As extremely conflicted about this. (and might I add I find the Times' own response to it snobby and reactionary even if I'm not sure what I make of all of it)
The long-form version of this post just isn't coming to me, and part of it is because i'm not sure of the idea itself, but this occured to me on the train back to NYC, and I thought it might be nice to throw it out there for discussion:
Isn't it a bit facile and self-serving for artists to argue that movies, video games, violent TV etc. shouldn't be a part of the conversation about things like the VT shooting? I mean, we argue about art having Real Power or a Real Effect on people or how we want to really touch and engage our audience... but we only seem willing to admit that power when it makes us look good. I would venture a guess that most people who've played GTA 3 and then gone out for a drive have noticed that you kind of feel densensitized to the idea of running people over (or at least, many people I've talked to have shared this reaction which I myself have).
I mean, look... the effort to explain the unexplainable tragedy is of course really just an effort to gain some kind of control over it, to bottle up the disaster by putting it into more comfortable forms. And I by no means think that regulating content is a good idea. And I also understand how violent content in movies and video games can become a scapegoat to keep us from looking at the fact that we live in a really seriously violent fucking culture that is busy creating enormous amounts of violence all over the world and that there are other social issues that go into things like the VT shootings that should be examined.
So I understand the desire not to talk about it, but we can't have it both ways. Either our work has an impact (and that impact is not always controllable by us) or it doesn't.
I just wanted to say really quick that i was perhaps too hasty in answering this question from Mike:
Q: Are there any general things about your work that you hope the reviewer picks up on?
A: I hope my work changes enough project to project that there wouldn’t be a consistent thing beyond what’s going to go into my answer to your next question…
In that there is one thing I've begun consistently thinking about which is the idea of creating the environment for the play and I would hope that people key into that in some sort of way. We worked hard as a team to really transform the audience's experience of the 14th st. Y space. So they came in from this very institutional YMHA space and we wanted it to feel like once they crossed the threshold into the theater they were in a different world entirely.
A lot of what i do as a director is increasingly about creating environments. Rehearsal is about creating the right environment for the collaborators (the actors, the writer, myself) to be creative etc. I hope my work does that for the audience as well... creates the right environment for them to approach the play and get inside of it.
Having sat through a few EPAs in my day, and now a mega-cattle-call over the weekend at VCU, I would like to post a few tips for anyone doing a Cattle Call. The kids at VCU worked really hard, and many gave really great auditions. And there were people called back (and even cast, I think) who broke at least some of the tips listed below. I just feel like there's some really basic things that if people knew them it would make their lives (and ours) a lot easier. Auditioning is really hard for everyone involved, so I offer these little tips to make things easier:
(1) Avoid the subject of rape, or monologues that overtly sexualize violence, or performances of monologues that make violence sexual. Roughly 60% of the women did monologues with sexual assault as a subject matter. Roughly 40% of the men did monologues with sexualized violence as the subject matter. It's a bad choice for a number of reasons. The first is explained as point #2, the other is simply that... well... the subject matter is really upsetting and vile, and presented without context like in an audition monologue, my gut reaction is going to be to reject it which means that listening and taking you in as an actor is that much harder.
(2) Don't do a monologue whose stakes and emotionality you can't achieve in under a minute. EPA monologues are two minutes long. The VCU cattle call monologues were one minute long. That's not enough time to suddenly be grieving your dead father or talking about the time that you almost got raped. This will necessitate you forcing, and we can tell when you're forcing.
(3) Don't make a choice in a monologue that goes against the play the monologue is in This is a tricky one, but if you choose a monologue from a play, there's a chance that the auditioner has read (or even directed!) the play. You don't want to make a choice that makes for a really cool monologue performance but is counter to what is going on in the show. How to avoid this? Read the play!
(4) Avoid a lot of cursing, but not for the reason you thnink. At the League auditions in DC they always say avoid monologues with a lot of profanity. I thought it was because they were really conservative. But it's not that. Swearing is easy. It's easy to perform curse words (not to mention a lot of fucking fun!) Becuase it's easy, we on the other end of the table aren't sure if you're really acting or not.
(5) Subtext is good. I think the desire to impress auditioners leads frequently to a complete abandonment of subtext in audition monologues. Everythings put on the line, the proverbial heart on the sleeve. The actors who audtioned and gave it their all, while also clearly working on some sort of subtextual underpinning of their monologues were the most impressive to me. It's tricky... you want to see someone really go for something, yet also hide something and hold a little back at the same time. Hard to describe. But I'm just saying, working on what's going on underneathe the monologue is still really important.
(6) It's okay to be funny and/or entertaining. Comedy is difficult to pull off. Comedy rooted deeply in character is even harder. It's okay to go for that instead of talking about how you wanted to slit that bitches throat.
(7) Don't do a movie monologue. Duh. The one exception to this was someone who did a monologue from a cult classic comedy from a few years ago. We all collectively admired the balls of that particular choice. But that's an exception that proves the rule. Movies are written in a different vocabulary and for a different purpose than plays. They're meant to be performed completely differently, and that tension shows no matter what your performance is like.
Any other tips, readers?
But Andrew Sullivan wins my Dumbest Sentence of the Day prize:
We live in a male-loathing therapeutic culture.
I will also add that if you read the rest of the post, the sequential sentences have little to do with each other.
The world changes. My favorite coffee house in Richmond, VA will close in two days.
The world stays the same. It is becoming the second outpost of a different (apparently more successful) independant coffee house. Supposedly, they're keeping my favorite drink-- the Thai Coffee... which is basically a Red Eye (which is basically a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso in it) and sweetened condensed milk.
I need the pick me up. I got up at 5:45 this morning for a 7:15 train down here.
When I showed up in Richmond, I realized how unbelievably chatty I was... I talked to some random person from the train who was reading the book I finished this morning, eyes misting up on the subway. That's a beautiful book I said it's like a great Hollywood weepie or something. We talked about her moving in with her boyfriend, which she's never done before and she wanted to know if I had any tips, since I live with my girlfriend. Then she asked me my name, and we realized we knew each other not one bit. I went to get a cab.
I got to the coffeehouse and immediately interrogated the barrista about the place's imminent closure/torch passing. Lengthy conversation ensued, she looking at me like why are you asking me these questions, weirdo?
I think sitting on that train from Richmond, sans computer, reading through a couple of books and re-reading volume of smoke this time to tabulate every image that appears in the play (more on that later) was more isolating an experience than I normally am accustomed to. For even at home on my computer, or at a temp job, I'm emailing people, in constant communication. Here, nothing but me, my iPOD, my books, my script, my notebook, a woman asleep, leaning against the headrest of my seat so that I dare not recline it, for fear of waking her.
Tonight, I will watch tens (if not well over a hundred, I don't know) acting students audition via a monologue cattle call for four hours. I think I'll have had my fill of socialization by then.
Books FInished Today The History of Love, The Professor's Daughter, Fun Home
Pepper-Rubbed Grilled Chicken with Pear Relish Sandwich. (note: there's no oil in this sandwich, and very very little fat. Awesome)
1: The Chicken
-- Mix together in a bowl 1 tablespoon of Paprika, one teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a half teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano and salt and any other secret incredients you'd like to add (Old Bay, perhaps?).
-- Rub it all over some chicken breast, preferably those chicken cutlet things they sell at the grocery store (if it's not a cutlet, pound it into one by placing two large sheets of saran wrap on either side of the chicken and then putting the cutting board on top of the chicken and then hitting the cutting board like you really hate the chicken until the chicken is flat-ish. Alternatively, you can make a delicate incision down the middle of the chicken breast and butterfly it open.)
-- Grill the butterfly/cutlet/poorsmashedpoultry until it is cooked. This should not take very long. I would recommend using a grill pan. What, no grill pan? Fine, pan blacken the thing instead with a very hot pan and just a little bit of vegetable oil. Olive oil has too low a smoking point.
2: The Pear Relish
Combine the following in a bowl:
1 pear chopped into little bitty pieces
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped yellow bell pepper
2 cups of apple juice
1 tsp of secret ingredient... garlic? ginger? be my guest. I'd recommend minced ginger.
Boil that sucker over medium-high heat until all of the liquid is almost absorbed and the pear bits and very soft. Refrigerate until you're ready to make the sandwich. Come to think of it, you should probably have done this before the chicken. Whoops.
Onto your bread place the following:
(2) Pear Relish
(3) some amount of arugula (trust me on this one, it's a totally different kind of pepperiness that interacts beautifully with the chicken and the pear relish, the sweetness of which will damped the capcaicin-fueled delicious agony of all of that cayenne pepper)
Away for the weekend at auditions. See you Monday.
New reader Maureen Towey dropped me a line asking her to check out her site, a document of her experience directing plays in South Africa on a Fulbright. It's definitely worth checking out. She has both photo galleries and a written record of her experience there.
Give it a read, let us know what you think back over here.
And if there's anything else you think I should be reading, please drop me a line at parabasisnyc atsign yahoo dot com. (sorry to abstract the address a little, but I'm trying to stop the spam overrun).
So... I've been pretty critical of and maybe kind of a dick to ye olde playgoer over the past week or so, so I think it's important to highlight posts like this one, which remind me of why Playgoer is still one of the best. Check it out.
Part II of the interview is up here. I want to correct something that I completely misstated in rather hilarious ways that i'm sure will be read as like my true thinking or whatever but isn't. This sentence from me:
Also… just to be clear: it’s that I want the focus that’s going to writers to be going to directors (or more specificaly, me).
Also… just to be clear: it’s NOT that I want the focus that’s going to writers to be going to directors (or more specificaly, me).
For some reason I mistyped it and, like a fool didn't look over what i was writing before sending it. I don't want more attention paid to me specifically in reviews. (also, I would argue that the syntax of the paragraph makes no sense without the NOT in there... it looks like I'm defending myself from... nothing)
It strikes me that one key difference between reading (most) novels and reading (most) plays is that in (most) plays, the reader has far less information at their disposal than in (most) novels.
Take, for example, No Man's Land by Harold Pinter which I was absentmindedly leafing through at some point. At the begging, the stage directions call for "a room" and then loosely describe what two people are wearing. Oh, also, one of them is pouring a drink at a counter.
We know nothing about this room, except it has a counter and alcohol and two men in it. We know nothing about the men aside from what they are wearing. And then they say a few lines about whether or not one of them wants alcohol straight up. In a production of this play, the audience member will be helped along by all of the choices the creative team has made about the room and about the story of these characters and how that story that will inflect the way they talk about the alcohol they are about to drink.
The reason why I say (most) when talking about this is that there was for a brief period of time a school of playwrighting that was about writing plays that were as novelistic as possible. Shaw and O'Neill are great examples of this. A character walks on stage and we get to know everything about them in italics before they say a word and, if it's O'Neill writing it, exactly how those words should be said. There are still some writers who work in this tradition-- This is Our Youth is written that way and I'm told John Sayles writes whole short stories about the characters that he gives to actors on his films. And of course there is also the school of novel writing that has to do with paring down what information is given so that it becomes much more play-like in how much information has to be filled in. In general, though, stage directions (those written by the playwright anyway) are there to inform us of what we need to know which for a play can be dramatically (ha!) less than in a novel.
I think this effects the way I read plays, in that I find it impossible to understand the first page until the play is done. Perhaps this means that I should read all plays twice through in one sitting or something, once to get a sense of the thing, and once more to actually understand it.
UPDATED to fix a spelling mistake on Rebecca Brooksher's name. I knew a Rebecca BrookHEISER once growing up and somehow it must've gotten confused in my fingers typing the response. Thanks to MattJ and Moxie for correcting me.
I was quite taken with Dying City which I saw a dreaded-Wednesday-Matinee of. There was a bloggers night for the show many moons ago which I couldn't attend because of volume of smoke. I think if you read Mark Armstrong's reaction to the show (which is what I link to earlier) you'll get a pretty good understanding about both the play and what I found appealing about it. I wasn't in quite the same die-hard camp as Mark, but I really really liked it, I think it's quite good and worth checking out.
One of the interestingest things about the show is how it's not-quite-naturalism. It's quite stylized, with two very-meta conceits (one in its set, one in its script) and not-quite-realistic acting. Sort of like many of Pinter's full lengths. The play eschews genre in a lot of ways, which I quite liked. I felt like the creative team really worked hard to figure out what the playing style of the play was going to be. It took me a few minutes to get used to this new thing being presented to me, but once I did I was very into the play.
In those early minutes, I think it's pretty easy to lose people, and I wonder if those who weren't into the show (and especially Rebecca Brooksher's performance) were turned off fairly early on as a result.
But for me, staying with it had a lot of rewards. The way Shinn and the company find ways to constantly play around with the central concept of having one actor play identical twin brothers in different moments in time was envigorating. The unanswered questions at the center of the play (and there are a lot of them) gave me a lot of food for thought. The way the characters gradually become less and less likeable rather than more and more was an interesting emotional reality to track. and on and on...
SO if you get a chance over the next few days, I'd really recommend you check it out.
(oh, and in interests of full disclosure, I met Chris when he came to see In Public and he and I correspond every once in awhile and I think he's a great guy)
Laura Bush can go straight to hell without passing go or collecting $200 for all I fucking care. The preposterousness of these people with their extreme priviledge making themselves out to be victims is inhumane and disgusting, not to mention narcissistic in the extreme. The fact that members of my family voted for these selfish deluded crusading nutjobs makes me despair. The fact that my own worst fears about what we were electing in 2000 have come true makes me want to rend my garments.
Oh, at h/t Atrios.
My quasi-Orthodox younger brother who is a library science masters student at Simmons in Boston went to go see Invincible Summer. I asked him to write a response to the show so I could post it on the blog. So... here you go... from Lee The Brother:
I’ll be honest: I would never have heard of, much less gone to see, INVINCIBLE SUMMER had it not been for The Incident. Shabbas had gone out, our guests had gone home, and I fled back to my computer, as I do most Saturday nights. I checked Parabasis to see what Isaac had been up to, I followed one “must read” link, and, for once, I did read. And then I followed another link, and another, and another. Mike Daisey was so articulate about his feelings with regard to what had happened, but not, in this context, with what had been said, with what his piece was. Other people wrote about this breach of the audience/performer social contract, how upset they were, and how the legitimacy of that upset was most likely ignored, and I still wondered: what was there in the piece that upset these people so much? Maybe it’s my oppositional nature, or my tendency to try to understand the rational motivation of people and actions that seem totally out of whack. I suppose, even as someone who deplored the actions of these people, this man, I still bought into the idea that the performance had “thrown the first punch”, as one of the many blog posts I read put it. I couldn’t figure it out watching the video, or the trailer, or reading about the show; I couldn’t find the motivating statement, or conceit, or anti-religious trope that pushed these people. So I decided to go and see for myself. I was surprised to see that this show was going up in Cambridge, two miles from my house. I’ve come to think of Boston/Cambridge as a wasteland for theatre. Everything I’ve encountered is expensive, sub-par, and boring; coming from DC, I expect more. But this was a New York import that wasn’t a Broadway spectacle, a well-respected artist, a short bike ride away, a storytelling event, had an air of controversy, and was $15 for a student. I overcame my Sunday inertia and blew off my homework. INVINCIBLE SUMMER is a profoundly sparse piece of theatre from a design standpoint: Mike Daisey sits behind a table with a glass of water and a stack of notes on a black stage. There are maybe ten light cues, the only sound cues are the house music, and Daisey never gets up from behind the table. There are no distractions, no detractions, from the profound force of his storytelling presence. His voice moves all over the spectrum, from manic squeaks to bombastic shouts to lulling whispers to conversational confiding. And this is the variety of delivery demanded by his disparate subject matter. INVINCIBLE SUMMER touches on the nature of marriage, the history of the New York Subway, what it means to move to New York City, parental divorce, book deals, September 11 and its aftermath, theatrical community, and other incidental topics. It moves between uproariously funny, historically informative, and revealingly confessional, with the full force of Daisey’s presence and voice behind all these moods. And the movements are smooth. Daisey’s taken a chunk of his life and done what we all do: make all the events into plot elements of a larger narrative, given them meaning through their placement in a structure that we all recognize. And then he’s externalized it, creating the meandering story we’d tell if only our friends would listen for long enough, without interrupting to tell a portion of their own experience narrative. It’s a beautiful storytelling event, and a fine piece of theatre. And it’s totally inoffensive. Daisey doesn’t lambaste religion, ridicule believers, take pot shots at those who have a different worldview than he does. He talks about his disillusionment with the government, about his need to believe, his desire to reach through the television screen and touch the president in order to understand, to see if he can be trusted. He describes, relates, and relives the typical liberal experience over the last few years. And all of this happens long after the walkout. The moment when one group decided to get up and leave the theatre comes so early in the show; Daisey had told the story of his wedding, a bit about the history of the subway, and was getting started on the nature of New York City when that moment came and went. I can’t understand how an accurate comparison of New York City to fucking Paris Hilton could have provoked so much anger. And I understand why Daisey was totally unprepared for it: the walkout and the destruction of his work were so out of proportion it was absurd. After the show, I went up to Daisey to let him know that I knew, that I was there to support him and his work, to ask how the recovery was going. I went up to him to show that a visibly religious person (I wear a yarmulke and tzitzit) supported him, saw nothing wrong and a great deal right with his work. That the conflict isn’t between atheists and the religious. I’ve since read his follow-up essay, about the impotent rage of this one man, and about the framing of the argument in terms of security for children. I’m in graduate school to go into education; over the summer my goal is to learn to not swear. This is a legitimate professional development activity, the excision of “fuck” and “shit” from my vocabulary. Because children have to be protected. And it makes me a little sick and a lot sad.
Pretty cool, eh?
Please go see The Pillowman at The Studio Theatre. Yes yes, I'm related to a board member, yes yes it was directed by one of my first ever mentors, so obviously I'm predisposed to like it. But still. Really good night at the theater. Go see it!
I don't know what it is, but something is happening. Look at MTC's new season, look at Playwrights Horizon's new season, hell look at the new season at my beloved Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., a place which on its website says it "rarely" does premiers is hosting two world premiers.
I feel like there's some kind of change going on, and I can't put my finger on it. For the first time in years, I'm excited by a season at Playwrights Horizons and for the first time in my life, I'm excited by a season at MTC.
I don't really know exactly what it is that's going on, but I feel that in some small way something is changing and a younger crop of playwrights with a different aesthetic is beginning to break through slighly here and there, and that excites me.
I have a quite busy day of playgoing and meetings that's going to keep me away from blogging (and home) until late tonight. So.... nothing from me today, almost certainly. In the meantime, please weigh in on the $120,000 Question below. Or check out any of the wonderful blogs on the blogroll.
See you all tomorrow!
OH AND PS: I hope to write more about this later, but Hot Fuzz is simply an astounding comedic achievement. And a perfect illustration of the difference between material and the treatment of material (on many different levels, both in writing and directing) that we were talking about earlier.
FINAL UPDATE I PROMISE Part 1 of an interview I did with Michael Criscuolo about directors and reviews is up on his blog. Check it out here. And please let me know your thoughts.
In order to help market the film of The Golden Compass, they now have a Daemon Generator! For fans of the book, that's pretty cool. My daemon was a racoon named Androne.
Oh, and they pronounce it DEEmon, which seems weird to me... I always thought our shape changing soul-bound animal companions were DAYmons.