Archive for the ‘Current Production’ Category

Talk to us…

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 by Nick Fracaro

We want your input. With this post we would like to take you on a part of the journey of this project, including a little history of Turkey and some articles relevant to the project… Read or just browse and follow the links that interest you. Tell us what your thoughts are in the comment section. We want to hear from you.

S/he came into being over the course of three years and we are excited to present its first iteration at Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre Company and work with its unfailingly supportive staff at their brand new facility. For more information about S/he and related events, go to our “S/he” site.S/he

The impetus to create S/he with our Turkish colleagues originated, you might be surprised, in Germany, a country with which we have a deep connection and where there are almost 3 million Turks living today. Headscarf-wearing, often non-German speaking women stand in stark relief to traditional Germans, and news stories of oppression and abuse caught our attention.  We decided to focus on the role of the headscarf and see where this took us.

So we began in the obvious way — with a trip to Turkey.  Turkey straddles Asia and Europe, with Istanbul’s Bosphorus River marking the dividing line. It has a rich history that includes the Trojan War, the glory of Byzantium and the fall of Constantinople/birth of Istanbul.  Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, better known as Ataturk after the collapse of the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire and a 3-year war of independence. For a short, concise overview of Turkey’s recent past, a BBC overview might prove helpful.

Ataturk almost instantaneously turned Turkey’s gaze from East to West. He secularized Turkish society, reducing Islam’s dominant role and replacing Arabic with the Latin alphabet for writing the Turkish language. And he launched many reforms towards giving women equal rights and opportunities.

Over the past two years, Turkey has been in the news on a regular basis as this Near Eastern/European country negotiates its political identity and struggles to rectify tensions among the secular and Muslim populations within its borders.  We wanted to learn how women fit into this debate — what the struggles are that Turkish women face, particularly young women, and how these relate to the issues women in the U.S. face. Is patriarchy in ascension or decline in our two countries?

During our several trips to Turkey, we met with NGOs, universities, foundations, news organizations, theaters and other institutions. Gabriele took notes of what she learned and shared them with our creative team.

Before long, we understood from the Turkish women we spoke to that Turkey’s volatile headscarf controversy was simultaneously central to Turkey’s culture and politics and also irrelevant.  Central, in that it is the subject of heated political debate and domestic policy, much like the abortion question in the U.S., and irrelevant because women generally wanted to talk about broader issues affecting their lives and felt the headscarf debate to be a distraction.

When we commissioned Zeynep and Tammy, we gave them few parameters. We wanted them to write about what was on their minds.  We passed on articles that we found of interest but otherwise gave them no specific instructions. Here are some articles that might spark your interest:

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert’s column, “Women at Risk” in which he writes:

We [Americans] have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

The European Commission’s tracking of Turkey’s progress in reaching certain benchmarks to join the European Union:

Regarding women’s rights, Turkey’s main problem areas include violence against women, such as so-called honor killings; the illiteracy rate, which is about one-third among women.

Theresa Rebeck’s Laura Pels keynote address on women in the theatre community:

Generally, over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women seems to have vacillated between 12 and 17 percent… Which brings us finally to another couple of statistics which I think are worth noting:  Women buy more tickets.  They buy 55 percent of movie tickets and anywhere from sixty to SIXTY FIVE percent of theater tickets. So opening our stages and our hearts and our minds to women playwrights is not only cool and relevant and interesting and just—it is also a sound business model.

Hanna Rosin’s article “The End of Men” in Atlantic Monthly:

What would a society in which women are on top look like? We already have an inkling. This is the first time that the cohort of Americans ages 30 to 44 has more college-educated women than college-educated men, and the effects are upsetting the traditional Cleaver-family dynamics. In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2 percent, and four in 10 mothers—many of them single mothers—are the primary breadwinners in their families.

Clay Shirky’s “Rant about Women”:

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

Muhtar Kent, Turkish-American Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, published an article in the Huffington Post, “This Century Goes to the Women”:

Let’s discuss the future of our global economy and society. Specifically, I’d like to discuss women, and the role women will play in transforming our global economy and society over the next decade. I also want to share some thoughts on the role women will play in helping transform The Coca-Cola Company over the next decade and beyond.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky”:

lays out an agenda for the world’s women and three major abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute… The best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls.

The remarkable plays that Zeynep and Tammy ultimately wrote are both entertaining and provocative, and serve as a springboard for discussion.

We now invite you to participate in our dialogue.  What are the issues that matter most to you? What/who influences you in your thoughts and opinions on the issues surrounding gender?  What are the stories from your own lives that have affected you most? What would you like to ask or share about this project? About Turkey? About the United States?

First Images from Designers of S/he

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 by Nick Fracaro

For the last few months the S/he production design team has held regular Skype calls. Designers Steffi and Pei-Chi have been leading the group in accumulating visuals that explore the project’s theme and sharing their initial ideas on set and costume design.  In December, we made final casting decisions, bringing together a tight ensemble of three Turkish actors and three American actors, including one student each from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and Yiditepe University in Istanbul.

Right after the new year, we all met together in Ithaca for the first time for a one-week workshop. The designers brought some preliminary fabrics and set pieces for us all to play with toward the  development of the scripts and set.   I have  selected a few images from the research bank which we had been discussing in our Skype conferences prior to the workshop.   I have also chosen a few photos from the workshop to give a sense of our initial exploration of environment and text, as well as to suggest how the process of research to production is unfolding.

Translating the Story

Thursday, December 4th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

International Culture Lab’s production of Outside Inn had traveled through many incarnations to its Off-Broadway premiere. The University of Pittsburgh, ICL and Theater Rampe Stuttgart originally commissioned playwright Andreas Jungwirth to create a text to serve as a vehicle to explore cultural difference among the collaborators and their respective countries. From its conception, the project called for four bilingual actors to perform the play in both languages on both continents. Outside Inn rehearsed and previewed at the University of Pittsburgh in September 2007, where it played two German and three English language performances. It then traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, where it played at Theater Rampe Stuttgart in the month of October 2007, including five performances in English and one impromptu mixed-language performance. This mixed-language version was further rehearsed and then returned to Stuttgart July 1-5, 2008, as part of the first annual American Days, sponsored by the German-American Center there “to further improve and intensify the transatlantic dialog.”  Throughout the project, language evolved into a dominant creative element that drove and shaped character development, rhythm and tone, and actor/audience relationship.

outside inn translation text

Audience members who had seen the same actors play in two languages had commented on how different the characters seem in one language or the other. The actors, in turn, noticed differences in the ways their characters responded to the same narrative circumstances depending upon the language they were using.

outside inn paul translation

As we moved toward the New York leg of Outside Inn then, we wanted to interrogate in a more detailed and experimental manner the role language plays in rendering the story of our contemporary lives. The generous in-kind equipment loan from Digital Performance Institute made this possible. We redesigned the set and decided to use projection to reexamine, among other things, the role and use of supertitles. Need they be only functional? Can they be used to tell a greater story? Can a foreign language be part of the soundscape of a production and thereby ‘translate’ culture not just words?

outside inn wall

The main element of the set was a 14-foot-long 10-foot-high structure which was both literally and figuratively a wall, with the capital case text letters W A L L stenciled and constructed into the design. This WALL served both as entrance/exit and projection site for text and images. Two projectors mounted in the grid halved the projection area. This binary helped serve our expanded deliberation on and experimentation with translation. The original German/English duality from the initial stages of the project was minimized in the mostly English-language New York production. Here, the German language was employed as Brechtian device that underlined the twofold spoken/visual rendering of text and story.

wall

In our multi-layered, digital age of information, communication has become a complex juggling act. We are able to “text” or “talk” to the whole of the world from the palm of our hand, but the process of “translating” – intention, emotion, culture – has become more challenging than ever in a globalized world.

ticker tape

The projection of stock market ticker crawl and current news stories were interlaced with the characters’ representations of their personal narratives. Which is the real or true story? Or perhaps more correctly, which is the realest or truest representation of the story? The representation of text or image on the literal W A L L was used not only to emphasize or complement the story the character/actor was telling, but also to counter and negate, thereby adding a deeper second layer onto the main narrative. The lives of the characters were as fictional or real as “Kalowski,” the unseen arch-capitalist that dominated all their choices.

live feed

Coincidently, the same financial system that dictated the characters’ actions and personal relationships in the play, was imploding in real time in all the headlines during the October 2008 run of the New York production.

presumed dead 2

As all current news stories suggest, the US and the world are conscious of having reached some kind of historical precipice in the capitalistic system. The globalized economy no longer allows simple nation-to-nation agreements and “translations” of wealth and resources. Just as the communists were the only ones who could screw up communism, only the capitalists could ruin capitalism. Some will argue that capitalism has now entered the same undead zone in which Soviet-style communism has existed in the two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

presumed dead 1

 Photo Credit: Stephanie Mayer-Staley

Staging the N-word

Friday, June 13th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

I received some insightful and referenced comments from the dramaturgs on the LMDA listserv concerning the use of the N-word on stage and the struggle of our current production to present it. But interesting how even within the context of a discussion of the word itself, there seems to be a taboo against typing the full six-lettered word nigger onto the digital page, as if not only any utterance, but also any “publicationof the word would easily transcend the intent of the writer.

One dramaturg references a scholarly study, Randall Kennedy’s Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, abstracting a quote that highlights the power of the word and points to why it’s an apt candidate for presentation and study through theatre or other modes of public discourse.

To be ignorant of its meanings and effects is to make oneself vulnerable to all manner of perils, including the loss of a job, a reputation, a friend, even one’s life.

I recently read a related short but insightful blog post referencing an e-mail exchange between cultural critic Greil Marcus and art journalist John Rockwell that provides additional insight to a zeitgeist that seems centered on the parsing of words.

Words, the Arts and the World

Months back Hillary Clinton (or was it Bill, or another primary candidate?) attacked Barack Obama as a mere purveyor of words. Obama (borrowing, it turned out, from his friend Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts) responded that words do count, words mean something important. Without too great a stretch, I want to extrapolate that idea to arts journalism, and the need for same.

Recently I had an e-mail exchange with Greil Marcus, who was editing an entry on “Porgy and Bess” that I had written for a Harvard anthology. The last issue to be considered between us was whether in one sentence “African-Americans” or “blacks” worked better.

I finally decided I didn’t much care, ending with “Let’s move on to curing cancer, solving world peace, electing Obama and like that.” Greil replied: “Don’t you realize that the right choice between “blacks” and “African-Americans, whatever it is, is the SAME THING as curing cancer, solving world peace, and electing Obama? Where’s your sense of proportion?”

Point taken. Words do matter. Even the words, the futile scribblings, of arts critics. Take away words, take away critical commentary on the arts, and the arts lose something crucial to their creation and, especially, their reception. So think of that the next time you set out to solve world peace, arrogantly indifferent to mere words, or the arts.

 

 

Dramaturgy and PR

Monday, June 9th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

Plays are part and parcel of their productions. Zeitgeist, site-specific elements and the actor/producer’s explicit talents and ambitions all inform the reality.

Does the “event” of the production have any historical importance to theatre or the world? The “audience” of this event is not something that will be measured at the box office or necessarily in popular success.

Jarry’s Ubu Roi and Chekhov’s The Seagull both premiered in 1896 to disparaging audiences. In most ways contrary to one another, both plays went on to become important seminal works.

Imagine being the dramaturg in 1896 commissioned to champion these plays into historical importance. Your work with the playwright would have nothing to do with “the script” and everything to with the “signature” production and its aftermath. Perhaps that would mean engaging Jarry in his lifestyle of drunken anarchy and talking pataphysics late into the night. Or perhaps, more soberly, coaching Chekhov not to express his loathing for Stanislavski’s performance as Trigorin and encouraging him to consent to the newly founded Moscow Art Theatre as producer of his plays.

Although none of us will likely be involved in such historically significant productions as these two, we need to approach each script and production with an expectation that the event will capture the Zeitgeist of its locality. Same as the local hero is more vital to the community and our lives than any American Idol could ever be, theatre is most potent when striving to be specific and relative to the ambitions of its particular family, kinship, and tribe.

In my practice, being a dramaturg means also being a producer, so I am often collaborating as diligently on PR as I am on analyzing or collaborating with the artists on the script and other production design elements. Finding an audience is not synonymous with achieving a box office. Stardom seeks and produces fan-dom, but theatre seeks a more engaged and critical participation from its audience. So PR should be as centered on the dramaturgy of a new script as the production is. Similarly to how a production might put out a casting call seeking specific actors for specific roles; the audience sought should also possess a particular and detailed character.

SlowLearner and DevilVet have suggested a public production process both as it fits within this realm of promotion and as civil discussion point in the theatrosphere on aesthetics. I am not convinced that we are actually interested enough in each other’s artistic processes that we will closely read one another’s posts and comment in depth, but I have been publishing part of my dramaturg’s protocol and other collaborative aspects of our ensemble’s process at our theatre’s blog in hope of such an interaction from fellow theatre peers.
Design Proposal/Collaboration
The Big Suit
Gestus for characters

In his series of posts DevilVet aptly asks: Is It Worth the Risk – Documenting Creative Process.

The primary risk of course is that any public representation will negatively affect either the process itself or the future relationship between working peers. The secondary risk is that because any documentation necessarily highlights only certain aspects of a production, the reception of the work by critics and audience will be prejudiced by this prior representation.

The new play we commissioned from an Austrian playwright was written for a specific ensemble of four actors. The play has already been performed before an audience in Germany and America, in both languages, but in our October mixed-language production in New York, we have begun exploring the script at a more complex level than previously, deliberately employing certain facets of Brechtian performance and production techniques.

I am especially interested in the dilemma posed by one particular word in the script and production. The N-word from an actor/character on stage reads differently in Germany than America. By “publishing” our ensemble’s deliberation in this, I am perhaps unduly highlighting an element in the script that may have relatively minor significance to the overall production, but could easily generate a controversial debate.

The N-word is probably the most politically potent word in America today. Of course that potency is mostly diffused if its utterance arrives on stage only from within the crippled psychology of a particular character. But it speaks to the power of words in our social relationships, that even within the safe haven of “it’s the character saying it, not me”, Roger as actor has been struggling to spit it out in some “natural” way. If the N-word were taken out the safety box of naturalism and employed as gestus, the whole of the production would need to struggle with its presence.

I put this question of the N-word in front of the private/public list-serv of dramaturgs of LMDA. I have received private email on the dilemma from the listserv but no one has yet answered in front of others. This speaks to the volatility present in any discussion of the subject. (Update: Meanwhile a few ‘turgs have braved comment but the aura of taboo surrounding even the mere discussion of this subject in public remains strong.)

The potential for the theatrosphere is that it not just supplements the criticism, review, documentation, and other theatre-talk of print publication, but supplants and leads toward a new representation of our art that has a more in depth and interactive relationship with our peers and audience. I appreciate the various Chicago bloggers (Paul, Tony, Don, Bob) taking the lead and exploring the most difficult and complex new relationship posed by artists reviewing/commenting on other artist’s work or process. There will be no easy answers or codified rules in this new relationship to our work and our peers.

Design Proposal/Collaboration

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

(Seated left to right) Melanie, Nick, Gabriele, Andreas, Kirby (March, 2008 Brooklyn)

Concept proposals and other table work for the New York production at 59E59 of Outside Inn began in March with a four-day meeting of the principle collaborators in Brooklyn. Although we had already mounted two prior full productions of Andreas’ script, director Melanie wanted to reopen the process to discover additional layers of performance and production.  With the consent of the ensemble, as dramaturg I have opened up part of our collaborative process for public examination and comment at
our theatre blog.

The above photo was taken by our resident designer, Stephanie (her empty chair at the head of table). Below is her design proposal that is leading us into the reopened process. By looking at her original concept design and production photos of the Pittsburgh and Stuttgart productions, the fields being opened for new exploration become clear. Below is Stephanie’s initial design proposal after this March meeting.

 

Design Ideas

My instinct is to create a more poetic environment: A place that becomes a visual collection of our four characters’ thoughts and struggles. I like the image of a WALL. A wall that is both: border and gate at the same time.

grafftti wall

I asked myself, “Which walls tell stories (or carry evidence of stories). Well; there are billboards – which would be a perfect place for all the projections we have in mind.

The Berlin Wall….

A wall in a detective’s office with photographs and maps and networks….

 

Climbing Walls….

Gaby’s Wall of ever-changing art:

 

Impossible Walls

Early on, Melanie and I talked about leaving footprints on the floor. That’s when the whole talk about water started. We would like to get back to this but also leave these “footprint” imprints, the evidence of our detective story inside/on/at the wall. Marina could write her telephone number with lipstick onto the wall. The telephone cord could come out of the wall. What else…. ?

A web-like graph inside of the wall connects our characters. Maybe some artifacts of the characters’ histories are embedded into it, so deep underneath many layers (of tape or plastic or resin) you can not get down to them any more.

We could write with (erasable) markers onto the wall. Some areas of the wall are so sticky you can stick your coat (or yourself) on it without a hook. I would love it if the wall could cry. A water wall.A wall that helps us to remember and keeps us from remembering.

The figure frames that you guys where talking about could be part of the wall. In the model I played with a shadow-like 2D figure (Kalowski) embedded under the first layer. Then I created the same shape out of a wire frame and put it in front of it. Would one wire frame be enough?

Design Models

This is the first model sketch that I had showed Melanie. The audience is arranged in an L-shaped configuration. The entrance is to the right. The audience would walk partially over the cardboard floor. I like the bold statement of the letters “WALL” cut out of the wall.

This is a top view of the space. Since we need to have 2 emergency exits, there will be a staircase in the lower right hand corner that gets people to the door up right.

This is the same L-shaped set up.

Here the wall is constructed out of a metal grid (like a billboard) that is covered with plexi and plastic. There are 4 chairs so that the characters can always remain on stage. Two chairs SR and two SL. There is one chaise in the middle. I eliminated the “W” and one “L” cut-out and started to play with the “W” flat on the floor and the 2nd “L” up high. Later I also added two more small letters: “N” and “D”. So it could also read “WAND”. Actors will be able to come through the “A” and sit in the “A.” They can also come through the “L.” There are things embedded in-between the two layers of plastic in the wall. A map of the characters’ relationship, photographs….

You can see the great lighting possibilities the semi translucent wall could give.

In this picture you can see the wire figure next to the “A” and the permanent shadow of the same figure in-between the “A” and the “L.”

It would be great if this wall could “cry.” We would then need it to stand in a trough to collect the water. It would be great if the stage would be built up 6″ so the trough would be inside the floor……

I had another idea for the water. What if the chaise would sit inside a shallow pool? Every time you get on or off the couch you step in the water. It becomes an island that way.Now to the proscenium style set-up.

I used the same set-pieces. As you can see, we could make the wall a little bit wider (and then also higher). We have about 2-3′ on either side of the stage. As of now, I put the chairs on the black area. I kind of like how everything sits in this void.

In this picture, I played around with a “W”-chair type of thing. I think it is too much. Next are some experiments with a picture frame and plastic material.

I glued 2 layers of plastic around a frame. Put some things inside of it and others on top. In the end I spray dusted it with white paint.

I do like how versatile the plastic is and how it reacts to light.

You see that the same surface photographed with different angles of light looks totally different. It’s full of possibilities but also challenges.

Ground Plans

L-shaped

 

Proscenium

Awake From Your Slumber!

Saturday, March 15th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

Our current project with Theater Rampe Stuttgart in Germany commissioned a new script from Austrian author Andreas Jungwirth. Outside Inn examines how capitalism has infiltrated into the most personal parts of our lives. In the passage below the character Paul, inheritor of the “family’s” business, relates a conversation in which his father-in-law, the legendary corporate CEO known as “the German,” explains where “we” are going next.

“Kalowski has been silent the entire time. Suddenly he asks me to listen. Kalowski explains how wars make it possible to make a lot of money. Iraq, Afghanistan. But that it was also possible to make very large sums of money. We’re going into Iran. Iran – ? That’s impossible. Kalowski says nothing’s impossible. That I should remember that from here on out. After our return to Germany, it would be my job to develop a strategy for circumventing EU guidelines.”

I was thinking about this when watching a new music video now available at youtube and a growing number of sites. It appears to be a kind of video trailer for a DVD documentary that Ralph Nader and Patti Smith teamed up to make from their Democracy Rising Peace Tour (see description below). As Michael Lithgow at Art Threat points out.

This seems to be increasingly an integral part of U.S. politics, no doubt in part because of the phenomenal success of will-i.am’s Barack Obama video “Yes we can” which has been downloaded over 6 million times and links the Obama campaign with a who’s who of cultural literati.

Patti and Ralph look good together. They are the dream team for El Presidente and Veep of the always present and disruptive alternative rebel nation in this country. Ralph words “The way to respect the troops is to get them out of there and bring them to safety” are intercut with Patti’s rock drone at microphone “Awake from your slumber. And get ’em with the numbers.”

“Awake From Your Slumber” brings together two visionaries: citizen-activist Ralph Nader and punk poet Patti Smith, in a powerful dialogue of war and peace. Touring together as the Democracy Rising Peace Tour, Ralph and Patti make the case against the Iraq war and the corporate takeover of our democracy. Produced by the Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center, AWAKE mixes image, music and spoken word to strip away the facade of political lies and reveal the annihilation of civilization, war profiteering, the unseen dead, and the unheard cries of motherhood. “Awake From Your Slumber” is history lesson, poetry reading and rock concert. Above all, it is an inspiring, mesmerizing, and deeply moving call to action, showing the power of the people to make change.

The Big Suit

Monday, December 31st, 2007 by Nick Fracaro

The scene staging for Marina “finding the lost key” as she is putting on her dress exemplifies how Brechtian and naturalistic performance could at times meld within the production. Petra’s portayal of Marina was intersting to watch in that scene as it evolved throughout the production. Although never moving outside the parameters of realism, “the actress playing Marina” became more and more present in a very subtle way.

We, as audience, seeing something that the character Paul does not see as Marina “dresses” herself to manipulate her circumstance and/or environment. So not just getting dressed within the habit and function of getting dressed, but with the deliberateness and purpose of preparing for a presentation. In this case “the actress playing Marina” will present “the key”, the gestus, to the character Marina.

My thought was that the dressing of the actor/character should present a puzzle or dilemma in every instance it occurs on stage. So as opposed to this natural or habitual act, getting dressed becomes this calculated donning of a representation of self.

The suit jacket struck me as the most potent icon. The heavy metaphor, Kalowski’s jacket could almost fall from the flies into the water with a big splash. Of course this is the “real suit” that Paul got married to Kathleen in, not that gray suit made by Kathleen’s relatives. Paul has stolen nothing, unless everyone who marries into money is stealing. (Jackie Onassis, the icon of such a marriage. Marina and Kathleen, with their trench coats and sunglasses were “well suited” at the airport.) So this “real suit” could be made to visually haunt the production, similarly to that shadow in Paul’s motel room.

Chris doesn’t need to don a gun to kill, but only the suit built out of a perversion of his childhood fantasy of Africa. He very deliberately and purposely dresses himself in the Safari jacket and hat of the Great White Hunter. He is dressed to kill.

Not meant as something to mimic, but this old Talking Head video (David Byrne in his famous Big Suit) evokes in visuals and gesticulation, Paul acting/performing/living in a suit too big for him. Wife of Kathleen, heir of Kalowski. His only option is to escape into the pseudo reality of a pulp fiction hero.

Gestus for characters

Monday, December 31st, 2007 by Nick Fracaro

Andreas is right when he says this is complicated. Usually when we talk about a Brechtian actor or Brechtian performance, we’re stuck with opening up a very dense can of worms that is the Brechtian paradigm, the whole “historical materialistic perspective.” It would be nice to bypass all that and start getting at some acting and performance alternatives to naturalism that reference Brecht but don’t get all bogged down in theory.

Of course this play about how capitalism has infiltrated the most personal parts of our lives happens to also be the most Brechtian of subjects, which should serve any referencing of Brecht we ultimately decide on. From talking with Petra and Stephan, they also understood how this Brechtian perspective might be interesting to an American audience, if not to a German one. I think in many ways this could become the real heart of the aesthetic to explore in the production. We’ll give the Germans the inheritance of Brecht and the Americans the inheritance of realism via O’Neill, Miller, Williams, etc. and have the core investigation of the project by the ensemble exactly this dialectic.

Kathleen is probably the best character to examine in this discussion. From a purely psychological dimension, the text gives her the most baggage. But if we just keep her on the psychological level, we miss how her “gestus” informs the larger picture.


Kalowski is not just Kathleen’s unknown father, but as “the German,” the ultimate capitalist, the Darth Vader (dark father) of our globablized world, he is every one’s father. He’s the ruthless businessman, whose only ethic is the bottom line.

Kathleen is looking for the mother that abandoned her. But the whole world is motherless, if by mother we mean the counter to the “breadwinner” — the parent who nurtures home and hearth, “family values,” the ethical value of friendship. Everyone in our hypercapitalistic society is forced on some level to “calculate” the bottom line value of their personal relationships, even marriage and family.

“It can’t get any better for him. I am the heir to Kalowski Incorporated.”

Kathleen’s actress needs to be fully knowledgeable of this aspect, this gestus of the character Kathleen. Within the production, the actress should be able to put this BIG SUIT on the character of Kathleen in full view of the audience. The audience should find this suiting up of the character as interesting as any naturalistic portrayal. Even more interesting would be the interlacing and detailing/delineating of these Brechtian and naturalistic techniques.

Businesswoman
foto: Marek Soból

“Paul doesn’t seem particularly comfortable in his skin that day.
I am content.”

Kathleen is more comfortable in Kalowski’s BIG SUIT than Paul ever could be, The gestus of the Paul character is his infatuation with Celebrity Culture through Hollywood movies. Of course this infatuation with movie stars and their lives is another one of the prevalent conditions in the broader population of the modern world. We can know as much or more about lives of the rich and famous than the people we see and relate to on a daily basis. Memories of reality conflate with memories from the media which engulfs our lives.

“Kids hanging out, laughing, throwing things on its bed.
The driver comes out of the bar and they run.
They’re fifteen, sixteen at most.
Reminds me of a movie I saw long ago.
Damn, what was the name of it?
I still remember the next scene. The driver starts the truck and the whole thing blows up.
I look at the truck –
– hold my breath.
The truck starts –
– and drives off.
I wonder if they have a movie theater here?

For Paul and many others Kalowski is best understood as the Donald Trump type businessman. The businessman for Paul is a part to be acted, some scene from a television reality show or movie in which he needs to deliver a performance as worthy as the The Donald (the nickname given to Trump by the media after his ex-wife Ivana Trump, a native of the Czech Republic and only marginally fluent in English, mistakenly referred to him as such in an interview). This reality show is a apt reference for the play. All the characters at some level are competing as The Apprentice in Kalowski’s world.

“I wanted to live with it.
But I couldn’t live with it.
It almost drove me insane.
If only it wasn’t with this goddamn nigger.”

Chris’ gestus is his romance with — or is it hatred of — the alien or the “other.” Again, a prevalent condition in the world. It is also why I strongly believe that Chris, on the psychological level, has layers, is conflicted, is not purely evil. But on the gestus level, we highlight important aspects of the text’s plot and themes. The borders that separate us from the other. Geography mirrors economics: The world is divided between the North and the South, Europe and Africa, US and Mexico. The display of our wall maps, with the North above and the South below, emphasize and reinforces the geography dividing the have from the have nots.

Analyzing the killing of Phil (interesting that the name of the tribal African is a Christian diminutive. why?) at the psychological level, impotent Chris’ wounded macho is tinged with race hatred to the point of insanity. The N-word is probably the most politically potent word in America today. Of course that potency is mostly diffused if its utterance arrives on stage only from within the crippled psychology of a particular character. But it speaks to the power of words in our social relationships, that even within the safe haven of “it’s the character saying it, not me”, Roger as actor has been struggling to spit it out in some “natural” way. If the N-word were taken out the safety box of naturalism and employed as gestus, the whole of the production would need to struggle with its presence.

The character or story of the Great White Hunter has many variations. Exploits were romanticized in adventure novels that became the so-called “Lost World/Lost Race” genre. The phrase was coined in the late nineteenth century. Although often used in parody or jest, it also symbolized the discourse of colonial power and dominance of western colonial powers over other parts of the world. The character to the left is the pulp fiction hero Doc Savage, and as the name and image suggests, projects the Aryan as superior in both intellect and physicality to the other races and primitive peoples. (What’s that black thing in “The Man of Bronze” right hand?)

As gestus Chris’ “heart of darkness” belongs collectively to mankind under Capital, not merely the function of his individual metaphysical or psychological nature.

How and why does such a gestus in Chris impress Kalowski?

How does such a gestus inform the infamy of a businessman known simply as “The German” in the world of high finance.

The gestus of Marina is the use of her sexuality as her commodity, her bottom line. The first thing she bought with it is Chris, from his wife. Then Phil, then Paul from Kathleen — all destroyed lives she’s left in her wake. She’s literally a home-wrecker. The perversion of the mother that should be the counter to the ruthless business(wo)man.


“The wind lifted me off the ground.”

So each character should have a psychology (in the dramatic dialogues) as well as the gestus that overtly informs the characters’ social relations, especially the causalities of their behavior. They are all the children of Kalowski.