Theatre is Territory

Archive for April, 2008

The importance of being burnished

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

More on theatrical discourse
By Scott Walters

Recently, there’s been a buzz of international discussion on anonymity and criticism: in the US (Theatre Ideas Jumps the Pond and What Do You Think About Anonymous Reviews?), Canada (Mike Daisy on Theatrical Discourse), and England (Noises Off: Unnamed and Unashamed). The focus of these posts were on anonymous reviews, but in the midst of the discussion Ian Mackenzie (Theatre is Territory) came through with a thought that stopped me in my tracks:

“Our community has been living under the tyranny of the mainstream media review system for so long, we have forgotten how to criticize each other. It’s criticism by proxy: “I can’t risk standing up and calling bullshit on a peer because it’ll hurt my career. So I’ll just wait until the newspapers cut them down.” Is this our model? How is our industry supposed to prosper under conditions that forbid peer review? It’s insane! It doesn’t mean we should be “reviewing” each other’s work. That’s probably a bad idea. Many critics already do a fine job of that. But surely there’s a way to talk openly and critically about each other’s work without it being the career suicide Mike has suggested it is.”

A few comments later, he went on:

“Criticism does not equal standing on a soapbox slagging peoples work. Critical participation can be simply asking questions. Or participating in discussion. Or putting forward a point of view. These are all things that our community is already doing to some degree.”

The question is: to what degree? How many of us really risk providing a respectful but honest discussion of what we saw and thought? Or are we like this anonymous commenter on Matt Freeman’s blog during a similar discussion in October 2006:

“. . . partially I think we are all trying to do something and pointing out where (I think) someone is failing is rarely helpful and also is completely subjective. So even artists whose work I hate are people trying to do something and usually have good intentions . . .”

These two topics – anonymity and shared criticism – came together for me over the days from Saturday April 26th through Monday, April 28th. On the first date, Don Hall of Angry White Guy in Chicago, posted Why Nylachi(dc)?.

In this post, Don explained his reasons for living in Chicago, and why he doesn’t live in a smaller town. I responded to his post with my own entitled Lot Full, in which I drew an analogy between full parking lots and the major metropolitan area theatre scenes. In the comments for that post, Don wrote something that led me to comment Monday in a full post entitled On Small Town Audiences (A Reply to Don Hall), which took issue with his generalizations about small town tastes.

As I noted in my opening paragraph:

“My initial reaction was to do what Jess did [in my comments] and write a post that said, in essence, ‘That is the kind of provincial bullshit that makes my blood boil.’ But because it was Don, whose thoughts I often admire, I decided to step away from the keyboard and think about what was behind his comments.”

In response, my comments section exploded in a fierce debate between Don Hall, Bob Fisher (Don’s Chicago friend, aka devilvet), and me. The debate got pretty heated:

“I see we’ve crossed the line from argument to being an asshole,” I wrote.

Bob wrote, “It is always the other guy who is selfish, auteuristic and subsumed in a selfish vision . . . never oneself . . . what’s that I smell? Self-deception sir . . . self-deception. That is provincial. It borders on xenophobic. – Asshole signing off!!!”

And so on for 29 comments. My hit count soared t0 423 as people logged on to follow the “dust-up.” And for most of the readers, I suspect this sounded like three Tyrannosaurus Rex’s tearing each other apart.

Here is what was happening in emails behind the scenes.

Me: “By the way, in mid-May my wife and I will be taking the train into Chicago and then flying out the next day. Maybe we and dv and whomever can get together finally…”

Don: “When in May? I’m outta town (going to Wichita) May 8-11, but will clear a
day of scheduling to have some “sit down and chow down” time.”

Don: “May 24th – on my calendar!”

Meanwhile, Bob, in an email entitled Who Is Siskel and Which One is Ebert, sent me a link to a hilarious YouTube video of the two movie critics reaming each other while trying to film a promo for their show.

Me: “LOL – Brutal, huh? By the way, I just told Don that my wife and I will be in Chicago sometime in the evening of May 24th just overnight, and then we will be flying out to Raleigh. But maybe we can get together, huh? You dick!”

Bob: “We can get together but only if you are willing to sit through a command performance of my one-man show entitled I’m OK, You . . . Not So Much! Let me know, Are you guys flying into O’Hare or Midway? Are you staying downtown or closer to the airport?”

And in another email, Don wrote: “I come from the school of thought that says that vigorous discourse is the road to enlightenment and take on every idea as an opportunity to smack it around a bit to knock the glitter off and see it for what it really is. None of my questioning is meant to be a personal attack or is it to dismiss the ideas you put out there.”

And Don has just devoted another blogpost to doing just that, entitled More Nylachi(dc), which I will no doubt have to respond to.

The point is that Don, Bob, and I all take each other seriously enough to commit considerable personal time smacking an idea around a bit so we can “see it for what it really is.” This process strengthens and sharpens the ideas. For me, I can see just which portions of my ideas cause confusion or rejection, and I can weigh whether there is a way to express them more clearly, or change them to address the attacks. For Don or Bob, perhaps putting into words their objections to my ideas, and looking at their own practices in the process, might lead to more personal understanding as well.

Would I have been so open to reflection if the same identical comments were anonymous? I doubt it. I suspect I would have engaged once or twice, and then tuned out.

Instead, we are, in Ian’s words, learning “how to criticize each other.” We are “simply asking questions. Or participating in discussion. Or putting forward a point of view.” And we are growing as a result. Or at least I am (Don and Bob can speak for themselves – and I have no doubt they will).

For over two years now, I have participated in any number of debates on the theatrical blogosphere, and I know that as a result my ideas are clearer and more defined. I am in the midst of writing a book based on the ideas I have developed, and I know that the book is clearer, deeper, and more effective because of the exchanges I have engaged in.

The art form is best served by being populated with thoughtful artists who have thought deeply and critically about their own work. What passes for “being supportive” – focusing on the vague and general positive and not speaking criticism – doesn’t allow artists to grow and deepen. Artistic creativity benefits from being burnished, polished to a luster through friction. Without it, the result is rust.

To those who fear about their careers, who are afraid that speaking a critical word might lead to diminished job opportunities, I can only respond from my own perspective: if I lived in Chicago and was starting a company, Bob and Don are two guys I would call first, because I would know that the honesty and rigor that is required for the creation of an ongoing artistic relationship has already been established. So when Bob said, “Let’s do a Richard Foreman show!” I could say, “Are you crazy? That stuff is the worst!” And then we’d have a great, great time.


Scott Walters is a theatre blogger and University of North Carlonia drama professor.

Green theatre

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

A couple of great posts recently at American theatre artist Mike Lawler’s ecoTheatre blog:

“The ecoTheater project is concerned with how as theater artists we can strive to create theater without sacrificing the environment and the long term health of our communities. I believe this can be done without making compromises in our process . . .”

Notable of late are two entries in his How to series:

What do you think of all this?

How much of a responsibility do independent theatre makers have to consider the environmental implications of their work? What are the costs involved? What’s being done currently?

Free theatre Producer’s guide

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Among the great publications available for download at Theatre Ontario’s website is a production manual called: Guide to producing in community theatre:

“While this guide is written for community theatre companies, most of this text is appropriate for emerging theatre groups with professional aspirations . . .”

The guide spends much of its 29 pages providing job descriptions for the various staff involved in putting on a show. A full pdf version of the guide can be downloaded from Theatre Ontario’s website, here.

Godot 2.0

Friday, April 25th, 2008

A nice interview with Canadian playwright Brendan Gall in yesterday’s Toronto Star about the upcoming production of his play Alias Godot at the Tarragon Theatre.

Says Gall of his play:

“It started with a simple idea. What if, instead of being some sort of existential symbol, Godot was a guy who desperately wanted to be there, but had a really good reason for not showing up?”

Please read: The gall to pull it off.

UPDATE
Heres the link to Alison Brovermans National Post interview with Gall: Godot to arrive soon.

Chris Wilkinson on theatrical discourse

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

The week got off to a heated start around here thanks in no small part to Mike Daisey’s provocative “Theatre discourse” quote. In case you missed it, Daisey has “a vested interest in lowering the politeness level in theatrical discourse.”

Chris Wilkinson, at the Guardian UK, has more to say on this, and neatly synthesizes an argument combining some of the topics floating around the theatrosphere – from anonymous commenting to the “difference between abuse and robust argument.”

Check out: Noises off: Unnamed and unashamed.

Money for theatre

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

“Maybe you should pop on over to the website of your favorite theater company and make a small online donation? Why not?”

Matt Freeman

How about one of these Toronto-based independent theatre companies:


Canada’s war on theatre

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

In last week’s Globe and Mail, national theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck asks Where’s our war on our stages? – contrasting the relative abundance of Iraq war drama in Toronto against the dearth of Afghanistan-related productions:

“Isn’t it about time Canadian playwrights, directors and actors started grappling with a war their fellow countrymen are actually playing a role in?”

In response, the folks at The Wrecking Ball jumped in with a great Theatre of war post, in which they echo Nestruck’s sentiment and address some of the challenges involved in creating drama around Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan:

“Are we an occupation force? Are we fighting a nebulous American-led War on Terror? Are we peace-keeping? Nation-building? Are we preventing human rights atrocities? Or are we committing them? What is our mission anyway? And on and on. But of course theatre doesn’t have to answer those questions, it has to pose them. It has to dramatize those questions. It’s hard to do that and to do it well. But that has to be our challenge.”

These are great questions. Does anyone know of any Canadian productions (current or upcoming) that are dealing with our war in Afghanistan?

Mike Daisey on theatrical discourse

Monday, April 21st, 2008

“I also have a vested interest in lowering the politeness level in theatrical discourse—which, I hasten to add, is not the same as throwing away civility. I’ve just seen far too many ‘discussions’ that should have been full-voiced arguments, too many passions squelched in the face of institutionalized hopelessness, and just too much damn silence, especially from the artists who live and work within the system. I’d rather see some feelings get hurt, and then people have to make up later and grow closer than the palpable quiet and passive-aggressive silence that I feel is too often the stock and trade of our theater.”

Mike Daisey

10 questions: Christine Mangosing

Friday, April 18th, 2008

1) What the fuck is going on?
You’ll just have to see. Come see the show and find out!

2) How has the upcoming production of People Power at Theatre Passe Muraille developed since its workshop presentation at the 2006 SummerWorks festival?
In addition to a few new characters being thrown in to the mix, the individual journeys of existing characters have been more deeply explored. The addition of sound design, movement and audience participation contribute to a fuller, more exciting theatrical experience.

3) What does the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines mean to you?
Since I was still a child when it took place, it has only been through the process of creating this play that I have gained an in-depth understanding of the People Power Revolution. Much like the approach we took in telling this story, I believe that the true spirit of this revolution lies not in the powerful political and religious figures lauded for their pivotal roles, but in the millions of everyday, average people who came together to ignite change. Many of these people had a lot to lose, many had nothing left. Recognizing my own privilege living as a citizen of a first-world nation, the notion of TRUE sacrifice is something that I admit has never been really tested. We live in such an individualistic society, constantly bitching and moaning about the slightest of inconveniences in our comfortable lives.

The People Power Revolution is a humbling reminder that there are far worse injustices in the world than paying higher taxes on a pack of cigarettes or paying $2 more for a drink at a bar in Yorkville than at a bar in the Annex. In a country like the Philippines, which has an alarmingly violent history of oppression and colonization, the ability of its people to topple a powerful dictatorship peacefully is truly extraordinary and inspiring. The lesson it has to teach resonates all the more today, as the people of an increasing number of nations around the world fight corrupt governments and military regimes.

4) What is a balikbayan?
Literally translated, “balikbayan” means “to return to the motherland.” The term balikbayan is used for people who were either born in the Philippines and have moved to another country or for Filipinos born in another country who have come back to visit the Philippines (or in some cases, come back for good).

5) How connected do you feel to Filipino narrative traditions?
I feel deeply connected and enthusiastic about the new narrative traditions emerging from young Filipino-Canadian and Filipino-American artists today. As the offspring of a post-colonial society, and what my sister, Caroline, has labeled the “first post-modern culture”, modern Filipinos bear no identity outside of a colonized one.

Hundreds and hundreds of years of colonization by the Spanish, the Chinese, the Japanese and the Americans erased the Philippine Islands’ rich history of tribal traditions which have only recently re-surfaced through anthropological studies. These traditions have been embraced and re-interpreted by a new generation of young Filipino artists in North America eager to piece together a history and a culture they can truly and proudly call their own.

Examples of this at work are local Filipino-Canadian filmmakers’ The Digital Sweatshop’s film Ang Pamana: The Inheritance, which draws from age-old Filipino mythological creatures set within a modern-day Filipino-Canadian context; another local Filipino artist, accessories designer Melissa Clemente calls her designs an “interpretation of folk dance costume focusing on art forms from the mountain regions of the Philippines.” Len Cervantes, a spoken word artist, borrows from ancient Filipino poetic forms such as balagtasan (a form of debate and verse) and tanaga (a set rhyme and syllabic scheme) in his work.

For more information on Filipino-Canadian artists doing their thing, see the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts + Culture, a local youth-centred facililty that provides a space for young Filipino-Canadians to explore their identity and roots through the lens of arts and culture.

6) How does your background as a graphic designer inform your approach to making theatre?
It doesn’t. I believe a significant reason I enjoy theatre so much is that it offers me a brief escape from my work as a graphic designer.

I work from home, by myself, with only a mini dachshund named Buddy for company. The long hours spent alone, staring at a computer screen, sitting on my ass without moving for several hours at a time, not only result in locked knees, but in borderline insanity. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE being a graphic designer – I consider myself extremely lucky for not being someone who sits on the subway every morning hating my life and everyone in it because my job sucks.

I love what I do but like I said, the solitary nature of my work drives me crazy sometimes. Theatre, on the other hand, is as extroverted as my work as a designer is introverted. It is interactive. It is collaborative. It requires me to use my limbs and my voice. It allows me to me to write again (something I had abandoned in favour of going to art school). It reminds me I’m alive, which is a very, very good thing.

L to R: Rose Cortez, Christine Mangosing, Nadine Villasin and Leon Aureus in People Power. Photo by Caroline Mangosing

7) How important is it for artists to be actively challenging systems of oppression in their work?
I believe art and social commentary go hand in hand. Art, in whatever form, has served as a means to relay social and political events, opinions, and ideas throughout history. It is more important than ever to use art as a means of challenging systems of oppression. Leave the superficial trash to the makers of reality television. Society needs to be reminded on a constant basis that oppression exists – racism STILL exists, misogyny STILL exists, the list goes on and on. Art, whether it be visual, performance or literary, loses its weight if it’s not saying anything at all. I could go on and on about this topic but I’ll stop here.

8) Having lived in both Vancouver and Toronto, have you noticed any similarities or differences in the way the two cities approach theatre?
The first time I ever acted (aside from playing a peasant in my 5th grade Easter play, that is), wrote a play, or did anything remotely related to theatre at all was here in Toronto. If anyone had told me six years ago that I would not only be living in Toronto, but also writing plays and, god forbid, acting in them, I would have laughed in their face.

In fact, when I was studying Fine Arts in Vancouver, we shared a building with the Theatre program . . . but the Fine Arts kids and the Theatre kids hated each other with a passion. Even our teachers would slam the doors of our classrooms with disdain to shut out the sounds of the Theatre kids across the hall “finding their inner animal.” Now, every time I warm-up for a show or for rehearsal and make all those weird noises I used to roll my eyes at, I laugh at myself for becoming the “theatre kid” I once hated.

9) What form will the revolution take?
Hopefully, if any lesson is to be learned from the People Power Revolution, a non-violent one.

10) What can North American theatre makers learn from the way artists are working in the Philippines?
See answer to question #8. My experience in theatre is limited to Toronto so it would not be fair for me to comment on theatre in the other cities I have lived.

Non-theatre-related blogs

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Many thanks to everyone who shared their favourite non-theatre- related blogs with us. Lots of great suggestions came up.

Here’s the list:

Please drop in on our blog friends above and let them know what you think. And we’ll be back on track here tomorrow with more theatre blogging.

What’s your favourite non-theatre-related blog?

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Hi there.

We could use an injection of non-theatre-related bloggy goodness around here. Does anyone have any recommendations? If you could recommend just one or two non-theatre blogs, what would they be?

Just drop a link in the comments section below, or send us an email, and we’ll post the full list in a couple of days.

Thank you!

10 questions: Mike Daisey

Friday, April 11th, 2008

1) What the fuck is going on?
The wheels of time grind inexorably forward; our culture intensifies and multiplies, growing more complex as it fragments, while the corporatization of all things is the clear watchword of the age. We say what we say faster and make connections more quickly, but the time to make the leaps is the same – we’re running out of bandwidth, in the dark fiber infrastructure of our collective minds. We live in an age of empire in a time when even the idea of empire is becoming anachronistic, a time of vast injustice that differs from all the other ages of vast injustice only in the new skill with which we mechanize the injustice. We live in a time when it is easy to be faceless, almost required to be egoless against the great crush of people, but where surveillance is clearly growing to be a way of life. Also here is faith, love, honor, loyalty, friendship—the best elements human beings have to offer, still blossoming and blooming against the grain. It is a very interesting time.

2) How does your upcoming production of How Theater Failed America in New York City differ from the indictment of American theatre (The Empty Spaces) you wrote for Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper?
First, the monologue isn’t written and the essay is, so this is the largest difference: one is an extemporaneous monologue, performed from an outline aloud only in front of audiences, which shifts from performance to performance and is deeply informed by that experience. The essay is an essay—words recorded once, in one order, 1,500 or so of them in an orderly row.

I stand by them both, but they’re very different animals—I am by career a monologuist, and in that form I have a finer control and larger canvas for the story of the failure of American theater to fulfill the social and cultural promises it made, and its own culpability in an increasing irrelevance. The essay takes a pass through that material that contains almost none of the personal, which is not the monologue – the theatrical piece weaves the personal and the political to one another, seeking something larger. Although they reinforce each other in the largest ways, they don’t have very much to do with one another in terms of plot or details – they’re basically separate works that are both created by the same person, and don’t share many moments, words, experiences or plot.

Some degree of their intention is similar though – both intend to provoke, in the best way I hope. I want to drive a wedge into the monolithic conversation about “our American theater”, which has often been stultifying—cracking open that shell so that fresh light can fall on all the old players, and opening up the discussion so that more people can hear the particulars are things that very much interest me in both pieces.

3) When you write about “how theater failed America”, are you suggesting that theater has failed America outright – and it’s a done deal – or are there glimmers of hope on the horizon?
The monologue does attempt to make the case that the American theater has failed to fulfill its imperatives, particularly the regional theater movement, which I believe was a genuine attempt toward a provocative American theater rooted in excellent values. The tragic story of how that movement failed to fulfill its missions by losing its soul fascinates and compels me, and it’s the epic scale of what’s at stake that led to the title.

So yes, theater has failed America—but failure is to some degree relative, as is success, and we are still alive and drawing breath, so if we want change we’ll have to work toward it, as many of the people have before us. Some succeed, many fail, and most can never truly see where they live on that spectrum, but in terms of hope it is always alive, or there would be no monologue from me—if I did not truly believe in the transformative power of theater I would leave the form. I care so much that I’m driven to speak about what I see—and in the responses I see from people I can see the seeds of hope, just as I see it whenever I see heart-stopping, life-changing work.

So yes to both: theater has failed America outright, and yes, there is hope.

4) What attracts you to the monologue as a narrative form?
I’ve been a monologuist for 12 years now, performing in the extemporaneous idiom the entire time, and I’m drawn to the power that stories have to shape our lives. I work exclusively in nonfiction for the monologues, and there is an alchemy that exists in the telling of true stories from our lives, especially when they are told unscripted, mediated only by the outline, skill and experience so that there are as few barriers between the artist and audience as possible. I’m intensely interested in the livingness of this kind of theater, which is what has kept me riveted all these years—I believe it succeeds at creating a gestalt in the room between performer and audience that is irreducible, and which speaks to the enduring power of theater, as this is not possible in another art form, which makes me excited about its singularity.

I also appreciate how the lightweightedness and speed of the form allows me to survive in America as a working artist, in an environment that could otherwise preclude almost anyone else from making a living in the theater independently.

5) Do you ever worry that monologues are essentially one-way communication?
No, I never worry about that, because it’s a ridiculous question.

But I am very glad it’s been asked, because it comes up in interviews periodically, so I’d love to address it.

First, let’s address the straight-up bias: I only ever see this question posed to solo performers and monologuists. Yo-Yo Ma never gets asked if he’s concerned about the one-way-ed-ness of his music, and John Updike never gets asked the same about books, nor Joan Didion about her essays.

I suspect it’s born out of a prejudice, linked to ignorance, about the function of monologue. There’s a strain of Puritanism in America that supposes that we should not actually speak aloud about the events of our life – that it is louche and gauche and nasty to do so. After all, I’ve never actually read any playwrights being asked about how their plays are “essentially one-way communication” – that would be because people see more plays, and read more books, and listen to music, and thus have taken the time to realize that this is dumb. Under these terms all communication is one-way—each conversation is a series of one-way sentences, said back and forth to one another. The gestalt of course is larger – an essay is “one way”, but it exists in a society which will hopefully react to it, and that interplay is the actual conversation. I won’t do all the math—we all know how society functions.

I will say that it’s an especially galling assertion when you consider my actual form—I’m one of the very few extemporaneous performers in the American theater, and I believe I’m the only one with an established career playing major national theaters. My performances are completely predicated on the act of speaking with the audience—their presence informs and gives reason for the monologues to exist, and since they are unscripted their collective gaze is what fuels and helps guide the story. The idea that this kind of work could even be conceived as being “essentially one-way” is absolutely ridiculous.

6) How do you feel about the idea that American theatre panders to a cultural elite?
Well, it does pander—I’m not sure those it panders to are all that elite.

But I do understand the question. As for how I feel about that idea, I’d say that I agree that it happens a great deal, especially within the power infrastructure we think of as “the American Theater”—certain theaters, certain blocks of NYC, within a constrained world that gazes on itself—it definitely happens.

Specifically I don’t think of an “elite” though – I think more specifically of power groups that attract pandering, like the corporate donors and supporters whose influence grows continuously, or academia and MFA programs that encourage the training of young artists with absolute knowledge that they are no longer giving them living skills and sending them off to near-certain career death. Most times when this question is asked, we’re talking about audiences.

More than pandering it is narrowness, however, in terms of actual audiences—many theaters haven’t reached out beyond “traditional” markets, and when they have it’s a bitter failure. They pander because it is what they know. We shouldn’t hate them—they’re us, after all, our colleagues and our responsibility. If we want change, we’re going to have to bring it, and part of that will be learning to connect with others . . . and we’ll have to WANT to connect with others, which is a large unspoken part of the problem.

7) Looking back on your now-infamous April 2007 performance of Invincible Summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts – in which 87 audience members walked out of the theatre en-mass, with one man pouring water on your outline as he left – how much of an effect has that incident had on your subsequent work?
Very little. It was an unpleasant and disruptive experience, and the loss of my outline was total. I wrote on my site about the immediate aftermath, and managed to reach the man who destroyed my work to speak with him. While I wouldn’t call it a friendly conversation, it was civil and clarifying, which allowed me to put it to rest in my own mind.

8) What have you changed your mind about recently?
For a long time I suspected that I would never write a play, because there is a large part of me welded to live performance that believes that the reliance on text in the theater is a large part of the theater’s weakness – dead words written by dead hands, propped up on stage. I still have many issues with this, but in the spirit of self-examination I participated in the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, and wrote my first play, The Moon is a Dead World, a Cold War fantasia of life and death set against the real-life brutal stories of the Soviet cosmonaut program. Living through the process has given me a greater respect for playwrights, and working in fiction has been absolutely fascinating and exhilarating.

9) How have your experiences with blogging and social media influenced your ideas about theatre?
My site has been a blog for seven or eight years, and has become totally interwoven into my work—it’s a mental clearinghouse of images and snippets I find on the web, a kind of open notebook that many people follow along with directly or through RSS feeds. Arguments, discussions, and lurking with the theatrical blogosphere has helped define elements of How Theater Failed America, and I’m indebted to other bloggers in many other fields for my other works. I’m also intensely interested in the cutting-edge of communication, and I’m working on a monologue about intellectual property rights that I hope will use all these tools in ways that will further the concerns of the work.

10) Why is theatre important?
Theater is important because it is the most human art form, because it is directly about the intricacies of the human heart, unfolding in an actual space in actual time between the humans on stage and the humans in the audience. It is storytelling writ large, without forgetting the core mechanic of storytelling – that the creation of narrative is the process of human consciousness, and seeing it play out, participating in that process as an audience member, is the highest calling possible in art.

Theater is not just important—I believe it is easily the most important art form that exists. In an age of increasing corporatization and identity-loss, it is a humanizing process that happens live in a space all around you, speaking directly with narrative and story to the concerns of a human being navigating the world. Theater is ourselves, the best and the worst of us, and as such we are charged with a terrible responsibility to work harder, deeper and more honestly to help ensure we’ve given it all we ever had.

“Vancouver has too many cheerleading critics . . .”

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The good people over at The Next Stage theatre blog have conducted and posted a wonderful interview with Vancouver-based theatre critic Colin Thomas (Georgia Straight).

There’s even a choice piece of Toronto bashing as told to Colin by Daniel MacIvor:

“Daniel MacIvor told me once that he likes premiering work in Vancouver because audiences here are so on-the-ball and because we’re not nearly as snooty as the folks in Toronto.”

Oh, snap! Please read the entire interview here.

Wallace Shawn finishes the play it took him 10 years to write

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Inconceivable! Shawn’s new play Grasses of a Thousand Colors is finally finished. Read the American Theatre interview with him here. And then Time Out New York theatre critic David Cote reflects on the news here.

10 questions remixed: Anger

Friday, April 4th, 2008
1) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
All of it. Every last consonant and mother-fucking vowel bleeds anger. Every shitty fucking sound cue and half-assed piece of shit lighting change in my shows are chosen while very angry. All the fucking posters and handbills and shitty little websites I make on my stupid fucking MacBook are all pieces of shit but apparently necessary to promote the dumb fucking shows I have chosen to . . .

Chris Abraham

2) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
None.

Simon Ogden

3) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
What kind of stupid fucking question is that? You’re lucky you live on the other side of the country Mackenzie, or I’d punch you right in the face.

Actually, my first hit was: anger? Me? Whaddya mean, I’m not angry…am I? And of course, a look back at my body of work to date reveals that there’s levels of anger in the genesis of all of it, which, upon further consideration, is as close an approximation to my personal definition of the true nature of art as I have ever considered. The play I’m working on right now, set in a bar, is entirely about the consequences of anger, as a matter of fact. Revelatory, thank you.

David Tompa (L) and Glen McDonald (R).

4) How much of your artistic process is informed by a sense of anger?
Less anger and more frustration. Theatre and film can be such powerful mediums. When I see product out there that isn’t really trying then it feels like such a waste. It gives the industry a bad name and gives people permission to expect less when they go out to see a show. We should be constantly pushing to challenge ourselves and our audiences.

Oonagh Duncan

5) How much of your artistic process is informed by a sense of anger?
None! (I’ll fucking kill you for even suggesting it.)

db young anitafrika

6) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
anger is very important in my work, especially when it can be transformed into inspiration. anger is an emotion that can tell you when a situation is very wrong and if channeled carefully can lead to some amazing questions. for my own process, anger has always been a gem. in my most angered moments I have learnt so much about myself, so much about the ways in which I am growing and all the room I have left to grow. I have also learnt about my ability to be courageous in the face of ostracization. mostly, when I have looked deeply at my anger I have realized that it masked a deeper hurt and pain. so my anger has also taught me about my humanity. and in turn about other people’s humanity. as artists it is also our business to deeply investigate the ways people’s humanities (womb)manifest. I use anger in my work both to inform characters and to inform subject matter.

Don Hall

7) What are you angry about?
Stupid. Stupid makes me angry.

Voting for a president who you’d like to have a beer with? Stupid.

Banning smoking because Communism fell and we all needed another enemy is stupid.

Dumbing down our educational system by making it more about taking tests than learning and then complaining about how thuggish, drunk and vapid kids are is stupid.

Legally Blond The Musical? – stupid.

Doing NOTHING about Global Warming? Myopic and stupid.

Not impeaching our corrupt Executive Branch but investigating Baseball? S-T-U-P-I-D.

Defining basic sadness as clinical depression in order to boost anti-depressant sales – stupid AND corrupt.

There’s a lot of stupid out there. All you have to do is open your eyes and be amazed.

Alison Broverman

8) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
Honestly, not much. Heartbreak, often, but not anger. At least, not yet.

Erika Batdorf
Photo by David Leyes.

9) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
Hmmm, I think that was done several pieces ago. Although sometimes I have to rustle up some righteous indignation to keep me going in the business aspect of the work! But not artistically.

Mac Rogers.
Photo by Saundra Yaklin.

10) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
Almost none of it. My work is informed by terror. I start from a place of weakness and fear, and try to see where it leads. I have the liberal’s weakness, of seeing an injustice in society and instead of doggedly and dogmatically trying to fix it, at any cost to anything else, I go to self analysis mode, wondering what I and others who resemble me may have done to allow this injustice to exist, and what weakness in ourselves may have led us to do that thing. I learned this reaction from reading the works of Wallace Shawn in my mid–twenties, which was incredibly influential on me.

The one thing I ever wrote from anger was this big goofy musical I cowrote with Sean and Jordy called Fleet Week, which was sort of a gay On The Town, but written in reaction to learning about the number of voters who cited a dislike of gay marriage as a key reason to re-elect George Bush. The show is mostly smutty comedy, but it’s angry smutty comedy.