Tag Archives: Theater

Little (Mobile) Theater on the Prarie

The events of last Wednesday are still dwelling on my mind, so it was nice to catch this article by Lia Kvatum in the Washington Post Magazine about an itinerant creative who’s connecting communities to their history through theater. It provides some much needed light and joy… and the notion that we can communicate with one another.

Theatrical portraits of Hanson in Granite Falls, Minn. (Caroline Yang via the Washington Post)

Reading about how Ashley Hanson has been traveling to different communities and talking with the people reminds me of both how the Federal Theatre Project had a whole “think national, act local” approach to productions as well as the more recent Playback Theatre‘s attempts to translate personal experiences into short plays.

When it comes to theater, I am biased, what with it being a “non-trivial” portion of my working life, to say nothing of participating in some of the “walking theater” mentioned in the article (although my part got to be on stage). I believe live theater has a way of connecting and impacting people in a way that will make it just as relevant 100 years from now as it was 1,000 and more years ago. So I wish Hanson and others great success in hundreds more towns across America, because it means connecting and deep listening.

Theater Strategy Post-Covid

I’ve been watching how theater and film productions have been coping with the pandemic (as you can see from June, July, and earlier in December). Safely producing new works is important not only considering my role in running Jabberwocky Audio Theater, but also thinking of my many colleagues whose livelihood requires being on stages and sets.

Federal Theater Project production of Macbeth, 1936 (Library of Congress)

So this article in Fortune, not my usual source for theater news, was an interesting read. Author Michael Barra puts forth some predictions about how theater may change, starting with Broadway and how the tourist percentage of audiences will drop, and then taking that change and extrapolating out to theater trends overall.

Considering how many performers are affected outside of Broadway, I hope cities and localities begin to look to how ‘creatives’ can help the economy (as, in truth, they have always done).

Video

“I’m standing in a very happy place right now” Behind-the-scenes of Hamilton

As I mentioned the other week, we saw Hamilton along with a good many millions of people at the beginning of the month… and that’s led to listening to the soundtrack non-stop the following weekend, at least one rewatch so far, and delving into all sorts of reading and watching of supplemental material.

Just about none has topped my theater geeky glee quite like seeing Adam Savage looking at the props used in Hamilton.

As many of you know, I worked on both sides of the stage for quite some time, and although I was never the best props maker, I had my moments, I loved most every minute, and there was always a special level of delight in making a prop and seeing it used on stage.

So many moment of “Squee!”

If this isn’t enough to give you your fix, you can also check out Adam Savage exploring:

O.G. Theater, Live This Saturday!

I was about to do a theater post anyway today, but I had to go ahead and share this.

A scene from The Persians, presented by the National Theatre of Greece.
(© Marilena Anastasiadou)

Per this article by David Gordon, the National Theatre of Greece will be doing a performance of The Persians from the historic –and we’re talking anciently historic– theater of Epidaurus this Saturday, July 25th.

The YouTube link is here. Get your O.G. (Original Greek) theater on!

Live Theater & Audio Theater

A lot of our company members of Jabberwocky Audio Theater usually make some of their living from performing in live theater… though at the present you can imagine that isn’t as easy.

Still, I know that live theater will return. Last month, I  shared a message from the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota about theater’s enduring qualities.

In the interim, theaters are finding ways to weather the closures and one way, as detailed on NPR, is to do plays as radio dramas.

The article references Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast from 1938, which Jabberwocky commemorated in 2018 with our own live performance of “War of the Worlds,” set in modern day and locally here in the Washington, DC area.

I hope this trend helps keep the lights on for many theaters — and while I grew up with both types of theater, I’m quite excited by the prospects that this introduces new listeners to the “Theater of the Mind.”

Video

Theater in the Time of Coronavirus

All sorts of physical businesses are suffering during this global pandemic and I know many people, dependent on in-person gigs for their livelihood who now have no income stream (to say nothing of creative freelancers, as one Nation article notes).

So this video posted last week by Joseph Haj, artistic director of the Guthrie Theater resonated:

I was lucky enough to grow up going to the theater and live performances frequently, something I’ve tried to pass on to my kids. I hope that time will come again soon.

Rule of Law: Theatrical Edition

I haven’t been in a stage production for an age, but I was both on stage and backstage enough times to lose count — and I was a theatergoer long before that.

Larry Blyden

So I greatly appreciated Mark Evanier sharing actor, director, and all-around theatrical Larry Blyden‘s theatrical laws. Laws, do you hear?

Okay, to be honest, I haven’t always followed Law #5 or Law #10, but I definitely do my best with Law #17. Law #2 applies to films as well as plays and Law #6 applies just about everywhere.

So if you feel the need for greater regulation, check ’em out.

Rejecting the Poverty Mentality

While I don’t currently work in the non-profit realm, I spent many years working at theaters that were, almost invariably, non-profits.

The anthropology of theaters is worth another post (or really, a book), but suffice it to say that pretty much all the theaters I’ve ever worked at started based on the zeal and passion of a handful of people. They were artistic start-ups, if you will. Time and again, I saw theaters that hit a plateau in terms of growth that seemed to invariably include what I came to call “the poverty mentality.” It was a thriftiness driven to pathological extremes of cheapness.

Vu Le, of Nonprofit AF, has some thoughts about that insane cheapness, which he calls the PISS mentality (Pride in Scarcity and Sacrifice). I love that and will now start using that except in mixed company where people will get pissy about pointing out their PISSiness.

Choose Your Own Theater Adventure

I’ve enjoyed more interactive theater for a long time, whether it’s traditional audience response (applause/boos/hisses) or more modern breaking of the fourth wall or simply the immediacy of staging a show “in the round.”

I’ve often thought about staging a play for our local Fringe festival whose outcome is decided by the audience… perhaps after they’ve weighed in on several decision points.

I thought about those ideas again when I read a piece by Alysia Judge from the Guardian about Felix Barrett and his company Punchdrunk. Their form of theater is often site-specific, non-linear, and immersive. In fact, it sounds kind of like a limited LARP or other character-driven game (board or video) that isn’t completely open-ended.

Resisting the urge to have this be another new project (I have one that’s taking more than enough time, thank you) and remembering that not every interest needs to be another side hustle, I hope to attend a show one of these days. It feels like something that will only grow in popularity.

Many, Many Bewildered (and Sad) Breakfast Faces: RIP, Sam Shepard

There will be a general lack of toast in the neighborhood this morning. And by “toast” I mean theater-related joy. And by “the neighborhood,” I mean “American theater.” And by “this morning,” I mean… well, I don’t know how long, but it’ll be longer than a morning.

Actor, playwright, and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73.

I first learned about it in a piece in Broadway World, which is worth checking out. You can also read about his life and work in:

Many of us picked up this book yesterday and leafed through it.

I’m not the only one of my generation of theater folk who feel this loss on a personal level. There are many playwrights like Shakespeare or Pinter or Wilson of whom I’ve either read or performed or seen productions of nearly all their works. But Sam Shepard is somewhat different.

Shepard has a distinct, American voice that resonated with so many of us. It was years since I had read or seen all of Kaufman and Hart. It would be years before I would connect with the work of Eugene O’Neill (that’s another tale). Sam Shepard was alive now and pushing his creations out into the world, where we too were training and working to make our marks.

Decades before Neil Gaiman was to tantalize us with his tales of American Gods, Sam Shepard was constructing a uniquely American mythology with plays that were simultaneously gritty and real, yet surreal and absurd. His characters often lived on the edge of society and frequently violated societal norms. There were no gods so much as forces of nature and Fate that his fabulously flawed characters would contend against when they weren’t fighting with one another.

I had many classmates who never looked at me quite the same way after they had seen me play “Mike” in a college production of “A Lie of the Mind.” It’s a disturbing yet incredibly human fairy tale set in a immediately recognizable yet unknowable America. At first, Mike seems like a more sensible character than his parents or brain-damaged sister. By the time he carries half a deer carcass on stage, you realize just how quietly crazy and savage Mike might truly be (and his exit from the play, presumably to start a whole new dysfunctional family cycle, is uncomfortably real). Sam Shepard wrote characters that rich into which actors can dive and explore, with motivations so plausible, audience members can wonder where the character ends and the actor begins (hence my classmates’ apprehension).

And those plays are still with us, thank goodness. If you haven’t checked any of them out (or any recently), do as Craig Mazin advocates: locate a copy of True West and read it out loud. His many parts in films are likewise, thankfully preserved for the ages — and his appearance always bodes well for whatever film in which he appears. Outside of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, is there a better film icon for American manhood than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager?

(Come on! I can’t be the only guy who watched The Right Stuff repeatedly growing up).

Yeah Harold Pinter had acting turns too, but he subverted the sound barrier with pauses, not breaks. You see, I’ve studied Shakespeare, I’ve enjoyed Pinter, but with Shepard, you had someone to aspire to, with a voice from your tribe. On the one hand it’s silly and illogical and not something to motivate you… but in the best tradition of so many of his characters, by God it did.

He was inspirational as a playwright. He was moving as an actor. As both, he connected story to audience in a way you long to do as an artist.

Is that a man? Damn right it is.