Seven things I learned about theatre in the past 10 days

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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

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.