Current Production

Talk to us…

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?

Current Production

First Images from Designers of S/he

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.

Current Production Theatre and Culture

Translating the Story

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.


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


Avant Yarde Event Monday Evening

Eat, meet, and greet
New work by TravSD and Katherine Adamenko

6pm-9pm: Potluck Barbecue and Performance
Monday, August 25

The Avant Yarde
214 Dean Street (Between Nevins and Bond)

Performance/reading will be approximately 40 minutes long. FREE admission with your favorite barbecue item or prepared dish to share. Please RSVP to Gabriele as seating is limited.


Sea / Herself:
The (De)volution of a Beauty Queen

SEA / HERSELF dances down feminine archetypes to unmask the authentic self. Hidden behind layers of make-up and societal graces, the feminine mask of beauty is stripped away to reveal the inner child in all her innocent splendor. Now liberated, the authentic wild woman emerges, returning to sea/herself.

Katherine Adamenko is a performance artist, Butoh dancer, actress and writer. Her unique style of cabaret performance art and renegade interactive performance have been seen on stage, in galleries, museums, parks, streets, kitchens and bathrooms throughout the United States and Europe.


TravSD’s first new experimental play in over a decade…

Elk Milk, or Custer Wore an Arrow Shirt

Mixing elements of Hollywood westerns, early Shepard, and vaudeville sketch, Elk Milk pokes fun at military paranoia and American terror of “the alien.”

Is the enemy without… or within?

Featuring Matt Gray, Bob Brader, Jeff Lewonczyck, Gyda Arber, et al.

News Performance Techniques

She and the Empty Living Room

My blogging will continue to be intermittent now that our October production approaches. We’ll be headed up north to Ithaca for rehearsals in September. Before we leave we will host one more Avant Yarde event, so stay tuned here for that announcement shortly.

Markus drove Carolina to JFK Monday night, so she is back in Argentina now. She is gone and present at the same time. I am meditating on her performance with Markus in She and the Empty Living Room. How do such performances function in the relationships we build over the years with friends and peers? Life and art entwined into the same tapestry.

The experience of “the other” is the most absolute knowledge we are allowed in our lives. Theatre and art can act as conduit to that experience but their rituals often function best as extensions of our everyday ceremonies.


She and the Empty Living Room

Conceived and Directed by April Sweeney
Text by April Sweeney and Carolina Sotolano
Performed by: Carolina Sotolano and Markus Hirnigel
Film by: Miklos Buk
New York Premiere

markus and carolina

An exploration of (anti)communication, disobedient tongues, a missing left foot, a dance, a relationship, a poem, or a broken heart. She and the Empty Living Room is a play in translation (literally) about the act of translation, repression/oppression, and the language in your head that turns you into someone else.

She, and the Empty Living Room is a chamber play that looks at the (de)evolution of a relationship and the language it inherits. In loosing your language by trying to replace it with another you loose yourself and appropriate the other. Pretending to be someone else until you are forced to be the person you didn’t know you were.

backyard Avant Yarde

It is a play performed live by two actors in Spanish and English with simultaneous translation delivered via subtitles across two monitors on which also a film is seen. It is this film that is inherently translating the image (the play) before your eyes. It takes place in an almost empty room. A room in a house that is lived in.

Afterwards the public is invited to stay. There is a salon of sorts, hopefully on a divan with red wine and banana bread. This interaction is the end of the event and just as important as the event itself.

markus and carolina

markus and carolina

backyard avant yarde

markus and carolina

More photos of the production

Performance Techniques Theatre and Culture

The Last Rat Conference Comes Home Again

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.


Avant Yarde Event Monday Night

Please join us for the next Avant Yarde event featuring a short play with actors who have lived and worked with our good friends from the South, the nomadic Argentine theatre group Willaldea.

She, and the Empty Living Room

A chamber play in one-act. An exploration of (anti)communication, disobedient tongues, a missing left foot, a dance, a relationship, a poem, or a broken heart. She and the Empty Living Room is a play in translation (literally) about the act of translation, repression/oppression, and the language in your head that turns you into someone else.

empty living room

Conceived and Directed by April Sweeney
Text by Carolina Sotolano and April Sweeney
Performed in Spanish and English by: Markus Hirnigel and Carolina Sotolano
Film by: Miklos Buk, Sound by: Joan JubettMonday,

Monday night, July 28th at Avant Yarde
214 Dean Street (Between Bond and Nevins)

6pm-9pm: Potluck Barbecue and Performance.
Please bring your favorite barbecue item or prepared dish to share.

Presented by International Culture Lab
FREE admission with your favorite dish
Limited seating for the performance

The Avant Yarde is located in a four-story private artists’ residence in the landmarked area of Brownstone Brooklyn. The site hosts artist salons, art potlatches, and commissions and installs temporary sculptures throughout the year. Avant Yarde proposes an alternative to the traditional performance and gallery space, attempting to position the exchange and experience of art outside the confines of the market while also examining conventional notions of public and private space within the community.

Curators: Russell Busch, Katie Merz, Paul Benney, Nick Fracaro, Gabriele Schafer

Avant Yarde accepts proposals for installations and sculptures on an ongoing basis. Write to

Current Installation

Big New Fountain by Charles Goldman

Current Production

Staging the N-word

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.




Avant Yarde Opening Thursday Night

NYC friends, please stop by to say hi and for a bubbly toast to Charles.

The Avant Yarde is located in a four-story private artists’ residence in the landmarked area of Brownstone Brooklyn. The site hosts artist salons, art potlatches, and commissions and installs temporary sculptures throughout the year. Avant Yarde proposes an alternative to the traditional performance and gallery space, attempting to position the exchange and experience of art outside the confines of the market while also examining conventional notions of public and private space within the community.

Curators: Russell Busch, Katie Merz, Paul Benney, Nick Fracaro, Gabriele Schafer

Avant Yarde accepts proposals for installations and sculptures on an ongoing basis. Write to

Current Installation

Big New Fountain by Charles Goldman

Opening reception: Thursday, June 12th from 6pm to 9pm at 214 Dean Street, Brooklyn.

Past Installations

Artist: Jason Gandy

What’s Up With That

Boat Mystery Solved!

Current Production Theatre and Culture

Dramaturgy and PR

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.