Friday, May 29, 2009

Forbidden Interpretation

                             [...] You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.

I'm starting to work on my lines for this summer's production of Macbeth at First Folio Theatre directed by Nick Sandys.  I'm playing a couple of small ensemble roles (and fighting!) and I'll be understudying the role of Banquo. The quotation above is from Banquo's first line in the play and already it's thoroughly apparent why Shakespeare is so great.

His audience is looking at men playing women.  While we'd like to pretend as though this must have been alienating, we know how easily theater audiences can overcome conventions in their imagination of a production.  The stage crew that you don't see, for instance, or the two chairs side by side that become a car.  But Banquo's line brilliantly exploits this particular convention.  He is "forbidden from interpreting" that the men playing women are women, but they are, but not quite.  He is saying that he is having difficulty making the required (conventional) interpretive leap.  By what is he forbidden? His eyes.  By what is he compelled?  His reason/imagination.  

Thus onstage magic and theatricality are the same.  Banquo's line invites the audience to doubt what we accept is true on account of the evidence of what we know is true, and yet still to uphold what is clearly not true in order to tell the story.  Fantastic.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Smart Fundraising

I love this. Particularly in the midst of the current ascent of transparency, this patent approach to fundraising I find really charming and effective. Even I'm somehow more engaged to donate the $5 for the stage manager's spike tape than I would be to donate $5 in general (though I would insist it not be glow tape, which I irrationally loathe). This system permits small donations, encourages large donations, and injects a little bit of fun and sharing into the process. I really congratulate The Signal Ensemble on their imaginative approach. I'd be interested to know how it's working.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pad Thai and MURDER!...oh, and theater

My sister and I picked up some food after work at The Lieutenant of Inishmore last night.  As I was standing at the counter paying, the owner's eyes darted at my forearms and fingernails pink from mopping up stage blood, and accented with occasional clumps and swashes of deep red.  

Late Night Thai: What happened?
Me: I'm sorry?
LNT: What happened?  Your hands.
Me: Oooh, uh, em, I work at, uh it's uh stage blood.  I work at a theater.  The show, um, lot of fake blood.  It's fake.  Fake blood.
LNT: (laughing and smiling) You not kill somebody?
Me: (hands up, backing away, smiling) I swear, officer, it's corn syrup!

I guess the interesting thing about this is how, in the theater, objects act too.  Some of them are type cast.  That chair is playing a chair.  That clock is playing a clock.  But that corn syrup is playing blood and the corn syrup can't break character.  

I like to think about the magic of the collective will to storytelling that the theater represents for me. What I'm wondering about now, however, is whether the acting that objects do - becoming signifiers sometimes of themselves, sometimes of similar or disparate object - is a product of the breadth of this will to include every aspect or of the focus of this will to disregard obstructing details.  Certainly the result is the same, but the process of this imagination could be exploited further if understood accurately.


This week's Cliché Watch is up at The New Colony.  It's on Intermissions this week, and already a conversation has started.  Join on in.  

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bird-Voiced Pants-Wearer

In another life I studied Greek and I had a great teacher once who, like all great teachers, was fond of going on tangents.  One of them centered around the Ancient Greek perception of Persians, which he boiled down to: twittering, bird-voiced, pants-wearing archers.  

Anyway, this has been bouncing around in my head ever since I set up a Twitter account for A Red Orchid Theatre last Thursday.  If you tweet, check them out @aredorchid, and keep your pants on.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Art For Profit?

This is an interesting article from the great site Chicago Artists' Resource.  It's about dance, specifically, but I think it's applicable rather more broadly.  We've inherited the idea of non-profit arts organizations and rarely question it, but like all things I think it's worth examination.  The stark difference between "commercial" art and "Art" art (forgodssake) is not new, I admit, but it is a bit oppressive.  The indie rock world, at its worst, is so engulfed by this kind of bifurcated thinking that commercial success is actually equivalent to aesthetic irrelevance.  I wonder then if non-profit is as much a kind of badge as it is a business model, and if that's true, if it is a badge worth wearing.  Examination may prove that it is, but I think it might be refreshing to find out the hard way.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Most Thorough Cliché Watch, Ever

I guess I can skip all the ones I had brewing about story structure...

See more from this artist here.  Check on this week's cliché watch on political theater here.

(Hat Tip: James Asmus)

Essence and Aim

Peter Brook describes a Ta'azieh performance in a village in Iran. But I think what he describes is precisely the justification for and highest aim of every revival production, from Grease to Galileo:

...a true phenomenon was occurring, that of 'theatrical representation.' An event from the very distant past was in the process of being 're-presented,' of becoming present; the past was happening here and now, the hero's decision was for now, his anguish was for now and the audience's tears were for this very moment. The past was not being described nor illustrated, time had been abolished. The village was participating directly and totally, here and now in the real death of a real figure who had died some thousand years before. The story had been read to them many times, and described in words, but only the theater form could work this feat of making it part of a living experience. (The Open Door)

A task worth succeeding in, certainly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Political Theater is the Best Theater

This week Anne Nicholson Weber and I discuss the cliché that Theater is only achieving its highest form when it is overtly political. There's a lot going on in this one.  My weakness for the old stuff confronts the laziness of hierarchies, and Anne finds the error in embodied discussion with evident partisanship.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Facts and Fictions

Smart.  Last night I saw Red Tape Theatre's Enemy of the People.  If you haven't seen it yet you may want to stop reading now because I want to talk about a really amazing trick that works in part, by surprise.  As in my response to A Red Orchid Theatre's The Unseen, I am constantly astonished by the simplicity of the creation of wonder in the theater.  Because, unlike film, a theater audience is constantly constructing reality from a series of rules that are accepted but utterly transient.  In The Unseen, of course I know that Danny is just standing on a stage, of course I even know that it's Danny.  But I've built him into a cell and I've built him into Wallace. When he disappears during a blackout, and I'm terrified that he's been abducted and is being tortured, I've done that.  Nothing that is true has been transcended, but everything I've made has been used to exploit what is true when the two confront each other.

In some ways the opposite of this miracle is undertaken in a brilliant surprise in James Palmer's direction of Enemy of the People. At the start of the performance the curtain speech requests that every audience member leave the theater completely during the intermission.  Here's what's true: we are in a church gymnasium, we are at a performance by a small theater company in it's second year.  We are willing to believe, in a race of thoughts, that we need to leave so that a significant set change can occur, a little odd, but hey that's storefront theater.

At intermission we casually leave the theater and sort of any-old-how mosey into a little lobby where there are some drinks and plenty of space to sit or stand.  Intermission is unremarkable. Then, one of the actors comes out into the lobby and walks briskly to a group of people, maybe they are friends of his.  A little weird, it goes.  Suddenly it's obvious: the next scene was supposed to be a town hall meeting.  Fact: we are in a meeting room in a small church.  We create: we are at the meeting.  

That's it.  Suddenly we are at a Town Hall meeting.  The provision of drinks, the ample seating, Palmer used the facts of our condition to create a theatrical miracle.  It's the employment of these facts that I want to advocate.  A phone rings: we all know.  A prop is dropped, we all know.  The cohabitation of facts and fictions doesn't "take us out," isn't a "distraction," it's the foundation of theatrical artifice, and oh my god, it's rewarding.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Masterclass in Sound Design

Wow.  In case you missed it, Nick Keenan teaches us all how to be sound designers, by running through five years of shows he did and problems he solved.  I don't know much about sound design, but I know a hell of a lot more now.  Click here and scroll down to "Questioning a Design Aesthetic."

This Play Isn't For Everybody

Another Cliché Watch up at The New Colony, this one takes aim at a critical cliché and features Christopher Shea, a critic at TimeOut.  We agree on the cliché but disagree on why it's bad: pick a side!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Growing up with asthma and smog, my mom's love and support have literally been more consistent than breathing.  I have a lot of fancy pants reasons for loving George Burns and Gracie Allen, but the main one is that Gracie reminds me of my mother.  No matter what she's saying, you can tell she's got all the brains.   I love you, mom.

This is from the MGM non-classic Honolulu, but there's a lot of the George Burns and Gracie Allen show on Youtube actually.  Check it out and think of my mother.  (Is that weird?)

(don't miss her gesture on "I've got a ukulele")

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Strangest Mechanic in Ireland

During the last nine months of working various stage crew positions at the Northlight Theatre, I've been exposed to a lot of different ideas about logistical aesthetics, for lack of a better term.  The most customary "negative" clothes - clothes that indicate aesthetic irrelevance - are just simple black pants, shoes, and long-sleeved shirt.  The origin of this must be blending in when the lights are out, and so being more or less actually invisible, but the custom has grown so familiar that we can accept the invisibility of the crew even in bright light.  I imagine there could be relatively little outcry, for example, even if in the middle of a period piece someone in black with a wireless headset walked onstage and set a letter on a desk.  

Alternatively, sometimes the decision is made that the crew would "stand out less" if they were dressed to match the setting of the play.  To that end, in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for instance, the crew was all dressed in Victorian British outfits and I think there is an evident logic behind this.

In The Lieutenant of Inishmore, however, the crew has a lot of blood to clean up and so we've all been issued black coveralls that we wear to keep from getting our bodies or clothes drenched in stage blood.  The problem this presents is that only at one point during the play is there a crew person seen onstage (this happens to be me) and this person's task is to enter and strike a woman's bike.  I bring this up because unlike blending in with period costume or acknowledging a customary, if clichéd, practice of black pants and shirt, it is unclear if what I'm wearing reads as attention negative clothing or if it, in fact, draws attention.  If several of us entered at once or if we consistently were visible carrying out logistical business we would quickly recede into negative space.  But with only one entrance, what is an audience to think?  There does, after all, seem to be a strange mechanic with a handlebar mustache walking along an Irish country road stealing women's bicycles.

My friends who have seen the play assure me that it is not at all distracting, but I like that it has drawn my attention again to the aesthetics of logistics in the theater, an area too much overlooked and that I think may be expressed in a few cliché watch columns I have brewing. More to come.

The Way

Oh dear.  Can't we think of an acting technique that doesn't sound like a cult?

(Hat Tip: LRN)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dead Relatives

The Cliché Watch this week is with Zev Valancy talking about the preponderance of dead relatives onstage in new plays.  Should be an active one.