Archive for the ‘Theatre and Culture’ Category

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

The Last Rat Conference Comes Home Again

Saturday, July 26th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

The RAT Conference from 1994-2004 was the single most transforming element of our theatre ensemble’s history. Our present day aesthetic and ethic developed directly from that ten-year collaboration with other theatre companies and individuals from around the country and the world. For many years we found our strength of purpose and community in this “Regional Alternative Theatre” confederacy.

Our theatre instigated and led many of the conferences including the final one in Argentina. Company members Melanie, Gabriele, Markus and I all were part of the RAT contingency which produced the Macbeth Project at El Rayo Misterioso’s 2004 Experimenta and then traveled to a farm on the outskirts of a small city thirty miles outside of Buenos Aires to collaborate further on the project with the theatre/art collective Willaldea.

Old friends from Willaldea are now in New York performing She and the Empty Living Room, produced through El Taller Latino Americano as part of the Underground Zero festival of experimental theatre tonight and at our Avant Yarde on Monday night.

I had traveled to Argentina three different years to work with the El Rayo and Willadea artists. Through them I also met many other artists who work in physically based international theatre. Following are my reflections from five years ago on what would be the last Rat Conference. (Of course indie theatre producers — rats — still exist across this country, perhaps in greater numbers and more vibrant than ever, even without the Rat Conference promoting, advocating and networking for their existence.)

The pilgrimage and its return to home works well as metaphor for our individual ensemble’s continuation of the work we and other theatres had begun with the Rat Conference.

******* ***** *****
El Rayo and Willaldea, Argentina
December 7-17, 2003

Cindy’s question at day’s end of the Argentina rat meet was sharpest. “How does one integrate the experience into one’s life without romanticizing it?”

RatMeet as pilgrimage as training technique.

RatMeets function less within memory/documentation and more as part and parcel of an ongoing process/journey. Likewise, rat is best without a past. Its present is prologue… with new pilgrims regularly joining the enduring procession defining and redefining motive and direction. So now Argentine, Mexican, Basque, and other new rats are able to lead the pilgrimage and training technique back into USA rat and elsewhere.

The pilgrim takes leave from a specific state, searches and researches for a way, beholds the new vista, and then returns back home. Each will then bear witness to the pilgrimage, performing before the unique hometown audience. In this way home also becomes an evolving place (and condition) layered with the instructions from the pilgrimage.

A pilgrim is not a guru or master teacher. He has no disciples or followers but only fellow travelers. To elevate one rat over other pilgrims is to actually degrade that rat into tour guide. The pilgrimage holiday also then becomes equally debased into a vacation. The RatMeet is the movable dojo. The school where peerless masters may transform themselves into adept peers and back again.

******* ***** *****

I travel from a place of privilege and I wear my origin almost indelibly. Most intricate and difficult to cast off is the image of tourista Ugly American. Like a mark of Cain it separates me from them as much if not more than my gringo lingo does. Apt metaphor then the necessity that half of our actual baggage would be shed on the difficult road leading to Willaldea. In trying to deliver it, Gabriele and I separated from the group and got completely lost in the dark countryside. We walked in circles for what felt like half a lifetime alternating between emotions of anger and panic. By the time we finally arrived at the circle of familiar faces eating dinner next to the fireplace, all elements of tourista had been stripped from us. Hugging friends Bruno, Yolanda, Guido, and Fabio, we knew we were home.

The naturalness in which they pursue their life in art is what inspires me most. Bruno has an injured hand so Guido now is the one who needs to get up at dawn for the milking. He explains how the cows accept him and Bruno almost as replacements for their calves that have been weaned. The cows need to be milked twice daily at twelve hour intervals otherwise their udders will dry up. Yolanda will feed the chickens and ducks each morning before she leads the actors through their training which is as physically intense as any that we found at Experimenta. The hours that we will schedule for our training and meetings are coordinated to the times needed to stir the milk and complete the other processes that will transform it into Mozzarella cheese. After their performance the actors will fashion this cheese into baked pizza to then serve with honest joy to their audience.

This naturally balanced rigor at Willaldea is in contrast to the narrowly stringent physical discipline I find at El Rayo and forces a comparison. El Rayo’s future goal is to be able to train as actors daylong instead of performing the multiple tasks they now do in order to keep their theater running. Monks in a monastery studying and training in a martial art would be one model for their actors’ laboratory. Aldo has expanded his traditional Kung Fu training by inventing a kata from studying the butterfly. He teaches these movements to Natalia who then teaches it to certain members of the ensemble. From the writings of Artaud he has abstracted certain tension/release exercises combining them with selected physical methodologies of early Grotowski. The ensemble also uses basic acrobatics, shamanism, massage, tarot readings and other practices as part of their daily training.

Guido migrated to Argentina more than 25 years ago with a small group from the original urban art village in Milan, Italy. That Milan collective still exists and member Roberto gave a presentation at this year’s Experimenta. The ostensible artlessness of Willaldea’s life style is actually grounded in a complex philosophy that studies the relationships found within the microcosm/macrocosm and finding a balance between the economic, social, and artistic realms in life. The individual’s ability to contaminate and alter the whole is a principal concept and is evidenced by how much influence the arrival last year of Yolanda and her Odin based training has transformed the theatre.

A constant element in Willaldea’s soundscape was the young calf bawling daylong. Roped off to the tree to be weaned from milk, alone and separate from the herd and mother, the plaintive wails were perfect articulation of the fear and pain found in all experiences that truly transform. Both of these very different ensembles of Willaldea and El Rayo have proposed avenues for future collaborations. Rat has contaminated each of them and vice versa.

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.

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.

Contextualizing, Editing, Censoring

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

The Playgoer is worried that “Rachel Corrie” Buffered in Beantown may be pointing to a troublesome trend developing in theatre.

He his talking about the “contextualization” of the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie by the New Repertory Theatre in a preview report on the production in the Boston Globe.

[New Rep] had originally planned to pair “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” with the one-act “To Pay the Price,” about the late Israeli Army hero Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu. But after the Netanyahu family heard of the plans, it asked that “To Pay the Price” be pulled from the lineup, deeming the two plays incompatible.

Forging ahead, New Rep replaced “Price” with the solo show “Pieces,” written and performed by an Israeli-American, Zohar Tirosh, about her experience serving in the Israeli military in the mid-1990s, when peace seemed like a real possibility. The company is also surrounding the two works – staged in its 90-seat black-box space – with related panel discussions,talkbacks, readings, and films, including the Oscar-nominated documentary “Promises.”

The New Rep’s producing artistic director, Rick Lombardo, says that this mini-festival on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not part of an effort to deflect criticism of “Rachel Corrie,” but is instead the result of nine months of planning and dialogue that he and his staff engaged in with various communities, from the Arab Anti-Defamation League to the American Civil Liberties Union to the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Of course this was very similar to the approach that New York Theater Workshop’s artictic director Jim Nicola had wanted to take in presenting the piece. He was roundly criticized and unjustly accused of censorship for postponing the production to accomplish that goal.

Garrett is right-on in his observation that, “Isn’t it funny that this approach has not been advocated for plays on any other issue?” But I think he is off in his concluding observation and fears of a new trend.

But look: we don’t see this approach taken with plays of any other subject, do we? (Or so far, of any other plays!) So obviously we don’t need to worry about this becoming a trend, right? Or do we…

As Jeremy Gerard reported at the time of the controversy, “Rachel Corrie” was not the first play on this issue that was postponed to await “contextalization.” There was nothing new or trend setting in the approach that NYTW was attempting and what is scheduled to happen now in Boston.

In the U.S. this season, an off-Broadway company, the New York Theatre Workshop — probably best known as the group that developed “Rent” as well as TonyKushner’s “Homebody/Kabul” — was to have presented “Rachel Corrie.” But artistic director James Nicola announced last week that the production was being “delayed” while the group considered the best way to “contextualize” the play. Translation: People are complaining that presenting this work gives a bullhorn to Israel’s enemies, and that makes us very nervous. So we’re going to see if we can render “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” toothless or, barring that, postpone it and pray really hard that the problem eventually just goes away.

Papp’s `Storytellers’

That’s what Joe Papp also may have hoped when something similar happened to the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival and overseer of the Public Theater. In the summer of 1989,Papp abruptly canceled an appearance by a touring Palestinian theater troupe. El-Hakawati (“The Storytellers”) was slated to perform “The Story of Kufur Shamma ,” the tale of a Palestinian refugee’s return to his long-deserted village 40 years after the birth of the modern state of Israel.

As with “Rachel Corrie,” protests erupted. Somewhat more transparent than Nicola, Papp simply announced that he’d had second thoughts. Since he had never presented a pro-Israeli play, he told the press, “it just seemed inappropriate” to produce “Kufur Shamma” as his first statement on such a hand grenade of an issue. Thinking he could buy time as well as support, he promised to present the play within a year. In fact,Papp, already dying from cancer, never did produce “Kufur Shamma.”

`Contextualizing’ the Play

When it opened later that summer under a different producer’s banner, no protests ensued, and the review by a third-string New York Times critic referred only obliquely to the earlier controversy, thoughtfully leaving Papp’s name, and that of his theater, completely out of it.

Interesting that Garrett points to Wally Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, a controversial play which premiered at The Public also in the late ’80’s, as evidence of a play that didn’t need to run for cover when confronting the unpleasant.

So by running for cover behind as many “diverse views” as possible, we deprive the theatre of that special frisson that can only come from confronting the unpleasant. Even if it is “wrong.” Think of that ending from Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, for instance, where the heroine leaves us with an atrocious monologue justifying Kissingerian ethics on warcrimes, assassination, and such. Now imagine someone coming out after the show having to explain to you, “Now boys and girls, that was justa play. We don’t really think that.”

However, as Jeff Jones points out in his smart essay On Geezer Theatre, although Aunt Dan and Lemon did not exactly run for cover, its author Wallace Shawn did invent his own special species of buffering or contextalizing to frame the play.

The really curious thing about Shawn’s play-and the best evidence of the theatre’s provinciality in these matters-is that the author felt it necessary to add both prologue and epilogue explaining at length how one could write (and read) a play which didn’t unambiguously reflect the beliefs of the playwright.

The epilogue that Jeff Jones references is an essay that Wally Shawn wrote as addendum to the published text of the play. The prologue refers to a peculiar act of contextalization by the playwright who was also an actor in the original ensemble.

At the original production of this play at The Public in 1986, there was reportedly such a vocal and disturbed response from some in the audience that Shawn wrote an essay “Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Night at the Theater,” and handed it out to the audience.

Garrett found it a preposterous notion that someone would need to explain Aunt Dan and Lemon with a statement like “Now boys and girls, that was just a play. We don’t really think that.” But in reading the “written prologue” passed out to the audience, the playwright Shawn seems to be accentuating exactly that very simple reality of “it’s just a play” to his audience, so as to guide them into the correct reception of the play and afterthoughts of the experience.

A play represents a self-enclosed little world for the audience to examine. It’s an opportunity to look objectively at a group of people, to assess them, to react to them, and to measure oneself against them, to ask, “Am I like that?”

The politics of reception are complicated. Both playwright Shawn and artistic director Nicola were similarly attempting to manipulate audience reception. Nicola’s action like Shawn’s should be labeled production dramaturgy, or perhaps even public relations, but not censorship. To do so trivializes the fact that real and dangerous forces of censorship do exist in the world. Jeremy Gerard does exactly that when he suggests that even threats of violence should not give producers pause.

Another person Nicola might turn to for guidance is Lynne Meadow, artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club. When Meadow announced plans to offer “Corpus Christi,” a TerrenceMcNally play suggesting that Jesus might have been gay, she faced demonstrations and threats of violence. So she and executive producer Barry Grove canceled the production, briefly suffering the very public indignity of an artists’ boycott of her theater. Ultimately the play went up, uncontextualized. The protests and threats came and left, life went on, Christendom endured.

The more apropos play and production which Jeremy Gerard doesn’t cite in his article is one with which both he and I had an unique relationship. He was working for the theatre section of the New York Times in 1987 when our theatre sent out our press release on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Trash, The City and Death. Jeremy Gerard was the first journalist to contact us. He then called and talked to me as director probably every third day in the final weeks of our rehearsal. He insisted up until the production opening that he was writing an article for the Times. The last word I heard from him was laden with the frustration of a writer suffering under censorship or self-censorship in some way and yet still emphatically insisting, “I will write something. I don’t know what. But I promise that I will write something.”

Fassbinder’s Trash, The City and Death had a history of failed attempts at productions as well as volumes of critical debate on its merits. Branded anti-Semitic by some, consensus was that the play was unproduceable for that reason. Fassbinder’s piece was speaking to real estate speculation exploiting the city of Frankfurt; our production found parallels in mid ‘80’s Lower East Side on New York. (Fassbinder had stipulated that the play’s premiere had to be in either Frankfurt or New York.) After rehearsing the play for nine months with an ensemble of twenty-five, we produced its premiere in the celebrated artists’ squat ABC No Rio.

Happenstance had one third of the ensemble members Jewish, which would be odd in any American city other than New York. At the time, and probably still true today, there were more Jews in NYC than any other city in the world, including TelAviv. The issue that this play scrutinized was our issue. The issue of our ensemble and our city. Whatever bravado the ensemble assumed or projected in the face of the censorship and threats was eclipsed by the mostly unacknowledged grace that the art form itself provided us. Theatre is still that near sanctified space where we come face to face with the vulnerability of our humanness.

As someone who was in constant contact with me, Jeremy Gerard was well aware of the layers of covert and overt censorship surrounding our production. Ten days prior to our opening, the Anti-Defamation League of the influential Jewish B’nai B’rith organization spread warnings on the play, calling it a “catalyst for antisemitic and racist reactions.” A few days later we received a tacit death threat on our phone machine, this at a time when the violent Jewish Defense League was still active in the city.

This world premiere production of Trash, The City and Death was an international news story. Press from four different countries in Europe came to film the opening. This “uncontextualized” controversial play and production received every type of press coverage imaginable, locally in New York and throughout Europe, but Jeremy Gerard’s promised story never appeared. I never asked him why and he never told me. Most of us in the ensemble assumed his editors at The Times had nixed it. If I asked Jeremy Gerard now, he might not even remember the story he was trying write. I know that my own two-decade old memory of facts is as they say, convenient, so I would imagine his memory to be the same. It’s a memory that edits and contextualizes. It’s a memory that censors the story until it fits into the truth we want to believe and recite.

CORRECTION: I had not talked to Jeremy Gerard in twenty years or followed his journalism in that time. Turns out that he has been a longtime advocate for artistic freedom. He pointed me to this feature in New York magazine that gives a fuller look at his journalism on the Manhattan Theatre Club controversy ten years ago. As this excerpt proves Jeremy obviously never minimized the threats of violence or any other attempts at censorship against the producers. The article shows his sincere attempt to differentiate the various concerns involved in this complex issue. I had suggested something different above.  My bad.

In fact, they had good reason to be fearful. After reports about the play appeared in the New York Post, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called on elected officials to cut off the company’s public funding and attacked the play — or at least the idea of the play, since clearly no one at the league had read it — as “despicable” and “sick beyond words.” And lest anyone not share that view, the league promised to “wage a war that no one will forget” against anyone foolhardy enough to present Corpus Christi.

Suddenly, the theater was getting telephone threats addressed to “Jew guilty homosexual Terrence McNally. Because of you, we will exterminate every member of the theater and burn the place to the ground . . . Death to the Jews worldwide.” Those threats, Meadow and Grove insisted, led to their decision to delay the production until they could ensure adequate security

Chicago Storefront Theatre Model

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

If even Slay is not up to the task of summarizing the proposals and calls for change that has had the theatrosphere vibrating over the last few weeks, you know that the conversation is as complex he claims it is.

A couple of times in the past few days I’ve started to write a big summary post of the drama that is currently engulfing most of the theatrenet. For those who don’t know, here are some relevant bits and pieces. Visible Soul, The Mirror Up to Nature, Theatre Ideas, Theatre Ideas, Marsha Norman, An Angry White Guy in Chicago, Rat Sass, Mike Daisey, DevilVet, Jonathan West, The Clyde Fitch Report, Mike Daisey

I often consider it my niche to condense discussions like this for those who haven’t the time or energy to read everything that encompasses such an impassioned, complex look at the state of our art. But, I’m not doing that this time. It seems that what’s needed most here, from us as writers, and you as readers, is engagement. So, please, pick a few of the above, read them throughly and get involved.

Slay’s current post was going to be a follow-up; instead, he found that Don Hall’s inspiring current post with its call for action beat him to the punch on the couple points he had wished to address.

In early December I was visiting family in Chicago so I decided to meet Don Hall in person. I appreciate his built-in bullshit barometer with which he guages observations on theatre and culture at his An Angry White Guy in Chicago site. He also describes his own theatre’s aesthetic and practice there, which parallels much of my history in Chicago back in the early ‘80’s. The original seven founding members of my theatre had all recently graduated from the Chicago Circle Campus of U of I and one was a professor of theatre design there. We followed the model our immediate theatre predecessors in Chicago had established.

The mushrooming growth of homegrown, homemade theater reached its climax in the mid-1970s, with the opening of several small companies that proved training grounds and taking-off points for young directors, actors, designers, and playwrights. These troupes included Victory Gardens, Northlight, Wisdom Bridge, the Body Politic, St. Nicholas (founded by playwright David Mamet), Remains, Organic, and Steppenwolf theaters.

However different their productions, these theaters shared certain key elements. They were founded and staffed by young persons just out of school and eager to find recognition. They were housed in 150- to 250-seat auditoriums in buildings that had never been designed as theater spaces. Warehouses, bowling alleys, ballrooms, church halls, and retail shops were all converted to theater use by the youthful companies who established these revamped spaces as their bases of operations.

Patterns of growth also were similar. Often started with amateur talent and focused on the work of a particular director or writer, the theaters edged into professional status as their audiences and revenue grew. Unlike their counterparts in other cities, however, these companies stayed out of the high-rent downtown districts. Instead of a large theater company in a center-city cluster of high-profile edifices, Chicago offered a swarm of small, enterprising “off-Loop” theaters, many of them in North Side neighborhoods on the fringes of downtown.

impossible dream

From Chicago our theatre moved to Toronto, where the alternative theatre scene was not only thriving in many ways similar to Chicago’s, but was also funded in some part by government grants and actively covered by the mainstream press.We then found another alternative community on NYC’s Lower East Side when we became the first theatre to produce at ABC No Rio. At one point we had members from all three cities’ alternative art communities working together. No Rio of course epitomized the “storefront rebellion” aesthetic in theatre and art that continues today, and although No Rio is probably slightly more radical than most, it intersects with the “tribe model” now being proposed by Scott Walters and others.

ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture. ABC No Rio was founded in 1980 by artists committed to political and social engagement and we retain these values to the present.We seek to facilitate cross-pollination between artists and activists. ABC No Rio is a place where people share resources and ideas to impact society, culture, and community. We believe that art and activism should be for everyone, not just the professionals, experts, and cognoscenti. Our dream is a cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists.

Our community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society’s disenfrachised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.

When I met Don in Chicago last December, he offered me the opportunity to attend the reading of a new play by Bob Fisher and a discussion that his wife Jen was leading. When we arrived at the reading room, I think it was Dan Granata who joked that we should be alert to the fact that some secret conspiratorial cabal might have had a hand in bringing our little section of the theatrical blogosphere into such close physical proximity with one another. Don, Dan, and Bob are each attempting to lead the discussion on theatre models, so I feel very much part of a new national confederacy of theatres that is trying to articulate and manifest itself.

happy home

Don’s recent call for a local Chicago rally over The Off Loop Freedom Charter I think should be supported by the kindred community of artists nationally. I have said in the numerous arguments with Scott over his Us/Them rants and identity, often in the comment sections at Theatre Ideas, that most artists inhabit a split identity — half “tribe” and half “Nylachi.”Don has articulated the tribe half of the theatre community, much of which rings true to my experience with organizing theatres in The Rat Conference for ten years.

The fact is, even if you are a theater artist lucky enough to actually make a full-time living wage performing or directing or writing (yeah – the freaking six of you out there), you are still a part of a small, fragmented gypsy tribe. Fringe Dwellers. Squatters. Nomads.

Don also points out a core problem that many of us at rat addressed. We had proposed the radical notion of No More Box Office as a way of de-commodifying our work and our theatre lead in the practice of the “potlatch model” of hosting conferences and producing theatre collectively. Don now calls for the same paradigm shift.

The model that nearly everyone works under treats theater as a thing to be bought and sold. And as we labor under this paradigm, countless talents are buried under the weight of creating communication and art while being burdened with the economics of a commodity that, due to the very nature of the paradigm, is increasingly becoming unsellable except under the most superficial methods.

We’ve all read it. We all know that change is in the air. What the fuck are we going to do about it?

The “do” should be the beginning and end of all our talk. Leonard Jacobs is absolutely right in telling us all to shut up and act. The argument over theatre models needs to function as a galvanizing issue that unites us as the national theatre and tribe that we already are; i.e., as artist bloggers, idea and action should be tied together. So if we propose an idea to peers, we need to be willing to carry it into practice ourselves. We need to keep our dreams grounded in what is achievable.

I am in full support of what Don is organizing in Chicago. I am excited by the lead the theatrosphere in that city is taking in building a rat-like confederacy. And, back to the future, I feel the same hope for theatre as an art form I felt thirty years ago when we first imagined our ensemble into existence.

bip

How Theatre Will Save America

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008 by Nick Fracaro

If you browse through our history at International Culture Lab you will understand why we are excited that Scott at Theatre Ideas has decided to put the rubber to the road in building an alternative national theatre model. For the last month or so he has been describing in some detail what is wrong with regional theatre in the United States but he is now ready to jump to the next phase.

It is fairly easy to describe what one is against, but much more of a challenge to describe what one is for. Nevertheless, it is a necessary step if the discussion is to progress beyond simply rehearsing the same kvetches that have been heard in bars and coffee shops for years.

We hope to join him and others as full collaborators in formulating and implementing this new model for regional theatres.

Surely it is a time of great optimism in this country. Just a few years ago it would have been difficult to fathom a woman and a black man as viable candidates for the next presidency. The election of either Barack or Hillary would go along way toward rebuilding America’s image in the eyes of the rest of the world. America is a country of vast diversity and its Mulligan stew experiment has always been at the core of its relatively brief history. In recent years instead of the usual celebration of that diversity, the politics of fear has gripped the national psyche and polarized the populace into red and blue states. The Us/Them of that division seems finally to be receding.

We need to follow the politicians’ lead of calling for change with a matching effort in the nation’s theatre and cultural landscape. We need to reject the model of scarity under which regional theatres now operate and instead embrace a model of abundance by linking together independent theatres presently operating around the country and allowing them to share resources.

For those in that great Rain City theatre town and connecting to this collaboration, make sure to attend Mike Daisey’s new show How Theater Failed America. Mike speaks truth to power, which is to say Mike doesn’t lie to himself or his audience as he lays bare the fragile nobility at the heart of his and pretty much all our lives in theatre. I saw the show in New York but to review his performance or critique its subject matter would do this unique storytelling an injustice. The truth he speaks is the foundation of this discussion about building a new model for theatre in this country.

For those of you who missed the show or won’t be able to see it in Seattle, here’s a short audio clip from the opening courtesy of “Seattle’s Only Newspaper.” He answers the question posed in his title in the first six minutes of the show.