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Production Dramaturgy and the C-Word

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

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

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

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

The C-Word

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ophelia:  No, my lord .

Hamlet:    I mean my head upon your lap?

Ophelia:  Aye, my lord .

Hamlet:    Do you think I meant country matters?

Ophelia:  I think nothing, my lord .

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

Filed under: Dramaturgy,Theatre and Culture1 Comment »

Will I See You at the Rally Tomorrow?

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


Filed under: Dramaturgy,Personal,Theatre and Culture Leave A Comment »


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

One’s-Self I Sing

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

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

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


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

Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

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

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

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

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

Spencer, the Horse on Straw Bale with Leaves

Spencer, the Horse on Straw Bale with Leaves

Spencer, the Horse with Discarded Umbrellas

Spencer, the Horse with Discarded Umbrellas

Spencer, the Horse

Spencer, the Horse with Yellow Page Packages

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


Spencer, the Horse in Hibernation

Spencer, the Horse in Hibernation

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

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.”

Filed under: Dramaturgy,Theatre and Culture2 Comments »

Theatrosphere’s TalkWriting

By Nick Fracaro at 9:28 pm on Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As the saying goes, rumors are as old as God. The first rumor was one that jumped the species barrier. The snake whispered sweet nothings in Eve’s ear, telling her “rumor had it” that the forbidden fruit was ripe with hidden promise. Eve swallowed the story whole. Like all rumors, the serpent’s tale had an element of truth. Knowledge would be the godlike quality in man, but as other scripture reminds us, the flesh is weak. Facts are hard or cruel and truth is often inconvenient. But the half-knowledge of rumor is sexy and seductive. Rumors are whispered intimately with cupped hand into our ear. Serpent, lover, propagator of sweet nothings…we’re your playthings now and forever.

While rumors have been with us throughout human history, in our new world of digital communication, rumors have become ubiquitous and fast spreading as evidenced by the emergence of debunking sites such as,, and

False rumors can be especially distressing to institutions. Not only can they inflict real damage, they often resist correction. The O’Neill Center is one of the preeminent theatre institutions in the country, so when I read this post at Extra Criticum discrediting their business practice, I was wondering what their reaction would be, if any.

It is an open secret in the theatre world that of the dozen or so slots available each Summer to new plays at the O’Neill, all but 2 or 3 are pre-determined in backroom deal-making worthy of Tammany Hall.

No affiliated print journalist would have been allowed to make such a potentially libelous statement without an authoritative source confirming this “open secret” as something other than just gossip. On the other hand, if the rumor were true, this would be a great story and scandal; i.e., “It would sell a lot of newspapers.”

We read about print publication shrinking daily. Along with this decline in the medium, old-school objective art journalism is also disappearing. We are entering a new era of personal, subjective theatre “talk-writing.” This new genre of “journalism” doesn’t appear to have inherited the same protocol and/or ethical standards of its predecessor.

In the TalkWrite establishing itself in blogs, the distinction among fact, hyperbole, rumor, and opinion is a fluid one. Although there are a handful of critics, most of the theatre bloggers identify themselves as artists, with the largest percentage being playwrights. So as this genre of writing becomes more pervasive, it will be interesting to note how the historical dyad of Artist/Critic will suffer the changes.

A couple days after his blog post, Rolando Teco (aka Roland Tec, playwright and Director of Membership at the Dramatists Guild) repeated his allegation of this “open secret” in the Dramatists Guild’s September 25th e-Newsletter. He expands the charge to suggest that scripts are being selected for commercial potential rather than artistic merit and further claims that commercial interests have hijacked the O’Neill’s mission and that the open submission process is a charade to get grants.

Although in the newsletter post he edits out the hyperboles of his Extra Criticum post comparing the O’Neill process to “Tammany Hall” and “the government of Myanmar,” he inserts a fresh embellishment suggesting that his “open secret” rumor is based on some reality and has caught traction.

This year, however, something seems to have changed. Or so it seemed to the countless playwrights who spontaneously erupted into a cyber chorus of complaint heard on theatre blogs here, there and everywhere.

A blog search shows that a total of three blogs linked to Roland(o)’s “open secret” post. Three sites render his claim of “theatre blogs here, there, and everywhere’” technically just an exaggeration, not an outright lie. Except that one of these blogs, THE LOOP, simply prints Roland(o)’s Dramatist Guild newsletter post verbatim as an article. Oddly, without a byline.

THE LOOP claims to be a community of playwrights, lyricists, librettists, and composers. The Senior Editor of THE LOOP is Gary Garrison, who is also one of the writers at the Extra Criticum blog where Roland(o) first spread the “open secret” rumor. Gary Garrison is also Director for Creative Affairs of the Dramatists Guild.

Regardless whether the “cyber chorus of complaint” by “countless playwrights” on “theatre blogs here, there, and everywhere” is hyperbole or fabrication, the whole of this characterizes a new form of theatre TalkWrite with as many similarities to gossipmongerism as to journalism. Much closer to the “true story,” perhaps the only story here, is more venial and everyday: Two playwrights on the Dramatists Guild staff attempted to propagate an unsubstantiated rumor about the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference on their blogs and through their Guild newsletter.

So if there were to be a real journalistic inquiry here, it would be how knowledgeable the Dramatists Guild Council is of the actions of its two staff members. Are Tec and Garrison rogue agents in spreading this malicious piece of gossip, or was it with the approval of their employer?

It would ordinarily be deemed unseemly for a respected institution like the O’Neill to kowtow to false rumors, even if the gossipmongers generating such rumors were the staff members of an equally respected institution. But that’s exactly what they did. In the October 9 Guild newsletter, Gary Garrison tells of having had several phone calls with Wendy Goldberg (National Playwrights Conference’s Artistic Director) and Preston Whiteway (O’Neill Theater Center’s Executive Director), inviting them to respond to the allegations. Their response is the same one now on the NPC web site titled “Open Submissions Process Description”.

Each year, NPC solicits scripts from the field for consideration in its summer landmark event, and takes this solicitation and selection process very seriously. The O’Neill typically receives 800 scripts during this month-long window. The plays are then sent to readers across the country-the work is read blindly and narrowed down into a semi finalist pool and then a finalist pool. This process is maintained by our on-site literary office and is monitored carefully.

The majority of selected plays come from this Open Submission process. Each year, there might be one or two invitations for a prominent playwright to participate, and this policy has been in place since the inception of the Conference, under Lloyd Richards. For example, in 2009, seven plays were developed, five of which came directly from the Open Submissions process, one from our international Irish project, and one from an invitation. In 2007 and 2008, eight plays were developed, five from Open Submissions, one from the Irish Project, one from a collaboration with the Goodman Theatre, and one an invitation.

The O’Neill takes its mission for the discovery of new work and artists to heart. The leadership team at the O’Neill and the National Playwrights Conference is committed to the Open Submissions policy. This means that the majority of plays developed will be drawn from this pool each summer. Any other characterizations are false. Invitations or collaborations will be in the minority, but will always be a part of the mix, as they help launch conversations with a larger national field.

Note the O’Neill’s bold text in the above process description, not once, but twice, to emphasize that the “majority” of selected plays come from this Open Submission process. This is obviously a direct response to the Tec/Garrison cyber-rumor that there is “an open secret in the theatre world that of the dozen or so slots … all but two or three are spoken for long before the first $35 check has cleared.”

In the October 9 Guild e-newsletter Garrison decided he should reclassify Roland(o)’s post in the previous e-newsletter as an Op Ed. This is a dodge and simply reclassifying the post from “news” to “opinion” will likely not appease all the dues-paying dramatists complaining that their Director of Membership was sending out misinformation, perhaps even disinformation, in their newsletter.

Gary titles this Guild e-newsletter post “Old Eyes and New.” He offers no facts or evidence for why the O’Neill open submission process should be questioned. But he does imply that the “open secret” rumor should be reexamined… that perhaps the O’Neill no longer beats its wife. As “senior editor” of the Roland(o) post, that’s probably as close to a “retraction” Gary could get without actually confessing to spreading gossip, but he does have another uneasy confession to his fellow dramatists. He discloses that it is not just old eyes v. new eyes fueling his perception, but also the green eyes of jealousy of those peers who were accepted into probably the most prestigious playwright development program in the country.

Rejecting 800 playwrights each year will always create a rich environment for rumors about how the open submission at the National Playwrights Conference is administered. So transparency and facts alone will never completely counter rumor/opinion-based blog and e-newsletter posts. But this type of conversation once belonged almost exclusively to the informal chat of dinner parties. Now it has thoroughly permeated our written, public record. From the early theatre listservs to the blogosphere, our digital correspondence is ushering in a new generation of TalkWrite, and with it a new ethic of behavior in theatre as well.

No doubt some playwrights are celebrating Tec/Garrison for forcing the O’Neill into “accountability” despite their method. In fact, if they suffer neither social nor professional consequences for spreading this false rumor, it’s probably safe to assume that their behavior is acceptable to a significant percentage of the Dramatists Guild membership that these two staffers represent, not to mention the theatrosphere hosting this new TalkWrite.

Who in culture has custody over truth in language more than writers? Playwrights, poets, novelists and other wordsmiths are entrusted with this obligation, more so than even journalists. So it’s discouraging to know that this was not the first time that playwrights representing the Dramatists Guild have published their “op-ed” in service of an untrue rumor.

In a high-profile incident in 2006, Guild President John Weidman and 22 other Council members published Op-Ed letters of outrage surrounding the alleged behavior of the Chicago Sun-Times theatre reviewer Hedy Weiss. Prominent American playwrights like Kushner, Albee, Durang, Hwang, Shanley, and seventeen Council members, described Hedy Weiss’ behavior with such frenzied adjectives as “scary”, “shocking”, “destructive”, “outrageous”, “obscene.” These playwrights so vehemently attacked the critic in response to an allegation that Weiss had explicitly been asked not to review workshop productions in a festival and had done so anyway. This “rumor” proved to be false. The theatre producer had actually encouraged the press to attend and Weiss had reviewed the same festival in the past without objection.

The official “Guild Statement” to the debacle is from President John Weidman in the form of a letter to the Sun-Times editor coupled with a comment from Guild’s executive director Ralph Sevush. Together they read more like a repositioned fresh attack on the hapless Hedy Weiss than an apology, likewise this equivocal characterization of the statement within the statement.

A number of DG members were also upset by the possible inaccuracy of the Guild’s position in this matter. So, in light of the new information, Mr. Weidman wrote a follow-up letter to the Sun-Times, in which he stated, “to the extent that I criticized Hedy Weiss inaccurately, I was unfair and I regret it.” However, he also made the further point that “writers must be allowed to evaluate their work in a environment protected from critical appraisal, and professional critics should be expected to review an entire work, not just a few minutes of one.”

Note the phrases “possible inaccuracy” and “in the light of new information” as being cause for the John Weidman letter. Even when in the below comment executive director Ralph Sevush finally does have the Dramatist Guild take ownership and responsibility for the false rumor about Weiss’ behavior, he attempts to mitigate liability by saying she was nevertheless guilty of some crime(s) deserving criticism.

And the Dramatists Guild bears some responsibility here too, for not first double-checking with other sources regarding the accuracy of the Theater Building’s allegedly unequivocal statements about Ms. Weiss’s conduct. But, as Mr. Weidman said in his letter, “what I regret most deeply is that that inaccuracy may undermine the valid criticism of what she wrote about these eight teams of authors.”

Within the pseudo-apologies put forth on this page is a link to the earlier John Weidman letter to the Sun-Times editor and the original Guild Statement contextualizing it. Which means that the false rumor about Hedy Weiss’ behavior that incited the whole brouhaha still sits there.

The review was written by theater critic Hedy Weiss, against the expressed wishes of the festival, which had asked Ms. Weiss not to review any of the works since they were still in the developmental stage.

As striking as it is to see this now confessed piece of libel still published without an amendment next to it, the sentence below is even more remarkable in highlighting how the TalkWrite in theatre is shepherding in new ethics in behavior as well.

You can also read the messages of twenty two Guild Council members who wrote in support of the Guild’s position and to voice their individual concerns about the irresponsible behavior of the critic and the newspaper.

Of course you can no longer link to these once public statements. In lieu of individual public retractions or apologies to Weiss, the 22 letters from the Guild Council dramatists were simply “de-published” from the Dramatists Guild web site.

The hope is there was never any consensus among the 22 Council dramatists on what to do with their collective individual statements. The hope is that at least one or more of the most respected writers in American theatre would object to retreating so meekly and unceremoniously from their words.

Throughout history society has devised various ways for individuals to correct or atone for their wrong words. Sometimes the price has been stiff. Wrong words in the form of heresy or treason might even demand a death sentence. Our American founding fathers fought duels over the dishonor wrought by wrong words.

Today, wrong words about another individual generally demand no more than an apology. Or if the wrong words are placed in the public realm, then a public retraction or apology is offered. But is it now acceptable behavior to simply “de-publish” false words without assuming any responsibility for their wrongdoing?

In the new TalkWrite, rumor apparently no longer need make concessions to fact. In this particular instance, the Tec/Garrison post has been neither amended nor even “de-published.” Such rumor-based posts bluster briefly in their false bravado. With a shelf life too short to warrant intervention, they quickly fade back into their natural state of irrelevant gossip. This blog post now sits at the LOOP in its most accomplished and essential form… a story without a byline. Much like the “open secret” rumor it highlights, the tale has no author or identifiable owner to take responsibility for its existence.

Filed under: Theatre and Culture24 Comments »


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 Last Rat Conference Comes Home Again

By Nick Fracaro at 6:04 pm on Saturday, July 26, 2008

The RAT Conference from 1994-2004 was the single most transforming element of our theatre ensemble’s history. Our present day aesthetic and ethic developed directly from that ten-year collaboration with other theatre companies and individuals from around the country and the world. For many years we found our strength of purpose and community in this “Regional Alternative Theatre” confederacy.

Our theatre instigated and led many of the conferences including the final one in Argentina. Company members Melanie, Gabriele, Markus and I all were part of the RAT contingency which produced the Macbeth Project at El Rayo Misterioso’s 2004 Experimenta and then traveled to a farm on the outskirts of a small city thirty miles outside of Buenos Aires to collaborate further on the project with the theatre/art collective Willaldea.

Old friends from Willaldea are now in New York performing She and the Empty Living Room, produced through El Taller Latino Americano as part of the Underground Zero festival of experimental theatre tonight and at our Avant Yarde on Monday night.

I had traveled to Argentina three different years to work with the El Rayo and Willadea artists. Through them I also met many other artists who work in physically based international theatre. Following are my reflections from five years ago on what would be the last Rat Conference. (Of course indie theatre producers — rats — still exist across this country, perhaps in greater numbers and more vibrant than ever, even without the Rat Conference promoting, advocating and networking for their existence.)

The pilgrimage and its return to home works well as metaphor for our individual ensemble’s continuation of the work we and other theatres had begun with the Rat Conference.

******* ***** *****
El Rayo and Willaldea, Argentina
December 7-17, 2003

Cindy’s question at day’s end of the Argentina rat meet was sharpest. “How does one integrate the experience into one’s life without romanticizing it?”

RatMeet as pilgrimage as training technique.

RatMeets function less within memory/documentation and more as part and parcel of an ongoing process/journey. Likewise, rat is best without a past. Its present is prologue… with new pilgrims regularly joining the enduring procession defining and redefining motive and direction. So now Argentine, Mexican, Basque, and other new rats are able to lead the pilgrimage and training technique back into USA rat and elsewhere.

The pilgrim takes leave from a specific state, searches and researches for a way, beholds the new vista, and then returns back home. Each will then bear witness to the pilgrimage, performing before the unique hometown audience. In this way home also becomes an evolving place (and condition) layered with the instructions from the pilgrimage.

A pilgrim is not a guru or master teacher. He has no disciples or followers but only fellow travelers. To elevate one rat over other pilgrims is to actually degrade that rat into tour guide. The pilgrimage holiday also then becomes equally debased into a vacation. The RatMeet is the movable dojo. The school where peerless masters may transform themselves into adept peers and back again.

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

I travel from a place of privilege and I wear my origin almost indelibly. Most intricate and difficult to cast off is the image of tourista Ugly American. Like a mark of Cain it separates me from them as much if not more than my gringo lingo does. Apt metaphor then the necessity that half of our actual baggage would be shed on the difficult road leading to Willaldea. In trying to deliver it, Gabriele and I separated from the group and got completely lost in the dark countryside. We walked in circles for what felt like half a lifetime alternating between emotions of anger and panic. By the time we finally arrived at the circle of familiar faces eating dinner next to the fireplace, all elements of tourista had been stripped from us. Hugging friends Bruno, Yolanda, Guido, and Fabio, we knew we were home.

The naturalness in which they pursue their life in art is what inspires me most. Bruno has an injured hand so Guido now is the one who needs to get up at dawn for the milking. He explains how the cows accept him and Bruno almost as replacements for their calves that have been weaned. The cows need to be milked twice daily at twelve hour intervals otherwise their udders will dry up. Yolanda will feed the chickens and ducks each morning before she leads the actors through their training which is as physically intense as any that we found at Experimenta. The hours that we will schedule for our training and meetings are coordinated to the times needed to stir the milk and complete the other processes that will transform it into Mozzarella cheese. After their performance the actors will fashion this cheese into baked pizza to then serve with honest joy to their audience.

This naturally balanced rigor at Willaldea is in contrast to the narrowly stringent physical discipline I find at El Rayo and forces a comparison. El Rayo’s future goal is to be able to train as actors daylong instead of performing the multiple tasks they now do in order to keep their theater running. Monks in a monastery studying and training in a martial art would be one model for their actors’ laboratory. Aldo has expanded his traditional Kung Fu training by inventing a kata from studying the butterfly. He teaches these movements to Natalia who then teaches it to certain members of the ensemble. From the writings of Artaud he has abstracted certain tension/release exercises combining them with selected physical methodologies of early Grotowski. The ensemble also uses basic acrobatics, shamanism, massage, tarot readings and other practices as part of their daily training.

Guido migrated to Argentina more than 25 years ago with a small group from the original urban art village in Milan, Italy. That Milan collective still exists and member Roberto gave a presentation at this year’s Experimenta. The ostensible artlessness of Willaldea’s life style is actually grounded in a complex philosophy that studies the relationships found within the microcosm/macrocosm and finding a balance between the economic, social, and artistic realms in life. The individual’s ability to contaminate and alter the whole is a principal concept and is evidenced by how much influence the arrival last year of Yolanda and her Odin based training has transformed the theatre.

A constant element in Willaldea’s soundscape was the young calf bawling daylong. Roped off to the tree to be weaned from milk, alone and separate from the herd and mother, the plaintive wails were perfect articulation of the fear and pain found in all experiences that truly transform. Both of these very different ensembles of Willaldea and El Rayo have proposed avenues for future collaborations. Rat has contaminated each of them and vice versa.

Crossposted at International Culture Lab.

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How Theatre Failed/Saved America

By Nick Fracaro at 9:52 am on Monday, June 30, 2008

UPDATE: Teresa Eyring’s From the Executive Director column is now online at the American Theatre site. Mike Daisey has responded with a rebuttal at his blog site. As one of his points, he scrutinizes Ms. Eyring’s unfortunate title, the same item that had struck me as the most egregious in her piece.

Ms. Eyring’s title takes one’s breath away. If it were called HOW THEATRE WILL SAVE AMERICA it would still be defensible, if a bit sweeping—it could fantasize about a nearly unimaginable future when theater will reach out from the stage and save all of America from corporate greed, the military-industrial complex, racism, sexism, and human nature itself by reshaping America.

That’s bold. But Ms. Eyring takes it a step further and uses the past tense—HOW THEATRE SAVED AMERICA—informing us that the work is done, the wars have been fought and that we actually live in a glorious utopia right now, one that has been created by the American theater. If one didn’t know better, one might think it is an attempt at wit—a shallow attempt to play off of my title for comic effect, ignoring the actual meaning implicit in the words I’d chosen.

It is a shockingly poor idea to make such an assertion in the title, unless the essay that follows brings some serious arguments to bear, and this is the third problem with the piece. HOW THEATRE SAVED AMERICA, PART ONE chooses to accomplish this goal not by grappling with any of the arguments in my monologue, but instead displaying examples of theaters that are working within their communities as a kind of proof positive that theater has saved America. It specifically cites one example at length, describing the work of Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.

I find it reaching to claim that one company from a town of 12,000 in Pennsylvania, however wonderful they might be, contraindicates the larger story of the arts infrastructure in a country of 300 million….

Ms. Eyring ends her piece saying, “And this is just the beginning of how theatre saved America.” The implication is that we will see a great deal more of her argument in Part Two. I do hope that this response will make her think more judiciously about the title for the second half of this article, and I hope some of the criticisms I’ve raised may be addressed in its contents.

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

In the July/August issue of American Theatre, executive director of TCG, Teresa Eyring, has written a counter argument to Mike Daisey’s monologue How Theater Failed America. Her Pollyannaism about the state of regional theatre is probably a major part of her job description but the title of her piece, How Theatre Saved America, Part 1, rings almost as parody answer to the serious failures of regional theatre that Daisey’s monologue brings into discussion. And she probably wishes she had heard the news of Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s closing before the magazine went to print. On that point, I’ll be interested if she edits this opening paragraph to her argument in the online version of the “From The Executive Director” page when it’s posted tomorrow.

“While permanent acting ensembles are indeed a rare commodity at major U. S. theatres, typically ignored—even by the popular monologist Mike Daisey in How Theatre Failed America, which ran Off Broadway through June 22—is the array of ensemble companies working across the country. What about, for instance, the long standing acting collaborations of Minneapolis’s Theatre de la Jeune Lune…”

For more discussion about Teresa Eyring’s column see Scott’s and Dennis’ Letters to the Editor.

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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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Subtext to Text

By Nick Fracaro at 1:41 pm on Monday, May 26, 2008

I have noticed that I am beginning to develop a new relationship to blogging. I am finding my comment writing in others’ blogs just as challenging, if not more so, than the writing of my own posts.

I have taken partial lead on this from Mac Rogers. The SlowLearner is also slow on blog postings but he is often present in comment sections of the theatrosphere with his pointed questions.

I have been thinking of the comment sections of the theatrosphere as the subtext to the hyperlink exchange of blog posts.

Subtext can be a way for the creator of a work to relay ideals, principles, controversial relationships or political statements without alienating viewers or readers who may balk at the ideas or even reject the work.”

For some time now, I have been exploring the theatrosphere as a “fictive reality” that contains both a Rat Sass persona and the “real” nick, as much as the real Nick can actually present himself. In the comment sections of other blogs, my persona shifts slightly, like a chameleon altering skin color to blend into its environment.

So I find myself writing and editing my comments more deliberately in belief that the “real” conversation of the theatrosphere is being propelled and directed from there.

The below is my recent comment at Angry White Guy that feels like a bookend to a long conversation thread I have been participating in, and often instigating or reviving, through various comment sections. It began at Don Hall’s review of a Greyzelda production, traveled over to Praxis, then over to Trailing Spouse Blues, back to the big brawl at Don’s again, then a post at Rat Sass, and then another one. If you look at the dates of these posts and comments you will discover that this conversation has been going on for over a month now. I admire and appreciate both Rebecca and Don for their stamina. It must have been emotionally trying to be constantly thrown into the defensive as the subjects of this important discussion.

Punk Ethos and Writing

…but in the world of punk, if it sucked, you got punched in the face or had a beer bottle thrown at you. In this FaceBook Nation of ours, the call for more civility and more constructive approaches is exactly the opposite of a punk ethos.

Exactomundo. And the punk zines were part and parcel of that ethos which led the way to the zine scene of ‘80’s with its aggressive and belligerent style of writing. The zine movement segued into the argumentative writing and discussion found on Internet listservs of the ‘90’s. All of which leads to the blogosphere. What people call “snark” today is actually the nth generational manifestation of this alternative zine writing style.

Those bloggers calling for more civil or politically correct talk are often Johnnies Come Lately to writing; their blog is their first attempt to actually write anything other than their very proper high school or college papers. But writing school papers was work. So instead of writing, blogging has become more like transcribed talk. This discourse style believes that just by keeping its schoolboy etiquette, its patter will somehow be elevated into something of value. But there is a vast difference between spewing out one’s opinions and honing one’s thoughts into ideas that could impact on the mindset of a reader. So the Snarkless Marks’ antagonism to an uncivil tone is also their envy of any crafted or edited writing.

Blog posts/comments are as public as our art is, but generally the writing is treated cavalierly…“throwing in my two-cents” on this or that “Question of the Day.” Such pandering to one another for innocuous comments effectively lowers the common denominator of exchange and is infinitely more destructive than any “discussion tone.” So it’s no wonder that anytime anyone actually attempts to write in the theatrosphere with deliberation to create effect (as most of us actually attempt to do with our art) an episode of Sturm und Drang is likely to develop among the chit-chatters.

The relationships in these social networks in FaceBookNation (including the theatrosphere) are based on weak ties when compared to peer production. We give no quarter when practicing our art, demanding full passion and commitment from collaborators. If we practiced blogging with just a fraction of the ardent assurance we practice theatre, every day we would rehearse yesterday’s text, honing out our dishonesties and trivialities, not our incivilities.

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Chicago Judge Issues Gag Order on Theatre Bloggers

By Nick Fracaro at 7:49 pm on Friday, May 16, 2008

Numerous verbal fisticuffs have erupted recently in the theatrosphere. The discussion surrounding Don Hall’s review of Greyzelda Theatre’s production has been particularly volatile.

It is unclear how this gag order from a Cook County judge in Chicago will be enforceable on bloggers as far away as Australia but just its existence adds a chilling effect on future discourse in the theatrosphere.

Chicago bloggers directly under the jurisdiction of the court order include Devilvet, GreyZelda, Paul Rekk, Don Hall, Trailing Spouse Blues, Nick Keenan, and Jay Raskolnikov.

I’m not sure how this court order really effects me or other bloggers in the rest of the theatrosphere, but until the legal ramifications are fully explored, it is probably best all theatre bloggers cease posting or commenting directly on this subject.

Read the full article of this case “He said; She said: A Dialogue That Never Happened” and the recovered ghost comments in the Financial Times.

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The Coming PR Clique Wars and the New Censorship

By Nick Fracaro at 4:52 pm on Monday, May 12, 2008


Dramatists Guild War poster circa May 2008. 40 x 29.

A drowning playwright points accusingly. This is one of a large group of posters, warning against vicious and personal reviews of regional theatre productions, many of which are being sunk by critics before achieving their Broadway runs. These types of posters are also being displayed in regional theatre lobbies, theatre audience bars and restaurants-wherever there is danger of critics, reviewers, or other saboteurs attempting to initiate dramaturgical discussions before a production is ready for prime time.

sinking ship

Actors Equity War poster circa May 2008. 28 x 22.

A group of injured and shocked actors in a life boat rowing away from their critically savaged production. Central to maintaining a deluded sense of self worth and a duplicitous social facade of camaraderie, the PR Cliques’ broadcasts attempt to limit talk about productions in both the public and private arenas of American life, especially at theatre barbeques. The graphic designs of these “loose talk” posters are usually strong and eye catching using bright colors for impact.

rosie the riveter

Girl Bloggers Guild War poster circa May 2008. 40 x 29.

Attempts by progressive members of certain PR Cliques to bring women bloggers into the testosterone charged theatrosphere to “civilize” the conversation met with only limited success. Turns out that women often can be bigger “fuckwits” than men.

careless talk

The PR Clique Wise Guise Nicks War poster circa May 2008. 40 x 29.

Careless Talk, Uncivil Talk, Anonymous talk, Preview Review Talk, Rehearsal Talk, the NPAC talk before the NPAC talk, and the Mike Daisey TalksAfter™ Mike Daisey talks. Talk, talk, who’s got the talk in our new FaceBookNation?

Elegy (with Advertisement) Struggling to Find Its Hero

It was a century in which we touched ourselves in mirrors
over and over. It was a decade of fast yet permanent
memories. The kaleidoscope of pain

some inflicted on others seemed inexhaustible
as the positions of sex, a term
whose meaning is as hybridized as the latest orchid. Terrorism

had reached a new peak, and we gradually
didn’t care which airline we got on, as long as the pilot
was sober, and the stash of pretzels, beer, and soft drinks

remained intact. On TV, a teenage idol has just crawled, dripping wet,
from the top of a giant Pepsi can, or maybe I imagined it,
flicking through channels where the panoply

of reality shows has begun to exorcise
the very notion of reality, for both the scrutinized actor
and the debilitated viewer who becomes confused and often reaches

into the pastel screen for his glass, while down Broadway
sirens provide a kind of glamorous chorus
for this script of history where everything is so neatly measured

in miles, pounds, or megabits. How nice it would be
to drowse in the immeasurable. How nice
it would be to escape.

                                    And there’s a wobbly marble bench
                                           beneath an out-of-focus tree on the Web
                                                I like to occasion my body with.

How brief we’ve become in our speed
I think. How fast the eternal.
How desperately

we need a clearing, a place
beyond, but not necessarily
of nature. And the rain

was so deep the entire forest smelled of stone, then the sun
broke, burying the long shadows
in gold.
And the wounded

king woke in a book long since closed, and the princess
came to in a bed so large
she could never leave. How desperately

we need a new legend, one with a hero, tired
though he may be. One who has used
business to give up

business, one who has bought
with his heart what we
sold with ours.

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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, 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.

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The Heart of Failure and Promise

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


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.


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.


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:

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
Mike Daisey
steve on broadway
Jay Raskolnikov — half hillbilly, Demi-Culture
The Mission Paradox Blog
GreyZelda Land
Que j’ai rêvé
Midnight Honesty at Noon
Carmi Neighborhood Watch 

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Awake From Your Slumber!

By Nick Fracaro at 1:31 pm on Saturday, March 15, 2008

Our current project with Theater Rampe Stuttgart in Germany commissioned a new script from Austrian author Andreas Jungwirth. Outside Inn examines how capitalism has infiltrated into the most personal parts of our lives. In the passage below the character Paul, inheritor of the “family’s” business, relates a conversation in which his father-in-law, the legendary corporate CEO known as “the German,” explains where “we” are going next.

“Kalowski has been silent the entire time. Suddenly he asks me to listen. Kalowski explains how wars make it possible to make a lot of money. Iraq, Afghanistan. But that it was also possible to make very large sums of money. We’re going into Iran. Iran – ? That’s impossible. Kalowski says nothing’s impossible. That I should remember that from here on out. After our return to Germany, it would be my job to develop a strategy for circumventing EU guidelines.”

I was thinking about this when watching a new music video now available at youtube and a growing number of sites. It appears to be a kind of video trailer for a DVD documentary that Ralph Nader and Patti Smith teamed up to make from their Democracy Rising Peace Tour (see description below). As Michael Lithgow at Art Threat points out.

This seems to be increasingly an integral part of U.S. politics, no doubt in part because of the phenomenal success of’s Barack Obama video “Yes we can” which has been downloaded over 6 million times and links the Obama campaign with a who’s who of cultural literati.

Patti and Ralph look good together. They are the dream team for El Presidente and Veep of the always present and disruptive alternative rebel nation in this country. Ralph words “The way to respect the troops is to get them out of there and bring them to safety” are intercut with Patti’s rock drone at microphone “Awake from your slumber. And get ’em with the numbers.”

“Awake From Your Slumber” brings together two visionaries: citizen-activist Ralph Nader and punk poet Patti Smith, in a powerful dialogue of war and peace. Touring together as the Democracy Rising Peace Tour, Ralph and Patti make the case against the Iraq war and the corporate takeover of our democracy. Produced by the Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center, AWAKE mixes image, music and spoken word to strip away the facade of political lies and reveal the annihilation of civilization, war profiteering, the unseen dead, and the unheard cries of motherhood. “Awake From Your Slumber” is history lesson, poetry reading and rock concert. Above all, it is an inspiring, mesmerizing, and deeply moving call to action, showing the power of the people to make change.

(Crossposted at International Culture Lab blog.)

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Theatre Kultur

By Nick Fracaro at 11:00 pm on Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In the early ’80’s we were living in the alternative theatre and punk scene in Toronto. Headquarters was at the Cameron. Paul Sannella was both bartender and owner. He managed and ran the place (not) exactly as the tribe model Scott at Theatre Ideas has been proposing. Michael Hollingsworth and his theatre Video Cabaret lived upstairs.


Odd duck waiter at the Cameron was artist Andy Paterson. Something Andy said still haunts and hunts me now some 25 years later. Our Marat Sade crew were primo punk distrupters back then and Andy got so pissed at my shenanegans one night he said, “Nick, why don’t you do everyone a favor, and just commit suicide.”

So Andy had called my bluff of punk nihilism and shut me up for one night, forcing me into deep thoughts on the meaning of my life and art. Both in terms of money and rowdyness, Paul always allowed our ragtag Marat Sade tribe and others to run an open tab at the Cameron. We ran an after hours place a block down on Queen Street and after 1 a.m. we gave the Cameron House tribe the same open tab. Mike Nightmare and the Wild Things along with Zero provided the music for the Marat Sades. At the Cameron House one of the music staples was Handsome Ned.handsome ned

Ned built his legend with his Cameron solo shows. He’d roll downstairs from the tiny room he lived in over the bar, first holding court in the Cameron’s front room and then sliding to the back for his shows. The upper three floors housed an impossible artists’ community in the 18 or so rooms that were “rented,” actually traded, to visual artists and musicians whose artwork or songs filled the dilapidated public house below.

Molly Johnson, Holly Cole, Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson, visual artist Tim Jocelyn, playwrights Deanne Taylor and Michael Hollingsworth were just some who benefited from the creative landlording of Cameron owners Herb Tookey, Paul Sannella and Anne-Marie Ferraro, who also lived in the rooms among their tenants.

Molly Johnson performed her own reisdency-for-rent, the Blue Mondays shows, which launched the then art-rocker into her jazz career, at Tookey’s suggestion.

“We all shared one bathroom, and the bath tub was up over the back room stage,” says Johnson. “I’d have my bubble bath while Ned did his matinees, and I could just see him through a hole in the floor for the drain pipe.”

Unlike at the recent reincarnations of the Drake and the Gladstone further along Queen, the old-time drinkers who inhabited the Cameron before the artists arrived weren’t booted out. Crusty types like Cameron regular Carl Johnson just became part of the mix, and when Ned sang classic Hank Williams or Tex Ritter songs in the back, what was new to the young crowd was familiar fare to the bar’s senior citizens, who were often Ned’s biggest fans and harshest critics.

The story Paul relates about the “ten ants” happened after our theatre had already moved to New York. Of course this type of tribe could only live on the fringe or underground of a large urban center like Toronto. Likewise our Marat Sade tribe which produced its theatre and life style out of the patronage of the after-hour scene of a large city. Such a lifestyle and theatre model is probably much different than the one Scott envisions in Independence, Missouri. For those interested I have written about the model and lifestyle of the Marat Sade tribe in an essay Theatre Pas Muraille. It was a fun and famous time for all of us. But fame within the punk ethic is the perfect counter to Nylachi’s notion of fame and fortune. Culture all looks like Kultur from the punk perspective. Although there can never be a revolution, there can be a constant rebellion against the values that the dominant culture promotes.

When people describe Queen Street at the time, words like “community,” “village” and even “oasis” come up. There was a freedom in being so off the radar, and bands weren’t competitive with each other. They were all striving, but not fighting, for a piece of the pie, because there was no pie on offer.

In preparing to write this post I was googling for that famous quote from that famous artist who had famously examined the nature of fame in all his work when I found a press release which contained the quote.

The collection is designed to pay homage to the collective iconography of both the Levi’s® brand and Andy Warhol’s famed pop-culture art. The collection leverages Levi’s® great fit in jeans and jackets and is embellished with imagery reflective of Andy Warhol’s more famous artwork and sayings such as: “Fashion wasn’t what you wore someplace anymore; it was the whole reason for going.” The collection will be available at super-premium retailers and will debut in spring 2006.

levi jacket

Warhol Factory X Levi’s® Marilyn Jean Jacket

COLOR: DARK BLUE – $400.00

The classic trucker with Warhol Factory X Levi’s® collection details — a Marilyn patch topstitched on the front and the same famous image painted on the center back panel. Shoulders have a retro-look wash and wear; all edges are lightly abraded. A subtle pattern is screen printed inside. Styled with handwarmer pockets and side tabs. Closes with signature Warhol buttons. Country Of Origin: Imported.

I would feel stupid wearing above jacket, slightly “gift wrapped” myself, even though I had worn a similar beat-up trucker vest jacket back in the Toronto days. More than that though, the $400 price tag of the above jacket represents a week salary at my primary day job. I am in the league with all those Chicago theatre bloggers (Don, GreyZelda, Bob, Tony, Nick) who have their day job as the chief patron of their art. In working with rat theatres I found the day job to be the primary patronage system of most of the independent theatre produced in this country. Most often box office, grants, and other forms of patronage are able to cover the production costs of theatre and perhaps a small stipend to the artists, but little else. Members of the ensembles all have day jobs and often it is this interconnection with the “real” world of commerce that the theatre finds its true support.

The “retro-look” is a way of packaging and selling something that no longer really exists. I was thinking about this in relationship to the recent article in the Times that examined the trend of regional theatres toward spending millions on building gargantuan new facilities. This is money being spent, regardless of denials, not in support of local artists but in the house meant to attract national talent.

And it’s true that the building boom, particularly among the aging lions of the regional movement, is partly about creating whiz-bang “destination” theaters that will attract national talent. (Also, younger audiences.) But the companies say they are doing this to enhance or recapture their mission, not discard it.

At the same time they seem to be making pre-emptive statements about their centrality to the culture. In the last two years alone the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis moved into its new $125 millionJean Nouvel home overlooking the Mississippi River; Arena Stage in Washington broke ground on the $120 million Mead Center, designed by Bing Thom; and the Dallas Theater Center, in the city where the regional movement arguably began, started buildingRem Koolhaas’s Wyly Theater, part of a cultural complex pegged at a Texas-size $338 million.

“You either grow or you die,” said Joe Dowling, the Guthrie’s artistic director.

Quotes from Mike Daisey’s How Theatre Failed America are used throughout this excellent article. Mike’s observations pulled out of the Us/Them framework serve well to show how not just the regional theatres have lost their direction but theatre culture itself has.

Fandom is different than audience is different than community. Theatre can function as a counter to the Dominant Culture as it searches for its audience and community. Or not. The whole of theatre culture seems content to relax now into its new design model that Kultur is prepared to offer it. The Destination where aging baby boomers squeezing their fat asses into “relaxed fit” Levis can mingle with hip new youngsters in retro-look jackets. And “all edges are lightly abraded” to give illusion of something that has actually been worn and lived in.

designer  jean man


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Contextualizing, Editing, Censoring

By Nick Fracaro at 7:24 am on Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Playgoer is worried that “Rachel Corrie” Buffered in Beantown may be pointing to a troublesome trend developing in theatre.

He his talking about the “contextualization” of the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie by the New Repertory Theatre in a preview report on the production in the Boston Globe.

[New Rep] had originally planned to pair “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” with the one-act “To Pay the Price,” about the late Israeli Army hero Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu. But after the Netanyahu family heard of the plans, it asked that “To Pay the Price” be pulled from the lineup, deeming the two plays incompatible.

Forging ahead, New Rep replaced “Price” with the solo show “Pieces,” written and performed by an Israeli-American, Zohar Tirosh, about her experience serving in the Israeli military in the mid-1990s, when peace seemed like a real possibility. The company is also surrounding the two works – staged in its 90-seat black-box space – with related panel discussions,talkbacks, readings, and films, including the Oscar-nominated documentary “Promises.”

The New Rep’s producing artistic director, Rick Lombardo, says that this mini-festival on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not part of an effort to deflect criticism of “Rachel Corrie,” but is instead the result of nine months of planning and dialogue that he and his staff engaged in with various communities, from the Arab Anti-Defamation League to the American Civil Liberties Union to the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Of course this was very similar to the approach that New York Theater Workshop’s artictic director Jim Nicola had wanted to take in presenting the piece. He was roundly criticized and unjustly accused of censorship for postponing the production to accomplish that goal.

Garrett is right-on in his observation that, “Isn’t it funny that this approach has not been advocated for plays on any other issue?” But I think he is off in his concluding observation and fears of a new trend.

But look: we don’t see this approach taken with plays of any other subject, do we? (Or so far, of any other plays!) So obviously we don’t need to worry about this becoming a trend, right? Or do we…

As Jeremy Gerard reported at the time of the controversy, “Rachel Corrie” was not the first play on this issue that was postponed to await “contextalization.” There was nothing new or trend setting in the approach that NYTW was attempting and what is scheduled to happen now in Boston.

In the U.S. this season, an off-Broadway company, the New York Theatre Workshop — probably best known as the group that developed “Rent” as well as TonyKushner’s “Homebody/Kabul” — was to have presented “Rachel Corrie.” But artistic director James Nicola announced last week that the production was being “delayed” while the group considered the best way to “contextualize” the play. Translation: People are complaining that presenting this work gives a bullhorn to Israel’s enemies, and that makes us very nervous. So we’re going to see if we can render “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” toothless or, barring that, postpone it and pray really hard that the problem eventually just goes away.

Papp’s `Storytellers’

That’s what Joe Papp also may have hoped when something similar happened to the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival and overseer of the Public Theater. In the summer of 1989,Papp abruptly canceled an appearance by a touring Palestinian theater troupe. El-Hakawati (“The Storytellers”) was slated to perform “The Story of Kufur Shamma ,” the tale of a Palestinian refugee’s return to his long-deserted village 40 years after the birth of the modern state of Israel.

As with “Rachel Corrie,” protests erupted. Somewhat more transparent than Nicola, Papp simply announced that he’d had second thoughts. Since he had never presented a pro-Israeli play, he told the press, “it just seemed inappropriate” to produce “Kufur Shamma” as his first statement on such a hand grenade of an issue. Thinking he could buy time as well as support, he promised to present the play within a year. In fact,Papp, already dying from cancer, never did produce “Kufur Shamma.”

`Contextualizing’ the Play

When it opened later that summer under a different producer’s banner, no protests ensued, and the review by a third-string New York Times critic referred only obliquely to the earlier controversy, thoughtfully leaving Papp’s name, and that of his theater, completely out of it.

Interesting that Garrett points to Wally Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, a controversial play which premiered at The Public also in the late ’80’s, as evidence of a play that didn’t need to run for cover when confronting the unpleasant.

So by running for cover behind as many “diverse views” as possible, we deprive the theatre of that special frisson that can only come from confronting the unpleasant. Even if it is “wrong.” Think of that ending from Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, for instance, where the heroine leaves us with an atrocious monologue justifying Kissingerian ethics on warcrimes, assassination, and such. Now imagine someone coming out after the show having to explain to you, “Now boys and girls, that was justa play. We don’t really think that.”

However, as Jeff Jones points out in his smart essay On Geezer Theatre, although Aunt Dan and Lemon did not exactly run for cover, its author Wallace Shawn did invent his own special species of buffering or contextalizing to frame the play.

The really curious thing about Shawn’s play-and the best evidence of the theatre’s provinciality in these matters-is that the author felt it necessary to add both prologue and epilogue explaining at length how one could write (and read) a play which didn’t unambiguously reflect the beliefs of the playwright.

The epilogue that Jeff Jones references is an essay that Wally Shawn wrote as addendum to the published text of the play. The prologue refers to a peculiar act of contextalization by the playwright who was also an actor in the original ensemble.

At the original production of this play at The Public in 1986, there was reportedly such a vocal and disturbed response from some in the audience that Shawn wrote an essay “Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Night at the Theater,” and handed it out to the audience.

Garrett found it a preposterous notion that someone would need to explain Aunt Dan and Lemon with a statement like “Now boys and girls, that was just a play. We don’t really think that.” But in reading the “written prologue” passed out to the audience, the playwright Shawn seems to be accentuating exactly that very simple reality of “it’s just a play” to his audience, so as to guide them into the correct reception of the play and afterthoughts of the experience.

A play represents a self-enclosed little world for the audience to examine. It’s an opportunity to look objectively at a group of people, to assess them, to react to them, and to measure oneself against them, to ask, “Am I like that?”

The politics of reception are complicated. Both playwright Shawn and artistic director Nicola were similarly attempting to manipulate audience reception. Nicola’s action like Shawn’s should be labeled production dramaturgy, or perhaps even public relations, but not censorship. To do so trivializes the fact that real and dangerous forces of censorship do exist in the world. Jeremy Gerard does exactly that when he suggests that even threats of violence should not give producers pause.

Another person Nicola might turn to for guidance is Lynne Meadow, artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club. When Meadow announced plans to offer “Corpus Christi,” a TerrenceMcNally play suggesting that Jesus might have been gay, she faced demonstrations and threats of violence. So she and executive producer Barry Grove canceled the production, briefly suffering the very public indignity of an artists’ boycott of her theater. Ultimately the play went up, uncontextualized. The protests and threats came and left, life went on, Christendom endured.

The more apropos play and production which Jeremy Gerard doesn’t cite in his article is one with which both he and I had an unique relationship. He was working for the theatre section of the New York Times in 1987 when our theatre sent out our press release on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Trash, The City and Death. Jeremy Gerard was the first journalist to contact us. He then called and talked to me as director probably every third day in the final weeks of our rehearsal. He insisted up until the production opening that he was writing an article for the Times. The last word I heard from him was laden with the frustration of a writer suffering under censorship or self-censorship in some way and yet still emphatically insisting, “I will write something. I don’t know what. But I promise that I will write something.”

Fassbinder’s Trash, The City and Death had a history of failed attempts at productions as well as volumes of critical debate on its merits. Branded anti-Semitic by some, consensus was that the play was unproduceable for that reason. Fassbinder’s piece was speaking to real estate speculation exploiting the city of Frankfurt; our production found parallels in mid ‘80’s Lower East Side on New York. (Fassbinder had stipulated that the play’s premiere had to be in either Frankfurt or New York.) After rehearsing the play for nine months with an ensemble of twenty-five, we produced its premiere in the celebrated artists’ squat ABC No Rio.

Happenstance had one third of the ensemble members Jewish, which would be odd in any American city other than New York. At the time, and probably still true today, there were more Jews in NYC than any other city in the world, including TelAviv. The issue that this play scrutinized was our issue. The issue of our ensemble and our city. Whatever bravado the ensemble assumed or projected in the face of the censorship and threats was eclipsed by the mostly unacknowledged grace that the art form itself provided us. Theatre is still that near sanctified space where we come face to face with the vulnerability of our humanness.

As someone who was in constant contact with me, Jeremy Gerard was well aware of the layers of covert and overt censorship surrounding our production. Ten days prior to our opening, the Anti-Defamation League of the influential Jewish B’nai B’rith organization spread warnings on the play, calling it a “catalyst for antisemitic and racist reactions.” A few days later we received a tacit death threat on our phone machine, this at a time when the violent Jewish Defense League was still active in the city.

This world premiere production of Trash, The City and Death was an international news story. Press from four different countries in Europe came to film the opening. This “uncontextualized” controversial play and production received every type of press coverage imaginable, locally in New York and throughout Europe, but Jeremy Gerard’s promised story never appeared. I never asked him why and he never told me. Most of us in the ensemble assumed his editors at The Times had nixed it. If I asked Jeremy Gerard now, he might not even remember the story he was trying write. I know that my own two-decade old memory of facts is as they say, convenient, so I would imagine his memory to be the same. It’s a memory that edits and contextualizes. It’s a memory that censors the story until it fits into the truth we want to believe and recite.

CORRECTION: I had not talked to Jeremy Gerard in twenty years or followed his journalism in that time. Turns out that he has been a longtime advocate for artistic freedom. He pointed me to this feature in New York magazine that gives a fuller look at his journalism on the Manhattan Theatre Club controversy ten years ago. As this excerpt proves Jeremy obviously never minimized the threats of violence or any other attempts at censorship against the producers. The article shows his sincere attempt to differentiate the various concerns involved in this complex issue. I had suggested something different above. My bad.

In fact, they had good reason to be fearful. After reports about the play appeared in the New York Post, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called on elected officials to cut off the company’s public funding and attacked the play — or at least the idea of the play, since clearly no one at the league had read it — as “despicable” and “sick beyond words.” And lest anyone not share that view, the league promised to “wage a war that no one will forget” against anyone foolhardy enough to present Corpus Christi.

Suddenly, the theater was getting telephone threats addressed to “Jew guilty homosexual Terrence McNally. Because of you, we will exterminate every member of the theater and burn the place to the ground . . . Death to the Jews worldwide.” Those threats, Meadow and Grove insisted, led to their decision to delay the production until they could ensure adequate security

(Crossposted at International Culture Lab blog.)

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Chicago Storefront Theatre Model

By Nick Fracaro at 8:15 pm on Sunday, March 2, 2008

If even Slay is not up to the task of summarizing the proposals and calls for change that has had the theatrosphere vibrating over the last few weeks, you know that the conversation is as complex he claims it is.

A couple of times in the past few days I’ve started to write a big summary post of the drama that is currently engulfing most of the theatrenet. For those who don’t know, here are some relevant bits and pieces. Visible Soul, The Mirror Up to Nature, Theatre Ideas, Theatre Ideas, Marsha Norman, An Angry White Guy in Chicago, Rat Sass, Mike Daisey, DevilVet, Jonathan West, The Clyde Fitch Report, Mike Daisey

I often consider it my niche to condense discussions like this for those who haven’t the time or energy to read everything that encompasses such an impassioned, complex look at the state of our art. But, I’m not doing that this time. It seems that what’s needed most here, from us as writers, and you as readers, is engagement. So, please, pick a few of the above, read them throughly and get involved.

Slay’s current post was going to be a follow-up; instead, he found that Don Hall’s inspiring current post with its call for action beat him to the punch on the couple points he had wished to address.

In early December I was visiting family in Chicago so I decided to meet Don Hall in person. I appreciate his built-in bullshit barometer with which he guages observations on theatre and culture at his An Angry White Guy in Chicago site. He also describes his own theatre’s aesthetic and practice there, which parallels much of my history in Chicago back in the early ‘80’s. The original seven founding members of my theatre had all recently graduated from the Chicago Circle Campus of U of I and one was a professor of theatre design there. We followed the model our immediate theatre predecessors in Chicago had established.

The mushrooming growth of homegrown, homemade theater reached its climax in the mid-1970s, with the opening of several small companies that proved training grounds and taking-off points for young directors, actors, designers, and playwrights. These troupes included Victory Gardens, Northlight, Wisdom Bridge, the Body Politic, St. Nicholas (founded by playwright David Mamet), Remains, Organic, and Steppenwolf theaters.

However different their productions, these theaters shared certain key elements. They were founded and staffed by young persons just out of school and eager to find recognition. They were housed in 150- to 250-seat auditoriums in buildings that had never been designed as theater spaces. Warehouses, bowling alleys, ballrooms, church halls, and retail shops were all converted to theater use by the youthful companies who established these revamped spaces as their bases of operations.

Patterns of growth also were similar. Often started with amateur talent and focused on the work of a particular director or writer, the theaters edged into professional status as their audiences and revenue grew. Unlike their counterparts in other cities, however, these companies stayed out of the high-rent downtown districts. Instead of a large theater company in a center-city cluster of high-profile edifices, Chicago offered a swarm of small, enterprising “off-Loop” theaters, many of them in North Side neighborhoods on the fringes of downtown.

impossible dream

From Chicago our theatre moved to Toronto, where the alternative theatre scene was not only thriving in many ways similar to Chicago’s, but was also funded in some part by government grants and actively covered by the mainstream press.We then found another alternative community on NYC’s Lower East Side when we became the first theatre to produce at ABC No Rio. At one point we had members from all three cities’ alternative art communities working together. No Rio of course epitomized the “storefront rebellion” aesthetic in theatre and art that continues today, and although No Rio is probably slightly more radical than most, it intersects with the “tribe model” now being proposed by Scott Walters and others.

ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture. ABC No Rio was founded in 1980 by artists committed to political and social engagement and we retain these values to the present.We seek to facilitate cross-pollination between artists and activists. ABC No Rio is a place where people share resources and ideas to impact society, culture, and community. We believe that art and activism should be for everyone, not just the professionals, experts, and cognoscenti. Our dream is a cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists.

Our community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society’s disenfrachised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.

When I met Don in Chicago last December, he offered me the opportunity to attend the reading of a new play by Bob Fisher and a discussion that his wife Jen was leading. When we arrived at the reading room, I think it was Dan Granata who joked that we should be alert to the fact that some secret conspiratorial cabal might have had a hand in bringing our little section of the theatrical blogosphere into such close physical proximity with one another. Don, Dan, and Bob are each attempting to lead the discussion on theatre models, so I feel very much part of a new national confederacy of theatres that is trying to articulate and manifest itself.

happy home

Don’s recent call for a local Chicago rally over The Off Loop Freedom Charter I think should be supported by the kindred community of artists nationally. I have said in the numerous arguments with Scott over his Us/Them rants and identity, often in the comment sections at Theatre Ideas, that most artists inhabit a split identity — half “tribe” and half “Nylachi.”Don has articulated the tribe half of the theatre community, much of which rings true to my experience with organizing theatres in The Rat Conference for ten years.

The fact is, even if you are a theater artist lucky enough to actually make a full-time living wage performing or directing or writing (yeah – the freaking six of you out there), you are still a part of a small, fragmented gypsy tribe. Fringe Dwellers. Squatters. Nomads.

Don also points out a core problem that many of us at rat addressed. We had proposed the radical notion of No More Box Office as a way of de-commodifying our work and our theatre lead in the practice of the “potlatch model” of hosting conferences and producing theatre collectively. Don now calls for the same paradigm shift.

The model that nearly everyone works under treats theater as a thing to be bought and sold. And as we labor under this paradigm, countless talents are buried under the weight of creating communication and art while being burdened with the economics of a commodity that, due to the very nature of the paradigm, is increasingly becoming unsellable except under the most superficial methods.

We’ve all read it. We all know that change is in the air. What the fuck are we going to do about it?

The “do” should be the beginning and end of all our talk. Leonard Jacobs is absolutely right in telling us all to shut up and act. The argument over theatre models needs to function as a galvanizing issue that unites us as the national theatre and tribe that we already are; i.e., as artist bloggers, idea and action should be tied together. So if we propose an idea to peers, we need to be willing to carry it into practice ourselves. We need to keep our dreams grounded in what is achievable.

I am in full support of what Don is organizing in Chicago. I am excited by the lead the theatrosphere in that city is taking in building a rat-like confederacy. And, back to the future, I feel the same hope for theatre as an art form I felt thirty years ago when we first imagined our ensemble into existence.


(Crossposted at International Culture Lab blog.)

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Ubu Speaks the Truth on How Theater Failed America

By Nick Fracaro at 9:48 am on Saturday, March 1, 2008

ubu speaks the truth 2

ubu speaks the truth 1

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Père DayZ Preempts Discussion

By Nick Fracaro at 12:23 pm on Monday, February 25, 2008

After seeing the premiere performance of How Theater Failed America in New York, I had said that Mike Daisey’s monologue should be used as the foundation for our discussion seeking new models for regional theatre. But almost simultaneous to this, and in tandem with the monologue’s opening in Seattle, Mike published his essay on regional theatre. This probably would have had little import except that he subtitled his essay the same as his performance. His essay is a harsh rant, deliberately simplistic in its Us/Them politics, everything his performance is not. Of course this is everything our discussion should also not be. Mike appears to have been monitoring those of us in the comment trenches of blogs wrestling with our assignment of implementing new theatre models, and although the recent post at his blog Dilettante reads slightly defensive and a tad haughty, Mike does attempt to clarify the difference between his essay and performance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


(and if no one reads this, at least I’ll have something to point people to later.)

The essay and the monologue are not the same, nor are they derived from one another.

That would be this monologue (How Theater Failed America) and this essay (The Empty Spaces). I know, the essay is subtitled with the name of the show—I wrestled with this, the editor wanted it that way, and that’s how it came out. They are not directly related works; they’re connected mainly by their creator, who shares the views expressed in both, but each has very different intentions and audiences. The monologue is intended for live performances, and since that is my principal form it probably represents me best—I’m proud of the essay as well, but it was requested by The Stranger for their paper, for whom I’ve written in the past, and is slanted to some degree toward a specific audience in Seattle. Also, the monologue is 12 to 15 thousand words, while the essay is a little over a tenth that.

I’m very fond of the piece, and delighted that so many have read it—I just want to be clear that isn’t some “cutting” from the monologue. That essay would make a very poor monologue—the language would be all wrong for it, and the structure as well. The essay is also not in any way funny, whereas the show is. They’re quite different.

This is helpful in as far as as Mike goes with it, especially for those of us involved in the discussion on new models for theatre. Since I seemed to be the only person in “theatrical blogosphere” in the debate who had seen his monologue, everyone had to assume the accuracy of my report that the essay and performance were radically different experiences.

I can’t judge how much Mike actually “wrestled” over the title. I’m not sure if he finds any real ethics involved in such a decision beyond those contained within the PR concerns of linking the two together. And as we all know, the realm of public relations and advertising often has a somewhat more malleable understanding of the ethical value assigned to terms such as “clarity” or “truth.”

I had wanted to examine some of the truths I had found in Mike’s performance by comparing and constrasting them to the untruth that I see in the Us/Them premise of his essay. But in the next section of this same blog post Mike essentially preempts my ability to effectively do that.

Please do not review the show in NYC until it has opened on April 14th.

The only performance HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA has had in NYC was its very first performance, which was the first time it was ever spoken aloud, at the Under The Radar Festival. I’m really pleased with how it went that day—it was one of our best birthings ever—but the show was not open to reviewers for that performance, and therefore I ask that you please do not review it before it opens. If you saw the Seattle shows the ball is in your court—I’d prefer that you wait at this point, but those performances were open to the press, so do what you will.

At the same time, please be clear that I am emphatically in favor of free commentary, and this is just an advisory and a request—you remain a human with free will, and I do think it’s good that there’s been a lot of foment and discussion. I just want to be clear about what the ground rules were intended to be.

It would be hard to fault Mike for trying to “wrestle” for the control of the PR of his own performance piece but he is being disingenuous if he is suggesting some understood ground rules were in effect on whether or not a blogger should be able to talk openly about his NYC performance. At the time of the performance, Mike himself linked from his blog to what was essentially a review or critique over at Parabasis as well as my own praise and wish to use his performance as the foundation for discussion. I doubt that any print theatre editor now, more than a month after the incidence of the performance, would be interested in publishing some review of How Theater Failed America. So Mike’s request not to review seems geared specifically to cast my planned inquiry here into the negative light of being hurtful to his future performances of How Theater Failed America instead of my stated intent.

His essay is similar in genre to those rallying speeches used by politicians. These Us/Them rants are not meant to inspire anyone into actually helping change the system but are meant to motivate the base to get out and vote against their enemy. The essay was published similtaneous to the opening in Seattle of How Theater Failed America so little doubt on the motivation for both Mike Daisey and The Stranger newspaper. The concern was centered more on the synergy between reader circulation and box office than on anything as profound as changing the regional theatre system.

Mike Daisey and his alternative Seattle newspaper behave no differently toward their “bottom line” mandates than do the nonprofit corporations and institutions of regional theatre that the essay ridicules. Earlier this year Mike, in league with his Boston regional theatre institution became so lost in the “image management” of his “commodity,” that he ended up branding an innocent group of California high school on a field trip as Christian bigots. The “mantle of smug invulnerability” and “specious whining” that he sees in the staffs of regional theatres was amply present in Mike himself at that time and defines perfectly the attitude and tone of the essayist of How Theater Failed America. One can only wish that the same irony that he wishes would “reach up and bitch-slap” others, would also find Mike’s sweet cheek. And that the truth he confesses to us in his performance would also find residence in his essays and blog writings. That he would take a short break from self promotion and his holier-than-thou mind-set and really enter the discussion among theatre peers seeking and proposing new models for theatre.

Mr. DayZ

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