Theatrical Civility in English Blog
I first started to read a Guardian theatre blog entry by director Raz Shaw
because the question of whether you need life "experience" to write or direct certain plays has an interest to me. And I would tend to agree with Mr. Shaw that it should not be a necessity if only because we then reduce theater to formulaic naturalism and start down a road of insisting that the the lead of A Man for All Seasons
be a highly-religious and brilliant statesman, lawyer, and thinker. To insist on the literal is to turn our backs on unexpected insight from someone outside a given milieu.
And then, on a whim, I scrolled down to the comments. They were civil, informed, and well-reasoned. At least as of when I read them, there is an example of what online discourse could be, rather than the all too frequent taunts, put-downs, and even intimidation. How refreshing.
Labels: directors, playwrights, theater, U.K.
Marsha Norman's Playwrights and the Theater
Playwright Marsha Norman had an opinion piece in the New York Times the other day about playwrights attending theater
. When you boil it down, for her, a dramatic writer's experience of the theater is one of relationships with colleagues, actors, directors, and the audience. Sometimes the feelings run to jealousy or sympathy, but they (well, sometimes) move quickly beyond it: "The main thing playwrights understand from very early in their careers is that any successful play is good for everybody." Success means that more people go to
the theater, which means more chances for people to do
theater. Using the current hit "August: Osage County" as the impetus for the article, she notes that playwrights need long-term relationships with theatrical companies:
If we wanted to do one single thing to improve the theatrical climate in America, we’d assign one playwright to every theater that has a resident acting company. ... Playwriting in America has suffered a devastating blow from the development process that keeps writers separate from the rest of the company, working on the same play for years. What playwrights want is what Steppenwolf has given Mr. Letts: a way to get a new play done, see what works, and then go on to the next one. “August: Osage County” is way more than a wonderful play. It is how we get back to having American plays on Broadway. We get them written for actors who want to do them, then producers get on board and start selling tickets.
Imagine, writing plays with the expectation that they might be produced. This short falling is the reason that some playwrights have taken on producing themselves. For all the Shakespeares and Chekhovs and Mamets and Wassersteins, there have been many more who had to create their own opportunities. It was either that, or see no theater done at all.
Labels: opinion, playwrights, theater
Review: How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway?
I'll admit (and, probably, commit) the tediousness of many reviewers. Sanctimonious and certain, they often slash and burn their way across a landscape that they know only as outsiders. But now and then you find someone who understands a topic deeply, has experience in it, and a sharp and humane eye, all while being amusing. I'd place John Heilpern in this category if his work didn't do so itself.
Theater critic for the New York Observer, Heilpern is passionate about the topic, has seen his own plays produced, and has an unusually keep wit. Although his latest book is a biography of the British playwright, John Osborne, I came across How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway?
, which came out in 1999, in a used book store. I'll confess to never having read Heilpern's work before - it was the title that got me, as I'm not the world's largest Mamet fan, at least in the non-fiction of his that I've read of late. And it's fairly unusual for someone in the theatrical community to take on a contemporary icon.
But take him on Heilpern did, as well as writers at the New York Times, American anglophilia, Disney Land (the new name for Broadway), and other topics. At the same time, he's anything but mean-spirited. Many of his pieces put praise where he thinks it's due and tries to analyze what is good and bad about productions. Many of his observations run from the droll to the uproariously funny. And where else can you get a delightful transcript of a lunch between Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson.
If you've any regard for theater, or for intelligent criticism of any sort, you should be tickled with this book. Now I'll have to get hold of a copy of his Osborne biography.
Labels: book review, review, theater
Old Avant-Garde Theatre Finds New Home in New York
Here's an article from the New York Times on the new Lower East Side home
of the Living Theater
. This is a piece of theatrical and political activism mixed with audience participation that I thought had ended in the 1960s.
Labels: Living Theater, New York, theater
Audience Block Walks Out on Monologist - and Tosses Water
Some so-called Christian group (sorry, but this doesn't seem like the action of real Christians to me) apparently got up en masse during a performance by monologist Mike Daisey, walked out while the show was running, and one of them dumped water
all over Daisey's notes. According to the report, no one in the group would engage with him, but they ran away. Bullies generally do when really challenged. Here's a video
of the incident on YouTube.
Labels: censorship, Daisey, monolog, religion, theater