Make $75,000 a year theatre blogging

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

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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?

Chicago theatre history 2.0

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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.

10 questions: George Hunka

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1) What the fuck is going on?
It depends I suppose on who the fuck you ask.

Since you ask me: Raising a daughter, trying to keep body and soul together, keeping the wolf from the door. Aside from that, filing the right legal paperwork to finally get the theatre company off the ground, finishing up old projects, starting new ones.

2) What’s your favourite thing about being a theatre writer in New York City?
That there’s so much to write about. My main interest is in iconoclastic, experimental work, and New York attracts so many talented practitioners of it. It’s also the home to many artists I’ve admired since my youth, and they continue to work here. You could easily go to a different show each night of the year and, if you’re careful about it, see an extraordinarily rich palette of work.

This begs the question (which you don’t ask) of the worst thing about being a theatre writer in New York. And that is that there is so much to write about. You could just as easily go to a different show each night of the year and despair of the art form at the end of it.

I decided some time ago to write only about work that I admire, that I find personally thought-provoking in some way. There’s no shortage of theatre writers in New York, in the blogosphere and out of it. I imagine all the bases are covered somehow.

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3) Why is your blog called “Superfluities Redux”?
The name “Superfluities” came about after I read Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Nock was a particularly acidulous American writer of the early 20th century, most of whose work is justly neglected. But he was an interesting figure: a radical pacifist, describing himself as a “philosophical anarchist.” For a number of reasons – some good, some not so good – he’s become identified with the paleoconservative movement here in the United States. It indicates, though, that politics is not a spectrum really but a Moebius strip: the extreme right resembles more and more the extreme left. And vice versa.

In Memoirs, his last book, Nock wrote about his disillusionment and alienation from the culture in which he found himself in the 1940s; he claimed that the values he held were regarded with increasing indifference. I am much less of a misanthrope than Nock was, and I have no truck with conservative or paleoconservative values, but I have sympathy for that kind of individual figure. The trick is to be comfortable away from the crowd, an odd condition for such a collaborative art as theatre, but there you are. You have to find the power, the imagination, the courage within yourself and the work of others you admire. It’s lonely work at first, but as a result, you eventually meet the most wonderful figures engaged in similar projects; the more you attempt, the more it is recognized.

The trick is to be
comfortable away from
the crowd – an odd condition for such a collaborative
art as theatre . . .

And theatre too, at least my conception of it, is increasingly at the periphery of the culture, increasingly an expensive “superfluity,” given the ease of inexpensive access to various media. So it continues to fit.

“Redux” was just tacked on when I moved the blog from one hosting location to another in 2007. It provided continuity, but also marked a slight change of direction.

4) What’s the goal of the series of blog posts you’ve written under the Organum heading?
No goal. That assumes that one will come out of such a project with a product of some kind.

The “Organum” is a means by which I, and anyone else who’s interested, can follow my investigations. So it’s a series of provocations to myself, of excavations of those amorphous sensations that surround theatre and the culture around it. Because both are living things, constantly in flux, there is no final end, no goal. The entries may be various in themselves: arguments, contradictions. They’re all poems in some way written to the theatre – a theatre so far unseen, of the imagination.

On a more mundane level, yes, the Organum and its entries can be “used.” I use them to sharpen my thinking about this project of theatre I’ve dedicated my life to. Some teachers, I know, recommend it to their students; there’s some possibility of a book soon. And I have many readers, many of whom I also admire, who tell me that they enjoy the work. So it’s also a means of reaching out to those artists and writers who share elective affinities with what I write.

But it’s not a textbook, a recipe book. Plays will not emerge from it as delicious meals emerge from the use of a cookbook. If anything on that score, they are more a theoretical base from which the practical work is built. Nor are those plays necessarily “finished.” Brecht called his plays “Versuche” – experiments, tests. Mine are the same.

Interestingly, “organum” has two dictionary definitions. First, it’s the name for a form of early polyphony in Medieval music. Second, it’s a variant of the Greek word “organon.” Merriam-Webster defines “organon” this way: “an instrument for acquiring knowledge; specifically: a body of principles of scientific or philosophic investigation.” Both apply here. An instrument, then, and not that knowledge itself, which emerges from the theatrical work, the “test,” instead.

5) How have your experiences with theatre blogging influenced your ideas about theatre?
They move in parallel. When I was reviewing for the New York Times, I was more interested in theatre as consumable product. But over the years I became less and less satisfied with this idea of theatre, and this dissatisfaction was recorded at “Superfluities” and “Superfluities Redux.” I became more comfortable – as I suggested above – with operating at a distance from contemporary theatrical culture (by which I mean both its productions and its critical culture, in both the Broadway and the “indie theatre” arenas).

I was surprised by the amount of hostility the expression of this dissatisfaction produced. In so far as I was trying to define my changing perspective, I needed to do so in contrast to, and often in antagonistic opposition to, that theatrical culture. What it ultimately demonstrated was how gossamer-thin, how illusory and fragile, the ideological basis of that culture is.

I do hope that, with the “Organum,” I am shoring up the foundations of that new theatre I hope to make. Time will tell.

6) How concerned are you that the use of large, complicated words in your writing will prevent some readers from understanding your ideas?
I’m not concerned about this at all. Because I’m struggling with some complex feelings and ideas, I need precision – the use of exactly the right word, at the right place, at the right time. And I don’t make these words up, you know.

I don’t think it’s the words themselves that prevent readers from “understanding.” I think it’s the ideas that they find difficult rather than the vocabulary I use (which, honestly, is not beyond the capabilities of a bright high school student, I think). In fact, I think just the opposite is true – that the vocabulary assists some readers to understand my ideas which otherwise would remain difficult, because I do aim for precision.

7) What does theatre look like when you strip it to its essential elements: “the living body and the spoken word”?
You can easily imagine it for yourself. While we don’t know much about the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages, for example, we have a vague idea that it was primarily language (specifically, poetic and lyrical language) and body that created the dramatic world. Of course there were effects – the deux ex machina, offstage sounds, and most especially costume (which is, after all, a decoration of that living body) – but these were utilized in support of the world that the bodied language created.

“Theatre minima,” as a production aesthetic, is as old as the theatre itself, nothing new. More recently there have been examples of it all over the world, including Grotowski and Artaud (neither of whom entirely abandoned language in even their most radical work, Grotowski’s gestures and Artaud’s screams notwithstanding). All I hope is to bring language a little bit more to the center of this project. The realistic and naturalistic drama tended to relegate it to the sidelines.

theatre_minima

8) What is one of the most unpopular decisions you’ve made as artistic director of Theatre Minima?
Since theatre minima is at this point a two-person organization, I can’t say any decisions have been “unpopular.”

9) Of the things you’ve written recently – any format – which is your favourite and why?
I rather liked an essay I wrote on the Rothko Chapel recently; it’s online, here.

My wife Marilyn Nonken was there to perform a Messiaen work with Sarah Rothenberg, and it provoked a variety of responses in me. I think I was able to set them out quite well in that essay.

Otherwise it’s always the most recent work that is the favorite. “What She Knew,” a play I wrote at the Albee Foundation a few years ago, is a version of the Oedipus story from Jocasta’s perspective, and I hope to see that on stage soon. And I’m finishing a screenplay based on “Antigone” which I hope will go into production this year.

I’m starting to work on two new plays. The first is a long-planned version of Lenz’s 1776 play “The Tutor,” a fascinating comedy about the rise of the middle class during the Enlightenment; it ends with the hero castrating himself. The second is a play about Jonestown, which seems to me to have a Shakespearean sweep – the story resembles those of Shakespeare’s problem plays and romances rather than his tragedies. But it too is a remarkable example of the dynamics that exist between religion and politics, sex and power. And as I say, an extraordinarily broad canvas on which to work. And uniquely American, which presents a new set of ideas for me to consider.

10) Looking back on your body of theatre theory work so far, what are some of the common themes or ideas that emerge?
The key theme is that the individual human body possesses amazing possibilities for experience. That pain and suffering are unavoidable, but that this pain and suffering are so closely tied in their extremities to pleasure and ecstasy that it frees the imagination to consider new worlds, new possibilities for compassion and love.

To be dissatisfied, angry, mournful with the world
as it is – that’s the only real impulse we have to change it.

Postcapitalist culture, which has given rise to a new sort of neobourgeois collectivism, seeks, in its attempt to eradicate pain and draw all experience into something to be consumed and marketed, nothing more than the death of that imagination, and the closing off of those possibilities. Individual imagination undermines the urge to communal satisfaction. With satisfaction comes a sort of death as well.

To be dissatisfied, angry, mournful with the world as it is – that’s the only real impulse we have to change it. And change, to most, is a fearful, fearful thing. In inventing ourselves, as always but especially now, we have to risk everything to gain anything.

The passion of the blogs

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A look back on a good year in the theatrosphere
By Simon Ogden and Ian Mackenzie

Time to put 2008 to bed? Good idea. But not before we take one last look at the year that was in theatre blogging. And what a year it was! From epic online dust-ups to Internet-wide collaborations, here’s our list of last year’s greatest moments in theatre blogging:

The Empty Spaces – Or, How Theatre Failed America.
The American monologuist Mike Daisey’s scathing editorial for the Seattle-based The Stranger newspaper argues that American theatre has been irreversibly damaged at the hands of corporate commodification. It quickly becomes the most widely discussed theatre essay of February.

The Great “Value of theatre” Debate.
For one day in March, the Ohio-based blogger Matt Slaybaugh of TheatreForté organized a theatrosphere-wide discussion to answer one simple question: “What is the value of theatre?” More than 32 different blogs from around the world weighed in on the topic that day – and yet surprisingly few common themes emerged. That theatre’s online diarists could not reduce the craft to tidy soundbites is welcome evidence of the art form’s complexity.

The SummerWorks “Expression” video controversy.
The Toronto-based SummerWorks Theatre Festival promo video depicts some of the city’s most highly regarded women playwrights acting like bimbo valley girls – up-talking and saying “like” a lot. “Expression” sparked an all-out brawl among Toronto’s theatrical intelligentsia. Some called it demeaning, some called it transgressive, others called it smart marketing. But no one called it late for dinner.

Professor Scott Walters “retires” from theatre blogging.
After a lengthy monologue explaining his Tribes model of running a theatre company, and some highly personal bare-knuckle scrapping in his comments section, the resident professor of the theatrosphere calls it quits again in May. He’s back posting within a couple of days; posts sporadically for a few months; and then officially reboots his blog again earlier this week.

The proliferation of the Canadian theatre blogs.
Although theatre blogging exploded in the U.S. a couple of years earlier, 2008 was the year theatre blogging officially took flight in Canada. Here’s a quick, incomplete survey of the current landscape:

And the list keeps growing. Thankfully.

Canadian artists rally online over $45 million goverments arts cuts.
The Canadian arts community unites against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government following its controversial $45 million cuts to Canadian arts programs; sets the national theatrosphere ablaze – including dozens of reprints of playwright Wadji Mouawad’s scathing response to Harper and the birth of the arts advocacy group Department of Culture.

Content is king for a day.
Well, several days actually – after Tony Adams drops a post called “Content” in which he wonders aloud why no one on the Internet ever discusses the content of their shows. The topic has legs.

The age of the guest post.
Theatre is territory and its west coast sister blog The Next Stage host a series of guest posts that help inspire their writers to think outside the blog:

Don Hall gets divorced.
The usually irascible Don Hall blogs about the dissolution of his marriage, morphing the normally incendiary Angry White Guy in Chicago blog into a tender and affecting piece of Internet theatre.

The Globe and Mail gets its theatre blog on.
After showing all of England how to theatre blog (by founding the Guardian UK’s theatre blog roundup Noises off), J. Kelly Nestruck returns home to Canada to fill the prestigious national theatre critic slot at the Globe and Mail. He promptly starts a Globe theatre blog – Nestruck on theatre – and seals the deal on theatre blogging’s legitimacy in Canada.

Canadian theatre critics invite unprecedented dialogue with artists.
Notorious Vancouver theatre critic Colin Thomas challenges theatre artists to change their status quo and engage him directly about his opinions online – none do (yet). J. Kelly Nestruck does likewise.

How Mike Daisey failed American Theatre.
“The Daisey” goes head-to-head with American Theatre Magazine.

The theatrosphere unites to say goodbye to Harold Pinter.
Legendary American playwright shuffles off his mortal coil and goes on to join the choir invisible; the chorus of the theatrosphere sings his praises down here.


Well, it’s clear that our list could be twice as long and still wildly incomplete. Lest we forget Isaac Butler’s oddball Hair Blogging, George Hunka’s syllable-heavy Organum series, Matt Freeman’s awesome Star Wars fixation, Nick Keenan’s constant innovations, James Comtois’ horror film posts, Leonard Jacob’s prolific flamboyance, Paul Rekk’s island of insight, Adam Thurman’s paradoxical mission, those anonymous ponderings at 99Seats, Travis Bedard’s extreme connectedness, Alison Broverman’s fashionesta quipping, or Chris Wilkinson’s succinct reporting of this whole fine mess . . . oh theatrosphere, we hardly know you and yet we bleed for your love.

Suffice to say, 2008 was the year that many will remember as the year theatre finally made a successful transition to digital.


You can also find this here.

Theatre is Territory 2.0

So. What the fuck is going on with this blog?

I know.

Things have been a bit slow around here lately. It’s my fault. After more than two years, 426 posts, 78 “10 questions” interviews, and more comments section brawls than I can count, I must admit that my capacity for pumping this stuff out is waning. I still love theatre and theatre blogging. But resources are finite, and there are other projects on the horizon – not the least of which is my role in marketing Praxis Theatre’s upcoming production of Stranger, by far our most ambitious show to date.

That said, I am thrilled to announce that starting next week there will be a new voice, and a new energy in this space. If you’ve been a regular reader or commentor, you already know Michael Wheeler and his frequently insightful contributions to this blog. As a commentor, and occasionally as a guest poster, Michael has been a big supporter of this blog since its inception. He also happens to be Praxis Theatre’s Co-Artisitic Director.

Michael will now join me in the day-to-day posting at this venue. In the spirit of its origins, all posts will continue to be signed “Praxis Theatre”. Some will be written by Michael, some by me. Ultimately, and if we’re doing our jobs, it shouldn’t really matter who’s writing the posts. It’s not about Praxis Theatre or about one writer’s voice. It never has been. We’re interested in the big ideas. In learning more from our industry peers. And in being a thoughtful and relevant part of the conversation. Michael’s a great fit and I thank him dearly for caring enough about this project to step up when it needs him most.

So let’s see where this takes us. For my part, I’m looking forward to continuing the “10 questions” series. I want it to be good. So I may take another couple of months off interviewing to recharge and recalibrate.

Thank you kindly for your patience through this transition. And thanks to everyone who has contributed to this conversation so far. I am humbled by your generosity and wisdom.

Obviously, there is plenty more we need to figure out.

Welcome Michael.


Ian Mackenzie
Director of Marketing
Praxis Theatre

Blogging about theatre blogging

As part of their series on blogging and the arts, the good people at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival have interviewed Praxis Theatre’s Director of Marketing and resident blogger, Ian Mackenzie.

Questions involve the origins of the Theatre is territory blog, Celebrity Theatre, and the role of the Internet in bridging Canada’s cultural landmass gap:

“What do we gain from creating a stronger sense of our national theatre except – maybe – to bask in some heightened sense of our sovereign statehood?”

Click through to read the full interview and all its anti-nationalist tangents.

New theatre blog friends

There are a ton of great theatre blogs out there. Here are a few we’ve been reading recently:

Chris Dupis – Toronto
Dennis Baker blog – Los Angeles
ecoTheater – Wisconsin
GreyZelda Land – Chicago
Guardian UK – Theatre – London
The Mirror up to Nature – Boston
Off the Fence – Toronto
Play Out the Play! – California
Spinning/and/spinning – Toronto

Please click through for abundant awesomeness!