About Me

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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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Acts: Three, Two, One

I'm in the midst of writing a play in three acts. My last play was a one-act full-length (came in at about an hour and fifteen minutes) and the preceding it was three short acts. Most of the time, the act structure I choose is based on preference and contect. "The Death of King Arthur" was a five act play because is aped Shakespeare, for example. "The Americans" was a full-length one act because it was three characters speaking in monologue, and didn't sustain a broken up act structure.

That being said, I'm curious if the three act (or more) structure is really one that has much future on the stage. Audience are more and more used to watching a performance at an average of 90 minutes without a break. Theatre companies look for ways to appeal to the audiences of today, and a two-act structure seems to suit them fine: one intermission fuels concessions and chatter and bathroom breaks. Do two intermissions make for an unorthodox experience?

I'm curious what other writers and producers out there think about the choice of structure for a writer. Is it impolitic or naive to insist on a larger number of acts, even if it goes against the grain of what audiences are used to or what is best for the box office? Or should we simply follow our impulses as to what is "in the play" and let the chips fall where they may?

Open question. Comments are appreciated below, as always.

Ted Kennedy... as usual my favorite Senator of All

A quote from the New York Times that says it all about "Scalito."

''Rather than selecting a nominee for the good of the nation and the court, President Bush has picked a nominee whom he hopes will stop the massive hemorrhaging of support on his right wing. This is a nomination based on weakness, not strength.'' -- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

More on Indie Theater

Joshua James, ultimate fighter and playwright, has written a very sharp post about the cost of doing business in NYC, Indie Theater or no. Check it out here.

"Indie Theater" and "Church"

Two very interesting and different views of theatre can be found at Theatre Ideas and the Nytheatre i. In one, Kirk Wood Bromley discusses (with responses) the idea of transforming the term "Off-Off Broadway" into "Indie Theater." Over on Theatre Ideas, Scott Walter's suggests a new model of theater that broadly resembles Church. I won't repost their comments here (go read them on the links above) but I'd like to comment on each.

Bromley's idea is, as far as I understand it, that we do away with the old term "Off-Off Broadway" and adopt "Indie Theater" to remove the pejorative stigma that comes with being "So Very Not Broadway." He also takes great pains to define it as more than just a rebranding. His ideal for the phrase is that Indie Theater is theater that is artist (as opposed to producer) driven; that embraces the freedom that low financial risk and little financial reward can provide.

On a gut level, this has a lot of merit. I've happily spread the term in the past, as I'd heard that comment passed along from Kirk before. I think it's good for the ego, good for our public, and promotes the idea that freedom from money isn't always the same thing as being poor in art.

I am, though, entirely comfortable with this as a rebranding "as such." As opposed to applying a litmus test to make sure the label has merit ("Was the producer too involved to call this Indie?") we could simply leave Off-Off alone and start calling it Indie Theatre. I think that Off-Off Broadway would already be widely accepted as Independent when you consider that neither the Schuberts nor Disney are involved. And frankly, the language police won't be able to keep up with the term if it spreads.

The term "alternative" comes to mind from the mid-90s. Alternative Music sprung up from Seattle Grunge and became the mainstream. The sound of the bands was still labelled "alternative" because it was a response to what was popular before these bands hit the charts. One week it was Michael Jackson, the next Nirvana and suddenly "Alternative" was popular.

Once something becomes popular, is it still "Alternative?" Of course not. But who was there to tell anyone differently? No one with a voice loud enough to keep the word from spreading.

That's why I think "Indie Theater" is simply the perfect name to adopt in order to raise awareness of, pride in, and the popularity of "Off-Off Broadway" as it is. If shows hit Broadway and that have that "Indie" feel, no harm in it. What we create is a sense that there is something on the small stages in New York that is worth seeing for less than $50 a head; and frankly, that's all I feel is truly missing.

Scott Walters is doing less evangelizing than Kirk: he's asking us to rethink the "current model." He suggests that when theater is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold, it simply doesn't have the economic efficiency to carry that burden. He suggests we look at Church as a new model, as Church builds a community, is free, asks for donation, doesn't sell tickets. It attracts it's audience through word of mouth, the idea that something imperative is going on, and asks at the appropriate time for an infusion of material support from those who can afford it.

Scott's question is, will it work?

Well, the concept is beautiful, but it depends entirely on one's ability to create that community. In New York, the community would be large, but it is spread so thin from competing productions, a glut of artists, that I'm not sure a sustainable producing model can come from any one company relying on a sense of community and donations alone. I think the model may work better for regionals, though, than it does here.

Another question I have for this new model is "Would it be sustainable to support Equity Actors?" The logistics are a bit foggy.

What works, though, about the concept is that it is looking for a way to bring audiences in the door and it is looking outside the regular model with an eye on a model that already exists and works.

Scott and Kirk's ideas seem rather far apart, of course: Kirk is writing mostly for the New York community and its dilemma, and Scott has a broader and more academic approach. What I think is strikingly similar here, though, is that both seem to find the idea of pure marketing a bit distasteful.

What is it about simply saying "we need to sell more tickets and here is a way to do it" that makes theater artists, especially the most earnest of us, so incredibly uncomfortable?

Friday, October 28, 2005

"Scooter" resigns and is toast

A fine reason not to elect a jackass frat boy to the White House: we have to use his friggin' nicknames in the actual News. "Scooter" is not a grown up name.

Nonetheless, screw him. Let him burn.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriet Miers Runs For It

So long Harriet Miers. Hello Lame Duck Presidency.

This one's a plus and a minus, honestly. Will Bush nominate someone who will please conservatives with their radical views, or a moderate that continue to show his fear of a Democratic backlash.

He's screwed either way and there's a good reason: he's invested a great deal of his "political capital" into screwing Democrats at every turn, and now that his own party is turning away from his failed policies, he's a goner. He's got no one out there that supports him.

Looking more like Nixon every day.

If the indictments come down today (and they very well should) then we may be looking at this day as the day Bush's presidency finally went up in flames.

If only this had happened in the first term.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A little note from my Father

My father was reading over my blog and sent a few comments that I wanted to share. Not only because they're illuminating, but because he's my Dad.

A while back, there was some discussion about transubstantiation, and whether or not something of merit happens when an audience is present or isn't. I think it came from Scott Walter's intitial posts about Theatre and Religion, and George Hunka and I had a little back and forth. My father speaks about this, and also Rosa Parks.

Been reading some of your blogs.. interesting stuff. Comment on a couple...
the one about religion and theater and the conversation about
transubstantiation etc.... Good Anglican theology is in fact that unless
there are at least two people present, nothing has happened. That is, as a
priest, I am the one authorized on behalf of the church to bless the bread
and wine... but if I do it all by myself... it wasn't the body and blood of
Christ. We differ from the Romans in that by the way... .their priests do
individual masses all the time, with noone else there.... we see that as a
kind of magic, that we don't believe in.
My hunch is that the writer was trying to make some point about there
being an objective reality to spiritual things, whether believed in or not
(if God exists, then God is present whether one believes in God or not...
the difference will be in the experience of the situation by the believer or
non-believer). Karl Jung had something like that written over the lintel of
his home -- "bidden or not bidden, the gods will be here."
But Anglican theology has always seen the eucharist and other sacraments
as functions of humanity's innate connection to one another....

Re; Rosa Parks... I never met her, but you probably know that I bodyguarded
for MLK in a parade in Boston one day. I walked along beside the car he was
in, me on one side another guy on the other like secret service guys do. we
were supposed to jump in front of him if someone had a gun....
Now that I think of it... what was I thinking??!
Well I know what I was thinking, really, it was a time when a lot of us
realized that we needed to stand up and be counted.

Thanks for sending that in, Pops.

Thoughts on Civility and Attack

A more thorough response to Scott Walters recent post on Theatre Ideas. The one I wrote on his blog last night was a bit quick and dirty, and perhaps a little too glib.

Scott breaks down his objections to other's critiques of his recent posts one at a time but ends with what I think I will term his "key graf:" (I actually made little quotation mark signs with my fingers after I typed that)

Listen, I am not against art that provokes. I think we needed the provocative art of the 60s and 70s as a way of breaking us out of the complacency of the 1950s. But today's mass media is filled with hostility. We are constantly yelled at on TV, the internet, magazines, newspapers about environmental damage, the economic destruction of the global economy, the increasingly wide gap between rich and poor. We are constantly told, at least implicitly, that changing things is impossible, that idealism is stupid, that competition beats cooperation, that capitalism red in tooth and claw benefits everyone, that the spiritual is nonsense, that personal piece is impossible and undesirable. 2005 is not the Leave It to Beaver world of the 1950s, one that needed to be shaken up. Today, we are shaken up hourly, to the point where we no longer notice that we are shaking. Maybe if we want to attract attention, we need to stop shaking, not shake harder.

And closes with a sort of open ended, wide eyed question:

Is that so objectionable? Why are we so very much attached to attack?

I think I've made a bit of a mistake about what I thought Scott was trying to say previously. It's been my impulse to take him to take for trying to tell artists what he thought they should do. I think, more accurately, he's expressing exhaustion. He thinks that people can hear us anymore, no matter what we say, if we join in on the "noise."

There is something unique to our time, about the constant barrage of information. How we walk around with our cell phone, music, e-mail, video games all in one small device, hooked up to our ear. It's the age of competeing 24 hour news coverage, of constantly updated blogs, of screaming from the right and negotiation on the left.

What's amazing, too, is that the level of discourse has dropped considerably. We speak in sound bites, the rhetorical version of McDonald's cheeseburgers. Just read some of the letters and speeches of "The Founding Fathers" and compare them to one or two speeches of our current President to see the brutal leap backwards we've made. We hear more and more noise, and that noise has less and less to say.

Scott seems to be responding to this, more than anything else. And I would say that he's in the right business.

He's in theatre.

That's one of the things that may save us, gentlemen and women. We are in an industry that expressly says "Come and sit down and be quiet and turn off your cell phone and be with other people." Unlike film where the movie can overwhelm the senses, invite conversation, and the actors can't hear you or respond to you; theatre is a place where our senses are heightened and we are very, very aware of one another. It's a place that I feel will become more and more attractive (if we make it so) to people who feel, I'm sure, very much like Scott does: that they can't get away from the awful clanging and banging of todays 24 hour mediastream.

So while I disagree with Scott that the solution is to change the plays in order to appeal to people that want a little less conflict; I think we all need to take heart. We're standing in the oasis, and we just need to get a sign to those in the desert that says "Water here."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Death of Rosa Parks

A few rambling thoughts about Rosa Parks...

Rosa Parks died yesterday at the age of 92.

When I was growing up in Maplewood, New Jersey in the 1980s, the neighborhood was a diverse and affluent suburb. My good friend Marcus Johnson had a black father and white mother; I had friends who were Asian; one of my best friends was Jewish; my next door neighbor and still one of my closest friends, Josh Izzo, was, and still is, Italian. In my family alone, there are two adopted children, my sister Kate and my brother Michael, both Korean.

When I first learned of the Civil Rights Movement, it was in that very town. I lived there from Kindergarten until the 5th grade, formative years. While as I've grown older, I've come to judge the complacency and affluence of commuter towns like Maplewood, it gave me a grand delusion that I will hold with me forever: that the Civil Rights Movement was a success of the past. That we were living in its afterglow, where racism was something of a bygone era.

It wasn't until I moved to rural Pennsylvania, in 1988, that I ever heard the word "Nigger." When I did, I was sure that someone just hadn't phoned the people of Boyertown and told them that they were 20 years late in their worldview. I came to understand that I was mistaken, and that Boyertown was probably far more representative of this growing, aching nation than it should have been.

I thought of Martin Luther King as my personal hero and role model (in the 3rd grade, most likely), but I found the story of Rosa Parks less instantly inspiring. MLK stood up and told the world about his dream with eloquence and passion that could inspire a child. It took me a few more years to understand what kind of bravery it took for Rosa Parks to do what she did.

Now, I often hear a call to reassess the point we have reached in relations between the races in this melting pot. There are some clear successes and some subtle failures. The images of New Orleans show the unspoken truth of racial inequality; that it is not only displayed in the open prejudic of a bigot. Racial inequality is the product of systemic lack of access; of subtle distinctions between characters based on the color of their skin. In our age of "multiculturalism" who hasn't said that a certain way of talking is "black" and another way is "white?" And don't think I'm only pointing the finger at one race: it has become an epidemic. Confusingly, this broad labeling of behavior and culture by way of race has also come as the races grow ever closer in population and in economic access.

In a liberal education and liberal mindset (such as mine), we often write off racial inequality to a numbers game. We say that disparities in the performance of different races is economic. On the other side, we find an open disdain for a conversation of inequality as systemic. We find a belief that only work and achievement, on their own, creates equality. Both sides have their strengths, and their blinders.

This is why the image of Rosa Parks is one that is more necessary than ever. She was not a warrior or a disciple of a worldview. She was a Christian, a working woman, and she was trying to make her way through Alabama in the an era of social change. She became symbol for a movement, and no rhetoric could ever rise to the power of her simple refusal to move.

The important truth is that he was not truly defiant: she was exhausted. What could be more exhausting than acquiescence? What could be more exhausting than a life in the shadow of bigotry?

We should remember, from her, that sometimes its not the fight that wins the day, its the refusal to accept something false or intolerable. She teaches us that was have free will, a choice as to how we will approach our small choices. She didn't shout, or hammer a ploughshare into a sword. She showed the honesty that only exhaustion can bring; an honesty that said "I will no longer participate in something that harms me."

We should remember the most important lessons of Rosa Parks and that increasingly distant time:

There is no difference between one human being and another except what the world as placed on their shoulders.

How we carry our burden is what defines us, no matter how small that burden may appear.

There is no such thing as a small act of beauty.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Paraphrasing: A Defense

Ty has the good grace to call this post Heresy. Worth a read.

The Responsibility of the Artist

Over at Theatre Ideas, there's a little chatter about what an artist "should" do. Scott talks a fair amount about how artists have a sort of finite amount of trust from their audience, and that if we aren't careful, we loose their trust and therefore lose our ability to speak to them.

There's a fantastic response to this already at Parabasis here. But I'd like to throw in my two cents.

Scott, as usual, speaks of artists suspiciously, sets standards for them, accuses them of being rapists (figuratively) and begs them to just think of the children.

Each artist has a distinct responsibility that he or she chooses on his or her own, just as an human being chooses what they care about and believe in. If one artist feels that they are responsible for shaking up the middle class and presenting them with pictures of violently tortured religious figures or the Virgin Mary defecating in a bucket; they should follow that impulse as far as they can and never look back. If another feels they want to promote universal tolerance, love and understanding; they should do the same. It is more dangerous for artists to "check" their impulses in favor of good taste or the need for the audience to be comfortable than it is for each artist to have a personal vision, distinct from the others, and carry it through.

There are a lot of plays out there that I think are rubbish. That doesn't mean they shouldn't have been written. The more the merrier. We can debate quality all we like; but I think talking about what artists should be considering as they go about their work is wrong-headed. Without full freedom to express, learn form, and use form, as they see fit, artists are just mirrors of expectation. Their voices become the voices they think the audience wants or needs to hear.

The sole responsibility of the artist is to ask questions or make statements as beautifully or as brutally as they can, in their chosen medium. I think that's burden enough.

A writing room

Last night I fiddled with a video game, listened to the BBC, ironed some shirts, watched a DVD and talked to my girlfriend. I did all this in one room, my bedroom, which doubles as a living room.

Living in New York, space is tight and so is money. I'm not sure how it is elsewhere or what some of you have done to earn extra cash.

I am, though, considering renting a writing room. I need a separate space to write it... the internet/tv/radio/phone is a combination of rather flashy distractions. If I pay for a space, then maybe I will treat it as an office and work on the plays in the way I should be.

Beats moving.

Has anyone else considered this?

Friday, October 21, 2005

This is not funny

Seriously. It's not.

I mean, not really.

Ok, it's hilarious.

No, I'm kidding. It's awful.

But seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

Sad though.

Patrick Fitzgerald Sets Up A Website

In today's War Room at Salon.com, they noted that Patrick J. Fitzgerald has just set up a website (linked above.) Why would would he do that if he was just about to pack it up and go home?

I'm feeling an old-fashioned legal fist fight coming. Bare knuckles. Nixon style.

Plame's the name we're going to remember. I bet Scooter Libby and Pig-Mask Rove wish they never leaked it.

Hooker Lane

Oh come on. It's hilarious. If I lived on Hooker Lane with my girlfriend, I'd constantly be talking about pimping my ride and telling her to make me some money.

Don't worry, she already makes more money than I do. We both know who wears the pants. She's always patting me on the butt and telling me to make myself pretty for her.

The whole point is: have fun with it, people. You live on Hooker Lane. Stop whining.

I hope this post made at least one person incredibly uncomfortable.

The Godfather / The Ultimate Vanity

On George Hunka's blog, he does a rundown of his recent wave of praise and of the comings and goings around the tiny scene. What I find lovely is that after being praised for keeping the theatrical blogsphere aware of itself, he goes on to do precisely that. Can't even help it.

He does, though, attempt to deflect my "Godfather of the Theatrical Blogsphere" line.

Hunka, you misunderstand. I mean it in the way that one might mean "Godfather of Soul."

Now... Get On Up! Get on the scene-a. Get on the scene-a.

Ahem. Enough of that James Brownishness. We're writing about theatre here. Turn on something classical before I start having fun.

And on that note: Theatre Ideas posted from Denver today, regarding the "purpose of playwrighting" issue. As usual, all of this is entirely subjective. I'm sure some playwrights think of themselves as makers of meaning, and others think of themselves as bookbinders. Shakespeare thought he was a businessman; Andrew Lloyd Webber thinks he's a composer. So it goes with self-awareness, such as it is.

Now that's established my opinion as pointless, I'll give it: I still have no idea what "making meaning" really is. Meaning doesn't come from the writer, it comes from the person observing. I get choked up when I watch Sam pick Frodo up on his shoulder in Lord of the Rings. My girlfriend says "Which one of them is Frodo?" That scene has great meaning for me. The scene itself is shown to both of us, and we find the meaning for ourselves.

Scott asks if playwrighting itself isn't the "ultimate vanity" when he's pressed on the idea that "making meaning" is vain itself. I would say there are far greater evidences of vanity than expressing oneself; if anything it's a far more generous form of vanity than others one might find. Running for public office requires far greater vanity than writing a play, especially a good play, which I think requires a great deal of humbleness and honesty. Humbleness and honesty will only get a person elected to the school board, if that.

Playwrights (and novelists and poets) are open to charges of vanity only because our society so rarely sees a desire to express as a generous act. Neither Scott nor Allison Croggon are being fair to one another by making the assumption that within expression, inherently, is a sense of self-importance. If a person feels self important (Tony Kushner) or not (Kafka, Emily Dickinson) they can still express powerful truths. Vanity is not inherent to expression. If you are vain, your writing will have that quality. If you are passionate or earnest or shy, it will reflect that. The truth will out in the work itself.

Whether we choose to "make meaning" or "tell stories" is really what makes us distinct artists from one another. I would write a play differently than Scott or Allison, I'm sure, which is precisely as it should be.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tom Delay is all smiles in his Mugshot

Glorious. Tom Delay is booked, and above is his mugshot. Love that he took it like an actor takes a headshot. Like he's saying: "This isn't really a mugshot."

And of course, they just knew this mugshot would be all over the internet and in newspapers in seconds. In posts like this one.


The NRA's Legislation Passes

Today, the House of Representative voted to protect gun manufacturers from the law suits that have and could arise when their products are used "improperly" during a crime. Then, in the article posted as a link in the title of this post, the claim is made that what happened in Katrina illustrates how important it is for the population to be armed.

It seems almost ridiculous to make this argument but:

1) Katrina proved more than anything that people shouldn't be able to walk into a K-Mart and get a gun
2) Guns aren't being used "improperly" during crimes. They are being used as weapons, which is their purpose.
3) If you make a product that is expressly used to shoot things or people; you should be ready for the consequences of that action. If you can't absorb a lawsuit or the risk that your product won't kill someone, maybe you should sell sweaters.

Amazing how the Bush agenda is stalled across the board, but the House (including many Democrats) can still find time to put corporate interests and powerful lobbyists above our lives.

Superfluities and Theatre Blogs

I was noting Parabasis today and his expression that he feels a part of the old guard (with an 18 month old blog) and his praise of George Hunka, the godfather of the theatrical blogsphere.

I wanted to note here that George was the first person to welcome me to the small blogging community and that although he and I recently expressly disagreed I have the utmost respect for him and his constant stream of academically-charged and serious-minded work. His current post regarding 4:48 Psychosis is a fine example of his generosity.

It's a rare thing for me to be able to find cause to write the word "Brecht" in the middle of an afternoon while I'm working as I did here. Or for me to find a fellow playwright in Joshua James who likes a little raucous arguement almost as much as he likes people getting kicked in the face. And then of course there's Scott Walters, who seems to be enjoy having a steady supply of cans from which worms fly.

So, in the midst of yet another quiet afternoon looking at a computer screen, trying to figure out the second act of "The Most Wonderful Love," pondering how to get an agent, and paying the bills while working in something called "the life settlement industry" I wanted to tip my hat to all of you fellows and to anyone who reads this little blog. Fun to be had, all around. If I'm not old guard, I hope the old guard is happy to have the neophytes around. This one's happy to be a source of amusement (Scott) and to be disagreed with heartily (George.)

Off to the races.

Poem from the Writer's Almanac / War in Iraq

My buddy Matt T. alerted me to this poem that's sent out through the Writer's Almanac. Fantastic. Read this and enjoy.

Of Presidents & Emperors

Comparing our imperial leader today to Nero,
whose troops were also engaged in occupation
of Parthian lands along the Euphrates, with about
the same luck as today, we surely must temper
our judgments, forgive a few lies and lives lost,
give thanks that most of the deaths are uncounted,
and not ours. After all, our leader did not murder
his mother. He and she are on excellent terms.

Nero murdered his wife Octavia, also Poppaea,
his second, by kicking her while she was pregnant
with his child, guaranteed divinity. In Washington
you see no such abominations. The lies are genteel
and murder is at the far end of Pathfinders,
Tomahawks, gun ships and Patriot missiles.
Back home we can thank our stars that tribunes
and freed gladiators do not arrive bearing swords
and platters for heads. And because Congress
consists of the deferential they would never be at risk.
Our leader needs not assassinate sassy senators.

He would never set fire to Washington or build
an ostentatious mansion like Nero's over the ruins.
As a God-fearing Christian he would never thank
Jupiter for throwing javelins of fire at his enemies,
nor would he go on tour to read his poems or play
his harp in the provinces. Yet for his speeches
our President gets as much applause as Nero,
whose soldiers prodded those who nodded off.

In the Oval Office no visitor is obliged to fall upon
knees and weary the President's hand with kisses.
Yet the fear Tacitus expressed could be voiced today.
He worried that such "a monotony of disasters"
as those ordered by Nero might, if recited, disgust all
who heard them. He preferred not to sicken his readers
lest they be "fatigued of mind and paralyzed with grief."
In Rome thousands like us could only pray for relief.

"Of Presidents & Emperors" by David Ray from The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of The Iraq Wars. © Howling Dog Press.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The audience and the individual

George Hunka posted a response to my previous posts below here.

Seems to me that George and I have found what would be our primarily difference of interest (not truly opinion); his seems to be in the process and mine in the audience.

It is very easy for us to speak of the powerful experience we have when working through these pretend world we like to create. Just as its important for an accountant to work clearly and thoroughly through interest rates before turning in a final report; we must rehearse and rehash and reshape ourselves before turning ourselves over to an audience. Even if that audience is only one person large.

Foreman may say his plays could be theatrically effective with no one there to see them. I would be curious what exactly his version of "theatrically effective" could possibly be. In fact, occasionally while watching as show of his, I still wonder.

I believe that we are in service of our audience, and honestly, very little else. I think art may be done for its own sake; I just don't choose to work in that way myself. I certainly have written things that make people uneasy, sad, angry, confused... I'm not there to please the audience. But I am there for the express purpose of communicating with them.

I could put a sheet over my head and act out Hamlet in my bedroom in my boxer shorts. It's only Theatre when I set up two small chairs in my room and let people watch.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Theatre and Religion continued...

George Hunka's responses to the postings on Theatre Ideas are posted today here.

I respect the time George has taken in his response. I'll begin with the blood and guts of his point, in his final paragraph.

"Audiences will find us, as audiences found the spiritual work of artists like Robert Wilson, Reza Abdoh, Peter Brook and others, so long as we conscientiously develop our craft and think deeply about our own relationships to the world. We reach out to our audience as churches do: by living in the community, by providing it with something they can't get in their own homes, in their movie theaters or at dance clubs, and, yes, by commenting on the world poetically, in newspapers and magazines, as some recent Nobelists are wont to do. Church attendance is dipping as well, but one thing is worth remembering: regardless of the number of people in the pews, the miracle of transubstantiation occurs during the mass whether or not there's anyone there to see it. That's why the theater isn't merely another vocation, nor a play merely another product to be sold."

I agree with, essentially, none of this. For one, I was raised by an Episcopalian priest. Considering the family business I'll say that I do not remotely believe in transubstantiation. Acknowledging that it's being used here as a metaphor, I will say that I don't believe anything transformative happens without anyone there to see it. The idea, to me, that theatre is some sort of higher calling, and not merely another vocation, strikes me as hard to defend. From my experience, being a Priest is a vocation, like any other. So should it be with theatre.

George's statement that our "audience will find us" strikes me as wishful-thinking at best, head-patting at worst. I've seen little evidence that if we just somehow dig into the trenches of theatrical history, improve ourselves, we will earn some audience that is just waiting to be woo'ed. They are not looking for us. We have to got and grab them by the lapels and say "You are missing something special." I'll add that claiming 'they'll find us like they found Peter Brook and Robert Wilson' makes me ask, does George mean the citizens of Germany and France? Because I don't hear Robert Wilson and Peter Brooks being name-dropped outside of, well, discussions like this one, very often. Brooks and Wilson have largely abandoned the United States; I don't want to do the same.

As for this paragraph...

"That theater or any of the arts can be an instrument of metaphysical investigation, though, is quite true, and this metaphysical investigation doesn't necessarily lead to dogma any more than surgery necessarily leads to vivisection. But, in our particular era, this requires the same new forms that Matt and Joshua think they're so assiduously defending. I get the feeling, though, that for both of these writers there is a sense in that a form can be too new, and that Brian is indeed thinking far more imaginatively about the potential of theater than any of us."

I'm honestly not sure what the heck George is talking about, and would love it explained to me. I'm not specifically concerned with the imagination of other artists, because it's largely their own concern what they do with their time and pen. I'm concerned with a theatrical community that is more interested in naval-gazing growing its audience. This attitude is what I find most counterproductive.

Monday, October 17, 2005


There's an interesting discussion going on over at Theatre Ideas, regarding the desire for a more traditional and "sacred" attitude towards the Theatre.

Personally, I'm happy to invite a broader audience to the theater and leave old forms behind. I'm happy to live in the world of Durang, Beckett, Mamet, and Albee. The Greeks never connected with me. I was born in 1975. Sue me.

Ok, that's glib.

Essentially, we can't have it both ways. We can't talk about how audiences are leaving the theater in droves, and then try to bring them back by offering them a spiritual or sacred experience. I think that there is something to be said for using words, scenes and characters that connect on a subconscious level, an archtypical level, but I think for the most part, we're living in the United States in 2005 and have to find a way to connect to the current audience, as they are, in their hearts and in their minds and in their bones. Otherwise, we're blowing the same smoke at them that threw them into the comfort of the easy television and exciting, blow-em up, close up, easily accessible film.

There has to be a middle ground between the hopelessly arty and the utterly pedestrian. I think this conversation about moving towards Greek theatre and the ritual of theater is a bit, if you'll excuse me, self-righteous.

Don't get me wrong: I love the more complex and challenging plays and the rituals that can be found in theater. But I'm not a layman. Can't we create good theater that appeals to people, that draws the buzz they need in order to be drawn in, and let them discover the even more exciting and complex as they see fit?

We'll never get them to come to us like they come to Church. Unless you want to hand out a collection plate. Because, let's face it, Church doesn't sell tickets.

We need to move what does sell tickets (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) off the boards and move ourselves onto it. Wishing for yesteryear is not the way.

Bush League Ballot Stuffing

Honestly, if you're going to stuff the ballots, add some class. Make sure all of them have the names of guys WE personally killed or something. This sort of ballot stuffing hackery is so Bush League. (Pun Intended.)

Over 90 percent voted yes? Did the guys with the guns vote? Are there only like, 5 of them? Methinks not.

Look, stuff the ballots and get a 75% result and people will go "Whoa! Landslide for Democracy!" and no one will be the wiser. 90% and above is just screaming yellow irony alarms.

Capote and the Dangers of Honesty

Saw the film "Capote" over the weekend. It made me think about writing and it's inherent side-effects. About using life as art, and how honest we are able to be before we step over personal and private lines.

My work has lately been overly honest. In "The Great Escape" I wrote about a Mother who was remarried and her children rebel. This was during a time when my Mother remarried. In the play, the Mother's name is Susan. My mothers name is, of course, Susan.

For some reason, I couldn't find a way to change it and make it ring true. Even though I was well aware that was completely from my own perspective. The character that most closely resembled me, for example, was not named Matthew. He was Henry. Maybe it's easier to abstract oneself. Or maybe I'm just a selfish masochist.

Either way, the last time I attended a party at my mother's house, her friends made a note of telling me how hurt she was by how she was portrayed in the play. And I thought to myself that I had placed myself directly in this morally ambiguous position. I felt, on one hand, emboldened by my dedication to writing what felt true to me, and stiffening my resolve for even the most difficult things to come out about me and my family. On the other hand, I realized that my own life was not the only one affected by what I'd written.

The play does not truly resemble my family, it just uses them liberally for what I felt was the most desperate and comic effect. I found myself more easily writing from a place of painful humor when I was essentially risking a great deal. I felt that improved the play for the audience; that people can tell false from true.

In "Capote" we see Truman Capote's amazing zeal for his own work to be spectacular. He was dedicated to himself, and his work, and felt nothing stronger than the desire for a great piece of literature. "In Cold Blood" as a work of literature, holds that his sacrifice appears balanced by the result. Then again, he never completed another novel, and died an alcoholic. His cruelty to himself and those around him in service of a book might strike some as not worth the effort.

There's no easy answer to what is acceptable on the page, and what one can absorb into their life without risking some change, affection, or damage. If writing becomes so calculated ("Is what I'm doing worth the cost?") is can quickly devolve into compromised vision before it ever reaches the first draft.

How much honesty is acceptable? I'd be willing to accept that my inability to unwrite a simple name, my mother's name, may be both a failure of imagination on my part and an effort to rebel against limitations: a selfish act that says as much about me as not using my own name does. Or it could be that I simply can't find it in me to write anything that doesn't speak to me unconsciously. It felt right to falsify my name and use my mother's. It may not feel good, but it felt like the play I was writing.

Interested to hear about other's experiences with this issue. As I'm writing my new play "The Most Wonderful Love," I find the issue returning, especially as I write what is essentially an entire scene that mocks and perverts the Book of Common Prayer. Curious how my father will take to that particular scene, and if I can find any reason to shield him or myself from it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Karl Rove Testifies for the Fourth Time Today

Who's guessing Kevin Costner will play Patrick Fitzgerald in the movie. I can just imagine him sitting next to Martin Landau (sitting in for Donald Sutherland) as he is told: "This goes all the way to the top. But the top, this time, isn't the President. Be careful, Patrick."

Rove has been the public face of the worst of politics for years; proudly wearing the pig-mask of Machiavellian manipulator. His fatal flaw will undoubtedly be the opposite of Nixon's: confidence. If he is charged (I suspect of obstruction of justice) he will never receive the retroactive pity that Nixon has enjoyed. Rove is someone who deserves to be taken down a peg, at the very least for cultivating the popular belief that politics is about winning, about spinning, and not about representing the public.

The Bush hive makes one almost long for a man like Nixon in the White House. Because for all of Nixon's faults, indiscretions and lies; he was a man whose conscience existed and was eating him up in front of the camera. He was, by all accounts, paranoid, fervent in his desire to be loved, and displayed the kind of madness that one might find in the Tell-Tale Heart. The sort of man who knows he is dishonorable, and is only waiting to be caught and unburdened of his shame.

To say Bush has no shame is the same as saying a child has none. Some call this underestimating, but I have not seen this hidden intelligence that some say he actively hides. Instead, I see an impudent frat boy, with a great deal of money and exellent handlers. One such pedigree and such a powerful network that he was always going to be powerful, from the day he was born.

Rove, from all I can observe at this great distance, is worse. Rove is said to be an intelligent man, and his is. His greatest compliments come to his ability to create votes, control the media, bully his political "allies" into compliance; to create as much certainty and as little Democratic debate as possible, all in the name of consolidated power.

One can hope that Rove will be the last of the Kingmakers; it's a dishonorable title to have in a nation that strives for equalitarian government. There may always be men who find they live in great glory through the manipulation of the public; but let's put them back in advertising and keep them away from anyone who has the power to make war.

Martin Denton and Nytheatre.com on Awards

Martin Denton was kind enough to respond to a quick e-mail I sent him a few months ago, regarding the Innovative Theater Awards. With the recent Nobel Prize awarded to Harold Pinter, it seemed a fair enough time to address the issue, and I appreciate how throughly he responded.

It's no secret that awards are a bit of smoke and mirrors; to even suggest that the Oscars or Emmys are representative of the best television or films of any given year would be hilarious. For years, for example, NBC ran a show called "Homicide: Life on the Street." This was simply one of the best televsion programs ever aired on network television, and featured acting and writing and storytelling, especially in its best middle years, that stands up easily to what the Sopranos or Six Feet Under were able to do on HBO. This show was never even, as far as I know, nominated for Best Drama at the Emmys. "Everybody Loves Raymond" received a Best Comedy Series Emmy, even though I can think of three show right now that are far superior to this drivel.

The Tonys are no exception to this rule, of course. But it's all par for the course. The reason that the Emmys don't award odd shows that are on late Friday night is because no one in their audience has likely seen them. These awards are sporting events for fans; if you don't know who to cheer, you won't watch. Even the most "Independent" of awards ceremonies know their audience and cater to their preferences and to what's on their radar. The Tonys aren't about to become an Award that offers some category that pits the best of the regional theaters against each other: it's unlikely the people who love the Mark Taper Forum saw what was up at the Goodman or Guthrie this year.

I'm sure there is quite a bit more to be said. Leave me a comment if you have any thoughts.

At least Brantley waited until after Yom Kippur

...to beat the holy hell out of Rosie O'Donnell in Fiddler on the Roof. It's a thing of terrifying beauty. Thanks to Matt T., who showed me these choice lines:

Her accent trots the globe, through countries real and imagined. It is variously Irish, Yiddish, Long Island-ish and, for big dramatic moments, crisp and round in the style of introduction-to-theater students. Her relationship with the notes and keys of a song is similarly fluid.

I'm well aware that some people take exception to the cruelty of critics. I don't mind. It's not like Rosie isn't an incredibly rich woman already. And it's not like she's on Broadway because of her smashing audition, or the way she worked her way up in Regionals. She's there to sell tickets, and of course, no beating by Brantley is going to keep the blue hairs and tourists for whipping out $150 to watch Rosie sing songs they've heard a thousand times.

America is Ionesco's dream.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

When Beckett Won The Nobel Prize

After Pinter's Nobel Prize honor, the New York Times posted information regarding past Nobel Prize winners in the literature category. Gloriously, they posted a gem of an article, speaking of a non-existent book, praising Beckett's health, and speaking about he was simply annoyed at the publicity of receiving the Prize. He refused to attend the ceremony, but didn't turn down the prize because he apparently thought it would only make matters worse.

Beckett was a comedian of a high order, to be sure. It's no secret that he's a personal hero of mine, I'm just constantly amazed at how often I hear or see something new about him that makes my toes curl into pleasing little laugh shapes.

So wonderful. Check out the PDF here.

Why the Red States Should Be Pro-Choice...

...because the Blue States have fewer babies born to babies by 5%.

Take a look at the recent study here, which shows that marrying too young and being pro-choice can lead to a life in the South, standing next to a voting booth with a poster on your car that says "Love it or leave it."

Or is it the other way around?

2005 Nobel Prize for Literature

Harold Pinter.

High fives all around.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Pinter, at 75, uses me as a tackling dummy

Well, I know I'm a day late and a dollar short linking to Pinter's latest offering "Voices." But anything new by him, at 75, is amazing. Getting to listen to it for free is flabbergasting.

Here it is: "Voices on BBC Radio 3"

What drives me insane about this is that I already feel massively derivative, and just a few days ago posted a months old project: a recording of my own I called "Music for Voices I."

(You can still download it here to see just how much better he is than I am, and how many more instruments he has.)

Fine, Pinter. You want to be better than me? FINE.

Honestly, of course, if you haven't listened to "Voices" yet, it's a must. George Hunka and the friendly neighborhood Playgoer (see links on your left) have already linked to it.

Marketing and Drawing an Audience

I'm certainly no wizard at marketing. I've been known to draw small houses to very well-reviewed shows. It's a talent. It seems as though, unfortunately, that marketing is a piece of the puzzle that the producers of new works either shy away from or have failed to grasp effectively. I've read a fair amount of talk about why new work isn't produced often enough, and also about the perennial desire of Republicans to nix all funding to anything beautiful and socially important. I'd like to add that an understanding of and effective use of new marketing, or trends, or how things become popular; this would give us a leg up in a very difficult place to make art.

I'm not trying to blame the person that got punched for starting the fight; after the invent of home entertainment, even the film industry has taken an audience hit. Theater's decline in popularity is a part of a trend that's been going on for decades. We moved from the live performance, to the cinema, from the imaginative radio to the expressive television. We have moved from board games and card games to video games. We have moved from news print to Google News. We tend to hear either those who incorrectly believe that audiences will come to quality work and most writers lack of audience is reflecting their own quality (if so, explain Mamma Mia); or those who feel that human beings have fundamentally turned away from the arts, that we're on a sinking ship, and we're helpless to stop it so why try? Just make plays for yourself; because plays are important just for being still around. That's not good enough for me. That makes us a tree falling rather quickly into a far off forest.

The fact of the matter is, we live in a culture that has a vast number of ways to communicate, and theatrical exposure still comes (even on the internet) from very basic sources. One is listings, the other is reviews. The problem with both is that the audience that seeks these things out is an audience we already have. That is not expanding our audience, even for a single show. That is trying to take the small audience that exists and turn its attention your way.

In a culture that Coca-Cola is the number one soft drink, it's important to ask ourselves why this is? Is it because the drink itself is vastly superior to, say, RC Cola? Or Sprite? I would pose that it has been incredibly smart at marketing itself. We know it takes paint off of cars, but who doesn't like a big coke with a cheeseburger? Coke is a victory of branding.

Branding the smaller theaters and new works would have to be a concerted effort. Kirk Wood Bromley had suggested several times that we rename "Off-Off Broadway" "Indie Theatre." It's not just a quirky idea; it's a branding concept. As much as the use of such capitalist language makes most earnest young writers want to spit out their own teeth, it's an unavoidable fact of the current culture. How we're branded and sold is of the utmost importance. Language is the basis of thought. Period. If you control the language by which you are referred, you control the impression that the world has of you.

Indie Theatre is one possible solution. But it's also likely to become no more accurate than "Independent Films" that are put out by Disney or "Alternative Music" on the Time Warner label. The Fringe is an example of what Indie Theatre would undoubtedly become: a label on a style. Then again, we don't want to place the Indie theater label solely on a budget, do we? Or is that the lone criteria?

Another important way to spread an audience for a refined taste (which is, after all, what the arts often are) is to use the example of wine. What do wine tastings do for wineries? They cultivate an informed audience. They give something lovely and delicious away for free, even make a ritual of doing so. In doing so, their audience becomes both complimented (they're learning something refined), indulged (here is something for free) and sold (if you like that so much, we have it by the bottle.) Not a bad model for marketing new works, if approached carefully.

Rebranding and cultivating...are two ways to market that don't require Grey Advertising and paid listings. And they may well do more for the entire community than a single show.

I'll leave it at that for now. Thought that might be worth some discussion. I'm sure there's far more to be said on the subject.

Monday, October 10, 2005

And counting

Just saw this gentlemen's blog and wanted to give him a little love. "Always Off Book." God love him for the sentiment.

I like hearing that he is counting how many productions he's been in. 15 is a bunch. Heck, it's awesome.

Go, fight, win.

Also, here's another theater blog that seems to have a nice, clean point of view and loads of time to waste, like the rest of us. Playgoer.

The Scarecrow

My good friend Matthew Trumbull just received another in a series of well-earned good reviews in "The Scarecrow" at the Metropolitan Playhouse. Interesting theatre, the Metropolitan, which produces little known works by American authors. It's a mission statement that might make Joshua James a little edgy, but it's interesting and it means they are constantly producing plays I've never seen or read or even heard of.

I'm especially partial to this production because both Matt Trumbull and my old friend Ian Gould are performers. (Ian plays the devil.)

Ian Gould and I went to the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts together waaaaay back in, um, 1991, I believe. He's just a brilliant guy, odd bird, hilarious, fun to watch on stage and I can't wait to see him again.

Matt Trumbull, for his part, has been a friend of mine since our Freshman year college at Emerson. He's been in three of the plays I've had produced in NY, The Death of King Arthur, Reasons for Moving and 465, also at the Metropolitan. He's one of those actors that simply understands how to have a relationship with the audience. It's uncanny. He's also got the right "Buster Keaton" mix of sad and funny; human humor. I'd suggest if you're looking for an actor, to cast him. Or if you're looking to enjoy a play, see if he's in it.

Ian, forgive the picture (which is of course a wee bit unflattering) but I think it makes you look like an artsy-fartsy tea drinking hippie. Found it on Google. Ah, the dangers of the internet.

Quick Morning Update

A few quick thoughts.

The title of my Post is a link to an MP3 I'm still hoping to get feedback on. (See last post.)

Playwright Joshua James Blog...where I left a comment during a bit of debate.

George Hunka continues to try to keep all his balls in the air.

My new play has a new title: "The Most Wonderful Love."

More soon.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Music for Voices: Download

A few months ago, I started working on a new piece for voices and live performace. It's creatively titled, currently, "Music for Voices." I wrote the text for the first piece, intended as a trio. I then made a simple MP3 of it, mixed it together with some free software and a headset originally intended to use when playing online shooting games.

My musical voice reads all three parts.

I thought this blog might be an interesting place to release it. Seems almost foolhardy...in fact, I'm sure it is. But I'm curious what any reader might think of the piece at this early stage. I'll also give this permission: if you listen to it and want to mix it and fiddle with it, (and you're someone who knows how to do things like that) you're free to do so. Just make sure you send me a copy of what you've done with it. The material is, of course, copywritten. Because I just said so.

Obviously, on "Blogger" I can't exactly set up a direct download, so I'm using a file sharing program called "You Send It." If you click the link below, you are redirected to a site where the MP3 file has been placed for download.

If you care to give it a listen, I'd welcome happily any thoughts and feedback. It may be incredibly pretentious, and it may be sort of pretty. Or some terrible combination of the two. Obviously, in this early stage, as an audio file with just my voice, it's essentially a sketch. But if you're curious about the work I'm doing, this is an interesting little sample of what's rattling around in my brain. Or if you just want to hear what the heck I sound like. For seven minutes. Talking in shredded prose.

It's about seven minutes long, all told. Around 4 MB.

The title of this post is a link. There's also a link here.

Impotent Cyclists

Ok, this is petty. But this article makes me feel good. Do you know why? Because all those pricks in Central Park that try to kill anyone on foot because they're getting in their daily 16 miles will never have offspring.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Death of August Wilson

Some quick thoughts about August Wilson:

In the early nineties, I was part of a class trip to the Pennsylvania Stage Company, a professional troupe in Harrisburg. They were performing "Fences." I was 15, maybe. 16 at the oldest. I'd never heard of it.

This wasn't a production with James Earl Jones. This was workmanlike performers, given fantastic roles, doing what might have been some of their best work. My memory is hazy. But the play lives with me. I will always believe that "Fences" contains the ideal ending for a play. The ultimate climax. If I can end a play with something even approaching Gabriel shouting open the gates of heaven, in the midst of all spiritual doubt, the loss of his firmest crutch; if I could approach that power, history and poetry is one moment, if I could...

I would be August Wilson.

A great deal will undoubtedly be written about his epic masterpiece, a 10-play cycle of the African American experience. But even now, I feel that the masterpiece of that is a partial success, as time never ends, and when he stopped exploring that piece of history, it kept moving forward, past him, and will keep going. Until his 10-play cycle appears to be 1% of a larger mosaic of time and eras and oppression and rebirth.

What will never be 1% of anything are the works themselves, in the singular. Alone, "The Piano Lesson" and "Fences" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" are masterpieces, and deserve their cannonical place among the greatest American plays ever written. Wilson, in his death, stands next to our finest, and rises above many of his contemporaries. Where Mamet writes in moment and snippets and strains for philosophical relevance; Wilson soars in broad strokes. Where Albee, even in his genius, berates our culture for its lost arts and lost artiface; Wilson embraces the uniqueness of the American voice without jealousy for European styles or affectations. Where Miller carved out new morality plays; Wilson carved out generous helpings of a blood-filled breast. Where O'Neill wrote in single play epics; Wilson wrote with an eye to something larger than himself.

Now that August Wilson is gone, we can look at his life and judge it as a whole, as a summation of work completed. That judgement, those eyes, will be kind to August Wilson and to the America he left richer for loving it.

Harriet Miers: Cronyism meets Feminism

Bush has announced his long-time "confidant" Harriet Miers as his Supreme Court nominee. She has never been a judge. She serves as White House counsel. All of this says "Oh my God we are in terrible danger," to me. For one, she's lived in service of George Bush for years. Anyone who can stand next to that man, defend his policies and be in his devilish "confidence" must undoubtedly be both deluded and dangerous.

Since right now the reporting about Harriet Miers is a bit quick and dirty (I've already read that she has no "judicial record" so it will be hard to nail her on issues) I've done a little Google detective work just for fun, to see what I could dig up about her.

Here's a bit of her playing White House mouthpiece in 2004. Pay special attention to her views on the 9/11 commission and connecting 9/11 to both Iraq and the economy.

Here's a little something about how much her law firm contributed (on the record) to Bush-Cheney's 2000 campaign.

A law.com profile about her before she became general counsel. Love the hair. She sounds like a pill.

I think, frankly, even if she hasn't been nailed down to a position on say, torture, or women's rights, we can pretty much assume this woman is a right-winger par excellance and "on message."

Amazing how if you look at the conservative blogsphere, she's being viewed as a possible bad choice... someone who "can't be trusted to overturn Roe."

I thought we didn't want them legislating from the bench.