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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.

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?


  1. "Have you ever gone to a show and become distinctly aware you were watching a Viewpoints-inspired piece?"

    Yes, but then as you know I went to grad school at Columbia which is the Land of Bogart.

    "And if you have... is that a bad thing?"

    I think if it's noticeable enough that you think "Wow, that person is doing Viewpoints," then it is a bad thing, at least for me, because I don't respond well to that type of stylized theater. However, I have worked with directors who used Viewpoints extensively in their rehearsal process, but were skillful enough that I didn't see it obviously translated onto the stage.

    The particular director I'm talking about was very interested in creating a company/repertory of actors and using Viewpoints to develop that company. The actors all understood that going in, and I think she was really successful. If you have actors who don't want to do it, it's not going to work.

    Basically, I agree with this post.


  2. Thanks, Arielle - it's good to know that somebody who actually hails from the Land of Bogart generally feels I'm on the right track in my thoughts about Viewpoints. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book and learning a little more about its practical application.