Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Objective of Theatre


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Jeff Riebe.

Greetings once again.

As I summon what little I actually know about the local theatre scene in Minneapolis, I can't help but miss the NY scene tremendously, but I digress.

I continue to be impressed with The Guthrie (as you may have surmised per my last post). I've had the opportunity to meet other local theatre companies and actors. Their aims and aspirations are as ambitious as anyone, or any company, in this business.

As I mentioned, I'm employed (at least that's the terminology the use) with Interact. It’s a theatre company configured of people with physical and/or mental disabilities. Led by 'normal' peeps, whom it has been enjoyable to get to know. They're all, most of them anyway, artists in their own right. Locally. A few internationally. (Their generosity makes me think of the NY scene.)

I venture now into familiar, yet foreign, territory. That being producing, here in MN.

I am getting an inside look at putting a play on its feet, again. My involvement with Interact has been on the production side of things. The mounting (lately, a foreign concept to me) of a play remains a task involving many aspects. What's becoming apparent is that regardless of the when/where or with whom a play is put on, the objective is still for the piece to tell the story as artistically and truthfully as is possible.

We're in the midst of creating a spring production titled The Medicine Show. It is a play with music, which is also being written. I, as of this writing, really know so little about the details of this piece that it would be unfair to comment. That said, I can say that the people involved in producing/directing this play for Interact are committed to it being the best it can be. There's really no ego-trips involved. It's simply about telling a story.

Aside from my work with Interact, in my downtime (thankfully lacking), I've begun a book retelling my experience. My experience. I'm also being urged to write a script. For stage or screen TBD. Haven't exactly figured out how best to move forward with it, but the Minneapolis people (those that are aware of my book anyway) are doing what they do to inspire me.

You may have figured it out that I think about NY endlessly. Know that you are at the center of theatre life (in the US anyhow) and to not forget how fortunate you are to be there. It's really apparent to me however that theater is ultimately the same to produce wherever you are.

More to follow...


Monday, March 29, 2010

Greetings from the Hinterlands

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Jeff Riebe.


I'm writing you from way Off-Off-Broadway. Try half a country away in Minneapolis, MN. Talk about 'the boon docks.' This is where it all began for me. Everything, including the inspiration to attempt to tread the boards in New York. While I've returned to MN, New York yet beckons. I've come back, yes by choice, well kind of, to that very source. And I'm giving my time, as much as is possible anyway, with/at the Guthrie Theater (yes, it's still spelled it with an -er as opposed to an -re here in the hinterlands).

So I thought perhaps I'd start my week of blogging by sharing a bit of what it's like, from a quasi-outsiders perspective, to be in said business a half a country away. The thing that strikes me as most different are the professionals comprising the local community. Granted, it could vary greatly in another location and likely does, yet I'm inspired from getting to know those individuals I have. It sort of puts into perspective precisely why we do what we do. A thing we're likely to overlook or take for granted in NY. Speaking of, my new, well four years old, motto is to not take anything, nothing, for granted. Ever. As actors and professionals, I'm sure you know what I mean.

Anyway, back to topic: The Guthrie has long been a source of professional inspiration for me. Unequivocally the best theatre in this community, and a national/international stalwart. The building itself is exemplary of said greatness. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, it's comprised of three theatres; the Wurtele Thrust, the McGuire Proscenium and the Dowling Studio (in which I've also performed). Each space easily rivals spaces in New York and likely out-does many theatres across the country. A reminder of what we, as plebian actors, strive for.

The theatre has been host to many touring productions as well as hosting their own. Not-so-recently, a production af Tony Kushner's new opus "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to the Universe: With a Key to the Scriptures" premiered. It was the first time the Guthrie had dedicated all three theatres to one playwright simultaneously. Kushner's canon was sampled throughout the complex: The Kushner Festival. A huge ego-boost to Mr.K, I imagine. (Like that's needed.)

Dedicated to Shakespeare, a least one, but often more, of his plays is valiently taken on here per season. As well, The Guthrie chooses to mount plays by other famous, for good reason, playwrights too. It's quite exemplary what they do.

It has far surpassed any expectations I may have had coming in. It's elevated them, to say the least. Oh, in case you were wondering, theatre is thriving away from NYC. Here, anyway.

Jeffrey C. Riebe


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Jeff Riebe


We would like to thank Brad Burgess for his provocative and astute blogs last week.

We are excited to announce next week's blogger, Jeff Riebe.

Jeff Riebe is an amazingly talented actor and producer who was a co-chair of the Honorary Awards Committee 2004 - 2006. He has performed and produced numerous Off and Off-Off-Broadway productions and the ActorFest for BackStage. He currently is very active in the Minneapolis theatre scene. He often works at the Interact Center and volunteers at the Guthrie Theatre.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Maintaining ensembles

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Brad Burgess.

Yesterday, Judith was talking to John Strasberg in her apartment about the highest artistic aim of maintaining an ensemble. I’m glad I did not write the blog yesterday, even though it was completely unintentional. Sometimes things just workout I guess. It ain’t called The Living Theatre for nothing! haha, Come on down to Clinton Street if you haven’t, this place is out of this world let me tell you. Never know what you are going to find.

Anywho, this blog is gladly stealing from those two technique tycoons and their minds who have been developing ensembles with their legacies for well over 100 years combined. Holy moly is right.

A true ensemble has one essential quality that cannot be taught or come from natural talent: they know each other. Being on stage with Judith during The Connection, we had a whole personal relationship to draw on. She’s my roommate, she’s my mentor, she’s one of my best friends. We share almost everyday with one another.

Tom Walker, is a company member of ours who has performed in 39 seasons with The Living Theatre. To put that into perspective, Mickey Mantle played 16 seasons for The New York Yankees. Judith and Tom have been on stage with each other for almost 40 years.

These examples are just a couple of dozens and dozens of similar stories. The profound effect these real relationships have on our ability to make our art together, is very present for us. It’s what makes being a pacifist anarchist political theatre group even possible.

Our art can’t help but manifest itself from these experiences. Our thoughts and feelings as people are developed this way. It makes sense then that our ability to relay translations of reality from the writer/director/actor/thinker as artists and produce something that has a connection to reality that is clear to the audience.

One balance we have is the problem of not being involved enough with our audience, as strange as it sounds. We are such a culture unto ourselves, that we need to be careful to keep our every day reality a part of the culture we are living in. We are very fortunate to be a part of the academic culture, so that much of our audience, theatre students and professionals especially, know something coming into the show about what to expect. Well, in our case I suppose its more of what not to expect.

When I see the experienced ensemble here working together, the company members who have been doing it for 10, 20, 30, 40 or in Judith’s case 65 years, I feel connected to the development of the culture. I see an ability for compromise, an ability to find a common ground, an ability to move forward in the midst of crisis.

I think we are able to accomplish this because we are really able to be who we are to one another. It’s part of the vibe and message from the moment you arrive here, from Judith to the babies that are born into the company. It’s a real family, in all the wonderful clichéd sense of it.

This adds a reality to the work for me personally that I have not been able to find or see in many places other than the theatre community at large. I think the connection we have to each other here at The Living Theatre, but also industry wide helps us communicate and relate to people who love their friends and families. That’s most people in the world.

It’s certainly not always perfect as again is the norm, but I feel theatre and its ensemble nature can be a real example for societal structuring. People should be working together with people they love on something they care about that says what they believe, in their deepest, and most elevated selves. Hopefully our work as an artistic community is doing so. I believe it is in this city.

Happy World Theatre Day!


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Health Insurance & the Theatre Artist


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Brad Burgess.

The first important point about health insurance and thereby healthcare in our industry, is that even in the best unions, a minority of members qualify for their respective insurance requirements. (This is aside from the lack of representation for the majority of artists in our community who are not represented by the unions.)

In fact, the current arrangement is such, that if you work 8 weeks in Equity, 8 weeks in SAG, 8 weeks in AFTRA, for a total of 24 weeks, which is over the minimum requirement of weeks in one year for each of their plans, you would not qualify for any one those insurance plans. The lesson is, that even the establishment in our industry is unable to handle the health insurance of its members.

It’s important to note that all of those unions perform great services for artists, and really do have the best of intentions for their members. So, given their current situation is in sync with ours, there is an opportunity to work together from various angles with unions, government, and foundations included, while these problems seem clearer and clearer to us. Especially now that it is clear that the government is requiring insurance, it is indeed the responsibility of the industry leaders to assist and advocate on behalf of all the artists, as all of them are affected.

It starts from the top of it with the National Endowment for the Arts. If someone can explain to me how it is reasonable that through the economic explosion of the 90’s and early 2000’s, the NEA’s budget has actually dropped a couple million from its highest point in the very early 90’s, I would appreciate that very much! ha! That’s crazy.

This year it’s only 160 million, though for the first time it will be higher than the city of New York’s budget for the DCA because of a major budget cut that’s happening. But in recent years this city’s made more money available for the arts than the federal government. How did that happen? One city found a way to make more money available for the arts than the federal government.

...160 million for the arts industry while the congressional budget for its small business committee is 400 billion dollars… I mean, this is what we are dealing with, all of us, a complete and utter lack of money in the industry from the government, along with the financial problems of foundations and individual patrons.

The ones that are mass affected by this are the thousands of low income artists in this city that scrape and claw and hustle to survive without nearly enough money working its way into their hands for the work and responsibilities they handle. I can’t say enough about how impressive it is, the dedication of the individual artists all over the city that make their art and provide for many aspects of the culture. Many of them do this in addition to having families and full time jobs. I think this is likely a pretty nationwide phenomenon in the arts industry in regional and community theatres and arts spots everywhere in the U.S.

But it’s clear we have an advantage in this city with its perspective on culture from the residents to the businesses to the politicians and we all have a responsibility to make the best of it. We need to be hopeful and diligent and happily continue to work together as we are.

I’ve been working on organizing a push for a proposal, with the help and focus of many individuals. As of right now, so long as the bill pushes through without disaster, I will be working with the help of the policy writing team from Equity, and the gracious guidance of their national director of special programs who is a really cool lady if there ever was one. Speaking of, Olympia Dukakis and Judith helped me meet with many industry leaders and ultimately Flora at Equity, with whose help this idea can really tackle the necessary details of a proposal like the one we need.

The details of this proposal are pretty vague at the moment, but let me say that everyone I’ve talked to has been very supportive and sure that we can come up with something that really benefits everyone in the industry without disturbing the status quo for the people are comfortable and secure with it.

Stay tuned for more about it in the coming months, we’ll be asking for all the help and participation we can get. Please feel free to email me with interest!

Less politics and more art tomorrow.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Practice of Progressive Politics


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Brad Burgess.

So, before even getting to how artists fit into all this, I think the most important thing when talking about healthcare reform (this one is really health insurance reform), is to take the following perspective, “I must let go of whatever bill I would have written if it were %100 up to what I think it should be word for word.” In fact this may be the most fundamental, yet modernly unpracticed, aspect of progressive politics. We can’t make all the progress at once.

It would be foolish to criticize the healthcare bill because it doesn’t also solve the energy crisis. By the same token I feel its important not to criticize the bill because it does not solve every problem we have with our health and with the way we practice it in society with one another.

This is one area in which being part of a collective is very helpful. A collective is not a congress, and that is a tremendous advantage of a group’s ability to compromise. At The Living Theatre everyone is considered a director of the play at rehearsal and is given the opportunity to act as such as much as the individual artists in the group will go along with whoever has the floor. We almost never come to an impasse where half the group thinks one thing and half the group thinks the other. We have many common interests and it’s not hard to find them in the creation of our art together.

The debate on our health should have a plethora of common interest. Instead, somehow, every member of the red team thought the exact same way. I can’t imagine how this is possible. If this last vote does not display that: this system of decision making is not good; then I’m not sure what can. Not one republican could compromise on this bill? About our health!? If they can’t agree about that, then how can this congress possibly have a chance at really representing our common interests?

I’m not saying that it’s the republicans fault at all, though lots of activity on the right is quite terrifying at present, including the racial slurs and shouting at people during press conferences. Kudos to Obama for keeping it totally focused and calm and collected amidst all this.

But, it is the systems fault. There are two problems that showcase this systematic failure as I see it. The democrats couldn’t come up with a bill that one republican would vote for. And, not one republican could make any compromise with the proposal. When those two factors are true, then it seems there’s a pervasive systematic break down at that point. ‘Two parties’ does not work as a system. It can’t. We are too diverse, and it’s very silly to think that all 300 million people in this country fit into two categories on any level, especially the political level.

But, we have to get over all of this. It’s all there and we have no choice but to work with it. We have to get over the fact that there are enough problems to make everyone go on passionate rants that make every idea sound like a bad one and create an impossible environment for progress or change.

Do you think that, as an anarchist, I like that this bill gives insurance companies more money? Do you think that I like %100, that now, I am being forced by the government to pay for something that I have freely chosen not to pay for for the last few years? Listen, I can’t even stand that there is a government at all. So, what am I gonna do, try to prevent the government from doing anything? How could anything get better if that was my attitude?

Well, that is the attitude in Washington D.C. It’s mostly preventative politics instead of the politics of progress. So for now, let me give a resounding, “Hell yeah!” that something forward thinking got done some how.

Tomorrow I’ll tackle how we are possibly going to handle being able to pay for health insurance when we can barely figure out how to even pay legitimate salaries to those deserving in our organizations, or even rent a lot of the time.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Our World has Permanently Changed


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Brad Burgess.

Hello everybody!

I am very excited for my week here on the IT blog. Three cheers for everyone at IT by the way. Without their valuable statistical analysis and dedication to improving our industry and its understanding of itself, we would not be moving forward as fast as we all are together.

That’s where I’d like to start this week, and just address the state of the industry from my perspective over here at The Living Theatre. Judith and I talk about it often and really embrace our role as small business organizers as well as artists. In fact I think that the movement and action in the Off-Off-Broadway scene of the past year, represents some of the most innovative business being done in the new economic world.

It seems our world has permanently changed as a result of the economic crisis. We almost saw it (DOW) hit zero in a matter of months. Barack Obama probably saved us from a militaristic fascist coup, which is usually what happens in societies where the economy collapses, along with riots, death and other mostly awful stuff. It pains me to say it, but thank heavens for the bank bailout, because even though the current system is pretty lousy and well below what our intelligence is capable of, it offers hope for change, something that marshall law would have likely stifled a little. It would not have been pretty if he hadn’t acted quickly. Judith lived through the great depression as a child in the 1930’s and also feels this way.

I say this all as a pacifist anarchist who does not vote, because as JM says, “I can’t responsibly elect someone to be in charge of the armed forces.” I think that money is on its way out in the long haul. (Are there going to be trillionaires? really?) I don’t think we will let it carry on like it is now, where so few have mostly all the wealth.

Noam Chomsky said yesterday at Pace University that of the seven thousand billion dollar gross national product in the US for the year, that about 500 people made two thousand billion of it. In a country of 300 million people, that’s simply wrong. It’s wrong ethically, morally and rationally.

I think this crisis was a big wake up call on that train of thought and people are really ready to listen to suggestions that they weren’t before because the faith in the system is fading. It almost collapsed on its own.

One major sign of this change for me, was the Community Board Congress on the state of small-midsize theatres, last February at The Players Club. There, Scott Stringer challenged the city’s politicians to take care of its artists and challenged us to help make it happen. It was a great event for anyone who wasn’t there.

There we all were, industry wide from the communities we all live in, and since then there has been an amazing amount of work being accomplished on all accounts, with great effort on everyone’s part like IT, the community boards, the executive directors and administrators at all the theatres and the politicians in the city. It has been great to see what we are capable of and we are just getting started. Also, I think we, as artists, can help provide examples of good business at a time when we need to reexamine our societal practices, and make sure that equality actually becomes a real concept in practice not just in theory. This is especially true I feel at nonprofits where the goal is actually in the corporate identity of the companies. Not for profit actually means for the culture, if you define it by what it is instead of what it isn’t. At least for me that’s what it means.

So that's a start for now. I'll be addressing healthcare and how artists can fit in at some point this week as I have been working on a proposal with the help and support of Olympia Dukakis that is coming together now that yesterday happened. Also, I'll try to cover other aspects of the industry, and maybe even a little art at some point!

More tomorrow...


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Brad Burgess


We would like to thank Roman Feeser for being our guest blogger last week.

Next week's blogger is Brad Burgess.

Brad Burgess joined The Living Theatre as an original cast member of the 2007 revival of The Brig by Kenneth Brown directed by Judith Malina. He quickly became part of the directing efforts at The Living as understudy ensemble director for the show, later co-directing the piece in Los Angeles. The play won two OBIES for direction and ensemble, Best of Theatre NY Times 07 and LA Times 08, as well as capturing Best Foreign Play in Italy, for its tour in Germany and Italy. He assistant directed Maudie and Jane starring Judith Malina, with then company director Hanon Reznikov, Malina's second husband/co-director of The Living. Tragically, Hanon suffered a stroke in 2008, leaving Malina, at 83 without the help she needed. Since that time Brad has mustered up as much courage as possible to help her run The Living Theatre, helping her direct new works Eureka! and Red Noir and playing Ernie in the 50th year anniversary revival of The Connection. He is now Associate Artistic Director and Administrative Director at The Living Theatre on Clinton Street in the LES, Manhattan.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Common Thread


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Roman Feeser.

As a born and bred New Yorker I’m fascinated by what draws people to NYC. What common thread brought these people here? In any group setting you are guaranteed to find at least one Mid-Westerner, a Southerner and if you’re lucky a foreigner. I grew up on Long Island, so NYC was always my playground. It was where I came when I cut class and it’s where my parents took me to see theatre. I knew it would become my home one day.

For me the same question holds true for the Innovative Theatre Awards board and staff. Where did these fascinating people come from? How did the Executive Directors find so many talented and dedicated people? What drew us all together? Here’s my story.

In 2007 I was working on my play Missa Solemnis or The Play About Henry, the story of gay Mormon Henry Stuart Matis. It was about finished and I needed a director stat. I also needed a producer who knew his or her way around the theatre scene. I didn’t know where to begin. I wasn’t exactly a neophyte, I had produced and directed my previous two shows, but they were more like industrial showcases with bare bones everything. Missa deserved something more. I had worked five years researching this play. I was extremely passionate about the piece and I was also ready to move into the ranks of Off-Off-Broadway. But how did one get there? Then I met Linda S. Nelson.

Linda was the founder of Shotgun Productions NYC and had produced, directed and acted in many productions throughout the Off-Off-Broadway community. I had worked with Linda on several of her theatre company’s fundraising events but never had the nerve to talk about Missa. When I discovered that she herself was from Salt Lake I went in for the kill. She was on board.

A year later I was dating Adam. Adam was the founder of his own successful Off-Off-Broadway Theatre Company that produced three shows a year. He invited me to be his plus one to something called the IT Awards Nominee Announcement. Not knowing what that meant but knowing I was going to be surrounded by theatre industry (and free liquor) I jumped at the chance to attend. The fact that it was summer and hot as hell, and it was in a church basement and crowded and I barely got to eat anything didn’t deter me from having an amazing time. The energy was palpable. It was a community. It was like family. People were there to celebrate theatre which made all the other details melt away.

Unbeknownst to me, Linda was in attendance. I immediately dumped Adam and stood next to Linda plotting our show and how we could get it nominated! “We will be up there next year!” I declared. Adam refuses to speak to me to this day.

I submitted Missa to the IT Awards. It was easy. It was free. It was exciting. We didn’t get nominated. But that was ok. I don’t write theatrical pieces for awards I write them for the rewards.

In the Fall of that same year, my good friend Michael Mitchell called me. I met Michael three years earlier while he still lived in Salt Lake. I was in Utah working on sabbatical and researching Missa. Michael worked for the ACLU at the time and had planned to move to NYC the following year. I told him to look me up. We remained friends ever since. Michael was the board president of the Innovative Theatre Awards a fact I had not known until I attended the nom party with Adam. Michael knew my passion for theatre and was calling because he wanted to recommend me for the IT Board. I didn’t know what the demand would be on my life and if I could serve on a board, but I went anyway. From the Nom Party to the actual Award show (especially the Frisbee throwing) the IT Awards had me intrigued and if I could be of some value to the organization I would be more than happy to serve. They voted me in!

In my time served with the IT Awards I have met some incredible people and accomplished some amazing things. The dedication from the IT staff and board is unprecedented. Our dedication is because we care. We care about the Off-Off-Broadway community and we care about its place in this great city of ours. That is why we do what we do. That is the common thread that drew us together.

If someone was to ask me today how I got involved with the IT Awards, I wouldn’t retell this story. I would simply reply “I’m one lucky bastard!”


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Benefit for the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival

NEW YORK CITY—Friends of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival are throwing a benefit for the annual Irish gathering on Monday, March 22 at 7:30pm at TADA Theatre, 15 W. 28th St. An evening of song, solo performance, and short plays, as well as a raffle of a Big Basket o’ Gay & Lesbian Plays, Books & Music are on offer.

“Many of us here in the New York theatre scene have had such a great time in Dublin at the festival, that we decided to have a party for them, and raise some money, here in New York City, particularly since the economic turmoil has hit Ireland even harder than the U.S.,” said Kathleen Warnock, NYC-based playwright and editor, who holds the title of Official Ambassador of the Festival to North America. Or, as she prefers to style herself, The Ambassador of Love.

The festival, now entering its 7th year, is held annually the first two weeks in May in Dublin, Ireland. Theatre companies and performers from all over the world travel to Ireland’s capital for two weeks of performance, music, panels, and general hijinks.

Solo artists scheduled to appear March 22, directed by Mark Finley, include Elizabeth Whitney (Wonder Woman, The Musical); Moe Bertran (performing a monologue from David Pumo's Love Scenes); Chesley Award winning writer and performer Dan Bernitt, and Andrea Alton (Carl & Shelly Best Friends Forever) as Molly the Lesbian Poet. Three short plays, "The Adventures of..." (featuring Jamie Heinlein, Jason Alan Griffin, and Hunter Gilmore), directed by Deb Guston; Kevin Brofsky's "Tom Cruise, Get off the Couch!" (with Kaolin Bass, Joe MacDougall and Desmond Dutcher, directed by Aimee Howard; and Mark Finley’s “Swans Are Mean” (with Elizabeth Bell, Matt Boethin, and Hunter Gilmore, directed by David Winitsky) will also be performed. Award-winning playwright, cabaret singer and man-about-town Chris Weikel is the Master of Ceremonies, and Peter Saxe is music director.

In addition, the organizers are offering a raffle a “Big Basket o’Gay & Lesbian Plays, Books & Music. Tickets are available online and at the benefit, and the winner does not need to be present to win. The basket includes signed work from such GLBT artists as Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), Meryl Cohn, (Ms. Behavior), Terence McNally (Corpus Christi), Mark O’Donnell (Hairspray), Irish playwright and novelist Emma Donoghue, Moises Kaufman (The Laramie Project) BETTY (the band!), as well as rare autographed items from pioneers of American Gay Theatre Robert Patrick and Doric Wilson.

All proceeds from the benefit will go to the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.

For a complete list of items in the basket, and updates on the performers, as well as a link to purchase tickets for the event or the raffle, visit or email To purchase tickets to the benefit or raffle tickets, or to find out more about the festival, visit

Monday, March 15, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Roman Feeser


We would like to thank Soomi Kim for her inspiring posts last week.

This week's guest blogger is Roman Feeser.

Roman Feeser grew up on Long Island, New York, and moved to New York City in 1992, itching to begin a professional career in writing. After college he attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. His writing credits include the plays The Closet Contender, Craigslist Live and Unauthorized-The Musical!, The Circle Game and The Fat of the Land. Film credits include the screenplay Whitechapel based on the Jack the Ripper murders. His last play, Missa Solemnis or The Play About Henry, about gay Mormon Henry Stuart Matis, ran Off-Off-Broadway during the Fall of 2008. He is currently finishing his first book entitled A Stranger at the Table, an investigational memoir about his experience with the Mormon Church. Mr. Feeser is the Board President of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and is an active Co-Chair for the non-profit organization Success For Kids. Roman currently resides in the East Village with his dog Chewy.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Finding your JKD


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Soomi Kim.

Finding your JKD (no, it is not text talk for “just kidding dude”)

JKD was coined by Bruce Lee to describe his “style” of martial arts. It stands for Jeet Kune Do. The translation being “Way of the intercepting fist.” In a nutshell it means "To absorb what is useful and discard what is useless."

One definition of JKD says: “One of the theories of JKD is that a fighter should do whatever is necessary to defend himself, regardless of where the techniques come from. One of Lee's goals in Jeet Kune Do was to break down what he claimed were limiting factors in traditional martial arts training, and seek a fighting thesis which he believed could only be found within the reality of a fight. Jeet Kune Do is currently seen as the genesis of the modern state of hybrid martial arts. This ideology can apply to almost any art form, world view, religion or approach to life. Since my link to the IT Awards is through Lee/gendary, I thought I would spend a moment to honor and share one of the subject matters nearest and dearest to Lee and to relate how JKD pertains to my artistic process.

Lee was a martial artist, actor, writer, choreographer, dancer, producer, philosopher and teacher. His movement background was based in Wing Chun, but he also trained in Tai Chi, boxing, fencing, Cha Cha dancing, as well as other forms of unarmed combat. The term hybrid has been used to describe work that is indefinable. Everyone has their own history, talents and skills. To me, what is important in truly and honestly expressing oneself is to find that unique link to your personal style. I believe it is really a worthwhile thing to deeply investigate and creatively explore what you are made of—to put it on paper, or canvas, improvise in a studio—that in turn, will be the germination of building your own identity.

My background to a certain extent parallels Lee’s: I am a theater artist, trained gymnast, coach, musician, choreographer and now martial artist. But how could I satisfy all these needs and different personalities within myself? For some time I thought I had artistic schizophrenia. Ironically, I had the good fortune in discovering my own voice through the long creative process of making Lee/gendary. That process began with my performing the transcription of the Pierre Berton/Bruce Lee interview at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café’. That then led to the collaboration with writer Derek Nguyen in creating the full length version of Lee’s story. I wanted to create a show incorporating the skills that have been the culmination of my personal history (or herstory) and to bring it to life on the stage. I found other artists who supported this vision and was then on another path of experimentation through collaboration. Working and developing in the Off-Off-Broadway realm has allowed me to realize this truly personal aspiration. I found my way through festivals, work in progress programs like The Field and HERE’s (now defunct) American Living Room Festival. This developmental process brought me to the most recent run at HERE that was awarded the IT Award Outstanding production of a play. Through Bruce’s journey I was able to find a place to express my hybrid art and personal JKD.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How about a window?


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Soomi Kim.

I had never heard the now overused phrase “breaking the glass ceiling” until Hillary Clinton ran for president. But I can be a little slow... Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because a few of my Asian actor friends on Facebook asked (in response to the Academy Awards) “Where are the Asians??” I began to read and hear everywhere again “the glass ceiling has been broken” after Babs said “It’s about time” and read Kathryn Bigelow’s name in the Best Director category (by the way, was it really necessary for Streisand to be escorted down 3 steps?) Congrats to Kathryn for her well deserved award! But seriously... where are the Asians? I did see some Asian women in the audience dutifully supporting their nominated spouses. All I can say is, Asian American actors/artists are alive and well and thriving in the Off and Off-Off-Broadway world in NYC. Many of my talented, smart, ballsy (not to mention sexy) colleagues are busy thrusting their creativity into their craft, making groundbreaking, risk taking work. They are realizing that in order for the tide to turn, they must be self producing entities. The Asian American experience is such a vast terrain that no one can tell these stories better than... well, Asians. Perhaps I, like many of my fellow AA colleagues, became disenchanted with the less than interesting and inaccurately depicted roles that have been written by non Asians.

When I was a young budding actress I auditioned for many stereotypical roles. Needless to say, it left me feeling unfulfilled and ... weird. I knew I was not tapping into my potential, which at some point caused me to turn inward and ask “Do I want to be a pawn or a pioneer?” Around the time I was having this existential crisis, I watched the famous interview between Bruce Lee and Pierre Berton shot in Hong Kong, 1971. This was a turning point for me. Bruce Lee was the first Asian American actor/martial artist to star in a major Hollywood picture (“Enter the Dragon” shot in Hong Kong 1972). In one of Lee’s responses to Berton’s questions, he says something to the effect of “Maybe 30 years ago if you were to ask about a Chinese guy starring in a television show it wouldn’t seem possible. But now I say ‘maybe man’.” It really hit me that that interview took place about 40 years ago. Things are changing very slowly (not surprisingly) in the mainstream world of entertainment. But in the wonderful Off-Off-Broadway scene, creative diversity flourishes. My long journey in creating Lee/gendary (my gender bending multidisciplinary play based on Bruce Lee’s life) has brought me the gratification of being able to create a dream role and bring it into fruition --with the collective support and collaborative effort namely of writer Derek Nguyen, director Suzi Takahashi (IT Award recipient for Outstanding director) and composer Jen Shyu. Being acknowledged (2009 IT award for Outstanding Production of a Play) gives me confidence that there is a place outside of the commercial industry at large- that is pure and real; where diverse voices are heard without compromise. This is the place of genesis for larger things to come. My aforementioned lack of fulfillment and frustration has been replaced with hope. .. Patience is next on the list.


Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Honorary Award Applications Are Now Available


The applications for the 2010 Innovative Theatre Honorary Awards are now available online.

The Honorary Awards are:

* The Artistic Achievement Award, presented to an individual who has made a significant artistic contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community;

* The Stewardship Award, presented to an individual or organization demonstrating a significant contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community through service, support and leadership;

* The Caffe Cino Fellowship Award, presented to an Off-Off-Broadway theatre company that consistently produces outstanding work. This award also includes a grant to be used toward an Off-Off-Broadway production.

Who will you submit an application for?

Plus new Committee Co-Chairs and new members are announced.

Find out more about these awards.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Next Week's Guest Blogger: Soomi Kim


We would like to thank Mac Rogers for his insightful and heart-felt blogs last week.

Next week's guest blogger will be Soomi Kim.

Soomi Kim is an actor/multidisciplinary artist. She performs with several companies and artists including Ex.p girl, Big Time Action Theater and composer/choreographer Grisha Coleman as as well as creating and producing her own original work. In October 2008 her original play Lee/gendary (based on the life of Bruce Lee- written by Derek Nguyen and directed by Suzi Takahashi) ran for 3 weeks at HERE Arts Center’s mainstage. This production (which Kim created, produced and starred in as Bruce Lee) garnered 6 IT Awards nominations and received the award for 2009 Outstanding Production of a Play, Outstanding director (Suzi Takahashi) and Outstanding featured actress (Constance Parng). Lee/gendary was also presented at the First National Asian American Theater Festival (FNAATF) held in New York City in 2007. She enjoys the process of collaboration and is interested in work that blurs boundaries, disciplines and genres. Her movement style is a powerful hybrid of dance, martial arts and acrobatics. Currently she is developing a new dance theater piece titled Dictee based on Korean American writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's seminal work of poetry. Soomi is also a competitive gymnastics coach and choreographer. She is a Circle in the Square Professional Training program graduate and 2008 Urban Artist Initiative grant recipient. She is currently performing in a fight play ("fightsical") called Last Life (directed by Timothy Haskell of Big Action Theater) at the Ohio Theater. Ex.p girls' Paris Syndrome will premiere at HERE Arts Center June 2010.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Big Dreams, Right?


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Mac Rogers.

Well, as per usual, big dreams, right? I had this grandiose scheme of writing a brilliant five-part series for my week as an IT blogger, but of course, with a full-time job, opening one show (first preview went great!), prepping for a major benefit (ten years, people!), and trying to talk to my fiancé every once in a while, I didn’t quite pull it off. So the question becomes what to make my last blog post about.

I have my own blog, but I haven’t written on it in quite some time. I’ve had a chronic, possibly terminal case of what I’ve called “blog choke,” where it wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with anything to write about, but had a nervous nelly meltdown at the idea of making it public. Sometimes I’ve thought the posts were too rushed to be of value, sometimes I thought that maybe they were only substantial in my head and would prove to be pointless and baffling upon public contact, and sometimes I was scared of getting into a fight. Whatever the excuse, I choked every time.

The last time I wrote a blog post that was of any public interest was back in May 2008. The post, “The Safe Zone,” addressed the issues of civility in the theatrosphere and the idea of publicly sharing artistic processes online. This post, and the many wonderful comments that people made on it, started me on a thought process, but it wasn’t until I read and considered James Comtois’s marvelous series on self-producing Off-Off-Broadway that I had started to conceive of how I could possibly return to blogging.

Look, obviously I’m thin-skinned. And I get mad easily, particularly at what I see as insincere behavior. All too often, I feel as though people utilize worthy content – subjects that go to the heart of theater today, and theater into the future – as truncheons with which to bash each other. The point is not the content of the conversation, the content’s a MacGuffin. The point is the bashing. And I don’t write this from a perspective of superiority. I write it because I’ve done it as much or more as anyone else.

There’s no point in asking people to be more civil. It makes them want to be less civil. The theatrosphere can’t go back. It’s big and bad and mean, now, like all the other ‘oshperes. Only the strong will survive. I didn’t survive, because I wasn’t one of the strong.

Why is it worth using my last day on Full of IT to write about this subject? Kinda meta, isn’t it? Blogging about blogging? Well, here’s my justification: this is a blog. A blog devoted to writing about theater, particularly low-budget, independent theater, from a number of perspectives. I’d like to make an argument for the venue itself as being something worthwhile, with a reason to exist. I talked with Adam Szymcowicz on his site about how hard it is to share a site- and event- specific live art form like theater in an online forum, but we have to try. This is our best way to reach each other.

Back to James Comtois’s series. I was talking to my longtime colleague Sean Williams about the admiring and uncontroversial response it elicited, and Sean pointed out, “See, Jimmy didn’t write, ‘Here’s how to do it.’ He wrote, ‘Here’s what we did. Here’s what worked and what didn’t. Here’s what we learned.’” Exactly. James didn’t present himself as some all-knowing oracle here to school the rest of us snots, he presented himself as a struggling, learning, practicing producer of theater, trying stuff and seeing how it works. This encourages a reaction not of, “You’re wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re serving your secret agenda, and I hate you!” but more of “Oh, seriously, you tried that? I always wondered what would happen if you tried that. I on the other hand tried this, and here’s what happened as a result.”

I feel like theater blogging is at its most successful when it’s tied to practice, in some form or another. That doesn’t have to mean playwriting or producing or even the creation of a single play. That can mean the ongoing maintenance of a theater company, that can mean advocacy, that can mean political organization, that can mean any number of things, as long as its some sort of theater-related activity taking place outside of cyberspace. It seems to me that many of the most brutal and least productive fights take place over theory, what each of us thinks all the others should be doing. It’s hard to build on that, because while you’re talking about one-person’s-utopia/another-person’s-hell, it doesn’t exist yet. So there’s no material to work with, no research to share. So the fights have to run on fumes, and without content to burn, personalities and lovingly nursed grudges take over.

The best online theater writing, it seems to me, is almost more like reporting (though of course not impartial): “Here’s what I’m doing to make my utopia come true. Here’s how it’s going. How’s it going at your end?” That doesn’t mean all nicey-nice for wimps like me. A real high-water mark of this form has to be Travis Bedard’s three-part post-mortem of the Cambiare Productions mounting of Orestes:
Deep Well of Forgetting
Food Chain Orestes
What We Have Here is Orestes Post Mortem

These aren’t mean-spirited at all, but they are tough-minded, and certainly must have led Travis into some difficult conversations, but maybe also a more refined artistic process in the future.

Of course we will always need to be able to use blogs for grand theories, manifestoes, and the like. Big dreams, right? I’m not saying those should disappear. But I think the path to a heartier, more sustainable theatrosphere not teetering on personal animosity and blood-feuds lies in using our online venues to talk about what we’re doing (or what we did), why we’re doing it, and how it’s working out. I haven’t done that much myself, even on this blog this week, but I’d like another crack at it. This is how we share the evolution of the art form with each other. None of us is smart enough to figure it out on our own.

Thanks again Shay, Morgan, and the IT Gang.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Angry Gods & Monster Wars


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Mac Rogers.

So on Tuesday I tried to make a case for science fiction as a legitimate genre for theater. But obviously that’s all theory. How are we supposed to actually do it? We’re New York independent theater! We don’t have a robot to piss in!

Well, good, we should talk about the practical. That’s more or less the definition of theater to me. It’s all practical: “How are we going to make that happen? They’re gonna be watching us while we do it.” This is all pretty prominently in my head right now, as the Red Fern Theater Company prepares to open an anthology of science fiction one-acts entitled +30NYC , which includes pieces by Bekah Brunstetter, Victor I. Cazares, Christine Evans, Michael John Garcés, Ashlin Halfnight, Tommy Smith, and yours truly.

Two of the theater companies I follow the closest do a lot of genre theater. The brains behind Nosedive Productions, for example, are brilliant at achieving impossible effects. Last year, wincing in shame, I gave them a play that involved people eating the flesh off a severed head, and they figured out how do it! Vampire Cowboys have a different approach, which I also love: they let the strings show. Fight Girl Battle World, I remember, had an outer space tool of some sort floating around in zero gravity, but they made sure we could see the metal pole holding it up from offstage. In this way, they create effects that mimic the movies, but make sure that we can see how they’re achieving them, which 1) is awesome and hilarious, and 2) conjures cinematic associations while remaining defiantly theatrical.

As a writer-producer, I design my scripts so they can be produced on a budget without losing impact. (I design them that way; I’m not saying the design always works.) With science fiction, you have to give the story a good think-through to figure out how it would best be realized in theatrical terms.

In 2007 and then again in 2009, I wrote and produced a science fiction play called Universal Robots. The story presented major challenges. It spanned many decades, involved the invention of robots, and the eventual robot conquest of the Earth. I knew it wasn’t a question of just writing the story, handing it off to some producers, and swanning off humming a careless tune. I would be one of the producers. There was no escape.

The play that was my original inspiration, Karel Capek’s R.U.R., mostly relied on expository dialogue to explain the earthshaking events that took place between scenes. I decided to not so much fix that as feature it: I created a narrator, who could explain the bits we needed explained without having to shoe-horn them into conversation between the other characters, who had no reason to be explaining the plot to each other.

But who was the narrator? This is a hangup I have. If someone is talking to the audience, I want to know why. I want them to be a character. I want them to have a reason to be talking to us. So I brooded a bit more, and then I thought: what if she’s a robot? What if she’s telling us the story of the robot conquest? Because this (and this is when you know you’ve hit on a winner, ‘cause it starts solving multiple problems for you) addressed the problem of how to end a play that closes with all the humans in the whole world getting killed.

And then it hit me: hubris. Capek’s play fell squarely into the whole Greek/Icarus/golem/Frankenstein tradition of human aspiring to God-hood and getting smacked down for it. I wasn’t trying to mimic that particular moral framework, but the associations involved – the chorus, the ritualistic aspect, the religious dimensions – pointed me squarely in the direction of greek tragedy, and toward that crucial realization:

The whole play would be about a theatrical presentation by a troupe of robots after the extermination of the human race, led by the narrator. A presentation that had spiritual significance to the presenters – a confession, an expiation. It would start and end with a chorus, and in between it would tell the story of strivers who tried to be Gods. The answer of how to present a science fiction epic on stage, unsurprisingly, was to be found in Greek tragedy – in a genre of theater. One of the oldest.

It was the best idea I ever had, and it wasn’t my idea. I didn’t come up with anything new. I combined a bunch of very old, tried and true ingredients with a sprinkle of my own seasoning on top. Human beings have been presenting fantastical stories as long as there has been theater. Angry gods, monsters, war. The long night of revelations in a living room is what we often associate with theater, but it’s a more recent invention. There are other options. And science fiction is a natural fit with ritualistic, symbolic, hyper-experiential theater that defined the earliest incarnations of the form.

My subsequent play, Viral, was more Karen Fowler-style “we’re already living in a science fiction world” science-fiction. It involved a group of characters who come to engage with each other about as intimately as people can – but they never would have met were it not for methods of online communication and expression that barely existed a decade ago.

It made more sense to realize that story as your standard-issue living room play. I wanted everything to feel as ordinary as possible so that the extraordinary parts would really jump out. In my original draft, the first five or six pages took place in the virtual world of chat-rooms where the characters meet, but the director, Jordana Williams, sensibly convinced me to junk it. We simply had the characters on the couch in the living room, typing to the stranger who would change their lives, who stood apart in a separate light. Simple, elegant, and the audience, who spent much of their daily lives online, clicked into the concept instantly. The scene played solidly for suspense and laughs every time. Again, science fiction is never about gadgets or aliens, but how we, as human beings, adapt to them, and reveal ourselves through that adaptation.

Speaking of aliens… I’m writing a couple plays right now, but the one that’s falling into place the fastest? I must be losing my mind. It’s a trilogy of plays about an extraterrestrial invasion of the Earth. I must be off my frickin’ rocker. I’ll tell you this, though. My number one guideline in writing these scripts? This is not a movie. This is not a miniseries. This is a piece of live theater. And that informs every choice.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We All Live in a Science Fiction Novel


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Mac Rogers.

First of all, I would like to say that I'm grateful to Shay Gines, Morgan Tachco, and the rest of the IT crew for inviting me to write on “Full of IT” this week. Let me kick off with a subject that's near and dear to my heart. A few weeks ago, 99 Seats pointed out a conversation on the Guardian blog asking why there isn’t more science fiction in theater.

Last year, the invaluable Charlie Jane Anders of wrote an article on novelists who had started off as science fiction authors and then moved on to that weird, indefinable genre we call literary fiction. Anders and io9 asked them if they had left science fiction for good, and Karen Joy Fowler (Sarah Canary, The Jane Austen Book Club) responded with this marvelous quote:

“In the last couple of weeks I've read about toxoplasma — the parasite that alters our behavior until we're simply pawns in the paws of housepet cats; a woman in India found guilty of murdering her fiancé based on her brain scan; a site on the internet where for a monthly fee a computer will pray for you ceaselessly. Stan Robinson says we all live in a science fiction novel now and it's clearly true. So I truly believe that science fiction is realism now and literary realism is a nostalgic literature about a place where we once lived, but no longer do.”

I think that’s fantastic and spot-on, and an invaluable consideration for makers of theater. The Guardian piece raises the concern that’s most often associated with science fiction theater – How can we realize the spaceships and the lasers and the hovercars and the bug-eyed aliens on our limited budgets? – and of course, they’re thinking of West End and moderately budgeted London companies. That consideration goes quadruple for those of us making plays for a few thousand bucks a show, if that. But to me, that concern misses what is centrally valuable about science fiction as a genre of storytelling, not to mention what is centrally valuable about theater as a venue for storytelling.

What distinguishes science fiction from other genres, it seems to me, is its approach to the exploration of ideas and character. We’re used to action movies and thrillers set in universes with science fiction trappings (Star Wars, Alien, and everything that has issued forth from these), but genuine speculative fiction, to me, has to ask: What if we were who we are – what if we kept on being who we are, human beings who fear loneliness, want orgasms, stress about money, crave power, abuse our bodies with bad food and alcohol, stumble across odd moments of grace – and then something game-changing but entirely possible happens?

Technology escalates and offers us an advantage we couldn’t have before? We encounter an extraterrestrial species? But we’re still who we are. Not: how does something catastrophic change us? But rather: given who we are, at our cores, how do we react to catastrophic change? How do we adapt what is immutable about us to a frightening or exhilarating new context?

That’s the key. Science fiction does what any form of storytelling (when well-implemented) does: it gives us a way into looking at ourselves, both our communities and our individual hidden lives, by adding a paradigm-shifting catalyst. It’s like that substance on forensic police procedurals they spray on crime scenes to make the blood glow. Revolutionary technology or aliens are the spray. The blood is us.

I think theater is a superb venue for these sorts of stories. Sure, we can’t provide the liquid metal or the Prawns or the photon torpedoes or the Daleks (and the last thing theater should be doing is competing with film or television to realize the same effects), but what that means is that we spend less time with the catalyst and throw more of our attention to the people affected – how they are altered and how they stay the same.

No one’s expecting a play to wow them every two minutes with a computer generated effect, but sadly, in general, people are expecting plays to bore them to tears with long dark nights of the soul, secrets coming out between lovers and families, small tragedies and revelations in living rooms, discussed at great length while no one’s allowed to go to the bathroom. Science fiction makes stories a lot more fun for two reasons: 1) robots and aliens just make everything cooler, obviously, and 2), as Fowler noted, science fiction is how we’re already living. We interface with technology on a daily basis in ways we didn’t imagine a few years ago. More of our public and private lives take place in front of computer screens. We have virtual/international communities to add to our local ones. We live under the threat of chemical and biological agents that didn’t exist a decade ago. Science fiction a genre that is looked down on by a lot of people, but it might be the most relevant genre of the day.

This has gotten a bit long, so tomorrow I’ll write about some practical applications of science fiction on stage, and then Thursday and Friday I’ll move on to some other subjects.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Guest Blogger of the Week: Mac Rogers


We would like to thank Desiree Burch for being such a great guest blogger last week. She brings a unique and titillating perspective to creating performance art.

We are very happy to announce next week's guest blogger, Mac Rogers.

Mac Rogers is a playwright and a performer based in Brooklyn. He has been making Off-Off-Broadway theater since he assistant-directed a production of CYMBELINE at the Looking Glass Theater in 1997. With his company Gideon Productions (co-founded with Sean Williams and Jordana Williams), Mac wrote and produced the plays VIRAL (winner of Outstanding Play at the New York International Fringe Festival), HAIL SATAN (winner of Outstanding Playwriting at FringeNYC), THE LUCRETIA JONES MYSTERIES, THE SECOND STRING, and DIRTY JUANITA. Mac's play UNIVERSAL ROBOTS, co-produced by Manhattantheatresource and Gideon, won the New York Independent Theater Bloggers Award for Best Off-Off-Broadway Play and earned four nominations for IT Awards in 2009. Mac regularly collaborates with two independent theater companies enjoying ten-year anniversaries this year, Nosedive Productions and Manhattantheatresource. As an actor, Mac's favorite role to date has been the titular lead in Nosedive's THE ADVENTURES OF NERVOUS-BOY by James Comtois, for which he earned a nomination from the IT Awards. Mac lives with his fiance Sandy in a converted auto-body shop in Brooklyn, not far from the Brick Theater and the Vampire Cowboys Battle Ranch.