Current Production

Design Proposal/Collaboration

(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





Shift Happens

Visit the Wicked Wiki of the West behind this YouTube video and find more resources including history of presentation, suggestions for usage, and links to downloadable versions.

From text of Did You Know? 2.0

Did you know?
In the next 8 seconds . . .
34 babies will be born.

Name this country . . .

  • Richest in the world
  • Largest military
  • Center of world business and finance
  • Strongest education system
  • Currency the world standard of value
  • Highest standard of living

Great Britain. In 1900.

2006 college graduates
How many 2006 college graduates in India speak English?
In 10 years it is predicted that the number on English speaking country in the world will be . . .
Who would have predicted this 60 years ago?

Did you know?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor
1 in 4 workers has been with their current employer less than one year.
1 in 2 workers has been with their current employer less than five years.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s learners will have . . .
10 to 14 jobs . . .
by their 38th birthday

Many of today’s college majors didn’t exist 10 years ago

  • New media
  • Organic agriculture
  • e-business
  • Nanotechnology
  • Homeland security

What will they study 10 years from now?

Today’s 21-year-olds have:
Watched 20,000 hours of TV
Played 10,000 hours of video games
Talked 10,000 hours on the phone
And they’ve sent/received 250,000 emails or instant messages
More than 50% of U.S. 21-year-olds have created content on the web
More than 70% of U.S. 4-year-olds have used a computer
Years it took to reach a market audience of 50 million

Number of Internet devices in 1984: 1,000
1992 – 1,000,000
2006 – 600,000,000

Did you know?
We are living in exponential times
The first commercial text message was sent in December 1992
The number of text messages sent and received today . . .
exceeds the population of the planet
The Internet started being widely used by the general public in early 1995
1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. in 2005 . . .
met online
Revenue for eBay in 2006: $1.7 billion
eBay was founded in 1996
There were more than 2.7 billion searches performed on Google . . .
. . . this month

To whom were those questions directed B.G.?
(Before Google)

MySpace Visitors
More than 230,000 new users signed up for MySpace . . .
If MySpace were a country . . .
it would be the 8th largest in the world
YouTube visitors since September 2005

Did you know?
There are more than 540,000 words in the English language . . .
about five times as many as during Shakespeare’s time
More than 3,000 books were published . . .
. . . today
The amount of technical information is doubling every two years
By 2010, it’s predicted to double . . .
every 72 hours
Third generation fiber optics has recently been tested that push 10 trillion bits per second down a fiber
That is 1,900 CDs or 150 million simultaneous phone calls every second
It’s currently tripling every six months
The fiber is already there, they’re just improving the switches on the end . . .
which means the marginal cost of these improvements is effectively . . .

Nearly 2 billion children live in developing countries
One in three never completes fifth grade
In 2005 the One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC) set out to provide laptops to these children
The first shipments should be in mid-2007
Kids who have never held a textbook will now hold the world
And be connected . . .
to you
Predictions are that by the time
children born in 2007 are 6 years old,
a supercomputer’s computation capabilities
will exceed
that of the human brain
And while predictions further out than 15 years are hard to do . . .
a $1,000 computer
will exceed the computing capabilities
of the human race
what does this all mean?

We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Did you know . . .
There are students in China, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, and the USA who
[graphic switches from: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create, communicate, collaborate]
on projects
every day
Ask Your Kids: Are you doing this in school?
Ask Your Principal: How are you helping my child become literate in the 21st century?
Ask Your School Board: Are you providing the resources and training necessary to prepare students to be successful in 21st century society?
Ask Your Elected Representatives: Now that you know all this, what changes should be made to current education legislation?

What’s your vision?

Did you know . . .
The original version of this presentation was created for a Colorado (USA) high school staff of 150 in August of 2006
to start a conversation about what our students need to be successful in the 21st century
By June 2007 it had started more than 5 million conversations around the world
And now that you know, we want you to join the conversation

(Hat tip to Sasha Anawalt at ARTicles)


Guillermo Gómez-Peña in New York

Somewhat under the radar, internationally acclaimed brujo-poeta, theorist, and performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña returns to New York for two evenings.



The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics and el Museo del Barrio present two evenings featuring Guillermo Gómez-Peña. After more than four years away from New York, Gómez-Peña brings back his unique style of performance-activism and “theatricalizations of postcolonial theory.” In his books, as in his solo shows, he pushes the boundaries still further, exploring what’s left for artists to do in a post-9/11 “repressive culture of censorship, paranoid nationalism” and what he terms “the mainstream bizarre.” These programs are presented in connection with El Museo’s current exhibition, Arte. Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas, 1960-2000 and the Hemispheric Institute’s EMERGENYC program.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
New York University
Jurow Hall, Silver Center,
100 Washington Square East
Admission: Free

Guillermo Gómez-Peña will present a lecture at New York university in which he will examine the role of artists working against the backdrop of war, censorship, cultural paranoia and spiritual despair. In his lecture, Gómez-Peña will ask: What are the new roles that artists must undertake? Where are the new borders between the accepted and the forbidden? Is art still a pertinent form of inquiry and contestation? This lecture will be the inaugural public event of the institute’s EMERGENYC and Hemispheric New York programs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
El Museo del Barrio
Teatro Heckscher, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street
Admission: Free

In this performance, Gómez-Peña assaults the demonized construction of the US/Mexican border-a literal and symbolic zone lined with Minutemen, rising nativism, three-ply fences, globalization, and transnational identities. To this effect, the “border artist extraordinaire” uses acid Chicano humor, hybrid literary genres, multilingualism, and activist theory as subversive strategies. In this journey to the geographical and psychological outposts of Chicanismo, Gómez-Peña also reflects on identity, race, sexuality, pop culture, politics and the impact of new technologies in the post-9/11 era.

(Hat tip to Caridad Svich NoPassport.)

Current Production Theatre and Culture

Awake From Your Slumber!

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’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.

Theatre and Culture

Contextualizing, Editing, Censoring

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

Arts Funding Theatre and Culture

Chicago Storefront Theatre Model

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.


Theatre and Culture

How Theatre Will Save America

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.

Arts Funding

Field of Dreams

Scott Walters at Theatre Ideas has recently published a flurry of posts on the subject of decentralization of theatre funding.

Many bloggers have been commending Scott’s passionate research and arguing for the more equal distribution of theater funds. This is encouraging because, “it takes a village,” as the African proverb and Hillary say. If decentralization is to actually find traction, the notion will need as many cheerleaders as can be found. More importantly, the actual players up for this game will need to identify themselves and step onto the court.

Scott tells us he is meeting with a willing group of players in California this weekend. No doubt there are many more such groups across the country. During the ten years of the Rat Conference, we continually discussed and attempted to enact methods of decentralization. We succeeded in fits and starts. The story of how RAT, which began as a counter to the regional theatre system and representative of “regional alternative theatre,” became co-opted in large part into the existing TCG establishment would have a complex telling. However, the skinny of that story is that most theatre people are divided in their ambition. The inherent obscurity of producing theatre at the community level is a continuing challenge to one’s self-esteem and most theatre people are at least half desirous for recognition if not success by the yardsticks of the dominant culture in which we are all immersed.

Popularity, celebrity, and money are interdependent. Theatre at the local level can rarely achieve enough popularity and celebrity to sustain an ensemble financially except in large urban areas with already existing theatre audience. Even in large cities, theatre itself is already an alternative to more popular entertainments and difficult to sustain solely through box office — New York and its species of Broadway with its touring show being the exception. All other theatre needs some type of patronage to remain viable.

Scott’s argument against the NEA and its elite patronage is not a new one. Although the scandal generated around the NEA Four performers obscured the issue, Jesse Helms was making exactly the same argument thirty years ago. The national arts funding debacle stemming from the so-called cultural wars in the early ‘90’s resulted in the passing of a new Congressional law. This “decency” test on art went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was upheld.

Although the NEA Four performers’ funding had only amounted to a miniscule percentage of the agency’s budget, or an infinitesimal amount if compared to, say, the military budget, its mere existence allowed the NEA to become the scapegoat of government spending, literally and figuratively, the “indecent” pork barrel of the art elites.

Jesse Helms was campaigning against the word “piss” being next to the word “christ,” not against the actual artwork entitled Piss Christ. And he was campaigning against others’ pork barrel not his state’s own (the nation’s tobacco-subsidy program ended only in 2004) when he demanded the NEA peer panel be held accountable to Congressional oversight and a more equitable distribution of federal arts funding.

Scott Walters gives us the exact same argument once more. But maybe without the scandal of a chocolate smeared naked woman performer we can actually see the the amount of money we are talking about.

Meanwhile, the idea that our regional theatre ought to spread the wonder of the theatre throughout this nation is abandoned. The National Endowment for the Arts data makes clear how much it is being abandoned.

Follow the money has always been good advice for evaluating what is truly valued. In fiscal year 2006, the NEA gave theatre grants in the amount of $2,878,000.

As Scott suggests, if we actually follow the money to find out “what is truly valued” as theatre in America, we would need to compare that $2,878,000 with the budget for a single Broadway play. The roughly $20 million budget of “Young Frankenstein” with some audience members paying $450 for their orchestra seats identifies precisely what theatre this country values.

At the center of International Culture Lab’s inaugural project is a new play by Berlin-based playwright Andreas Jungwirth that examines how capitalism has infiltrated our most personal relationships. The realities surrounding the production of this play are also the subject of the project. Two different sets of artistic peers, two different cultures of theatre came together in a co-production that necessarily became a study of how funding for theatre is provided. William Osborne’s Marketplace of Ideas: But First, The Bill: Personal Commentary On American and European Cultural Funding excellently points out the main differences.

As an American who has lived in Europe for the last 24 years, I see on a daily basis how different the American and European economic systems are, and how deeply this affects the ways they produce, market and perceive art. America advocates supply-side economics, small government and free trade – all reflecting a belief that societies should minimize government expenditure and maximize deregulated, privatized global capitalism. Corporate freedom is considered a direct and analogous extension of personal freedom. Europeans, by contrast, hold to mixed economies with large social and cultural programs. Governmental spending often equals about half the GNP. Europeans argue that an unmitigated capitalism creates an isomorphic, corporate-dominated society with reduced individual and social options. Americans insist that privatization and the marketplace provide greater efficiency than governments. These two economic systems have created something of a cultural divide between Europeans and Americans.

Germany’s public arts funding, for example, allows the country to have 23 times more full-time symphony orchestras per capita than the United States, and approximately 28 times more full-time opera houses. In Europe, publicly funded cultural institutions are used to educate young people and this helps to maintain a high level of interest in the arts. In America, arts education faces constant cutbacks, which helps reduce interest.

In making his argument Scott has painstakingly compiled a series of Google maps to show population density, TCG theaters and other such data. Scott’s collection of maps reminded me of an interesting book that entertained and informed much of the talk and many the collaborations between rat theatres and artists. Latitudes & Attitudes: An Atlas of American Tastes, Trends, Politics, and Passions by J. Weiss presents an amazing “nationwide consumer map with accompanying remarks on how Americans in various geographical areas feel about a particular food, drink, sport/leisure activity, household product, car, television show, music type, periodical, or political issue.” The various rat cities would have fun arguing pro or con the portrait their consumer habits presented. The maps in the book were an assortment of witty and often bizarre comparisons. I scanned the map below thinking that it would shed some light on one of the main problems in the distribution of the arts funding.

country v. classical map

In a fantasy funding scenerio where Scott Walters was cultural czar and he was given the funding by Congress to establish the same per capita number of full-time symphony orchestras as Germany has, in what states and regions would he put them? How would he use the above map in making his decision? The figures quoted below from the same essay by William Osborne show us Cultural Czar Scott would have 465 new full-time, year-round orchestras to build.

International comparisons might illustrate this point. Germany, for example, has one full-time, year-round orchestra for every 590,000 people, while the United States has one for every 14 million (or 23 times less per capita.) Germany has about 80 year-round opera houses, while the U.S., with more than three times the population, does not have any. Even the Met only has a seven-month season. These numbers mean that larger German cities often have several orchestras. Munich has seven full-time, year-round professional orchestras, two full-time, year-round opera houses (one with a large resident ballet troupe,) as well as two full-time, large, spoken-word theaters for a population of only 1.2 million. Berlin has three full-time, year-round opera houses, though they may eventually have to close one due to the costs of rebuilding the city after reunification.

If America averaged the same ratios per capita as Germany, it would have 485 full-time, year-round orchestras instead of about 20. If New York City had the same number of orchestras per capita as Munich it would have about 45. If New York City had the same number of full-time operas as Berlin per capita it would have six. Areas such as Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx would be nationally and internationally important cultural centers. The reality is somewhat different.

Even if the fantasy funding of this academic exercise were possible, Cultural Czar Scott would also have to decide whether or not it’s appropriate to fund symphonies and operas over country music. After all, wouldn’t the Czar then be imposing a culture and education onto a populace that prefers the Grand Ole Opry to the classics of Europe?

The paradox of the decentralization of theatre is that the voice in the Hollywood fantasy movie speaks the truth. “If you build it, they will come.” But in the celebrity culture of America, it would be best to have a movie star like Kevin Costner in your theatre ensemble.

Current Production Performance Techniques

The Big Suit

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.

Current Production Performance Techniques

Gestus for characters

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.

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.