Okay, I realize I have like the worst blogroll in the theatre blogosphere. This has been brough to my attention several times by a few people. I apologize. Typepad is not Mac-friendly, and updating these side bars is a real pain in the tuchis. But I promise that when volume of smoke closes I will scrap the entire thing and start over. Once that's done, if you would like your site added to it, please just drop me a line.
In college, we were taught that actors were the "most vulnerable" members of the creative team. By which I think what they really meant was Exposed. This is because they're out there on stage, sweating it out. It's their job to create the link with the audience. The audience evaluates them first, everything else second. They make or break the play. Also, they routinely have to use uncomfortable bits of themselves (bad memories, for example, or emotional self-manipulation or hell just difficult physicality) to accomplish this.
I'm not sure this is true anymore.... if it ever was.
Lately what I've noticed is that it is in fact writers who are the most exposed members of the creative team. Most reviews these days spend most of their word-count critiquing the script, with a few thoughts for the production (usually one sentence for each department something like blah blah briskly directed by blah blah aided with a cast of seven whose highlights are blah blah evocative set blah sculptural lighting blah detailed costumes blahe). When I was growing up in DC, we had a reviewer for the Washinton Post who was of this school of thought. She was also (if memory serves) a former dramaturg. People hated her. She wrote a negative review of Romeo and Juliet based largely on the fact that it wasn't a very good Shakespeare script.
Anyway, I don't know how it happened, but somehow this focus on the script (and the hype surrounding the writer) has trickled down to audiences. When I see a show and talk to people afterwards, it's the script that gets critiqued first. When I receive feedback on my work, it's the text that people talk about above all else, and it's the text they return to. Now, this might be because i'm attracted to writers with a fairly distinctive voice, and it good be that my friends don't really want to tell me what they thought of my directing, but I don't think that's the only thing.
I bring this up because I think we actually have less of an understanding of how what we're watching breaks down into its component parts than we thought. A recent example. When King Hedley II opened on Broadway, it was switfly considered August Wilson's Worst Play. Now that it is reopening at The Signature and getting some good reviews, people are swift to condemn the earlier production of the play (which deserves it, in my opinion). What's lost in all of this is that the earlier production was bad enough that it convinced them that the script was objectively bad as well.
Or, as Andre Bishop put it when speaking to the Directors Lab... no one has any idea what you guys do. they think if the actors speak fast and the set changes are pretty you've done a good job.
I can't but think that overall this is a bad thing. If I were a writer, I'm not sure I would want to have to carry the weight of everyone's decisions on the shoulders of my words.
But the creepiest seach engine term that got someone to this blog today was... WHERE CAN I SEE THE RAPE SCENE FROM THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2
um, seriously, dude? ew. okay? just... ew.
What is it about Genre that is so satisfying? I realized this while watching South Park... so much of their comedic success is built around their abosolute recognition and deployment of genre tropes. They're really good at using those conventions to create comedy. Part of what draws me to Jonathan Lethem's work is the way he appropriates multiple genres at once and reconfigures them, the noir, the bildungsroman (sp?), the romantic comedy etc.
I don't understand why I find it so satisfying. But I totally do.
Okay, so most grant/program applications for directors have two main essay components. The first is something along the lines of answer this question in a way that quantifies you as a director the second is talk about a production of a play in a way that tells us something about you as a director.
The version of the first question in this case is for me to describe my "dreams and desires" for working as an artist in the theatre. The version of the second question is about describing the process of directing a specific show in my past. I have one page (single spaced, 12 pt. font) for each.
I'm finding this extremely difficult. Last night, I figured out why (At least for #1). The issue with this (or any other application I've done, including the Soho Rep Writer-Director Lab, The Drama League, The Lincoln Center Director's Lab and now the Princess Grace Awards) is that I find myself sometimes hard to quantify or put into a niche. It's not like I want to be (for example) the World's Foremost Director of Classical Texts or something like that, or the Go-To Guy For New Plays, even.
This is because as a director, issues of approach and process are what matter. I don't want to only direct new plays or classics or postmodern takes on whatnot because what inspires me is the approach to the material and then the process of realizing that approach.
I guess my dream and desire is sort-of to be Les Waters (whom I've assisted and whom, flatteringly enough, Jaime compared me to once). Someone who creates distinctive takes on plays, has some impact on the broader culture of theatre making (in his case as former head of UCSD's directing program and now as the associate artistic director of Berkeley Rep) and works on a broad variety of material.
The problem is, I'm not sure that's a very sexy answer to the question. And it's also not the answer I've written in my first few drafts. Which is also true, as far as answers go.
Part of the struggle is... what does "Dreams and desires" mean? Does it mean career aspirations? Does it mean something else?
UPDATE just spoke to the person from the foundation... apparently, what they're looking for is more about aesthetics and less about career...what they want is some description of what kind of work I want to make, how I plan on going about creating that work and what I'm currently doing to realize those goals. That's good, actually, because that means my earlier draft of the essay is more in the right direction than I thought.
... more Battlestar Blogging!
(SUPER DUPER SPOILERS AHEAD)
Okay, my verdict is... some cool ideas, some really terrible execution. Too much plot crammed into 45 minutes. The Lee on the stand section was a good speech, but an embarassingly cheesy dramatic moment. The All Along The Watchtower moment was truly terrible.
But some good stuff. I like that they showed us that many of the Final Five (did they show us four or five of them? discuss...) and I like the twist with Cara Thrace, even if I saw it coming. The one thing I think they have to really seriously consider is why they (meaning the writers) decided to make the three leaders of the New Caprica resistence into three of the final five.
Oh, and guys... just because a character says "we're cylons and we always have been" doesn't cover up the fact that you clearly thought this one up in the midst of a story idea-slam like eight to twelve months ago.
So... yeah... it's been a lot of bad writing in the second half of this season. Almost like they had a killer A-side and then moved a bunch of filler song to the B-side of their record. But still, some interesting ideas in play. I'll certainly be watching come September.
1 I thoroughly enjoyed quite a bit of the panel last night, and it was nice to meet Cara Joy David and some other bloggers who came to the thing, as well as audience members. A surprising number of those in attendence didn't read blogs which led me to think... why were they there?
2 We rag on the Times a lot, us bloggers, and one point that I sort of tried to make via asking Mr. Playgoer a question that I'd like to hit on here is this... the problem with The Times is it's somewhat monolithic nature. It's not that the Times coverage is bad or that their reviewers are bad or whatever, it's that they have quite a bit of power and there's no real alternative to what they're doing. TONY doesn't have enough space to cover a lot of stuff, the Voice has recently been gutted etc. The online community *might* eventually be that alternative. I would love to have something like in London where (as far as I know) there are four roughly-equally-powerful theatre covering newspapers. That'd be good.
3 Ann Althouse is a nutjob. I actually couldn't watch the clip all the way to the end. But, dear Ms. Althouse... first you gin up a nothing controversy in an attempt to use a blogger's body to discredit her, then you claim to be the true feminist between the two of you, and now even bringing it up in public is character assasination?
4 Follow up question... why the hell would anyone ever go on Bloggingheads? It's boring and founded by Mickey Kaus, America's Worst Blogger.
5 Most interesting part of the panel for me: when David was talking about producers being fed up at the Times' ad rates. Has anyone else heard about this?
6 Something to rememebr when discussing the business of show is that ad companies like L. Ron Murphy or SpotCo or TMG or whatever make commissions on ad sales. So if they book an ad and it costs $10,000, they will make an additional 12% commission, thus driving the price up to $11,200. Next time Broadway producers say that Unions are driving prices up, it might be good to remind them that they are being routinely price gouged by their marketing companies.
7 Just once I'd love someone from the Times to sit on one of these panels. Not because I want to fight them, but rather I think we talk about the Times like it's some Space Colony or something. I think there could be something constructive to come out of (say) Campbell Robertson or (gulp) Charles Isherwood sitting on it.
8 I got offered a potential writing gig in the lobby after the panel. If it pans out I'll tell you guys.
9 Jaime asked me to link to her again. Always happy to oblige, especially when she's talking about me.
10 New Play Development came up in the lobby, but not the panel. I'm going to say the thing in public I've been holding back: There are really two kinds of NPD programs. The first are NPD programs where you can be pretty sure that said NPD is actually irrelevant to the theatre that houses it. Playwrights Horizons commissions lots of plays and (so I'm told, anyway) makes it quite clear that they're just paying you to write a play and that they have little intention of producing it. MCC's lit dept. is (so I'm told) almost completely independent from the rest of the theatre. The Soho Rep Writer Director Lab is (as far as I can tell) only somewhat woven in with the rest of the theatre, and even then only recently. These programs provide fairly no-strings-attached opportunities for writers to write plays. The goal is simply to write a play. These are what I would deem pretty good-to-good. Then there's NPD programs where a theater says "we want to do this play" and then they workshop it and do readings of it forever and give a lot of notes to the writer in order to "make the play better". What they really mean is "make it more like what we want it to be like" because ultimately what they're trying to do is take said play and make it serve the institutional interest. I've been told about this happening at many midsize regional theatres and most notably in NYC ta New York Theatre Workshop. I would call this "bad" NPD. So in a weird way, you're best hope as a writer is that a theatre will provide you with some sort of opportunity to write a play and then give it back to you to find production elsewhere, like Anne Washburn's The Internationalist (developed at Soho Rep produced by 13P), Rinne Groff's Ruby Sunrise (developed at Playwright's Horizons, produced at The Public) and Jordan Harrison's new play (developed at MCC, produced by Playwright's Horizons next season, if memory serves).
10A Similarly, there are two kinds of dramaturgs, ones who serve the play they're working on, and ones who serve the institution they work for. Thin line between the two. But it's the institution we should be railing against, not our fellow theatre professionals.
11 And yes, New Play Development is the only thing bloggers will talk about if you get more than three of them in a room and give them free booze.
Hopefully a good time was had by all at the panel for SPF last night. I want to post some thoughts based on things that were said, but in the meantime, let me just say thanks to SPF and David Cote for inviting me, and to the other participants and audience members who were so much fun to talk with.
I am guest teaching two high school classes today and finishing up a major grant application, so posting may be light. Check in later this afternoon!
So... want to know what my peers are saying about volume of smoke?
MattJ calls it "a really great night at the theatre" here. Rob Kendt and Jaime G have quite nice things to say about the production but are less enthusiastic about the script. Aaron Riccio writes the longest and most positive review of the show so far here. It even comes with a beautiful picture taken by wonderboy photographer Aaron Epstein! Update: James comtois gives his thumbs up here. Update II Dan Trujillo likes it enough that he's sending his wife to see it.
Hopefully more of the blogosphere will have their say (positive and negative) over the next few days, as I know a few other bloggers who've made it so far who haven't written about it.
And you, dear reader... I'd love to know your thoughts (good, bad, indifferent) on the show. Feel free to post a comment here on this post, or e-mail me at parabasisnyc at yahoo.com
Please don't talk to be about the Battlestar Galactica season finale. I missed it. I will be buying it from iTUNES and watching it tonight. We can talk about it tomorrow.
PS: Also, dear world, please come see me talk on a panel this evening about blogging and theatre as part of SPF's salon series. The panel will feature David Cote and George Hunka and Cara Joy David and will be from 7:30-9:00PM tonight at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row.
Who knew that all of the Democratic candidates for President support some form of universal health care? That's pretty great. Of course, it's clear that there's differing degrees of seriousness on the issue, and different qualities of proposals (and, in Obama's case, no real proposal at all, just a promise of a proposal). So that's pretty cool. The Democratic party is now the party of Health Care for all, a major step towards making our society freer (in that your life choices will no longer be determined by health insurance) and fairer (in that we might actually bother to take care of people with less money or less traditional employment arrangements).
And of course, John Edwards is kicking serious ass on this issue. He has a concrete proposal that is the best of the ones currently out there, and he is willing to admit a need to raise taxes to get to it. He is linking it to honesty from himself as a candidate etc. and so forth. Clinton's statements on the issue are a little vauge. I mean, I don't blame her for not wanting to be associated with wanting Universal Health Care given her history with the issue, but I think it's clear from her statements that it's a backburner issue for her. Which begs the quesiton... what are the most important issues for her? Obama is of course vague an inspirational. Once he starts getting concrete about some shit, we can see if he's worth supporting or not. Bill Richardson's plan seems to be to preserve the economic unfairness of our current health care system... letting people buy into Congress' health plan is meaningless if there aren't either subsidies or price controls.
Let me also say that i don't think incrementalist/gradual/compromise type positions on Universal Health Care are a good idea. What they pretty much guarantee (in my mind anyway) is that we'll get stuck in one of the compromise steps while the issues runs out of political capital and we'll wind up with a really shitty underfunded system like England (thanks, Maragaret) that can be used to justify continuing to not make progress on the issue.