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Production Dramaturgy and the C-Word

By Nick Fracaro at 3:27 pm on Saturday, December 4, 2010

We’ve been having many post-performance discussions of What She Knew with peers and friends concerning the dramaturgy of the script and the production.  Also I’ve been participating in a related very interesting discussion on production dramaturgy at the listserv at LMDA

The script is theory not praxis, relative to the particular elements and context of its production, most especially the ensemble.  One ensemble will realize the dynamics and nuanced relationships within a script vastly different than another.  Neither would necessarily be better or worse — just different.  And then, of course, the particular audience will provide the final and most important “translation” of all the elements.

Here’s an anecdote or hypothetical or metaphor to consider:

The C-Word

The playwright has theorized that an actress will be able to say the word “cunt” without eliciting the negative reactions the utterance of such a laden word evokes in both the actress saying it and the audience hearing it.  By cunt, the playwright means both the female reproductive organ and the female sexual organ.  S/he means the cunt of an erotically transgressive woman who also relishes her fertility and motherhood  — so not merely the vagina, but also the vulva.  (BTW, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues is a misnomer.  Technically, it should probably be titled The Vulva Monologues as that’s the subject of most of the skits.)

The dramaturg has researched the English lexicon and found that there is no suitable synonym for the word.   (The 17th century “cunny” is softer, but cannot be said without eliciting giggles.)


So the C-Word must be uttered – numerous times in varying contexts.   Forget any playwright’s theory on how this word could be said and received.  Feminists have had divergent views on the C-Word for decades now, ranging from banning it to embracing/owning it.   The C-Word in England has different connotations than in the US.  Etcetera, etcetera.  It all comes down to the particulars and specifics of the production, foremost with the actress.  Will she be able to navigate “cunt” in such a way as to avoid the visceral reactions?  Probably not, but in this instance the production dramaturgy is solely in the hands of the actor.

Good scripts will often confront a social or cultural stigma in a potentially controversial manner.  The C-Word or N-Word or F-Word are apt metaphors for the dilemma of staging a polemic.  I think “translation” and/or mitigation is the role of production dramaturgy in such cases.  We help the ensemble gauge the degree of disruption they are willing to stage.

Here’s our model “production dramaturg” mitigating the C-Word for his players and audience.

Hamlet:    Lady, shall I lie in your lap? ‘

Ophelia:  No, my lord .

Hamlet:    I mean my head upon your lap?

Ophelia:  Aye, my lord .

Hamlet:    Do you think I meant country matters?

Ophelia:  I think nothing, my lord .

Hamlet:   That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.

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Homer’s Butoh-fu Prologue

By Nick Fracaro at 2:01 pm on Friday, December 3, 2010

I am the story itself

Exhausted flesh

Hung on this walking wandering bone

I recite now not

To you in the presence of my voice

The fourth wall is there

Just behind you the generations just beyond you yet to be

The true audience watches us gather

For the story of this flesh

Blind to its fate

Blind to its origin

Yet the grape seeks to know its vine

As the vine seeks to know its wine

Flesh most divine

Blind drunk in its own mystery

Its story will not die cannot die

Ripened fruit falls to ferment

On the ground beneath above

Branch same as root

Drink from this sacred place of gathering

Would you walk up close to peer

Deep into the blue sky of my eye

Would you hear this story whisper on as I die

Thank you Rainer, Fulya, and Cynthia for the expansive and enlightening discussion after the performance last night about the play, the production, and general dramaturgy of theatre.

Friends and peers, please come see George Hunka’s What She Knew and hang with us afterward if you can for discussion.  Only six performances left!

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Magnificent Opening Night

By Nick Fracaro at 5:28 pm on Thursday, December 2, 2010

To use the adjective of our playwright/director, our most talented actress was luminous last night.

We also received today some kind words and lurid expectations of What She Knew from the impresario extraordinaire himself, Trav S. D., in the current issue of  The Villager.

I am luridly expectant at the prospect of seeing “What She Knew” — playwright and critic George Hunka’s retelling of “Oedipus Rex” from Jocasta’s point of view. In this production, the “First of the Red Hot Mamas” will be played by Gabriele Schafer. Schafer is best known as one half of the company Thieves Theatre, which she ran for many years with her husband Nick Fracaro, and was most notorious for a theatre piece they did in the early 90s in which they lived in a teepee at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge for several months. More recently, I saw Schafer play both Hamlet’s father and mother in a Butoh-influenced version of the Shakespeare play (“Q1: The Bad Hamlet” — produced by New World Theatre). The hair-raising performances I saw makes me to think there couldn’t be a better person to do an “erotically transgressive” one-woman show about Oedipus’s mother. The production is under the rubric of Hunka’s company, Theatre Minima, and will be playing at Manhattan Theatre Source, December 1-11. For more info:

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Reseating Perspective

By Nick Fracaro at 5:32 pm on Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s been my privilege to work with playwright/director George Hunka, performer Gabriele Schafer, and the other designers on theatre minima’s debut production of What She Knew. George, Gabriele and I had an especially rewarding collaboration.  We began working on it together in a reading back in February.  I am quite proud of my contribution to the nuanced, commanding performance and production of a vital theatre text.

The mise en scene suggested in the script is minimal: White cyclorama, without entrance or exit. So white curtains curve along the walls of the small stage at manhattan theatre source.

The lone set piece created by artist Russell Busch is very distinctive, so particular in design that Gabriele felt she needed it for her home rehearsals. So for the past week, I have been carting it back and forth to the theater. Yesterday, after parking the car, “the chair” and I waited on the sidewalk for someone to open the door to the theater.   Almost every passerby had a smile or comment.

“Ha! Weird!” “How do you sit on that thing?” “Ha! Funny.”  “What do you use that for?”  “Ha! Cool.”   “Is it for sale?”

It’s as if the object’s original function as chair(s) has been decommissioned, subverted by the fusion of the two into one. The imagination of the viewer is challenged to invent some new utility for the object.  Weird, funny, and cool – this breakdown and reassembly of function – this “reseating” of perspective and meaning.

George Hunka’s What She Knew is a retelling of the Oedipus story imagined from the perspective of the mother/lover Jocasta. Like many of the classic Greek tales, the story of Oedipus Rex is a tragedy that befalls members of a royal family.

Nothing in a home speaks to the notion of family quite like the dining room table and its set of chairs.  Chairs function both individually and collectively as a set.  Arranged symmetrically around the table, the chairs are reflective of the hierarchy within the family structure.   The head of the table is often designated with a chair that is different than rest.  More expansive or ornate, the head chair is usually constructed with armrests, asserting its prominence among the others.  Throne-like, because the family’s hierarchy mirrors the kingdom or whatever larger social construct encompasses it.

In their deviant coupling, these two errant chairs would disrupt the whole of the dining room set, the whole of the family, the whole of the kingdom, the whole of the natural world.

What She Knew opens tomorrow, Wednesday and runs through December 11, Wed-Sat at 8pm.  There are just eight performances with limited seating, so please book early.   It is a remarkable piece.  Simple and powerful in its writing, design, and performance.   Pure theatre.  The perfect debut for a company and aesthetic named theatre minima.  For more information and tickets visit theatre minima’s website.  For further thoughts by the author/director George Hunka visit Superfluities Redux.

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Will I See You at the Rally Tomorrow?

By Nick Fracaro at 2:37 pm on Friday, October 29, 2010


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Driving Home Your Aesthetic

By Nick Fracaro at 2:47 pm on Friday, March 12, 2010

David Cote in the Guardian theatre blog is primarily distressing over the recent firing of David Rooney, the chief theatre critic at Variety. He laments the fact that Rooney’s job will now be filled by freelance reviewers, but by the end of the post he has widened his lens to describe the the role of the reviewer in general.

We critics, reviewers, consumer reporters are the dung beetles of culture. We consume excrement, enriching the soil and protecting livestock from bacterial infection in the process. We are intrinsic to the theatre ecology. Eliminate us at your peril.

Theatre critics might want to graze slightly removed from David’s dunghill duties at Time Out New York and seek out the many theatre artists who are creating work outside the confines of a product aspiring toward a five star listing in a tourist or consumer magazine.


David’s observation in his blog post is spot-on as far as the digital information highway glutting the roads with citizen drivers now shouting opinions out of the window of their blogosphere and Facebook vehicles.

pullulating buzz of artists promoting shows, audiences offering their opinion, badly written amateur reviews, friends promoting friends.

He also then correctly predicts a hopeful trend towards finding,

maybe – just maybe – a few informed theatregoing bloggers whom we trust.

But he misidentifies some of these bloggers by labeling them simply as citizen playgoers, while what is emerging is a whole new breed of “dramaturg” who filters and disseminates culture. The historical dyad of Artist and Critic has eroded, hastened along by the digital revolution. The new monad of artist/critic has both a producing and a writing practice. This hybrid practitioner is a stakeholder in an aesthetic; s/he has a theory-in-practice to defend or explain or propagandize. So to coin a new phrase and acronym: theory-in-practice, TIP. The criticism of others’ TIPs will necessarily have both the bias and the integrity of one’s personal TIP at its foundation as it defines and delineates borders among varieties of theory-in-practice.

This kind of criticism creates a venue for an exchange of ideas outside the market, a discourse about the artform itself. An iceberg breaking off from that frozen mass of the larger media culture, creating its distinct identity. The many TIPs then, of that iceberg.

David cynically predicts such a discourse could not maintain itself.

“But guess what? Those citizen critics will be bought out by media companies, or they’ll eventually quit, because they’re not being paid to filter the culture.”

David conflates critic with reviewer with consumer reporter. But the classic critic has more affinity with the artist than with the consumer reporter/reviewer. And the hybrid TIP artist/critic takes h/er mandate one step further. While neither artist nor critic is divorced from that crude modern-day construct called the “theatre consumer,” most are not aspiring to create a product with the kind of broad appeal desirable by big media. Their aim is to create a practice tied to theory or life philosophy, living manifestos that create critical dialogue, for which the blogosphere is an ideal medium.

This new auto-mobile beginning to populate the glutted information highway no doubt will have characteristics destined to be branded “elite.” But the goal would be to make this vehicle less conspicuous and more efficient than a limousine, something to blend in at the fringes and side roads with all the other traffic.

Perhaps it should have a retractable bumper sticker to be used only when traveling in the vicinity of the dung beetles, a warning label of sorts, so that they don’t mistake us for their meal, a consumer product they need to take Time Out to review.


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By Nick Fracaro at 4:41 pm on Friday, February 26, 2010

One’s-Self I Sing

One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.

Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say
the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.


Behavior lawless as snow-flakes, words simple as grass, uncomb’d
head, laughter, and naivete,
Slow-stepping feet, common features, common modes and emanations

Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

Thinking about my Brooklyn neighborhood and community this morning with the most celebrated poetry collection Leaves of Grass, originally typeset and self-published in the neighborhood in 1855 by our most celebrated poet. Whenever we get buried in snow it’s as if the whole of life along with the landscape becomes somehow a timeless snapshot.

Whitman’s meditation also informs me on the recent debate on the artist’s role in community. The stark division between “I” and “We” that Scott and others would make is a false one.

This summer the street in front of our house was unofficial headquarters for the block party. The neighborhood has allowed the wacky artists to assimilate, or perhaps more true, the artists have sought out the neighborhood as the fundamental element of their art.

Every morning kids with parents in tow plan their walk to school so that they can pass the casual art installation in our front yard. Their brief discussions can be more insightful than any “critical” appraisal could ever be.

Spencer, the Horse on Straw Bale with Leaves

Spencer, the Horse on Straw Bale with Leaves

Spencer, the Horse with Discarded Umbrellas

Spencer, the Horse with Discarded Umbrellas

Spencer, the Horse

Spencer, the Horse with Yellow Page Packages

Spencer, the Horse has weathered the seasons well. Recently he was almost free of the snow pile that has had him buried for weeks. He is standing on a pile of unused plastic packaged Yellow Page directories that recently littered the neighborhoods with their useless waste. Spencer is mascot for the campaign for yellow tags on ironwork fences to stop the indiscriminate and unwanted distribution of advertising circulars.


Spencer, the Horse in Hibernation

Spencer, the Horse in Hibernation

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Stiletto Heels: “What She Knew”

By Nick Fracaro at 11:06 am on Wednesday, February 10, 2010


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Blue Windows Above Butoh Aquarium

By Nick Fracaro at 11:38 pm on Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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Butoh Fire

By Nick Fracaro at 11:33 pm on Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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Self-Portrait with Dead Roses

By Nick Fracaro at 11:59 pm on Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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Big Man Melancholy

By Nick Fracaro at 11:55 pm on Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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How to Play the Diversity Card

By Nick Fracaro at 4:19 pm on Monday, December 21, 2009

The theatrosphere’s talk on diversity has gone from bad to worse. The three shills in the house, linking to each other’s blog posts to keep the thread undead, have been Isaac, 99 seats, and Scott. This comment by KL at Isaac’s correctly summarizes why everyone is jumping off this ship to nowhere.

It’s not much of a conversation.

It’s mostly one side arguing a principle (we need more diversity!) without really offering any facts. Instead, unsupported suppositions, misleading correlations and inappropriate parallels are offered in support of a hypothetical ideas of what’s wrong. Underneath it all is a concept that “good” has an objective set of criteria… a concept that is also unexamined with any depth and that there are plenty of plays that meet these criteria but are overlooked because the authors are from the wrong class. These thoughts are then followed by some strange and rather ridiculous ideas about how to fix it (a lottery, for instance).

Meanwhile, others make points based on anecdotes, which – while always suspect for drawing larger conclusions – are at least based on direct experience. However, when this group points out what they’ve actually seen and heard with their own eyes and ears they are labeled as being privileged and blind. So when they counter they appear to become increasing shrill…

The whole thing is real turn-off.

KL’s comment addresses where the conversation has evolved but it should probably be noted that the thread began with everyone commenting on a study that no one has yet read. As a result, no one mentions the idiosyncratic and convoluted manner in which the pool of playwrights at the basis of this study was created.

We surveyed a group of randomly selected TCG members as well as a select group of theatres that regularly produce new plays. A total of 94 theatre surveys were used and of those about 75% were from the first group and 25% from the second. Additionally, we identified playwrights from a variety of “universes” including university alumni, members of writers’ collectives and labs, fellowship and grant recipients, new work festival and competition submissions, commissions, playwrights whose scripts have been produced, and prize and award recipients. In total, 340 playwright surveys were sent and 250 usable surveys were returned.

Obviously there will be some “universes” of playwrights that are not represented in the supposed quantitative research that went into this study.

Why I am mostly absent from these “diversity discussions” is that they are limited to beating the same nail with the same hammer over and over again. Scott ostensibly broadens the discussion by introducing the notion of class diversity but that becomes easily reducible both by him and others into the White Male privilege. The discussion can now end, or we can beat that same old gender/race nail a few more times with the culture’s big hammer of political correctness. Law professor Anthony T. Kronman frames the problem concisely in this essay adapted from his book Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life.

Whatever fails to accord with the values of political liberalism fits uncomfortably within the range of possibilities that the prevailing conception of diversity permits students to acknowledge as serious contenders in the search for an answer to the first-personal question of what living is for. The political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, with their easy acceptance of the natural inequality of humans, offend these values at every turn. So, too, does the theological tradition that runs from Augustine to Calvin, with its insistence on church authority and its doctrines of sin and grace. And much of poetry is motivated by an anti-democratic love of beauty and power.

All of these ideas and experiences are suspect from the standpoint of liberal values. None represents the “right” kind of diversity. None is suitable as a basis for political life, and hence — here is the crucial step — none is suitable (respectable, acceptable, honorable) as a basis for personal life either. None, in the end, can perform any useful function other than as an illustration of the confused and intolerant views of those who had the misfortune to be born before the dawning of the light.

Today’s idea of diversity is so limited that one might with justification call it a sham diversity, whose real goal is the promotion of a moral and spiritual uniformity instead. It has no room for the soldier who values honor above equality, the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, or the thinker who regards with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life. The identification of diversity with race and gender has thus brought us back full circle to the moral uniformity with which American higher education began, nearly four centuries ago.

UPDATE: I received the following email from TDF this evening: “Thank you for your interest in “Outrageous Fortune, the Life and Times of the New American Play. The book is now available for purchase on TDF’s website.”

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The Female Eunuch 1970-

By Nick Fracaro at 11:48 pm on Wednesday, December 16, 2009
John Holmes' original illustration

Giclee on Canvas 22" X 18"

Flamingo | March 1999



Giclee on Canvas Box Canvas 25"x22"

Giclee on Canvas Box Canvas 25"x22"

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Butoh Aquarium Schloss Broellin ’07

By Nick Fracaro at 11:10 pm on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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I’ve Been Looking for a New Day Job

By Nick Fracaro at 10:34 pm on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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Five Questions to/from Nick

By Nick Fracaro at 11:18 am on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A playwright in angst over his legitimacy writes:

1) And why must one only get money from the theatre to count as a playwright? 2) Is it somehow sinful to write for television or film and earn paychecks as well? 3) If being a playwright is what led to being hired on a show, then why doesn’t that count as earning a living from being a playwright?

A parable of sorts.

I fell in love and married one of the actresses cast in my first play. During the course of our short marriage, she subsequently became a movie star earning millions of dollars. I once tried to save our relationship by writing a play for her. It was a great play but she had no interest in the art form anymore; she was in film now. She fell in love with one of her movie directors and left me. When we were divorced, my settlement was enough so that I really didn’t need to work anymore. 4) Does my divorce settlement count as earning a living from being a playwright?

5) Was it theatre or the actress that broke my heart? No matter. I left theatre;
I became a poet. No chance to parlay my words into a paycheck from there.

My success lives and dies nowhere now but within the words, the poem I wright. Finally, I have become a playwright, again.

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Cuantas Vidas para un Abrigo?

By Nick Fracaro at 8:15 pm on Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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Slava’s Snow

By Nick Fracaro at 6:57 pm on Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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Doubt if I’d be up for this

By Nick Fracaro at 6:22 pm on Wednesday, December 2, 2009

kissing urinal

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