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Marginalized Workforce Monument

By Nick Fracaro at 8:51 pm on Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Walking from my house to BAM the other night I happened upon this astounding sculpture. I was amazed mostly because the work appeared so official in its construction, so sponsored, yet there was no bronze plaque attached to the base identifying and claiming authorship.

It turns out to be what I had hoped it would be.

“portraits and monuments celebrating our cities marginalized workforce”

A subtle, brilliant piece of culture jamming by Specter, aka Gabriel Reese.

Since 1995 I have used the urban situation as primary destination for my creative concepts through installations that merge with abandoned buildings and forgotten environments. This obsession with art in public places is a result of being introduced to the fine arts through graffiti, viewing all public space as a potential inspiration and location for my creativity… (read entire statement)

Filed under: Uncategorized2 Comments »

Can I Get a Witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the witness and the audience are the same.

Filed under: Audience Leave A Comment »

Daily Tweet

By Nick Fracaro at 11:12 am on Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reference Steve Gerber

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How Tweet It Is

By Nick Fracaro at 11:08 am on Saturday, November 14, 2009

Recently there was a long thread of conversation on the dramaturg listserv on how literary departments should respond to rejected playwright submissions. I decided to explore Twitter as a new art form within this topic. I use the 140-character restriction after the fashion of restrictions that iambic pentameter or haiku pose. I posted the following Tweets (and revisions) to the list.

Daily Twitter Submission (First Draft)
Word Count N/A
Characters (no spaces) 120
Characters (with spaces) 149

I hate reading plays. I love doing plays. I wish more playwrights would stop writing plays and start doing plays. I’d meet them there in a second.

Daily Twitter Submission (Second Draft)
Word Count N/A
Characters (no spaces) 115
Characters (with spaces) 141

I hate reading plays. I love doing plays. I wish playwrights would stop writing, start doing… be both Words, the Speaker & Deeds, the Doer.

Daily Twitter Submission (Final Draft)
Word Count N/A
Characters (no spaces) 115
Characters (with spaces) 140

I hate play scripts. Submissions read like so many cattle at the slaughterhouse. Brave words don’t just talk the talk; they walk the walk.

Theatre Manifesto

Flesh hunters. Queequeg is our playwright. Our script, his indecipherable tattoos. Prescient, he transcribes his tattoos onto our coffin.

Filed under: Uncategorized1 Comment »

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 »

The Road West

By Nick Fracaro at 1:50 pm on Monday, October 5, 2009

After a year’s absence, I return to Rat Sass and the theatrosphere only in trepidation.  With good reason I suppose.  I have barely put my toe in the water and already Collide Flinch labels me mentally unstable.  (It’s so tempting to get into pots and kettles, tits for tats, with theatrosphere’s reigning Queen of Hysteria, but I digress.)

The contrary persona of Rat Sass that I developed through my interactions in the theatroshpere may, just may, have run its course.   By way of Bette Midler’s adjustment to the adage “to call a spade a spade,” the Rat Sass modus operandi has been “to call a spade a shovel.”   Attempting to characterize theatre talk substance does not endear you to any colleagues you might critique unflatteringly, not matter what the style.  But astute readers, or those peers who have a personal relationship with me, would never have read the Rat Sass narrator and its author as the same person.  Those who have known my writing the longest realize that the persona has been in evolution at least since the “Mary Feast” days of the rat-list.   I tried to transport some of the character of that legendary theatre list-serv into the developing blogosphere.  But it didn’t take long for the theatrosphere to devolve into almost a mirror image of the dull beast that the rat-list had become when it closed at the end of 2004.

The rat-list met with irrelevancy as self-promotion gradually supplanted what once had been a raucous exchange of theatre ideas. Beyond the ideas, the rat-list also served as open forum for proposals of collaborative national and international projects and productions. But the old soldiers of this once vibrant exchange slowly faded away. Or more precisely perhaps, there was a generational shift. The rat-list and Rat Conference had grown into prominence with the blossoming of the Internet and Web in the mid- 90’s.   The present day inheritors of that digital world are who I’ve been calling the Facebook Generation — a cross-generational peer group whose focus is “the representation” of the self.   Contrast that with the Woodstock generation whose focus was centered on “the exploration” of the self.

I went into art as an explorer of the self and its habitat. But this gnostic search never really has a cultural counterpart, belonging always primarily to the Steppenwolf and its magic theater.   I hope to discover that same less-traveled road again.  It seems more “counter-culture” now than ever.

Dorothea Lange, The Road West

Dorothea Lange, The Road West

Filed under: Personal2 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 »

Hello loyal readers,

By Nick Fracaro at 4:22 pm on Friday, September 25, 2009

Has it really been a whole year? Thanks to all who have written me personally over this time asking about my neglect of Rat Sass. Well, I’m back. I think. We’ll see anyway.

Although over the last year I have briefly visited the theatrosphere by writing in the comment sections of other blogs, for the most part I haven’t been following the beast too closely.

From my initial browsing, I think not much has changed in this fiction. The narrative continues to evolve along fairly predicable lines with all characters fulfilling their role and serving their function.

I have been trying to connect to the transformative element in art and writing again. Something old school. Something archaic and ritualistic, peopled with archetypes. Something belonging to psyche or soul, beyond the access of the rational ego. I have been there before, so I know the place, but I am not sure if I have the heart to journey into that magical madness again.


The character of Rat Sass may or may not serve this new pursuit, but I hope to continue with the amusements here regardless.

Filed under: Personal3 Comments »

Half-price Tickets for Outside Inn

By Nick Fracaro at 10:21 am on Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sorry to all readers. Serious personal matters have kept me from blogging and many other things in my life, including our theatre’s production at 59E59 Theaters of Outside Inn. The whole ensemble is proud of their work on the show and audiences are all enjoying it. It’s been up and running for a week now and reviews are starting to come in.

Readers of Rat Sass and friends can get half-price tickets with the four letter promotional code RATS.  Come enjoy.

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Bloggers’ Nights for Outside Inn

By Nick Fracaro at 10:15 pm on Thursday, September 25, 2008

Any blogger who has ever braved comment here at Rat Sass is welcome to a press comp to International Culture Lab’s Off-Broadway production of Outside Inn on any night October 2 through October 5. Just email telling me the night you wish to attend.

pr photo outside inn

Filed under: News1 Comment »

Avant Yarde Event Monday Evening

By Nick Fracaro at 10:29 pm on Thursday, August 21, 2008

Eat, meet, and greet
New work by TravSD and Katherine Adamenko

6pm-9pm: Potluck Barbecue and Performance
Monday, August 25

The Avant Yarde
214 Dean Street (Between Nevins and Bond)

Performance/reading will be approximately 40 minutes long. FREE admission with your favorite barbecue item or prepared dish to share. Please RSVP to Gabriele as seating is limited.


Sea / Herself:
The (De)volution of a Beauty Queen

SEA / HERSELF dances down feminine archetypes to unmask the authentic self. Hidden behind layers of make-up and societal graces, the feminine mask of beauty is stripped away to reveal the inner child in all her innocent splendor. Now liberated, the authentic wild woman emerges, returning to sea/herself.

Katherine Adamenko is a performance artist, Butoh dancer, actress and writer. Her unique style of cabaret performance art and renegade interactive performance have been seen on stage, in galleries, museums, parks, streets, kitchens and bathrooms throughout the United States and Europe. To learn more about Katherine and Ladypants Productions, please visit


TravSD’s first new experimental play in over a decade…

Elk Milk, or Custer Wore an Arrow Shirt

Mixing elements of Hollywood westerns, early Shepard, and vaudeville sketch, Elk Milk pokes fun at military paranoia and American terror of “the alien.”

Is the enemy without… or within?

Featuring Matt Gray, Bob Brader, Jeff Lewonczyck, Gyda Arber, et al.

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She and the Empty Living Room

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

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

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

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


markus and carolinaShe and the Empty Living Room

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

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

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

backyard Avant Yarde


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

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


markus and carolina


markus and carolina


backyard Avant Yarde

markus and carolina


Filed under: Dramaturgy,News4 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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Avant Yarde Event Monday Night

By Nick Fracaro at 12:05 pm on Saturday, July 26, 2008

Please join us for the next Avant Yarde event featuring a short play with actors who have lived and worked with our good friends from the South, the nomadic Argentine theatre group Willaldea.

She, and the Empty Living Room

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

empty living room

Conceived and Directed by April Sweeney
Text by Carolina Sotolano and April Sweeney
Performed in Spanish and English by: Markus Hirnigel and Carolina Sotolano
Film by: Miklos Buk, Sound by: Joan JubettMonday,

Monday night, July 28th at Avant Yarde
214 Dean Street (Between Bond and Nevins)

6pm-9pm: Potluck Barbecue and Performance.
Please bring your favorite barbecue item or prepared dish to share.

Presented by International Culture Lab
FREE admission with your favorite dish
Limited seating for the performance

The Avant Yarde is located in a four-story private artists’ residence in the landmarked area of Brownstone Brooklyn. The site hosts artist salons, art potlatches, and commissions and installs temporary sculptures throughout the year. Avant Yarde proposes an alternative to the traditional performance and gallery space, attempting to position the exchange and experience of art outside the confines of the market while also examining conventional notions of public and private space within the community.

Curators: Russell Busch, Katie Merz, Paul Benney, Nick Fracaro, Gabriele Schafer

Avant Yarde accepts proposals for installations and sculptures on an ongoing basis. Write to

Current Installation

Big New Fountain by Charles Goldman

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We all still wish they all could be…

By Nick Fracaro at 3:33 pm on Thursday, July 10, 2008

I am mostly with E. Hunter in her theory about sex and geography.

How is sex geographic? Or maybe it’s atmospheric? More likely. I can only speak for myself, but the humidity of the south really does have a positive effect on one’s libido. I’ve confirmed this theory with exactly one other southerner who also agreed that California can be rather dry. Ahem.

But I think she needs to add that nobody can represent the essence of wet dreams better than California. All those hard and healthy tanned bodies on that primordial beach.

And what about those California girls?

I have a theory myself here about California Girls, on why they have evolved to the top of the food chain. A generally unknown historical fact is that woman could vote, own property and work outside the home from the moment that Los Angeles was founded on Sept. 4, 1781. So my theory is that the East Coast girls and Southern Belles and others never really caught up with this 139-year lead the California girls had in their independent style and class.

And for further elucidation on why we all still wish they all could be California girls, consider this 40-year evolution of the musical film/video tribute to the species. From the Beach Boys in 1965 to David Lee Roth in 1985 to the current Dresden Dolls. Two fun blasts from the past, then the “Brechtian punk cabaret” musical duo Dresden Dolls. Their reinterpretation of the David Lee Roth video in Shores of California is inspired in its breakdown of the stereotype. And an especially nice visual cue having facial tissues dispensed during these repeating lyrics.

Why all these conflicting specifications
Maybe to prevent overpopulation
All I know is that all around the nation
The girls are crying and the boys are masturbating
The girls are crying and the boys are masturbating

Beach Boys “California Girls” 1965

David Lee Roth “California Girls” 1985

Dresden Dolls “Shores of California” 2007

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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.

Filed under: Theatre and Culture,Uncategorized3 Comments »

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.

Filed under: Dramaturgy,Theatre and Culture2 Comments »

Avant Yarde Opening Thursday Night

By Nick Fracaro at 9:53 am on Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NYC friends, please stop by to say hi and for a bubbly toast to Charles.

The Avant Yarde is located in a four-story private artists’ residence in the landmarked area of Brownstone Brooklyn. The site hosts artist salons, art potlatches, and commissions and installs temporary sculptures throughout the year. Avant Yarde proposes an alternative to the traditional performance and gallery space, attempting to position the exchange and experience of art outside the confines of the market while also examining conventional notions of public and private space within the community.

Curators: Russell Busch, Katie Merz, Paul Benney, Nick Fracaro, Gabriele Schafer

Avant Yarde accepts proposals for installations and sculptures on an ongoing basis. Write to

Current Installation

Big New Fountain by Charles Goldman

Opening reception: Thursday, June 12th from 6pm to 9pm at 214 Dean Street, Brooklyn.

Past Installations

Artist: Jason Gandy

What’s Up With That

Boat Mystery Solved!

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Dramaturgy and PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossposted at International Culture Lab.

Filed under: Artist/Critic,Dramaturgy3 Comments »

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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