Thoughtful and candid discussion and commentary on the performing arts by "those who do." This is a forum meant to reflect what's currently on the minds of working actors, directors, designers, producers and writers.
So, have you heard about this thing that happened? The artist, Bansky, set up a table in central park to sell his work for $60 a canvass when they usually go for the thousands. This video is amazing to watch.
And, well, that got me thinking of the Joshua Bell stunt from a few years back.
Just got home from the MacDowell Fellows Reunion party held at Little Airplane in South Street Seaport. Now, I have to admit going in, I was just as apprehensive as I would be walking into any gathering of folks, particularly creative types in New York City. Let's face it, gatherings that pass as "parties" are often anything but fun. Even moreso on the West Coast. (sorry Hollywood pals, but you know what I mean)
Imagine my surprise when moments after reaching the top of the entry staricase, I was greeted by a warm familiar face and a big loving hug from my friends Quito and Honor. As much as I enjoyed reconnecting with some of the fellows who were at MacDowell last December when I was, I'm especially tickled by the odd conversations I found myself in with people I'd never met before. And it left me wondering why. Specifically what was it about this gathering that made it so friendly and inviting and the conversation flow so naturatlly? I honestly can't remember another time when I had such fun at a party populated largely by strangers.
Here are some theories off the top of my head. And I'm wondering if any of them make sense to any of you in the light of day (tomorrow) when I imagine most of you will be reading this.
The MacDowell Fellows Reunion Party was a blast because:
The other night I went to see a friend's play at a small theatre in the village. Friends of mine who sit beside me at the theatre know that when I go I never read the Playbill before the performance begins. I like to be surprised. In this case, it was enough that the writer was someone I am fond of, a smart and talented person I knew would keep me on the edge of my seat for 90+ minutes. I didn't need to know who was in the show.
The lights went down. The show began. And in the second scene an actress entered. Instantly my entire body became rigid. I immediately knew her. How could I not? She is one of the few actors I've ever had to fire before. And, truthfully, she's the only actor I ever fired as a defensive measure against what can only be described as abusive and sadistic behavior in rehearsal toward her fellow actors and toward me.
Today in her keynote conversation with Gary Garrison, Theresa Rebeck offered her own version of a tune I've been singing ever since I began at the Guild and I felt vindicated. In a big way. Especially in the wake of a particularly rude email I received just moments before departing NYC for this year's conference from a member who characterized my advice as "just plain feeble minded and naive." I had suggested that rather than wallowing for one more minute in his bitterness at a particular theatre having ignored his work, he ought to just take matters into his own hands and put up one of his shows himself.
I sat up straight as I heard Rebeck say that she hopes more playwrights will produce and direct each other's work.
I'm not sure how it happened to me but at some point in the last ten years, I stopped submitting my work to places and people I didn't know. Well, not entirely. But virtually so.
I'm not sure if this shut-down can be attributed to battle fatigue induced by one too many rejections on the heels of another or if it has something to do with my work at the Dramatists Guild where I find myself spending more and more of my energy on a crusade of my own making to shake playwrights free of what I consider to be a misguided fantasy that sending a script to a literary department and waiting is somehow a key to something more than frustration.
So, here's the thing. A good friend of mine told me about a contest that seems very well suited to my most recent play -- my sprawling history play about the rise of young Teddy Kennedy. And last year, I missed the deadline. So this year, she very considerately called to remind me about it.
Visitors to this site know that one of my standing obsessions is audience development. I'm convinced not enough mental energy is being devoted to the question of what makes someone hungry for theatre of any kind. I remember when I attended plays in Lithuania, I was struck by how young the audiences were compared with my experience here in the U.S.
I thought it might be interesting to profile some of my favorite audience members, highlighting certain traits I admire or get a kick out of. I'll start with an old pal of mine named Susan Tunis.
Susan is on my mind because she recently visited New York for a conference. Professionally, she is one of Amazon's top book reviewers. Her blog, In One Eye and Out the Other is a go-to destination for bibliophiles. But I digress.
For at least two years before the birth of Extra Criticum, it seems that my old pal Robert Sullivan had been prodding me to start blogging. “You need a blog. Every writer should have a blog. Have you thought about starting a blog yet? I really think you ought to consider it.” I don’t know why I resisted. Well, actually, I do. I resisted the idea of starting my own blog because it struck me then as somewhat narcissistic. A journal of my thoughts, feelings and opinions—not to mention mundane actions—posted online for all the world to see? Why bother? What a bore!
So I told Robert the only way I would consider blogging was if it was a group undertaking. I didn’t want to create a space where all the musings of one Roland Tec would be posted ad nauseum. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I could do so in the company of good friends and colleagues.
If we can agree that most playwrights are mediocre, I sort
of feel like they fall into two giant pools at opposite ends of a continuum. At
one end there are those with great ears for the music of dialogue, for how we
sound when we speak but without much of any depth fueling their desire to write.
At the other end of the spectrum are the theme builders who load their plays with
big issues but maybe lack some of the finesse in terms of crafting dialogue.
And then in the middle, between these two extremes are the really great
playwrights, the ones who have a subtle ear for dialogue but also have
something devastating to say about the human condition
Two such writers have plays up in 99-seat houses right now.
And I was lucky enough to enjoy them both virtually back to back.
There are people in this business (You know who you are) who love nothing more than to infantilize the artists they deal with. Sometimes these people are lawyers. Sometimes they're agents or producers or executives. Sometimes they're even D-girls, if you can imagine.
And there are artists who slip into the role of helpless child with such ease and frequency that slowly over time, imperceptibly at first, they get sort of glued in stuck into the costume. And they end up prisoners of a sort... ambling through life like helpless innocents looking for guidance to all the adults in the room. I don't have a lot to say about this syndrome, save this:
Shortly after my father died, I had lunch with my friend John Yearley and I asked him if he wouldn't mind emailing me a copy of his one-act, HATING BECKETT.
I thought re-reading the play might be comforting because of a vivid memory I'd attached to its premiere many years ago at Long Wharf. I'd brought my parents to the see the play and as the lights came down at the end of it, in that quiet space between END OF PLAY and applause, my father blurted out quite loudly and with a kind of gusto that was emblematic of him, just one word:
I'm in Berlin for this year's Berlinale. An ocean away from New York City, my home base, the city I love. My aunt, an attorney, invites me to watch her tap dance lesson.
She is an attorney. An excellent one, I'm told. An attorney with a passion. A passion for tap dancing. And a nose for talent. Somehow, she seems to have found one of Berlin's most gifted tap dancers. (I am not qualified to judge really, but so he seems to be as I sit and watch.)
It never ceases to shock (and sadden) me how prevalent in the film world this is. Film directors who have zero regard for the craft of acting, so much so that they believe they have to trick their actors into delivering honest performances. The most famous example of this distorted view, of course, was Hitchcock. No one can dispute his cinematic genius but his methods were not only cruel, they were also entirely unnecessary.
This just crossed my desk and I couldn't resist sharing it. It's from an email advert promoting a class taught by a young auteur of some note who believes he has invented a more reliable "method" for wringing realism from flesh. I've removed any names to protect the innocent.