Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Making the Political Personal

In celebration of World Theatre Day,
hotINK hosted a panel discussion entitled Making the Political Personal.

Moderated by Kevin Bitterman, Associate Director of International Programs at TCG the event was held at the Lark Play Development Center and featured some very well traveled and well versed panelists: Elmar Maripuu, Canadian Playwright to be featured at HotINK festival of New Plays from Around the World; Barbara Lanciers, Program Officer at Trust for Mutual Understanding; Nilaja Sun, Actor/Playwright/Activist and Solo performer and writer of the Off-Broadway hit No Child; Melanie Josesph, Artistic Director, The Foundry Theatre.

The event began as Bitterman and the panelists posed some thought provoking questions:
How can theatre artists be good citizens? How can you serve your community?

How can your art help your community?

Since theatre is a form of communication and can provide understanding between cultures, does a lack of these kinds of arts breed intolerance?

Does government funding of the arts give it the right to make decisions about the art created and the message communicated?

Does you organization produce art AND artists? (Do you also nurture the development of both established and new artists)?

As they discussed these and other questions the panel sometimes found themselves agreeing with one another and sometimes their varied backgrounds and experiences found them at odds with one another.

Here are some of the most poignant quotes of the event:
"We [theatre] don’t need the same sized audience as movies or monster tuck rallies to make a difference. It's one at a time."
- Melanie Joseph

"Working with kids is the best audience development that there is."
- Barbara Lanciers

“If commercial theatre strives to entertain the audience, independent theatre strives to challenge the audience."
- Elmar Maripuu

“Creating effective political theatre is about making the work accessible.”
- Nilaja Sun

“There has to be an exchange between art & political action. We have to show up.”
- Melanie Joseph

"If you are serious about changing the world, you have to be politically active"
- Elmar Maripuu

"Oppressive governments are threatened by artists – they are imprisoned or punished and they try to silence them. And how is that different from what is happening to the NPR?"
- audience member

"One of the best forms of political theatre is getting people of different cultures sitting next to each other sharing the same experience."
- Nilaja Sun

How do you see the role of theatre in advocacy & the political arena?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Big Leap

Contributed by Rogelio Martinez

He says, “We are sexually ready.”

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and two actors are in the wings having sex.

Well, not really. It’s pretend sex. And they’re only doing it, so that our sound designer can get it down on tape. The idea of simulating sex six times a week, twice on Saturdays is less appealing than one might imagine.

In celebration of World Theatre Day I’ve decided to write about one of the more grueling aspects of theater: tech. It’s grueling but also magical. Tech is the time when the playwright’s vision makes the big leap -- sound, sets, and costumes come charging!

Wanamaker’s Pursuit
was commissioned a year and a half ago by the Arden Theatre Company along with the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. The one and a half year journey from page to stage has been very fast. It’s rare nowadays when a commission actually leads to production, it’s even rarer when a play moves from page to stage this quickly.

I sit in the dark while a curtain is added realizing just how lucky I am to be here.


The debate now happening on stage is whether to use both sound and lights to create the effect of fireworks. The fear being that lights will read as just a wash on the back curtain. We decide to use just sound. Suddenly, the director catches the set designer sneering at the idea. Apparently, he doesn’t want any fireworks. We work on the idea for five more minutes before Terry Nolen, the director, orders to table the fireworks. Tech is thinking on your feet and ideas get tabled just as quickly as they’re introduced. It helps that the collaborators on the play (myself included) have all worked together before. In other words, sneering at one another’s work is socially acceptable.

Later in the day.

“Hold please,” exclaims Terry. “Holding” comes the response from the stage.

We’re working on one cue involving lights, sound, and set. Six months ago I used one of my favorite stage directions: lights shift. Those words always work for me during the writing process. I seldom use blackouts or fade to black. Instead, I write “lights shift.” But what does that really mean? Six months after writing that stage direction down, we’re in tech figuring it out.

I think about this a moment. A scene transition written on the page and one on the stage are two very different things. As I reflect on World Theatre Day, I mourn the few resources available to writers to learn this. Working with a mentor can teach the playwright a great deal, but eventually what writers need most is a production to complete their education. In a time that sees less and less funding and fewer new plays being produced, I am grateful to sit in the dark continuing my education.

“Ah. Look at that! It makes me happy,” says Terry. Lights shift finally works.

Dinner break. Costumes next.



Rogelio Martinez
is an award winning playwright whose work has been developed, and produced by some of the largest regional theaters across the country. Plays include Wanamaker’s Pursuit (Arden Theater Co.), When Tang Met Laika (Sloan Grant/ Denver Center Theatre Co.), All Eyes and Ears (INTAR @ Theater Row), Fizz (NEA/ TCG Grant/ Besch Solinger Productions at the Ohio Theatre, New Theater, Miami), Arrivals and Departures (Summer Play Festival). Martinez’s play I Regret She’s Made of Sugar won the prestigious Princess Grace Award and will be published by Broadway Play Publishing later this year. He has received commissions from the Mark Taper Forum, the Atlantic Theater Company, the Arden Theater Company, and South Coast Repertory to list a few. Martinez teaches playwriting at Goddard College, Montclair University, and Primary stages.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

International WTD Message 2011: A Case for Theatre in Service of Humanity

by Jessica A. Kaahwa

Today's gathering is a true reflection of the immense potential of theatre to mobilize communities and bridge the divides.

Have you ever imagined that theatre could be a powerful tool for peace and reconciliation? While nations spend colossal sums of money on peace-keeping missions in violent conflict areas of the world, little attention is given to theatre as a one-on-one alternative for conflict transformation and management. How can the citizens of mother-earth achieve universal peace when the instruments employed come from outside and seemingly repressive powers?

Theatre subtly permeates the human soul gripped by fear and suspicion, by altering the image of self - and opening a world of alternatives for the individual and hence the community. It can give meaning to daily realities while forestalling an uncertain future. It can engage in the politics of peoples' situations in simple straightforward ways. Because it is inclusive, theatre can present an experience capable of transcending previously held misconceptions.

Additionally, theatre is a proven means of advocating and advancing ideas that we collectively hold and are willing to fight for when violated.

To anticipate a peaceful future, we must begin by using peaceful means that seek to understand, respect and recognize the contributions of every human being in the business of harnessing peace. Theatre is that universal language by which we can advance messages of peace and reconciliation.

By actively engaging participants, theatre can bring many-a-soul to deconstruct previously held perceptions, and, in this way, gives an individual the chance of rebirth in order to make choices based on rediscovered knowledge and reality. For theatre to thrive, among other art forms, we must take the bold step forward by incorporating it into daily life, dealing with critical issues of conflict and peace.

In pursuance of social transformation and reformation of communities, theatre already exists in war-torn areas and among populations suffering from chronic poverty or disease. There are a growing number of success stories where theatre has been able to mobilize publics to build awareness and to assist post-war trauma victims. Cultural platforms such as the "International Theatre Institute" which aims at "consolidating peace and friendship between peoples" are already in place.

It is therefore a travesty to keep quiet in times like ours, in the knowledge of the power of theatre, and let gun wielders and bomb launchers be the peacekeepers of our world. How can tools of alienation possibly double as instruments of peace and reconciliation?

I urge you on this World Theatre Day to ponder this prospect and to put theatre forth as a universal tool for dialogue, social transformation and reform. While the United Nations spends colossal amount of monies on peacekeeping missions around the world, through the use of arms, theatre is a spontaneous, human, less costly and by far a more powerful alternative.

While it may not be the only answer for bringing peace, theatre should surely be incorporated as an effective tool in peacekeeping missions.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

U.S. WTD Message 2011: The Art of Listening


by Jeffrey Wright

Theater reshapes reality. Emboldened by the playwright's imagination, actor and audience conspire to rethink the world.

The theater I know best is primarily aural - deferring to the playwright's word as spoken by the actor. In spite of all else, the most powerful transformative tool for audience and actor is the capacity to listen.

If we listen well and observe, the theater's gift to us is the sly suggestion that what occurs within its
walls can occur without them, too - that the world is changeable.

That idea is uplifting in the face of contemporary global challenges that leave too many of the planet's inhabitants vulnerable and without pathways to free and healthy lives.

Pray the people of Japan and Haiti and North Africa, the Middle East and everywhere historic suffering can be found today will prove the power of re-imagining reality.

I haven't much directed my thoughts toward the theater during my ten years of travel to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest nations on Earth; my focus has been on economic development, still recently, I experienced there what may be the purest theatrical moment I've ever known.

Last month, a dozen or so of us traveled to the country to celebrate a road rehabilitation project our group,Taia Peace Foundation, had completed. We rebuilt the road at the request of one of the country's remotest rural communities.

During an initiation ceremony, each of us was adopted into a ruling chiefdom family-some of us were even entitled honorary chiefs-out of respect for the improvements we'd brought to the community. At the ceremony's end, the everyday citizens who perform in celebration at significant community events, were called on to play, sing and dance.

Then at some point, upon no cue I perceive, a silent, motionless figure appears - it seems to materialize out of ether - like a mystery. Childlike, a boy - perhaps the age of my 9-year old son - the huge rectangular head almost half the size of his body - shuffling slowly, like a geisha, toward the middle of the space - people clearing the way-enter the gongoli, a character, I'm later told, celebrated for his ugliness, and yet his beauty floors me.

Next month, I will again travel the dusty roads back to where I first encountered him - my backpack full of ideas, plans and malaria pills. I will seek out Lucy Jibilla - the gongoli mask was brought to her house that previous night. I will ask her who keeps it, perhaps that person made it as well and will share his story with me.

If so, I will do that thing most critical for audience and actor and those who aspire to progressive roles in the theaters of social justice, poverty alleviation, or disaster relief - I will listen.


Friday, March 25, 2011

World Theatre Day 2011


World Theatre Day (WTD) celebrations have been going on all week. The NYC WTD Coalition has a ton of exciting, fun and informative events. Here are some suggestions of how you can honor this international day of celebration.

  • Theatrical Performances: Shows throughout the city where the WTD messages will be read and/or distributed. Check out the listings.

  • NYC World Theatre Day Celebration: Party with friends and theatre artists from around the world, hear the International Message read by a NY theatre luminary, and watch footage from the NYC SPLAT Performance and from celebrations in other cities from around the world. On 3/27, 4:00pm - 7:00pm at Dixon Place.

    Attendees are also invited to attend a special work in progress showing of Nuevo Laredo by Gabriella Barnstone at 4:30pm at Dixon Place.

  • Making the Political Personal: A brunch and panel discussion of notable New York artists will be hosted by hotINK and moderated by Kevin Bitterman, Associate Director of International Programs at TCG. While this event IS FREE, space is limited and an RSVP is required. March 27, 2011 at 10:00am at the Lark Play Development Center - 311 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor.

    Panelists include:
    - Elmar Maripuu, Canadian Playwright to be featured at HotINK festival of New Plays
    from Around the World
    - Barbara Lanciers, Program Officer at Trust for Mutual Understanding
    - Nilaja Sun, Actor/Playwright/Activist and Solo performer and writer of the Off-Broadway
    hit No Child
    - Melanie Josesph, Artistic Director, The Foundry Theatre

To get involved, email info@nycwtd.com or sign up on the NYCWTD website.
Check out details about the events at www.nycwtd.com.
Check out the blog at www.nycwtd.blogspot.com.
Follow us on Twitter @nycwtd
Friend us on Facebook

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Work in Theatre?


Contributed by Erez Ziv

About me:
I fell into theater by mistake in 1998, while on my way to a masters degree in medieval Jewish philosophy and theology and driving a horse and carriage in central park to pay the bills. I am very happy to have helped to firmly establish Horse Trade's reputation in the downtown theater scene and to create a well respected, self sufficient organization that has created and continues to create a home for some the New York City's most innovative, talented and hard working theater artists. Today Horse Trade is a thriving theater company operating 3 spaces in the East Village, and touring shows nationally and internationally. I still drive a horse and carriage a couple of days a week to help pay the bills.

About theater:
There are many good reasons to work in theater, and only one excellent reason not to. Clearly theater has not in the past, and does not in the present have the capacity to provide most of its practitioners with a decent regular income; and the future does not look much brighter. So why are there so many people coming to New York City to build their theater careers and why are so many staying to toil in an industry that, for most, requires a second and even third job? I would imagine that no one actually realized on their way here how hard the work will be and how little financial reward is to be achieved. I know that if I had known 13 years ago what I would be getting paid for running such a busy company today I would have certainly gone another route, it would have been impossible to describe the rewards in vivid enough detail to override the sticker shock.

Why not work in theater is a pretty easy question to answer, why work in theater is another story. I suppose we have all had to slightly redefine for ourselves the reason for which we work, for any kind of answer to make sense. We don’t, for the most part, see our Labor as the relationship between employee and employer they way economists regard the term Labor in our economic system, but rather as a triangular relationship between a production team the product we produce and our intended audience. Money is a means we need in order to accomplish our tasks, and sometimes it is a measure of our success but unlike with our day jobs, it is not the goal.

Many of the people in our community get very little financial compensation for our many hours of hard work, even spending our hard earned money on creating work. But until we each get to a point in our career where we are actually making a living doing what we love, and please keep in mind that this is not an entitlement it is a hard fought luxury, here are some things to remember that will help you keep you head up and your feet firmly stepping.

Theater is one of the ancient Arts that helped Man walk out of the cave and look both backwards and forwards, to get a more complete vision of the world around; it is a necessary part of our collective existence. Without the Arts our world would hardly be worth living in. Theater practitioners in NYC specifically are members of the second biggest financial generator in the city, and this city generates a great deal of money so good on ya. While we in the indie theater world do not interact much with the Broadway world which is the primary generator of this precious income, we routinely provide not only Broadway, but Television, Films, Off Broadway and other performing arts with the work they will be doing, the talent they will be using , and the direction they will be taking in the future. our work is a long term investment, but do remember, that by the time great work makes it into the commercial markets, and of course some never does, it has already had a great deal of effect on the next generation of artists, and this is only possible if there is a thriving community to work and grow in.


Erez Ziv is the co-founder and managing director of the Horse Trade Theatre Group.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Being a Generous Mentor


Contributed by Jill Rafson

I remember reading Ted Chapin’s wonderful book Everything Was Possible as I rode a bus into Manhattan for one of many interviews to try to get my first internship in professional theater. And I distinctly recall thinking to myself as I finished the book, “The world he describes is amazing. Now how on earth do I get to be a part of that?”

Somehow, I’m now a part of that world that seemed so incredibly foreign back then, but it has taken some time to understand how that actually happened. I now realize that the answer comes down to people who I consider to be true theatrical heroes -- those who work to open doors, to artists and audiences alike.

I don’t know of a single person in the theater who doesn’t think that there was a little bit of luck involved in getting them to where they are today. And if you ask a few questions, it almost always comes down to a similar story: along the way, we’ve all felt lucky because we met up with someone who pulled back the veil on this mysterious mixture of art and business and said, “Let me tell you how this works.” And nothing could be more important.

So many of us choose to make our living in this business because we want to share our love of the theater, not just with audiences but with the people we work side by side with. We have put ourselves into an industry that encourages – perhaps even demands – collaboration. What I have come to love is that this is a business full of mentors, eager to share knowledge, stories, advice, experiences – the invaluable things that can take someone new from outside to inside, from lost to found.

Unlike in so many other industries, I don’t see my colleagues in the theater trying to bar the door to keep people out. The very nature of the theater is to invite in an audience, and each time we engage that audience, we are inviting in the next group of people who may find themselves saying at the end of a performance, “Now how on earth do I get to be a part of that?”

Whether it’s through true person-to-person mentors, or from talking to a group of students about how to get started, or by giving a playwright her first production, or by making ticket prices low enough for anyone to come see your show, the heroes of theater today are those who are making sure that the dire predictions for the future of this art form do not come true. They are the people who are letting in the new, who share stories so that we all work from a shared sense of history, and who do work that does more than reaffirm the beliefs of the existing audience. They give opportunities and they push boundaries. They know that the way to keep theater essential as a cultural institution is to make sure that the institution itself is ready and willing to not only accept newcomers, but to educate and encourage them.

We all remember what it was like to be on the outside looking in and we share what we’ve learned because we’ve now had encounters, experiences, moments so fantastically special that it wouldn’t have even occurred to us to dream them up. To create theater is to cause an emotional response in another person, and the desire to share that emotional response is in all of us who have chosen this path.

We make theater for ourselves, and we make theater for each other. But most importantly, we make it for the people coming next, for the people who are about to have that first moment of seeing a piece of theater so staggering that it makes them ask in wonder, “Now how do I get to be a part of that?”

I aspire to be the person who reaches out to answer, “Let me tell you about that…”


Jill Rafson is the Literary Manager at Roundabout Theatre Company, where she also serves as Associate Producer for the Roundabout Underground program. Jill is also a member of CollaborationTown, for whom she is a frequent Dramaturg. She has read scripts for the O’Neill Conference and the Vineyard Theater and has been a guest lecturer for the Commercial Theater Institute. Jill is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Theatre as Citizenry


Contributed by Victor Maog

Photo by R. Finkelstein

Through my experiences I have discovered the power of theatre to: challenge complacency; revitalize the imagination; nurture the unexpected; galvanize and give voice to a people. Despite disparate cultural experiences from Sierra Leone, to Cambodia, to our own Blue Ridges, what emerges is the Campbellian Monomyth - the story that connects us all.

Admittedly, I came out of no literary or theatrical tradition at all but rather a strip mall malaise. Such a thing is never a clean absolute stride away from the ruins; fragments of suburban tradition, bits of Catholic school history cling to the bottom of one’s shoes. Nevertheless, I did pluck lessons from my respective seat in front of the television (the high drama and spectacle of professional wrestling) and in the pews of innumerable churches (ritual, pageantry, and sometimes conflicting morality) and from outside my car window (journeys to Hoople, ND and beyond). In my travels I have always been transfixed on a community’s identity and the view of its place in the greater context. My curiosity was grounded in how each empty space could transform into a public campfire. This excavation - through the guise of theatre – has been my attempt to examine: societal codes I could never break; actions that never fulfilled commitments; and abandoned dreams. I no longer wanted the cultural, geographical, or philosophical distance to obscure my connection to people or places.

I came to California when I was six and half, the experience was jarring—I didn’t have the language to communicate. I was born and raised in the Philippines during a period of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. Martial law with military rule, an arrested media, and an abandoned national constitution initially brought stability and an economic turnaround but with the costs of reduced social freedoms and increasing corruption. The Filipinos’ first experience of television under this “new society” began with a blank screen, punctuated only by appearances of President Marcos and his press secretary reading edict after edict. It was a portent of much more chilling realities to come. Socialized to be mute, I learned from an early age the difficulty in expressing ideas and connecting with others—both through language and culture.

But as a young adult, I decided to devote myself to expressing my ideas in front of others. I no longer wanted to be invisible. I wanted to explore the truths of humanity – how histories reveal futures. As a theatre artist, I want to explore the duality between language and character, thought and action. I seek to find ways to express a multiplicity of voices through the complexities of contemporary world culture.

Today, I want to celebrate who we are: people who struggle and aren’t articulate and don’t do the right thing, can’t save the world, feel oppressed and then oppress others – and that I find incredibly moving because that is what the human condition is all about, this kind of struggle. I aspire to be a world-class artist learning from and working with the masters who shape and expand theatre’s boundaries. More, I want to be a decent human being and not walk around with my eyes sewn shut and mouth stapled. As my childhood demonstrates, and the state of the warring world continues to prove: there are injustices in this life. There are questions that must be asked. Theatre allows me the guts to be a citizen of the world. In make-believe, metaphor, or gesture I can say something.


Victor Maog is a freelance director and educator whose work has reached over half the continental United States. He was one of six directors in the nation to receive the 2004-06 NEA/TCG Career Development Award, Cornerstone’s Altvater Fellowship, Second Stage’s Van Lier Directing Fellowship, and the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Presidential Award. He was a U.S. delegate to the 31st International Theatre Institute/UNESCO World Congress in Manila and is in his fourth years as Director of Theatre for the 98 year-old Perry-Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, CO. www.victormaog.com


Monday, March 21, 2011

Why I'm Inspired By Thornton Wilder


Contributed by Mark Blankenship

From the moment I read The Skin of Our Teeth as a college sophomore, Thornton Wilder became a guiding light in my professional career.

I came to college, you see, just bursting with the adolescent certainty that I understood the theatre. I figured that my dozen roles in community productions had made me an expert and that I needed to spend the rest of my life pursuing something that was truly sophisticated and enlightening. At the point, it had never occurred to me that a character could forget her lines on stage and suddenly become an actress playing a character. It had never occurred to me that a dinosaur could amble on stage and talk, that Cain could be a surly teenager in Atlantic City, or that the structure of a play could expand to include "stagehands" roaming around quoting great philosophers.

The Skin of Our Teeth, assigned in a theatre class that I took on a whim, expanded my mind in one sitting. I finished reading it in a daze, aware that I'd just started learning about all the things I didn't know.

And more importantly, I remember the thrill of realizing that in the theatre, the world can exist without rules. If it helps the play achieve its goals, then dinosaurs can talk and dramatic structures can collapse. Over the next few years, I was delighted to discover that Thornton Wilder's plays---the full-lengths and especially the one-acts---are filled with those imaginative gestures. Time and again, he creates unique worlds because no other world will do. When he needs to evoke the soft ache of passing time, he lets a family go on a happy journey in an imaginary car. We sense the ritual of what they're doing, feel the familiarity, but because we see that ritual in a vacant space, we also sense its ephemerality. You're driving to see your daughter today. You're entire life is gone tomorrow. What a true and awful and beautiful thing to say, and what a lovely way to say it.

As a critic and reporter, I strive to maintain the sense of wonder that Wilder awoke in me. I strive to emulate his enthusiasm for unique worlds and breathtaking theatrical gestures. No matter what I'm seeing, I try to remember the lesson his plays taught me: The performance before you is a tiny world, existing only for a moment. Respect that.

Of course, Wilder affects me even when I'm not in an audience. His plays (not to mention his novels and letters) have a furious optimism that grounds my worldview. Wilder's never blind to the hardships of life, but he doesn't believe they cancel out the miraculous. His plays show us how to look hard times in the face and keep living gloriously. That kind of hope inspires me the most---the hope that flutters fervently in the face of terrible things. I think of those great ideas floating over our heads at the end of The Skin of Our Teeth, of Emily's joyful-awful recognition at the end of Our Town, and even the poignant comfort of new life emerging in The Long Christmas Dinner. I think, "Now there's something true."

As a member of the theatre community and as a person who is trying to live a meaningful life, Thornton WIlder inspires me every day. I may never live up to the worlds he creates in his plays, but I am wildly grateful those worlds exist.


Mark Blankenship is the editor of TDF Stages, the online magazine of Theatre Development Fund.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

How are you celebrating World Theatre Day?


World Theatre Day (WTD) celebrations begin this week. The NYC WTD Coalition has been busy planning even more events than last year.
  • Theatrical Performances: Shows throughout the city where the WTD messages will be read and/or distributed. Check out the listings. If you have a show running March 21-27, there is still time to participate, so sign up now.
  • SPLAT Performances: Spontaneous, Public Large-scale Acts of Theatre Performances. In other words... Flash Mobs. These events are super fun, quick, easy and unique NYC experiences. Email us at info@nycwtd.com to participate.
  • NYC World Theatre Day Celebration: Party with friends and theatre artists from around the world, hear the International Message read by a NY theatre luminary, and watch footage from the NYC SPLAT Performances and from celebrations in other cities from around the world. On 3/27, 4:00pm - 7:00pm at Dixon Place.
  • Making the Political Personal: A brunch and panel discussion of notable New York artists will be hosted by hotINK and moderated by Kevin Bitterman, Associate Director of International Programs at TCG. While this event IS FREE, space is limited and an RSVP is required. March 27, 2011 at 10:00am at the Lark Play Development Center - 311 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor.
    Panelists include:
    - Elmar Maripuu, Canadian Playwright to be featured at HotINK festival of New Plays
    from Around the World
    - Barbara Lanciers, Program Officer at Trust for Mutual Understanding
    - Nilaja Sun, Actor/Playwright/Activist and Solo performer and writer of the Off-Broadway
    hit No Child
    - Melanie Josesph, Artistic Director, The Foundry Theatre

To get involved, email info@nycwtd.com or sign up on the NYCWTD website.
Check out details about the events at www.nycwtd.com.
Check out the blog at www.nycwtd.blogspot.com.
Follow us on Twitter @nycwtd
Friend us on Facebook


Friday, March 18, 2011

A touch of some dark optimism…


Contributed by Jasmina a.k.a. JZ Bich

Photo by Dale Harris

As I listen to the sounds from the American Idol and contemplate the plethora of injustices in the world we live in, I can’t help it but feel discouraged. I wonder if there is a point in creating theater, if I should be more useful volunteering my energy somewhere where I can build houses and cook for the needy. I wonder if I am wasting my life creating art that reaches only selected few. I fear I am “preaching to the perverted” to borrow the phrase from Holly Hughes. My excuse for not taking up weapons was that I use my art to create revolution but where is this revolution I am creating?

Twentieth century was filled with consciously political theater, political performances and statements. Artists all over the globe tried to change the world with their art, yet the world is still in a pretty bad shape. People who are poor, or old or simply uninteresting to someone who gets to make the decisions are denied access to health, food and shelter. And what is theater doing while this is happening? Has theater, at least theater in the USA, become self indulgent? Are we either creating a beautiful spectacle of Broadway stages or making statements for those who agree with us and will pat us on the shoulder while we have a beer in some downtown bar and boast about how radical we are?

It is dangerous to assume that theater that is not intentionally political is less political. When money invested in a performance dictates how many people will see it and how successful it will be considered, when only selected few gain access to see most of contemporary theater and when main stream television can be more radical than some of the theater, I ask myself if theater has lost its sting?

It is also dangerous to assume that theater that is intentionally political is also radical. When politics are used as a way to boost one’s ego and segregate oneself from the realities of life around one, radicalism is lost in self absorption.

But then, there are those rare moments when you feel your work has changed something, has created that space where multitude felt empowered to make a difference in the world around them. There are those rare moments, when as an artist you don’t feel like a puppet of the system in which nobody has power any more. For those moments, I keep doing what I am doing. For those few who come to me after the performance and say they felt something, they felt like I spoke to them and they felt acknowledged and inspired and changed. For those few who feel enraged and offended because something I said struck the cord. For that I want to believe that we can make this world a more humane place and that we all still have a chance. I guess this is why even in darkest depths of my pessimism I am an idealist and I refuse to give up...


Jasmina a.k.a. JZ Bich, "a border crossing, gender blending, international provocateurette" is the founder and producer of HyperGender Burlesque, a four year young queer post neo burlesque show hosted at historic WOW Cafe Theater. Originally hailing from the Balkans, she has been performing in New York since 2003. She has performed in many cities across the US and internationally. In 2010, Jasmina was one of the producers of WOW Cafe Theater's 30th anniversary festival, and in 2009 she has curated a series of lectures on burlesque for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. In 2007 she was an MC at Zagreb Pride Parade.

Jasmina has also written, directed and performed in a several Off-Off-Broadway productions and believes in using art for creating a change in the world.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why do theater?


Contributed by Morgan Jenness

It's a question I often ask myself, even more now in a world increasingly filled with earthquakes, tsunami, human made environmental disasters, massacres of freedom fighters, wars, famine, hate and greed as political agenda and a myriad of human sorrows.

Isn't theater a luxury - as I heard one established director tell a roomful of young directors?

Doesn't the supply outstrip the demand, as a major cultural leader recently stated?

Like the Temptations song about War - what is it good for? Absolutely nothing?

Perhaps, in many incarnations it is indeed nothing other than an expensive (and often less satisfactory) entertainment option for a tiny sliver of privileged population - but I think that's show business - which I believe can incorporate theater but is very different.

A brilliant young songwriter/performer I know stated that he thought the purpose of theater, and art in general, was to "interrupt habit" - which I think is true.

The habit of how we view ourselves and others in the world. The habit of our lizard brain fears. The habit of our consumptive values. The habit of our disconnection from the depth and breadth and height of our potential humanity.

I have been thinking a lot about Ellen Stewart recently - someone who was always a bit of a role model for me in many ways. Although I was essentially theatrically raised by my "papa" Joe Papp and the amazing people around him, and shaped by the original Public Theater's extraordinary vision - Ellen and La Mama's broad, multi theatrical, diverse, international and community connected vision always inspired me and certainly also was a huge influence in how I still think about the role of the theater in people's lives.

So, I still - and perhaps more than ever - believe that the arts (and especially theater as a live, audience participatory event which can collide all the arts) have a central role in human existence as they are key to reminding us that our existence IS human - in its most profound positive meaning. And that we are humans living amongst and connected to other humans - including ones we will never meet but need to profoundly know. There are artists who do that work with fierce political directness. (insert your own list here - certainly Belarus Free Theater is a current example) There are the artists who deal more with the fanning of the flame of the human spirit, awakening a depth of thinking, a breadth of compassionate understanding and connection, and a height of human aspiration. (insert) Artists who can find a celebratory spark and remind us we can radiate. (insert)

I still see the shimmer of what fueled people like Ellen Stewart and Joe Papp all around - it certainly is there in each and every person with whom I make the choice and have the honor to work. Although there are certainly still pinnacle artists and leaders whom I find inspirational I think, like our political situation, it's more about a collective responsibility than a following of a charismatic individual for me. And it is about the awakening of the artist spark that lives somehow in every human being, the part of us which itself appreciates art. The part of us which, as the angel longing to be human in WINGS OF DESIRE says with eloquent simplicity, that wants to go "ooo" and "ah" and "oh" If only for a moment of full human recognition.

And I still think the arts, especially theater, can operate for us as Perseus' Shield…a reflective surface in which we can clearly see the face of the Medusa of destruction and paralysis in order to rid it of its power - and, in truly reflecting the world, can change it.


Morgan Jenness has worked as a literary manager, director of play development and associate producer at the New York Shakespeare Festival, and Associate Artistic Director at NYTW and LATC. She has worked as a dramaturg, workshop director, and/or artistic consultant for theaters, funders and new play programs across the country and as a creative consultant at both Helen Merrill Ltd and Abrams Artists Agency. In 2003, Ms. Jenness was presented with an Obie Award Special Citation for Longtime Support of Playwrights.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Embrace Regional Theatre


Contributed by Jerry Rapier

When I tell people I make a living in the theatre in Salt Lake City I get raised eyebrows, followed by the inevitable comments about: (1) polygamy, (2) gay rights and (3) the accessibility of alcohol. The city is viewed quite narrowly but, truth be told, it is a hotbed of theatrical talent, energy, vision and prowess. I feel honored to hone my craft here.

For me, working in the theatre has never felt more vital. Consider recent world events - the tragedy in Japan, the economic crisis, the racial tension that has heightened since the last presidential election. But the (sad) truth is, I was able to say the same thing last year and the year before and the year before that, albeit with a different list.

I believe in the power of regional stories - not necessarily stories about our region, although I embrace that - but stories told through the lens of our region, by writers from our region. I wholeheartedly foster the work of local artists - actors, designers, directors, playwrights - for this reason.

In a world dominated by sound bites, shock and teasers, ideas are under attack. I work in the theatre - and continue on, through the uncertainty - because it is the place where ideas can be explored in depth and shared with passion.


Jerry Rapier in his 11th season as Producing Director of Plan-B Theatre Company and is a longtime SDC member. Eight of the 16 productions Jerry has directed for Plan-B have been named 'Best Local Theatre Production' by Salt Lake City Weekly. He received Salt Lake City's Mayor's Artist Award in the Performing Arts (2008), was named an Alternative Pioneer by Salt Lake City Weekly (2009) and was the only performing arts professional among Community Foundation of Utah's Enlightened Fifty (2010). Jerry has served locally on the boards of TheatreWorks West, NowPlayingUtah.com, Performing Arts Coalition, Transgender Education Advocates of Utah and KUER-FM; and nationally on the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign (2007-2009) and as a Theatre Panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts (2009-2010). He and his partner of 15 years are in the process of adopting their first child.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Politically Potent Theatre


Contributed by Betty Shamieh

It is essential to distinguish between one’s responsibilities as a citizen and one’s work as an artist. In order to do that, a theatre artist has to be very precise about what it means to do “political” work in the theatre. I believe all plays, like all actions, are political. If you are not presenting a story that challenges the status quo, it is implying that you are comfortable with the status quo. That isn’t inherently good or bad to do, but it isn’t a neutral act in the way that it is not neutral to stay home rather than join a protest when your government is using your tax dollars to invade another country.

It is the cultural context we live in that determines which plays and issues we view as politically charged, and cultural contexts are continuously shifting. For example, most people did not consider A Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill to be a “political” play when it opened in 1956. It is a story of a rich man who is so marred by his childhood poverty that he literally destroys his family. He hires a cheap doctor for his pregnant wife who gets her addicted to morphine, and has to be cajoled into paying for his dying son’s stay in a sanitarium. If several theatres across America chose to simultaneously produce A Long Day’s Journey into Night during the height of the recent health care debate, suddenly the same play might be dismissed as maudlin agitprop. It is the act of putting a play on within a specific cultural context that is politically potent, not the work of art in itself.

For the act of putting on a play to be politically potent, it must be dangerous to do so. Most people who attend theatres are probably not conflicted about questions like whether female circumcision is a very bad idea or if people should have to enough to eat. Therefore, putting on a play where horrifying things happen to good people does not necessarily make it politically challenging to produce that work, unless it deals with an issue than is so divisive that there exists the threat of serious repercussions for the people who are associated with that production. In some countries, theatre artists can be jailed or killed for sparking debate about divisive issues in their work. In places like America, theatre artists can be economically censored in the form of losing their jobs or funding for future projects. For people who have developed their identities as theatre artists and chosen to devote their lives to learning what can be learned from the art form, the threat of being denied the resources necessary to create new works can feel almost as chilling as the threat of being jailed.

That being said, when it comes to my own ideas about currently contentious issues like abortion or gay rights, I can’t imagine seeing a play that alters my viewpoint. So, why would I – as a playwright – assume that I had the power to change other people’s deeply held beliefs with my plays? What is the importance of theatre if one adheres to the idea that a play rarely has the ability to change people’s minds about the most divisive political issues of one’s time and place?

Theatre is not about teaching people what they do not know, but rather it is about awakening within them the truths that they already do. Theatre can remind us that the vast majority of people are not heroes or villains, but simply ordinary humans beings. They work, have their hearts broken, dream of owning a slightly bigger house than they can afford, get aggravated by their family members, and struggle valiantly to be admired by those they admire. In short, their lives, deaths, hopes, fears, and fantasies are not fundamentally different from one’s own.

What would it mean if there were more stories that sensitized audiences to the fact that there is an indefinable, yet recognizable human essence that unites us, both throughout the globe and across the ages? In a world that is divided into nations that wage wars on one another, it is theatre’s ability to humanize that makes it so politically potent. If some people – who possess all the nuanced human complexity and capacity for feeling that we all do - have fewer rights, it is always tied to the fact that others have vastly more resources. We who are complacent with this imbalance of power often stay that way, not because we are ignorant, but because we know full well that the imbalance is in our favor. That political idea is the simplest to grasp and the hardest to swallow. It’s much easier to tell ourselves stories, onstage and off, that reinforce our conceptions about our “differences.” At its best, though, the medium of theatre is designed to reveal how much we actually always remain inescapably the same.


Betty Shamieh’s off-Broadway premieres are The Black Eyed (New York Theatre Workshop) and Roar (The New Group). Other productions include: Again and Against (Playhouse Theater, Stockholm), The Black Eyed (Theater Fournos, Athens), The Machine (Naked Angels), Chocolate in Heat (NYC Fringe Festival/The Tank), and Territories (European Union Capital of Culture Festival). She was recently named by UNESCO as a Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue and her play, Free Radicals, will have its world premiere at Het Zuidelijk Toneel (Holland) in 2012.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

More NYC World Theatre Day Events


SPLAT Performances:
Spontaneous, Public Large-scale Acts of Theatre Performances will take place around the city (March 22 - 25). It is a fun, easy and unique theatrical experience. If you are interested in participating, please email us at info@nycwtd.com.

Making The Political Personal: A brunch and panel discussion of notable New York artists will be hosted by hotINK and moderated by Kevin Bitterman, Associate Director of International Programs at TCG. This event will be held at the Lark Play Development Center. The panel will take place on March 27, 2011 at 10:00am. Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance at www.larktheatre.org. Space is limited. Make your reservations now!

Panelists include:
  • Elmar Maripuu, Canadian Playwright to be featured at HotINK festival of New Plays from Around the World
  • Barbara Lanciers, Program Officer at Trust for Mutual Understanding
  • Nilaja Sun, Actor/Playwright/Activist and Solo performer and writer of the Off-Broadway hit No Child
  • Melanie Josesph, Artistic Director, The Foundry Theatre

Theatrical Performances: Shows throughout the city where the international messages will be read and/or distributed. If you have a show running March 21 - 27, please let us know at info@nycwtd.com.

World Theatre Day Meme: Don't forget that even if you are far away, you can participate by contributing to the World Theatre Day Meme.


Friday, March 11, 2011

A Place To Create


Contributed by David J. Diamond
This post originally appeared on the Innovative Theatre Foundation's blog.

“I’ve always wanted to make a way by which as many young artists as possible could travel to Europe, or Asia, or wherever. I think it’s the best thing for developing the artists, particularly the American artist. I think in world terms. I believe we are one race, and everybody is in that race. And one day we are going to learn to trust what is within us, so that we can be in tune with the world, the earth, the moon, the stars, the universe.”
--- Ellen Stewart

The whole point of having an international symposium in Italy every summer is to challenge artists to think about the act of creation in new ways. When they bump up against different ways of working, ways of thinking about what theatre can do, ways of reaching an audience, they become more substantial artists themselves. It’s not easy to describe what happens to the artists who experience a summer at La MaMa Umbria. They are definitely changed. I’ve never been involved with a program that has generated as much gratitude from participants for providing them an opportunity to grow as artists and as people. And we have a lot of fun. That is key to the learning.

Participants talk about how well they are taken care of at La MaMa Umbria. That is Ellen’s legacy. We prepare and serve the meals, which are expertly prepared by our beloved Elisa, with many ingredients coming directly from our garden and orchard; we clean your room, even do your laundry. We provide an environment that provides the maximum opportunity to focus on the creative work. And then we bring together extraordinary, working professional theatre-makers who are also gifted teachers to share their perspectives and engage the participants in active, participatory exercises that force them to “try on” new techniques. For eight hours a day, the participating artists stretch and learn and grow. Then there is time to share with each other informally. Living and working together, you get close quickly (if you want to) and you can engage iconic masters in one-on-one conversations about life and art.

La MaMa Umbria is tucked away in the hills surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, farms and forests. Yet it is close enough to the greatest cultural treasures to be found in Italy, that we can’t let you get away without experiencing the art and culture of this unique part of the world. Spoleto, the nearest town, is home to one of the great arts festivals of Europe: The Festival of Two Worlds. The town boasts theatres from four centuries, which are still used today. Dance troupes perform outdoors at Teatro Romano, the Roman theatre from the 1st century; operas are done at Teatro Nuovo (the “new” theatre, that is, 19th century). There’s also a 17th century opera house called Caio Melisso and “black box” (which is actually a stone box) below Caio Melisso, called Teatrino delle Sei (the Six O’Clock Theatre) for more experimental work. Many other spaces from churchyards to movie theatres are also used as performance venues during the Festival. The Spoleto

Festival was begun by Giancarlo Menotti (the opera composer) 55 years ago, and run by him until he died a few years ago. It attracts the worlds top musicians, dance troupes, theatre companies and visual artists.

We insist on taking everyone who participates in La MaMa Umbria programs to Assisi to visit the Church of St. Francis, where some of the greatest religious frescoes in the world adorn the walls (by Giotto and other artists). We can also see the Church of Santa Chiara, named for St. Clare, a follower of St. Francis, whose order of nuns were called the “poor Clares” on account of their pledge of poverty. This is the church that houses the crucifix of San Damiano, which supposedly gave Francis a signal that he should give up his errant ways and devote his life to worship and good deeds. We also visit the Umbrian hilltowns, Orvieto,

Perugia (especially during the great Umbria Jazz Festival), Deruta (to see the ancient art of ceramic-making, still practiced today) and others. We may have a wine-tasting at one of the vineyards on the Strada di Sagrantino and tour the wine-making process which combines modern technology with ancient ways.

Yes, we drink a fair bit of wine and eat our share of gelato (my particular weakness.) But the focus is always on the creative process. This summer, we are offering our most ambitious program yet. [www.lamama.org/programs/lamama-umbria-international.html] Our 12th Annual Symposium for Directors brings together the talents of Ping Chong, Ruth Maleczech, Luca Ronconi, Dijana Milosevic, Baba Israel, JoAnne Akalaitis, Dorcy Rugamba and others. Dorcy comes from Rwanda, where much of his family was killed in the genocide. His response was to create a six-hour play with a cast of 40 which played the Avignon Theatre Festival and toured for the next four years. Dijana is artistic director of Serbia’s DAH Theatre, which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. Luca is an iconic star of the Italian theatre, having run the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, the Venice Biennale and other theatres. Ruth Maleczech will take a look at American classic texts from her Mabou Mines-inspired experience. Ping shares his techniques for combining movement, text, sound, space and image.

This is the 5th year we are providing a space for playwrights during the Playwright Retreat. Facilitated in the past by Lisa Kron, Naomi Izuka, Chuck Mee and Lynn Nottage, this year we are lucky to have Erik Ehn, head of playwriting at Brown University as our teaching artist. In addition to learning from Erik, the writers have lots of time to write in the serene, pastoral environment of La MaMa.

We have two new programs this year: The First Annual Master Acting Workshops and Cricot-2 Workshops. Cricot-2 is the company founded by Polish master director, Tadeusz Kantor. Kantor and Ellen Stewart were very close friends. His major works had their US premieres at La MaMa in New York. I remember seeing a couple of them in the later years: The Dead Class was particularly haunting to me. Kantor used to direct the actors while sitting on a stool onstage with them DURING the performances. While they were dragging themselves across the stage portraying Easter European war refugees, he would yelling at them. It was extraordinary. (He spoke in Polish, so I was never sure what he was saying.) After he died, the Company came back to La MaMa without him, but the empty stool sat there during the performance, just as before. Haunting.

Our Master Acting Workshop will be led by two great artists: Tina Landau and André De Shields. Tina’s work with The Viewpoints and composition will compliment André’s intense physical and vocal work. Both artists have long associations with La MaMa. André’s Cotton Club revue remains of highlight of my La MaMa theatergoing experiences.

We encourage you to check out our programs and get involved. The experience is bound to affect you in untold ways. Here’s what one participant had to say about her time at La MaMa Umbria:

“The month that I spent at La MaMa Umbria gave me the most precious thing that you could give to an artist: time to think. It was great to get away from the business of theatre and really delve into what theatre meant as an art form. I remember those early mornings stretching on the field overlooking the valley below, later meeting and talking with other participants in our workshops about life and art. This wonderful mixture of solitude and interaction really gave me space to breathe and inspired me to continue creating.”
-- Stacey Christodoulou (2008)

A Standing Ovation for Ellen Stewart by Shay Gines


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why work in the United States (part II)


Contributed by Jake Witlen

I feel there can be no better lead in than Gabriella's last po
st than to start one of my own -- from Berlin as a recent New York transplant. I spent nearly 12 years in New York (I didn't stop counting), and during that time was as equally as inspired as I was scared. September 11 was a profound moment for me, and like many others around the world, it would shape the way I saw the World forever.

After those events, where New Yorkers were at once humbled and brought together, I saw a profound shift in "my" city. New York had always been a beacon of hope, of intelligence, of the future for me. Artists and intellectuals had for generations found themselves in the crossroads of this tiny island; and cultural, economic, and innovative life flourished because of it.

But then the world shifted underneath us. Through decades of government dismantling of arts funding (if you could say that we ever had such a thing in the States), coupled with a new coup of radicals, the "American Dream" had been systematically chipped away, and the foundations of what it takes to make work became ever more difficult to lay as we struggled simply to stay afloat and repay our debts.

No one becomes a theatre artist because they want to get rich. Those that do migrate to film, or end up becoming lawyers. Those of us who create because there is an innate need to create are subsisted in other ways. The audiences feed us, the collaborations, the camaraderie. We become theatre artists to share an idea, and engage in a dialogue between actor and audience. Regardless of genre, everyone who shares a passion for the theatre has at some point passed through a realization that they wanted to tell a story in front of live human beings. It is the foundation of our form.

But New York today is in a delicate place to live these types of ideals. The costs of space and goods have driven us out -- both as theatre makers and as residents. For the two years I lived in New York prior to 9/11, I was fortunate enough to have a tiny hovel of an apartment in the West Village. In this place, I would rub elbows everyday with artists I looked up to -- both famous and not so famous -- but literally bumped up against them. The creative energy of the neighborhood was palpable, and I believe it led people to create more and better work. After September 11, I was driven from my West Village apartment as real estate prices ballooned, soon migrated to the Lower East Side, and finally resettled in Park Slope, where I ended up staying for the last five years.

I love the city -- but the community that I knew from the Village had dissipated -- and with it, a core piece of what I think has always made New York special. We left to go our separate ways in Bushwick and Williamsbug, Jackson Heights and Lefferts Gardens. We could no longer communicate with each other in the physical way that had driven the city for a century or more in the bars of SoHo, the East Village and the West Village before it. Sure, we had become more "connected" on the Internet (here you are reading this), but you and I don't know each other. I'm writing into a void for all I know.

Berlin is a place that exists like New York did in the 70s and 80s. It's raw. It's cheap. It's active. People don't talk about making things here -- they make them. There's a spirit of sharing -- from the biggest State theatre to the lowest "free" theatre group. The social contract has connected the people to the community and invited them to share in the dialogue. And it's happening. Gabriella is right that it is a lifestyle-- just as Italy is a lifestyle -- but both push the boundaries of our humanity by inviting sharing and togetherness (Italians around a table with food, Germans around the beer stein with philosophy and ideas). There isn't an innate need to "generate and replicate" work as there is in New York/America's consumeristic view; instead, the work's core is fed with a desire to ask difficult questions that have no answers. And who risk failure because the outcome is not nearly as dire economically here. As a matter of fact, government funding is handed out BASED on the willingness to explore and fail, rather than our Producer driven model where innovation is shunned simply because it's "unknown" factor.

I applaud Gabriella for her desire to stay in New York and continue engaging in the dialogue, and here I amplify her point -- DO SOMETHING. Get out and make it happen. Fight those who will take away our voices simply by holding back the dollars it takes to make our work. MAKE IT. Stand up and protest the State and Federal funds that are going to get cut! And when they get cut anyway, take to the streets and make MORE art. Do it for nothing! Do it with paint! Or sound! Or movement! But DO it.

And if you find that economic times have you down and you can't even find a way to do it anymore -- come to a place where money and space are not your daily concerns, and audiences are more angry if there isn't something that motivates them to find new ways to view the world around them.


Jake Witlen is a theatre/video director based between Brooklyn and Berlin. He is a founding member of The Internationalists, a collective of directors from around the world, dedicated to creating an open, sustainable and more interactive global theatre. Their work has been seen online in over 61 countries, and been presented live in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and Sydney. Last year, Jake directed a production of Around the World with live performances between New York and Berlin that was chosen by Zitty magazine as a top pick of 2010. In the US he has directed new work by Adam Rapp (Williamstown), Eric Pfeffinger (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Joy Tomasko (Around the World/Odyssey projects), Eric Sanders (Brick, Ohio), and designed video for productions at 3-Legged Dog, HERE, PS122 etc.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why work in theater in the United States?


Contributed by Gabriella Barnstone

Here is a common phrase uttered by New York dancers and choreographers: "I'm moving to Europe where I can make money as a dancer/choreographer." Or, "I'm moving to Europe when I'm older where I can still survive as an artist." This must make perfect sense for them, and I am happy for them. However, for me personally, there lies a deep importance to staying in the US and blazing your own trail in art making; particularly sustaining yourself as an artist, and finding a way to make art when you are "older." I write this on the upcoming dawn of my 40th birthday.

I have been living in New York for somewhere around 15 years (after 12 years I stopped counting). Some of this time has been spent making dance theater, and much of this time has been spent figuring out how to pay the bills, and still make dance theater. This is hard. And yet I have stayed here, without the pull of dropping everything and going to Europe where there seems to be more funding, or at least more support, or something. The truth is that we U.S. artists don't really know if life for a person making theater in Europe is better.

For a time I lived in Italy, befriended many theater artists there and noticed that they did not seem so tortured. This, I think, has more to do with the culture than anything else. I also witnessed my Italian choreographer friend say once when visiting me here, "New York is so inspiring everywhere you turn. I am a choreographer, so to be inspired by a city is the best thing for me." I was jealous of her lifestyle at the time, so to hear her say that surprised me, and made me feel proud. And I knew what she meant. We've all heard people who don't live in New York say, "How can you do it?" My Italian friend's statement lends the answer.

I have also heard theater makers in Europe say that with the support from the government, there is a loss of creative control. William Forsythe started his own company, all with private funding, for this very reason. Jon Stewart said a similar thing on his show when asked why he does not move from Comedy Central to the Tonight Show. Do not mistake me. This entire blog is not meant to be in favor of artists making no money; quite the contrary. I believe it is important to make theater in a country that does not value it so much, precisely so that we can show people how to value it. In producing my own work, I have started very small-- from taking money out of credit cards (I don't recommend this) to currently having the good fortune to have received a commission for my most recent work. Along the way, I have always tried to run my shows as professionally as possibly, no matter how much money we were all getting. This, so that we as theater artists can set a standard, and hope that people outside our circle will learn by example. If we raise the bar by demonstrating our standards of living as theater artists, hopefully people in our community will recognize this, and in turn this recognition may spread to other industries that can find ways to help us meet these standards in practical ways. I don't expect this to happen over night. I expect it to take some time. Let's get the ball rolling.


Gabriella Barnstone is the founder of El Gato Teatro. In New York City she created and performed Heistman (The Ohio Theater’s Ice Factory Festival ‘08 and Dixon Place), Scenes from a Wedding (University Settlement and The Chocolate Factory), The Dinner Party (NYU and Williamsburg Art Nexus), Laredo (Dixon Place and The Kitchen), Somewhere in Between (NYC subway and Galapagos), Priere (Collective Unconscious), The Ferris wheel (Cunningham Studio), and Looking for r.m. (Hudson Guild Theater). Her most recent work, Nuevox Laredo, will premier in April of 2011 as part of Dixon Place’s Mondo Cane! Commissioning Program. For more information about El Gato Teatro, please visit www.elgatoteatro.com.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Why work in theatre?

Contributed by Leonard Jacobs

I keep returning to the idea that my answer to this question is not unlike Shakespeare’s seven ages of man. I was a product of New York City public schools at a time when no one dared call arts education a frill—its importance, then as now, incontrovertible and obvious. Thanks to a particular teacher—and the original and adapted plays and musicals he produced—I came to know intimately the theatre’s intoxicating properties: laughter, gasps and applause; the air of achievement and collaboration; the sense of creating and belonging to something greater than ourselves.

Through junior high, high school and college, I wasn’t mewling and puking and whining as Shakespeare’s infant and schoolboy (well, not about theatre, anyway), but my furnace-hot passion never wavered. Here, if you don’t mind, I’ll stop tying Shakespeare’s ages to my own, for hopefully you follow my larger point: we evolve. Working in—and working for—the theatre we want is a lifelong process, however it may be manifested in our lives.

I also believe there’s a self-actualization process that comes from working in theatre. Many, if not most, young practitioners are blissfully unaware of it. They're newly formed and buoyed by passion—but rare is the incipient artist able to identify with true, penetrating introspection, the roots of that passion. Its gut. You must do the work.

And so I reflect on my own early-passion years as a playwright/director/dramaturge type, forever traipsing around New York City at once carefree but adamant, with fondness and charity. For there is so much beauty in “I have to write this play,” in “I need to direct this play,” in “I must ensure that this work is seen.” What did it matter if I had two, four or six jobs, if I bunked at home, if I dozed and drooled on the E train to Queens? What mattered was exploring and, yes, celebrating that passion, pursuing theatre that I believed in—and wouldn’t sleep without.

We work in theatre even when the self-actualization turns painful. Nearing 30, I wearied of being poor. I questioned if creating theatre was the only way I could channel my own creativity. Frankly, it took time. Then I realized that if I truly believed in theatre’s power, if I honestly saw glory in fostering something greater than myself, if I really cherished the theatre’s addictive properties, then a new career path wasn’t failure, but evolution. Cynics scoff because they’re ignorant: phrases like “those who can’t do, teach” (or “those who can’t do, critique”) are for fools. Without growth, we die.

During my 20s, I was fortunate enough to enjoy, as one of my 37 jobs, freelance gigs as a critic and arts journalist; so, with my 30s, my shift in self-identification came organically. Spending 10-plus years as a theatre writer, editor, critic and blogger proved freeing (and I still work as a practitioner when so moved). The lesson is that working in theatre is what you make of it, not what it makes of you.

Entering my 40s, the self-actualization goes on. I have plays rumbling in my head (thank you, Tina Howe, for encouraging me to write), sure, but I also see myself equally as an advocate and a person passionate about policy. I see theatre advocacy as a way to knit my personal and professional evolution toward higher goals.

Why work in theatre? If the 9-year-old on that grammar school stage could answer that question, he’d offer a peroration for the ages. What I will share, however, is a memory that I can articulate in two words:

Lights up.


Leonard Jacobs is a writer, editor, blogger and critic with roots in arts, entertainment and culture. He is founder and editor of The Clyde Fitch Report, a nationally recognized blog covering arts and politics; he is a former national editor at Back Stage and, before that, founding editor of the website Theatermania.com. He currently contributes to a mix of digital and print publications, including the Huffington Post.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Upcoming 2011 World Theatre Day Events


There are some pretty exciting events planned for World Theatre Day 2011. Here are a few of our featured activities. So mark your calendars.

World Theatre Day Message: For theaters that have a performance from March 25 to 28 in NYC and would like to participate, register at www.nycwtd.com.

SPLAT Performances: Spontaneous, Public Large-scale Acts of Theatre Performances will take place around the city (March 22 - 25). It is a fun, easy and unique theatrical experience. If you are interested in participating, please email us at info@nycwtd.com.

NYC World Theatre Day Celebration: Theatre artists from around the world will gather to hear the International Message read by a New York theatre luminary – as well as to watch footage from SPLAT Performances and celebrations around the world. The celebration will take place on March 27, 4:00pm - 7:00pm at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street).