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June 07, 2006

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Doug Howe

I absolutely agree and I'm sure those in attendance rose to their feet with applause. And sadly, it won't make a lick of difference. Those who actually give a damn have little power to do anything about it. In this country, it doesn't matter if your heart and soul are in the right place, only if your wallet.

Adam Szymkowicz

Thanks for posting. I linked.

You go Eduardo!

CU

What a narcissistic man. If he really feels that way about Columbia and his students, he should resign. There are other ways to make money. It sounds like, however, he needs to feel the narcissistic gratification of running a program. Like so many pathological narcissists, he glories in his self-image as well as denigrates it. This speech is something Ibsen would truly have marveled at: the master builder with his grand plans and his self-destructive hatred of those very same plans.

It is easy to speak out, to get an audience to rise to their feet. It is harder to live a life where you integrate your thoughts and feelings with your actions. Resign, Eduardo Machado. Make your money some other way.

Dorothy

I find it funny that someone speaking the truth is thought of as narcissistic. Obviously CU, something in his speak is hitting a nerve with you. I wonder what that is, because I bet it's not his narcissicim, but something much deeper.

He is not saying he hates his job or doesn't want it. He is speaking his truth about having to do a job based on capitalism.

I've met the man at the TCG conference in Seattle, and he is far from being a self centered man. He is nothing but open to others warm, attentive and kind.

Malachy Walsh

The speech is right on.

I've waded through the non-profit forms; the repitition is absurd. As a reader at a major NY non-profit, I've read a lot of scripts; the mediocrity is more than abundant. As someone who has gone to a lot of NY and West Coast theatre (something many who work in theatre do not do), I'm amazed at the timid choices Artistic Directors and Producers make everywhere.

We should try to leave behind the standards that the current non-profit/for-profit establishment has created and now imposes. Our acceptance of these standards only serves to reinforce the cultural status of these institurions and their posisiton at the top of the funding food chain.

Find your own space - any space - and start making your own work, on your own terms, your own way.

That's how it all got started in the first place.

Dan

Good speech except for this:

"...in all paranoia there is a solid stream of the truth."

That sounds like a verisimilitude meant to cover for ones own intellectual failings. By this logic, all those nativists -- paranoid about illiterate immoral immigrants breeding the country into lawlessness -- are pissing their own solid stream of truth as well.

That stuck in my craw. Otherwise, a pretty good speech.

CU

"He is not saying he hates his job or doesn't want it. He is speaking his truth about having to do a job based on capitalism."

He is saying that his program -- that he runs -- is corrupt. It should accept 2 students. HE TEACHES IN THIS PROGRAM AND RUNS IT. This means he is teaching 8 students under false pretences -- HE ACCEPTED THEM INTO THE PROGRAM!!!!!!

THERE ARE OTHER F*ING WAYS TO MAKE MONEY THAN LYING TO STUDENTS AND TAKING THEIR MONEY UNDER FALSE PRETENCES. It sounds like Eduardo needs to feel powerful and in control -- that's why he stays in this job. "Capitalism"???? -- give me a break!!!! All of a sudden "capitalism" is an excuse to exploit and lie and then HUMILIATE the students you teach and accept in your program?

isaac

Hey CU,

I think I understand where you're coming from, and obviously Dorothy's point that it hit a major nerve with you is right on, judging by the caps-lock and exclamation points.

Personally, I feel that what Machado is doing with this speech is not sparing himself from a system-wide indictment. he is part of the system and he knows it. He's owning up to his own failings. You can call that brave or slam him for the very failings he's owning up to, but either way it seems that is what he's doing.

His point about Columbia (and by extension, theater grad schools) is not that they're defrauding their students (promising them one kind of education and then giving them another) but rather that they are overadmitting not particularly good writers. I suppose you could say that admitting them is fraud, but that seems a bit of a stretch.

Can I ask (since you're anonymous): Are you a former student of his? Is that where the outrage is coming from?

Is it humiliating to say that someone isn't very good at what they do?

CU

"Touched a nerve" is pejorative -- "passionate" is much more appropriate, I think. And frankly Eduardo's speech is far more inflamatory in spirit and tone than my comment.

Unless Eduardo is telling 80% of his students that they cannot be playwrights, that they are not really talented, then he is unethical. By accepting them into his program he is validating their desire to graduate with a DEGREE IN PLAYWRITING from one of the nation's most prestigious universities. HOW CAN YOU GIVE A MASTERS DEGREE IN PLAYWRITING TO PEOPLE WHO "can't and they are not" playwrights, to quote the master.

Appalling.

Mark

These remarks are important and I linked to them first thing this morning. I'm glad Eduardo said what he did and I think ART/NY was a great place for those remarks to land.

That said, there is a point buried somewhere in CU's diatribe. (FYI, CU, if you cut and paste the same comments into different blogs, it makes people think you're a troll.)

After some thought, I reacted to the same line in the speech that he/she did:

"...ten playwrights graduate every year from my program. How can they all really be playwrights? They can't and they are not...not everyone is talented or exceptional. No matter how much they are willing to pay."

A generous interpretation of "they can't and they are not" would be an economic one--that those students won't make a living as playwrights. But that seems to run counter to his other points. The interpretation I think many would read (I did) is that those writers just aren't very good. And why did he have to go and say that to make his point?

Everything Eduardo says is likely true. But that particular portion (about the students) is not speaking truth to power (as the rest is), unless a person's idea of "power" is recent MFA graduates, many of whom are NOT rich and likely attended Columbia by taking out student loans they will never pay back in their lifetime. I have friends who've graduated from that program and I thought of them as I read that implicit dig. (Even if he's blaming the "system" for it, even if he's RIGHT, it doesn't make the remark sting any less.)

It's a good speech with important lessons for us all. And he is, in fact, right on about the overabundance of training. I just wish he hadn't taken the swipes at his past and present students, as it undercut his point, even if slightly.

Malachy Walsh

I think it should also be said that no matter what grad school program in the arts you're talking about, over-admission is a problem.

Trust me. I've read plenty of scripts from Brown, Yale, UCSD, Brooklyn and elsewhere - they all have their share of clunkers.

Nonetheless, Machado is not saying he doesn't admit people who display no potential. Only that he knows that most will never be the writers they hope to be: ie, playwrights.

But all arts grad schooling is a crapshoot. It's truly nothing more or less than a few years to do what you want. If you're lucky you discover what talent you may or may not have - and move on.

To think getting into a grad school means you're talented, however, is flat out foolish. It's the same kind of foolishness that says something is good simply because Playwrights Horizons or the Public or the Cherry Lane or the Disney Corp produced it.

CU is simply missing the point - and, I suspect, afraid of being one of the 8 Machado is talking about.

isaac

In the interest of continuing building conversaiton, I think it's important not to be dismissive of each other's points. CU, if you felt I was dismissive in my writing "touched a nerve" I apologize. I simply meant that you reacted strongly to it, not in a pejorative, but rather in a descriptive way.

Similarly, classifying Machado as someone who just wants/revels in power is dismissive of the points he is trying to make, and classifying CU as, essentially, coming from a sour grapes perspective is equally dismissive. So perhaps we could cut each other a little slack and see what happens.

To continue, then, with the conversation:
I think in that instance, Mark, he was not speaking to MFA graduates, but rather to the people who administer MFA *programs*. I think what he is talking about is a very real problem, and everyone knows its a very real problem-- there simply aren't enough talented people to fill all of the slots given out in arts programs on either a graduate or undergraduate level. I think what clouds Machado's point is that in his anger he appears to be taking it out on the students themselves. Whether he *is actually doing that* or whether he *meant to do that or not* are both points that I think are up for debate.

I wonder if anyone who was at the ART/NY event might be willing to shed some light on the subject? The tone etc? Was there video taken of the keynote address?

Kyle

I appreciate Malachy's and Mark's comments, but I also kind of agree with CU. Machado should be commended for his honesty, and I'd bet most professors in all disciplines have such thoughts about their admissions process and their classes from time to time. Still, he's an educator, and saying something like that in public when he has to go teach ten students in the fall who might very well have read those sentiments is, if not appalling, at least disconcerting.

I also think some perspective is needed here. For example, does exclusivity automatically produce superior talent? Is some kind of innate genius the only requirement for challenging, dangerous theater? Are these the only kinds of students we should be educating? Should we not train skilled craftsmen who may very well become highly successful at middle-brow escapism? Should we make some kind of pledge to the theater gods that we will only educate writers who swear on a stack of Beckett texts to write nothing but challenging and dangerous plays?

Okay, I'm getting a little silly, but further, is there only one desirable goal to getting an education? Did those MFA playwrights who are now great dramaturgs or great TV writers or great secretaries waste their time? And how would this kind of exclusivity treat those struggling unheard voices who are trying to break through all of the barriers he is talking about. Machado's argument is passionate as well, and he makes some great points, but it seems to me that he should've thought that passage through a little before sharing it.

Col

I took a class at the Flea with Machado and VERY much enjoyed it. I am an actor who was trying to get my head around playwriting (and still am) and I found it meaningful and I found him generous and -- and I think this is a rarity among playwriting teachers -- he took the writers and their work at face value (at least in class) and gave them feedback based on the plays they were writing, not the plays he wanted to see or that he wanted them to be.

I don't see anything shitty or counterintuitive about trying to help playwrights get better, and also knowing that few of them are going to be really great. I mean, look at even the top-notch grad schools. I used to go out with a playrwight who taught playwriting to undergrads and grads at NYU and he said he looked at it this way: that he was a good writer and teacher, that using his expertise and talent did help them, even if only a handful would become great; and that the kinds of skills entailed in the craft of playwriting are eminently transferable to plenty of other areas of life should people decide that they couldn't hack it.

Who says that the teachers should be selecting those good enough to follow their dreams? life will sort it out anyway. It's true, the rich receive a positive bias in terms of opportunity though, especially in those MFA programs.

A lot of people want to be artists, a lot are good and struggle very hard, and a lot are bad and struggle very hard, and there are unfair advantages. And every now and then someone surprises everybody, and a lot of the time, the people who were always extremely gifted do just rise to the top.

I don't think we live in a kind of culture that discourages people from pursuing their dreams.

My 2 cents, 'yall --

George Hunka

There's something very dispiriting about Machado's remarks, I think, both on the political climate and on the academicization of the arts. In many ways, there's very little news here, heated and exhortative rhetoric aside. New York theater in many ways is already radically leftist, especially below 14th Street; the Theatre for the New City regularly offers free and low-cost performances of radical work (and by the way also maintains an excellent political bookstore in its lobby; check it out next time you're on First Avenue). It's no brave act to be against racism or xenophobia, or to rail against racist or xenophobic governments. Not in a convention of arts professionals, anyway.

What kind of theater does Machado believe is not being done? "It's getting ugly out there. Let's show it as much as we can on our stages. ... And I beg you let us stop being afraid of the audience. They are supposed to be afraid of us." Interesting words that will rub many people the wrong way. But I begin to fear that he is yelling for yet more anti-Bush, anti-Republican theater. Which is important, and which must be done. But in what sense is this radicalism not enough?

I'm going to suggest here something radical indeed: that our political situation may not have a political solution. Kicking Bush out of office and replacing him with Hilary Clinton [or insert the Democratic candidate of your choice here], like turning the House back to the Dems in November, is not going to eradicate the conditions that led to Bush's election in 2000 and 2004 in the first place. I begin to fear that the problem lies in all of us, not merely those whom we protest against.

A production of "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" might have opened debate, but would it have been a radical act? Doubtful (and all the more reason its postponement was ridiculous). And so far as the professionalization of the art goes, well, MFA programs aren't there to provide instruction, they're there, largely, to provide a network of influence and entry into the institutional system. (Not to say there aren't very good teachers in it, but it's not their fault.)

So long live Machado, fine. But I think there's more noise here than content.

Lucas Krech

Brilliant article Isaac. Thanks for posting.

Malachy Walsh

Isaac, you asked about a video from the event where the speech was given. This isn't quite the same thing, but it does touch on most of the issues Machado brings up.

It's an American Theatre Wing panel including Machado, James Nicola, Lorreta Greco, Neil Pepe, Tisa Chang and Virginia Louloudes (ART/NY).

It's a nice portrait of current small and mid-sized non-profit NY theatre from a creative management perspective.

It's about an hour and half long and you need Reel Player to see it. And a fast connection, obviously.

Machado's take on plays and ideas - about an hour into it - are also very interesting.

The first link takes you directly the video. The second (if the first fails) takes you to the main page of the site where the video lives: search for it from there.

You can also go to yahoo, put "Eduardo Machado" in the search engine and look for video. It's the only link that will come up.

http://video.yahoo.com/video/play?p=Eduardo+Machado&sm=Yahoo%21+Search&toggle=1&cop=&ei=UTF-8&b=0&oid=77c1e8a0e0476397&rurl=mysite.verizon.net&vdone=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%2Fvideo%3Fp%3DEduardo%2BMachado%26sm%3DYahoo%2521%2BSearch%26toggle%3D1%26cop%3D%26ei%3DUTF-8&vback=Results

OR

http://mysite.verizon.net/vze1k115/id23.html

Adam Szymkowicz

I was a CU student of Eduardos and there were six of us per class when I was there. At the interview to get in, Eduardo stressed that it would be a very expensive program. It was almost as if he was trying to talk me out of going there.

If I had to choose again I would in an instant without a doubt go to the CU program even though I have to work too much 9 to 5 now to try to pay off these loans. I got a lot out of that program besides just the letters MFA.

I do think that him saying that he let too many people in to his program might make the program look bad which is unfortunate because no one, especially not current students want to hear that. But it's not exactly a secret. There are a lot of programs out there churning out playwrights. A LOT. and not all of these people are good even int he best of the best programs, and and the lit managers and producers already know this. And all thse "trained" playwrights are not going to remain playwrights either because it's a really hard life with rewards that are always just beyond our grasp.

But I want them to all be good, this surge of new playwrights. How great it would be for theatre if they were all good and they were all doing their work and putting it out there? More theatres would rise up to produce the bounty of good work. It would be a renaissance and I hope that's where we're heading. Although a bit more support from the NEA wouldn't hurt.

Col

Well, isn't a bizarre condition of supporting or nurturing emerging playwrights sort of like, "promising until successful, and then, promising until successful again, i.e. having a produceable play that is well-reviewed and popular.

Col

Sorry, that was a cracked-out post. I'm in a food coma, pkease forgive me. There was supposed to be quote marks after the word "again" and a question mark at the end of my post. *Ahem.*

Dorothy

I agree with Isaac that it would be cool if CU could stay in the conversation and if we could dialogue ( which is the point here) without making things personal.

I think it takes courage for someone with a job like Marchado has to be honest about it and who has a job where they have complete control and do what they want to do ? !! very few people. I suspect, even he, is under pressure from the university itself to accept more students.
He does it because it's that or his job and while , yes , we must have integrity in our jobs, I think he does his job well from what I've heard. But also he is being honest about what kind of pressure he is under and what schools are like these days.
Its an important issue. The one of putting out artists like a product and to have more and more of them when the market for theatre isn't growing at all. That's what I mean by capitalism. That he isn't just the one who decides and he, like everyone else, has to live and i am sure he values his students, but heis just being honest about the challenges and the state of things I think.

Shawn

Some thoughts.

Machado seems to imply that it's his job to make playwrights as if there was some test one could pass. You write a play, you're a playwright. Does it matter whether or not you're "good"? Judging by how he was valued in his day, Van Gogh sucks. I think Machado's job is to help his students along on their journey. If he can't see the value in that, then he should probably give up teaching.

Along the same lines, Machado implies that there is "good" theatre out there that's not being achieved. I'm guessing that the people who are making the "safe" theatre he dislikes are making the best art they know how.

Should NYTW have produced Rachel Corrie? That's really their choice. A choice they may regret, I have no idea. "Should" is akin to "good".

I have an MFA in playwriting from Yale. I guess that's why my plays aren't getting produced more.

MFA programs do seem to be a place to network and make connections. Unfortunately, I went to learn.

I was accepted at NYU. I was told that they accepted 20 students a year. 5 students were the ones they wanted, and those 5 received financial assistance. The other 15 were there to pay for the 5. I did not go to NYU.

The main reason I didn't go to NYU is that they did not guarantee productions of your work. Yale did. That was probably the greatest thing about the program. Granted, I've established that I missed out on the networking thing.

I take Machado's speech as an expression of anger and frustration. He wants to argue, he needs to argue, so he's going to say some provocative things. Do the specifics really matter? I don't know. All I know is that tomorrow I'm going to do some more writing and the next day, too. When I feel the play is ready, I'll send it around. If it gets uniformly rejected, maybe I'll gather some friends and do a production in my living room. Then I'll start the next play. Who knows, maybe my work will be more successful when I'm dead. If that happens and if he's still alive, maybe Machado will quote me in his next diatribe.

George Hunka

I suppose you can learn to write plays, and that writing plays can be taught. But writing your own plays, plays that haven't been written before, plays that speak for you and not for the forms or ideas you've picked up via osmosis, is a much more difficult project and can only be pursued in solitude.

Fortunately one doesn't need labs or seminar tables (or large checks to graduate arts divisions) for this: one only needs to read, to think, to write. It might be better if, instead of attending classes and preparing exercises, a young playwright spent that time in the stacks of the Lincoln Center performing arts library: it's free, and you can even take the books home with you so long as you bring them back when you're done with them. No tuition, no expensive textbooks. If it weren't true that even successful working playwrights like Machado still need paying jobs, and that the best teachers continue to inspire and open perceptual doors for their students, I would say that we should shut down all the MFA playwriting programs: just close them up. Let this sort of training take place in places like the Flea's Pataphysics playwriting workshops. It would save budding playwrights a lot of money, it would deacademicize drama, it would level the playing field for whose who don't attend these programs. It would open the network.

Shawn

I agree with George, if places like the Flea's Pataphysics offer productions. One has to have productions to learn to be a playwright.

Which leads me to alter something in my previous post. I wrote, "You write a play, you're a playwright." I should have written, "You have a play produced, you're a playwright."

Which leads me to agreeing with Machado. A playwright, an artist, needs an environment in which it's safe to fail.

However, it seems to me that that environment is not viable in today's society. At least not in NYC. Unless, of course, one is willing to pay for it. However, if one does, then the project is dismissed as a vanity production.

Malachy Walsh

If I undersatnd what Petaphysics is - a writing workshop - I'm not sure that's really an answer to the MFA problems being discussed since the difference between that and an MFA program is a difference (seems to me) of degree. You pay for it; it's structured; it has a "teacher" and "students"; the people who go into it expect to be better for it; some may even expect that they will meet someone who can help them; many certainly plan to put it on their resume as a credential connoting talent.

Less costly than an MFA program, but the similarities are obvious - and the similarities are the troublesome things.

As perhaps a better answer, I like collectives like 13P a little more. And whether or not I like what they present, I wish more writers recognized and embraced the power of self-production the way they have. They are doing something about their situation. That is good.

But, also, not exactly an earthshatteringly new idea.

I'd say, as someone who did the MFA thing, that many of the writers in my class, all talented in different ways, thought it was someone else's job to produce their plays. Some even thought it was the job of the program to rewrite their work (don't know how many times I heard: I wish he'd tell me what to cut and what to put in it) as well as find productions for their plays.

These people left the program disappointed.

Machado lets 10 people in because that's the quota. His job is to do what he can to help those people write better plays. He's decided that one of those ways is to say to those 10, only a couple of you have what it takes to become a real playwright.

If that discourages someone from trying any further, that person would be one of the 10 that doesn't have what it takes.

Welcome to the real world.

Don't be surprised that having money helps, getting lucky is good, talent alone isn't enough and that it's hard work no matter what.

If we don't like it, then we should DO something about it.

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