Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Role of the Artist: Reflecting on Chisa Hutchinson's "The Subject"

The thing I love about live theatre that you just don't get from film is a pure, unadulterated connection with the piece and the actors.  The best thing about a new play like we have at our ROUGH Readings is the ability to have that connection, then talk to the playwright and learn their intention, and get a whole new level of connection as questions are raised.

This seems a little late as the reading of Chisa's The Subject happened last month (Jan 24, and 25) but its had some time to sit in my mind and ferment a bit, especially since I sat onstage reading the stage directions through a two long days of rehearsal and two public readings. The play centers around Phil Waterhouse, a famed documentarian who learns the effect of being an objective eye.

You see, it was during rehearsal on that Sunday night, that Chisa asked the cast a question to help them understand it more, and I have to say that it's something that has truly stuck with me.  She explained that the play was partially inspired by the story of the late South African photojournalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Carter.  If you don't know his name, I'm sure you've seen his work.  You see, the reason he won the Pulitzer is because of a photo he took of a toddler in Sudan - you've probably seen it.  A small child, completely emaciated, struggling to stand, and a vulture looming close in the background.  This haunting image has been used countless times since it was shot in March, 1993.  While the fate of the child is unknown, we do know that Carter suffered at the hands of the vulture.  Not physically, no, but just months after winning the Pulitzer, he took his own life, citing the haunting images he immortalized as a reason for the act.

Chisa asked the actors one of the most important questions I've ever heard in my life, and I wish I had asked myself:  "What is our duty as artists?"

Mind = Blown.

(MUCH more after the jump)

Friday, February 18, 2011

The New Play Sector Talked (and talked, and talked, and talked) in the Capital

I represented Playwrights Foundation at the New Play Convening last month at Arena Stage’s new Mead Center for American Theatre, and hosted by new play raconteur, the Bay Area’s own David Dower, who was the founder of the Z Space Studio, and is now the Associate Artistic Director of Arena Stage, and architect of the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage.  It was an incredibly full four days, with a very diverse (everyone hates that overused, undermeaningful word) so I’ll give this a try instead: … a powerfully eclectic range of people from very different aesthetic/ geographic/gender/age/cultural /ethnic identities; representing all sizes of producing theaters, many geographic centers, individual  playwrights, ensemble theater makers, presenters, festivals, and yes, new play development labs and organizations, like Playwrights Foundation. And we did a lot of talking together. And a lot of listening. And those many conversations were a part of a national dialogue, all recorded, twittered and live streamed across the country. But all that listening and talking led us somewhere – somewhere that is intangible, and very hard to talk about succinctly.    Nonetheless, the momentum of this event will, I believe, succeed in pushing the national agenda about the practices of developing and producing new work and the learning about ourselves and our (un)common work, forward.

Not everyone who deserved to be in this circle got to be, and I feel a responsibility to keep writing about it, to share my experience and bring your thoughts and words into the dialogue. If you were in the third circle, on twitter or live stream video, or, if you weren’t, and you want to tell me your thoughts, please respond to my posts here on Playwrights Foundation’s Blogspot.

It seems fitting that we met up in DC where our elected reps are right now fighting tooth and nail to keep the NEA from becoming irrelevant. The NEA (a relatively tiny agency)  plays  a critical role in upholding our nation’s value for the arts, and its meaning to We, The People in a Democracy. If you haven’t expressed your opinion about cutting the NEA yet, please take this opportunity to do so! I did it in 5 minutes yesterday, and yeah, I felt that glow of citizenship wash over me. No, really, it is extremely important for us to speak up! Do it NOW, and then finish reading this. Okay, so...

Online there is a rich debate raging about NEA Chairman Rocco Landsman’s controversial and frank discussion on the issue of supply and demand in the American theater. You can read lots of interesting commentary on these links Diane Ragsdale and Arena Stage Blog and NEA Blog  and I suggest you do.  Need I say: these are some awesomely challenging times for us. The danger, I think, is to become self-congratulatory against the firestorm of anti-intellectual, anti-culture backlash.  To imagine that our relevancy to the majority is a shared value is myopic. But in the face of a real and present danger to lose faith is not an option, because, as cultural workers, as the planters and sowers of cultural seedlings, we are damn sure we are relevant but are challenged by issues of solvency.

One of my favorite quotes from the New Play Convening was from Diane Ragsdale, who herself was quoting a professor: “A model is the representation of your beliefs about causality.” Think about it. I don't know about you, but here at PF, we are constantly questioning our beliefs about our outcomes, and by inference our models of development. We are constantly making, deconstructing and redesigning our 'model(s)' (for organizational structure, staff roles, governance, and... programs for play and playwright advancement). I love the notion that at the heart of all those developing models is belief about impact, a belief about what we mean to cause and how.

So we new play makers are stuck here between blind passionate belief and the requirement to quantify our impact. Believing in our work, believing it actually does make a difference, in so many ways, as we so claim, believing in art as a transformative experience of beauty is absolutely essential to making the work – and yet, (and yet), we must become experts in making the case for its relevancy, and become savvy in the business of solvency.

Of course, as a theater professional that has not been my strong suit, believe you me, but learning those skills has been Playwrights Foundation's saving grace.

So, for me, sitting together with colleagues, new and old friends, and talking about our shared passion and our shared responsibility for carrying this work forward, that is, making new theater possible, was exhilarating and inspirational. I did cry a few times, and laughed a lot. Mostly, I listened, actively, heartfully, thoughtfully. It turns out that listening was itself the springboard.You too can listen in: it's all available at  #newplaytv.

Here's to: carrying the flame of passion, the innocence of blind belief, and the wicked ass savvy of financial know-how.

Stay in touch with us!


Amy Mueller
Artistic Director

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Loss For Words

Recently I've found myself in a bit of a pickle.  The Bay Area is filled with its surprises, and I'm sure many cities I could have chosen would have their own particular pitfalls.  Having recently had my laptop burglarized ...burglarized? Burgled sounds funnier.  Let's go with burgled.  Having recently had my laptop burgled from my bedroom, and with my roommates unable to explain how it happened (or that their story is incredibly filled with holes) I've discovered a few things.  Isn't that funny?  In the absence of some things, you gain others - in this case, knowledge.

#1 Suspect
First things first, I have to make it known that this laptop I used for writing.  That means many papers from college, resumes, photos, select readings, music, movies, and even my plays that I was working on are all now missing, as well.  Kaput.  Finito.  Gone.  ...This happened about three weeks ago, and even now I realize that it also had my headshots on there, so there goes any chance of me becoming a famous actor while I'm out here... looks like I'll just have to be spotted on the street and told "hey, kid, you got what it takes!"


(More after the jump)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Lurks in a Playwright's mind? Mega Piranha.

When PF Resident Playwright, Julia Jarcho, was asked what her favorite mythical beast was, she had this to say:

At the moment, I've got to say Mega Piranha.

According to a scientist (Tiffany), this organism has a very simple program:
eating  as much as possible, so as to grow infinitely large.
Mega Piranha  doesn't, as far as I can tell,
  • experience performance anxiety or social anxiety; 
  • it doesn't think about its career path, 
which is  almost a shame because its career is
 (at press time) going remarkably well.

It's on the verge of taking over the ocean. How many of us can say that?
Mega Piranha gets the job done, and looks great doing it.
A cute TV anchorwoman is about to feel its wrath.
Actually, I doubt it; the emotional modalities of Mega Piranha are way off our two-bit human spectrum.


They're approaching from the east. Stay tuned.

Julia Jarcho has been a Resident Playwright at Playwrights Foundation since 2008.  A brand new piece by Julia will be produced by New York City Players next Fall - keep up with Julia and other Resident Playwrights on our website!