Friday, July 31, 2009

Universal Health Care

The health care debate just got personal: my insurance is trying to get me to go see Jersey Boys...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


TheatreinChicago has been providing this great resource for some time, allowing potential audience members to quickly look at a broad spectrum of reviews. The New Colony is jumping into the game with this interesting point-by-point comparison of different reviews of Tupperware. More to come.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've got an essay brewing on criticism. In the meantime this great post on the TOC blog by Critic John Beer, is a good prelude to what I want to discuss.


Ok. I'm trying ads. I'm not allowed to encourage anyone to click them or to click them myself, though that would increase my revenue. I hope they aren't weird or pornographic or anything. I'm under the impression that they will be generated from the content on this blog, so they'll probably end up being a lot of vest outlet stores or Aeschylus translations or audition workshops. Could be worse. I'm trying them out for a bit, partly because I love the neologism "monetize" and partly because I'm excited by what that word represents. If we hate them, we'll destroy them. For now, an adventure in capitalism. Comments welcome.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Changed my Mind

After a spiel lamenting what I saw as a kind of weak-minded hero worship of Shakespeare, Jack Tamburri took me to school with his response:
This is the magic of Marvel Comics.
Bear with me.
A number of writers, many with little actual writing ability, have written the adventures of, say, Thor, over the past 50 years. The characters’ voices, motivations, and histories are remarkably inconsistent as a result.
The pleasure of reading Marvel comics over many years is the imaginative work the reader must do to reconcile those inconsistencies–to fill in the blanks between issues, between panels, between runs of writers. As a reader, I write like half the story, and end up much closer to the characters–more emotionally invested as a result.
This is the pleasure of the principle of perfect intention. Start from the assumption that every word, every comma is vital. Then you must do imaginative work to reconcile inconsistencies and give them reasons to exist “in-continuity”. In Marvel letters pages, this was called the “No-Prize”–a fan would write in with an in-story solution to what is blatantly a coloring error or an editing gaffe (Harry Osborn’s shirt changed color in two panels of the same scene because he’s actually a shape-shifting alien!). Directing (or acting in) Titus Andronicus is a series of No-Prizes.
This is also the thinking behind “ambiguity” or “emotional storytelling” or “dream logic.” Make the audience participate in telling the story. This is an extremely important – nay, vital – part of the power of theater.

Well, this is absolutely fantastic and certainly correct.

I'll still raise two caveats, however. First, an interesting difference with the Marvel comics example is that everyone understands that the "smoothing" creative act belongs to the audience. Makers' "errors" etc. are accepted, willfully, as true, and then worked through by the audience. Amazing.

Secondly, I don't think it's true exactly in the theater that we extend the same kind of license to every author that we extend to Shakespeare, and I think that's really what I was trying to treat. Excepting a text as complete is, I now am certain, a great creative act of reception. Privileging one dead genius is still hero worship.

Ooh lastly, the difference in theater is that this receptive act does not necessarily extend to the audience. In a comic book if a frame has a coloring error or something like that the audience takes it as it may. In theater if a script has a plothole or a complication, ostensibly the production team will smooth this out - before it ever gets to an audience.

All the same, a great response, and a wonderful example of audience activity. Thanks, Jack.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Benedictio mea Miranda est

I have today officially had the best year of my life. More to come. If you would like the key to happiness, I'm sorry, she's spoken for. (And is sure to correct my Latin.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sincere Question II

What is self-expression? Does it matter?

Playing it Far from the Vest

I've somehow failed to point out that the production of Macbeth that I'm working on right now is vestless! As promised, I'm posting some pictures of the show in an ongoing effort to prove that Shakespeare's plays can be performed without the aid of vests. If you're involved in a Shakespeare play without vests, don't forget to send me some pictures and I promise I'll post them. We can break the cycle of this addiction.

Nathan Hosner and Patrice Egleston (above)

E.B. Smith and Nathan Hosner (below)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two Poems for Tuesday...and some muttering

Thinking about this poem today. An Eliot we often forget was cocky and a little mean. The word "Ladies" in an earlier draft read "Critics":

"The Triumph of Bullshit" by T. S. Eliot

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited
If you consider my merits are small
Etiolated, alembicated,
Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,
Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,
Impotent galamatias
Affected, possibly imitated,
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass

Ladies, who find my intentions ridiculous
Awkward insipid and horribly gauche
Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous
Dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche
Floundering versicles feebly versiculous
Often attenuate, frequently crass
Attempts at emotions that turn isiculous,
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies who think me unduly vociferous
Amiable cabotin making a noise
That people may cry out "this stuff is too stiff for us" -
Ingenuous child with a box of new toys
Toy lions carnivorous, cannons fumiferous
Engines vaporous - all this will pass;
Quite innocent - "he only wants to make shiver us."
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

And when thyself with silver foot shalt pass
Among the Theories scattered on the grass
Take up my good intentions with the rest
And then for Christ's sake stick them up your ass.

Also, I found this lovely poem this afternoon by Richard Wilbur:

"Piccola Commedia"

He is no one I really know,
The sun-charred, gaunt young man
By the highway's edge in Kansas
Thirty-odd years ago.

On a tourist-cabin verandah
Two middle-aged women sat;
One, in a white dress, fat,
With a rattling glass in her hand,

Called "Son, don't you feel the heat?
Get up here into the shade."
Like a good boy, I obeyed,
And was given a crate for a seat

And an Orange Crush and gin.
"This state," she said, "is hell."
Her thin friend crackled, "Well, dear,
You've gotta fight sin with sin."

"No harm in a drink; my stars!"
Said the fat one, jerking her head.
"And I'll take no lip from Ed,
Him with his damn cigars."

Laughter. A combine whined
On past, and dry grass bent
In the backwash; liquor went
Like an ice-pick in my mind.

Beneath her skirt I spied
Two sea sea-cows on a floe.
"Go talk to Mary Jo, son,
She's reading a book inside."

As I gangled in at the door
A pink girl, curled in a chair,
Looked up with an ingenue stare.
Screenland lay on the floor.

Amazed by her starlet's pout
And the way her eyebrows arched,
I felt both drowned and parched.
Desire leapt up like a trout.

"Hello," she said, and her gum
Gave a calculating crack.
At once from the lightless back
Of the room came the grumble

Of someone heaving from bed,
A Zippo's click and flare,
Then, more and more apparent,
The shuffling form of ED,

Who neither looked nor spoke
But moved in profile by,
Blinking one gelid eye
In his elected smoke.

This is something I've never told,
And some of it I forget.
But the heat! I can feel it yet,
And that conniving cold.

The point I'd like to make about the second poem is a small point, but really precisely to the heart of it. Wilbur's poem has a remarkably simple structure and a delicate, deliberate rhyme scheme. Yet, at no point is Wilbur constrained by it: the additional syllables of Kansas, and Verandah in even the first and second stanzas establish that the author's permission to exclude himself from his own rules. This permission is central to art.

In its very name we acknowledge art as something made by people, but we sometimes decide that the rules that govern media are inherited from the gods. I think if you are setting out to create good work it is important to have parameters etc., but knowing when they're in the way, and getting out of one's own way, is the real key to genius.

An example for me remains Greg Allen's Strange Interlude. At one point, an actor is reading a set description that calls for the stage to be more "cluttered" than it was in the previous scene. There has, up to this point, been no change in the set. At this moment, from the wings, a stage hand hurls an additional chair onstage. It lands sloppily, upside down, somewhere stage right. It was a great moment only possible through this kind of artistic permission to surprise and delight and subvert. Here I am, months later, still laughing.

Two Shade

Two Shade, the debut album by jazz pianist Gerald Clayton, is out now and is a Critic's Choice in the New York Times. From the review:

a wide-ranging, self-confident album, and a fluent, bobbing-and-weaving relationship with the bassist Joe Sanders and the drummer Justin Brown.

See the whole review here. Buy the album here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


There's something really gross about this Teachout article.  First, I definitely believe that the term "artist" is an honorific, not a job description.  And, certainly there is a difference between writing plays and writing reviews of plays - the jobs are very different - but who knew an examination of the difference could feel so much like hot breath in the face?  Read it, maybe I'm crazy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Continuity, cont'd

The point is: filmic discontinuity is invisible. This is despite/because of its position as the essence of the medium. Making a film seem discontinuous is almost a trick now because we are so quick to fill in the gaps.

On stage, discontinuity is essentially stunning because everything is out in the open. Consider for instance the blackout before the show begins. This is creating discontinuity. The lie it offers is that suddenly, you are no longer in the space you were just in. Fantastic.

Discontinuity within a play (real, black-out discontinuity, not actors running around with cubes discontinuity) works a little bit differently. We have created a world together, and then, in an instant, it is completely destroyed. There is no telling - absolutely no telling - what world we'll be in next. (Although, of course, if the last line of the previous scene is "Hooray, let's all go to the zoo!" we might expect the Zoo.) So theatrical discontinuity strikes me as the best way to present fantasy, delight, and possibility onstage. Especially if there really are changes to the set etc., a real blackout (no glowtape, no kidding around) that rises to reveal a real change will always surprise and delight an audience. Because there aren't any tricks. My friend Dash used to do this magic trick where he puts a condom up his nose and pulls it out of his mouth. People always asked him how he did it. Did he have a second condom in his mouth? Did he hide it up his sleeve? No: he just did it. That's the magic - confronted with remarkable reality, we will invent an impossibly complicated alternative.

I've heard complaints that blackouts break up a show's unity, but never an explanation as to why that's essentially bad. What if that is exactly what they do: break up unity. Imagine a living room drama in which the great secret is finally revealed. Then black. A moment. Then lights up again. Nothing has changed, everything has changed, what happened in between? Right? That's delightful.

We have so many tricks. So many tricks that litter our stages any-old-how. We use ming vases to hold paper flowers 8 times a week all across the country. Will the revolution come from something no one ever thought of over the last 2500 years? Maybe. But we could also try just thinking about all the jewels we're overlooking.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Small Victory

In my Cliché Watch on ambiguity some months back I described Stoppard's method in The Invention of Love:

A remarkable thing about this script is the way in which information is eked out over the course of the evening. It is very clear that an entire universe exists and that all its questions have answers, and the way Mr. Stoppard controls himself as he offers this information piecemeal is essentially the “plot” of the play.

Listen to how Stoppard himself describes the playwright's art in an episode of Charlie Rose:

Now if only I'd called it a bladder...

Route 66

The new Full Storefrontal is up at Theatre In Chicago, focusing on Route 66 Theatre Co.  Check it out

Thursday, July 9, 2009

If you have the opportunity to get donkey-kicked in the chest, Cont'd

My friend Zev asked why I was so interested in the "Word Of Mouth" review of Waiting for Godot.  There are quite a few reasons, and I'll try to touch on a few of them now...sketchily.

Three Preliminary Interests
1) "Average Joe's" I think this is really interesting because I just read this study on the excellent The Producer's Prospective blog and the absolute cheapest "Average" ticket price is $56.39.  I'm sure there are discount seats but these are people with a lot of money to spend on theater.

2) Broadway.  Like Hollywood and movies, it's important to acknowledge that Broadway is an entirely different thing to theater.  But it is representative of theater for a lot of people or, even, representative of THE EPITOME of theater.  

3) My impression is that the participants in these interviews got free tickets to the shows and I wonder if they would have gone to see Godot without this.  As soon as a person is geting paid to go to a show he wouldn't go to otherwise, he is actually a critic, not an Average Joe.  The selection of a show is a selection of a key demographic for an audience.  I don't think the producer had a fifteen year old from suburban Philadelphia in mind when finding backers for this show.  Which doesn't mean she isn't invited or that her opinion doesn't matter, but it complicates her inclusion in the show as an average person.  What the hell is an average person?

Institutional Interests
1)  Celebrity. Nathan Lane they loved,which is interesting to me because he's so Broadway.  John Goodman they loved from his film work.  This is fascinating because his familiarity worked against him.  He looked fat, but they didn't consider it a fat suit, they believed when he fell over that he couldn't get up, but they didn't identify this as good acting, they identified it as him doing poorly--in life.  In my black heart I wonder if this indicates a subliminal belief in theater work as evidence of lesser success than film work.  

2)  These quotes: "Kind of confused as to what the hell it meant but it was well written." "I went in kind of intimidated because you know it's Waiting For Godot it's very artsy and ritzy." "a classic kind of play" "an important piece of theater" "never-ending pain" "not sure all my friends would like it."  

I think that of the three Joe is the most convincing as giving us an honest impression of who he is and what he saw.  I mean, the only external influence on his experience that he belies is his desire to enjoy the show.  That's pretty much the platonic ideal of criticism.

Mary and Helen both indicate that they knew a lot about the show before going in (Mary had heard about it 1000 times, she says, and Helen was intimidated by it).  Their impressions of it seem deeply colored by this knowledge.  They seem to be wrestling with a cultural demand to like it or at least to be in on it, that Joe is unconcerned with.  In this way, Joe went to the theater to be entertained.  Mary and Helen went for something else.  If we could find out what that is and give it to them while satisfying Joe we'd be in great shape.  That was easy.   (I'm kidding.)

3) Theater as object.  This sounds silly but have you ever, ever heard anyone say "Sometimes movies can be boring?"  No.  Is it true?  God yes.  I've talked about this a little before here, but we have the very interesting burden of having a Medium that is itself the Attraction.  People think of theater as a thing.  As a single thing that can be easily characterized.  This means that the stakes are high in making it good.  No one is going to walk out of Transformers 2 thinking: I'm never going to a movie again.  It doesn't matter how bad it is.  That is not true with theater. Is this something we should fix?  Is this something we can fix?  Well, it's at least something we should know.  

For these reasons at least, and I wrote this quickly and poorly, I think the video is a profoundly interesting document.  

Adventures in Homophones

Macbeth Act 3, Scene 4

Jeez, Macbeth, why'd you have to drag them into it?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about continuity recently. It's a line of thought ignited by helping a friend working on a TV pilot, and it's interesting because it highlights an important and often ignored difference between theater and cinema.  Cinema is essentially infinitely articulated.  In a single second, 24 individual images strike the eye.  These images are only ever implicitly connected, each could have a life of its own as an entirely different medium (photography). When strung together they become cinematic.  Even a strip of film comprised solely of 1,000 copies of the same image would be cinema when run through a projector.  

Our eyes and brains work together to smooth out the rough articulation of the form.  One thing so damn fantastic about Goddard is his jumpcuts; not really because they were "new," but because every cut is a jump cut.  The camera is choosey, or it can be, and all the fat that exists in cinematic forms (establishing shots, walking across rooms, zooms) all of this can be thrown out the window at anytime.  It's exhilarating.  It gives cinema the chance to be sort of effortlessly poetic, to insist on the utmost importance of every image to throw away every unnecessary flicker.

This is very different onstage.  If I enter stage right and want to be stage left, I'll be in full view at every point in between.  I'm not a ghost on a screen, I'm just a body and a brain in the light.

But, I've had a fascination with blackouts since seeing The Unseen at A Red Orchid Theatre last winter. On one hand the discontinuity that blackouts create is filmic, but it's particularly interesting since its object is a body rather than an image.  Let me be clearer, if I entered stage right and wanted to be stage left and there was a blackout in between - if you didn't see me cross - it would be kind of surprising.  An audience wouldn't necessarily know how to read it. Did something magical happen?  Did I transport?  Why didn't they see the middle?  The simple answer - that it wasn't interesting - probably would not occur.  Fantastic!

Theater is in this sense a continuous form.  Certain ridiculous persons with inordinate power at one time insisted that Theater be spatially unified, temporally unified.  Though these people are all dead, the amount of theater still produced that takes place in a single room over the time it takes to say the lines is pretty remarkable.  Conversely, movies like this (Rope for instance) are always notable.  

I think we should love the freedom to be discontinuous.  We actually have the technology to illuminate and disappear solid bodies onstage, to pop through time and space revealing only what is excellent.  So, let's do it.

Cliché Watch: Cliché Watch

Taking a break from Cliché Watch this week, but check out The New Colony for lots of info on Tupperware: An American Musical Fable opening next week.

Monday, July 6, 2009

If you have the opportunity to get donkey-kicked in the chest

I don't really have anything to say.  I think every artistic director in the country should need to watch this video, there's so much in there.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sincere Question, Cont'd

A Loyal Reader writes:
I think you answered this quite well a couple of years ago when you defined art as an occasion or object wherein the excellence exceeds its utility. Therefore the entertainment vs. art is not a border but a continuum. For example Goodfellas and Scarface are good strong entertainment and The Godfather is probably art. Thomas Kinkaid landscapes are perfectly good decoration. Monet haystacks — art. 

I think this is an important point.  I do still think that's a great, broad definition of art, and one which, interestingly, also includes sports and academia.  Furthermore the above response insists that art is entertainment, some entertainment is art.  Art is an honorific for the best kind of entertainment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sincere Question

What is the difference between art and entertainment?

Theater People

A new Cliché Watch is up at The New Colony, this one's on the phrase "theater people."  What I'm really trying to get at in the post is that, as long as being a "theater person" means something sort of nebulous we hold out the possibility that when asked "are you a theater person?" a regular theatergoer, a subscriber, or a donor could feel forced to answer "no."  Our utopia, I believe, is for everyone to like theater, to attend theater, and putting up more barriers, adding more cliquishness to an already rarified event, will not help.

While you're at The New Colony, check out two songs from the upcoming musical Tupperware: "Just Two Hours" and "Everything I Wanted."