermine the clarity of her action with all of the contradiction and complexity inherent in any human behavior, but especially war?

There is still a long way to go, but these last three days have been exhausting and exhilarating, and our first stumble through on Sunday night looms ahead.
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New World Iliads

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 0 comments

Our exploratory play reading series ForePlay, where playwrights
riff on the themes of our mainstage production, is back!

New World Iliads will take place on three nights with each night treating a contemporary war from a mythic perspective. In the same way that Ajax in Iraq re-imagines a war from thousands of years ago, New World Iliads will imagine what our contemporary wars may look like from the same distance: the gods, the heroes and villains; what details will be erased by time and what will remain? How will the art inspired by today's conflicts inform the myths of tomorrow?

Join us on May 16 for ForePlay #1

New World Iliads: Iraq

featuring four short plays by four Flux veterans!

Liz Duffy Adams
(Dog Act)

Johnna Adams
(The Angel Eaters Trilogy)

Erin Browne

August Schulenburg
(Jacob's House, The Lesser Seductions of History)

directed by Kelly O'Donnell (Jacob's House, Dog Act)
Featuring: Rachael Hip-Flores, Aja Houston, Matthew Murumba, Brian Pracht, Kari Swenson Riely, Chris Wight
May 16

the Cabana rooftop of The Maritime Hotel (88 9th Avenue @17th street)

doors open at 7:00pm, performance starts at 7:30

Purchase tickets to New World Iliads HERE for $10

(tickets are $15 at the door)

Includes free food and drink specials!

This ForePlay will support our upcoming production of Ajax in Iraq.

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Rehearsal Report #1

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 1 comments

(Learn more about Ajax in Iraq)

By August Schulenburg

Yesterday, I was in the throws of a nasty cold, and miserable at work. I couldn't believe rehearsals for Ajax in Iraq were beginning and I was feeling so much like a wet dog.

Then rehearsals started, and can you guess how often I noticed feeling sick? Exactly once less than once. Sometimes, the only reminder needed of why we do this thing is doing it.

The first rehearsal did not feature the customary read-through. Because of actor and designer conflicts, I decided to abandon that tradition and try to rough block the play in the first week for a run through on Sunday. On the negative side, this means we don't have the base of sitting around the table and hearing the play once together, and I keenly felt that loss last night.

However, these artists were worth the conflicts, and with a play like this, seeing a rough shape to it within the first week is going to be invaluable.

We began with the Charles, Pisoni and Sergeant scene, and began discovering some really interesting dynamics between the three of them. Why does the Sergeant allow them to be so casual with him? How often does he pull that invitation back? Have Charles and Pisoni come to discuss what just happened in the women's tent? And how close does the Sergeant come to really spilling his secret? It's a short scene, but full of questions.

Ajax in Iraq is a play that frequently tosses aside naturalism to explore its themes and questions in a more theatrically visceral way. That's true for the next scene we worked on, Common Practice (I title all the scenes). It follows two unnamed soldiers we never meet again, (> and - in the script) dealing with the fall out of one of them going too far in an interrogation. The scene seems to emerge from Athena's boast to us that she can turn on cruelty within us as easily as flicking a switch, but the scene is more complex than that.

Today, Ellen and I had a great talk about how in control Athena is of the play's journey. I was particularly excited that she - as an immortal being - might present a scene to us with the intention it serve one purpose, and then miss the true human reality we experience. It's simply not available to her - she doesn't pick up that wavelength.

To that end, we moved the scene away from > clearly being a villain, and invested in the idea that he and - were close. That fraying friendship gave this surprisingly short scene a detailed richness, especially for characters we never meet again, and barely see in the darkness. Part of this is Ellen's writing, which conjure about two subtly distinct voices from those we've heard before; part was seeing Chinaza and Josh switch gears so well from their Sergeant/Charles dynamic.

Finally, we worked on the present day past of I'm Ashamed Of Myself, a scene that plays out in Iraq as well as Troy. This scene needed more time, and coming at the end of the play as it does, I felt again the challenge of working out of order this way. But we did lay some useful groundwork to exploring the dynamic between A.J. and Connie. Connie's need to understand the choices that A.J. makes in the war are a big part of what drives the play - the human equivalent to Athena's curiosity without empathy - and this scene is Connie's last chance to alter that fate. As with many Greek plays, we need to find a balance between inevitability and hope.

There's a lot more to write, but wouldn't you know, it's time for rehearsal. I'll try to post these as often as I can as the process progresses. Read the full story