Thursday, January 29, 2009

FavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek

Naomi Wallace - On Writing as Transgression

Read it. I had no idea I would read something so compelling to me in the pages of American Theatre.

We have spoken about the value of theater, I think Ms. Wallace does a incredibly precise dissection of how theater's value erodes in certain circumstance.

When speaking about computer technology and communication, Sam Fuller (One of my favorites) stated that the only value history will assign the use of such communication is in how it contributes to democracy. Now, when he said this he was showing his skirt just a bit, but his sentiment about how what we say, why we say it should be used for the betterment of humanity, the preservation of our bodies and the dignification of our spirit... I think is echoed in Naomi Wallace's words here.

Here is my question... was there anyone else out there stirred by these words? If not why not? What is missing? What did she leave out? Or if there is a valid counterpoint to her manifesto... then can you point me in that direction?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek



Chance in Hell by Gilbert Hernandez

There are plenty of places online to find well versed folks to praise and contextualize the importance of the Hernandez brothers to the comic book world.

All I will say is, I love everything about this story. Emmense depths from such precise and compact storytelling. There is alot to envy about Gilbert Hernandez's narrative gifts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

FavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek

Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy

I was seriously encouraged by this article. Simple, profound, I dug it.

Theatre Weekend Again!

This past weekend was one filled with theater. Sunday morning I went up to the Side Project for callbacks for their new play festival very similar to the Cut to the Quick Festival which recently took place. It was a pleasure to get to hear actors saying the words that my playwright had written. I had read the play many many times, but hearing those words aloud seals a deal in a way. It is like the first time you turn the heat up on the stove. You've got the pot. It is full of water. But, now things can start to boil. I am very excited about the script, and felt a little giddy watching the actors move around the space yesterday. It confirmed for me that being involved in this festival doing this specific play was the right thing.

Later that day, the Mammals had our final callback for DEVILS DON'T FORGET. The final piece of the puzzle was Dennis Frymire. Dennis is a part of the Chicago blogosphere and we've frequently one degree of separation from working together. But over the past 2 years I've gotten a few opportunities to see him work, and I am very thrilled at the prospect of us working together on this piece.

Saturday I saw True West over at the ATC and then got to see the second of the Sea Plays over at the Goodman Theatre put up by Companhia Triptal.

I love Sam Shepard and fancy myself familiar with his work, especially this script. That can be a hindrance when watching the piece. There are wonderful surprises in the script that just can not be seen with the same exhilaration a second, third time (You can only once lose your virginity to a piece, and never again...OK not always true, but certainly my experience here). The play was staged in the round which worked very well. It was updated to today (laptop instead typewriter) which didn't really affect it. I would suggest that the less reference to technology in a Shepard play like True West the better, but to each his or her own.

My question is how do you negate the image of Sinise and Malkovich when watching this play being performed in a theater in Chicago less than 5 miles from Steppenwolf. It is a tall order. Despite that, I think the actor playing Lee did a very good job of making the character his own. By that I mean he was incredibly young, younger than anyone I've ever since play the part, but carried it off. Austin, also well acted, was updated to a more Metrosexual sort of character sitting at home alone until confronted by his brother, but for some reason he had impeccably quaffed hair. Who gels up their hair before an evening alone at home typing a screen play?

The person I saw the show with had never seen nor read True West and she was mightily impressed. So, Kudos to ATC for producing Shepard despite the possible risk of comparisons.

A gimmick to this True West is that it is in rep with a Congo Square Production of Topdog/Underdog. I do hope to get back to see that production (just too much this weekend to get that one in as well). I am not very familiar with Topdog/Underdog, but aside from 365, I really do like most of what Susan Lori Parks has written. So, not only are the plays in rep, but the brothers cast in each show are interchangeable. Some nights the Caucasian actors will be in TWest, others nights one Caucasian, one African, or both African American actors in TWest. The same variety will be applied each night to the casting for TD/UD. A very interesting concept. I am not sure how many folks will have the time and inclination to watch either of these plays more than once, but the daring in such a choice is to be applauded. I believe if you see any of the shows, you can see subsequent versions at half price. Still that is alot of money and alot of time. I am sure in the end we'll hear from someone that there were people who returned and returned again, but I say without hard numbers at the tail end of this, few will be convinced that it was a success. Ignoring that, I am anxious to see Congo Square's production which I have high hopes for.

I am going to wait to write about the Sea Plays until I see the third one this weekend... except to say that I think the first two were exceptionally well made theatre, and I am not alone. If you have a free night this weekend, do yourself a favor and do our city a solid by making the third of three plays a SRO affair. The work is that good, and a theatre town like ours should be able to recognize such excellence with butts in seats, IMO.

Monday, January 26, 2009

FavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek

Companhia Triptal


Go and check it out!!!

DEVILS DON'T FORGET gets a cast!!!

The Mammals are proud to announce the cast of their next Production DEVILS DONT FORGET

The cast will include Dennis Frymire, Susan Myburgh, Don Hall, Gabe Garza, Nicolle Van Dyke, Katherine Swan, Anya Clingman, and Henri J Dugas IV

DEVILS DONT FORGET opens April 24th!!!

More info soon!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Last Week

Last week I Got to see Halycon's The Other Shore. Tony has quite the throw down going on over it.

I also got to watch In The Zone (Zona de Guerra) at the Goodman. Great Show which BTW opened up with a great dream sequence, something we talked about last week. Thanks to Keenan for talking me into seeing it.

RE: O'Neill Fest - I am very pleased with what Goodman O'Neill Fest has thus far done. I didn't get to see Emperor Jones, but I did catch it years ago when I lived in NY with Kate Valk and Willem Defoe. The thing I love about the Wooster Group's production is that it is nearly impossible to watch it and not talk about race. If the same thing happened in a book or a movie, you wouldn't get the immediate need that this piece elicits. It forces the viewer to confront their racial barometer. Anyway, it sounds like it did so once again from what I've heard from folks at the talk back. I do wish we got to see more of the Wooster Group here in Chicago. I'd love for them to Stein's Dr Faustus Lights the Lights.

Also had callbacks for the Mammals DEVILS DON'T FORGET. Almost have the cast complete and I am very excited for this production.

And... I was brought on board the Side Project's next New Play Fest. I am directing a short 10 page play by Chris Kelley entitled The Torture Chamber (I know...I know). I haven't met Chris, but it is a twisted tale that I am really looking forward to working on.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

DEVILS DON'T FORGET (possible opening monologue)

BUSTER
I don't remember much, but I do remember that almost all of it up here (points to his head) was erased by design. My design. My decision.

Despite my attempt to forget everything, and I mean everything, there are some things I do still recall. I remember when I was a kid, I saw this movie. Even talking about this seems dangerous, you know. If I allow myself to recall one thing who knows else could come rushing back...but... alas... (points to his head)...

When I was a kid, I saw this movie, a gangster picture, and the leading man was telling us, the audience, his story in voice over. All the while he's telling us what happened, we are watching him act it out as it happens. The crap he was going through, it was pretty scary stuff. But, I had a sense of relief, my anxiety abated listening to him tell it. I figured if he was telling us the story, he must have made his way through it. But my relief wasn't real, wasn't rewarded. Just before the picture finished somebody stuck a knife in the leading man's throat. He struggled. He bled. And as we watched, he died. And, before the film was over. Just as the image of his corpse was fading to black, again I heard his voice. He got to say one last thing before it was really all finished.

(Note: The remainder of the opening monologue could stay here or could be placed elsewhere in the script)

How could he do that? It was very weird. It didn't seem reasonable that I could see him enacting the story while at the same telling me the story as if it had already happened, all the while being dead as a result of what I was witnessed occur.

I watched that movie many times...many many times, and maybe that is why it wont go away. Maybe that is why I can't get rid of it. Like the alphabet, if you are repeatedly exposed to it at a young enough age then nothing short of death can erase it. But, each time I watched the picture, even though I knew how it ended, I had this feeling that the leading man might somehow change something and make it out ok... saving himself. He had to have known what I knew, right? It is confusing, I know, but just... even though I knew he was already dead, hearing his voice convinced me that he still had the ability to save himself.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rhino and Benny



Don Hall as Rudy the Rhino
Joe Janes as Benny the Bookie

Image is a draft from the upcoming MEATLOCKER graphic novel

FavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek


Eric Fortune

Friday, January 16, 2009

FavoriteThings


RIP Andrew Wyeth.

At first glance some of his work is so iconic, so steeped in a visual language that is so American that one can forget how amazing this man's work is. It always creeps up on me.

He also is part of one of America's more interesting artistic family dynasties (oh if we could have a few more of these a few less of those political dynasties).

Anyway, now is a great time to revisit Wyeth. And, if you've never done so before... don't stop at the Helga paintings of the Christina painting. Look at those landscapes, look at his aging men, look at the way he paints birds.

Early Samuel Beckett with a brush.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dreaming of Theater

He and I began discussing the phantasmagoric in performance. He wanted to discuss how to incorporate dream imagery and dream ambience onto the stage without turning on the spiral gobo specials or cueing the high reverb sound effects. How does one actually put the dream onstage without the usual hokum associated with 'dream sequences'?

His goal was to have the elements and events occur onstage in the same manner in which they occur to his perception within his dreams, which is to say that the distancing, the v-effect, the jolting, the natural dissonance, the shift from one verisimitude to another, the shock of something inexplicable... that THING sort of never occurs to the spectator.

For example, when a character is mutilated onstage and revels in the mutilation... there is no appeal made to performance mode or dream indicating devise. When such an event occurs in the dream, there is no appeal to reason, no attempt at justifying cause and effect. The event occurs and the dreamer reacts within the presumed reality of the dream.

So, he wondered aloud how to do that onstage.

When we dream onstage, it is often lucid. Something somewhere occurs that clues us in to the idea that a character and by extension, we, are dreaming. Such a thing does not happen as often in our actual REM. Many of us have had a moment of self awareness within the dream, but in order to make it an achieveble goal during most REM requires a disciplined regiment that many don't have the patience for. Sleep is meant for much needed rest rather than a ritualized sequence meant to obtain lucidity.

I suggested to him that it was merely a matter of preference. That the stage devise was not something to be wary or, not something to avoid, that it could be utilzed or not as he saw fit.

The audience will decide each and every night and in a different way each time, whether or not it 'WORKS' for them. Some audience will not bat a eyelash when seeming non-sequitrs happen onstage. They'll be familiar enough with the author, the compnay, or the narrative intent that such an occurance to their mind happens onstage becuase it must, because it did...that is all. Other audience members will not be able to decode the notion of dreaming on stage unless they are ushered into it with a change in lighting, sound, or even something as simple as one of the actors saying the word 'Dream'. This is not a failing on the part of audience or artist, it is merely a convention at play.

When we speak of dreaming in theater, so often we discuss what is 'nature' or 'real'. I like it when asked about dream sequences in comic books Bart corrects the Comic Book Guy by saying "None of these things REALLY happened." Such is the case with just about every beat you put on stage. Any convention or lack of convention is at your disposal at any time. There is nothing at all natural about perfect strangers breaking into harmonious song on the street, but everyone I ever met understands this is a convention of music theatre. There is never the question of why "sing".

So, my notion is to go ahead and use the conventions of showing DREAM. Just do so with as much virtuosity as you can muster.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Busy Weekend - Theatre Theatre Theatre

Friday Night

I went to go see New Leaf Theatre's Touch. I highly recommend it. The gang at New Leaf have created something superlative, and even though I have a few issues with the writing in the second act, this is most definitely a performance not to be missed. Dan Granata will move you in way we as audience members rarely are moved in the theatre. And just like a pitcher who threw a no-hitter, most of glory will go to Dan, but he has a excellent cast to work with who seem to effortlessly enable the story. Kudos New Leaf.

Saturday Night

We did a small photoshoot for THE MEATLOCKER graphic novel. David Lykins had to brave the snowy streets from just shy of Wisconsin to come down to C-town. Mary Jo Bolduc was there as well. I am still learning the best way to get the shots we need. Sometimes, I just ask the actors to talk to one another and shoot while that happens. Sometimes we do a little improvisation while I shoot. Sometimes I am acting like Austin Powers shouting "Yeah baby! Yeah!". In many ways it is so freeing to work in a medium that is novel to you. But, at other times it can be difficult since you are used to feeling some degree of certainty in the medium of which you are familiar. Losing and then regaining your balance though seems to be the other way to push yourself, challenge, learn, grow. All in all, we got some amazing shots. I love these actors' faces.

Sunday Night

Auditions for the New Year and all the new projects. I was informed by a few folks that the call we put out might be perceived by some to be too much. We asked folks to have the standard two contrasting pieces, but we also asked them to be able to share with us something that they had created art, text, something that could show us the sort of artist that they are or that they are striving to become. I suppose that due to preconception of what a general audition should be, the question was are the Mammals asking for more than most are accustomed to give? Well, we sat through 5 hours of auditions and I have to say that most the folks we saw came in bringing their 'A' game.

Since we are a smaller gang, we were able to in this venue give the actors more than 2 minutes each. We probably gave each of them 10 minutes to perform, share, and talk. As a tiny budget non equity company that isn't always able to compensate all the participants financially, I think it is important to be be aware during an audition whether or not this individual is someone you want to spend 40 hours in a room with. That question is almost as important as what they show me during their monologues. I wanted to see people who were prepared not only to give a monologue, but who could communicate to me their passion and specific vision/dreams/hopes about their life as artists. And, we got alot of folks who stepped up to the plate wonderfully.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What is the value of Meaning or Interpretation - A response to the theatrosphere

Do not label the artobject. Rather allow the artobject to inspire investigation of oneself.

The goal of interpretation should not be the attempt to reach a hidden meaning within the artobject or to approximate an elusive objective meaning either.

The goal of interpretation...of meaning... should be the facilitation of conversation between two or more individuals so that they learn more about themselves rather than the piece of art.

Favorite Shows in 2009

I got to see (and participate) in alot of great theatre this year. Here are five experiences that really stood out for me!

Mourning Becomes Electra (Rouw Siert Electra) by Toneelgroep Amsterdam

If you didn't see this show when it was part of the Goodman's O'Neill festival, make sure that if you ever have a chance to see Ivo Van Hove work, do not pass it up. This was a phenomenal use of multimedia that transcended the usually tendency toward gimmick rather than form changing. I was almost a year ago when Goodman brought Chicago all those amazing international artists for the O'Neill festival. This year and this season, it is certainly missed. Goodman needs to do that much more often.

The Seafarer at Steppenwolf

The story of the devil comes for his due has been done, and there wasn't anything novel about this approach. But, I fell for this story hook, line, and sinker. This simple well written tale about getting a second chance even if maybe you don't deserve it, made me weep. The right play at the right time. Not earth shattering, but still for me absolutely life changing this year.

Bound East for Cardiff (Cardiff) by Companhia Triptal

Incredible, environmental, emmersive... not speaking a word of Portuguese wasn't a problem. All three of the O'Neill Sea Plays they produced we well done, but from the hurricane strength opening sequence to the slow motion falling down stairwells, to the final breath, excellent storytelling.

Maria's Field by TUTA

A Fairy Tale for the stage, I was more charmed by this story of three women and a cow looking for the husbands lost in war so many years ago then any other play in a long time. I want more fairy tales onstage, especially if they are done like this one.

Breed With Me by The Mammals
Uh Oh. I know I am asking for a serious ass kicking from everyone I know who reads this blog. I mean this is pretty damn arrogant of me. But, I am not apologizing. Everyone out there should be able to occasionally admit to themselves and their community that the thing that jazzes them most is something they themselves are involved in doing. I make the kind of theatre that I love. So, it should go without saying that this is one of my favorites. (If you are a theatre maker out there, I hope you too find the wherewithal to tell the world about what you do, and how much it excites you). I am very proud of the cast in this show. They make it magically and dangerous and put a majority of our audience on a razor's edge every time we've performed it so far. Not everybody is head over heels in love with it, but I am! And, I can say with certainty
that
I am

not

alone
!