About Me

My photo
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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is It Enough?

I've been somewhat lax about posting this week, a trend that might continue for a while as I struggle to get my two feet back on the ground. I'm discovering the downside of temping - that is, when your assignment ends, then you don't have a job. Today marks day three of sitting on the sofa in my jammies, wondering if I'll have the opportunity to make money again before the rent is due. You'd think that this would be optimal time for blog-writing, but alas, process of switching between applying for jobs and worrying about applying for jobs has occupied nearly all of my time.

It's the kind of gray day with no rain, just that ubiquitous chilly mist, that, on days when I do have responsibilities like work and shows that drag me out into the elements makes me curse the heavens and wish for nothing more than to be curled up on my couch with a blanket, a mug of hot tea, and maybe the 6-hour BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. What am I saying here? "Appreciate the opportunity you've been given"? or "Be careful what you wish for"? I don't know.

Anyway, on to something a bit more topical. I've been following the response to this post in the HowlRound blog, wherein Mat Smart posits that playwrights who fail do so simply because they're lazy and/or untalented.

All right, I'm not a playwright, but I think I can extrapolate to the theater sector at large here. This ruffles my dander a bit, partly because it is somewhat inappropriate to declare the system to be fair when there are clearly issues of race, gender at class that stack the deck. I mean, come on, Mr. Smart - just take a look 50/50 in 2020 for a quick sec and then come back and talk to me when more than 25% of professional opportunities are going to women. Of course gender inequality is only the tip of the iceberg - it's just the advocacy group that I happen to be involved with. But I'm not going to dwell on that, because Isaac Butler and Joshua Conkel have done a more than adequate job responding to that particular grievance.

I also want consider the fact that this post rankles because, well, I pretty much have a running inner dialogue telling me exactly what Mat Smart is telling me here. I'm too lazy, I'm not talented enough.

Isaac Butler quotes the following passage from the original post,

You have to love the actual working on the thing—the actual writing—so much that there is an inevitability about it all. Every day you spend six hours writing, eight hours temping, three hours sending business emails and you know it’s not enough. You’ve had a ton of workshops at fancy places where you’ve stayed up all night writing for weeks on end. You’ve finally integrated that big note. It is not enough. Writing a play, revising it, really working on it, staying open to the good and bad criticism, really reworking it, getting it out there, seeing it through to production, dealing with poor casting, weathering pans or rave reviews, reworking it, getting it done again, reworking it, repeat for the next script, repeat— all this is an act of love. It has to be. In the end, our approach to our own work is the only thing we can control—and I believe that you have to love the doing. You also have to love the chase, love the absence of any resemblance of fairness, justice, or due course. And as long as it doesn’t make you too desperate or crazy—there is a nobility in this endurance, in this brand of foolishness. There must be a sense that “I am going down with the ship.” And frankly, it is a commitment that I don’t see many emerging playwrights make.

And then says,

I actually agree with Smart about much of the above, but to me this is simply a list of symptoms that the system is broken. Any system that requires you to work seventeen hours a day all year long on the basis of "love" is a system that doesn't work.

I have to admit, reading that first paragraph by Smart sort of terrified and saddened me. I have made, and continue to make, a lot of sacrifices to theater. I have dedicated a lot of my time to the pursuit of both the art and the profession in my life. But Smart's essay makes me ask: do I do all that? He says, "Every day you spend six hours writing, eight hours temping, three hours sending business emails and you know it’s not enough." Well, I know Smart is probably hyperbolizing for effect, I know he probably doesn't spend every day working seventeen hours (he is hyperbolizing, right??) And there have certainly been days like that in my life, but they haven't been every day. The more common days have been the days that I've come home from waiting tables or temping, rehearsing or seeing shows or reading plays, knowing I could do more, that there is more to do, but watching TV instead because I am just tired. But the question nags at me: have the former type of days been numerous enough? Do I need to work harder? Am I just too lazy?

The commitment that Smart speaks of, the "I am going down with this ship" mentality," that he doesn't see in enough playwrights is a commitment that I don't know if I can make anymore. I know there was a time in my life when I could, and did, but now? I simply don't know.

Am I a traitor to my art? Am I the kind of fair-weather amateur that is the reason that someone saw fit to write such an article in the first place?

That doesn't seem fair. I love theater. I've loved it longer and more constantly than anything else in the world and I would be a lost soul without it. Butler doesn't think it's fair. He says, "Any system that requires you to work seventeen hours a day all year long on a basis of 'love' is a system that doesn't work."

But at the same time, the system doesn't work. So... where does that leave me?

Friday, March 18, 2011

2amt Post - My Last Play.

I'm extremely proud to have written a post for the 2amt blog this week about My Last Play. I absolutely love this blog. It has some of the most interesting, intelligent and topical theater talk I've found, by artists in the field doing really exciting things. I read it religiously. So I'm so pleased to have been able to contribute a piece of writing to the site. Please check it out!

I wrote a review of "My Last Play," the mysterious performance by Ed Schmidt which he's currently performing in his living room. It was a fascinating evening, completely contrary to what I had expected. After chewing on they play for an entire week, I still can't say if I enjoyed it. But I do have to respect it.

Here's a little excerpt of what I said for 2amt:

At one point Schmidt quotes Albee, saying “Fiction is fact distilled into truth,” to which his father replies, “That’s bullshit.” This exchange, I think, could almost serve as Schmidt’s thesis. As artists I think we must believe in the inherent truthfulness of stories, that they impart to us a deeper kind of understanding, one too complex to be encompassed in simple facts and plain truth. Well, maybe. But couldn’t it also be argued that the storyteller’s duty – by the very DEFINITION of fiction – is to lie to you? To manipulate, falsify, to make you believe things that are patently untrue? Maybe Albee’s quote is bullshit, maybe the truth is the truth and fiction is simply a lie.

And all of us – yes, artists, but any of us who have taken part in the hearing and telling of stories – we all labor under the unspoken and sometimes even subconscious understanding that stories uncover deeper truths. They bring a sense of order and understanding to an otherwise chaotic and confusing existence. That is the very point of storytelling – to give meaning and structure to the act of living. But it’s possible that there is no order, no meaning. There are no deeper truths to be learned. Life is just a big, messy, pointless accident and stories are simply lies we tell ourselves to make us feel like it’s not so.

Read the rest here. Go check out my post and (if you haven't yet) 2amt!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Most Amazing Subway Graffiti

So, I happen to love subway posters. Chalk it up to my alternate life in advertising; I'm totally fascinated by them. I scrutinize them in painstaking detail, get unreasonably angry at the ones that are lazy, slapdash, or lacking in craftsmanship, and get really really excited about the ones that have been artfully and carefully constructed.

For example these:

These posters were out a couple summers ago and I loved them. So much so that I clearly had to document them for posterity. They were somehow entirely aware of their own ridiculousness, and yet still entirely sincere about it. It was genius.

Anyway. I saw another instance of genius a few days ago (although didn't think fast enough to get a picture). This one was not marketing genius, though, but inspiration from a civilian:

This particular poster was for some reality show or another, and featured a bunch of people standing around looking at the camera. There is a poster currently on the subway lines advertising an exhibit about Houdini at (I believe) the Brooklyn Museum. It features a big picture of Houdini with his name and some information about the exhibit underneath.

This graffiti artist had cut out the figure of Houdini and inserted him along with his name in the reality-series posters. The effect was that Houdini had somehow escaped from his own poster and materialized in this one. His name (the final touch), pasted next to him, seemed to announce, "Ta da! The great Houdini!"

It was kind of brilliant.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Interview with Jenna Weinberg

Jenna Weinberg is a native of Brooklyn, New York, where she acts in and produces theater of all shapes and sizes. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of Mainspring Collective, a Brooklyn based theater company that seeks to provide a home and support for collaboration and multidisciplinary work. To date, Jenna has performed in and produced more than six productions and workshops with Mainspring (including a multimedia piece entitled 'Dream of Me' which celebrated a sold out 3 week run at the cell in Chelsea). She currently serves as managing producer and a lead performer in Mainspring's ongoing original children's series, Monster Literature (www.monsterliterature.com). Jenna also currently works in administration at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, throws fantastic fundraisers, and rarely sleeps.

When I ring the doorbell of Jenna's Brooklyn apartment - she has insisted that we conduct the interview there, over dinner - she descends the stairs dressed in a terrycloth bathrobe. "Look at me, I just got out of the shower," she purrs self-effacingly as we embrace. Within minutes I'm upstairs with a bowl of soup in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, listening as Jenna curls her bare feet under her on the couch and regales me with a story of a bizarre audition she recently went on. "Oh, Leigh, take a look at this," she says, pulling up the audition notice on her computer. "I think you'll appreciate this."

There's an effortless and genuine warmth to Jenna, an inviting, conspiratorial, sort of we're-already-best-friends energy that she emanates. She knows how to put people at ease. Case in point: I'm hardly in the door myself before she's helping me sort out a finicky social situation of my own, dispensing her indispensable wisdom. "Trust me, cannot stop fucking talking about themselves," she laughs. "Look at me - the only reason you're here tonight is because you asked me to talk about myself."

It's a quality that's served her theater company, Mainspring Collective, well. "I have a really good, productive energy, passion and focus, and I have the ability to instill that confidence and energy in others," she says, and when she says it, it isn't a brag. It's a voice filled with the excitement of possibility: imagine what a room full of so many people imbued with so much energy and confidence could do.

And it's true, her excitement and energy is contagious. That Mainspring Collective even exists is evidence of that fact.

Jenna's an actor as well as producer, a hybrid far less common among the more abundant director/producer, playwright/producer combos you usually see. But if it sounds strange, it's only because Mainspring sprung up so strangely - so unexpectedly and felicitously.

"After college I moved back to New York," Jenna explains, "pounded the pavement, went out for all the shit in Backstage, the whole thing." She worked a bit, but she wasn't quite happy. "What bugged me as a performer - and as a human being," she adds emphatically, "was that everything was run by amateurs. I spent more time bitching with the other actors about how much time was being wasted than I did performing."

It was in this state of mind that Jenna attended an open audition at the Producer's Club. Jenna had a mutual connection with one of the guys who ran the theater and so, while waiting for her audition (in true Jenna fashion) she struck up a conversation. "We somehow ended up talking about how cool I thought it would be to put on my own show and they said, 'Why don't you?'" As it turns out, the Producer's Club had been toying with the idea of producing some theater themselves, in-house, and along walked Jenna - a perfect opportunity.

"So I ran home, called Hilary (Krishnan - Mainspring's Artistic Director) and said, 'Hil, these guys want to give us free space and $3,600, let's put on a show."

So Mainspring Collective was created, and their first show, a 1950’s reimagining of Euripedes’ Medea was performed at the Producers’ Club in August of 2007.

"After it was over, there was no other option. There was no question about how this is how we're going work," she says. "Because we were just so super fuckin' passionate about what we were doing."

I came prepared to my first interview ever: I have a whole legal pad full of questions ready to ask her, but I'm finding quickly I don't need to use them. I only have to mention her theater company and she's telling stories, asking and answering her own questions, making impassioned declarations and then interrupting herself with equally impassioned tangents.

As we talk, Jenna periodically rummages through her closet - she's going out later and trying to find an outfit. Her thoughts are sometimes punctuated by exclamations like, "Can I do this? Can I WEAR the Linda Rondstadt sequins?"

And then just as quickly, she's talking about her theater company again. "We can talk about Mainspring all night," she says, "It's my favorite thing to talk about." So what is going on with Mainspring these days? I ask her.

She smiles and sighs and, without missing a beat, says, "Oooh, it's kind of a sad story. Well, not a sad story - and important one." The company is, as she describes it, at a turning point. Her co-founder and artistic director, Hilary Krishnan is leaving for grad school, leaving the rest of the company to determine how the company will continue in her absence. For the past year has been a series of children’s shows entitled Monster Literature. The company produced a new installment in the series every other month, an undertaking which Jenna describes as “intense” – So much so, it seems, that they've decided to back of Monster Literature (at least temporarily) and take the company in new directions, evaluating how to expand the type of work they do.

And then she's off again, "sad story," forgotten, waxing effusive about all the possibilities the future holds, what directions the company might take, and all the work she's excited about finding and creating. She talks over and over again about collaborating, about finding passionate artists who are looking for a way "to make the art they need to make, and making a place for that to happen."

"Everything we've ever done is based on passion," she says, that passion written all over her face. "A theater company that does, you know, three mainstages and a reading series - that's just not how we operate." She's interested in finding the need, in creating art that needs to happen when it needs to happen. "I mean, I have a pile of money that belongs to Mainspring Collective," she says. "But I'm not in favor of committing so something just for the sake of committing to something."

She sums up her future plans for Mainspring Collective simply: "It's about reaching out and finding new artists - ideas - and finding a place and a home for them."

She gasps, suddenly, midsentence, and exclaims, “I have a crazy idea!” It takes me a minute to realize she’s talking about her wardrobe. She peers at the Linda Ronstadt sequins and says, pointing at it almost suspiciously, “I’m still thinking about you.”

“So I was at the dentist yesterday,” she continues without a breath in between, “And he was talking about, you know ‘Oh, when Jenna wins the Tony Award,’ … And it’s sort of sad because friends and family still think I'm going to be on Broadway. It’s hard, you know? Because it's difficult for other people to pinpoint what exactly it means to have a career in theater."

She's suddenly swept up in her own zealous cause. "But I’m not waiting for my life to happen, this IS my life! I'm not an aspiring actress or producer. At age 27, you're not ASPIRING to do anything. You're doing it, no matter what your experience is - your success is in putting one foot in front of the other and getting from point A to point B and doing your best all the time."

“Anybody can do what I'm doing.” She adds thoughtfully. “It's just a question of wanting to do it and then doing it."

She talks passionately and earnestly about all the things she's learned, the skills she's acquired, her continually evolving learning process. She truly found a niche for herself when she discovered producing. When the opportunity to do Medea came along, she says, “I was surprised to discover my own organizational skills.”

“I took the part of the messenger [in Medea] – I took a smaller role,” in order to balance her new producing responsibilities. “At first I felt like I was making a sacrifice – I had so much else to do, I wasn’t fully with the actors. But it opened up this world, this joy, these things that I’m good at that that I never would have found without this experience. I got to feel what it was like to be with something from beginning to end.”

Her pride in what she's accomplished and her enthusiasm for what comes next creates an infectious energy. She is inadvertently inspirational.

"I've had a huge part in what Mainspring has done, but in a sense I think it would have happened without me." Jenna is being humble; Mainspring Collective is her child, her labor of love. But I think I understand what she means: everything her theater company has done has been art that has been ready to be discovered, ready to be created – just itching to find someone passionate and dedicated enough to help it break through to the surface.

Finally, for fun, I ask her about the future of theater. It’s a topic I hear bounced around pretty frequently, so I want to know her opinion about where the art form is headed.

"The key to making theatre people care about is in collaborative art - finding ways to fuse different areas, like dancing, film, photography,” she thinks. “Multi-disciplinary theater is what will keep people engaged in theater. It’s about growing the way we experience live work - broadening the scope of what appeals to people - letting them experience it on different levels."

"The important thing about live theater is the immediacy. It's unpredictable, uncertain. It requires you to listen and react in that moment. It's what keeps people connected in this over-stimulated society. There's a particular audience of people who will enjoy theater, just like there's a particular audience for dance or opera. We need to make the audience for theater less particular."

And if there’s one thing she can say about Mainspring Collective and her experience running the company? “The people I work with are the most exciting, passionate and talented people. We’re a company…” She pauses, searching for the right words. “We’re a company constantly trying to remind ourselves what about this is great. There’s never a formula with us. It’s never boring.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Adventures in Brooklyn

My previous temp job ended this Friday and, by some luck or grace, I managed to scare up another job that will keep me occupied for at least another few weeks. The job doesn't start till Wednesday - bad news for my pocketbook, good news for my soul - and so I thought I'd use this unexpected 4 day weekend to my best advantage and tackle some of the stuff on my New York bucket list - all the things I want to do before I leave the city. Yesterday, I decided to check off "Explore Brooklyn"; it's sort of shameful how long I've lived here, and how vague and nebulous the borough of Brooklyn is to me. Actually, they're all pretty vague and nebulous other than Manhattan, now that I think about it - I've never even BEEN to Staten Island (although that's on the bucket list too), but the fact that I know so little about Brooklyn irks me the most.

Brooklyn is a pretty large swath to cover in just one day, so I narrowed "explore Brooklyn" down to "explore Park Slope," because before yesterday, I'd never even been to Park Slope proper, not even once.

After some rather inept Googling of "where to go in Park Slope," a combination of articles from New York Magazine, Time Out, and various blogs on the subject led me to two specialty food stores, a bookshop, a stained glass store, and a cute-looking odds-and-ends boutique, all of which felicitously swung a very wide loop around the neighborhood. The stained glass shop proved to be a bust - more a workshop than a browsing store, and the odds-and-ends boutique had since closed. But the bookshop was delightful, quiet, cozy, smattered with couches and cats, with a little plate of cookies in the back bearing a sign that said, "Take some, they're delicious!" I munched on an oatmeal raisin cookie and pet a cat for a half-hour or so while I read the first chapter of a William Goldman book (The Princess Bride is one of my favorite books ever) I had never seen before. You rarely see William Goldman books in stores, I've found. I guess he's gone out of fashion. I put the book back when I left - intriguing as it was, money is tight and I don't need to go spending it on books when I have plenty to read at home. But at the last second I saw, towards the door, a new book by Yann Martel. Now, while The Princess Bride and a few others will give Life of Pi a healthy run for its money, it may well be my favorite book I've ever read. It affected me in ways I can really only describe as shattering. I could resist; I turned right back around and purchased a copy. And what advantageous timing: I read Life of Pi during Lent several years ago and it was the perfect spiritual companion for the period. Ash Wednesday is tomorrow and I'm looking forward to taking Yann Martel's haunting philosophy and storytelling with me.

At the specialty food stores, I was like a kid in a candy shop, almost literally. I kept writing down ideas for gifts for certain loved ones and friends (isn't there a theory out there somewhere that we give what we'd actually like to receive?). At one, girl at the counter caught me staring with a bit too much intensity at some marinated mushrooms. At Christmas in my house, my mother and I debate fruitlessly over marinated mushrooms. We serve them on our traditional Christmas antipasto platter; she insists that store-bought marinated mushrooms taste terrible, I feel her homemade mushrooms are raw and flavorless. So, at Bklyn Larder, I was caught staring intently at their marinated mushrooms - they looked so much better than anything we've ever bought or made - trying to divine what kind of mushrooms they had used, and to guess what they might have used in the marinade, in the hopes of bringing a better marinated mushroom recipe home for my mom to try. The counter girl asked if I'd like to try a little and they were, indeed, better than any marinaded mushrooms I've ever had. Actually, to say they were better implies that they're eligible to compete in the same category. They're not, they're worlds apart. Alas, even trying the mushrooms and viewing the helpful sign announcing they're marinated with "white wine, thyme and shallots," wasn't enough to make me feel I could recreate it. I guess now I just have to figure out how to somehow get those mushrooms from New York to our antipasto plate in Albuquerque.

I wandered into any store that caught my eye. Fancy boutiques with $500 dresses I could never afford and their funky vintage counterparts with more manageable prices - even though I wasn't in a place to be shopping no matter what the price. I saw a sundress for $12 at Beacon's Closet which thank god didn't fit because I didn't really need it and probably could not have resisted it if it had. I wandered around every little shop with shiny merchandise, peered into windows of nice-looking restaurants, and poked my head into every cafe that looked interesting from the outside. I even walked into a wine store - who knows why, just curious. When I finished my wide loop, three hours later, I ended up back where I started at Bklyn Larder, and starving. Pleased as I was with their mushrooms, I decided to try my luck with the soup, and ended the excursion with - SERIOUSLY - the best bowl of tomato soup I've ever had.

On the way out, I made a point to pass the Atlantic Yards, a point of interest since seeing the Civilian's In the Footprint, and I thought about the conversation I had with my dad after having seen it. I told him one thing that had frustrated me about the show was that they never really fully explained the details of eminent domain, but went through a lot of trouble convincing us that it was being abused. I asked my dad (a real estate attorney, so, you know, he knows about stuff) what he thought of the fact that even though it's a private developer, they're using the fact that the project is creating affordable housing and jobs to validate the use of eminent domain. He shrugged and said, "That seems about right." The comment didn't really contain any sympathy for the residents who had been who had been pushed out, but nor was it in defense of the government or the developers. It was just an observation that it seemed to him what had happened had been a valid use of eminent domain. The memory made me think fondly of my dad, about how he values logic and consistency - so much so that I think he might favor it over any moral or political ideal. Our politics don't always align, but I like that, I can respect that. I'm comforted by that.

It was a beautiful, peaceful day; I hadn't felt so… alone with myself, so independent and quiet, since I had been left to explore Boston on my own several years ago. Or, before that, Chicago. It suddenly occurred to me how much I enjoy this kind of solitary exploration, going nowhere and doing nothing in particular, letting my feet meander as my thoughts do - from Christmas to literature and philosophy to my dad's steadfast nature to a thousand other pointless and wonderful subjects that I hardly think of but, really, amount to my life. I like wandering around in stores and cafes, even if I have no intention of purchasing anything, even if there's nothing I would want to have if I could. I like taking the time to explore and consider the possibilities that exist on the inside of the storefront, possibilities that I usually consider and dismiss in the split second it takes me to walk past, on my way to somewhere else.

And then it occurred to me that with Boston and Chicago I had been left to my devices through a specific set of circumstances. I hadn't avoided exploring those two cities on my own, but I hadn't pushed it either. They both just sort of happened. Before yesterday, I had never actively planned to meander pointlessly on my own like that. I wonder why, if it's something I've enjoyed so much in the past? It doesn't matter. I find it sort of strange and wonderful that after so many years in the city, there are still so many neighborhoods that I can wander through and get lost in with total abandon - more, probably, than neighborhoods I know well. Now that I know I enjoy it so much, I'm going to have to do it more often, and I'm incredibly grateful that I can. It's almost like I can go on a mini-holiday whenever I want to new and unfamiliar place without every having to venture farther than my nearest subway.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dog Act

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the Flux Theater Ensemble, a group whose work I had never seen before. I caught the last performance of Dog Act, and I'm glad I did. I was impressed with the integrity of both the work that I saw and the work in general that Flux endeavors to do.

Dog Act is a daring show - not your typical theater fare. Abstract, absurd, and almost densely poetic, it packs a lot of strange into a fairly straighforward two-act structure. Strange world, strange people, strange words. Strange choices, even. A man who voluntarily elects to live life as a dog? It reminded me at first of the men I once saw on Maury (I was in high school, okay? Don't judge me too harshly on questions of taste) who choose to live and behave like infants. And while Adams' Dog, in an understated and sweet performance by Chris Wight, is not nearly so horrifying in that train-wreck side-show kind of a way, they do both raise the same questions: what must be going on inside a person to make him relinquish is right as a human being to autonomy, to self-sufficience, to choice? When (and why) does free will stop being a gift and become a heavy burden?

Adams' use of language to explore these questions was, without a doubt, my personal favorite part of the play. Liz Duffy Adams has a truly impressive ear for language. Simply reading the playwright's note in the program gave me an idea of the Dylanesque lyricism I was in for. But while Adams' language is very pleasingly sonorous, what really makes it noteworthy is how she uses that language to draw distinctions between characters and explore ideas about identity and belonging. Dog, for example, sometimes slips and uses words a dog has no business knowing, words that betray his former life. And JoJo, Vera Similitude's savage little sidekick (played with ferocious charm by Becky Byers), travels with the Vaudevilleans, but her own language closely resembles the explosive, caustic speech of the scavengers; whether or not she belongs with the Vaudevilleans is an item of much contention. All the members of the traveling vaudeville act seem in search of belonging of some kind or another and all, for all the actions they choose (or choose not) to take, fall somewhat short of the mark. In some, like Vera (an able Liz Douglas), a survivalist at all costs, this only strengthens their resolve to take more decisive action. In others, like Dog, it causes them to forswear active choice altogether. Adams adeptly uses language to weave together these themes of identity, belonging, and choice.

I have to admit, I didn't fall in love with Dog Act. There was much about the play I didn't understand, and more still I simply didn't like. Dog's story of redemption, for example - how he ultimately reclaims his power of choice - I found somewhat predictable, for all its linguistic splendor. Still, Dog Act was a brave and provacative play, just the kind of work I want to see and see done. It was in stark contrast to Good People, which I saw on the same day, and found tame, routine, and painfully on the nose - but more on that later.

In the meantime, I'll finish by saying that not only is this the kind of theater that should be done, but it was done well. Kelly O'Donnell managed Adams' dense prose with a deft hand and the production values, though minimalist, were splendid. The cart with which our fair hero Zetta travels, the majority of the set, was truly marvelous. After this performance, I'm looking forward to what's next from Flux Theatre Ensemble. With Dog Act, they mounted a work that was both bold and well-crafted, and did so with considerable elegance. I must admit, I'm also a little taken with the way Flux structures their seasons - all explorations of a central theme or question. All this points to a smart and skillful group of artists. I'm looking forward to what's next.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Application Post-Mortem

I took a pretty protracted break from blogging/tweeting/reading/well, pretty much breathing anything other than the Lincoln Center Directors' Lab application this past week, which is really too bad because I had stuff I wanted to write about.

I saw Flux's Dog Act, and then Good People at the Manhattan Theater Club (both in the same day, actually), one of which I liked and one of which I really didn't, and wanted to write about both of them. I also have a two-thirds completed post on an interview with Jenna Weinberg that has been sitting in the cue for an embarrassingly long time. I suppose the easy thing there would have been to just type out a transcript of the interview and post it intact (I've read and enjoyed many an interview blog post that worked that way), but two weeks ago it seemed really important to communicate what inspires me personally about her. And then at somewhere in between pages of frenziedly scrawled notes on Taming of the Shrew and several mad dashes in vain search for an open post office, my loving hand became less of a benefit and more of a hindrance.

That actually happens a lot. So now my dirty little secret is out. I am an embarrassingly slow writer. Nothing prolific whatsoever going on here.

So back to work on all the above projects, a day late and a dollar short. But in the meantime, some quick thoughts on my lab application process.

I've applied to a lot of labs and workshops over the years, but I've never known any quite so grueling as the LCT directors' lab application - which I knew going into it, because I've applied once before, about two years ago. (I was rejected on the grounds that I was not far enough along in my career - here's hoping two years have made the difference).

What I remember most vividly about applying the first time around was how specifically and explicitly I was asked to describe my understanding of theater as an art. I had already written countless "artistic statements" that asked me to describe my process or my sensibilities, but Lincoln Center wanted to know what directors I admire and why, what shows I've seen and appreciated and why, what kind of theater I aspire to do and why, what I do to prepare to direct a show and (everybody, now) why? Et cetera, et cetera. My overwhelming feeling after having completed the application the first time around, was of having learned something. The process helped clarify a lot of ideas about theater and directing that I thought I had nailed down but which I realized, when called upon to describe them in such detail, that I had only a vague grasp upon. I came out of the process feeling like I could be a stronger and more focused director because of it.

I learned something this time around too, although this time it was more about me than the art. Despite having grown stronger as a director since last I applied, I still get very, very tripped up over questions that ask me to describe my process or discuss methods. I panic a little, start thinking things like, Method, what method? Do I have "methods"? Should I have learned this in school? Am I even a real director?

I have a friend who happens to be working on a prospectus for her undergraduate creative writing thesis, and it soothes me to know she is equally confounded by the idea of justifying/explaining what she does. In her words: "Uh. I find it effective to sit at my computer and type out sentences... grammatically acceptable sentences, when possible. Ideally those sentences eventually form a narrative." And she's a legitimately talented writer. So basically, her confusion and trouble pleases me. (I'm a good friend).

But anyway. There were plenty of "describe your method" questions on this application, and I stumbled through them, as I always do. But then, in its demand for specificity that I remember and love, the application asked me to pick a particular play and explain in detail how I would prepare to direct it, and what I would do in the first week of rehearsal.

The good news, and probably the best thing to come out of the whole application process, was that I discovered I didn't really have a problem at all detailing how I would approach the play, both in preparation and in rehearsal.

"Huh," I thought to myself, "I guess I do have a method after all." If the first go-around helped me to be a stronger and more focused director, the second helped me realize I am a strong and focused director.

The bad news: I'm not super-proud of what I wrote. The application asked me to choose a play I don't have a fully formed grasp of and I think I took not-fully-formed-grasp part too much to heart. Without boring the world with too much detail, I submitted an unusual interpretation of Taming of the Shrew that I'm not sure would actually work, and now feel terribly embarrassed for having written several pages about an idea that probably won't work.

Not to mention that as empowering as it was to discover my own process, LCT made it very clear that the intention of the prompt was not to learn about my process in general, but to learn about the specific questions I would ask about this show. Well. I know what the main questions I would ask - some broad questions about what the story in my interpretation is really about and whether or not that's a worthwhile story to tell - but I don't know the answers to those questions yet and, given that, delving into deeper, more incisive questions proved somewhat difficult. The whole proposal felt a bit circular, vague, and redundant to me.

I probably should have chosen a play that I had really, really, studied and had a lot of interesting ideas about, and a few, more specific questions that had yet to be answered. As opposed to the broad question I was asking, "Does this even make sense?" But alas, that does not exist for me right now. I haven't found a project that's really, really pulled me into it in a long time.

And maybe that's for the best. Or, to clarify, it's for the best that feel I answered the question inadequately precisely because I don't have any strong opinions about plays or projects right now. Perhaps if this were the right time for me to do this Lab, I would have a project like that. I desperately want to do the LCT Directors' Lab, but I want to do it at a point when I can really get the most out of it. LCT used a lot of, well, let's call it severe language about what kind of directors they expect to apply to the lab - where those directors are and where they see themselves going. So severe, in fact, that it almost scared me off. A lot of that business of where I am and where I'm going is still unclear to me. I know I want to do this for the rest of my life - beyond that, everything is sort of fuzzy. At first I thought to myself, "Maybe this ISN'T the year for the Lab," and then I thought, "Well, let's let them decide that."

So now they decide.