Monday, December 29, 2014

What has been the biggest change that you’ve noticed in the OOB community over the last 10 years?

As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.
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Blake Lawrence: There has been a tremendous growth in the sense of pride, the variety of the work and a real coming together within the community. When I first moved to NYC and worked OOB everyone was involved in a show OOB but you only went to see other shows if you knew someone. Many more shows were “one-offs” instead of created by companies. The IT Awards helped to acknowledge the tremendous talent that existed OOB and the work of so many companies. It inspired and encouraged younger artists to start their own companies and created a true sense of community and support that was desperately needed.

Daniel Talbott: I think it's just the sheer number of fantastic companies that keep popping up and are out there, and the visibility of their work, which is wonderful.

Desmond Dutcher:
The amazing connections and cross-pollination that have occurred (on the positive side).  The sadly rising cost of rent for venues (on the down side).

Akia:
I’m sure that I’m not the only one to give this answer, but reasonable spaces to perform work. Venues close their doors every year, and sadly there only seem to be a few “classic” OOBR venues left in NYC.

Jason Bowcutt:
The community has become so strong and proud in self identifying. I remember when we started there was such a dismissive attitude towards Off-Off-Broadway by so many people in the New York Theatre community, that has truly changed. I think people value the freedom to create that OOB offers. I have always said, and I still believe, that OOB is the only place in New York where you can still put yourself completely out on a limb and risk failure without compromising yourself to a bottom line. It is in that place of risk where some extraordinary art can flourish.

Kathleen Warnock: It’s not that it’s getting too big…but that because there are so many more people doing so many different kinds of work, I feel as though sometimes you don’t hear about something until it’s over. That’s for 2 reasons: you can’t know everyone in the scene, and the workshop contract is obsolete (you don’t hear about a show until it’s started selling out and word of mouth has spread and then…poof their can’t extend).

Stephanie Cox-Williams: It seems a lot bigger with a lot more productions than I was ever aware of.

Mariah MacCarthy: One of the biggest changes I've noticed in the OOB Community over the 7 years I've been in New York has been the way we promote and support shows. Each show has its own hashtag now, and if you go to a friend's show and enjoy it, it's becoming more and more of a custom to write about it on Facebook, Twitter, and sometimes Tumblr - or to Instagram a picture of your program when you take your seat. I also see "world-building" becoming more and more of a common marketing tactic (Flux are the grandmaster mack daddies of this), with manufactured newspaper articles, videos, pages from storybooks, etc that continue to tell the story of the play offstage - which you could also call "transmedia."

Shay Gines:
I’ve seen a greater sense of community and collaboration. It is not a bunch of companies working independently from one another, but a community of artists that work together and support one another. I think this change is due in some part to organizations like the Indie Theatre Now, LIT, TRU and the Innovative Theatre Foundation. Also Facebook and online sites like Theasy, NY Theatre Review, Off-Off-Online that are dedicated to the community and help to spread the word about the artists and work that is happening here.

Christopher Borg:
The biggest change that I have noticed is that increasingly OOB and indie artists have realized the importance and impact that their art can make on the community as a whole.  I get the feeling that people understand that they CAN take their art seriously, even in a small venue.  I believe that audiences and critics have picked up on that and taken more notice of this vast and imaginative community.




Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What is the craziest thing you remember from the IT Awards?


As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.
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Stephanie Cox-Williams: The Brick's acceptance/performance upon receiving the Caffé Cino.

Jeff Riebe: It would be unethical to say. ;)

Desmond Dutcher: Interviewing The Blue Man Group back stage.


Blake Lawrence: The week before that first awards show. We really didn’t know what to expect! My crazy memories are mostly about directing the ceremony - presenters going missing right before their entrances, presenting the wrong award, people speaking entirely too long, all the fun stuff of a live show!

Daniel Talbott: I don't know about the craziest but I really love all the folks who have received the Artistic Achievement awards and their dedication videos and speeches always really inspire me. Boring answer I know, and I also remember a guy accidentally pissing all over my shoes in the guys' room the year RPR was the Cino recipient. I was so nervous about having to talk that I didn't even realize it was happening and he was so drunk already he didn't either. We cracked up about it though and I felt like a ten year old again, and it made me a ton less nervous, which rocked. :)

Ellen Reilly: Being hugged by Ben Vereen backstage! I never saw it coming, he was just hugging everyone!

Jason Bowcutt: The Frisbee moment. An audience of 600+ being encouraged by one of the founders of Blue Man Group to reach into their gift bags, find the Frisbee and "do whatever comes to mind." Of course it was followed by Frisbees filling the entire theatre at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Christopher Borg: CERTAINLY, the craziest moment was when Bill Irwin encouraged the audience at the award ceremony to take the white frisbees out of the gift bags that everyone had been given when they entered and throw them! There was a huge WAVE of white frisbees in the air and hurtling toward the stage- I've never seen anything like that.  A little scary and a LOT hilarious!

Kathleen Warnock: I loved it when Lisa Kron showed us the container catalog she liked to look at. And, of course, the Frisbees. And this year, as the host kept taking off his clothes!

Shay Gines:
Last year the ceremony was running ahead of schedule (no, that is not the crazy part). Stephen Schwartz was presenting our final two awards and he was running a little late. Our host, Harrison Greenbaum was asked to go onstage and “stretch” while we waited for Mr. Schwartz to arrive. Meanwhile we were preparing to enact our contingency plan, which is Nick, Jason and I presenting the award. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more stressed. We had the script in-hand and were literally on the verge of walking onstage when Mr. Schwartz walked through the doors.

Akia: What people don’t see after the show.  Nick, myself, our Stage managers and interns usually are up for about 22 hours on Awards Show Day.  By the end of the day we have loaded and unloaded the truck 5 to 8 times, by the time we get to our storage unit, we’ve been up an entire day and usually on 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before.  We have some outrageously silly moments, and it’s inevitable that I’ll have an exhausted meltdown which ends with all of us in unstoppable laughter on the floor (Literally, tears from laughing so hard, on the floor rolling).

The ritual is then diner breakfast and getting home around 4am.  Sometimes we’ve had to drop people off at the airport before going home. It’s rough, but there are some magic moments of theatre bonding that no one else gets to see.



Monday, December 22, 2014

What is the most iconic or meaningful moment that you remember from the IT Awards?


As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.
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Akia: Oh man! So So many.  Our opening number from the first ever ceremony, with Susan Blackwell telling Marian Seldes to "rock out with her cock out…"  The Blue Man Group on our 5th Anniversary opening the show and then debuting a premiere of a new piece of material. Then there was the infamous “Frisbee” moment during outstanding ensemble presentation. For a lot of reasons, I think year 5 stands out as this amazing landmark year to me. There was also a fantastic moment with Ben Vereen getting a NYITA hat from a volunteer who just wasn’t sure if she should be giving free stuff away.
 

Jeff Riebe:
The very first awards ceremony. I recall having a sport coat made just for the occasion. Having been involved with the Honorary Awards Committee opened my eyes to the breadth and influence of the Off-Off-Broadway theatre community at its core.


Christopher Borg: Well, I have to say that it was the moment that I first heard my name announced as a recipient! I had been nominated before and didn't expect to actually take home the award for Outstanding Ensemble with my fellow creators and that moment was simply overwhelmingly positive and wonderful.  There is nothing like that.

Daniel Talbott: This is such a tough question cause there are a lot but I really love Indie Theater Now, and also the passing of Doric Wilson really hit me hard and has always stuck out to me. Just knowing that such a truly individual artist like Doric from a different Village and time and place was no longer out there fighting the great fight in the same way or pounding the pavement - it made it feel like our connection with the extraordinary past of NY theater was getting thinner.
 

Desmond Dutcher: Bill Irwin telling the audience to throw their Frisbee in the air towards the stage.

Blake Lawrence:
The first awards ceremony was just incredible. Going from that early morning brainstorming session to sitting in a theatre with several hundred artists cheering on themselves and each other, it was just an incredible feeling. Something unique and magical was truly born that night and everyone in the room knew it and celebrated it.


Jason Bowcutt: Very hard to choose just one...so I won't. Doric Wilson receiving the Artistic Achievement Award was a moment I will forever cherish, being able to recognize Ellen Stewart with the Stewardship Award blew my mind, and being backstage with Shay, Nick and Akia at this year's ceremony as we looked at one another in astonishment and having reached our 10th annual ceremony. 


Kathleen Warnock: So many! Of course, when Doric Wilson accepted his award, that one really got me. And one that was incredibly glorious was when Bill Irwin got everyone to throw their Frisbees. And I loved it, of course, when all five of the Five Lesbian Brothers accepted their award…for many and varied reasons.

Stephanie Cox-Williams: When I was able to meet and talk to Landford Wilson.  Not really a part of the show, but that was really meaningful to me.

Shay Gines: There are so many snapshots in my mind of moments that where meaningful to me. The first year was so indelible because we were in untested waters and had no idea what to expect. There was a moment at the first Nominee Announcement in 2005 when I swear I wasn’t breathing and my heart was not beating as we opened the doors and I watched the place fill with artists. At the time I didn’t know most of them and they didn’t know each other. At the first ceremony I was still in my overalls when we opened the house and when they called places, I was nowhere near being ready. The stage manager took pity on me and decided to hold for 10 minutes to allow me time to put on my dress. Over the years there have been simply too many astonishing moments onstage, backstage, behind the scenes I could not capture them all: Tom O’Horgan presenting the Stewardship Award to Ellen Stewart; watching the dress rehearsal for APAC’s Cino Award presentation; having the insane opportunity to meet so many of my theatrical icons; being the first person to congratulate some of the most profound artists I’ve had the good fortune to meet; talking backstage with Magie Dominick about the Caffé Cino; carrying Olympia Dukakis’ purse; hugging Heather Cunningham after she received her award; watching Jolie Garrett (one of our award handlers) absolutely refuse to hurry Ben Vereen off stage (It was hysterical. He was onstage and it was like watching a pitcher shake off signals from the catcher. The Stage Manger kept getting more-and-more animated and Jolie was almost imperceptibly but decidedly shaking his head "no."); having Edward Albee tell me that we’ve built something important. One of my favorite things though is walking around the audience before the ceremony and greeting our guests and knowing most of them and watching this community being so supportive of one another. It makes me cry every time I think of it. Seriously, I’m in tears right now.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

How did you first hear about the IT Awards?

As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.
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Jeff Riebe: I got wind of this emerging enterprise prior to it being launched. It instantaneously sparked my interest.

Blake Lawrence:
My lovely, lovely friend Shay Gines invited me to join a group of fellow theater artists one weekend afternoon for a hardcore brainstorming session. From what I remember, it involved coffee, donuts and a big chalkboard where we kept throwing out adjectives to describe Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Daniel Talbott: I first heard about the IT Awards through the wonderful Jason Bowcutt and I was so excited to find out everything I could about them and to get involved as quickly as possible.

Ellen Reilly: I TELL THIS STORY ALL THE TIME... but I was sitting at a make-up mirror with Shay backstage at the black-and-white play "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like... Murder!" And she swore me to secrecy saying, "I've got this idea for an awards program for Off-Off-Broadway..."

Desmond Dutcher: From my good friend, Shay Gines, who once told my boyfriend and me about 11 years ago that must host her for brunch on a Sunday so that she could tell us of her new idea for linking all of the hard-working artists of O-O-B'Way. The result was the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the rest is history.

Stephanie Cox-Williams: When it was first being conceived, I heard about it from my friends who went to a meeting regarding it's conception.

Jason Bowcutt: Well, my dear friend Shay asked me to meet up one day to discuss and idea she had......and you don't say no to Shay!

Kathleen Warnock: I think I first heard about them in about 2006…I remember I knew people who were nominated, and it struck me as the best thing ever! Then I think it was the year that Doric Wilson received the Artistic Achievement Award, and of course I never STOPPED hearing about it. I will take credit for suggesting that Mark Finley present the award in costume (ie drag)


Akia: I received an email from Shay inviting our theatre company to attend the launch event waay waay back in 2004(?), I signed up to volunteer. I helped with the box office and I remember carrying a lot of chairs down stairs at the end of the night with Hillary Cohen. I guess they were impressed with my chair carrying capabilities, because after that I got a call and invited to a meeting. From there they’ve been stuck with me.

Christopher Borg: When my best friends Shay Gines and Jason Bowcutt came to me in 1999 and told me that they wanted to start an award that would recognize indie theatre artists, I thought it sounded beautiful and noble and IMPOSSIBLE. How could they ever pull something off so ambitious and huge?  But I could tell that they were serious. And knowing that they were people that knew how to get things done, I said that I would get on board and help out as much as I could.  I have never regretted that decision.

Nick Micozzi: Shay called me one day in 1999 and said “I have an idea…” I had been working in OOB since 1995, and like Shay, had experienced the vast unconnected world of indie theatre and wanted to help bring it together.  In early 1999, I had launched the first free OOB listings service, nyonstage.com, in an effort to help empower producers to use the web to spread the word about their shows, to give artists a place for their profiles, and to give the community at large a place to share about OOB. The idea of having Awards be a huge catalyst to actively bringing the community together, focusing attention on the great stuff being done OOB, and connecting with our theatrical roots, was pure genius. I was really excited, along with Jason Bowcutt, to work with Shay on making the idea a reality.     

Technically, the first time I heard the name “IT Awards” (it rhymes with “hit”, not “high sea”) was when we came up with the name: we were in the midst of the numerous summits, panels, and meetings with the community we held. We were at the stage where we specifically needed to come up with the name for this thing we were building. It was 2002 in EAT’s space on 42nd St. We had bounced numerous ideas around, but Innovative Theatre, steering clear of a delineation or marginalization, and representing energy and entrepreneurism, was perfect.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going Off-Off

Contributed by Kevin Brofsky

I’ve been attending theater most of my life. I came to New York for my love of theater. The Off-Off-Broadway theater in the 1970s was a place of protest, experiments in form, subject matter and language. It was also a place to see stories of people who were rarely seen on Broadway or on film and never on television; people of color, the disabled, gay and lesbian people.

The first openly gay character I ever saw on stage was a Margo Channing’s hairdresser, Duane, played by LeRoy Reams, in the Broadway musical Applause. Margo invites Duane out on the town. He tells her “I have a date.” “Bring him along” sings Margo to thunderous laughter. In 1971, a man being on a date with another man was just hilarious.

The world of Off-Off-Broadway did not think it was so hilarious, or even that odd. I saw the plays of Doric Wilson, Robert Patrick and Jane Chambers. I truly think those plays, produced on shoestring budgets, played a huge part in the audience excepting gay and lesbian characters on stage and even on television.


When I first came to New York, no one thought of crossing the river into Brooklyn and Queens to see a play. Now, we don’t think twice. Audiences shell out $15 or $25 for a seat; sometimes just a folding chair. That was the cost of an orchestra ticket to see Applause in 1971.

There are still hills to climb. While it may be easier to dig up a “lost” play from a hundred years ago than to take a chance on a new, untested playwright, there are still unique and important plays that need a chance to be heard. Off-Off-Broadway is the place where that can happen.  


The IT Awards have done wonders for the Off-Off-Broadway community; shining light on talent which might otherwise stay in the shadows as New York becomes less and less friendly to venues without deep pockets. The community has learned to survive though. I think Off-Off-Broadway can still teach the world a few things and I will always walk into the theater, any theater, from a Broadway house to a loft in Bushwick hoping that the experience will make me wonder and think and hope.
 

 

Friday, November 28, 2014

For the Joy of It

Contributed by Daryl Lathon
 

When Shay asked me to write for this blog I was taken aback. I'm an actor. I don't write.  That's not true. I do write. I've written plays, screenplays, poems, theses, etc. I wrote some of them out of joy most out of necessity. Nowadays I write only out of necessity. I don't get any joy out of it.  


However, it helps that I know so many people who do find joy writing plays screenplays, poems, etc. Clay McLeod Chapman of Pumpkin Pie Show fame, et al. is one of those people.


For those not in the know the pumpkin show is a "rigorous storytelling session.... No sets. No costumes. No nothing beyond the text" and the actor telling you their story. 


It's so much about the words. They are thick with imagery. Like any good oral storyteller, Clay uses words to paint a vivid picture in your mind. You can easily get lost in those pictures to the point you're not in the theater anymore but rather in your mind's eye visualizing the scene, moment, etc, the storyteller describes. Such visual storytelling seemed ripe for filmmaking. After my first Pumpkin Pie Show I told Clay as much. I knew I couldn't do it though. At the time, I was only an actor. I didn't make movies. I'd certainly fuck it up. But after every subsequent Pumpkin Pie Show I saw, that feeling stayed with me.

Some years after my first Pumpkin Pie Show, out of necessity, I took up filmmaking. I was frustrated with my acting career. I wanted to do more film work but was having trouble booking work I found interesting. I was friends with some like minded actors. We thought it was time to take the bull by the horns and create more acting opportunities for ourselves.  We had no experience making movies but we did have a desire to learn. So, we committed to make a movie a month for a year. 
 

That year I produced 11 short films, wrote 4, and directed 2 and performed any and all other roles one could be called upon in making a film. Since then I've made a number of shorts, sketches, spoofs, industrials, etc. But I don't do it out of necessity to help my acting career.  The work I do behind the camera is artistically fulfilling in and of itself. Now, I do it simply out of joy.
 

A couple of years ago I'd just wrapped a web series I wrote and directed and was looking for a challenge. I was desperately in search of material that I didn't write. Simply put, I was looking for something good. I called Clay hoping I'd be lucky enough to be entrusted with one of his babies. To my surprise he sent me some Pumpkin Pie Show pieces to choose from. I chose President of the Fan Club. Clay told me I could do that piece with one caveat.  I had to use Hanna Cheek in the lead role.

Daryl Lathon receives the NYSFSO Audience Award

It was a joy to make President of the Fan Club. Again, I'm not a writer but In adapting the script I could lean on the insight of Clay and Hanna who were exceedingly familiar with the material. I had the benefit of working with an actress who’s performed the piece for at least 8 yrs. Her supporting cast was equally as talented. The hardest part of making President of the Fan Club was the physical act of shooting and editing. Shooting because I was my own crew, and editing because I had to say no to so many wonderful moments Hanna and her co-stars created.


I feared making President of the Fan Club. Not only did I hold the material in high reverence but Clay is an established writer. Hanna Cheek is a supremely gifted actress who should already be a star. I was an actor who took up filmmaking. Again, I didn't want to fuck it up. 

I don't know if other artists should seek to diversify their artistic endeavors. I don't know if the pros out weigh the cons. I do so because I find joy in it. Ultimately that's good enough for me.

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Daryl Lathon is an accomplished actor having performed with numerous theatre companies including The Shakespeare Theatre in D.C.,  Gideon Productions, Pearl Theatre Company and Red Bull Theatre.  After receiving his MFA from VCU Daryl moved to NY and expanded into film production working as a writer, director and editor. Daryl has developed into an accomplished filmmaker receiving accolades for his work on a number of short films including Anniversary Dinner, Sunshine, the web series Clean Kill, and his most recent work President of the Fan Club.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When You Tire of Groveling

Contributed by Stephen Bittrich

I’ve been writing plays for Off-Off-Broadway theatre for about 26 years, and I love it!  But sometimes … like when you can’t cajole the artistic director (no matter how much you grovel) into producing your play, or when you’re having trouble rallying the troupes because it’s primo catering season, or (as in my case recently) when you’ve been hanging out with your mom in Tennessee for a year because she’s doing chemo and radiation … sometimes you just need to diversify your creative portfolio.

As a playwright and lapsed actor, I’ll share several different ways I’ve tried doing this.

1) Play to Screenplay
Opening up a play filled with minimal locations, big ideas and lots of dialogue into a screenplay told with images … and a lot less dialogue … is one route.  Still, it’s a tough road because you always seem to be begging people to read your stuff … or paying them to.  After much coughing up of entry fees, pleading and imploring I’ve had a few exciting chapters on that front – like getting rather close in the first Project Greenlight contest and shaking hands with Harvey Weinstein’s golden boys (Ben and Matt) and on another occasion having a play turned screenplay optioned by a prolific production company (the deal’s still in progress).

2) Webseries
If screenplays that don’t get made start to get you blue, you can always try a more DIY route -- the webseries.  I went that route creating a series called Off Off about 5 guys in their 40s to 50s creating free theatre … perhaps past the age when it’s still sexy.  I had to cut the production of the series short to be with Mom, but we’ve got 7 episodes in the can thus far, and we’ve had about 10,000 views to date.  Do you realize how many Off Off Broadway plays I’d have to do to reach that size audience?  Of course, it’s a little depressing when our most popular episode (by FAR) features a beautiful woman in a tight jogging outfit. We smartly cast someone who already had a big Internet following, and her episode significantly out performs the episodes which feature the mugs of us crusty old guys.  Still, it is cool to know that basically I own the “network” (a.k.a. the website) and can cancel the series whenever I want … or never!  Ha!  (Oh, the seductive allure of power.)




Monetizing a webseries (beyond little dribbles) and building a substantial audience is really challenging.  It’s near impossible to predict something that will go viral.  It takes a lot of relentless work on social media bothering your “friends.”  But I can happily report that the greatest boon is this -- I learned so much about how to tell a story each time we made an episode; in some episodes we were more successful than others, but I always learned and improved.  And I got the opportunity to return to acting in a low-pressure environment with friends. 

Sometimes with a webseries it starts to get exhausting to rally the troupes.  There’s usually one person who is the engine behind it getting made or not getting made.  That’s about the time when the podcast is your friend.

3) Podcast
When I was in Tennessee I needed a creative outlet where I didn’t have to rely on anyone else, and by chance, around this time I started listening to the addictive WTF.  Marc Maron delivers a riveting interview, and I was particularly drawn to the format – long substantial conversations.  Not like the tired late night talk show formula – joke, joke, roll the clip.

I think podcasts lend themselves most easily to comedians or artists who are promoting some sort of ongoing show (perhaps a one person show) because it’s a great way to build an audience.  Marc Maron goes to do stand up in say, Des Moines, and now he’s drawing not only those who like comedy in general, but also those who are fans of his podcast.  And the podcast show can be whatever you imagine for the auditory palette, from straight interviews, to improv, to radio theatre, to current events.

My podcast is an extension of the Off Off world – titled Off Off Pod, and it’s an interview show where I have free flowing conversations with artists of different levels and disciplines.  No matter how high we’ve risen, a part of us is always “Off Off” … the place where true artistic freedom dwells.




The podcast is so much more within my control than anything I’ve ever done.  I can always find someone to talk to for an hour, but their commitment is minimal.  I’m the one in the driver’s seat whose job it is to capture the interview, edit out all the “uhs,” add music or effects, write the website entry, send out the newsletter, and promote on social media. 

The challenge, as always, is building audience.  But the appeal is, I can make it what I want.  I’m thinking of adding in short video segments where I start dabbling with something akin to stand up and calling it “Off Off Topic.”  It is, after all, my world to create!

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Stephen Bittrich  is a playwright, actor and web designer who recently moved from NYC to Austin.  He currently helps web clients who want to set up their own podcasts achieve their goals, including the soon to be released podcast All Things Being Equal which will help cross promote a one woman touring show by actor/writer Gioia De Cari. [http://unexpectedtheatre.org]

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Inevitable Magic

Contributed by Montserrat Mendez co-founder of Mozzlestead.com


October 10, 20149:36AM

Shay Gines sends me an email.

“I wanted to know if you would be interested in contributing a post to our blog. In November, we are dedicating our blog to diversifying artistic outlets (in other words, artists & companies that produce theatre as well as films or an online series or other mediums.) I wanted to know if you would be interested in contributing a post to our blog.”


11:44AM

I reply.

"Sign me up."



11:45AM

Inner Monologue: "What the fuck did I just agree to do?!!!!  How does Shay Gines know who I am?  Let’s face it in this community of incredible writers, actors and directors my output has been rather small. And while I do run a company with my incredible business partner Armistead Johnson. Everything we’ve done so far was still in the middle of just getting started. Two film scripts that managed to get optioned, a short film, a web series and lots and lots of dreams is not what I call the recipe for the casserole of success. More like a side dish, we’re the salad that comes with the success."   


Noel Joseph Allain (NYIT Award recipient 2014 Featured Actor), Lowell Byers and Eyal Sherf in Luft Gangster. 
One of the best times of my life.

I’m also coming off the worst year of my life. A year that included a noise so loud in my brain (and it wasn’t the noise of constant failure) that it derailed my year almost completely. The last project I was 100% dedicated to before the noise took over was the NYIT nominated Luft Gangster; a production of the Nylon Fusion Collective. And congratulations to one of my favorite actors Noel Joseph Allain for claiming one of those awards for that masterful production, which was spear headed by its amazing artistic director Ivette Dumeng.

In the year that followed Luft; I hit rock bottom with my health, my writing, my career, my friendships and my passion. My 2014 included a ton of squirming on the floor begging for the pain to stop.  Oh, wait a minute, this is just like all actors at tech. Of course I could do this.

Looking back at two years of noise in my life (and how it was solved it’s a topic for a medical blog) I keep coming back to;

This is exactly how it was supposed to happen. Nothing gives you better perspective on your life than losing the ability to do what you love. 

I can’t write anything too inspirational. Most of you reading this are way more successful than I am and serve as my source inspiration. But I can share some of the things I’ve learned while splitting my time between three mediums. Film, TV, and Theatre.

  1. I take my color in to and out of every situation at the same time. It’s so easy for me
    to say that I don’t have as many doors open to me because I am Latino. The higher you climb up in this business, the whiter it becomes and the harder it is for me to get invited to the party. But if I am constantly looking at what is wrong, I never see what it right.  So YES, I am a minority in a business where the percentages are not good for me. But the best way to stand up to this is to reflect it my own work. I can write an angry rant on Facebook, or I can produce or write something that reflects what I want to see. I am excited to announce here first that MozzleStead has started a new division inspired by our writing of Chisholm, the new division named. MozzleStead BOLD places artists of color in front and behind the camera. Our stories are not about color, but are definitely colored by our characters’ experiences. Our aim is to make screens big and small reflect the world around us. The team is led by myself, Cheryl L. Davis, Mary Hodges, Kevin R. Free, Chandra Thomas in New York, Aja Houston in LA, and Andrew Saldana in Austin Texas, as well as two other incredible artists who will be revealed in 2015. We also have to thank Nicholas Gray – creative contributor, an integral if white part of the team, for encouraging not only its foundation, but opening many doors.
  2. Be your own producer other producers will slow you down. I think this is true whether you’re a writer, director or actor and I’m specifically speaking of the sudden rise of producers who refuse to pay the writer or other artists their value. I’ve developed a huge issue with this. Producers usually hire you to bring their vision to the screen, so if they can’t pay you, they’re stealing time away from your own visions.

    This is why I admire writer, actor, producer, director and sexy beast Nat Cassidy so much, he writes and produces plays that he can direct himself. I am sure someday he will do that with a feature and never look back. MozzleStead is currently co-producing his play The Temple which is coming to the Brick in February and this is a super early plug. But it’s a spectacularly scary play by a writer I hope becomes a huge part of the MozzleStead family.

    On the film side, take a look at a self-made film maker like JC Chandor. Who wrote, produced and directed Margin Call, and followed that up with All is Lost. If your script is really good, it will attract the right people, and if you start off small, with one really great script, you can grow from there. If you read the Oscar Nominated script for Margin Call you will notice that it’s really a play that he shot in basically one expansive location. My directing teacher in college Erma Duricko drilled into us, “Limitations free creativity.” I have lived that statement in my work ever since she stated it. Start out by working with the limitation you are given. Only then will you be able to grow.
  3. Never cast stars, create them; I was taught this by TV show runner when I was being mentored as part of a Latino TV initiative program. Your work should be strong enough, bold enough, and creative enough to launch stars. Jennifer Lawrence was just a working actress before Winter’s Bone came her way. The number of people who are trying to land stars for their crap scripts is unbelievable. Write an extraordinary script, be an extraordinary director, cast an extraordinary actor that’s right for the part.  You got into this business to be and work with extraordinary. Get to it.
  4. You’re not going to make it. Don’t even worry about it. What’s making it anyway? For two years of unbelievable pain, my idea of making it, was getting two hours of consecutive sleep. So my life became desperately about the business, and it began to eat at my soul. I began to worry about who would be cast in this movie? How the money would be gotten? Who was going to be the director? Why weren’t things happening?  In a way the noise in my head became a metaphor for all the noise in my life that had nothing to do with the joy of the work. If you’re in this, be talented, be devoted, practice your craft daily, have a goal that is tied to the work,  but admit that you’ve bought a lottery ticket, put it in a drawer and let it decide if and when the numbers are gonna come up. 
  5. Armistead Johnson co-writer of Chisholm
    co-founder of MozzleStead And Cheryl Davis
    playwright, TV writer, and creator with
    MozzleStead Bold. On a research trip to DC.
    Look for the inevitable magic. When Armistead and I were writing Chisholm for producers Bryan Gambogi, Gabrielle Almagor and Grant Anderson out in L.A. there were these moments of inevitable magic. When I was rewriting the entire third act of Chisholm, I really needed to have practical feel of 1972 Democratic National Convention Hall. Well, Armistead texts me that he and his partner were at a wedding reception that was right across the street from that convention center in Miami. He was able to take pictures which allowed me to visualize that entire set of scenes. I took those pictures with me to Bourbon Coffee on 14th, one of my happy writing haunts and was just writing when an older gentleman named Richard, saw me type the name Shirley Chisholm proceeded to lean into me, and said, “When I was 21 I was a delegate. I was at the 1972 Convention,” I couldn’t believe it. I immediately bombarded him with questions. He told me about the atmosphere, the people, the drugs that politicians would send out assistants for, a young Bill Clinton, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, but most importantly when I asked him, “Why do you think there was so few shots of Shirley on the convention floor?” He looked at me matter of factly and just said, “she was black and everyone knew she wasn’t going to get the nomination. That’s when the camera men took their smoke breaks.” To this day that encounter was one of the greatest creative affirmations of my life. You know a project is yours when it has a grace that can only be called godly. 
  6. Flux it out. I have made Flux into a verb, but it’s also a shout out to Flux Theatre Ensemble, who I have grown to love since I saw Diende by August Schulenburg in 2012. (a play I saw twice in a row) “Flux it out? MozzleTov, what does that mean?” Well, to me it means, surround yourself with people who are better than you are at every level. Better writers, better directors, better actors, better designers, better human beings, more daring, more dedicated. They’ll give you something to strive for.  Flux is artists in loving action. Moving a story forward. Moving their story forward. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? “MozzleTov, they sound awesome, do they have something going up soon?” Why yes, you can get information and tickets to Flux’s Once upon a Bride there was a Forest here. It’ll be an unforgettable experience. 
  7. Catch a Mac Rogers play. I tell people here to be extraordinary. And I live and work amongst truly extraordinary artists, at any one time any of them could be doing something astonishing; be it Nat Cassidy, August Schulenburg, Mariah MaCarthy, John Hudson, Kevin Free, Heather Cunningham, Synge Maher, Kristen Vaughan, Phil Newsom, Helene Galek, Diana Oh, Lizz Leizzer, Cheryl Davis, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a more extraordinary creator than Mac Rogers. He is the real deal. I have had the fortune to cross paths with some really well known personalities in this business. None of them get me tongue tied and make me giggle like a school girl with a crush like Mac Rogers (okay Glen Close gave me nervous hives, and Julianna Marguiles made me head butt a Bleeker Street street sign) but still, I am in awe of Roger’s talent. Whenever I finish a draft of a script, I always ask myself, would I send this to Mac Rogers? If the answer is No. Then I know I am not done. He and his “extraordinary” Gideon Productions just opened Asymmetric, so check it out.
Ultimately, with MozzleStead, Armistead and I are building a company that reflects who we ultimately want to be as people and artists. And because each story wants to be told in its own way, we have to be in harmony with that story and its medium. We are just starting, but where I think we’re lucky is that our training ground has been this incredible Independent Theatre Community which we look forward to incorporating into and working with now and for the rest of our creative lives. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time to Go Back to Film

Contributed by DeLisa White

The idea was to become a filmmaker. It was the decision I made standing in line for two hours to see a movie – to be a “director.” Of films.  Studying theatre – learning how to be a theatre director was how smart people became good movie directors. That was the foundation – the place you train – the way you become one of the best. But at the time, in my tween years, movies were everything.

I went to a performing arts school (Interlochen Arts Academy) at 14 to study “the theatre.”  They have a film program now, but then – theatre was my option for teenage training. While I declared my major on the very first day of film school, those years at Interlochen studying all aspects of the theatrical tradition helped build the person I’ve become in life and art. The theatre was then and is now: a home, a sacred endeavor, an amusement park of creativity and ideas that has given me an extended family everywhere I’ve roamed since. It has become not –as I expected - just the foundation of my cinematic dreams. It has become the foundation of my life.

Lights Narrow
I have never strayed from doing theatre since those days, but did make a valiant effort to make my dent in indie film in my 20’s. Film was different then, the 16mm medium requiring a semi-full crew of volunteers, a ton of gear, time, patience and developing costs as well as printing and distribution. It was cumbersome and overwhelming and such an intensive process that by the time I had finished my feature, it no longer represented the filmmaker I’d become. I will always feel  regret for the character I wrote whose story I still feel a responsibility to tell correctly and know that I haven’t. But after that time, for effectiveness, for impact, for excellence – the play became the thing.

Over the years, I got better at it. Enough to see the impact of a story well told. Enough to feel confident that the work I engaged in was worthy of watching and made a difference to the people who witnessed it. And in the process, I became part of a community of exceptional artists whose work altered my heart and haunted my brain.

And then I got frustrated. Even my own community often missed the miracles its peers put up on the stage. The expense was prohibitive even for the successes and the reach was so limited for pieces which actually benefitted from the intimacy of its houses. I remain rather angry that performances which EVERYONE should see would only exist in memories of a few. At least they should be videotaped for posterity!  It’s so easy to videotape now!  Everything’s digital!  Why doesn’t the Showcase codes draw scads of agents looking for new talent cuz that’s where it is!  The great future of the American theatre is HAPPENING and people are missing it! Why won’t Equity let us…..

 Wait.

I don’t have to load a magazine or a lug around a Beta Max to shoot a scene anymore.  I don’t need to rent a Moviola. I don’t need to have four different kinds of film stock, a truckload of 1K’s and massive crew to recreate a deeply intimate moment from an original playwright, an accomplished actor, a crack design team – all supported by a (now) experienced and supportive (instead of frazzled) film director who actually values the craft of acting and the power of a great text. What Equity won’t let us video, SAG Indie will let us film.


An Appeal to the Woman of the House
All those people who told me how much they regretted missing Lights Narrow or An Appeal to the Woman of the House (nominated for a total of six IT awards this year with two wins)?
We can give thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands?) an intimate, powerful experience on film for the same price or less of a limited Off-Broadway run for an inherently limited number of seats.

It’s time to go back to film.


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DeLisa M. White has already shot Lights Narrow (for which she won Outstanding Director), currently in Post-Production. In Pre-Production is a feature film version of An Appeal to the Woman of the House. To donate/contribute to the completion of Appeal contact the producers at atowncalledgracefilms@gmail.com or www.atowncalledgracefilms.com for further info.

To contribute to the completion of LIGHTS NARROW contact DeLisa White at delisa.michelle.white@gmail.com or Vincent Marano at vincentmarano@yahoo.com.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Taking the Chance: So long Mike Nichols

"The only safe thing is to take a chance."                                                                                            ~ Mike Nichols


"There's nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you're meant to do. It's like falling in love."

"I love to take actors to a place where they open a vein. That's the job. The key is that I make it safe for them to open the vein."

"The reason you do this stuff - comedy, plays, movies - is to be seized by something, to disappear in the service of an idea."

"Directing is mystifying. It's a long, long, skid on an icy road, and you do the best you can trying to stay on the road... If you're still here when you come out of the spin, it's a relief. But you've got to have the terror if you're going to do anything worthwhile."
                                                                ~ Mike Nichols


Mike Nichols, Acclaimed Director Dies at 83


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Future of Theatre is Digital

Contributed by Guy Olivieri

You know that sad feeling you get AFTER you pour your heart and soul into a theatrical production? You workshopped the script. You threw the fundraisers, and licked the envelopes filled with donation pleas. You gathered the team of artists.  You rehearsed for weeks.  You performed for weeks. And then… it’s over.  It’s gone.  It’s done.

Then the ennui sets in.

For most of us, we take that energy, push it way down into our souls, (perhaps eat a Cinnabon or three,) and start again with a new one.




I think of this ennui every year at the IT Awards when I hear amazing things about productions, but it’s too late to catch them. They could be remounted, but lightening never strikes the same place twice.

You know when you DON’T get that post-production ennui?  When you film the damn thing.

This year, I created, wrote and produced a sitcom pilot. I used a ton of the artists I know from doing Off-Off-Broadway theatre, and tried something completely new to me. It was terrifying, but the truth is: I already had the tools I needed, and if I didn’t have them, I knew someone who did. It was a huge leap of faith, but the Off-Off community lent me so much support. Our pilot kicks ass.

AND it’s available to share. 
Check out the trailer.




I can show FreakMe to people to further my career as a writer, a producer, and an actor.  It’s not gone, like the equally awesome production of Bell, Book and Candle I did a year ago with Ground UP, which, like, no one saw.


Me and Kate Middelton
Why don’t we film these things?

How much fun would it be to do try to film with a live studio audience?  The Off Off equivalent of shooting a 3-camera show? Or you could rework the script into a film after we’ve worked out the kinks onstage?

I think that THIS is the one piece we’re missing as a community.

Working with a theatre company, live, provides a lot of the jollies that I need as an artist: a community of friends and collaborators, the thrill of performing, bearing witness to the amazing art that a group of like-minded individuals can only create in an environment of trust.

But with a film, you also get the legacy.  It’s digitally available forever.  And that appeals to me as an actor, a producer, a writer, and someone interested in using these incredibly fulfilling, yet non-paying gigs to lead to incredibly fulfilling, and lucrative gigs.

This is the future.  Who’s in?



(On the set of FreakMe. Me, Erin Fallon, Duane Ferguson, Neil Fennell, Rob Maitner, Kathy Searle, Ben Bentsmen, Patti Goettlicher, and Kevin LLaibson.)


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Guy Olivieri [www.GuyOlivieri.com] has been a producer, casting director, literary manager and actor with Ground UP Productions for 9 years.  He also is a founding member of Off Off Hollywood Productions, for which he created, co-produced, and starred in a TV pilot called FreakMe.  Guy also coaches actors on personal marketing, and co-authored the book SO YOU WANNA BE A NEW YORK ACTOR?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Developing THE SPIKE

Contributed by Jennifer Gordan Thomas


When Shay asked me if I’d contribute to this month’s blog on diversifying artistic outlets, I jumped at the chance. I’m in the process of producing a feature film. My first. Though I’ve produced shorts and I edit film and video, most of my career has been spent as a theatre person. I am also a woman in her 40s. My chances of “success” in this arena are, percentage-wise, pretty low. That’s why I’m doing it. “Diversifying” or as I like to call it, “trying new things” is an essential component of who I am as both an artist and a human.

In 2008 I acted in a short play written by Mac Rogers. It was a 10-minute play called SPIKE and sci-fi in nature, in true Mac Rogers form. I loved it. I also thought it would make a great film. I kept saying "Hey this would make a great film" and for some reason no one did anything about it.

Fast forward to 2 years ago. I'm stagnant, I'm annoyed with what I'm auditioning for, I have no agent, and I'm having a heated conversation with actress Angela Dee in my car. She tells me I should write my own stuff. I'm immediately indignant. I'm a red head and don't tell me what to do. I am most emphatically NOT a writer. Angela says, "Well, then you're going to have to produce for yourself because you're a woman in your 40s and that's the game." I was furious.

After I stopped being furious, I asked Mac if he'd be interested in developing SPIKE into a screenplay. I had been thinking about it for years and why not? Thankfully, Mac agreed. We first developed what is now called THE SPIKE as a web series, and then made the bold decision to just go for it. It is now a feature length screenplay and it's really good. So, we have a good screenplay and we could stop right there and that would be a pretty big accomplishment. I helped develop a feature film. I’ve done something I’ve never done. Cool.

But no, we won't stop there.  I'm going to Executive Produce this. And not only that, I'm going to play a lead role. I must be nuts. That's what I tell myself every day. "Self", I say, "You're nuts. What makes you think you can do this?" I tell myself to shut up. I tell myself I've produced, directed, and acted in dozens of plays. I edit. I’ve produced shorts. I tell myself that I am a storyteller and this is just that, only on a different scale. I know that my skills at finding the right people for the project, assessing strengths, team building, financials, trusting my gut, trusting in others, communicating clearly, and knowing a good story when I see it, are all I need. ALL of these skills were acquired through my experiences in the theatre. I say these things to myself every day. We've only just started pre-production and I've been working on this for 2 years, so this is a long conversation I’ve been having with me.

Producing a film is very different from producing theatre. Think about what goes into producing a play with a 3 to 4 week run...and then multiply that by 3 to 5 years and add at least 40 other collaborators.  It takes a long time to make a feature film, but if you have a story you want to tell, and it fits the medium of film, you should do it. Should artists work in multiple mediums? Should artists diversify? I’m not a big fan of “should”, but yes, absolutely. There are people who will tell you that the best way to succeed (whatever that means) is to find one thing you do really well and just do that. That’s not for me. I want to stretch my wings. I like to test my abilities. Life is short, so why not try all the things you want to try? Diversifying, working in multiple mediums, can ONLY make you a better artist. Diversifying allows you to test the boundaries of your abilities, and testing the boundaries of your own abilities actually *causes *you to grow.

I want to be the person who’s surrounded by masters. I honestly want to be low man on the totem pole on everything I’m working on because I want to get better. I want to be challenged. Practicing art in multiple mediums allows you to get better in almost all ways: artistically, spiritually, and humanly. And I can promise you that on your deathbed you will never say, “I’m so glad I never tried different things”.


Check out THE SPIKE website...

Monday, November 10, 2014

From Page to Stage to Screen


Contributed by Jason Cicci, Producing Artistic Director of Monday Morning Productions

Still from He's With Me

When I began producing Off-Off-Broadway theatre in the late 1990’s, I could never have guessed where my experiences creating theatre pieces would bring me…mostly because in those days, there was no such thing as original content being created for the internet. Fast forward many years (more than I’d like to admit!) and here I am, in the midst of producing the second season of my original web series, “He’s With Me”.

While writing and producing for the theatre was something that seemed to come almost second nature to me as I’d been involved in the theatre since I was a child, the prospect of telling a story through the camera’s eyes seemed daunting. It’s a completely different kind of storytelling. However, as I was always a huge fan of television, sitcoms in particular, I understood the basics of the situational comedy format so I thought I’d give writing a pilot a try. Once I had completed it, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote another episode…and another…until, eventually, I had three 22-minute episodes. My thought was that I should try to find a way to pitch the show through whatever contacts I had. When that proved to be more difficult than I could’ve imagined, simultaneously, the world of on-line storytelling was booming. This made me think: “I don’t need to wait for the powers-that-be to give my show the green light! I can be my own television studio! I can be the show runner of my own situational comedy or drama or soap opera or…anything!”

Since the theatre was my background and I was comfortable with its parameters, I decided that I would see if what I had written was compelling, accessible and funny by doing what traditional sitcoms did…I produced the scripts live in front of an audience. When this experience was successful, I dove in and began the process of producing the show for the internet.
The internet was sort of the “wild, wild, west” in regard to creating a show…there really were no rules. I began watching other shows to see what the typical length of each episode was, only to find there was really no “typical” anything. People were creating shows that were anywhere from 1 minute to 20. However, as 22- minute sitcoms are created in segments, there was a natural break in each of my scripts. This made it easy to cut them basically in half to create 10-12 minute episodes, which is still the format I write in today.

Among the shows I watched was the dramatic series “Hustling”, written by an acquaintance from years ago, Broadway performer Sebastian La Cause. I was so impressed with what Sebastian had done: writer, producer, director, cinematographer and editor. I contacted him and asked if he might be interested in directing something else. I sent him the scripts, which led to several meetings where we carved out the feel of the show and fine-tuned the arc of each of the characters over the 10-episode season we agreed on. This collaboration was a great lesson for me: seek out others you respect artistically who have experience. Even if you barely know them, even if you think they wouldn’t be interested, even if you think they’re too famous…you never know. True artists are interested in the story that is being told.

As I’m in the midst of pre-production on the second season of “He’s With Me”, I couldn’t be happier with what the show has become. With a loyal following of ever-growing fans, it’s thrilling to me that the story of Martin, Ted, Eddie, Valerie and Benny is accessible to anyone, anywhere. While I will always have a deep love for the theatre and how it has inspired me, the artistic control that is inherent in producing a series on the internet has been a very gratifying experience.

If you’d like to support the second season of “He’s With Me”, please go to: http://igg.me/at/HesWithMe


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Diversifying Your Creative Portfolio

 

 
I know, "Diversifying Your Creative Portfolio" sounds like a lot of marketing speak; so what are we talking about? We are talking about artists and companies who are not just doing theatre, but are using their theatrical skills to also create films, web series and other exciting projects.

Many of the skills and experiences used for creating a theatrical production are the same as those used for creating a film and vice versa. Of course there are skills that are specific to each medium and artists are expanding their talents and knowledge to bridge these various creative outlets. Sometimes these projects result in interesting cross-overs that integrate both focuses.

The fact that emerging technology makes equipment and software more accessible both through cost and usability, and the internet provides an incredibly powerful and effective distribution tool gives artists the room to experiment and learn. Ultimately, it means that we will be seeing more hybrid projects and more artists that are proficient, if not experts in multiple areas.

This month we have asked some artists from the Indie Theatre community who branch out into other mediums to talk about their experiences and current projects.

We have a pretty exciting line up of contributors:


  • Jason Cicci
  • Jennifer Gordon Thomas
  • Guy Olivieri
  • Montserrat Mendez 
  • DeLisa White
  • Stephen Bittrich
  • Steven Klein


Friday, October 31, 2014

Theatre & Politics... Same thing

Contributed by Elizabeth Burke

I have always said that two things I love equally are basically the same thing, politics and theatre. Years ago, when I worked on local and national political campaigns, I used to stand in the back of a crowd of supporters and watch candidates give the same stump speech day after day, week after week, sometimes 2 or 3 times on the same day.  It occurred to me this is the same as doing eight shows a week, week in and week out, month after month.  How do you keep it fresh?  How do you keep saying the same words without sounding like you would much rather be at the bar with your audience having a noisy, slightly tipsy good time.  How do you convince your audience that this is the first time you are saying these words?

Like actors, politicians play to their audience, and in politics, they are usually speaking to people they already know so the audience is hard to fool. Pols need to connect somehow so they talk about local issues, whatever is important to this neighborhood so these voters will go and vote for them on Election Day.  Politicians also spend more face to face time with local political leaders, eating terrible meals at Veteran’s Halls, Booster Clubs, and (shudder) Holiday Inns.  The energy that it takes to engage with each person at these events, learning and speaking about their homegrown concerns all while acting like there is no place you would rather be could wear down the busiest Broadway actor, even the indefatigable Nathan Lane! Nathan only needs to be fully present for about 3 hours on show night, but a candidate needs to be fully engaged for about 12-18 hours in a given day for months on end. 

Actors are given a script which they memorize and from which they (almost) never deviate. The same goes for politicians. Yet, there are politicians who think that improve is the way to go!  Keeping their message fresh and new means that they will just speak “from the heart.”  This rarely goes well.  Have you ever been in improve class and you have to work with someone who loves improve, wants so badly to be funny but is not and never will be?  They try so hard, but being funny is not within their grasp because, humor is something one is born with, it’s inherent. Same with politics, some are just born with the politicking gene. It is physically painful to watch a candidate go off script, trying to be something they’re not just to forge some kind of connection with their audience. 

See, actors and politicians are both going for the same object, making the audience believe every word they say.  They both assume another identity and commit 100% so the audience can suspend their disbelief and not see them as the carefully crafted character that was created for them.  For if we believe, so will the audience.


Arthur Miller saw the same thing and made this observation of Al Gore and George W. Bush following the 2000 election. 

"Political leaders everywhere have come to understand that to govern they must learn how to act. No differently than any actor Gore went through several changes of costume before finding the right mix to express the personality he wished to project. Up to the campaign he seemed an essentially serious type with no great claim to humor, but the Presidential type character he had chosen to play was apparently happy, upbeat, with a kind of Bing Crosby mellowness. I daresay that if he seemed so awkward it was partly because the image was not really his, he had cast himself in a role that was wrong for him. As for Bush, now that he is President he seems to have learned not to sneer quite so much, and to cease furtively glancing left and right when leading up to a punch line, followed by a sharp nod to flash that he has successfully delivered it. This is bad acting because all this dire over-emphasis casts doubt on the text. Obviously, as the sparkly magic veil of actual power has descended upon him he has become more relaxed and confident, like an actor after he has read some hit reviews and knows the show is in for a run."


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Liz Burke (bio coming shortly)




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Are We Artists?

Contributed by Brad Burgess

“They have very prominently placed cultural policy as part of the national agenda…intelligent and insightful debate around issues of culture, the cultural agenda, the possibilities of culture to determine the future of a nation…”
 
          ~ Professor Peter Eckersall, Graduate Center CUNY
               speaking on Singapore 10/14/2014

Political theatre starts with a fundamental question, “Why are we artists?”

In Singapore, it sounds like almost a sacred duty for this young country to utilize arts to examine, explore and ultimately improve their culture through suggestion of political, spiritual or emotional betterment…

We are artists because on some level we are reacting to reality and saying, “this is not enough.”  We are saying we need more to experience in our daily lives.  We need to create something more, explore deeper, discuss in more detail.

For me, political theatre moves forward from the recognition that this feeling of need is a political reality.

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Recently, at Prelude Festival, there was a conversation about honesty. 
Allison Lyman, Artistic Producer MESTC asked “How do you know when a piece is honest?” I responded something like: "I always think of Judith and what she would say as founder of The Living Theatre. For her, every play is about inspiring the audience to a beautiful, peaceful revolution that transforms our communities into better functioning communities that care for the needs of all."

That can mean a lot of things politically, not all as overt as social revolution.

In these times, the word political has been reductively devalued by a two party system, and so now much of “political” theatre has to be directed at this reduced reality, and the issues it has left us with the environment (Extreme Weather by Karen Malpede), with our health , with poverty (That Poor Dream by The Assembly), with our hardness and violent solutions that are not working (Won't Be a Ghost by Francis Weiss Rabkin).

But political theatre is also deeper than two-party issues caused by our current version of a capitalist democracy.  It is really about our political duty to our world as artists responding to the original question, “why are we artists?”

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The Assembly’s adaptation of Great Expectations in That Poor Dream, is overtly political about socio-economic class in modern day America and how it’s the same product of our financial system as Victorian England was…

At the same time, the actors break through the 4th wall and communicate stories from their real lives that are intimate, personal, and emotional.

In those moments they are recognizing a political mandate that the actors lives matter in the creation of work.  Similarly, by doing this, they are acknowledging that the individual story of each of the audience members in attendance, also matters.

The politics of this play are that we need to address class reality with each other in order to avoid the pain of the characters, and on a more Artaudian level, the pain of the actors and the the pain of the audience.

But it doesn’t have to be so heavy either.

For instance, David Neumann’s work at Prelude, I Understand Everything Better…all on death…had an inescapable delight, a playfulness and light that was its own political statement about how we can meditate together on death and its pain and react to it.    It was fun as well as meaningful.

Having fun is just as political as feeling pain in answering cultural need and development.


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For me, all that and in between is our political theatre.

Political theatre is whatever it means to you as a person that answers the cultural need for artistic creation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think more people should come right out with direct action and political critique to encourage a more politically engaged society and work with as many organizations to do so as possible.



“Art is certainly for art’s sake,” she said. “But I also fervently believe in art for life’s sake.”         
                       ~ Deborah Rutter, President, Kennedy Center (Washington Post)