Time to Discuss

  • Posted on: 11 March 2009
  • By: Tony

As news cycles et al get faster and faster, a discussion that is two weeks old is old news to many of us.  I was thinking of this as I got some free time to write.

While I was away from the blog I wasn't lacking for things to write about, but time to write them. So, I kept a list of post ideas. I find that's a handy way to keep ideas from disappearing and re-inspire myself when I'm not sure what to write about.

But some of this, frankly, feels repetitive. "It was already talked about last week, do you really need to bring it up again?"On the other hand some discussions keep repeating, restarting, recycling for years. Do we just not solve some of the problems because we don't have solutions? Or do the conversations never continue long enough to commit to solutions?

I know I'm working with huge non-specific brush strokes here. But you could insert almost any issue facing artists and organizations from twenty years ago into a blog post today and have it still be relevant.

If we see a problem before us,  how do we reconcile being sick of talking about a problem and the problem not going away (which means more talking about it)? How much do we need to keep talking and how much do we need to stop talking and roll up our sleeves and get to solving it?

On Change

  • Posted on: 27 February 2009
  • By: Tony

Historically there are a pretty limited number of ways to create change: legislation, taxation, education and shame. In a society that abhors taxation, has little shame (watch any realty TV show), and typically cannot pass much meaningful legislation (unless being seriously watered down,) how can we create real change? Do we really want to? Of the four ways to enact change, only two really work. People will break laws. People will pay or avoid taxes. Change is not easy. It is hard work that can take a lifetime, or generations to accomplish.

History is a series of long periods of stasis punctuated by brief flourishes of creativity and artistry. Most often those times have accompanied a pendulum shift of sorts. Times of great societal upheaval and massive change are also most of the great periods in the history of art. Art doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Jenn and I have been talking more and more recently how so many conversations about theatre companies consist of "creating community", "we really focus on our process", "the business model is broken", "audiences are shrinking, aging, etc." The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. The way theatres and artists functioned in the 1950's is an untenable situation. (I've heard that was the point of the '60's.)

We talk about change a lot. But how many of us are really working towards it? Not just a change in how we work as artists, but changing our world for the better? At the end of the day the world influences art more than we'd like to admit. An increasingly corporate world produces increasingly corporate art. A Catholic world produced Catholic Art.

One question that has always been on my mind was what is art's role in change, art's role in our world? Has it lead? Has it followed? For any of the myriad problems we face, what are we doing about it?

Are you leading or following? Are you working on a project you want to do? Or one that is needed? We all have a choice in what we do. I know I am a fairly eccentric guy in many ways. The only folks who've called me on that statement have only replied, 'uh, dude you have to be rich to be eccentric" or "no you're just weird."

One of my eccentricities is a silly, probably childishly naive, notion that the simple act of a group of people sharing stories can change the world. I believe it can, it usually doesn't. We have a choice in what stories we choose to tell. What factors go into that choice?

Recently, I've heard it suggested that since only artists come to shows, they should go for the low hanging fruit and just work for other artists.

Lead, follow or. . . The pendulum of history is swinging once again. In a time a great change that we are in, the single biggest fact that we need to face up to is that there is no more low-hanging fruit. There is a lot of work involved, and if we don't like it--the world will change without us. But will that be a world we want?

Catching Up: or Where Have You Been?

  • Posted on: 26 February 2009
  • By: Tony

Catching up, seems like how I spend most of my time lately. Right now it's 8:42. Jenn is out watching Letters X. I'm gonna try and go see Minita in Twelfth Night this weekend at Piccolo. Both kids are now asleep. It's really quiet. Something I'm not used to lately.

The Other Shore closed off really strongly which was nice. For a while we've been offering a special deal, if you like the show and want to see it again bring two friends and your ticket is free. We had more people come back to see the show multiple times (not counting the usual repeat traffic from folks dating someone in the cast) than any show I can remember working on.

There were also folks who really didn't like it. I wonder if that's a good breakdown of where a show should be: a third love it, a third like it and a third loath it. I haven't codified any ideas or anything like that, but I have been mulling it over. No one took me up on the bold and stupid offer for refunds. I was kinda curious how that would work out.

One thing I noticed on this one was that the more in the biz folks were, the less likely they were to love it. That's something I wouldn't have anticipated. It seems that a lot of the feedback we got concentrated far more heavily on structure and less on content from people who spend most of their time in theatres. Folks just out to see a show tended to see the content and not pay so much attention to the form.

Most of my free time lately has been taken up by curating the Alcyone Festival 09, (the super-nerd version of me is really stoked about the map I was able to embed in the page) scheduling folks for auditions and hammering out spaces. Oh yeah, and setting our next season. Tracking down and negotiating rights for eight shows from four continents at the same time is something. I don't know what it is, but it's something.

I'm still waiting for the official green light on one of the shows for the festival, but I'm really excited by the lineup. We'll be making an official announcement shortly; however, unless there comes some huge curveball, the line up will look like Fucking Parasites by Ninna Tersman (US-possibly World Premiere depending on the timing of a production in New Zealand), The Black Eyed by Betty Shamieh (Chicago Premiere), Heads by EM Lewis (Chicago Premiere), Bounty of Lace by Susan Merson (Chicago Premiere), Blessed Child by Astrid Saalbach (US Premiere), and one more that looks like it will be a "developmental production" but I'm still waiting on final word with her agent. Oh and this guy will be directing Blessed Child.

Then in the fall, we will do Lorca in a Green Dress by Nilo Cruz (Chicago Premiere) and A Shroud for Lazarus by Rotimi Babatunde (World Premiere) in rep. In the spring we will do Trickster by me.

Trickster was supposed to go up this spring but we decided to push it back. The economy was one factor, but really it wasn't a good time to try and write and direct a show. Between Charley being born and my mom being sick, the spring was one large unknown so I decided late last year to push it back. Pretty much everyone agreed that it was the smart decision.

On the mom front, the radiation was able to shrink the tumor. She's doing chemo right now and they're hoping to get it into remission. Much better than what we heard last fall.

A few years ago the daughter of college friends of mine was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia. There were lucky and were able to find a donor for a marrow transplant. Back in October they celebrated the 2 year anniversary of her remission.

I've been thinking of that a lot lately. Avery's anniversary was around the time my mom was diagnosed. When one set of doctors had already written my mom off, another offered hope. Not anywhere out of the woods yet, but there is hope.

You may have noticed a lot of pictures popping up lately. I figured I'd try something new. A while back we were talking about more media content and images. Here I had been trying to think of ways to take more pictures and I realized that I had about 3500 pics from stuff we've done sitting on my hard drive. So I figured I'd let some of them out into the world. Let me know what you think.

Feedback or Why This Play

  • Posted on: 20 February 2009
  • By: Tony

How do you know if you're doing a good job? I think it is often difficult for us to really take stock of our work objectively and know how we are doing. And yet, I know we did a good job producing The Other Shore.

But how can one measure that? There are a number of possible ways to try and measure it.

Audience Feedback?
Some audience members have seen it as stops on the cycle of life, for some it's just a series of beautiful images. Chinese and Eastern European audiences saw the anti-communist themes very clearly. One group of Bulgarians talked to Jenn for awhile about that after the show on Superbowl Sunday. Some audience members have talked to me about it's beauty and message of hope. Some didn't care for it. I think all are there and all are valid. The one thing that no one expressed, thankfully, was boredom. Oh and so far no one's asked for their money back either.

Asses in the seats?
It is by far the most abstract "arty" play we have done to date. And even after winning a Nobel, Gao Xingjian isn't very well known. With a week to go in the run it had sold more tickets than anything we've done, with the exception of last years festival that had 10 plays and 90 artists. (And you still have two days. If you haven't been to see it yet, it closes Saturday night.)

Critical response?
Pretty much everyone who has seen it has had a different response. Lisa Buscani had it in New City's top five plays to see. For Kelly Kleiman, the brutality was excruciating to get through. For Tony Adler it was quaint. Jonathan Abarbanel seemed to see it as a parallel to Xingjian's life. Mary Barnidge suggested it was a like simple anti-peer pressure PSA. All very intelligent folks, all saw something different.

There are a number of possible ways to measure it. But at the end of the day there is no formula.

One question that some folks asked, including the Dueling Critics, was why this play? Kelly Kleiman said she didn't find it engaging. (As I mentioned to her in an email conversation,) it is a different type of engagement to be sure, but I wonder if she really had no engagement with it--as she had a very strong response. One thing that it does is by not having a traditional protagonist to root for or, a traditional antagonist to blame, we are forced to confront it on our own terms as individuals, and see it through our own experiences. It doesn't allow us to connect it to others, audiences connect it with themselves. And thus, in turn, connect with others in the audience.

I know devilvet wasn't enamored with the script, and the lack of a protagonist was one of the issues he had with relating to it. (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

I think this is part of the reason so many people have seen so many different things. Unlike some abstract works that are intentionally cryptic, this script is very open to multiple interpretations. As is the show. Whereas sometimes ambiguity is pushed, so as not to have to make a choice for the audience--in an unusual way, for this play specificity opened possibilities.

And that is something Jenn and I spoke about a lot in the process. If there were two choices that could be made, is the one that closed off interpretation weaker than one that opens it up?

I think Kelly had an excellent point on 848 that one of the problems with The Other Shore is it (to paraphrase) is attractive people doing very unattractive things. For me that's a strong correlation with one of the problems with our society.

When faced with what people are actually capable of, often we look away. So how do we work against it? One thing, for better or worse, would be to dress it up as theatre games with a pretty cast and let people make their own decisions.

While not the only theme in the show, the violence is very much there, and if you see it, it is brutal--there is no doubt about it. Many didn't even make note of it, while they concentrated on other elements. We often don't see what humans are capable of. I'd bet if I put a warning sign in the lobby about the violence everyone would see it clearly.

Is there were a better way to "put a sign in the lobby," so we actually see the levels of violence omnipresent in our society? If so I think we'd be forced to confront our ability to look the other way when faced with brutality. If one couldn't simply shut the door and ignore it--like we unfortunately tend to do --I would have to hope that things would change for the better.

Why this play? I knew in my gut is was the right play to do. Not that everyone would fall head over heels in love with it, but I knew it. The fact that so many folks had differing reactions to it and no one said they were bored let's me know we did our jobs.