Theatre is Territory

Archive for April, 2009

Make $75,000 a year theatre blogging

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Crain’s New York Business magazine has published a poignant profile of New York theatre writer Leonard Jacobs that details how he’s taking his theatre blog from a part-time hobby to a full-time job:

“In the six months since he lost his job as national theater editor of trade paper Back Stage, Leonard Jacobs has turned a hobby into a nascent business.”

You can read it here: Jettisoned journalist applies a business plan to his blog.

Seven things I learned about theatre in the past 10 days

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

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There are many things to know about theatre. Maybe one day I will know them all. For now, I am satisfied with the following seven things I learned about theatre in the last 10 days:

1) The bit in Glengarry Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin comes in to scream obscenities at all the salesmen was written for the movie – and is not in the play.

2) Daniel Brooks prefers not to do interviews via email.

3) Canadian playwright and actor Marjorie Chan thinks that questions that relate “identity performance” to “theatrical performance” are pretentious.

4) There is a thing called “Twitter plays.”

5) Shakespeare is still boring as hell.

6) The theatre blog market is becoming saturated with high-quality offerings. Those of us who are hoping to retain or acquire market share without putting in the work might not drown, but we ain’t going to thrive neither. You don’t get a prize just for being alive, as they say.

7) The contemporary electronica group Massive Attack once did a soundtrack for a 1965 Samuel Beckett film called, Man Next Door. It’s reminiscent of that Pink Floyd-Wizard of Oz mashup Dark Side of the Rainbow – minus the awesome.

So that’s me all caught up. Do you have anything you’ve learned about theatre in the past 10 days that you’d like to share?

10 questions: Marjorie Chan

Friday, April 10th, 2009

marjorie-standing-white-shirt1Photos by Norman Yeung.

1) What the fuck is going on?
What the fuck is going on when Miss Universe visits Gitmo?

What the fuck is going on when robots are created to mimic child-like behaviours?

What is fuck is going on in Kim Jong Il’s head?

I ask myself this all the freaking time. The world is a freaky, freaky place and often beyond my comprehension. All I can do is try to understand it, in any way that I can. For me, that often means an artistic investigation. Right now, the result of my questioning of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 is my play, The Madness of the Square.

2) What attracts you to theatre as a narrative form?
I like the immediacy. I love the intense experience of being in the dark with strangers, sharing that experience with the performers on stage. It’s still uniquely alive and vibrant and connected in our increasingly disconnected environments. I am attracted to the emotional catharsis and impact possible as a story-teller that is different from a film. Yes, I may have had emotional reactions to a movie, but did I share it with 200 others at the same time? I feel that the shared experience has a different quality that is perhaps more powerful.

3) Why did the Chinese military use tanks to clear student protesters from Tiananmen Square in 1989?

Perhaps a question for the Chinese military, and not for me. From my research, I would say that the Chinese government had had enough. The students and other protestors had created enough of a statement that even foreign leaders were publicly commenting, which was deeply embarrassing. The government was clearly no longer in control of the square. A show of mourning on the students’ part had escalated over months into hunger-striking, protests of 1 million people and mass worldwide press coverage. The government wanted to put an end to it.

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4) How much of your work is informed by a sense of anger?
Not much, in fact. I am driven more often by heartbreak.

5) When you’re looking critically at the work of developing or inexperienced writers, what are some of the shortcomings that tend to stand out for you?
Structure. Telling a story. A compelling reason for the story. I think the last one is the most important. Structure, and simply telling a story are technical things that can be taught. But to have inspiration, to have voice? That is far more elusive for many writers. When working with emerging writers, it is often more exciting to me to come across a writer whose work is rough around the edges, but articulates a clear need or impulse as opposed to a clever, well-crafted piece that has little or no impact.

6) What’s one of the most unpopular decisions you’ve ever made as a writer?
It seems I make many unpopular decisions as a writer because for both my first two plays (China Doll and A Nanking Winter), I have had virtual strangers come up to me and ask me to desist, and to decry that my subject matter is inappropriate. Indeed, for A Nanking Winter, I had my own producers continue to ask me to compromise my material before opening night. For The Madness of the Square, no one has yet approached me, but perhaps after it opens I will have a different answer for you.

7) How much does your experience with theatrical performance inform your approach to your day-to-day identity performance?
I don’t understand this question. Or I am willfully ignoring it because:

a. I don’t see its relevance;
b. I think it is pretentious; or
c. I really don’t understand what you are asking.

8) In terms of industry politics, what are some of the taboos or sacred cows of Toronto’s theatre scene?
Not many people in the industry are prepared to admit that a lot of work, hiring and commissioning comes from something resembling nepotism. People like to hire people that they get along with and whose work they are familiar with. This is understandable from a fiscal standpoint – if one has to take a financial risk, one tries to mitigate that risk as much as possible by hiring a known. This leaves a lot of talented people without work or even the opportunity to get their foot in the door. As an industry, we need to own up to this fact.

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9) How much are you interested and involved in the marketing and promotion of theatrical productions of your work?
I have come to realize that as an art form that relies on a public component, a theatre play with no audience is simply rehearsal. So, yes, I am involved and supportive of the marketing and promotion of my plays. There is no theatre without an audience.

10) What kinds of questions do you like to ask other people about their work?
I like to ask specific questions of process, but I am quite wary of theory talk. While it is interesting, I believe that most artists find their way with a process that works for them, and them only. Unfortunately, with theory often comes absolutes and right and wrong ways of doing things. And I believe that kind of thinking kills creativity and art.

Chicago theatre history 2.0

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

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Chicago-based actor, writer, and “budding technomancer” Dan Granata has launched a new theatre blog that promises to dig deep into Chicago’s theatrical history.

From the “About” page:

“It’s about the stories, on stage and off. It’s about the audiences. It’s about the conversation that’s been going on long before we got here and will continue long after we leave.

“In short, it’s the making of theatre in Chicago. And who makes it. And how. And why.”

Good idea. Check it out: Theatre that works.

Binary and theatrical narration

Monday, April 6th, 2009

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Performance
You have read the books. Taken the classes. Scratched the lottery tickets. Soaked your feed. Checked your watch. Tied your shoes. Broken down the boxes. Painted the walls. Changed into something with higher contrast. Photographed the room. Recorded the important bits in your notebook. And committed the rest to memory. The only thing left to do is get up there and show your mother how it feels.

Production
What is the smallest measurable unit of production a theatre company can manufacture? And how much would a ticket cost?

Theory
Every element of every story can be complemented with a binary: The story is told, or it is not told; The central character is good, or she is evil; She is morally ambiguous, or she is morally certain; The setting is clear, or the setting is unclear; She has super powers, or she does not; She is alive, or she is dead; It is winter, or it is summer; The events are true, or they are false; The story has begun, or it is finished; Etc. There may even be multiple opposites for a given element. For example: the room is bright, or the room is not bright – or the room is dark. Since there are limitless binaries, stories that place emphasis on those kinds of relationships tend to do so by highlighting just a small number of the possible opposites. This limitation is necessary because a story told exclusively through binary contrast would be an infinite and unintelligible ping-pong game. Such as Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menance.

10 questions: Evan Webber

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

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Photo by Stu Wiber.

1) What the fuck is going on?
Small Wooden Shoe has just opened Dedicated to the Revolutions, and I’m thinking quite a lot about that. And there’s a depression and so on.

2) What’s the big idea behind the ongoing Small Wooden Shoe series “Dedicated to the Revolutions”?
We’re examining the peculiar narrative of Western Progress through a text that Jacob Zimmer was taught in grade eight: a list of seven revolutionary moments that changed the world. So we’re talking back to the list, and asking questions, and thinking about how that story makes our lives what they are.

3) How does art differ from science in its approach to understanding the world?
They’re both ways of describing the world, and ways of approaching what might be true. As such, they’re both immeasurably useful and dangerous. Science appears more systematic regarding its truth-making, but I’m not sure if that isn’t a veil. The more work we do, the less I’m able to tell the difference.

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Photo by Ömer Yükseker.

4) When historians look back on the “Information Revolution” what do you think they’ll say was the most notable change that occurred?
Fermi’s paradox is about intelligent life in the universe – why, if the universe is so big –  aren’t there other ‘intelligent’ beings, like us, who’ve tried to communicate? The answer might be information technology – civilizations only reach a certain point before they blog themselves to death, leaving the stars lifeless and dark.

5) In your work as a writer and performer, how concerned are you with the tension between specificity and universality?
I’m not very interested in universality. It’s too arrogant. I think it masks a very legitimate fear of how massively different everything is. Specificity moves you into this fearful zone where things are more interesting.

6) What was one of the hardest decisions you’ve ever had to make as an artist?
Admitting that a relationship is not working in the way one intended is legitimately hard, but people have to do that all the time. It has nothing to do with being an artist. Being poor is hard too – but many people are poorer than artists. Being a human is quite hard, but being an artist-human is an extremely enjoyable, privileged modification.

7) What do you think makes the Antigone story such fertile terrain for playwrights?
It’s another story about the West; it’s like Dedicated to the Revolutions in that way. It’s good at talking about the relationships between families and states, and conceptually, it inoculates the one with the other. It also feels true because it exposes the strain of conservatism under all radical positions, when they exist in time. It shreds up easy ideologies and vacuity alike, and it reminds us that some evils are necessary – which we all know, I think, pre-consciously, but which we sometimes forget.

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Photo by David Hawe.

8) Of the approaches to acting you studied at the National Theatre School of Canada, which were for you the least helpful and why?
The strategies for collaborative, devised performance, were the most exciting and fulfilling and also the least helpful because, for years after, I thought that I knew the right way to make theatre.

9) How much does your experience with “theatrical performance” inform the way you approach your day-to-day “identity performance”?
Acting and creating performance is a good way to practice forgetting yourself, while still being with other people, and being attentive to them.

10) What are some of the questions that are on your mind these days?
How can people do things together? What is a person responsible for?

“Theatre is everywhere – most of it is free”

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Vancouver-based theatre blogger and playwright Simon Ogden (The Blogtender) gets the Umbrella Talk interview treatment over at MK Piatkowski’s One Big Umbrella blog. A sample:

“I have a dream about Black Box theatres dotting our communities like convenience stores (convenience theatres?), each of them telling their own stories. As theatre grows again into a common language we should begin to discuss the mechanisms and politics of our larger communities, our cities, our provinces, our countries, the world.”

Great stuff. Check out the full interview, here.

What can theatre learn from the Harvard Business blogs?

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Is it wrong for theatre artists to love the Harvard Business blogs? You decide. Check out a few recent posts:

From that last post: “A start-up company’s controller watched the CFO lie to members of other departments and subsequently began to doubt the CFO’s sincerity. He began looking for a new job with a boss whose intentions he could trust. In that instance, lying cost the company a valuable employee.”

Insights like these could go a long to helping emerging theatre companies find their corporate feet. Or maybe, when it comes to great theatre, art and commerce don’t mix?