- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Theaters are told to prove what service they provide. To explain how a local theater helps local businesses and lowers the crime rate. How a play impacts the public dialogue. The question has become: what use are you?
It would be hypocritical of me to say that speaking in these terms isn't important and savvy. One key caveat, though, is that this type of thinking should be a part of the burden of creative artists.
There is the natural, in many places well founded, hostility that does and should exist between artists and their communities. Writers, poets, dancers and painters are not community service providers. There is, of course, some peripheral impact of their work in dollar terms, but to provide a community with 'added economic value' that is not their core function.
There is a not subtle hostility towards the arts in our appropriations process... we're given enough money to keep us quiet, but not enough to show that we're valued in the same way, that, say, insurance providers are valued. The message is clear: artists challenge and upset communities as much as they amuse and aid them. Giving artists money to piss everyone off, bore them, or generally make them question whether or not their values make sense doesn't really match the modus operendi of the government. Giving artists money that they then spend to make no profit causes cognitive dissonance in a nation that measures positive consequences with a spreadsheet and a slide rule.
Hostility, skepticism and anger are the hallmarks of some of the greatest works of art. We can see that effect now with Caryl Churchill. She isn't reflecting the generally accepted values of the Western World, she's rebelling against them, attacking them. As well she should. She isn't being what would be termed by members inside her community as filling their needs; she is questioning them. She is being, in that way, a fantastic member of the world community. Better, in my estimation, if she asked her community what they wanted from her, and then gave it to them.
This is not to say that I'm condemning the work of arts advocates. When theater companies and advocacy organizations provide statements and data about the value of their work in dollar terms, they are doing what is asked of them and they are doing exactly as they should. We need to make and attempt to win every argument, including that one. Arts advocates and lobbyists are essential, and I pray they are brilliantly successful at every turn.
Artists, though, exist to agitate, provoke, shock (yes, shock), and question. It's for this very reason that communities, national to local, will always view them as troublemakers, try to marginalize them, or assimilate them. Forcing us to present ourselves as bullet points in a PowerPoint entitled The Impact of Theater Organizations on Job Growth, or somesuch, is a way to bring artists into a harmful worldview: one that places all arts within the framework of sales and subsidies, of evidence and fact. Once we begin to match our impact dollar for dollar with that of a foodbank, a restaurant, MacDonalds, Warner Brothers, or the DMV, we become a part of a logic that inevitably leads to faulty conclusions about value.
So yes, arts advocates should research and know all they can about how we improve our neighborhoods, how we educate, what services we provide. Artists, though, should resist thinking of themselves as reflections of their community, or fillers of needs, or educators. We do our job best when we retain that sense of doubt and anger; and communities, whether they prefer to see it or not, are better served by our hostility than our complicitity.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I've been trying to figure out why. After all, some of the plays I've seen deal with unquestionably disturbing subjects, from child abuse to incest to torture to rape, while others use a whole sex shop's worth of props to shove their daringness in the audience's face. Many do both, and they may also throw in a few hairpin-sharp twists to keep a viewer off balance. And yet, somehow, they fail to shock.
She makes this single staging suggestion:
So... what does this betray about her intent? It casts a rather wide net to implicate the behavior of adults, or figures of authority, and leave children out of the onstage mix. But let's give her some credit: doesn't this indict authority more than the citizenry? If the citizenry here can be said to be equated with children.
"No children appear in the play. The speakers are adults, the parents and if you like
other relations of the children. The lines can be shared out in any way you like among
those characters. The characters are different in each small scene as the time and
child are different."
Or is she saying that parents and relations indoctrinate children into a cycle of violence by remaining silent or arguing for silence?
It feels more like a text to be discussed as such, taken in by individuals, as opposed to a text written to be observed by a roomful of people. A poem in disguise.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Tell her, tell her about the army, tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names why not, tell her the whole world knows why shouldnt she know? tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies? tell her she’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we’re the ones to be sorry for, tell her they cant talk suffering to us. Tell her we’re the iron fist now, tell her it’s the fog of war, tell her we wont stop killing them till we’re safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they’re animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldnt care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I dont care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.A full .pdf of the text can be found here.
I don't believe in censorship, but I do believe in debate. I agree that there are perfectly good reasons why this text might be viewed as upsetting, be construed as inflammatory, finger-pointing, unfair. I think that view isn't necessarily one for censorship, it's the view the play invites. That's what makes it powerful. Churchill wants debate, and she's gotten it.
I'm happy to see theater can still have that power. I wonder, though, if it's really a testament to the persistent power of a play, or yet another example of the magnetic effect of this particular struggle.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Barack Obama uses a teleprompter. This technology has existed in some form for over 50 years. To use a teleprompter, one must be able read. Much like reading a speech from pieces of paper, only better.
Many people no longer use electric typewriters.
The mail is now delivered without the use of horses.
Also, you have no platform.
Your affectionate uncle,
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
[THIS IS A SPOILER-FEST!]
I've heard the criticism that Battlestar was made up as they went along, and that it was reflected, to an extent, in the finale. I, personally, have no actual problem with that. I get the impression that the number of seasons that Battlestar was going to exist was an open question for quite some time. I also get the impression that by writing the show this way, it opened the series to making bold moves based on what made sense with the characters and the show at the time. It allowed them the freedom to fail, be eccentric, go for broke. There were things that didn't work (Baltar as cult leader was obviously a weird misstep) but things the most definitely did as well. I think we can overestimate the value of a plan executed well: that can become a clinical exercise. Battlestar's writing was always a mixture of plotting, pretense and experimentation. That's why it could be so gloriously wild and engaging; and also utterly head-scratching.
The finale did boatloads of things right for me. It was freewheeling, it's action was intense, and you had a real sense that many of the characters were in very real jeopardy. The death of Boomer felt right. The music soared. The acting was great. Tori's death was perfect. Cavil committing suicide was, at the very least, ironic. The idea that there is more than one "Earth" was the sort of bold, epic idea that worked perfectly for me. I always suspected that they would wind up being the forefathers of our civilzation, our past in some way. They were, but not without first discovering that they had already found some version of the same story, with a terrible ending.
Isaac brought up a point I would generally agree with about using "God" as a free pass for narrative chicanery. Deus as Deus ex Machina, maybe. What didn't bother me about this in terms of Battlestar's finale was that the question of divine influence was in the show's DNA. The question of monotheism, polytheism, divine actors and prophecy and fate; they were part of the show from the first episode. The idea that they characters would find their way around to an acceptance of something greater than themselves, and not really giving a damn what you call it, was actually an earned moment. It didn't come out of nowhere.
I also like that the show accepted, even reveled in, the fact the the unknowable remains unknowable. There are a lot of people that think the Starbuck story was a cop-out. I don't think it really was. I think they made sense of the All Along The Watchtower thing (which was such a big deal that it needed some firm resolution) and allowed Starbuck to be a mystery. There is, and should be, something mysterious about "divine" intervention. No complaints here. In fact, any attempt to explain her would have almost necessarily reduced her impact.
I was glad, in fact, that even as they clicked through the list of explanations and the tying up of loose ends, it never felt like a checklist for hardcore fans. There were some things that just didn't need more explanation (Daniel, for example) and plenty of expository scenes to sift through in the last few episodes. We already pretty much know what we need to know about the characters, the story. I just wanted to know where their journey ended. And it ended in a satisfying, even poetic, way.
I had a quick back and forth with a friend about the idea of sending all their spaceships into the sun. His thought (not an uncommon one I'm sure) was "Um, they even got rid of their hot showers?" I think it makes sense. For nearly five years, this entire race of people were trapped in ever deteriorating small boxes in the middle of deep space, with no real air, no hope of survival. I can understand how they might say "We prefer grass, my friends. Lets go live in the hills." If anything would make you never want to look at a machine again, it would be the events of Battlestar.
Were there hiccups? Sure. They wrote off the Baltar cult storyline very quickly. Glad to see it go, it should have gone sooner. There were certainly some leaps in logic. And I'll admit the the episodes leading TO the finale were exasperating for me. They were portentous, dull, and sometimes woefully silly (Saul and Ellen Tigh stopped being interesting after New Caprica, if you ask me.) But I don't seek perfection, only satisfaction.
And so, put me in the "Went out with a bang" crowd. Well done, Ron Moore and crew. Well done.
All dramatic narrative forms have a sort of "act" structure, even if it's truncated. Most television shows have those acts delineated by commercials. But even those television shows that don't have commercials break their narratives up episodically.
Film has an act structure, but that's purely for internal logic. We, as an audience, are intended to feel the narrative shifts, but not literally see them. We don't stand up and get some popcorn at the end of the first act of a movie, we sit tight and watch. That's made for some long-ish films as of late (everything by Peter Jackson, The Dark Knight, Watchmen) but they still eschew literally stopping the action and allowing the audience to stand up and stretch.
So why are we acting like audiences are no longer accustomed to seeing a full length story, in a single sitting, with built in breaks? Hearing about plays getting the "One-Act Treatment" begs the obvious question: is the tightening of a play, shortening, or simply quickening, a solution? An improvement? I'd argue that to make a two-act play into a one-act play just means the audience spent less time watching the same play. How does that help?
You have to imagine that you and your audience are on a first date. Apologize too often, come off as too eager, seem excessively solicitous; it's going to be a turn off. Act like you're lucky they showed up and they'll wonder if they're something wrong with you. If you're more focused on getting them home on time than showing them a good time while they're with you, and you're going to show them you're not very confident in what you've got to offer.
It feels like collapsing two-act plays into one-act experiences is akin to apologizing for your production. Lengthy productions do not, necessarily, fail. In fact, they often thrive. Coast of Utopia sold, I'm told, plenty of tickets. Longer films do just fine as long as they keep audiences entertained. The Dark Knight made nearly $600 million domestically, and it was almost three hours long. August: Osage County has act breaks and overflowing with scenes. I don't think it can be said to be a commercial failure.
What causes an audience to lose interest is failing to be interesting. People don't fork over cash to get less; they pay to see as much of what they enjoy as possible. Fix the play, not the length of the play.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Those who want to see it (and I'm sure you do) should buy tickets online here pretty quickly. I saw it Sunday at 3pm and they had to add seats. Which is, as you probably know, not a small achievement. Especially for so early in the run.
The play itself, by Australian writer Patricia Cornelius, is a love triangle between a lesbian, a prostitute and a guy named Lorenzo. It's not territory that's unexplored, but there's exceptional work on display. The direction and acting are all wonderful, and the play doesn't pull its punches.
Definitely check it out.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
As of this week, my newest play, Glee Club, has been accepted as a part of the Brick Theater's upcoming summer festival The Antidepressant Festival. This play is far from complete, but what I do have down on paper is promising. I have a few different modes as a playwright, and I tend to sort of shift between them. I don't think I really have a single voice as a writer, just like I don't have a single voice as a person. I write some relatively silly plays, some more serious, and some that sort of hover in the middle.
Glee Club is undoubtedly on the sillier side, and I began to develop it for the purposes of submitting it to the Antidepressant Festival. I couldn't think of anything more expressly free and hopeful than singing in a group. There's something just plain odd and unpretentious about a glee club. Hell, the name itself implies its intentions: be happy, singing to make yourself and others feel good.
But, of course, human beings are flawed and if the group is entirely made up of men, I'd expect a little competitiveness and judgment and bull headedness to arise. Turn natural aggression up to 11 and try to make it sing in harmony. That's the goal. Hopefully, it'll come off well.
The song they'll be singing is "Happy Birds Go To Heaven." I hope you enjoy it. Lyrics by yours truly.
I'm also hard at work on The Bull Crime, which is a play about pharmaceuticals, office life, and the desire to do the right thing. It's also about a fish. It's written in a style that's probably closest to The Most Wonderful Love. If that play was my attempt to write You Can't Take It With You, this one is probably more like Glenngarry Glen Ross. Or An Enemy of the People. Something like that.
For those of you in Chicago, I'm in talks with Oracle Productions to bring a shortened version of Bluebeard to your fair city, as a part of an evening of Gran Guignol plays. Bluebeard probably runs an hour and a half right now, but it's oddly structured: it's got a middle section that is full of language, and but the bookends are silent or quiet sections. Finding ways to cut down a play that has a lot of silence is a problem I'm not used to trying to solve.
I popped by the Drama Bookshop last night and found the Samuel French edition of When Is A Clock. Happy to see it there in the new releases. If you haven't picked one up, I'd be much obliged if you do. I'm proud of it and I think it's a very good read. I would, though, wouldn't I?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I have been, my friends, remiss in my duties. We all know that bloggery is intended for more than links and open ended questions about complicated politics and economics of which I know nothing. Nay! Instead, the blogospace is for the ranting of experts (people with computers) about how to fix the whole shebang. To reinvent the invented in a way that appears freshly fresh.
I know that many of you wonder: "Expert-Freeman...how can I create a lasting testament to the amount of time I have on my hands? What are some ways in which I can structure and sustain not only one Manifesto, but the hundreds of daily, monthly and weekly Manifestos that must be written in order to properly blog about Art?"
For you, my beautiful darlings, I have complied a list of important rules and considerations. Follow these rules, and you, too, can be a Manifestrian blogger.
2. Theatre is an art, not a product to be sold. This can be said 105 ways. It's up to you to discover them.
3. Write a declarative sentence. For example: "The closing of a theater in Wisconsin is proof that we cannot continue along this terrible path." Now, unpack each word. Closing. Theater. Wisconsin. Path. Terrible. Add a closing paragraph about yourself.
4. Think of something else you'd rather talk about. Like your job. Or that time in the 5th Grade you had to go home and change your clothes because you had pee on them. Write this. Replace your own name with the word "Theatre." ("Theatre is not respected, it deserves to be paid more for working 40 hours a week! And what about theatre's benefits?" or "Theatre should not have to be embarrassed because [some other art or institution] cannot control its bladder! Theatre, instead, should be allowed to walk home without shame.") It's metaphorical.
5. Come up with one idea you like. Stick with it. That's the one.
6. Remember: to err is human. To err without apologizing for 15 paragraphs is a Manifesto.
7. If you have made a point before, you must wait six months before writing exactly the same thing slightly differently.
8. Theatre is dying. It has been since Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata. Keep it up!
9. You have an amazing idea. You get up and write it down in a moleskine notebook, the one you got as a birthday present. Your mind is fevered, tossing about, sure that once you share this with the world, you'll be able to help. You have loved theatre since you first got cast in a community theatre production of Bye Bye Birdie and at last you've gotten the inspired concept you knew would come if you read enough by writers from the 1960s. It's here, at last. The way to make it all work.
Good luck with that.
10. Write this down: "We must diversify, market, reduce our reliance on development, free artists, find new sources of funding, justify our existence, stop writing bad plays, turn off the TV, get to work, go green, organize." Now write it again each month, between links to articles about cats.
Monday, March 16, 2009
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."
Sunday, March 15, 2009
"President Barack Obama has established a staff position in the White House to oversee arts and culture in the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs under Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, a White House official confirmed. Kareem Dale, right, a lawyer who last month was named special assistant to the president for disability policy, will hold the new position. Mr. Dale, who is partly blind, previously served as national disability director for the Obama campaign. He also served on the arts policy committee and the disability policy committee for Mr. Obama when he was a senator from Illinois."
Me? I am chilling this afternoon after a big night. I found the joyful rest that is Lawrence Welk.
To share in my happiness, please watch the video.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Here's something a little more concrete: How would you use a grant for $25,000 that had to be used for your own artistic output or enhancement ( i.e. not rent, food, clothes, etc)?
- Would you use it for research?
- To self-produce?
- To support a company that produces your work?
- Supplies? (New computer? Ink? Printer?)
- New headshots?
- To go back to school?
- Something more elaborate?
- Hire a press agent?
- For bribes?
- A new website of your own?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I'm hoping to have a new draft of The Bull Crime completed by the end of March. I've also written a short companion piece to In The Great Expanse of Space... called Broke I Heart Your Own. I've also been shopping Bluebeard around.
The really exciting thing is my lovely girlfriend Pam is curating a group show, Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists. The opening night party is on Saturday, March 14th at Dabora Gallery. I'd love to see anyone and everyone there. The art is stunning, the space is moody and cool, and there will be complimentary absinthe.
Are you doing something more fun on Saturday night? That costs less? No, I didn't think so.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Friday, March 06, 2009
Saw a midnight showing of WATCHMEN. A few quick thoughts:
It is long. Therefore, I look forward to seeing it when it does not end at 3 am.
It's strange to watch. If for no other reason than it exists.
There are parts of it that I think are just friggin' awesome.
There are a few moments that are not awesome, but they don't really ruin the movie.
I like ambition and this thing is ambitious, so I'm down with that.
I can't wait to work my way through that inevitable four hour version that'll be out on DVD any time now.
It was great to see an actual, no bullshit, R-rated movie. I mean, seriously. It felt like I was up late watching Showtime in the mid-1980s.
I imagine a meeting with Billy Crudup and the special effects department. He asks "Could you make me look hung?" They assign someone to this job and, for this purpose, he is paid.
I think this movie will inspire a lot of debate among nerds like me.