Monday, May 22, 2006

Authorial Intentions

As our team writing experiment has dwindled to 1 and a half writers, we're hard pressed to do justice to such a large amount of material in a matter of a week or so--which is when our final draft has been promised. Having our director involved with edits has been a plus, but I worry that she might be directing a play that does not yet exist, and is thereby informing choices in the text. With a writer in the room, I've been privy to many instances where a director might advocate a cut or line change rather than a serious effort to make the 'trouble-spot' work. In my experience, these rough patches can be the ones that give texture, detail, and conflict to the rest of the script. Not always, of course, but more often than not the writer has a full awareness of why they chose to include something in the first place. I would like to see them defend these bits more.

Back at my university, rumor has it that a first-time director was dissatisfied with the play she worked on, and decided to cut, edit, rearrange, and add to the original. Did she realize that this could very easily get her production shut down by the playwright? No. Neither did anyone at the theatre, apparently. (In the end, the writer came and saw it, making the concession that it did need to be changed from what it was, so she was okay with it. Her prerogative, really.)

I've been reading Playwright Versus Director: Authorial Intentions and Performance Interpretations, edited by Jeane Luere in an attempt to gain some perspective on the relationship I generally oversee as I bring new work through its transition to production.

Edward Albee has this to say:"I heard a distinction made that I didn't quite understand: the distinction was between responsibility to the playwright or responsibility to the text. It seems to me--well, first of all, nobody should go in rehearsal with a play that they don't respect. We're talking about a play with a composed text. You should not go into rehearsal assuming that the piece is going to be written during the rehearsal procedure because in the commercial theatre, anyway, there is no time in the four weeks to accomplish that. I claim that my plays don't change very much in rehearsal; I lie a little bit when I say that. I cut my plays because I overwrite. I get infatuated with the sound of my own voice and I out in all sorts of scenes and speeches that I am very fond of and I will probably use in another play if I take them out of the play that they are in. But I don't reconsider the play, because I think about it very carefully before I write it down. The responsibility to the text of a serious useful play is the same thing as the responsibility to the audience, it seems to me. If you mutilate, revise too much a play, the changes that take place in the commercial theatre of a play on the way to opening night are usually oversimplifications, removals of grit; they homogenize, they make it very, very smooth and less an act of aggression against the status quo; and these are very bad things that usually happen in the commercial theatre. Theatre is there for a playwright to give us his vision of what the world is, not the vision that the audience wants to have of the world."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Theatre with a cause

Say what you will about Eve Ensler and her work. I don't care if you like it; it has changed lives. Directing the Vagina Monologues was one of the most important things that I have ever done.


In the past decade, over 400 women and girls have been killed or disappeared in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. Many of the victims were raped, mutilated and tortured. One of the victims was a six-year-old girl. In 2004, V-Day dedicated its annual Spotlight to the missing and murdered women of Juarez, placing the issue in front of millions in the U.S. and internationally through the over 2000 V-Day benefit productions and the 7,000 strong V-Day and Amnesty International March on Juarez. Two years after V-Day went to the streets of Juarez, progress is starting to be made as the international community and the U.S. and European governments begin to recognize and address these crimes against humanity.
In the past month alone, several steps have been taken to raise awareness about the issues affecting the women and girls of Juarez and to assist in ending them.

V-Day Mexico City
On Tuesday, May 9th, V-Day returned to Mexico, with Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda and Salma Hayek joining the Mexico City cast of The Vagina Monolgues for a special V-Day production benefiting groups working on the ground to protect and assist the women of Juarez.

The sold out event brought the issue to millions of women and men throughout Mexico and the world via press conferences and news coverage in numerous Mexican and International news services such as Noticieros Televisa, TV Azteca, Reforma, El Universal, BBC, Associated Press, and more. Proceeds from the event were donated to four groups in Juarez, all of whom were represented at the performance: Casa Amiga, a crisis center that provides free, confidential, and professional services to people who experience physical, emotional, or sexual violence; Fundacion Maria Sagrario, a group working to improve the conditions and safety within the community, such as electrification of streets leading to the maquiladoras, among other necessary issues; Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, a group coordinating a grassroots postcard campaign to send to government offices demanding justice and legitimate investigations into the murders; Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, a group focusing on legal and social justice through three projects: scholarships for children and young relatives of the assassinated women, an internet radio station and employing lawyers from Mexico City to handle such cases.

In addition to the worldwide publicity that this production brought to the issue, the event also resulted in a plan of action to demand that the Mexican government investigates and prosecutes the perpetrators of past crimes, while agreeing to more vigourously investigate and prevent future crimes. Activists will create a platform of demands for protection and conviction that will be signed by prominent members of the Mexican society, including international star Salma Hayek, and publicly presented to the Mexican presidential candidates and governmental officials at an international press conference. Upon signing, and during the election, there will be a period of accountability - should the signee not meet the demands highlighted in the petition by the timetable agreed upon, there will be a demonstration in the streets of Mexico City.

European Parliament hearing denounces femicide in Guatemala and Mexico

On Wedneday, April 19th, 2006, the European Parliament's Committee on Human Rights and its Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality came together for two-days of hearings and debates regarding the systematic murder of women in Mexico and Guatemala, and the obvious impunity against the perpetrators. Statements and testimonies were heard from both countries and representatives of civil society and two intensive debates took place between Latin American and European politicians of various political affiliations and members of women's and human rights networks.
As a result of these two days, a final statement was issued calling for the Mexican and Guatemalan governments to honour the international agreements and treaties they have signed on human rights and against violence and discrimination against women. It also calls on the Mexican government to apply its national and constitutional laws and refrain from the detention of any person charged on the basis of confessions made under torture. It also calls on multinational companies to take steps to protect their women workers, since many of the young women who were murdered were working in maquiladoras.

House Passes Solis' Juarez Resolution

Resolution Expresses Support for Families of the U.S. Border City
In Washington D.C., on Tuesday May 2nd, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved House Concurrent Resolution 90 (H. Con. Res. 90), legislation authored by Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis to address the disappearances and murders of more than 400 women in Juarez, Mexico.

"We are one step closer to bringing justice to the families of Ciudad Juarez," said Congresswoman Solis. "Passage of this important measure signifies strong U.S. Congressional support for the families of Juarez and the need to address this tragic human rights situation. Binational cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico will help bring an end to the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez and closure to their families," Solis said.
H. Con. Res. 90 condemns the ongoing abduction and murders of young women in Juarez and the city of Chihuahua in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico; expresses condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims; and proposes a set of actions to investigate and prevent the crimes. For the past three years, Congresswoman Solis has been working to bring more attention to the brutal murders of women and girls Juarez, a city located just minutes from the U.S. border.
The next step in the legislative process is for the Senate to pass an identical resolution, Senate Concurrent Resolution 16, was introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and has 18 cosponsors, including four Republicans.
For more information, please visit:"

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Expand your horizons.

"Theatre Without Borders is like a dating service for international collaboration.
I think it is becoming an essential connective tissue in the global theatre workplace."

--Michael Fields, Producing Artistic Director, DELL'ARTE INTERNATIONAL, Blue Lake, California
in American Theatre Magazine

Check out Theatre Without Borders.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Impossible Theatre

It's true. Theatre is always in crisis. We cycle.

"For some young artists there is wish-fulfillment in what we trust is only a fantasy. God is dead! says Nietzsche--and to look at their canvases or their sculpture, you feel them celebrating the triumph of Vegetation. When, as I do, you feel like punching them in the face on behalf of civilization, you are stopped by the fact that such art--the collage, the frottage, the sound blocks, the combine-painting, the Happenings, the whole iconography of feces, fetus, and demolition--is among the most formidable we have. The arms of Venus are mutilated still.

But in the American theater you'd barely know it, except by default."

"...As for the theater, where we have so long settled for next to nothing, it would seem the best way to start a revolution in the consciousness of modern man is to do what you can to start a revolution in the consciousness of people whose ears you may have. I am speaking not merely of readers, of audiences, but primarily of workers, those who must do the job. In the profession itself the human waste is incredible, as are the self-delusions, the dodges, the exacerbations of the rat race."

(Herbert Blau, 1964)

This is why we will continue to read Boal, Artaud, and Brook. It is a revolution that must not have an ending.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

That's what it's called!

"Twentieth -century performance theory and practice has clear perceptions about the nature and the function of the 'sense of the whole'; therefore, it is not surprising that the Russians have a word to describe this concept. The zamissel is, as Zelda Fichandler explains, 'the pervading sense...It's the thought that binds together all elements or the idea. The zamissel accounts for the whole--explains every action, every breath, every pulse, every second of the life of the play. It's like looking at a tree. The sap is in every leaf and it's also in the roots. I can spend months looking for the exact zamissel or idea or super-objective that will set a play in motion, unlock its hidden conflict.'

from Shadows of Realism: Dramaturgy and the Theories and Practices of Modernism, by Nancy Kindelan

Oh, and on a related note, did you know that phrases (or non-phrases) such as 'um', 'er', 'uh', or 'like' are called disfluencies?

Monday, May 08, 2006

And another thing...

At the moment, my year group of 50+ (that includes performers, designers, directors, etc) is devising a piece of site-specific work. It has, hands down, been the most difficult working process I've ever encountered. While it remains to be seen, I'm hoping it will also be the most rewarding. The engagement with the site, the arrangements and flow of the experience, the act of sharing it with an audience (both primary and secondary), and the challenge to our traditional concepts of how theatre works are all huge issues. None of the rules apply. If you're ever in a creative rut and need to approach the world of performance, and the blurring of life and art, I highly recommend that you look into site-specific work.

Our mentor on the project, Bill Aitchison, wrote Collaboration With Location, which is proving to be amazingly helpful. Have a look.

How sweet.

Playwright Dennis Kelly is a jokester. To paraphrase:

What is the difference between a toilet and a dramaturg?

A toilet doesn't follow you around.


The Royal Hunt of the Sun

Up for a challenge,it seems (and when is he not?), Trevor Nunn has taken on the vast ambition of Peter Shaffer's The Royal Hunt of the Sun. One look at the stage directions of this play and many would be at a loss; the scope and grandeur are stated simply on the page, but in practice sound impossible.

At the Royal National Theatre, a full house is granted rivers of gold, armies climbing the Andes, and a bloody sun, replete with god-on-earth. In this epic, sweeping narrative, Francisco Pizarro journeys on his famous expedition to Peru in search of gold and self-fulfillment. What he brings with him are soldiers, Catholicism, and a hefty dose of pride. However, we learned all of that in primary school. Shaffer has delved deeper into fact and crafted a grand account of the connected possibilities of such a history. It is a window into what we will never see, a clever speculation that sparks one's imagination.

Through the narrator, we are granted access to the voyage. Martin's memories wind carefully around the events as they occur, and his boyhood self participates in them, tragically naive to what his future self has learned about human nature. He is our guide through this journey, where men are men and depth of character is revealed gradually.

In this world of color, it isn't long before cultures meet: Incas and Spaniards confront each other for the first time. The Incas are butchered and their god, Adahuallpa is captured. In captivity, he and Pizarro become unlikely friends. The development of this relationship is the most rewarding aspect of the overall play, which tends to be long-winded and uneven. As I suppose is necessary in such a large landscape, certain events and characters are simplified, while others are granted a full turn at realizing themselves. Shaffer has taken the clear opportunities within the situation: those that are begging to be pulled out for longer passages of critique and comparison on obvious themes like proselitization and capitalism. Adahuallpa as the son of god would make a clear connection to any audience. It is hard to say what needs to be highlighted amongst so many vehicles for parallel.

The play stutters a bit, but builds in Act Two, as passions run high, and decisions must be made. Doesn't it just sound dramatic? It absolutely is. Every tactic seems to be used: swashbuckling battles, choreographed native dances, tremendous swathes of fabric animating the entire space...the list goes on. Bringing the past to life onstage, with all of the baggage of history, is indeed a mammoth task. What holds it together are the moments of real communication between characters, as in most plays. For such a wide view to be successful, the disparities between personal and cultural have to be smoothed. All in all, I salute their mostly successful efforts.

The Royal Hunt of the Sun continues at the Royal National Theatre. Part of Travelex Ten Pound Season.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fancy That.

You never know who you will meet, and how they might inspire you. My blog, I realize, is full of these superlatives. It's a total cliche that I'm living: always learning something new. About myself, about the work, about my peers. I absolutely need to work in theatre, if only for the sheer challenge of it all. It keeps my brain going, even if I constantly feel as though I am two steps behind.

Does anyone else out there feel like they can never relax into their work and just BE with it? I can't be proud/happy/satisfied with much of anything, because I know how it fell short, how it was intended to be different and better. My accomplishments in theatre (and, let's face it, my accomplishments in life) are being overshadowed and forgotten by me, of all people.

Well, that was a detour. I've been meaning to introduce you all to:


a dramaturgical company that commissions and develops new works of theatre, dance, and music.

Brian Quirt, who is also the LMDA Canada chair (and incoming LMDA president) runs it, and it really seems like an incredible resource for artists of all sorts. They encourage and facilitate the kind of long-term projects or research that don't usually seem feasible.

check them out here.

Another reason to love Canada.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dance [Dance] Revolution?

In my previous experience, dance has left me wanting more. I've never connected to it, never felt moved or especially inspired. For me, it has always presented itself as a showcase of physical skill: the ability to complete a combination without a wobble, or a perfectly synchronized sequence of repetition between a company. At a conservatory whose primary focus was dance, the most moving choreography I witnessed came in the form of a girl (wearing too much eyeliner) twirling violently to Christina Aguilera's "I Am Beautiful". So you see my disappointment.

Cut to the Place, an intimate venue in Euston where dance is an entire language. The body is suddenly the instrument it should be, pushing limits and potentials all the time. I was there to see Theatre enCorps and WELD present a double bill, as my tutor (and mentor) Ana Sanchez-Colberg shared a piece of her work that was particularly personal and courageous.

Efva Lilja has choreographed two pieces for three distinct people. These are dancers, lovers, mothers, full and complete, becoming vulnerable. They are moving to say the unsayable. They are no longer "traditional" dancers--Sylwan and Abramson are 65 and 69 years old--but it runs deeper than that. They are actively engaged in a process that is revealed to the audience; it is our shared process of working things out, of simply expressing. This is not about technical prowess anymore, as these dancers push to the limits of choreography and beyond. What is difficult is allowed to be, and watching it is equally as challenging. Here they have developed such a familiar human vocabulary that words are not necessary.

You may watch Ana dance, thinking 'I have no idea where that came from, but I know how that feels'. If you are lucky enough to know her (the woman is a goddess), then the experience is doubled in intensity. As we see her making these choreographed movements her own, she is simultaneously living moments of her life, taking charge and living fiercely on this stage. The piece clearly anchors somewhere deep inside of her, and that is enough to root it in the spectators as well.

So maybe modern dance isn't my bag, and I still don't know exactly how to treat the official 'dancetheatre'. For years I've been watching dance with this enforced notion that if I don't 'get it', then it must be my ignorance. Yay for art elitism...I'm really glad to be getting over that.

Pina Bausch and I may make peace yet.