About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Viewpoints Addendum

I’m still reading my little Viewpoints book on and off. And, as I read it, I’m continuing to think about its practical applications in terms of my own process.

Now, rather than just thinking about how I would use it, it's probably more productive to just use it - and see if it works for me. This is a slightly more difficult effort, especially considering I don't currently have any projects on which to try it. But - I do I keep coming back to a particular situation that arose during a show I was working on about two years ago. The play, called “What Work Is,” was to be an examination of the nature of work, inspired by a book of poems by Philip Levine by the same name, and created during the rehearsal process.

One of the actors, Clare, had developed this wonderful character of a young, erstwhile concert pianist. A woman who, after being ejected from her prestigious conservatory program, had given up the piano and was reckoning with the question of what to do with herself now.

At one point Clare had a fantastic idea for a scene of her character: while in the midst a mundane task - making breakfast, we eventually decided - the action begins to look, feel and sound more and more like playing the piano, in order to express the idea that, even without playing it, the piano is still an inextricable part of her life. Even the simple act of making eggs becomes a concerto, or a sonata.

Unfortunately, neither Clare nor I had the movement background to create adeptly the physical life we envisioned. It took a lot of a stumbling, a lot of pursed lips and knitted brows and hemming about where and how to start. I was even thinking about Viewpoints then, because I called a friend of mine who is particularly versed in it to give me some ideas. We got through it, and created a nice sequence, but I think both of us were hoping to push it a little further, create something a little broader, perhaps, or more abstract, or more elegant? I’m not sure actually. But the process and even the final product, while something I am proud of, and I hope she is too, felt restricted. I think that’s the best word.

As I consider how Viewpoints can help me - specifically me, on a practical level - this experience offers a very neat answer. Having a movement-based vocabulary and structure within which to work would have given Clare the guidance and myself the context we both needed to go farther with her idea. So! My new goal, in reading about and understanding Viewpoints, is to re-consider my process with Clare and determine what (if anything) could have been added or changed through a knowledge of Viewpoints to have made it stronger.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I'm thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving. Friends, family, food, health. Another thing I'm thankful for is Thanksgiving.

I really, really love the idea of Thanksgiving. I love it because it feels like a religious holiday, both in tone and in the reverence of its observation. But... it's not. It's national. I can't think of anything else quite like it.

And I love that.

I love that there's this occasion that brings us together to celebrate qualities like love, abundance and gratitude, but that what brings us there is not any god or religious dogma, but our identity as Americans. We're brought together by our togetherness, as simple and strange as that sounds. By the fact that we are all here, occupying the same the space in the same nation. And all of us, because we're here, because we're alive, because our ancestors (whether literally in Plymouth or elsewhere) survived the winter, we all have something to be thankful for.

I think, symbolically, this says something very unique and stirring about America. And while I know that particular idea often stays in the realm of symbolism rather than actual practice, it still means something to me. I know that Thanksgiving is in many ways the gateway from whence the monolith of the commercial American Christmas can emerge. I also know the American nation later near-demolished the very same people with whom we celebrate the Pilgrims breaking bread on the first Thanksgiving. I know that, though those Pilgrims came here with a dream of a world without religious persecution, once they were free of their own persecution they turned around and pretty much persecuted everybody else right back. And I know that that terrible persecution in the name of religious zealotry still persists in this country, especially, and recently very tragically, towards the LGBT community.

But I still like the idea, that the most important holiday on the American calendar transcends faith, race, culture, and class. It's a moment when, despite everything else, we take a step back to contemplate our abundance. Together. I'm thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"We'd all like to flee to the Cleve..."

When I was in 7th grade, my math class learned about the stock market. My teacher handed out newspaper pages with that day's NYSE quotes (quotes? Is that the proper term? Obviously, this lesson really stuck), and, after explaining how the stock market worked and how to read the information before us, he gave us each a few hundred imaginary dollars and told us to go invest.

Microsoft stuck out from the rest like a shiny penny. It was by far the most valuable stock on the page and, in 1996 during Microsoft's peak years, even a twelve year old like me could look at the brand Microsoft and recognize success. My - and many others' - first impulse was to take our fake money straight to Microsoft. Our teacher cautioned against it.

Micrsoft was already played out, he told us. The time to buy Microsoft stock was before it had blown up. Sure, the stock might keep rising, but it won't double or triple in value, not from here, not like a smaller company has the potential to. The real money's not to be made there.

I'm pretty sure this is Investment 101 (hey, we were in 7th grade), but the lesson keeps coming back to me. I've wondered a lot to myself recently: is New York theater's stock like Microsoft's in 1996? Played out, too expensive and, while unquestionably representing the utmost pinnacle of success, not necessarily going to give you the best bang for your buck?

Of course, New York will always be the epicenter of professional theater. I can't imagine somewhere in America that would have a place for a beast like Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark besides The Great White Way. But when it comes to the indie, the experimental, the cutting edge - the stuff that goes on in dilapidated black boxes, basements and loft apartments - for this stuff, New York as a base of operations is becoming less and less logical.

Real estate mostly, but also a meager audience base stretched thin across a mammoth arts scene concentrated within a relatively small geographical area, makes creating - and maintaining - great theater more and more difficult. Even for the big guys, so let's not even mention the smaller fish.

But we theater folk, we stay. And we pay out the nose for a falling-in space with a diminutive house that we would nevertheless pretty much sell our souls to fill. That is, if we're lucky. If we get a space, a chance. Why? Because this is highest point of the theater world, that's why. Because nowhere else, nowhere else are you going to get to see and maybe even work with so many creative geniuses.

And that's the truth. That's why I stay at least. Sometimes - like when I saw Van Hove's jaw-dropping Little Foxes a few weeks ago, for example - I think about living somewhere else and it feels me with deep sorrow. Nowhere else, on this continent, at least, would I get to see something like that.

I read a quote today that got me thinking about this all over again:

There was a generation of people who really deeply believed that the future of every American city had to involve a vibrant arts scene... The question we’re facing now is what happens to that dream.

In full disclosure, this quote was taken from the Clyde Fitch Report, where it was discussed within a different context. A context which, itself, was slightly different from when it was originally spoken by Marc Masterson, the artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. So the quote is now thrice removed from the original intention of the statement. But it resonated with me nonetheless.


Yes! I do believe the future of every American city must involve a vibrant arts scene. Every American city. Not just New York. Or even Chicago or Boston or LA. Cleveland needs a theater scene just as vibrant as New York. Minneapolis. Denver.

Can you imagine? Amazing theater, everywhere! It would be beautiful.

It's the only way theater as an art form will continue to thrive. If it's relegated to a strange and novel diversion found on the streets of the Big Apple, like the Naked Cowboy or cartoon artists in Times Square then what audience will we have left? Tourists, coming to see the latest spectacle, jukebox, or movie musical and then New York theater people, going to see other New York theater people's shows.

And then not even that, maybe, if real estate continues to soar. The price of experimenting, taking risks, trying something new will become too costly. And theater is going to suffer.

Maybe we can take risks in Cleveland that we couldn't take in New York.

The remedy must be to head to the 'burbs. They need a vibrant theater scene. Every American city needs a vibrant theater scene. They need us and we, I'm convinced, need them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wasserstein Debacle

I have mixed feelings on the whole Wasserstein prize scandal business.

The latest news is that they are re-opening the competition by considering other works by the 19 original nominees. And I am, oh, 75% in favor of this decision.

But part of me - the 25% voice of dissent - is worried. There's been an enormous outcry in response to this decision and, as a result, a tremendous amount of pressure on TDF to award that prize. And this worries me. It begs the oft-asked question: is it appropriate to lower the bar in order to encourage equal-opportunity and diversity? And when it comes to theater, my art form, about which I have uncompromisingly idealistic standards, my answer is an emphatic no. No, the bar should not be lowered, and if we women aren't reaching that bar then by God we are just going to have to work harder.

And doesn't it say something significant that the group tasked with awarding this prize, which is Ms. Wasserstein's legacy, has enough respect for Wasserstein and the new generation of women playwrights to hold the work up to a specific and fixed standard of excellence? It would be easy for one to award the prize to a sub-par play and, amidst undeserved accolades, pat oneself on the back for promoting the cause. And in reality, giving the award to a play which, when we're being honest, doesn't hold a candle to the works being produced in the male-dominated professional arena, would be a terrible disservice; it would say, this is the best we've got, so don't bother to take us seriously.

(And - it should be noted here - that I am arguing the decision process itself, not the relative merits of any of the nominated playwrights. I don't know anything about the plays or the playwrights themselves and this is NOT an indictment of the work. For all I know, many - or all - were amazing plays and unfairly passed over. But, for the sake of argument, I'm giving the TDF committee the benefit of the doubt and assuming that withholding the prize was not a decision that was come to lightly.)

On the other hand, I wonder, I feel withholding the prize this year is downright irresponsible. Like everyone else I think: is it really possible that not a single play written by any emerging woman playwright in the United States was that good? No? Not a single one? That CAN'T be right. There has to be one out there. And I think that an award as notable and as financially significant as the Wasserstein prize as a responsibility to find that play. Because if it can't be found by the committee responsible for the preeminent award for new women playwrights then the message it sends is that it can't be found at all. And in a community wherein our incredible female talent is already at such a disadvantage, that message is neither true nor one we can afford to send.

That said, I hope one of those 19 playwrights has something wonderful up her sleeve.

Friday, November 12, 2010


After a perfect storm of hirings and firings in the serving world, I put forth the hypothesis that waiting tables maybe isn't for me, and took my approach to money-making in a different direction. I submitted my name to a few different temp agencies, and three weeks later, voila here I sit at my first temp assigment, learning the meaning of the Monday through Friday work week and g-chatting at the office.

Basically, I have a lot of free time on my hands. So I stopped by the Drama Bookshop and picked up a few books on directing to look over during my work days. It's something I've been meaning to do; I've always secretly found my theater education thus far a little bit lacking. Oh, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot in undergrad. But it was mostly abstract: theater theory, various philosophies. How to think about and interpret a story. Ideas about theater and theater-making. What I didn't learn much about were specific practices within the rehearsal room. Okay, I know all about how to expand and define my concept for a project. What I don't feel as comfortable with is the practical business of how to turn that concept into a physical reality. I've got nothing in my arsenal but intuition and trial and error.

There have to be some ideas out there of a more structural approach - some practical techniques to get from point A (a neat idea) to point B (a neat show). There's Viewpoints, for one. Everybody's always talking about that. And while I'm certain Viewpoints isn't the only thing to offer this kind of structure, it sure feels like the only thing anybody's talking about, so I thought I'd start there. I bought a copy of "The Viewpoints Book," by Anne Bogart and Tina Landeau.

I've never really understood Viewpoints. I've touched on it cursorily a few times in my meanderings throughout the theater world. I've done some exercises. I've even had it explained to me once or twice. But I've never really gotten it. I think to myself, "Okay, so we walk in a circle and try to be aware of each other in space." (And I know that's a simplification, but you get my point). That's great. Really, without a hint of sarcasm, it's great. But my question has always been, what do I do with that? As a director, how does that help me in the rehearsal room? I know there's an answer, but nobody has ever been able to give it to me properly. So I'm going to the source - the people who wrote the book on the technique. Literally.

I'm only 40 pages in. We're still talking about exercises, and not so much about practical application. So I'm still in the dark about my ultimate question. But I have enough thoughts on the subject already that I figured they were worth sharing.

My feelings are mixed. On one hand, I'm starting to get it - I'm starting to see how this is a philosophy I can USE. At one point, in discussing how change in Tempo can trigger a change in mood (ie: slow can feel sneaky or scared, fast can feel desperate, etc.) the authors say, "by applying each Viewpoint, especially in its extremes, we invite something to happen." Ah, I see. So if I learn and understand each Viewpoint well enough to identify and manipulate any specific one within rehearsal, I can create space for things to happen that perhaps neither I nor the actors had expected. That's exciting. That's something I can work with.

At the same time, I'm deeply wary of the Viewpoints exercises, the create-awareness-in-time-and-space activities that seem to be at the core of the technique. I don't know their place; I'm trepidatious of pushing it upon a group of actors. I occasionally initiate warm-ups, exercises, games as a part of the rehearsal process, but I try to keep it to a minimum. While I appreciate the ideas put forth in The Viewpoints book, namely, that a theater artist must continue to practice the basics, just as a musician or dancer would, what that means to any particular actor I work with is specific and individual - each has his or her own process. I learned the hard way that an actor can easily say, "I'd prefer to do this work on my own, privately. I didn't come here to practice. I came here to work".

It's one thing to work with an ensemble dedicated as a group to working with Viewpoints, or to cast a show with the clear and specific intention of creating or reimagining the piece using the technique. But outside of a setting where the use of Viewpoints is previously agreed upon by the group as a whole? I'm not sure. It could be intrusive. It feels inappropriate to push Viewpoints exercises on an actor or group of actors just because it's working for you.

I also keep coming back to something my friend once said. She told me she can spot a piece that's used Viewpoints a mile away. Its techniques are so specific, it becomes like a signature on a production. I myself have never noticed this, but that's possibly because I understand so little about Viewpoints i wouldn't know it if it slapped me in the face. Has anybody else every experienced this? Have you ever gone to a show and become distinctly aware you were watching a Viewpoints-inspired piece? And if you have... is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Here I Lie

I made my way out to the East Village Sunday night to catch a play called Here I Lie, performed at a space called the Seventh Street Small Stage.

I've been reading about the Cino Nights series on various blogs, including an intriguing interview with the playwright, Courtney Baron. The play, and the disease upon which it was based, sounded fascinating. I had never heard of the space, though, which surprised me. So, I did a little digging and discovered that The Seventh Street Small Stage is none other than the back space of Jimmy's No. 43, where 8 Women performed its original NYC run. That sealed it. Last I heard of Jimmy's performance space was when we left it - after it had been shut down indefinitely. I'm glad to hear it's back up on its feet. I remember Jimmy was a good guy to work with, and genuinely excited about the theater he was able to bring to light in his performance space. A person (and a space) like that is a real asset to the indie theater community of New York.

Here I Lie focuses on two seemingly unrelated characters who both suffer from the same compulsion to feign an illness, going even to self-destructive lengths - ingesting poison, self-mutilation, etc. - to create symptoms in their healthy bodies. It's based on a real disorder, which makes it all the more compelling.

The two characters, Maris, a book editor, and Joseph, a male nurse, take turns relating their stories to the audience in a series of monologues.

Maris's begins when she reads a manucript for work, a memoir of a young man with cancer. It's written terribly, she tells us, but its story moves her to tears. So, she passes it along to her boss, who is less than impressed. In a moment of desperation, facing a demotion, she tells her boss she was touched by the story because she could identify with it; she is also dying of cancer.

Delirious with the attention, yes, but moreso the power she now possesses to manipulate others' emotions, she continues the charade. Soon she is shaving her head, joining cancer support groups, taking medication for chemo, starving herself.

It is grotesque and fascinating to hear her tell it, especially as performed with warmth and sympathy Samantha Soule. As an editor, Maris boasts she "knows how to tell a good story," and her life is punctuated by this need to tell the story. And she insists - ever more desperately - that the story she is creating through her feigned illness is a good one, one that benefits others to witness. No, it's more than that. The is not just telling the story, she IS the story.

And in the end, when she takes her own life to complete the story of her own invention, and proclaims with near-religious ecstasy that the ending is "so pure," the moment is haunting.

Maris's blind and terrifying irrationality is, under the fine light of Baron's text, understandable, relatable. Anyone who would call themselves an artist can identify with this terrible need to tell a story, to open people to a new world, a new perspective, a new way of being. Anyone who has ever created can also understand the fine line that Maris rides between shameless attention-mongering, and the uncorrupted goodwill of bringing something new and beautiful to others. And anyone who as ever yearned to bring truth to a story (and what is art, really, but telling a lie as truthfully as possible?) can appreciate the awesome power in the creation of a story so whole, so complete, that one literally gives one's life to give it breath.

It scares me, but I know why she calls her death "pure."

Jospeh, by turns, chooses life where Maris chooses death, allowing himself to be spontaneously healed from his self-inflicted set of symptoms, baffling his already-baffled doctors even further. Joseph chooses hope: you see, through his work as a nurse in a neo-natal ward he becomes attached to a particularly ill premie, born to a reckless and drug-addicted young mother. He names the boy Joe, and sees himself more and more as the baby's father. Then, when little Joe dies after a month in neo-natal intensive care, Joseph becomes suddenly and inexplicably ill, and then just as suddenly and inexplicably healed again. In an effort to regain the hope he lost with the loss of his "son," Joseph makes himself the miracle the little baby could not be.

In contrast to the riveting complexity of Maris's story, Joseph's feels more obvious, less engaging. Also troubling was the relationship between the two characters, or, rather, the lack thereof. The two appear to have no apparent connection to one another, no shared history before the moment that the play begins. More problematically, though, while it's clear they exist in the same space - they acknowlegdge each others' existence, touch, make eye contact, laugh at each others' stories - they never actually respond to one another. What the one has just said never considered by the other, in never affects or informs his or her next soliloquy. The circumstance creates a kind of uncomfortable paradox: they are in the same room, but they're not. They're listening to each other, but they're not.

The conundrum leaves both of them more or less alone in a vacuum with their monologues, relating events that have already happened, a style of theater which rarely works. It didn't even work for Tennessee Williams: Suddenly Last Summer is beautifully written, and striking in its imagery and allegory - except that most of that striking imagery takes place offstage, related to us second-hand in monologue. Which, while lovely and engaging, begs the question, why am I watching this?. By which I mean, why not just read it? What makes it necessary to SEE it, on stage, in three dimensions?

Likewise, almost all of the action of Here I Lie is re-told after the action. In the play's defense, though, this particular story gives as strong an argument in favor of using this device as any I have seen. The characters do live out their lives in a kind of isolation, unable, because of their disorder, to be entirely honest or present with anyone. It makes sense that their physical presence in the play would reflect that state.

I do, however have to ask the following question: what is the point having these two characters in the same space at the same time? Or, more accurately, what is the point of Joseph at all? His story is so weak compared to Maris's, and his presence does little to nothing to affect her story as she tells it. Were it up to me, I would bring focus exclusively to Maris.

When viewed in this light, Joseph could be a credible foil - it makes sense for her to exist in the space that she does: a sort of alternate dimension, somewhere between waking and sleeping, between life and death. It also makes sense that she should share the space with a person with whom she has never had a relationship, but who shares her affliction. In this way, she is still alone, physically separated from everyone from whom she isolated herself with her affliction, but not in a vacuum. But sadly, Joseph's character doesn't realize his potential to move Maris's journey forward; he has very little to do with her at all. In the most valiant effort I've ever seen to disprove the Heisenberg ucertainty principal, Maris's story is not shaped or changed by Joseph's observation of it (and vice versa - although I'm less concerned about that). It would be more powerful if it were.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I just found out, through this post on Kevin Daly's Theater Aficionado at Large that there is a Rent revival in the works at New World Stages.

This comes as fabulous news to me, as Rent is one of approximately 9507843957 shows in New York that I really, really meant to see and yet found myself on the day of its closing wondering if it was too late to get tickets. Rent has a particularly special place in that category because, as a sensitive and somewhat strange adolescent growing up in the mid-to-late nineties, I had a lot of friends who were Rentheads. Like, a lot a lot. AND I was a theater kid, which made it doubly bad. I always wanted to know what the kerfuffle was about, but somehow missed it each of the few times it came on tour to my hometown. When I moved to New York, I thought, great, now I'll definitely see this show - it's right there. But I never actually got around to it, because I knew it was right there. And then, one day, it wasn't.

"Oh well," I told my friend Sarah after it closed. "I'll just have to wait for the revival."

"You're going wait around for 10 years?" she asked.

"What?" I said, "I'm clearly not in any big hurry to see it."

As it turns out, I didn't have to wait nearly so long. Mr. Daly posits the question in his post: how soon is too soon? Normally, I would say that there is an appropriate amount of time to wait before remounting a show. The point of a revival is to give old material new perspective for new eyes. I was a little affronted when Les Mis re-opened so quickly. What, exactly, was the point of that? It seemed somehow disrespectful to the original production.

Rent, though, because it's moving to an off-Broadway venue, seems like a different animal to me. More akin to the recent moves by Avenue Q and The 39 Steps than the big Broadway revival of Les Miserables. True, unlike Q and 39, Rent will not be the same show moving to a smaller space. It will have new producers and be under new direction. But I think the idea is the same: here is a new environment for an old show where it is more likely to thrive. So I'll allow it.

But this news has gotten me thinking. I am so excited to see this show which, only a few years ago, I thought I had missed out on completely. I'm sure I'm not alone. So, is there a market out there for
big shows to go out Celine Dion-style, coming in and out of retirement as many times as they can inflate the ticket price of a "comeback performance"? Has anyone ever tried this?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The view of Washington from my Harlem walk-up.

Let me begin by saying I'm not the most politically knowledgeable person. I do try, but for the most part, what happens in those fancy-lookin' buildings with domes on top elludes me. It's all about the details in politics, and I'm much more comfortable with the big ideas. But it was a pretty big week in politics, and what with the elections yesterday, and then some tiny little gathering down in DC over the weekend, I feel it would be remiss of me not to say something about it.

I don't have much to say about the election. First, let me say I'm one of the few liberal-minded young people in the country who hasn't been disappointed by Obama, largely because I was possibly the only liberal-minded young person whose expectations for him weren't that high back in 2008.

Oh, not that I have anything against the man. I love his politics and his passion. But here's the thing. Well, really it's two things. The first is, I think there were all these Obamaphiles who had this idea that the President was going to take office and immediately get out his Magic Hope and Change Wand and with a single wave effect world peace and feed all the nation's hungry. But our government is a system, and sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's a bad thing. I think it's mostly a good thing. But a system means a lot of bargaining, a lot of beaurocracy, and a lot of compromise.

The other thing is this: on the night of the 2008 election, when Obama gave his victory speech, I've never seen a politician, celebrity or any other public figure look so visibly tired. It was uncanny. You could just tell that wanted it. So. Badly. And this man, he's SO intelligent, SO articulate, and so so charismatic. And that level of intelligence and charisma, coupled with the intense ambition I saw that night and throughout his campaign, well, it just puts me on edge a little. I'm not saying that Obama is secretly a bad man with hidden, ulterior motives. Let me be clear. I am not saying that in any way, at all. Like I said, I love his politics and his passion. I'm just saying it makes me a little... wary.

So, all this is to say that I'm not surprised by the disappointment in Obama and the democrats that was clearly voiced at the polls yesterday. And I'm not that troubled either. I have my own political ideas, but even more than I love them, I love the populace at work. We align ourselves behind an ideal or a platform in the hopes of something better than what we have, we're eventually disappointed or disillusioned, and then we throw ourselves behind a different, more promising platform. Back and forth, like an infinite pendulum.

I do, however, have a little to say about the Rally to Restore Sanity that happened this weekend. I don't know what the ultimate numbers were for the turnout at the rally, nor how it measures up, in relative terms, to other past rallies but I will say that in terms of talk and anticipation, this was the biggest thing to happen in DC in quite a while, at least from my vantage point.

And this troubles me. I read a little about the event itself over at Parabasis as well as an article about Stewart's final speech in The New York Times. As far as I can tell, the event was, from the organizer's standpoint, ostensibly apolitical, neither for or against anything other than the vague and unspecific idea of sanity. Ralliers carried signs that ran the political and social gamut. Some relevant, some inappropriate, and some simply pointless.

I find it interesting, and a little bit frustrating that this massive, unifying event, one of the most massive in recent memory, was centered upon, well, nothing. Is this going to be the legacy of our generation? Like generations before us, we're in arms about something... we just can't figure out what it is. And so we let the lines between reality and entertainment blur, and turn to the one thing that does have the power to unify us on common ground: television. I think we can do better.