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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!

Filed under: Audience,Personal1 Comment »

Community

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.

brklynsnow1


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.

no-menu

Spencer, the Horse in Hibernation

Spencer, the Horse in Hibernation

Filed under: Audience,Personal,Theatre and Culture2 Comments »

Can I Get a Witness

By Nick Fracaro at 3:40 pm on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Matt Freeman keeps needing to rephrase his question in his comment section. Allow me:

As long as the arrow hits its target, does the archer even matter?

In Butoh the performer follows an internal narrative unconcerned with the external expression of such. In the rigorous pursuit of that narrative often an undeniable transformation of reality occurs. Arbitrary, yet endowed with purpose, this “creative accident” is a somewhat miraculous event.

Although the alchemist is attempting a psychic/spiritual transformation, it is not enough to believe that the transformation has occurred. To authenticate the experience, the lead needs to actually transform to gold on the physical plane. The internal change needs an external proof to be valid. So we invite the witness.

The witness is different than the audience. The audience will see this, that, or whatever, depending upon the rigor, experience, and specific talents of their attention. So the witnesses may observe the transubstantiation that the audience misses.

This is an old-school approach to craft where artistic and warrior disciplines were employed in the unfolding of higher qualities in the human being. For instance, the Zen of flower arrangement, or of archery, would have physical achievement synchronized with interior progression.

The scene from the 1939 film The Adventures of Robin Hood has the hero split his competitor’s arrow sitting in the center of the target. Strictly speaking, Robin, Earl of Locksley only really ties Owen the Welshman in this contest, as both archers have achieved the bull’s-eye. And yet the audience effectively awards Robin the prize of the golden arrow.

Sometimes the witness and the audience are the same.

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Promote-O-Meter

By Nick Fracaro at 11:47 am on Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the comment section at Playgoer’s last year, when the Critic-O-Meter blog was first launched, I argued against the denigration of theatre criticism into a report card grading system. Most artists I know struggle against the standardized behavior and herding aspect implicit in the notion of “theatre consumer,” so this wannabe Rotten Tomatoes of the theatre world fell off my radar until recently when Isaac Butler’s heavy promotion of his current show caught my attention.

The goofily named Critic-O-Meter wants to be a joke in name only. As I understand it, the creators Rob and Isaac envision their site one day growing into a commercially supported enterprise for theatre consumers. So why would Isaac place his own production of MilkMilkLemonade at the very top of the “A List” of Off-Broadway shows for most of its run? Any credibility the site might have garnered over its first year of grading shows is now suspect by what can only be seen as a blatant act of self-promotion, if not deceptive advertising.

I’m sure Rob or Isaac could explain how their invented report card rating system of theatre reviews has bestowed the highest grade on one of their own shows, but I am still curious how they would explain promoting their Equity Showcase to theatre consumers as an Off-Broadway production.

UPDATE:Rob has changed the category listing with MilkMilkLemonade at Critic-O- Meter from OFF-BROADWAY to OFF- & OFF-OFF-BROADWAY. That’s a fine fix I think.   I also think that my reputation as the Ralph Nader of theatre consumer advocacy is now firmly established.

Filed under: Audience,Theatre and Culture10 Comments »

The Rant, the Whine, and the Pitch

By Nick Fracaro at 9:40 am on Monday, April 7, 2008

What the rant and the whine have in common is their self-righteous attitude. Exhibit A: Rat Sass. This attitude allows the speaker to pose as victim to something supposedly out of his/her control. Sometimes this mind-set is attained through self-deceit, other times through deliberate hypocrisy or bravura, but usually elements of all are necessary to achieve such a judgmental stance. Of course in order for the rant or whine to find popular acclaim, the content of the message also has to be based in truth. Not so difficult a task. We are all both victims and perpetrators in this system of our own creation.

The Rant

Our friend Scott Walters has been one of the premiere haranguers against commercialism in theatre. In justifying his need to rant, Scott once compared himself to the Howard Beale character in the movie Network. And no doubt the occasional tirade serves to delineate the Us/Them dichotomy necessary to establish his tribe model.

But Scott has fallen off his game of late. Much like the Howard Beale character at the Network who abandons his populist message, Scott also seems to have dropped his Angry Prophet persona. Instead of fire and brimstone denunciations of the hypocritically exorbitant artistic director salaries at regional theatres, Scott ends up grumbling disjointedly, comparing general managers of a grocery chain to directors of regional theatre.

Scott needs to retrieve his old rant against Nylachi theatre before it becomes a whine.

The Whine

The Starving Artist is practically a Jungian archetype ingrained in the collective unconscious of many artists working today. So Jaime Green’s turn as the poor theatre worker, along with her whine at producers to lower ticket prices, is lauded by much of the theatrosphere. This Us/Them dichotomy allows an easy self-deceit where all the wrongs occurring in theatre culture are perpetrated by someone other than Us; i.e., those in control of “the system.”

Jaime has set the affordable ticket price at $20. But as Matt Freeman points out in the comments, productions by Independent Theatre under the Showcase Code cannot charge more than $20, so what Jaime is really whining about is not being able to afford a certain kind of commercial or popular theatre. Instead, Jaimie could support the theatre that does charge the ticket price she considers fair. There is no lack of such theatre. Last year there were over 1,000 Showcase Code productions. Jaimie could also become active in all the discussions and meetings around town concerning the Showcase Code reform where most of the producers organizing those discussions are pushing for an increased ticket price.

Of course the most active and productive action Jaime could take to remedy high ticket prices is what so many of her peers are already doing on the backs of their day jobs. If you really want theatre with affordable tickets, produce it! However, the nonprofit theatre producer that Jaime works for is the Off-Broadway Manhattan Class Company and when visiting their web site and seeing the $59 ticket price for their current production, I was going to suggest that Jaime stuff her blog post into the suggestion box at her workplace. But then I noticed that MCC is offering a $20 discounted price, “available to ticket buyers under 30, two hours prior to curtain.” This new information prompted me to reread Jaime’s post and its opening paragraph again.

Earlier this week I took a lunch break from work (lunch breaks not being a common thing, for some reason, in nonprofit theatre offices) and walked a few blocks west to another theatre’s box office. At the box office I handed over $40 (well, that’s what the debit card I handed over was charged) for two tickets to an off-Broadway show, which usually cost at least $60 each.

The Pitch

Could Jaime’s blog post be less a whine and more an advertisement for the ticket price policy of the Off-Broadway quasi-commercial theatre for which she is working and supporting?

The MCC box office and whatever box office that is a “few blocks west” are each acting as much like two competing neighborhood filling stations in a gas price war as theatres. Jaime claims that “the reliance on ticket sales for income cripples artistic risk-taking, but that’s another thing entirely.” I think not. Theatres like MCC earning half of its 2 million dollar yearly revenue from its million dollar box office are likely also only earning half claim to their status and mission as “nonprofit” and “charitable” corporation. Star casting, mediocre but popular scripts, and many other common denominator choices necessary to develop a sellable product are all hand in glove reasons why theatre is losing its citizenship in the community it was meant to serve. Theatre should be a process of transforming community into audience and then back into community again. What theatre is becoming instead, in many instances what it has already become, is competitor for fandom and the enterntainment dollar.

I hope the recent scrutiny in the theatrosphere of nonprofit theatres continues. Unlike private corporations, the revenue and expenditures of these are part of public record. That’s because it is not the executive and artistic director with six figure salaries who owns these theatres. And it’s not the marketing director, or even the board of directors, who own these theatres. The public itself owns these theatres.

There should be nothing unseemly in examining the salaries of our public servants. As citizens we need to make value judgments on our nonprofit theatre workers similarly to how we make judgments on our police, sanitation, and public park workers.

No doubt that as assistant literary manager of MCC, Jaime can claim partial title to the Starving Artist archetype from which she whines. But the theatre position of literary manager she hopes to inherit one day through her youthful internship has a salary of $54,000. Nothing dishonest in such a salary; it’s almost equal to $57,000 salary of the city sanitation worker, and $7,000 more than the actor lucky enough to find 52 weeks work in a year under the top tier Off-Broadway contract.

Scott is pitching his tribe model, Jaime is pitching her Off-Broadway model. And I’m somewhere in the middle of the two, ranting and whining about the disrespect “the system” affords my independent theatre. But Us and Them are all sitting at the same big American Dream table at dinner. And the split is not between us, but down the middle of each of us. We’re all hoping for our piece of the pie for desert.

slavecity

SlaveCity, 2005 – ungoing

SlaveCity can be described as a sinister distopian project which is very rational, efficient and profitable (7 billion euro net profit per year). Values, ethics, esthetics, moral, food, energy, economics, organization, management and market are turned upside-down, mixed and reformulated and designed into a town of 200.000 inhabitants. The ‘inhabitants’ work for seven hours each day in office jobs and seven hours in the fields of inside the workshop, before being allowed three hours of relaxation before they sleep for seven hours. SlaveCity is the first ‘zero energy’ town; it is a green town where everything is recycled and a city that does not squander theworld’s resources.

Filed under: Audience,Theatre and Culture Leave A Comment »

The Heart of Failure and Promise

By Nick Fracaro at 10:01 am on Wednesday, March 19, 2008

OUR FAILURE

Theatre has become as stale as our language, our lives. We use the word “seasons” in theater in the same fashion we use the word holiday as replacement for Holy Day.

Christmas is now the Xmas season. We acquiesce unknowingly. X-ing out the abstinent Christ with the Santa bag of toys. That merry, merry tidings-of-comfort-and-joy time that produces more suicides than any other.

Once was the earlier pagan ritual celebrating the winter solstice. Theatre was born within such a place and time. Newborn hope and promise of the renewing cycle sheltered within a manger, surrounded only by witnessing nature and a few select wise men. Theatre would be such a pilgrimage of wise men following their star into the night of a distant land.

Bah-humbug! It’s time to pay the rent. So theatre “seasons” are built around the adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. No surprise that this cash cow has insidiously become a kind of sacred cow to the bottom line of most regional theatres. And all the Brave New Works that the pandering Christmas Carol was meant to support are instead proving themselves true bastard offspring. Playwrights’ texts also acquiesce unknowingly. X-ing out all but the bag of toys, adapting to the market in a perpetual workshop of their text into a product ready to be launched.

Nowadays the King’s Men need only to cater to the groundlings for sustenance at Broadway and other venues. The regional theatres are incorporated as not-for-profit, yet their true king is related to the same bottom line and commodity exchange as that of commercial producers. So the theatres find themselves in a compromising position to their missions, all of which emphasize service to artistic health of the region and “the community.”

Regional theatre choses productions to keep and build the subscriber audience who buys the season ticket. Neither truly box office nor community, this audience is an odd breed of groundling who has taken on the airs of patron. Aging out of existence but still catered to as if he were king, Pantolone, his money pouch hanging limpless beside his genitals, waddles into his box seat at Geezer Theatre.

commedia carol Geezer: an old fart-some harmless, toothless, witless, pointless guy the world passed by a long, long time ago; and who knows it, and who has kind of stopped trying. Except that Old Fart is a solitary condition, while Geezer is a group identity. Where there is one, there will be many. Geezers gaggle in geezer groups, gabbing the geezer credo that the world is out of step, and that the geezer is its lost and proper center. For every geezer is at heart the Old Pretender-feckless and vengeful, nostalgic, deceitful and vain.

Now it is surely no surprise that a theatre which has sold itself almost exclusively to geezers should have become a Geezer Theatre. Each year, as TCG balefully notes, the Geezer Theatre’s subscription audience gets another year older. But the looming actuarial crisis is nothing next to the soul death of a theatre which, in pandering to the geezer, has itself become a geezer. Impotent, truculent, and profoundly self-satisfied, the Geezer Theatre doesn’t really mind that at this point it is talking largely to itself.

OUR PROMISE

We strive to make our audience synonymous with community. Yet for a community of limited means, roles become reversible within the partnership, and theatre in a real sense becomes the patron. Theatre is first and foremost a gift. The theatre citizen has chosen a life in theatre over a career in theatre.

Fellow peers engaged in the creation of theatre become the truest audience, like the spouse who witnesses in personal detail the struggles of our life. We are an ethical as much as an aesthetic enterprise. We rehearse our “to be or not to be” not in order to better act on stage, but to better live within our community.

We summon our audience one by one in the same way we invite our friends, family, and neighbors to a barbecue. We cook and prepare our theater in the same manner as we host and share our homemade meals.

We are the Potlatch gathering of an ageless tribe.

OUR HEART

Audience is this creative accident of one’s life and time on earth. As I age my significant others begin to die off. Yet my dead parents and others remain my primary audience, full subscribers, partners in the attempted articulations of this flesh.

As I climb onto the stage as priest/victim up the side of the pyramid, the rehearsed breath readies its speak. Wet word poised as deed on the lusty lip. I seek the tongue-tied Word as Flesh. I wish not to be understood, but known. I meet my four peers at the summit where we become one with the fifth. The fifth is always there, never there. As element, as god, as the theatre of our making.

Carved from its captivity, the still beating heart is raised high. The groundlings stand in awe. But they are not the audience. My parents’ parents have risen up within the blood of my raised heart. And the Seventh Generation has gathered just beyond the living to witness Deeds, the Doer, and Words, the Speaker.

I am here for you, my love, as always.

***********************************************

This post is part of a Theatre Think Tank initiative. Please read the related posts by other participants in today’s effort. I’ll list below the other blogs posts on “the value of theatre” as I read them:

Theatreforté
An Angry White Guy in Chicago
Theatre Ideas
Theatre Is Territory
The Next Stage
Bite and Smile by Joe Janes
A Rhinestone World
That Sounds Cool
On Theatre and Politics – Matthew Freeman
Never Trust Your Pet With the Devil Vet
Theatre For The Future
Jamespeak
Mike Daisey
steve on broadway
Jay Raskolnikov — half hillbilly, Demi-Culture
The Mission Paradox Blog
Parabasis
GreyZelda Land
Que j’ai rêvé
Midnight Honesty at Noon
Carmi Neighborhood Watch 

Filed under: Audience,Theatre and Culture2 Comments »

The Preview Review & Reviewing the Reviewers: A Review

By Nick Fracaro at 8:19 am on Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Playwright Adam Szymkowicz was a blogger guest of Primary Stages’ preview of Hunting and Gathering and he seems to have written a preview review. Anyway it walks somewhat like a review and quacks somewhat like a review but I think we will all need to await the Back Stage National Theatre Editor’s ruling on the exact nature of this duck. Leonard Jacobs promised to bring the issue before the Supreme Court when George Hunka transgressed on 100 Saints in his preview review back in August. So we’ll have to see if Justice Jacobs pursues Adam with the same virulent energy with which he hunted down George. (I also saw the preview production with a blogger’s comp. I’ll write my own “non-review” of my experience if I can sneak it beneath the noses of my various self-censors.)

The intersection of criticism and blogging was looked at recently by Time Out New York and Time Out Chicago has followed suit. I also have been thinking and writing around this blogger v. critic issue recently for the upcoming New York Theater Review.

Many if not most blogs are closer to transcribed talk than crafted writing. But the bloggers who were non-writers before the blogosphere often will try to imitate “the reviewer” when talking about a performance. Meanwhile, the mainstream press reviewers newly entering the blogosphere often try to affect an informality, subjectivity, or bravado persona that is alien to their writing for print. The writer can be just as clumsy as the talker in these attempts at impersonation and transformation.

In business or box office terms, marketing people know that bad reviews can sometimes be countered by good word-of-mouth, a factor over which they never had much control. But the blogosphere appears to give substance to such spectral elements as word-of-mouth or “the buzz” of a show. PR people and others involved in producing theatre are beginning to experiment with the blog posts as addendum to print reviews. In offering certain bloggers free admittance to productions in expectation of a blog post, producers are attempting to exploit what they see as the new public relations frontier.

The blogosphere throws these two different styles of discourse into the same Ultimate Fighting PR amphitheater. Where the writer (reviewer) has a developed proficiency at broadcasting an opinion or argument, the talker (word-of-mouth representative) is proficient at commenting and finding holes in the argument. The blogger has developed a whole genre of writing out of this “letter to the editor” or contra-review mode of theatre talk. There are more reviews of reviews than actual reviews of productions in blogs. And one of the fortes of this theatre talk is the argumentum ad hominem where the primary critique is on the biases or other failings of the specific mainstream print reviewer.

Real and imagined tiers of authority exist not just between online and print publications, but also among the various MSM publications and their reviewers. So it’s an interesting development that some reviewers have also begun writing these contra-review blog posts about their peers. Reviewers reviewing reviewers is a rare event in print and likely a big to-do when it does occur. Since most mainstream reviewers are still not actively participating in the blogosphere, many are likely not even aware of these critiques. Others may be aware but don’t deign to answer… as yet. No need for the majors at the New Yorker or Times to concern themselves with contra-reviews from their minors, especially as they appear only in the low rent blogosphere.

At the core of these debates are basic questions concerning both the autonomy of writing (blogging) and the independence of so-called independent theatre. Critics and editors determine what artists are featured or reviewed. These critiques as always have a direct effect on box office and the representation of artist/producers of independent theatre. With reviewers and editors from MSM now entering the blogosphere, a new phase of self-censorship has begun. If the artist is submitting his art or theatre project to the MSM editor for consideration for feature or review, how vigorously and honestly can he also argue against a wrongheaded blog post by that same reviewer or editor? Meanwhile, the critic may be questioning himself along the same lines as Time Out Chicago theatre critic Chris Piatt is in his smart essay Theatre in the Blogosphere in the Chicago entertainment trade paper Performink.

These days, though, the thoughts on most arts journalists’ minds aren’t, “What did I think of the play, and what did my colleagues think,” but rather, “What does this blogger think about me?”….

The psychological grip these bloggers and their commenting minions hold on journalists can’t be underestimated. If you merely read what was printed about Chicago theatre this year, you only got the text. If you read the blogs, you also got the vital, constantly shifting subtext, postings that drilled their way into journalists’ psyches and leaked into their coverage….

In short, this year the main topic of conversation about theatre was the conversation itself, an argument about an argument that resulted in a ferment no one outside the scene could give a hoot about. (I acknowledge this not as a finger pointer but as an active participant, albeit at the mandate of my employers.)

Yet, despite its (at least for now) comparatively small readership, everyone in power fears the blogosphere for a different reason. Journalists can be scrutinized without sanction and—their source of real terror—their social station could eventually be taken by unpaid, untrained writers. Meanwhile, theatres and artists fear bloggers their P.R. machines can’t control. In this weak era for journalism, in which publicity and marketing departments are accustomed to driving news coverage, this is tantamount to Dodge City circa 1873.

At the core of blogging is self-censorship, but the comfort zone has as much to do with the writer as the reader. At the crux of the negotiation within ourselves is the private v. public dilemma of how we represent “who we are” in this new digital medium and how it impacts on the relationships to our theatre peers. The theatre blogosphere is a social network as much as a space for writing/reading. If we alienate a reader we can also be alienating a potential theatre peer, perhaps even the reviewer and partial author of our public representation.

When these contra-reviews occur among peers at the same tier level, high drama ensues. Regardless of whether one considers the exchanges high or low entertainment, the spectacle of these debates among artist/critics is undeniable. The silent audience of bloggers that surrounds these spectacles is deafening. But the No-Snark Marks are self-deceiving in pretending that it’s all too unsavory for the hallowed halls of their blog discussions. Issues such as bloggers writing “preview reviews” present important and complex dilemmas that need debate. Those who would retreat from such discussions do so in a self-censorship more storied than just refined manners.

Filed under: Audience,Theatre and Culture8 Comments »

Local Girl’s Tumultuous Rise and Fall from Fame

By Nick Fracaro at 9:02 pm on Sunday, December 30, 2007

local girl fame gif

Dear Local Girl,

We are all deeply saddened here in Brooklyn by your recent tragic fall from fame. Upon receipt of this momentous news the Rat Sass executive committee convened in special session over the holidays.  In a decisive and unanimous action the committee has awarded you the coveted Walk of Fame Star.

Rat Sass Walk of Fame Stars are real duplicates of the replicas made by the same artist who creates the Hollywood plaques given to the celebrities when they receive a star on the sidewalk.

The Rat Sass Walk of Fame Star follows the lead of Muhammad Ali’s star, which is displayed on a wall of the Kodak Theatre, not on the sidewalk, due to Ali not wanting his name walked on by “people who have no respect for me.”  

All members of the Rat Sass executive committee have pledged to wheatpaste a Local Girl star onto the theater’s wall every time one of them visits Hollywood and Vine.

Best regards,

nick
CEO
Rat Sass Executive Committee

PS
The Rat Sass executive committee is still accepting nominations for the 2007 Walk of Fame Star in the five obscure Theatrosphere “best of” subcatergories.

  • Best Hype of Outrage Against George Bush, NYTimes critic, or Satan (and other Christians) to Increase Links and Blog Stats
  • Best Self Plugging or Infomercial
  • Best Display of Sycophancy toward Print Media
  • Best Deletion of Unpopular or Embarrassing Post by Its Author
  • Best Kowtow to the Common Denominator Reader
Filed under: Audience2 Comments »

Giant Rat! I’d buy that for a dollar!

By Nick Fracaro at 8:26 am on Wednesday, April 25, 2007
giant rat
Photo by Joe Nickell author of Sideshow!

Bobby Reynolds’s spiel outside the Giant Rat tent set up at Coney Island was pure hype.

“Gigantic rat! Humongous rat! One hundred pound rat! Straight from the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia! More feared than a sniper’s bullet!”

After paying the dollar admission and entering the tent, instead of confronting the fearful beast described in Bobby’s shtick, the audience was presented with a very non-rat-like creature, peacefully munching on a bale of hay. So although by no stretch of the imagination could the mammal on display be considered a rat, it was indeed the world’s largest living rodent. The capybara is native of South America and when full-grown weigh up to 140 pounds and are over four feet long. This amphibious rodent with partly webbed feet resembles more than anything else a giant guinea pig.

Boston is not Coney Island and Mike Daisey is not Bobby Reynolds but the recent fracas much opined about in the blogosphere set me to thinking about certain similarities. (Garrett and David and Nikki and Don and YS and Jason and Isaac and James and Matt and Malachy and Laura all weigh in on the incident, many in reaction to Garrett’s post. But James U plays Hardball the best of all.)

Although not in the same league as the legendary carnie talker and showman Bobby Reynolds, Mike Daisey definitely has some savvy as a marketer and self-promoter.

First with the help of his agent American Repertory Theatre, he was able to sell tickets to 100 high school students and their chaperones on a bus tour from California. The chaperones were leery of the appropriateness of the material, so this was no mean feat in itself. But it was in documenting the walkout of this same group from the theatre, then spinning it into an incident of censorship and religious fanaticism that Mike displayed his real skills as hype-master.

With 80% of Americans choosing Christian as their “self-described religious identification”, most busloads of tourists in this country are Christians. How Mike Daisey was able to turn this particular bus of public high school students into a Nazi-like emblem of the Christian Right rivals anything Bobby Reynolds achieved with his Giant Rat grind show. As Gideon Lester, the artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre boasts about the PR blitz:

“It’s captured the attention of the world at this point. As of this morning, the YouTube video had been viewed 70,000 times.”

The Coney Island day-trippers and tourists entering the tent never got to see the advertised giant rat, but they did see an intriguingly unique rodent. So the show was more than worth the dollar price of admission. (No, you’re not getting your dollar back.)

mike daisey

YouTube viewings this morning have climbed to nearly 90,000. Soon Mike Daisey might be famous enough to actually have sex with Paris Hilton, not just imagine the act on stage with an audience.

I’d buy that for a dollar!

paris hilton eating
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WordPlays:365 Days/365 Ways to No Box Office

By Nick Fracaro at 3:39 pm on Friday, November 17, 2006

The NO BOX OFFICE is the most radical notion in the 365 Days/365 Plays project. In NYC and LA, Actors Equity allows token payments to actors in showcase and 99 seat production contracts. So actors can work in similar spirit to the dollar a day token royalty the playwright receives. I’m interested in how theaters are paying Equity actors working elsewhere in the country on this project. I expect circumvention. Likewise on the NO BOX OFFICE restriction.bacchus

The Foundry Theatre has hit the right note in their circumvention with this Thanksgiving potlatch invitation.

ADMISSION: A bottle of New York State wine, Seriously.

The potlatch model for theatre is better than any market model, Seriously. All of us in our heart of hearts know this, but unfortunately all of us are also swimming in a culture that does not honor it. This is the root of our ambivalence and struggle.

The dominant culture gives prestige to money and celebrity. This project debases money but embraces the double-edged sword of celebrity. The Emperor’s New Clothes and PR stunt comments are apropos as long as it’s understood that not just Suzan-Lori but everyone involved is attempting to exploit the playwright’s current celebrity.

By most serious yardsticks in theatre or any art form, celebrity does not equal quality. So the hope is that most productions will be more rigorous in their rehearsals than the writer was with her Play-a-Day words. Dramaturgically, this inequity is interesting, pointing toward a dynamic at the heart of many of the current aesthetic, ethical, and legal arguments about “authorship” in theatre. The genius of theatre arises from the interplay of many different elements within the collaboration. Artaud’s No More Masterpieces does not disgrace text but attempts to reposition it as another living entity within the performance. Words belong to the lusty lip.

We ask theatre to examine the difference between an audience and fandom. In this examination the Potlatch is at odds with Celebrity. The gift that will be celebrated so famously in the accolades of the press or in the careers of the Foundry Theatre and Suzan-Lori Parks is the lesser god. The real host of the Potlatch, the performance stripped of all wealth and identity except its presence, disappears within the communal wine the witness brought as gift.

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Cap’n Beady Eyes in the Blogosphere

By Nick Fracaro at 1:11 am on Friday, November 10, 2006

criticThe patronizing advice that Lyn Gardner dispenses to young theatre companies in her Guardian post could be better applied as a directive to her own writing. She needs to “think harder and be more self-critical” about her writing as it moves from print into the blogosphere.

Apparently oblivious even of the venue in which she is writing, she totes out that old print publishing truism that “reviewing space comes at a premium” when cautioning young theatre companies from inviting her “beady eyes” and her possible ire.

“Shiver me timbers! Stand fast me hearties! The ire of the reviewer is upon us!”

The Guardian in promoting its recent move into the blogosphere says that it’s

shiny new Arts & Entertainment blog is a new space for debate on, um, everything in arts and entertainment…. it’ll feature a host of Guardian writers and critics, plus, we hope, a range of new voices.

Even the words, um, and phrasing, um, of this promotion suggests the level of debate the Guardian expects from this “range of new voices.” Of course there is no obligation for the esteemed writers and critics of the Guardian to engage the vulgar herd in this debate, so they won’t. Their duty is merely to initiate the arguments with their posts.

So far comments are rare; the debate non-existent. But the Guardian Theatre Blog has certainly increased “the talk” about theatre from writers and critics, if by talk we mean that one way broadcast typical of print publication. Its theatre blog webfeed will send the reader on average two of these articles every day. Actually the Guardian is classifying these blog entries as “posts” but displays them as articles complete with “Editors’ picks”, leaving it to the reader to classify the actual nature and quality of “the talk” contained within them.

Dave Cote announced yesterday that TimeOut New York has also launched a magazine-wide blog this week. Cote is reviewer and editor of the theatre section of the magazine and only a few months ago launched his own personal blog Histriomastix. His initial entries indicate that he will probably direct the TONY theatre blog in the manner of his personal blog. The chatty and newsy content connects well with a common denominator of other theater blogs already on the scene. Unlike the Guardian’s blog there are no comments allowed at the TONY theatre blog so there are also no pretenses about creating a forum for a “range of new voices.”critic finger

Reviewers with a history of writing for print have been schooled within a certain mode of production. The strict time demands and space constraints necessary for print publication have induced an overall condition of abridged thinking in the field. Concision is a desired trait and brevity is sometimes a critical choice but the “theatre review” model has evolved (devolved) effectively into this “thumbs up/thumbs down” consumer report. The theatre audience reduced to just one more target audience within the horde of harried shoppers out there.

The role of the reviewer has steadily been condensed to that of market arbiter of What-To-See and What-Not-To-See. Although the reviewer may afford some small talk about the art form, his main function is to provide clear directions to the reader through the good, the bad, and the ugly to that holy land. The best bang for the buck.

These slick superficial renderings often say more about the writer than about the subject being reviewed. In this way the review has become its own genre of writing, as much entertainment as criticism. If the writer finds a production he cannot recommend (most often the case) he still needs to talk about it, which is to say, entertain. The partisan crowd might even grow to enjoy the laudations less than the witty ridicule and humiliations of enemy camps. In history, the obit of the reviewer may read:

“Who didn’t know that he became a circus act, really? But the real question is this: Sometimes I wondered what it might have been like if he’d actually become a force for good; coercive as Ken Tynan or inspirational like Clurman or rigorous like Rich…… I guess I thought that it’s gotta be a grueling job, and there’s so much falsity and meretricious bullshit you have to see, that it would finally take a saint not to turn into a bit of a brittle vulgarian, as he did. The theatre needs geniuses to criticize it; it needs passionate advocates and firebrands, not to mention writers of gorgeous prose. He, instead, opted for parlor tricks and reruns.”

Now that the critics can review at any length anything they wish and publish it whenever they wish in blogs (their own personal ones or the more official “Guardian” blogs of cultural taste), it is due time they reassess both their subject and audience as well as the mode and manner in which they write, post, critique, review, small talk, gossip… and make some discerning choices.

One choice might be to attempt to elevate the discourse in the realm of ChatNews instead of further propagating it. But then again, what’s the fun in that? And besides, isn’t John Simon and ilk, even with their sometimes vicious appraisals of performers’ physical appearances, also part of “the talk”, also part of that rough beast slouching?

“Arrrgh !! I be Cap’n Beady Eyes Lyn Gardner! Be that a peg leg, or arrr ye just happy to cast yer eyes upon me?”

digital media
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In Perpetuity

By Nick Fracaro at 2:29 pm on Friday, October 13, 2006

The Great Law of Peace was the constitution that united the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. This confederacy and its laws is said to have inspired Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine in the writing of the United States Constitution. One of the precepts of the Great Law of Peace was referred to as the Seventh Generation. This principle instructs chiefs to consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation to come.

Theatre is an art form that can speak directly to the zeitgeist but its ephemeral nature excludes any easy thought on how it inspires artists of future generations. However, as writers, playwrights have always had at least one foot within the realm of dramatic literature.

The first definition of legacy is money or property that is left to somebody in a will. So it is easy to conflate the market value of a work of art with its intrinsic value. But when we consider a writer’s legacy we are deliberating over the influence of his ideas on future writers and other artists not the net worth of his estate.

In Chris Durang and Marsha Norman’s recent letter to students and former students asking them to boycott submitting plays to the O’Neill Playwrights Conference a couple words were meant to stick out more than others. Of the 500 or so words of the letter only two were emphasized with all capital case letters: IN PERPETUITY.

This is a common phrase used often within the context of property law, as it is in the letter.

The O’Neill Board is determined to demand a percentage of the playwright’s subsidiary income IN PERPETUITY from any play accepted for presentation at the O’Neill.

crossroads

But sticking out like that, the phrase IN PERPETUITY looks so big and scary, more befitting pact with the Devil than contract with the O’Neill. The O’Neill does represent a crossroads for the young playwright who is accepted. More so a crossroads in career than craft, what he hopes to find at the O’Neill is how to connect his work to what passes as “the market” in professional not-for-profit American theatre.

If there is a real crossroads in the creative process of a writer it is not in this confrontation with career or market. The devil is more real and personal than that.

Jean Genet found that “writing is sole recourse for those who have betrayed.” He also knew that betrayal was the greatest expression of love. Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork Long Day’s Journey into Night epitomizes the writer at the crossroads of love and betrayal. A glimpse at the enormity of the psychic cost of writing this play can be gleaned in its dedication to his wife Carlotta.

Dearest: “I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand. I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play–write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.

O’Neill’s tortured relationship to the work is underscored in his actions after completing it in 1942. He had a sealed copy of the play placed in the vault of publisher Random House. His instructions were that Long Day’s Journey into Night not be published until 25 years after his death, and never performed. A formal contract to that effect was drawn up in 1945.

The early publication and eventual performance of the play violating ONeill’s wishes is ostensibly Carlotta’s story. But the real story goes beyond the initial betrayers: Carlotta, Random House, and Yale. Ultimately all are implicated, performers and audience alike, past, present and future…in perpetuity. This implication further endows Long Day’s Journey into Night as the master tale of love and betrayal it is.

But You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby to today’s theatre market, fifty years to be exact, where not only is the betrayal of the playwright’s intent for his play forgotten but actually celebrated.

The mission of the Eugene O’Neill Foundation is to “celebrate and promote the vision and legacy of Eugene O’Neill.” So if you knew nothing about the playwright or his play you might surmise by this opening paragraph of the foundation’s newsletter that they might be organizing a protest against some group that was planning to desecrate their namesake’s vision or legacy.

Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” a play he wrote in Danville and dictated should not be published until 25 years after his death and never performed, will be presented in the Old Barn at the playwright’s Tao House estate in October, 50 years after it first opened on Broadway against his wishes.

But that’s not the case. As you learn in the next paragraph, this golden anniversary production is being presented as part of the seventh annual Eugene O’Neill Festival and produced by the Eugene O’Neill Foundation itself. The foundation obviously has no problem with the incongruity of these lines because later in the newsletter the inappropriate boast of the play’s legacy is further expanded.

In his will, O’Neill specified that “Journey” should not be published until 25 years after his death and never produced on stage. However, his wife countermanded O’Neill two years after his death and pressured Bennett Cerf of Random House, the dramatist’s publisher, to publish the work. She then transferred the rights to Yale University, thus paving the way for performances. The first was in Sweden in 1956.

So irony of ironies. The playwright’s institutionalized “family” commemorates his vision and legacy even as they betray the same.

arthur staceO’Neill has been a strange mentor. He has haunted me since I stepped on stage in Long Day’s Journey in my early twenties. I have had no use for his other plays except A Moon for the Misbegotten where once again he went to the crossroads.

In these plays he reveals a primal root of theatre, the argument within the family. An argument between generations and siblings over vision and legacy that extends into the tribe and then the nation. But also an argument born within the blood and belonging primarily to the individual, the personal struggle with alcohol or prejudice or violence or any of the other poisons that have been hardwired into our DNA.

Whenever two pairs of eyes meet, a stage opens up. So that we can speak in the most elemental way to our collective vision and legacy we gather at this place in the flesh. And eyes cannot lie. Our curtsy at the curtain call is directed only partially to the present audience. The eyes we meet are just at the edge of our belief. The Seventh Generation gathers in witness to our ritual.

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Rain Dog Dance

By Nick Fracaro at 7:50 pm on Thursday, September 28, 2006

Much of Artaud’s theory on theatre can be classified as the dramaturgy of the actor. It’s easy to see why Butoh originator Hijikata found a shared sensibility and stratagem for performance in Artaud’s writings. One of his prized possessions was the recorded copy of Artaud’s radio broadcast. This tape of To Have Done With The Judgement Of God was played when Hijikata choreographed Min Tanaka in a performance entitled Ren-ai Butoh-ha Teiso (Foundation of the Dance of Love).

To work toward performance with certain sections of To Have Done with the Judgment of God will be more difficult than others. Some of the writing, as the saying goes, is just pure caca.

Where it smells of shit.
it smells of being.
Man could just as well not have shit
kept his anal sack closed
but he chose to shit
like he could have chosen to live
instead of consenting to live dead.

Because in order not to make caca,
he would have had to consent
not to be,
but he could not make up his mind to renounce
being,
in other words, to die alive.

There is in being
something particularly tempting for man
and this something is indeed
CACA.

Ankoku Butoh often explores unknown or taboo territory of the human body. Butoh-Fu (“fu” means score in Japanese) uses words and images to create the mise en scène through which the actor moves.

******************BUTOH-FU WORKSHOP****************

The actor is a Rain Dog.

Maybe I should say something about the title of the album, “Rain Dogs”. You know dogs in the rain lose their way back home. They even seem to look up at you and ask if you can help them get back home. ‘Cause after it rains every place they peed on has been washed out. It’s like “Mission Impossible”. They go to sleep thinking the world is one way and they wake up and somebody moved the furniture. —Tom Waits

Rain Dog, there is no home for you.

You have roamed too far from your patron. Your only audience now is the-hand-that-feeds-you. You have nothing but contempt, yet dare you bite the-hand-that-feeds-you? If only you could go wild, back to wolf again. Then you would remember, only then would you remember, the-hand-that-feeds-you is also food.

And even if the house-trained can never go wild again, they can still go feral.

Feral Rain Dog.

The patron is frantically posting LOST DOG signs on the trees in a widening circle around 59th St-Lexington Ave.

Words are similar to memories are similar to scents.

The body is word is a vessel to be cracked open so the myrrh within is released.

The COLLABORATION of directors, writers, dramaturgs, and designers have created a world of Gawkers.

Feral Rain Dog, can you find your way home, again?

(Random and anonymous Gawker comments Thursday morning in Brooklyn and Manhattan south. Scents,memories, butoh-fu for dance home. )

“Asscake deathvenom animal carcass … Burnt rubber.”

“Poop-filled diapers.”

“Hungover white whine shits.”

“Something dead and decaying … Old outhouse poop … Fresh poop … Sewer water … Urine post-asparagus buffet .. Breath of a hungry old lady … Stinks like puke.”

“Like a trip up the ass of a homeless man.”

“Urine, fresh mildew, and dirty penis.”

“Burnt rubber, sweat.”

“Fresh barf.”

“Sweat and construction … African oils, incense … Sweaty poop stink.”

“Bum urine, sometimes vomit.”

“Urine and bleach.”

“Made fresh daily – feces in all forms.”

“Homeless piss and bleach … Pissoir from hell … Like bucket after bucket of piss.”

“Dead vomit … Evil diarrhea … Peaches … Fermented shithouse … Hobo urine and AAA batteries … Like a family of rats died in the wall and is festering there … Two-day-old vomit and crayons.”

“Rotting fish juice.”

“Like a homeless man’s sweaty ass that his drunk friend just puked on … Cocaine … a mixture of shit and pool water … Extruded out of Satan’s ass … Rat poison … High-school chemistry class … Really moist, crumbly, moldy dirt … Fried food.”

“Cow shit.”

“Mold, wet wool, old plaster … Dead rats en masse … Like a mushroom farm … Dirt and soil … Weed … Honeyed rot marinated in hummus … Stinky feet … Gangrene … Entrance to Bloomingdale’s smells like flowers, leather, and rich people.”

59th St-Lexington Ave

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Open Letters to Purple Haze

By Nick Fracaro at 10:28 pm on Saturday, September 23, 2006

McSweeney’s has more than a hundred entries at its fiction section titled

OPEN LETTERS
TO PEOPLE OR ENTITIES UNLIKELY
TO RESPOND

The writer of the open letter to Vice President Cheney first offers condolences for the loss of Scooter Libby, then applies for the open Chief of Staff job. The applicant begins his list of qualifications with

1. I am pure evil. I can provide letters of reference from former girlfriends, as well as from my previous landlord, to attest to this fact.

2. I can keep a secret, especially if it involves your criminal and immoral conspiring against other Americans, State Department officials, intelligence agents, or the leaders of the U.S. military.

Edward Einhorn, Artistic Director of the Untitled Theater Company #61, currently producing the Havel Festival, writes an Open Letter to President Bush that probably wouldn’t fit that well at McSweeney’s.

Of course Edward’s is a real letter not a work of fiction or theatre. I think it’s real, anyway, although the letter does require an obvious suspension of disbelief. The President and the administration are People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond to his letter.

So to whom is Edward really writing? Who is his real audience for the letter?

Plainly the letter was written, at least in part, as an element in the PR package promoting the Havel Festival. So a piece of the audience is that potential audience of People or Entities Who Are UnLikely to Respond to the plays of Vaclav Havel. But the letter doesn’t seem completely willing in its suspension of disbelief, as if that “other audience” were really there listening.

During the Communist reign Havel believed that only half of his self was truly a dissident, the other half of his self actually supported the totalitarianism under which his country suffered. Further he believed each of his Czech countrymen were split in a similar manner.

In other words, no blue or red states. No liberal and no conservative. But everyone and everywhere a blend of both. More like a purple haze as in this alternative to the red/blue map graphic we usually see. So Edward is right, as Havel was right. The other audience is there listening because the other audience is one in the same with us.

The speeches the nation leaders recently presented to the U.N. General Assembly attempt to function as Open Letters to the larger world. Thursday El Presidente from the South branded the Northeamericano President the devil.

And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.

Making the sign of the cross, lifting his prayerful hands and eyes to the sky, there was a trace smile on Chavez’s face as he said this. The purple haze audience was definitely watching this piece of theatre; it was the most downloaded clip from CNN. And these do sound like fighting words. But to whom? Politicians mostly. Doing something the politicians cannot, Chavez and Venezuela are committing 25 million gallons of discounted heating oil just in New York City alone. If it were all used this winter as many as 700,000 city apartments would be heated at 40% off the wholesale price. If Chavez ever wants a day job as mayor here, he could win the vote next election.

Another Presidente from South of the border brought a prop onto stage with him. An illegal prop. Cool. And who would have thunk it? The coca leaf is not white, it’s green!

Theatre often preaches to the choir. How much more interesting theatre is when it seeks to speak to that “other audience” of the purple haze.

Scuse me while kiss the sky.

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