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Friday, August 26, 2011 0 comments

Isaiah here with yet another overly-long, thoughtful-to-the-point-of-pedantry post.

So, over at HowIRound there's a very interesting piece by Lydia Stryk about this "theatricality" thing. You should definitely read the whole thing (and the comments, and the response at Parabasis, and the comments there), but here's the money quote if you're pressed for time:

Theatricality in America today, I would argue, is an MFA-inspired phenomenon produced almost solely by playwrights and duly supported by directors. The resulting highly theatrical plays teeter on the edge of magical realism or plummet over the top with plot elements and stage directions that seem derived from a handbook on wizardry. It’s worth noting that this new theatricality is woven into the plot, making it impossible to ignore in the way the old stage directions (She stands, he sits) were and are ignored.
The implication here is that "stage directions that are woven into the plot," particularly whimsical ones, are (a) something unique to recent American theater, and, because they cannot be ignored, (b) bad.

In a comment on the original post, Taylor Mac has already made a case that realism is actually the recent trend, so I want to respond to the second implication. I want to ask this: what's wrong with stage directions out of a wizard's handbook? Yes, they can be used lazily. Yes, they can be spectacle. Yes, they feel contrived or out of place or distancing. When they do these things -- and I won't lie, they often do -- they fall on their face.

But they aren't necessarily so.

The image I used above is the last moment of The Lesser Seductions of History, Flux's most well-received show, and I believe its greatest artistic triumph (so far!). A brief overview: the play was set in the 60's, and each scene was a different year. With each new year, one of the 10 characters makes a choice between a life of personal fulfillment and a life devoted to a greater cause. Those 10 lightbulbs were in the ceiling the whole time, a new one lighting up as each character made that choice and a new year dawned. Then, in the final scene, they descended as eight of the characters, each for deeply personal reasons, danced, then slowly became the astronauts on the moon, before finally forming a circle looking in at the eleventh character, One, who is the force of History that "seduced" them (hence the title) and in her final monologue asks, "wasn't it worth it?"

The lightbulbs were the years, and the characters, and the choices, and the stars, and pretty, all at the same time. This is just the sort of thing that Lydia doesn't like. It's wizardy, and it's weird, and it's whimsical. It was also profoundly moving, BECAUSE it was those things, not in spite of them. That moment wouldn't have worked, or would have worked in a profoundly different and (I believe) less successful way, without those lightbulbs, or some other director-picked design element that ostensibly served the same purpose.

Flux has talked a lot about what we mean by "Transformative Theatre" (sometimes we've even used other words for it); it's so central to what we do that it's in our mission statement as well as our list of aesthetic values. One of several things you can't do in a film, but you can do on a stage -- and therefore seems like the best definition of a term ("theatricality") whose definition few can even agree on -- is make something be two or more things at the same time. In the film version of Lesser Seductions, if you wanted to see the moon landing you'd show the footage. You'd probably cross-cut that with the characters, and others around the world, watching it at home (that's what the very powerful HBO documentary From the Earth to the Moon did). Which works great for film.

But there's something amazing, and powerful, and theatrical about seeing the other actors, who you've spent the last two hours with, dance around the stage as though on the moon, and it spoke to the central idea of that moment: that on July 20, 1969, it was as though everyone in the world, no matter what they were doing, was bouncing about the lunar surface with Neil and Buzz. I've got to say, I'm just thinking about it and I'm still moved by the memory of creating that poetic moment on stage. And I wasn't even alive in 1969.

I guess what I'm saying is that there are plenty of highly theatrical moments out there that you can effectively create with a whimsical stage direction or two. Lydia talks about the process by which she arrived at her theatrical stage directions -- essentially shoehorning them into her play to make it more marketable -- and I agree that this is a lousy way to create art that you're proud of, and it's almost guaranteed to leave a bad taste in your mouth for the whole process, and make seeing other such attempts that much more grating. But I'd encourage her not to throw the theatricality baby out with the marketability bathwater.
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Flux Sunday, August 14th

Sunday, August 21, 2011 0 comments

(What is Flux Sunday?)

Our first Flux Sunday back from the retreat had a smaller turn out, but that allowed us to do an exciting thing. We staged and shared four plays: two in the first hour and a half, and two in the second. This led to a bunch of rushed choices, but all together the experience was, well, a rush. It's not everyday, after all, that one is able to play a rolling Oedipus, a cop fighting organ theft, and a political activist clown in three hours.

Playwrights: Larry Kunofsky (Tragedy on Ecstasy), Kristen Palmer (Bridgeport), August Schulenburg (Jane the Plain), Adam Szymkowicz (Market)

Directors: Heather Cohn, Marielle Duke, Leigh Hile

Actors: Carissa Cordes, Kitty Lindsay, Anna Lamadrid, Alisha Spielmann, Melissa Herion, Kathryn Lawson, Isaiah Tanenbaum

Highlights included:

-Anna tearing it up as Donna in Kristen's Bridgeport, not to mention the thrill of Larry's spellcasting. I'm very excited to see how these fanciful and gritty threads weave together.
-The whole Tragedy on Ecstasy cast, which embodied the Flux Sunday spirit of "let's just go for it."
-Melissa's chilling Clarissa, and Carissa as her hapless (puppet) victim in Adam's Market. I also loved Heather's use of the space (and Ann's scene changing shakers!)
-Kristen Palmer as Scotty the Hotty. 'Nuff said.

If you were there, what did you walk away with?

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Have Another #7 Pictures

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 2 comments

(Don't you want to Have Another with these peeps? Photo: Alisha Spielmann)
Our seventh Have Another was a particularly joyous affair, feeling as it did like an echo of the happiness of the Retreat. With our usual photographer Isaiah Tanenbaum unfortunately absent, we turned to the mighty lens of Alisha Spielmann, who also somehow found time to turn in a moving performance as Telly in Erin Browne's Projects.

If you were there, what are your favorite memories of the event?

(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: David Crommett, Matthew Archambault, Marnie Schulenburg, Kari Swenson Riely)
Oh, Wendell of Brian Pracht's play, Wendell Wants. You want so much...money, Sadie, your parents to stop humiliating you at the dinner table...

(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: Matthew Archambault, Marnie Schulenburg)
Happiness isn't always a warm gun. Sometimes, it's a narrow bed and a newfound love.
(Photo: Matthew Archambault, edited by Alisha Spielmann Pictured: Becky Byers, Tiffany Clementi, Alisha Spielmann, Kelly O'Donnell, Matthew Murumba, August Schulenburg, Will Lowry, Carissa Cordes)
I can only hope watching the dinner table scene from Projects by Erin Browne was as much fun as being in the scene. I could sit at the table with those people all night long.

(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: Cotton Wright)
Should Cotton, playing Rene, tell the story of Justin and her honey hand?
(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: Cotton Wright)
Yes, yes she should.
(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: Lightbulb, Rainbow-Neck Deer)
What's that you say? Hankering for the picture of a rainbow-neck deer? Hanker no longer.

(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: Marnie Schulenburg, August Schulenburg)
Sister, brother.

(Photo: Alisha Spielmann. Pictured: Larry Kunofsky, August Schulenburg, Alisha Spielnmann, Matthew Murumba, Christina Shipp, Will Lowry)
We smiled for the camera...and closed the party down.

For pics from past Have Anothers, click here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. And if you were there, share your thoughts in the comments below!
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Have Another #7, the Retreat Harvest

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 2 comments

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Becky Byers, Candice Holdorf)

On Monday, August 15th, Have Another returns, and this time, we're bringing some of our favorites scenes from the Retreat! Come and find out what was going down at the Little Pond Arts Retreat, and share a drink or three with us.

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 the Flux Retreat shared over drinks with friends.

Here's the line-up:
Written by Erin Browne
Featuring and directed by Becky Byers, Tiffany Clementi, Carissa Cordes, Will Lowry, Mathew Murumba, Kelly O'Donnell, August Schulenburg, Alisha Spielmann

Honey Fist
Written by August Schulenburg
Directed by Heather Cohn
Featuring Cotton Wright

Wendell Wants
Written by Brian Pracht
Directed by Brian Pracht
Featuring by Matthew Archambault, David Crommett, Kari Swenson Riely, Marnie Schulenburg

On this coming Monday, 8/15, the doors open at 7PM, with scenes beginning at 7:30PM and running through 9PM, with hanging out to follow.

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 and our Annual Retreat, 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 pop star kidnapping, volatile dinner tables, and love at first Lady Gaga concert. It features Have Another veterans Brian Pracht and Erin Browne, and as many actors from the Retreat as possible.

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Back From The Retreat

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 3 comments

(All photos from August Schulenburg's iPhone)
We're back from our 6th Annual Retreat at the Little Pond Arts Retreat in Nazareth, PA. The Retreat is always an exhausting and exhilarating week, where we fit more theatre into a single day than seems possible and then party late into the night. This retreat was no exception in that regard, but it also had a melancholy, introspective air, full of transitions and change (more on that anon).

Isaiah Tanenbaum's usual amazing photography will be posted shortly; in the interim, these blurry iPhone shots will hopefully capture the spirit of the event.
Attendees: Ryan Andes, Matthew Archambault, Erin Browne, Becky Byers, Tiffany Clementi, Heather Cohn, Carissa Cordes, David Crommett, Ken Glickfeld, Candice Holdorf, Will Lowry, Stephen Conrad Moore, Matthew Murumba, Kelly O'Donnell, Kristen Palmer, Jason Paradine, Brian Pracht, Zack Robidas, Kari Swenson Riely, August Schulenburg, Marnie Schulenburg, Alisha Spielmann, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Jane Taylor, Chinaza Uche, Cotton Wright
(The Members of Flux writing preliminary vision statements)
Monday, Membership Planning: Annual Postmortem, Vision Statement, Membership Structure, Friends of Flux discussions
(The Members of Flux writing preliminary vision statements)
Tuesday: Programming and Strategic Planning discussions during the day; reading of August Schulenburg's Deinde at night.
(A rehearsal for The Hand That Moves. Little Pond really is this beautiful)
Wednesday: Staged readings of August Schulenburg's The Hand That Moves and Erin Browne's Small Pond

(In a true sign of the Retreat, the end of a script is the beginning of a recipe page)
Thursday: Reading of Liz Duffy Adams' Wet, Staged Readings of Erin Browne's Projects and Isaiah Tanenbaum's Viva Fidel

(If you look very closely, you will spot two frogs making some tadpoles)
Friday: Reading of Brian Pracht's Wendell Wants, staged readings of Erin Browne's Some New Fairy Tales and August Schulenburg's Honey Fist

(Oh, just rehearsing on a gorgeous hilltop)
Saturday: Staged readings of Kristen Palmer's Sacrifice and August Schulenburg's Perse

(Kelly made some cool puppets out of whatever was around)
Sunday: Membership discuss more Member matters and the potential next season

(A moment of Zen, as playwright Erin dashes behind a Viva Fidel rehearsal to reach her Projects rehearsal)
Stay tuned for far more beautiful pictures from the steady hand and clear eye of Isaiah, and more details of all the comings and goings. This is but to whet your appetite, and inspire you to share your own favorite moments from the Retreat.
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