Category Archives: Uncategorized

citizens, united

Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision which wrought the wreckage in which we now and shall live, rests on the premise that money is speech. If money is speech, limiting the spending of it in the influence of political discourse is an abridgment of a person’s freedom of speech. Corporations are (somehow) people, therefore they should be able to spend as much money as they like on political campaigns.

Of course they can. This decision is not the disease, it’s symptomatic of our collective incapacity for empathy. When money is what passes for speech, and corporations are mistaken for people, how could we expect otherwise?

If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

But money is not speech, it is coercion. We exchange it to compel others to share their goods or services. It entitles us to treat others in a negative way and to expect positive behavior in return. It is very easy to yell at some poor worker in a call center because they are not themselves, they are the corporation for which they work and you have an economic contract with that corporation. It’s simpler to not even say “hello” to the doorman or the barista or the gas station attendant because they are, in this model, the door-opener and the coffee-maker and the cigarette-dispenser. They are furniture.

The Theatre is, or should be, or could be if we just let it, the opposite of all of that. It is a place which does not function if anything you see is identified as other, and is at its best when the other is recognized as self.

Here’s where it gets dangerous: If you recognize yourself in the other, how does it change your politics? Is it possible to cut off someone’s unemployment benefits when you think of the meals they or their children might have to forego? Would you be able to stand the barrage of images from the several wars if you put yourself in the shoes (if they have any) of anyone there? Would it be conceivable that a person might tell another person how to live? to love? to die?

The very foundation of theatre, the actor-spectator relationship, is based on the ability to share in the thoughts and feelings of others. It is theatre’s most basic unit, and it is in direct opposition to the notion that a corporation is a person, or that you can put a cash value on speech.


this had to be lifted and inscribed on the stone

Prayer for a Bad Performance by Kirk Lynn

SOUND OFF | opinions | July 10th, 2011

Kirk Lynn Bio Image

Make it quick. Please.
Let’s skip the intermission tonight.
Shorten this performance
if only by a single, dropped line.

Let something unexpected happpen.

Enter a character
to remind me of someone I slept with,
someone I loved too briefly,
someone for whom I’m still longing,
someone I still look for
in minor characters,
the way I, myself, have been
a minor character
in the lives of those I loved too briefly.

Forgive me for the performances I’ve made.
Forgive me my intermissions.
—as I should forgive this performance.

Teach me to see effort in the work of others
rather than flaws.

Remind me of all the things
there are to study and enjoy in this room:
the miracle of audience,
the many kinds of laughter,
the several sexes,
imagined intercourse,
the smells we try to sweep beneath the rugs
of our deodorants and perfumes,
the shock of touching a stranger
in the seat next to me
even if only with an elbow,
the warmth of the human body,
the untamable imagination
(and its fractal patterns of consciousness
which, even as they spiral out from my mind,
are a part of this performance,
doing as much to alter the rhythm of the evening
as any missed cue or smooth recovery),
the way silence charges a room,
the time travel and telepathy of literature,
how someone can have a thought
hundreds of years ago
or miles away from here
and by a series of magical symbols (like these)
communicate that thought with others
across the miles and years.

If nothing else, help me use this evening
as a way of training my heart.

I remember R. once telling me
how, in fulfilling her lifelong dream
of going to the opera in Rome,
she was amazed the audience
had dressed itself so crisply
and carried themselves
like an aesthetic military in procession
down the aisles to their assigned seats
as if they each had been cast for a role
in the performance.
When the orchestra began
the audience leaned forward en masse
to meet the music partway.
When the tenor first lifted his chin
and opened his mouth so wide
you would think he wanted to give the gods
direct access to the heart in his chest,
then the audience, too, opened their mouths
to boo.

What shocked R. was, after intermission,
the house remained packed;
the entire audience returned
to continue booing
and booing.

Why not get in their Lamborghinis
and go home? Was it their commission
to stay and blot out the entire mistake
of this tenor’s performance?
Or was it simply the joy of standing together
and refusing to surrender the field
until the battle had been won?

Help me learn to generate pleasure from any fuel.
Make my mind more powerful than the art
of my enemies.
Protect me from that most ignorant notion
that I would like my own work.

Just as every word in a language has a use,
help me see every performance
as part of a great vocabulary of experience.

Sharpen my instinct in believing
it’s a little bit stupid to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’
any portion of my existence.

‘Like’ and ‘dislike’ are words without depth,
a paper thin wall, advertising
to each of us that we are on the sophisticated side
of things. When everything else seems arbitrary
you can always rely on your own prejudice.
But poke a hole, take a peek and you’ll see
the world goes on in all directions,
wrapping around itself until
thumbs up and thumbs down
don’t tell you anything.

I want to see Rome for myself.
I want to travel back in time
and see every opera’s opening night
—no idea which ones we’ll come to like or dislike
—just listen to all those corpses singing
—no idea how dead they are in my lifetime
—no idea how dead I’ll get to be myself
—listen, he’s crying
—lo morrò ma lieto in core.

I’ve wasted a lot of my life preferring this or that.
It seems no coincidence
that ghosts and disappointed audiences
say the same thing to us: boo.

Death, too, is in this room,
right now, in these performers.
They are using their lives
to share something.
Thank you.

Teach me to be the perfect audience
to this moment of my life.

friends in the ether

"You can not possibly hope to stand up to my superior-- Hold please. I need to reboot my OS."

Adam Leipzig is a film producer in Hollywood, né LA theater person, and he writes an interesting article here about why theater continues to be a part of the human experience. Hadn’t ever thought of the technology v. humanity argument in this way before.

And don’t miss Ellen McLaughlin’s comment. What she’s talking about…that is bloodinthestone.

choosing sides

The theater isn’t about choosing sides—or, at least, in my view it shouldn’t be about choosing sides. No matter how political, how liberal or conservative the subject matter, the theater isn’t about choosing sides. It’s about dialogue. That is the medium of the playwright, the matter that is spoken by actors, shaped by directors, actualized by designers. “Dialogue” is defined as “conversation between two or more people.” This is the theater. We are conversation. Even a monologue or soliloquy is actually about conversation. The most famous soliloquy of all is the most basic of dialogues: Live? Die? In the theater we are always (or always should be) striving to understand the other side of the conversation. If not…

“Not to be, mother fuckers!!! I’ll destroy the whole lot of you!!!”

To my mind, engaging in dialogue is what most people actually want. We take up arms against enemies because we are angry, we want justice. But in the end what does violent justice bring us? Some sense that “justice has been served?” “Wrong has been righted?” Maybe. But who can look at the end of the play which gave us that famous soliloquy–where, in the end, everyone we care about is dead, and an otherwise absentee character finally arrives to tell us that all will now be set right–who could experience all that and feel happy? If that were your life, if you were living it right now, could you look at the results and find fulfillment? Justice may have been served, but do we understand why so many had to suffer before we reach that point?

Too abstract? We got bin Laden. Is your life today better than it was? Safer? Did it justify the deaths of so many soldiers? so many civilian Afghanis? And I ask this seriously. I’m not trying to say one way or the other whether we’re better off or not, because I genuinely struggle with this question myself. As an individual, I’m a pretty staunch pacifist. I hold few higher than Ghandi & MLK. But my heart leapt when I heard that we got bin Laden. I think on other icons of “evil men”–Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Innocent III–would I rejoice at their violent deaths? Probably. I watched Inglorious Basterds and tittered at the fantasy of Hitler dying such an ignoble and painful death.

Is there anything wrong with this kind of response? No. It’s animal. As a friend of mine would say, it’s our “lizard brain” at work–millions of years of evolution expressing themselves. But it’s fucking candy, not nourishment, because we are more than our lizard brains. And I don’t mean some Rousseau v. Hobbes dichotomy where we have evolved beyond the primitive. Too easy, too binary. No, sir, we live that dichotomy every day. It’s always with us, the ancient lizard living in symbiosis with the civilized human. Our own minds are live as dialogue: instinct v. logic. An old theme, but a true one: Dialogue is the human condition, and there are seldom, if ever, any final answers. The only constant in that interior world is inconsistency. Back & forth. So, to my mind, we have to embrace that. As theater artists we have to choose that–we have to choose not to pick a side in our work. In our lives…

Motherrrrrrrr Fuuuuuuckererrrrrr.......

The thing is, once you open yourself up to dialogue, it’s hard to buy into any worldview that isn’t plural. So, I guess, in the end I do choose a side. But it’s not Republican v. Democrat; Conservative v. Liberal; Us v. Them. It’s the open mind v. the closed mind; plural v. singular. That’s kind of a singular way of thinking, but fuck it. The closed mind needs to be destroyed.

In fact, those minds must be fucking eradicated.

Not the lives attached to them, I’m not calling for armed rebellion–remember, I’m a pacifist. I don’t care what close-minded individuals do with themselves. But their opinions need to be removed from the greater dialogue because they’re not engaged in it. They’re speaking in true monologue. They’re speaking to hear themselves speak. And that leads nowhere. The rest of us are trying to live WITH ONE ANOTHER.

So fuck those close-minded fucks. And vive la dialogue. Vive la révolution large d’esprit.

notes from a future production of Godot (pt.1)

We [will(have)] found ourselves with no space in which to perform, no money in our pockets and an overabundance of enthusiasm. We [will(have)] encountered ourselves as vagabonds in spite of the carrot in our pockets and the patience in our hearts.

he never said it had to be in a building.

This is true. We [now(then)and always] are vagabonds, waiting.

The playwright only asks us for a tree, a country road (a term which has several meanings, and depends entirely on the country, n’est-ce pas?). Evening. Nature, or a fervent imagination, provides.

We [etc] rehearsed at any available tree, at every available tree. Bored office workers on lunch breaks idled at a distance while the homeless crossed freely in and out of an increasingly undefined playing space. Someone tried to tell us that we needed to “move along”, but we pointed out that we were only vagabonds, sitting by a tree and talking amongst ourselves, waiting.

Rehearsing in public kept preciousness at bay. Giving anything less than everything became impossible if we were to keep the increasingly diverse and understandably skeptical crowd from interrupting. Attention must be earned, not implied.

(stay tuned for pt.2)

crunching numbers

“The people of this country know now, whatever they were taught or thought they knew before, that art is not something just to be owned but something to be made: that it is the act of making and not the act of owning that is art. And knowing this they know also that art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land, but part of the present life of all the living and creating peoples—all who make and build; and, most of all, the young and vigorous peoples who have made and built our present wide country.”  –Franklin Delano Roosevelt:  Address at the Dedication of the National Gallery of Art, 1941

Federal Project Number One recieved $27 million as part of the Works Progress Administration.

Adjusted for inflation, that’s roughly $434.5 million.

Here’s some perspective on our national priorities.

That’s $785 billion in Iraq alone, or 1800 times the inflation-adjusted budget of an expenditure that included the Federal Theatre Project (which employed Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, John Houseman, Elia Kazan, etc.) as well as the Federal Writers’ Project (Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Studs Turkel, etc.), and the Federal Art Project (Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, etc.) which helped create so much work they needed a new building to hold it, which was donated, a mere six years later (see quote above).

The opulence of the great depression.

And then there’s a twist:  Harry Hopkins, the head of the WPA, promised that the Federal Theatre Project would be “free, adult, and uncensored.”  In the four years of its existence, 78% of all patrons from sea to shining sea paid no price for admission.  The Federal Music Project held free concerts.  The Federal Art Project’s murals still decorate public buildings across the country.  People were brought together and the bonds of their community were strengthened.  Democracy was strengthened.

The FY2011 request for the NEA was $161 million which, adjusted to 1935 dollars, is $10.2 million, less than half of Federal One’s budget.

We should not be asking for an arts budget equal to that, we should be demanding much more.  It’s simply a better investment, reaping cultural dividends rather than death.

splendor on the grass

“It is forbidden to walk on the grass.  It is not forbidden to fly over the grass.” – Augusto Boal

Jon Jory co-founded The Long Wharf in an abandoned warehouse.

Trinity Rep takes its name from the church whose basement first sheltered it.

Mr. Joseph Papp, arguably the most influential theatrical producer in american history, used as his starting place the notion of FREE THEATRE FOR ALL.

These are not success stories.  They are cautionary tales.

Papp’s 1956 production of The Taming of the Shrew caught the attention of Brooks Atkinson, who (con)descended into the lower east side and Yea, it was Good.  One of the actors, Colleen Dewhurst, later recalled, “With Brooks Atkinson’s blessing, our world changed overnight. Suddenly in our audience of neighbors in T-shirts and jeans appeared men in white shirts, jackets and ties, and ladies in summer dresses. Suddenly we were ‘the play to see,’ and everything changed. We were in a hit that would have a positive effect on my career, as well as Joe’s, but I missed the shouting. I missed the feeling of not knowing what might happen next or how that play would that night move an audience unafraid of talking back.”

"What'd you call this? A 'play'? I like it."

Men in white shirts, jackets and ties deserve theatre, too, but never at the expense of our neighbors in T-shirts and jeans.

These theatres are known now not for what they are, but for what they were.  Whatever their current operating budget (and their beautiful endless line of zeros), they began where we are now:  pushing in the dark against an immovable object.

In the rearview mirror of time you can see the pioneers of american theatre.  You stand shoulder to shoulder with them.  Push on, far above the grass.