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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.)

Coloring BookCUNT COLORING BOOK

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.

Filed under: Dramaturgy,Theatre and Culture1 Comment »

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.

Filed under: Dramaturgy,News3 Comments »

Will I See You at the Rally Tomorrow?

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

tweet

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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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She and the Empty Living Room

By Nick Fracaro at 9:26 am on Thursday, August 14, 2008

My blogging will continue to be intermittent now that our October production approaches. We’ll be headed up north to Ithaca for rehearsals in September. Before we leave we will host one more Avant Yarde event, so stay tuned here for that announcement shortly.

Markus drove Carolina to JFK Monday night, so she is back in Argentina now. She is gone and present at the same time. I am meditating on her performance with Markus in She and the Empty Living Room. How do such performances function in the relationships we build over the years with friends and peers? Life and art entwined into the same tapestry.

The experience of “the other” is the most absolute knowledge we are allowed in our lives. Theatre and art can act as conduit to that experience but their rituals often function best as extensions of our everyday ceremonies.

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

markus and carolinaShe and the Empty Living Room

Conceived and Directed by April Sweeney
Text by April Sweeney and Carolina Sotolano
Performed by: Carolina Sotolano and Markus Hirnigel
Film by: Miklos Buk
New York Premiere

An exploration of (anti)communication, disobedient tongues, a missing left foot, a dance, a relationship, a poem, or a broken heart. She and the Empty Living Room is a play in translation (literally) about the act of translation, repression/oppression, and the language in your head that turns you into someone else.

She, and the Empty Living Room is a chamber play that looks at the (de)evolution of a relationship and the language it inherits. In loosing your language by trying to replace it with another you loose yourself and appropriate the other. Pretending to be someone else until you are forced to be the person you didn’t know you were.

backyard Avant Yarde

 

It is a play performed live by two actors in Spanish and English with simultaneous translation delivered via subtitles across two monitors on which also a film is seen. It is this film that is inherently translating the image (the play) before your eyes. It takes place in an almost empty room. A room in a house that is lived in.

Afterwards the public is invited to stay. There is a salon of sorts, hopefully on a divan with red wine and banana bread. This interaction is the end of the event and just as important as the event itself.

 

markus and carolina

 

markus and carolina

 

backyard Avant Yarde

markus and carolina

 

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Staging the N-word

By Nick Fracaro at 3:40 pm on Friday, June 13, 2008

I received some insightful and referenced comments from the dramaturgs on the LMDA listserv concerning the use of the N-word on stage and the struggle of our current production to present it. But interesting how even within the context of a discussion of the word itself, there seems to be a taboo against typing the full six-lettered word nigger onto the digital page, as if not only any utterance, but also any “publicationof the word would easily transcend the intent of the writer.

One dramaturg references a scholarly study, Randall Kennedy’s Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, abstracting a quote that highlights the power of the word and points to why it’s an apt candidate for presentation and study through theatre or other modes of public discourse.

To be ignorant of its meanings and effects is to make oneself vulnerable to all manner of perils, including the loss of a job, a reputation, a friend, even one’s life.

I recently read a related short but insightful blog post referencing an e-mail exchange between cultural critic Greil Marcus and art journalist John Rockwell that provides additional insight to a zeitgeist that seems centered on the parsing of words.

Words, the Arts and the World

Months back Hillary Clinton (or was it Bill, or another primary candidate?) attacked Barack Obama as a mere purveyor of words. Obama (borrowing, it turned out, from his friend Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts) responded that words do count, words mean something important. Without too great a stretch, I want to extrapolate that idea to arts journalism, and the need for same.

Recently I had an e-mail exchange with Greil Marcus, who was editing an entry on “Porgy and Bess” that I had written for a Harvard anthology. The last issue to be considered between us was whether in one sentence “African-Americans” or “blacks” worked better.

I finally decided I didn’t much care, ending with “Let’s move on to curing cancer, solving world peace, electing Obama and like that.” Greil replied: “Don’t you realize that the right choice between “blacks” and “African-Americans, whatever it is, is the SAME THING as curing cancer, solving world peace, and electing Obama? Where’s your sense of proportion?”

Point taken. Words do matter. Even the words, the futile scribblings, of arts critics. Take away words, take away critical commentary on the arts, and the arts lose something crucial to their creation and, especially, their reception. So think of that the next time you set out to solve world peace, arrogantly indifferent to mere words, or the arts.

Crossposted at International Culture Lab.

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Dramaturgy and PR

By Nick Fracaro at 1:06 pm on Monday, June 9, 2008

Plays are part and parcel of their productions. Zeitgeist, site-specific elements and the actor/producer’s explicit talents and ambitions all inform the reality.

Does the “event” of the production have any historical importance to theatre or the world? The “audience” of this event is not something that will be measured at the box office or necessarily in popular success.

Jarry’s Ubu Roi and Chekhov’s The Seagull both premiered in 1896 to disparaging audiences. In most ways contrary to one another, both plays went on to become important seminal works.

Imagine being the dramaturg in 1896 commissioned to champion these plays into historical importance. Your work with the playwright would have nothing to do with “the script” and everything to with the “signature” production and its aftermath. Perhaps that would mean engaging Jarry in his lifestyle of drunken anarchy and talking pataphysics late into the night. Or perhaps, more soberly, coaching Chekhov not to express his loathing for Stanislavski’s performance as Trigorin and encouraging him to consent to the newly founded Moscow Art Theatre as producer of his plays.

Although none of us will likely be involved in such historically significant productions as these two, we need to approach each script and production with an expectation that the event will capture the Zeitgeist of its locality. Same as the local hero is more vital to the community and our lives than any American Idol could ever be, theatre is most potent when striving to be specific and relative to the ambitions of its particular family, kinship, and tribe.

In my practice, being a dramaturg means also being a producer, so I am often collaborating as diligently on PR as I am on analyzing or collaborating with the artists on the script and other production design elements. Finding an audience is not synonymous with achieving a box office. Stardom seeks and produces fan-dom, but theatre seeks a more engaged and critical participation from its audience. So PR should be as centered on the dramaturgy of a new script as the production is. Similarly to how a production might put out a casting call seeking specific actors for specific roles; the audience sought should also possess a particular and detailed character.

SlowLearner and DevilVet have suggested a public production process both as it fits within this realm of promotion and as civil discussion point in the theatrosphere on aesthetics. I am not convinced that we are actually interested enough in each other’s artistic processes that we will closely read one another’s posts and comment in depth, but I have been publishing part of my dramaturg’s protocol and other collaborative aspects of our ensemble’s process at our theatre’s blog in hope of such an interaction from fellow theatre peers.
Design Proposal/Collaboration
The Big Suit
Gestus for characters

In his series of posts DevilVet aptly asks: Is It Worth the Risk – Documenting Creative Process.

The primary risk of course is that any public representation will negatively affect either the process itself or the future relationship between working peers. The secondary risk is that because any documentation necessarily highlights only certain aspects of a production, the reception of the work by critics and audience will be prejudiced by this prior representation.

The new play we commissioned from an Austrian playwright was written for a specific ensemble of four actors. The play has already been performed before an audience in Germany and America, in both languages, but in our October mixed-language production in New York, we have begun exploring the script at a more complex level than previously, deliberately employing certain facets of Brechtian performance and production techniques.

I am especially interested in the dilemma posed by one particular word in the script and production. The N-word from an actor/character on stage reads differently in Germany than America. By “publishing” our ensemble’s deliberation in this, I am perhaps unduly highlighting an element in the script that may have relatively minor significance to the overall production, but could easily generate a controversial debate.

The N-word is probably the most politically potent word in America today. Of course that potency is mostly diffused if its utterance arrives on stage only from within the crippled psychology of a particular character. But it speaks to the power of words in our social relationships, that even within the safe haven of “it’s the character saying it, not me”, Roger as actor has been struggling to spit it out in some “natural” way. If the N-word were taken out the safety box of naturalism and employed as gestus, the whole of the production would need to struggle with its presence.

I put this question of the N-word in front of the private/public list-serv of dramaturgs of LMDA. I have received private email on the dilemma from the listserv but no one has yet answered in front of others. This speaks to the volatility present in any discussion of the subject. (Update: Meanwhile a few ‘turgs have braved comment but the aura of taboo surrounding even the mere discussion of this subject in public remains strong.)

The potential for the theatrosphere is that it not just supplements the criticism, review, documentation, and other theatre-talk of print publication, but supplants and leads toward a new representation of our art that has a more in depth and interactive relationship with our peers and audience. I appreciate the various Chicago bloggers (Paul, Tony, Don, Bob) taking the lead and exploring the most difficult and complex new relationship posed by artists reviewing/commenting on other artist’s work or process. There will be no easy answers or codified rules in this new relationship to our work and our peers.

Crossposted at International Culture Lab.

Filed under: Artist/Critic,Dramaturgy3 Comments »

Butoh Fu for The Ghost of Hamlet’s Flesh

By Nick Fracaro at 1:22 am on Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Something is rotten in Denmark. Old Hamlet’s putrid flesh decomposes but will not surrender its ghost. Manifold earth would take the decomposing flesh as its own, but the flesh cannot surrender its elemental nature until the usurped monarchy is brought back into the natural order of the universe.

Old Hamlet rises as a frightful Frankenstein of disparate elements out of the bowels of the putrefied kingdom. As sovereign king on earth he summons all of nature to the place of his murder, the site where the natural order was usurped. At this Orchard of Crime, all flora and fauna begin to misbehave. Half-ripened fruit falls prematurely to the ground, fermenting into a stew of alcohol on which the bionetwork will feed. All of the court and Denmark will become drunk with the poison of the crime, but none so much as the son Hamlet, flesh of the flesh of the disintegrating realm.

Flesh in this usurped kingdom and unnatural world is no longer subservient. Old Hamlet/Claudius are the same flesh and blood. The kingdom is now ruled by the gangrene of this dual King, who is both living and dead. This dead and dying flesh must be amputated, purged and burnt away. The elements Fire, Earth, Air, Water convene to contain this rebellion of unholy flesh.

I am thy father’s spirit, doomed for a time
To walk the night, and all the day
Confined in flaming fire,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of Nature
Are purged and burnt away

kasai
kasai

But the rebellious flesh will not surrender dominion over earth. The diseased family unit is the unholy trinity at the core of the kingdom. The Father, Son, and Unholy Ghost. Gertred animates not so much the dead king as the dead and dying gangrened flesh of the First Family.

The earth in the Orchard is moist, almost alive in the fermentation of the fallen, decaying fruit. Flesh would differentiate itself from the other elements. Wind/Air is breath. Rain/Water is saliva. Earth amalgamated with muddy flesh of fallen fruit. The moldering rot gathers its body together.

The body of many rises from the ground. The eyes look backward into the hollow head in an attempt to see the tail being pulled from the earth. Wind enters through the anus, swirls in the stomach, up through the throat, but cannot escape the mouth, returning back through the body. Moist humid air enters the mouth to become saliva. This water and air would gather into Fighting Words. This body cannot speak yet but may be able to Spit Nails in its anger.

Who has better teeth
The blood or the stone

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Keep Your SASE

By Nick Fracaro at 8:03 am on Monday, April 16, 2007
words, tattoo
Christine Chun displaying word No. 1262 in Shelley Jackson’s Skin

The grrlz all now have a tattoo at the base of their spine. The vogue is a midriff-exposing top and low-riding jeans. The thong rises out of the back of the jeans almost as pedestal to display the art.

Fashion is fascist
the tattoo says as much about the dead eye of desire
reading the display
as it does about the playwright marketing his work.

I’ve been spoiled I guess. I came upon my first playwright the way Ishmael came upon Queequeg. His story and words, his script tattooed into his flesh and life in “mysteries not even himself could read.”

Queequeg was a strange bedfellow that first night, but still stranger was the obsessive journey of theatre that beckoned us all.

Keep your Self-Addressed Stamped-Envelope. I am not one who would traffic in the dead. My fellow traveler is the living word.

What is the process by which Queequeg’s coffin becomes Ishmael’s life buoy? This is the only dramaturgy I now explore.

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Travelling Light

By Nick Fracaro at 12:42 pm on Friday, March 16, 2007

“And this was really the way that my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.”

–Jack Kerouac, On the Road

original cover ontheroad

Twenty-five years ago, ABC NO RIO in an art exchange with Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago, brought Thieves Theatre to the Lower East Side . At the time we were doing my script Travelling Light about a long haul trucker whose CB radio handle is Bird of Prayer and the strange hitchhiker carrying a dozen eggs he picks up. The entire performance takes place within the Vehicle of Knowledge. They travel toward a rendezvous with the sexy female voice coming over the CB named Mountain Belle.

“Ma Bell has you by the calls”

Loading the Vehicle of Knowledge into to our auction-bought Chicago Police paddy wagon we drove to New York. We slept at NO RIO the six weeks we were there and showered at the nearby Allen Street Public Bath; it must have been the last one left in the city. We paid a local graffiti artist to paint the paddy wagon with a Thieves Theatre logo so it wouldn’t get tagged by others. Pulling car seats from all the stolen and stripped vehicles under the Williamsburg Bridge we created seating for the audience at No Rio.

vehicle of knowledge
“Vehicle of Knowledge” installation/set for Travelling Light
ABC No Rio 1981

Travelling Light is my only play but I instigated a redux of it some years back as a writing/producing project with David Bucci, Lisa D’Amour, Josh Furst, and other rat playwrights. Bucci bought a van with a play commission from Woolly Mammoth and toured northeast out of Texas with his rock band. Lisa left Portland in her Eagle headed toward Minneapolis and New York. I drove this humungous vehicle called the Ratmobile around the country from Memphis to Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Philadelphia. Josh was with me on the Memphis to LA tour and we collected short plays from other writers enroute to a rat conference. Bucci sent postcards, Lisa sent audiotapes, Josh and I posted web pages and photos from Internet pods at truck stops. I can’t remember the time sequence on all this, but it was a years long relationship. All of us did make a rendezvous once in New York for a two week long performance frenzy at four different venues– HERE, Ohio Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, and Coney Island USA.

The most memorable for me was the one at Coney Island. Bucci played guitar as Lisa sang a song to the dead eye of a Steeplechase horse from the museum. I was Naked Elvis entourage in the bathtub. For the finale Bucci was tied down in a chair. Jennifer Miller, the bearded lady performing in Sideshows by the Seashore downstairs was supposed to come up between acts to perform a striptease for Bucci as she recited some Camile Pagila text but she missed her cue. So it was left to Lisa to take a razor to Bucci’s seven-year-old sideburns as the audience lined up and poured wine over Naked Elvis. The project never ended, just sort of faded away. I still hang with Josh some; he’s moved into the Dean Street hood, but I have lost touch with Lisa and Bucci. I imagine by now they have retired from the road as I have, the price of gas and all.

Writing this I keep thinking about Bucci’s seven-year-old sideburns. And I want some metaphor or allegory to clearly present itself. Something about writing versus a life lived.

When Jack Kerouac died his estate was reportedly worth only $100. The original manuscript of his novel “On the Road” was typed in 21 days on a 120-foot scroll. Three years ago that scroll was sold at auction for $2.43 million. So now “On the Road” is on the road again in a four-year national tour of museums and libraries.

Bucci is an excellent writer but should his rock star legend ever burst out in song, his sideburns will go on tour long before his plays do.

Jack Kerouac's scroll manuscript of On the Road.

Scroll manuscript of On the Road.

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The Bounty

By Nick Fracaro at 9:25 am on Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Josey Wales: You a bounty hunter?
Bounty hunter: A man’s got to do something for a living these days.
Josey Wales: Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.

Richard Nelson confesses he doesn’t have a philosophy for teaching playwriting. Instead he offers as the criteria qualifying him as chair of the playwright program, the fact that he believes he is the first “working playwright” in that position.Nelson begins his video presentation for the Yale School of Drama with a personal rendition of its legacy. Citing the playwriting program as the oldest in the country, he emphasizes that the founder, George Pierce Baker, was the teacher of Eugene O’Neill. He then singles out O’Neill’s wife Carlotta and her bequest of the playwright’s papers, specifically the publication rights of Long Days Journey into Night, as the gift that keeps on giving to the program.

hismastersvoiceThe infomercial is an enthusiastic mixture of hype, flimflam, and self-delusion with the implicit message that the young playwright enrolling for study at the School of Drama will be taught how to make his living writing plays. And like the school’s patron, Eugene O’Neill, the playwright need not sacrifice his art to achieve this.

The ironies of using O’Neill as Yale’s patron abound. Although O’Neill did study playwriting under George Pierce Baker, it was at Harvard, and a full decade before the program at Yale began. But more, whatever talent O’Neill possessed in 1914, was negated by his submission to the jejune “dramatic technique” of Baker’s teaching.

With the appointment of Richard Nelson and the institutionalization of his new product-oriented vision of playwriting, the biggest irony in flaunting O’Neill as patron is no longer simply an irony. The unpleasantness of Yale’s complicity in the bad faith exploitation of the playwright’s masterwork Long Days Journey into Night has never been called to task. Only with the help of Yale was Carlotta O’Neill able to usurp the playwright’s intent that the drama not be published until 25 years after his death and never be produced.

deadman

With this attitude and policy shift, the School of Drama flips completely on end the notion that the legacy of authors and dramatic literature is an act of commerce essentially within the realm of art and ideas. The “bounty” of future playwrights will now be abridged into its most pede$trian value.

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American Idolatry

By Nick Fracaro at 6:26 am on Tuesday, November 21, 2006

heart pen page drawing
Drawing for The Heart, The Pen, And The Page – (c) 2004 Charles Vincent

The plan was that no matter what I did, how busy I was, what other commitments I had, I would write a play a day, every single day for a year. It would be about being present and being committed to the artistic process every single day, regardless of the “weather.” It became a daily meditation, a daily prayer celebrating the rich and strange process of a writing life.–Suzan-Lori Parks

In defense of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and in reaction to a recent Guardian article skeptical of the 365 Plays/365 Days aesthetic, some dramaturgs on the discussion list sponsored by Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas are evoking an old partisan argument — that turf war that catalogs poor old Shakespeare with the “conventional” or “patriarchal” and places him on the wrong side of any upstart revolution in theatre. We Americans often feign the King’s English when we play-act an arrogant and pretentious manner or speech. The americano dramaturg of this particular comment sums up the essence of the argument but also shows how the British affectation is not absolutely necessary when talking down your nose to a nation of people.

“The Brits, bless ’em, have a problem accepting the new.”

This straw-man argument is unhelpful toward exploring any aesthetic that might be at work in 365 Days/365 Plays. Suzan-Lori Parks has always resisted such simplistic approaches to discussions about her work, especially that talk which would so easily classify her as a “woman writer of color.” Any discussion on the dramaturgy should be put into context of her previous work and what she has already said and written about it. This Play-a-Day serial represents a significant departure for a playwright who before this time has always labored heavily within the writing process, most plays taking a minimum of three years to complete. So we should assume that the real grand inquisitor on the aesthetics of 365 Days/365 Plays to be the playwright herself.

Likely, a playwright of her rigor was found many a day laden in self-criticism and writer’s block. Consider the long day’s journey into night that produced the play in this series titled This Is Shit. Stage directions have an audience gather to watch a play. The character Program Thrower utters a single line. (No need to speculate on the line. Title says it all. Suzan-Lori Parks ends her short play where Alfred Jarry so famously began his.)
american theatre cover

Although the title 365 Days/365 Plays doesn’t quite say it all, coupled with cover art for the paperback publication, it does say a great deal. The full glossy cover of this month’s American Theatre resembles any celebrity pop magazine. The cute black chick with dreadlocks and tattoos is cruising the American Theatre landscape in her red convertible. Blondie’s riding shotgun.

Theatre Communications Group (TCG) not only publishes the magazine but also the paperback of 365 Days/365 Plays to be released next month. The same “snapshot” is being used in each, except shotgun Blondie has been photoshopped out of the image used for the book cover.

Shotgun Blondie is Bonnie Metzgar, the former associate producer at New York’s Public Theater, and co-conspiritor with Parks and producer of the 365 Festival, destined to be “the largest shared world premiere in the history of the American Theater.” And if she and Parks can keep the PR engine of the red convertiable humming, this “festival” will also become the most expansive book tour in American Theatre publisher TCG’s history.

cover 365Mostly we have been judging this book by its cover. Cover in the extended definition of the word. Once the hype of the nation-wide festival of 365 Days/365 Plays is no longer riding shotgun, providing cover and camouflage, the actual text will need to step out into the limelight of the American Idol challenge that has been manufactured for its debut. Expect the same polarization of opinion that the TV reality shows all generate. Hopefully the playwright had the prudence or “genius” in one of her 365 days to write the contra to her This Is Shit play.

The term “snapshot aesthetic” refers to a trend that began to influence fine art photography in America in the early 1960’s. The style featured careless compositions and banal everyday subjects, often presented as eccentrically juxtaposed sequences of photographs. Snapshots were taken by “artists” and hence deemed acceptable within certain sections of the fine art gallery system.

Pre-order 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks at Amazon.
“This Is Genius” –John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur

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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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Trick or Treat,

By Nick Fracaro at 12:13 pm on Tuesday, October 31, 2006

trick or treat“Money or Eats” ™

At Dramaturgy.net there is a link to the RENT Lawsuit Transcripts and to an article on August 26, 1998 in Talkin’ Broadway about the case being closed. I am not sure about “the industry” but most people I know working in theatre would find this statement in the article more than mere hyperbole. Not only was Lynn Thomson never called “the Rosa Parks of the theatre industry”, most would find the analogy itself offensive.

The heirs of Jonathan Larson finally have addressed the claims of Lynn Thomson regarding credit, royalties, and other issues concerning her participation in the writing and rewriting of Rent’s script. … This marks the successful end of a heroic battle by a dramaturg who rightfully has been called the “Rosa Parks” of the theatre industry. Like Parks, Lynn Thomson refused to give up her place, either on the title page or in the royalty pool.

Rosa Parks and her act of civil disobedience became the icon of the Civil Rights Movement. To suggest that Lynn Thomson and her legal team were engaged in a comparable heroic battle is as disrespectful to theatre as it is all those who fought segregation.

The truth is that Lynn Thomson’s legal attempt to be awarded co-author status in the successful musical Rent was a point of contention within the theater industry. Joan Channick, as Managing Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), said:

This case generated huge controversy in the field, and caused tension between playwrights and dramaturgs. Playwrights feared encroachment on their authorship of their plays, while dramaturgs saw Thompson’s claim as recognition of the importance of their often-misunderstood role.

Joan Cannick’s essay Author! Author? in April’s American Theatre was spurred by the recent attempts by some directors to copyright stage directions and cites a New York Times article on January 29, 2006 on the same subject Exit, Pursued by a Lawyer. This article highlights the director Edward Einhorn’s argument over being fired from an Off Off Broadway production after two months of unpaid work.

Edward Einhorn is the artistic director of the Havel Festival which is playing right now in various venues around the city. His brother David Einhorn is the producing director of the festival. Brother David is also an intellectual property lawyer and so the ideal mercenary to ride shotgun in what is obviously becoming an increasingly cutthroat downtown theatre scene.

If you google for the theatre production TAM LIN the link you find has the subtitle “A Halloween Tale of Magic & Seduction.” But in following the link to the actual web site the subtitle for Tam Lin transforms into the odd “a full length play free of legal encumbrances.” Obviously a certain vindictiveness still runs hot in playwright Nancy McClernan. On the web site, instead of describing her “Halloween tale of magic and destruction”, she chronicles her legal woes with the Einhorn brothers.

A couple days ago Nancy McClernan posted a comment here at Rat Sass on a blog entry where I had referenced Edward Einhorn’s Open Letter to President Bush.

I find it incredibly amusing that Edward Einhorn would compose a pious, pompous letter to President Bush, quoting Havel on “the seemingly powerless in society.

This is someone who runs a theatre production company specializing in off-off Broadway productions who feels no sting of conscience whatsoever about exploiting non-Equity actors. This is someone who believes that actors get the glory of being onstage and so “they are usually happy to work for free.”

This is an utterly, transparently self-serving belief for someone who engages actors to perform in his shows. Apparently Einhorn believes that by simply staging the works of Havel, it somehow gives him the right to take on the mantle of the champion of human rights.

The playwright’s article on the debacle with the director titled The Strange Case of Einhorn v. Mergatroyd is in the current issue of The Dramatist. This is the magazine of the Dramatists Guild where to no surprise she found ready but mostly ineffective allies in her costly need to free her play of “encumbrances.”

To dramaturg Lynn Thomson’s dismay, the Dramatists Guild had also sided with the Larson estate over the copyright of Rent. She rebuked them on their prejudice.

There’s a huge bigotry revealed against dramaturgs by the Guild. They attack me because I’m called a “dramaturg” rather than “co-author.” And yet, this union claims to represent people who write, and they’re saying it doesn’t matter that I wrote. That’s a deeply disturbing prejudice. Essentially, I can’t drink at the same water fountain as authors because because I’m credited as a dramaturg.

Of course Edward Einhorn and other directors could conceivably criticize the Dramatists Guild in a similar fashion for their prejudice against copyright and/or co-author status for their “blocking and choreography.”

Theatre is being less and less thought of as artists in collaboration, more and more thought of as investors in product development. The various artist associations, guilds, and unions are all building fences and establishing their percentages of “the product” evolving through its developmental process.   This “showcase” mentality, once something scorned by the serious artist, has now become the collaborative paradigm for all. Everyone with something to sell, a career or play to develop, schemes within schemes.  Theatre stillborn within its Pyrrhic victories in capitalism.

In spite of our victory over Einhorn’s director’s copyright scheme, the case was extremely expensive for us, costing over a hundred thousand dollars. And because of this, we cannot afford to do a full production of TAM LIN in 2006, and instead will be doing a reading. At least the brothers Einhorn, for all their wealth and privilege, sense of entitlement, and absolute lack of any sense of proportion, cannot kill this play. —N. G. McClernan

There are no heroes in any of these battles over “property rights.” Whether the amount is a couple hundred dollars or thousands upon thousands of dollars, none of the players in this “industry” should claim that they are in service of the art form of theatre. And they especially should not in their financial scuffles for “dramaturg” “director” “playwright” rights allow themselves to be compared to Václav Havel or Rosa Parks and the struggle for human rights they each championed.wallet

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Fatboy Slim Theatre

By Nick Fracaro at 11:33 am on Friday, October 27, 2006

It is mostly sentiment to say our art is gift. More honestly, we would recognize that our art is at least as complex as our lives are. We barter continually for our daily existence. Each of us are at least partial commodity in that way. The better part of our being (often termed art or love) sometimes struggles to be free of that condition.

Understanding that our art is as we ourselves are, both gift and commodity, we can easier begin to comprehend what the actual product is we are trying to barter. The service or commodity that doesn’t have enough customers to sustain business generally goes out of existence. So what makes theatre so special?

fatboy slim Although in name, the League of Resident Theatres, suggest they are providing homes for the theatre professional, most often the only actual artist resident with a living salary in these regional theatres is the artistic director. Usually New York and other non-local actors, directors, and designers are auditioned and hired for the short artistic residencies during productions. So this confederacy of artistic fiefdoms would be more aptly named League of Art Residencies Directors. The acronym LARD rather than LORT better suits this long failing business and theatre model.

The actor who desires a career needs to move away from any home or relationships to community he may have developed. He knows celebrity is valued more than citizenship or local identity by these “regional” theaters when they cast their productions. In just this one obvious but important way, Fatboy Slim Theatre has been instrumental in perverting the nobler ambitions of theatre as service to a community.

Professional non-profit theatre reminds of that kid schooled by daddy on how to run a lemonade stand. This kind of theatre is conditioned from concept to never really grow up. Neither capitalistic nor revolutionary, but with pretence for both, the “new” “groundbreaking” theatre from Fatboy Slim Theatre is nothing more than the product of an ongoing dialectic between the geezers and their untamed brats. Relevant only in how irrelevant it is to the world beyond its stages.

And yet…

The political philosopher Toni Negri, author with Michael Hardt of the visionary text Empire, has clarified the notion of social capital that is especially inherent in such activities as theatre, causing me to reexamine the above cynicism.

There has always been the biopolitical production of ideas, images, affects and relationships in society. (Women, mothers, the home has been the primary teachers of this.) These are immaterial rather than material goods. In our informational society these immaterial products have become more important than the concrete commodities and property. The biopower of this social capital is also able to spread quickly throughout the world and create a “common” within the “multitude” that touches on all aspects of life.

Nothing is produced if it is not produced through the common: there is no merchandise that is not a service, no service that is not a relation, no relation that is not a brain, no brain that is not common. Language is no longer just a form of expression, but the sole form of production of man and his environ­ment. Language is therefore the way of being of the common being. —Alma Venus

The instruments are in our anthropology, our brain is the instrument that constitutes wealth, a wealth that must be common. We each are like a word, alone a sign, where meaning is only given by the entire language. —Contro-Impero

So even if it is long overdue to rid ourselves of the Fatboy Slim Theatre model of business, theatre itself is just as special as it thinks it is. The purpose of lemonade stand was never “to make money” or establish little fiefdoms for artisic directors. The commerce taking place at this “neighborhood business” is something much more immaterial, something much more important.

lemonade stand
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Leap of Faith

By Nick Fracaro at 6:18 pm on Monday, October 23, 2006

I keep the Kierkegaard anthology bookmarked at Fear and Trembling where he explains the “man of faith.”

When Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia on the command from the Delphi Oracle, and for the good of the nation, he is acting on a high moral plane, but he’s not a man of faith. That’s because all of Greece listens to the same such words from on high. Agamemnon is not alone; he has the whole nation agreeing his sacrifice is righteous.

When Abraham lifts his knife on his son Isaac because God tells him to, the nation of Israel would never have believed Abraham’s god to be the same as theirs. Abraham is the man of faith because of this leap outside the accepted moral realm of the tribe.

Artaud said “to act is to murder” because he understood that theatre possessed the same authority and power over reality as these violent tribal fathers did. Theatre practiced as the metaphysical equivalent to Kierkegaard’s leap of faith becomes an extremely daunting undertaking.

The physicians’ motto, “First, do no harm” is an impossibility for the theatre metaphysician. Just as chemo and radiation therapy kill the good, the bad, and the ugly cells indiscriminately as they seek to arrest the cancer, theatre disrupts reality as both corrosive and cure.

The butoh masters explore our bodies elementally as flesh in the manner of alchemists, schooling us in the belief that our DNA is as subject to manipulation and transformation as our fate is.

You have to pull your stomach up high in order to turn your solar plexus into a terrorist. -–Hijikata

The quality we attempt to hone in our physical training aligns us with the Negative Capability that Keats found so abundent in Shakespeare, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts.”

The Cult 12 wrighters seek to bring text into the same elemental relationship to performance as Shakespeare and his performers once practiced. The butoh-fu model of the wrighter suggests that words and images can be used to evoke gesture as well as more complex choreography for performers.

As wrighters we stand in awe of Arthur Stace who distilled theatre into a single word. The graffiti artist disappears within his signature to perform as Mr. Eternity.

mr eternity

Eternity Grafitto on Sydney Harbour Bridge at 0:00am 2000 A.D.

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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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Playwrights Can’t Scream

By Nick Fracaro at 12:55 pm on Friday, October 6, 2006
cartoon

Artaud insisted that the playwright or the text should not be the final authority in the collaborative process. As Derrida highlights in his essays on Artaud, the essence of his rant was against the actors’ presence being flunky to the prompter’s (text) presence.

The Prompter is the sneaky little whisperer in his dark dank box off stage. As if my ears were attached to some wimp of a performer, receiving his delivery as if he were taking orders, submitting like a beast to the pleasure of docility. Prompter, the force of a void, the cyclonic breath … who draws his breath in, and thereby robs me of that which he first allowed to approach me and which I believed I could say in my own name.

In less of a rant Artaud furthers his argument against the authority of text in No More Masterpieces.

recognize that what has been said is not still to be said; that an expression does not have the same value twice, does not live two lives; that all words once spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered, that a form, once it has been served, cannot be used again and asks only to replaced by another, and that the theatre is the only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice.

Theatre, like other art forms, sometimes produces artifacts. We call these textual artifacts scripts or plays or dramatic literature. The prejudice is usually to conflate these artifacts with theatre itself. But Artaud would be with Genet when he said, “plays should be performed one night and one night only, in a graveyard.”

So, given this mandate of No More Masterpieces, how does one approach the production of To Have Done with the Judgment of God, especially in this case, where we have not only Artaud’s text, but for all intents and purposes, the finished audio recording of the radio broadcast? First instruction: “a form, once it has been served, cannot be used again and asks only to replaced by another.” So although we wish to ultilze a pirate radio broadcast as an element of mise en scene, the main focus will be on the Butoh performers.

The originator of Butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, possessed the bootlegged tape of Artaud’s broadcast, employing it almost as a talisman to endow his work. He would eventually choreograph the dancer Min Tanaka in a performance using Artaud’s voice as soundscape. When he played the tape for Susan Sontag in 1986 she remarked, “That’s the voice I expected.” Sontag, like many critics and commentators on Artaud, knew of the rumored bootleg tape but had never actually heard it. The “Artaudian Scream” became a critical reference for primordial theatre without anyone imagining the audio recording of it existed.

Herbert Blau refers to the scream in his critical tome, The Audience:

closeup of munch's scream

Artaud speaks in a later manifesto of actors who have forgotten how to scream. Without the old totemism of beastly essences, the false theatre of mimesis has forgotten more than that. For the scream would seem to be an effraction of memory–the break, the tear, the rending–which is the definitive trace of theater’s birth in the primordial rupture of things.

Mimetic representation… in the theater as in our dreams, creates the part of the audience and subordinates sound to sight. It’s as if the scream has been cut off in full cry… (The Audience p.106-107)

Butoh has been described as the “silent scream.” So Hijikata seems to have found more in Artaud’s French vocalizations than others. He would invent a method of choreography known as Butoh-Fu, whereby he would speak words and phrases to his performers that sounded almost like poetry but in fact were used to evoke a specific dance form, movement, and its relation to the body. The other aspect of Butoh-Fu was Hijikata’s vast collection of reproductions of artwork which he used to inspire dance and communicate choreography to his performers.

We can correlate Butoh-Fu to the script of a play, especially as it is inherited and communicated through the memory of Hijikata’s desciple, Waguri. We too easily forget that the Shakespeare play does not really exist except in a similar vein, a document organized by and subject to the actor’s memory and (re)enactment. So here’s the horse in front of the cart, where it belongs.

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Belated Portrait for the Theatre of Cruelty

By Nick Fracaro at 10:58 am on Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Drawing on Artaud for inspiration is one thing but to actually produce a work of his is quite another. Producing To Have Done with the Judgment of God has proved a daunting exploration. Thieves Theatre has always had it “in the works” and then “on the back burner” and then in the forefront again.

The aspiration toward this non-production has inspired and informed our other productions for at least ten years now. Susan Sontag explains how many artists have read/practiced Artaud in a similar manner.

Artaud’s work becomes usable according to our needs, but the work vanishes behind our use of it. When we tire of using Artaud, we can return to his writings.

Sontag was a most effective editor and interpreter of Artaud’s vision. She was somewhat unusual as an intellectual in her determined exploration of the non-literary artforms of film, photography, and performance. Also a sometime playwright and director, her support and contributions to the world of performance never became as well known as her celebrated literary work, although famously in 1993 she directed local actors in a staging of Waiting for Godot at the Youth Theatre in Sarajevo as the city was under seige by Serb forces.

Annie Leibovitz’s new book “A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005” has put Sontag into the limelight again. Leibovitz said she felt departed companion Sontag was watching over her shoulder during the editing of the book. But maybe it was more like Artaud watching over both their shoulders. Surely the most controversial aspects of the book are the intimate pictures from their decade-long relationship, especially the painful images of Sontag when she was seriously ill with cancer.

Susan at Home
Susan at the House on Hedges Lane
1988
Annie Leibovitz

Sontag was reticent to talk about her personal relationship with Leibovitz, as well as earlier relationships with choreographer Lucinda Childs and playwright Maria Irene Fornes. And although she was herself a cancer patient at the time when she wrote her study Illness as Metaphor, few details of her personal illness were revealed. Yet what Sontag seemed to admire most in Artaud was how fearlessly he charted the pain of his “intimate” self. If Annie Liebovitz is right that Sontag is the true editor of the photographs in her new book, then these intimate portraits of her steps toward death can almost be seen as Susan Sontag’s personal tribute to Artaud, an only slightly belated full imitation of the artist she so admired.

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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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