Today’s post is an interview with my good friend Anna Moore who has just wrapped up a yearlong project called “A Year of Plays” in which she went to see one play a week for an entire year and wrote a blog about the experience.
Neal: Hi Anna. Thanks for helping me pad out my blog posts this week!*
Anna: My pleasure!*
*Note: I made up these two lines to make it seem like we were in the same room talking.
What is the "Year of Plays" project and why did you decide to do it?
I started A Year of Plays because I was an actor who never went to see theater. In my first four years of living in NYC, I'd probably seen less than a dozen plays, which is just shameful. My brother was just finishing up a year in which he saw 52 live performances in 365 days, so I decided to do the same -- a play a week for a year.
The blog became a part of the project because I wanted a way to document the plays I'd seen, as well as a means to share my experience with family and friends. I'd had a blog once before, while performing sketch comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, but I had run into some trouble as an actor reviewing other participants' shows. (You can read about that mortifying misadventure here and here.) So in this new blog I decided to write about theater without reviewing it. I wasn't sure it was possible, but I wanted to try.
Talk about writing about theater without reviewing it. Was this a difficult challenge? Did you develop any strategies or go-to methods in absence of writing reviews?
Reviews mess about with egos and feelings and after my experience in Edinburgh, I just didn't have the stomach for it. So initially this was just a way to avoid that mess. But the more I sat with idea, the more I liked it. The point was not to denounce criticism but just to challenge myself to see what else there was to talk about. I figured there had to be more to say than whether or not I like a play, or whether or not it “succeeded” at what it was trying to do. I was also interested in what happens when you remove permission to write negatively about a play. What other conversations might arise to fill that vacuum?
It was definitely difficult, particularly in the first few months. Reviewing is a hard habit to break. But I eventually got the hang of it. I allowed myself to write positively about a show if I was so inspired, but otherwise I would begin by investigating some kernel of the show that stuck with me – a moment or aspect of the show that I particularly remembered. Once I began examining those nuggets, they usually led me somewhere interesting and often surprising.
Do you think you kept to this rule throughout the year?
I think I did. I’ve had people tell me they can tell when I like a show and when I don’t. But my response to that is, “You’d be surprised.”
How did you choose the plays?
Ironically, sometimes it was by glancing through reviews. Other times they were friends’ shows. Sometimes I just picked plays with titles that appealed to me, or picked whatever TDF had available for the time I’d set aside to see something.
What were the theatrical highlights of the year? What were the lowlights?
Highlights: Venus in Fur at Classic Stage, A View from the Bridge on Broadway, Our Town at Barrow Street.
Lowlights: You can’t trick me. I don’t do bad reviews.
Any aphorisms or lessons or observations you can pass on to others having gone through this process for a year? Have your perceptions about the nature of theater or the nature of making theater changed since August 2009?
I don’t know if my perceptions about theater have changed so much as they have been more clearly defined. And they’ve expanded in number too. I had a pretty narrow perspective before, being an actor who didn’t see much theater. Spending a year immersed in my field, and forcing myself to explore and articulate my thoughts on the matter, has given me greater confidence as an artist. I have a better sense of what I think about theater now – of what I like and dislike, what I believe it can do, what I think it should do. That’s probably been the best part about this whole thing. That and rediscovering how much I love to write.
What's next for you in the "blogosphere"?
Year of Plays will continue as a theater blog. I just enjoy writing it too much to stop. I’ll probably loosen things up a bit though – relieve myself of the obligation to see something every week, for example. And I will definitely be expanding my scope of inquiry to include less conventional forms of theater. I’m heading out to Burning Man, for example, at the end of this week, and that whole event can be described as theater. I’m sure I’ll return with plenty to write about.
Thanks, Anna! I’m looking forward to reading about it.
Thank you, Neal. You’re definitely my favorite director working in New York today!**
**Note: Anna did not actually say this.
Read Anna’s blog!