Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Radio Silence

My quiet has been entirely circumstantial… I was running around New England like mad for 5 days and then my good friend dropped in on a whirlwind tour of the southwest.

I have things I want to complain about I’m sure, and I want to find a way to honor Mr. Pinter… but as this year winds down I have to take a moment to reflect.

2008 was a challenging year for many, and one that they are saying a gleeful goodbye to.

That is not the case for me.

2008 kicked ass, and if I am able to take the momentum from this year into 2009 (even in the face of global depression) the coming year will ALSO kick ass.

I produced two highly satisfying (and radically different) shows, performed to my own satisfaction in a third, got married (and went to Costa Rica) and saw my littlest sister get married.

And this country decided to take a chance on Hope.

My hope is that this year we take our first steps from Yes We Can to Yes We Are.  That this year is a year of change for theatre artists taking charge of and responsibility for their own work.

I have one major project scheduled and two new programs and the framework of a new Austin theatre community to help weave.  Money is no object.

2008 I will never forget you, and 2009? Watch your ass. We’re coming for you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Standing at the Gate

Critics are apparently the topic of the week in the coffee bar that is my brain.

Critics are an odd appendage to the theatre community. They are (for the most part) as knowledgeable as your given practitioners in the rare case when they aren’t practitioners themselves, yet the hold themselves apart from the process to comment on it. What do I think their role should be in a perfect world?

Like it’s that easy. Different roles for different folks naturally!

First, there is a difference in my brain between reviewer and Critic. so let’s decide, just between you and me, that words mean something and that review and critic, being two different words, mean different things shall we?


Critic to the audience
The critic owes the audience a fair evaluation of a show, but more than a blow by blow. A critic owes more than a see it/skip it. A critics owes the audience a bit of context, a bit of dramaturgy, a bit of perspective on the producing company and their previous work, and why this current work matters or doesn’t

Critic to the Artist
The critic owes the artist as unbiased a view of the art as they can offer, with full disclosure of bias where it exists. The critic owes the same level of discourse to the artist as the audience, and should spare unnecessary cynicism or “snark” as in a searchable world those things become unerasable parts of a performer’s (or companies’) CV.

Critic to the Arts community
The critic is a gatekeeper. They control the only view of this niche world that most people get. Thiers is the king-making  power of The Trusted Opinion. As a part of the arts community they have a responsibility to not be destructive. In my perfect world they are the ombudsman of the arts community.

Reviewer to the Audience, Artist, and Arts community
A fair unbiased accounting of the show. Spare the snark. Recognize your junior gatekeeper status, and do no harm to the community.


Here do a Google Search for The Nina Variations.

How many of the first ten are from reviewers/critics?

FIVE. The others are my company’s website, a ticket giveaway for my production, a press release for an older production, teachers’ materials, Google’s own book search and Dramatists listing for it are 3rd and 4th.

That matters. That’s going to change the opinion of people thinking about doing the show never mind seeing it.

So that’s a start.
What needs to be added?
What needs to be expanded?
Aside from a rubric about always loving your work what do you want of of a critic or reviewer?

The First Step to Change is Participation

intentions put into words become actions

My wife is working with local artist L. Renee Nunez to create an art installation downtown as part of First Night Austin (and ensuring a second year of bark no my carpet at the holidays).


“But Travis? I’m in Vancouver!”

I know. Isn’t the internet awesome?

Read on:


As we head into 2009, for many of us the impact humans have had on our environment is constantly in our thoughts.  Both businesses and individuals are starting to take real action to provide a world for future generations that more sustainable than the one we currently inhabit.  Action originates in our thoughts and prayers, and we seek to use art to influence the thinking of those around us.

“Regenerate” is a site-specific installation intended for First Night Austin 2009.  At 3pm on December 31, 2008, we will be hanging mobiles made of branches and jute from the trees on triangle island. We invite everyone present to contribute a "Prayer Butterfly" to this project by writing a prayer, hope, wish, positive thought or resolution for our environment on a corn husk butterfly. These butterflies will be added to the mobiles. For those outside Austin who wish to participate, you can submit a prayer to us - we will be adding prayers received from outside Austin as well. Please help us to transform Austin's "Triangle Island" into an island of hope and intention for the new year. The more participation we can get, from Austin but also from all over the world, the greater the impact we will have.

If you are in Austin please stop by on First Night and take part in the construction, or write your prayer at the triangle. (If your in Austin on Saturday and have a pair of scissors I’ll but you pizza and beer in exchange for cutting out butterflies!) If you are anywhere else in the world? Go to the site and submit your prayer, hope, wish, positive thought or resolution for our environment. There will be tons of pictures of the construction and final installation over in the Regeneration gallery so keep checking in.

And honestly? The more people from the more places that contribute to the installation the better it’s going to be.

So tell you friends.

Tell your theatres.

Tell your churches and synagogues and covens.

Take a step, participate.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who watches the Watchmen (and women)?

Lots of people watch the watchmen honestly. With roughly 4.3 trillion interested parties watching their every semicolon, theatre critics get banged around an awful lot for their daily bread. I would wager that on any given production the (non-appreciative) critic takes more abuse than any of the actual creators, without so much as their Mom telling them that they’re pretty and did the words in the right order.

But apparently Steven Leigh Morris at the LA Weekly thinks that they need more regulation and tighter scrutiny.

Of course, being a bear of very small brain, I am flummoxed.

Critic-O-Meter is a review aggregator. That’s what Rob and Isaac are doing. It’s what they said they were going to do. It’s a pretty great service if you’re in the greater New York area. I guess I’m not sure why they’re drawing fire for it.

There is a need for Higher Theatrical Criticism. I don’t think anyone is arguing the negative there, if they are I haven’t read them. But it is not every person’s responsibility to fight every fight. If Colin Mitchell and  Steven Leigh Morris feel the need to fight that fight, more power to them and godspeed. I know that Tony Adams over at jayraskolnikov was Critiquing the Critics for a while (before other - more pressing - duties called) and good on’em.

But that’s not what Rob and Isaac are doing. They aren’t looking to have the conversation with the critic. They are looking to provide a place where the existing critical material about Broadway and Off Broadway shows can be found and clicked through. Why this has LA so pissed is beyond me.

This doesn’t destroy any of the deeper discourse on theatre. Isaac and Rob are both very active participants in all manner of conversation, high and low, as pertains to our favorite anachronism. They do it under their own names, in their own spaces.

Blaming a review aggregator for the fact that George Bernard Shaw isn’t going to see [Title of Show] and deconstructing the deconstruction is, frankly, idiotic. I had no idea they MADE strawmen that large. The library didn’t kill Shakespeare. 

Maybe it’s something I’m picking up from my wife, or maybe it’s the 8 years of being called unMurkin, but I grow ever more tired of people deciding what everyone else should do. Colin and Tony, kudos for following your gut, and responding to the gatekeepers. And Mr. Morris, I enjoy your work when I stop in (out here in the provinces I don’t have much need for show reviews from Gomorrah) keep that LA scene on it’s toes, and maybe Travel + Leisure will have y’all a tenth of a point ahead of us next year instead of behind. (I’m kidding, it’s Travel + Leisure and we have ZERO beaches)

But everyone needs to stop bitching about what everyone else should be doing, especially if it’s not touching your work. If you see a lack, a hole on the fabric of our business, step up. If you can’t for some reason, ask for help, or point it out. You want Higher Discourse? There are limitless pixel inches for you to create it any time you want. You want to simply read the Higher Discourse? George Hunka is available 24/7 at

Be part of the solution or go watch teevee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

See… The Idea is to do this massive theatre piece

This is a post regarding my reaction to Synecdoche, New York, a film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) I have no idea what would constitute as a spoiler for this movie but I’m not screening for them so if you’re going to see it and are sensitive to such things please don’t read this until such time as you have gotten an opportunity to see it.

To start with the 7th grade term paper staple I will define my terms:

A synecdoche (sin – EK – doh - kee) is a figure of speech in which the one of the following (or its reverse) is expressed: A part stands for a whole.

There is a cottage industry springing up for folks trying to explain this movie. Which seems a shame as they are spending time trying to intellectualize their response (rather than go with their emotional response) when Charlie Kaufman told you what it was about in the title.

Synedoche, New York (henceforth the shorter SNY) is Charlie Kaufman’s examination of the artists’ life, his experience in the artists’ life. The first criticism of this film, and most Serious Films (and make no mistake – this is a Serious Film), is that it is pretentious and masturbatory. Which is shorthand for “I didn’t like it so the artist is an elitist asshole who made it too hard”… but I digress.

The film opens with Kaufman avatar Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard, a regional theatre director languishing in Schenectady in an unfulfilling relationship with his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and young daughter. He is about to open a dreadful, unfulfilling production of Death of a Salesman (perhaps the prototypical America self-deception drama) and is failing at therapy.

Adele (who takes the life she examines and contains it on tiny canvases) bails with Olive for Germany, and global fame and success (highlighted by an ‘extra’ in Caden’s later opus walking through wearing a faded ‘Adele’ t-shirt), while Caden begins to mentally and physically fall apart and we first begin to slipstream through time. Caden loses months without recognizing it, only being made aware of it by amorous coworker Hazel.

Caden receives notification that he has received a Macarthur Fellowship, announces to a not-listening Adele (via phone) that he is going to make something big and real and true, acquires a hangar in New York and sets to.

And now, the scene set, the movie really begins, and becomes impossible to describe linearly.

So we move on to why in the world I’m writing this all down in a theatre blog.

Two reasons.

Reason the first?

The Grand Overarching Theme of Synedoche, New York is Caden Cotard’s synecdoche. Caden immerses himself in his Great Work. His synecdoche is theatre. He substitutes the work for the whole of life, and it consumes him. Time compresses, and relationships tangle, knot, and slip away in moments until the fiction of his engrossing production becomes his only reality.

Reason the second?

Caden works on this production from early midlife until his (and most of the casts’) death. It is never finished because in his quest for ultimate reality each new person that he or a cast member interacts with needs to be added to the cast. Their lives and homes become part of the Synecdoche, New York he has had constructed in the hanger inside the Real New York.

Without predetermined boundaries (Caden would call them out for fake) the network of stories is as large as the population at any given moment. You can never tell them all. Or as Caden discovered, tell even one with all the richness and truth that it truly deserves.

Everything is a choice. How much of your life will you devote to your art? Really and truly devote? How much will you live in the Real World with everyone else? How does that balance compromise or enrich the work or your life? Separately, at what point does the chase for Truth and Purity in art become destructive, because no audience ever gets to view it?

Please understand, this isn’t a post where Travis explains it all to you. This is what I got out of this film on this viewing in this moment in my life. I really think that it’s going to say different things to me each time I view it, and I will view it several more times. I recommend that you give it a try if you have a chance.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Not for nothing…

But will the last show open on Broadway remember to feed the cat and turn out the lights?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I’m a baseball fan.

I love stats and leaderboards and comparisons, even if the criteria are completely opaque and arbitrary.

Travel + Leisure runs lists of, y’know, everything. Best everything bagel under $2, top 20 fresh mozzarellas… I mean it’s pretty comprehensive.

They ran a list of the top 25 theatre cities
(H/T AmericanTheatreWeb)

Rank      Score      City
1     4.90     New York
2     4.52     Chicago
3     4.50     Minneapolis/St. Paul
4     4.30     San Francisco
5     4.26     Boston
6     4.25     Washington, D.C.
7     4.19     Las Vegas
8     4.06     Seattle
9     4.05     Philadelphia
10     3.97     Portland, Oregon
11     3.92     Austin
12     3.91     Los Angeles
13     3.87     Nashville
14     3.85     Charleston
15     3.84     Denver
16     3.83     San Diego
17     3.72     Atlanta
18     3.69     Santa Fe
19     3.66     San Antonio
20     3.62     Dallas/Fort Worth
21     3.60     New Orleans
22     3.54     Orlando
23     3.47     Miami
24     3.45     Phoenix/Scottsdale
25     3.36     Honolulu

SO THERE LA! Travel + Leisure couldn’t find your theatre apparently…

Surprises for you?

For me, Austin being 11 and so close to the top 10 is a little surprising. But then when I asked myself who should be higher I couldn’t figure a better answer. San Antonio being on the list is a little surprising, it beating out Houston a little MORE surprising.

Las Vegas? Over Seattle?

But I’m interested in your thoughts. What would you change if you wrote for Travel + Leisure?

(and no I have NO IDEA what criteria they used… if you find a mention of it somewhere let me know and I’ll edit away.)

ETA: "Travel + Leisure teamed up with CNN Headline News and asked travelers to rank 25 top U.S. cities in 45 categories[...]. More than 125,000 opinionated travelers voted."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One eyed, one horned, flying purple people something something

I have very few theatrical pet peeves. I do have a loathing of actors who refuse to recognize that English is an idiomatic language ( SO SPEAK IT THAT WAY), and I dislike alcohol mixed with performance, but really you're more likely to annoy me on an individual level than on a global issue.  

I get very frustrated by the lack of public vocabulary for theatre. Last week as he was preparing to come see the Nina Variations a coworker asked what the "proper" thing to call the play was, because I was continually referring to it as a production, and I had rather unceremoniously extracted the manhood of the CAD tech who wanted to know why I was spending so much time on "[my] skits".

But the public's sliding scale of what they consider small theatre to be is the most frustrating to me. Part of it is my issue, I want to be taken seriously, and I work hard to make sure that my work product reflects that. But the general population has no idea how to classify small theatre. 

Michael Barnes in a warm and mostly complimentary piece on his on his Out and About blog (part of the Austin-American Statesman's Austin360 site) talks about Different Stages' current production of Shaw's Getting Married, and calls them "Austin's most literate community theater". Which he means as the compliment it almost is, except that Norman Blumensaadt and Different Stages is a multiple award winning theatre group judged on the same merits as the multimillion dollar Zach Scott Theatre.

I have nothing against community theatre, but there is a marked difference between professional caliber production that doesn't get paid, and amateurs whose primary reason for performing is for themselves. If we label our high quality small theatre groups with the same brush that we label our committed amateurs we are sinking an audiences motivation to see the work. 

I regularly have to deal with people whose response to a show invitation (with professional marketing materials) is: "my niece did a play last year". Not their fault, they are trying to remember the last time they went to a show and relate to the interaction that's currently happening, but there is no universe in which that connection should be made.

So we need to be careful with our labeling, even if that makes us arugula eating snobs. If I am being judged against the same standards as the closest thing the Austin area has to a regional theatre, and the area's major university programs, I need for our brightest producing companies to not be considered in the audience-going mind with non-professionals. You don’t compare a web startup to a lemonade stand no matter that they are both businesses in their beginning stages.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The End

The Nina Variations run is over, the set struck (all of 45 minutes) and so a chapter is closed. I’ll have a broader post-mortem later, but for a show that was successful primarily because of its first rate cast and top notch writing there is no better eulogy than the text  itself. So for now I leave you with some favorite lines from the show.

  1. “You have form enough. You have paper in front of you. You’ve twenty-six letters and thousands of days. And you have a piece of God’s own mind in your blood. A mind that knows no horizon. How dare any of us say we need more than that?”
  2. “How Long!? This is only one answer to that question – the question that always pours out of the mouths of the stupid people who’ve done nothing with their lives but sit back in fat contempt, smothering the dreams and ridiculing the attempts of those foolhardy – no, courageous – enough to put their desperation into words. How long did it take me to write this play? The same to it takes to write every play: one entire life. That’s how long.”
  3. “We are tricked by youth. It teaches us that new adventures will arrive each day. And, like misinformed children, we carry this lie onward into our lives. And what arrives instead – day after day after day – is sameness. Habit. “Form.” And, thus we have but one goal: to build a life which will accommodate boredom.”
  4. “If we can’t form strong opinions about something we know nothing of, how can we ever fall in love?”
  5. Nina:… You can’t let circumstance dictate the ending. A pencil sharpener breaking – a random event like that-
    Treplev: Why not? How better to end than through chance?
    Nina: But Kostya--
    Treplev: What could be more like our lives?
  6. “What right has the future to demand ignorance of us? Out fault is in asking too little, in waiting – like foolish, obedient dogs sitting in the rain – waiting to be told our fate. We carry all the future we need – here, in our heads and hearts. So, let us invent it Nina. Let us shape it to suit our needs. So, that when we arrive… the future will be like a familiar room. Each small object in its place. Home to a thousand quiet comforts.”
  7. There was a time, I had quiet epiphanies.I’m hungry. I like him. The lake is lovely. That song is sad. There was a time when I was mystery, and not monologue.
  8. I’ve decided that critics are our salvation. They are the wisest, kindest, most caring, most committed people in all the world. They are selfless, compassionate individuals who have sacrificed their own assuredly great careers as artists – in order to give those of use with lesser talent a fighting chance.
  9. Nina: It’s a very good play
    Treplev: Thank you. But?
    Nina There are no people in it.
    Treplev: That’s true. And?
    Nina: And nothing happens in it.
  10. “And now I know, Kostya. I understand that in our work the main thing is not fame, nor glory. Not the things I dreamed about… But the ability to endure. To endure whatever trials fate has in store for you – without losing faith in yourself. I have that faith now. And I am not afraid of life.”


To Steven Dietz, who created this jewel of a script, and to Aaron Hallaway and Rachel McGinnis who dared to trust it every night, my humblest thanks. I have never been prouder of a production.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hating the suck…

or “You can’t lead a horse to water if he’s convinced that he only needs Diet Coke(tm)”

Adam Thurman is one of my must-reads. Granted, on my particular RSS bender that means he’s in my Top 50 but that’s not bad! One the reasons I most love reading him is because he writes as unapologetically in his way as Don Hall. I don;t have to parse what Adam is saying, he just says it.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t disagree sometimes, I do, I just like that I know when I disagree with him.

This of course is one of those times.

Adam says in re: his public speaking competitors:

“And the truth is, a lot of them sucked.  They were (in my eyes) horrible speakers, who bought nothing new or interesting to the table.

As I watched these mediocre (but well paid) speakers do their thing, a huge smile started spreading across my face.  I'll explain why in a sec.

When my time to speak finally came, I busted my ass to deliver the best content I could.  I used every trick in my "public speaking" bag.  When it was done, I was exhausted but the audience loved it.”

Alright there’s nothing to disagree with there. That’s just right.

But it doesn’t apply to me. I don’t think it applies to anyone in Austin, and I’m not sure it applies to anyone in “indie theatre” in 2008. That’s not to say that there isn’t bad theatre going on here, there or anywhere, that sure would be idiotic of me, but we don;t really have The Big Boy Producing Crap here in Austin. We have road houses for that, and the road houses aren’t sucking the oxygen out of the room for us.

The biggest boy on the block here in town is the Zach Scott Theatre and to a lesser degree Austin Shakespeare. Both are aggressive living organizations, they may make missteps, but it’s not due to lowest common denominator serving (they use Christmas moneymakers to fund a pretty reasonable season).

The tier under those two (funds-wise) are high profile innovating small theatre groups. Many have their own spaces, but not all of them. I’m in the third tier and I think you have a pretty good idea of what I’m about.

But Zack or Austin Shakes or TexArts or Salvage Vanguard or the University programs sucking does me no good.


In Adam’s parable he is in a closed system with his competitor. The audience is going to see them both. So the only thing you have to do is be better than your competitor.

That’s not the problem I face.

My potential audience isn’t in the habit of going to the theatre.
They don’t have a vocabulary for it.
They’re unsure of the rules.

My primary (successful) marketing is still acquaintance/personal touch marketing. I have to teach them how to watch and where.

I’m not competing with my big brothers, waiting to take over when they fail (or target a LCD), I’m competing with their memories of t hat time their daughter did a skit in the second grade. I can talk all I want about my potential audiences love of brand, but when they have no vocabulary it doesn’t even matter if the Gatekeepers give their blessing on your production.

I am part of a known entity producing team with recent local awards nominations for our work, three glowing reviews, and polished publicity materials for a respected show by a known local playwright.


Meigs Large JPG

Good seats still available for the final three performances!


I will be over the moon if I clear 150 paid.

That’s ridiculous.

But to improve it? I need for every time that theatre touches a person in this town for it to be positive. I need for them to be leaning towards me when I approach them, not away. I need for them to have seen a Vortex show that one time, of their friends took them to see the Rude Mechs, and it needs to be positive or even personal touch marketing won’t work.

I need (and will be spending the rest of my time in Austin) to have a united front up and down the funding ladder. We need to be talking to each other and helping each other. We must hang togther, else we shall most assuredly hang separately.

I also really want to amend Austin’s second most pretentious t-shirt slogan (after Keep Austin Weird):


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Content about content.

Tony Adams causing a ruckus again. You’d think he’d be distracted by imminent natal events but noooooooooooo.

I don’t know why you don’t post more about the content of your (or others’) work.

Why don’t I?


  1. Time
    To talk about content you need to do your homework. Or rather, I need to do my homework. I can stand publishing half baked thoughts about something, it makes my itchy.  That takes me a long time.
  2. I’m a coward.
    I can tear apart others’ work as well as you can. I just know that I need these people later, so I talk to THEM about it, not you.
  3. This thing is turned on!
    This blog exists as a record of all of my work, I’m not going to talk down the core of what my company is doing and leave a bread-crumb trail. But I tear apart my own work mercilessly. I’m not in this to be mediocre, so I am constantly trying to improve. And I share that fairly unvarnished look at my personal work which I don’t mind being accountable for to whoever chooses to hold me to it.
  4. No one cares.
    500 words is about the limit. After that people skip it. “But I read EVERYTHING”. Maybe you do, but most people don’t and I don’t need to publically share my breakdown of something if there’s no one on the other end of the line. (This does not invalidate #3, search exists).


In addition? RVCBard is more naked about process (and content) than anyone I can think of, but I am wary of participating in any way despite the implied permission, because I’m not a partner to that process. I think the same would be true if I were to open up about personal content issues here.

But the biggest single reason I don’t blog about content?

That’s not what I do.

That’s not my explicit part of this process. I do just about everything but content creation on most projects. On The Nina Variations I am the producer, the scenic and lighting designer, and the master carpenter and electrician. Will, Rachel or Aaron are in prime positions to talk about the text, or the production process, but I am outside of that loop on the Venn diagram, and this space’s primary reason for existing is for me to figure me out -to suss out my own theatre philosophy.

I will discuss content with y’all on Cambiare Productions’ upcoming Orestes. Will and I will be crafting content for that, and I will have thoughts on both the content itself and our process for it.

As a side note to you content junkies: Art Street Theatre (who I want to be when I grow up) published a book reviewing their first five years. It is an energizing piece of work. It delves into their collaborative creation process and the success of each part of that process. I’m not sure if Mark even still has copies available, but you can try to order that here. You can’t have mine, it’s on the Nina Variations set.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blessed are the feet of him…

Waiting to see The Nina Variations until you get some positive feedback?

AustinLiveTheatre would like you to look here:

"...this was the most deeply satisfying theatrical experience I’ve had since beginning my exploration of Austin theatre last year."

"...Add to that intellectual stimulation the fact that the acting is of the very highest quality. It had to be – with two characters working one another and working the text, any false note would have thrown the whole exercise into the “interesting but so what?” category. Their pacing, silences, concentration, gestures, congruence of character to the originals in The Seagull – nothing was lacking."

"Gobotrick’s Nina Variations is a brilliant, consistent, heart-rending series of riffs on Chekhov’s characters, one which preserves Chekhov’s sensibilities and reminds us gently and insistently that life is here, life is now, life is immediate, and all our choices are full of meaning."

Full Review

Now will you come and see it?


If you’re in Austin or it’s environs I highly recommend that you hi yerself to Tutto Theatre’s Ophelia over at the Blue Theatre. I caught the Sunday show and it’s worth every penny. If you’re a Shakespeare nerd you should have to pay double. It’s a retelling of Ophelia’s story between the pages… effectively the offstage  life we are normally  deprived unfolds as we watch five Ophelia’s erode into singular madness.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Walking the Walk

I have talked a bit about my feelings regarding indie theatre design aesthetics, and you know that I try to hold myself accountable for living up to my own bumperstickers, so with The Nina Variations (good seats still available!) open: let’s go get my report card.

To review in brief:

  • Stop complaining about the budget.
  • Leverage technology.
  • Leverage the two things indie theatre (usually has):
    Willing help and time.
  • Design within your skill limitations.
  • Design far enough to look good, and not so far that you can’t make it look finished.
  • Design to your mission statement.
    If you are a text focused, or actor/director focused troupe… don’t drop your entire budget on the aesthetic.




This was my lab really.

I had no constraints on the design. The only limits were a budget of about $700 and my own paltry carpentry skills. 





The goals:

A tight isolated playing space on the floor of the theatre rather than the stage. We wanted to mask the stage off from the audience and play the show in a vary intimate 100 seat 3/4 thrust. I needed a projection surface for the variation numbers and room for a desk.

Everything else was up to me.

I decided immediately that I wanted a wide plank floor.
In looking at image after image online of plank flooring we knew that we wanted vintage pine floors. Unfortunately… so does everyone else, and our budget wouldn’t allow for True Vintage. Instead I decided to stain the flooring, and after consulting with Will (the director) we went with a nice walnut color.

As it turns out, I am an amateur floor stainer. Not really news, but it worked in our favor. The deck look really nice and glossy under street lighting with reddish undertones. Under stage lighting however it blasts out to a farmhouse warm-yellow-brown and shows all of the inconsistencies in my application… which looks great.

For the masking I had decided on curtains  because we couldn’t come up with a reasonable projection surface, and we didn’t want walls. I wanted the drape and color of the curtains to mimic traditional theatre curtains in line with my eventual design concept that they were performing this Seagull mashup on the lakeside stage (yes it was late in the process, but I got there).

The desk and chair were both happy accidents as our AD and stage manager had the right pieces. The set is dressed simply with theatre books and a few writing aids (all from my library) to block off the under desk a bit from the audience and as part of my (now apocryphal) idea that they had been doing this for longer than the length of the play. Also, in a bout of no foresight, I didn’t treat the underlayment, and didn’t finish the sides of the planks. Thus the inevitable seams  showed brand new raw wood. Not acceptable.

In a funny moment that can only happen after a long day of load-in I asked myself what my wife’s friend Sarah would do. Now Sarah is briiliant, she was one of the designers/creators of Transformations this spring, and she stops at nothing to Get It Right. So playing What Would Sarah Do? is a worthwhile game. My tired brain said that Sarah would mix paint with the sawdust (on stage proper) and essentially grout with it. I was going to do no such thing. I had no paint, not enough sawdust, and would make a huge bloody wreck of the whole thing. “Well. Alright. I just need to cover the raw wood. I don’t need to ‘treat’ it… dirt. I’ll just sweep dirt into the cracks!”

And I did. I took some potting soil in on Tuesdya and spent a half-hour or forty five minutes sweeping dirt into the cracks. It covered (or dirtied) the raw wood, it took the high gloss of my onecoat poly/stain AND it took care of all but the biggest creaks in my floor. (Thanks Sarah!)

Also, in a sidebar.. our space is an older municipal building, and it smells like an older municipal building. So we mist with clove oil… control the experience as much as you can.

Overall, (dirt aside) the results are very clean if still imperfect. My “lighting design” doesn’t really serve the piece, and is too hemmed in by the chosen space layout and the need to be off the back wall. The pipe pockets on the black curtains are uneven, and I haven’t hit on a good (cheap/free) treatment for the top curtain seam or the hanging chains.

But it stays out of the way of the incredibly solid acting (once we take the curtains off the upstage lip) and most importantly: it doesn’t look cheap. There is nothing on the set found, borrowed, purchased  or donated that wasn’t chosen. It may not have been the first choice, it may not be the best choice, but it wasn’t because “Well that’s the best we can do, we’re poor”.

That’s the first step.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ti-i-i-ime is on my side

A Not-An-Interview with Travis Bedard

Where the hell have you been?

Mostly on my back porch staining the floor for The Nina Variations plank by plank.


Also? flooding the market with cut rate press releases and talking to anyone who’ll listen about the show. Oh and getting a small City of Austin Cultural Arts Commission grant to help offset some of the costs of the show (Thank you Commissioners!)

You’ve Done Nothing For the Last Month but Show Production?

Well. Nothing much that you’d care about. I carried some water for Ivan Klousia’s production of Twelfth Night over at St. Michaels’ School. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I saw Cyndi Williams’ Dug Up over at Austin Playhouse’s second stage and was very impressed.

It features Jude Hickey and Liz Fisher who are in town royalty, and a new to me Jessie Tilton in a gothic Tennessee Williams’ tale set in post-Katrina Louisiana. It features that classic classic Williams’ “Traditional family shatters leaving the pieces to form a new family” center with a tasty dark chocolate coating. It is more than worth your while to check it out. All three performers are at the top of their game, and it plays beautifully in the (extremely) cozy confines of the King Theatre. A smart, engaging Halloween confection.

You heard me.

Aside from the brilliant Nina Variations, what else is hopping in Austin?

Lord it’s busy down here.

Dustin Wills and Tutto Theatre are remounting his well loved Ophelia with his over at the Blue Theatre with the Design Justice League.

Shannon McCormick opens Unbeaten at Salvage Vanguard.

Different Stages is about to open Shaw’s Getting Married at The Vortex.

Austin Circle of Theatres is having it’s annual self-celebration this Sunday with the B. Iden Payne Awards ceremony (nominees include Rachel McGinnis from the brilliant Nina Variations), which ceremony is being lit by the most beautiful and underappreciated lighting designer in Austin.

SIDEBAR!: Over in LA they are about to have the Ovation Awards, and Don Shirley over at LA City Beat rails against the nominating process:

Why are only 12 voters required to see a qualifying show – and why is each voter required to see only 25 shows? Because of L.A.’s notorious distances? Boo-hoo. The voting pool should be reduced only to those voters who commit to seeing at least 50 or 75 or even 100 shows. If there were fewer but better informed voters, maybe L.A. Stage Alliance could arrange to pay a gas stipend.

Looking at my calendar…

I see 52 weeks. So in Mr. Shirley’s world you need to see a show every single week to be qualified to nominate. Despite the fact that most of the committee members are producing artists! I tell you. I can afford to see 15-20 shows a year. If I’m comped to every show I can see 40. If I want to ignore my wife and go out every weekend whether she wants to participate or not.

So should nominators for awards be limited to retirees and misanthropes? I’m unclear as to the mechanics of seeing that much theatre in general, never mind having to have your critical wits about you. Are any of you on such a committee? What are your requirements?


If you really want to know about what’s going on theatrically in Austin you need to check out the yeoman’s effort going on at Michael Meigs is defying that lil sidebar and seeing EVERYTHING. And then writing well considered responses to them. The mind boggles.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I’m in here Somewhere

I’ve been a little lost in the haze of production.

We are in Week Three of rehearsals for The Nina Variations, which I am more in love with every time I hear it. Steven Dietz never lets his cleverness take center stage. Rarely have I read a meta-play that was less obnoxiously self-aware.

It is a blessing to have fewer roles on this production. I feel like we’re actually getting stuff done.

Given a three week run and (knock on wood) some press we might not have to cancel Christmas.

But the cast is the story right now.


A = Talent. God Given Raw Ability

B = Skill. The Ability to USE Talent

C = Hard Work

D = Material. The Play.

You get to make the choice between A and B at auditions. Generally on this level you don’t get both in large quantities.

C comes with professionalism and personal drive, which generally means they’ve moved away.

D is usually the only thing you can control about the situation.


We have hit the jackpot.

If they can keep this pace up the show is really going to be something special.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I am not Isaac

But I’m going to respond anyway, so there.

Rob Weinert-Kendt posted:

Though I'm sure that all of us, in our darker moments, have thought a version of the following thought, it's still a little chilling and/or bracing to see it laid out so matter-of-factly, by Santa Fe-based arts writer Craig Smith:

Speaking as a former nonprofit administrator and fundraiser, I think [performing arts] groups should be looking to form partnerships or mergers, or even shut down and pass the assets on to healthier groups, if necessary, to keep their mission alive. As Jung quoted Freud: "Sometimes the doctor should not try to cure at all costs." Ditto for nonprofits: better to end an organization's life and pass assets on.
It would require self-sacrifice from some people, and put some out of a job quite possibly. But organizations with similar missions banding together ... could save energy, time, and resources they could then apply to doing what they are supposed to do: help, excite, refresh, renew, feed, counsel, support, cheer, nourish, nurse, and heal.

Though the LA Times' arts blog, Culture Monster, calls this a "supply and demand" approach, frankly it sounds more Soviet in its thinking and in its likely effects. Take it away, Isaac.

The large majority of performing arts groups don’t have a specific mission. Their mission is ‘we do plays’. Which is fine. I actually have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the 60% of performers arts groups with the mission ‘we do plays’ doesn’t work together. They may talk, they may go out for drinks, and they usually see each other’s shows. But they don’t generally work together.

I have often (in person) talked about Cambiare Productions (my theatre company with Will Snider)  being a theatre label more than a company. I am interested in collecting talent, but not at the exclusion of their working on other projects. When you don’t have a specific style (Vampire Cowboys, Yellow Tape) or method of creation (Rude Mechs, Rubber Rep) you don’t need to hoard people. And you shouldn’t be working with the same people nonstop. Stagnation is stagnation even if you’re stagnant with the most talented people you can find. I would much rather do projects as they come up with whoever is bringing them up than try to carve my own too small space.

I think that eliminating redundancies by doing co-productions is advisable. I think that in small independent theatre situations that the ego of My Company can get in the way of creating the best art.

I think that a healthy community will have a core of companies with many smaller more fluid companies in metaphorical orbit. Resources will find appropriate homes , and new alchemies will be discovered as people work in different combinations regularly. The talent, the magic as it were, is in the people, and in the combinations of people, not in a name or a facility.

Of course none of this has anything to do with people who make money at this… they have different concerns.

10 Things I Hate About Presumption

Brendan Kiley fills a slow week with a top ten list just like a blogger, except of course he has the weight of The Stranger’s masthead behind him.

He assumes that theatre producers are swimming in money and are just afraid of using it to entertain him fully. He also manages to mishmash the problems of shoestring indie theatre and The Regionals as though they were the same set of problems with the same remedies. He also assumes that The Audience wants all the same things he does.

Man I hate that crap.

But he’s a pretty smart guy, isn’t 100% wrong, and deserves a rebuttal not a brush-off, and definitely not the weird “here’s a link go read this” ole the theatrosphere seems to have given it, (except for Dennis Baker).

1. Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already. The greatest playwright in history has become your enabler and your crutch, the man you call when you're timid and out of ideas. It's time for a five-year moratorium—no more high schoolers pecking at Romeo and Juliet, no more NEA funding for Shakespeare in the heartland, and no more fringe companies trying to ennoble themselves with Hamlet. (Or with anything. Fringe theater shouldn't be in the game of ennobling, it should be in the game of debasement.) Stretch yourself. Live a little. Find new, good, weird plays nobody has heard of. Teach your audiences to want surprises, not pacifiers.

I feel for him. The number of Shakespeare, and BAD Shakespeare, that any professional/semi-professional theatregoer has to endure must be terrible. The thing is? That’s not true of the audience, and Shakespeare gives the producing company both room to play and a built in Audience. Also? Free to produce. I don’t begrudge Steven Dietz the money I owe him for producing his play, I love it and he’s earned it, but I sure could use that money elsewhere.

Also? It’s not Brendan Kiley’s job to tell me what my job is. If I choose to ennoble myself or my audience that IS my job. Not every show needs to be Blasted, indeed Blasted would lose its impact if they were.

2. Tell us something we don't know. Every play in your season should be a premiere—a world premiere, an American premiere, or at least a regional premiere. Everybody has to help. Directors: Find a new play to help develop in the next 12 months. Actors: Ditto. Playwrights: Quit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop—get them out there. Critics: Reward theaters that risk new work by making a special effort to review them. Unions, especially Actors' Equity: You are a problem. Fringe theaters are the research-and-development wing of the theater world, the place where new work happens—but most of them can't afford to go union, so union actors are stuck in the regional theaters, which are skittish about new work and early-career playwrights. You must break this deadlock by giving a pass to union actors to work in nonunion houses, if they are working on new plays.

This is the moment where I question Whether Kiley has ever attempted to produce a show… I assume he has, but if you are even attempting Good Old Unsubsidized theatre and you don’t already have a brand name to trade off of, premieres are death. Runs are too short, and  press is too spotty to get it where it needs to be. This is exactly how you never produce another show.

Actors have no say.

And the poor playwrights. Has he TALKED to a playwright? I mean can you talk to a playwright about development without them breaking into hives and/or foaming at the mouth? This is on the producers honestly, and see point one.

3. Produce dirty, fast, and often. Fringe theaters: Recall that 20 years ago, in 1988, a fringe company called Annex produced 27 plays, 16 of them world premieres—and hang your heads in shame. This season, Annex will produce 10 plays, 4 of them world premieres, which is still pretty good. Washington Ensemble Theatre will only produce three plays, one of them a world premiere. (An adaptation of... Shakespeare!) What else happened in 1988? Nirvana began recording Bleach—and played a concert at Annex Theatre. By the next year, Nirvana was on their first world tour. The lesson: Produce enough new plays and Kurt Cobain will come back from the grave and play your theater.

Um. There are two of us and no trust fund. I don’t think he’s wrong per se, producing a ton means that you build a brand name. But the resources needed to get this done are – well it’s mind boggling.

4. Get them young. Seattle playwright Paul Mullin said it best in an e-mail last week: "Bring in people under 60. Do whatever it takes. If you have to break your theater to get young butts in seats, then do it. Because if you don't, your theater's already broke—the snapping sound just hasn't reached your ears yet."

This is true, and I think the Fringe is doing fine at this. This is a problem for The Regionals with their reported blue-hair subscriber base.

5.Offer child care. Sunday school is the most successful guerrilla education program in American history. Steal it. People with young children should be able to show up and drop their kids off with some young actors in a rehearsal room for two hours of theater games. The benefits: First, it will be easier to convince the nouveau riche (many of whom have young children) to commit to season tickets. Second, it will satisfy your education mission (and will be more fun, and therefore more effective, for the kids). Third, it will teach children to go to the theater regularly. And they'll look forward to the day they graduate to sitting with the grown-ups. Getting dragged to the theater will shift from punishment to reward.

We actually want to do this with our current show. Our audience is young and has the kids… but personnel, liability insurance, and space are factors. Also: SEE-SUN TIH-KUTS? Wazdat? Brendan? Fringe or Regionals?

6. Fight for real estate. In 1999, musician Neko Case broke up with Seattle, leaving us for Chicago. (It still hurts, Neko.) When asked why in an interview, she explained, "Chicago is a lot friendlier, especially toward its artists. Seattle is very unfriendly toward artists. There's no artists' housing—they really like to use the arts community, but they don't like to put anything back into the arts community." Our failure abides. Push government for cheap artists' housing and hook up with CODAC, a committee that wants developers on Capitol Hill—and, eventually, everywhere—to build affordable arts spaces into their new condos. (CODAC's tools of persuasion: tax, zoning, and business incentives.) Development smothers artists, who can't afford the rising property values that they—by turning cheap neighborhoods into trendy arts districts—helped create. To get involved with CODAC, e-mail

I really like this idea. But I do think that the thought process behind it contradicts his Point 9. Why is it more beneficial to communities and artists to subsidize the housing of artists but not the artists themselves? If artists are to expect poverty why are they called to expect an Artistic Section 8 benefit?

I love tax benefits for arts spaces in neighborhoods. I think arts zoning should be a prominent part of the push in urban areas for vertical mixed use, and to decrease 6PM roll up in downtown areas.

7. Build bars. Alcohol is the only liquid on earth that functions as both lubricant and bonding agent. Exploit it. Treat your plays like parties and your audience like guests. Encourage them to come early, drink lots, and stay late. Even the meanest fringe company can afford a tub full of ice and beer, and the state of regional- theater bars is deplorable: long lines, overpriced drinks, and a famine of comfortable chairs. Theaters try to "build community" with postplay talkbacks and lectures and other versions of you've spent two hours watching my play, now look at me some more! You want community? Give people a place to sit, something to talk about (the play they just saw), and a bottle. As a gesture of hospitality, offer people who want to quit at intermission a free drink, so they can wait for their companions who are watching act two. Just take care of people. They get drinks, you get money, everybody wins. Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them. Do what it takes.

Ah. take your tax breaks and your subsidies and get parents drunk illegally while you take care of your kids. Apparently this is a Theatre Reform Value Menu: pick any two.

The Long Center here in Austin (get well soon Cliff) took this advice and created/purchased very nice portable bar stations that move from their reception venues to the lobbies to the corridors to where ever people are who might be parched. It may work, I don’t know I can’t afford to go see anything there, and The Long Center keeps all that money so the mechanics of it stopped interesting me.

But I think in general creating an in-house Third Space is a great idea.

8. Boors' night out. You know what else builds community? Audience participation, on the audience's terms. For one performance of each show, invite the crowd to behave like an Elizabethan or vaudeville audience: Sell cheap tickets, serve popcorn, encourage people to boo, heckle, and shout out their favorite lines. ("Stella!") The sucky, facile Rocky Horror Picture Show only survives because it's the only play people are encouraged to mess with. Steal the gimmick.

There are shows this works for. I mostly hate those shows. But I like the line of thinking, I’ve long admired Bill Veeck.

9. Expect poverty. Theater is a drowning man, and its unions—in their current state—are anvils disguised as life preservers. Theater might drown without its unions, but it will certainly drown with them. And actors have to jettison the living-wage argument. Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.

This is bizarre frankly. Not to pick on the plumbers again, but does anyone tell a plumber they shouldn’t expect a living wage? I mean I don’t expect to make my fortune, but “living wage” isn’t an unreal expectation. I understand it’s not the reality today, but we should stop talking about it? Bah. I retract my statement if Kiley didn’t mean “living wage” the way people who believe words have meaning do, but rather as a stand in for “enough to buy a two bedroom and raise a couple of kids with no other income”. If the latter, he’s correct.

10. Drop out of graduate school. Most of you students in MFA programs don't belong there—your two or three years would be more profitable, financially and artistically, out in the world, making theater. Drama departments are staffed by has-beens and never-weres, artists who might be able to tell you something worthwhile about the past, but not about the present, and certainly not about the future. Historians excepted—art historians are great. If things don't turn around, they may be the only ones left.

Ah yes, in an over-saturated market you should abandon the idea of networking. I agree with this point if you are getting your MFA SOLELY to go read in LA or New York. If you may teach, or want to direct, resumes matter, as do connections.

Don’t go to grad school to learn how to act.

The End

Friday, October 10, 2008

Have an Effect

First, Happy Birthday Mr. Pinter. I’m glad you’re still with us.

Last Friday night the wife and I took a rare (for this period in our lives) coordinated night off to go out and view a Major Motion Picture, we went to see Blindness at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Blindness is of course an adaptation of the Nobel Prize winning novel by Jose Saramago. The population of Everycountry is hit by an epidemic of The White Sickness, a milky white blindness, (as differentiated from congenital blindness) and the infected are herded into an abandoned asylum. Saramago uses the asylum as a societal reset to look at how dynamics change when we make our own rules, a sort of grown up Lord of the Flies now with oppression 2.0.

Full disclosure: I started to read the book, and stopped about 40% of the way through. If any work of fiction deserved the phrase “a meditation on”, Blindness is it. S-L-O-W. I also considered the book unfilmable. part of the experience of reading it is that you like the population you are suffering from a narrator imposed lack of sight. I didn’t think that you could achieve lack of sight in a visual medium.

I was wrong.

Fernando Meirelles shoots the movie beautifully, and mixes in enough distortion and occlusion to give us the feeling of not being able to see what exactly is happening, unless his Witness to the disintegration is the focus of the scene when we are treated to an almost garish amount of light. 

But the movie’s primary mode is claustrophobia. You are trapped as witness (with Julianne Moore) to this breakdown, and it’s hard to take. Which lead to the most memorable moment of the viewing for me.

No. Not the blind protestors out front.

The gentleman who during the beginning of the (truly horrifying)  group rape scene stood, turned to the Drafthouse crowd said “Fuck this shit…” and walked out, the first of what I believe were six walkouts total.

I have myself never walked out of a movie. Not even the Jeremy Iron’s classic ‘Dungeons and Dragons”.

But I can imagine the emotion necessary to overcome the group quiet of a movie theatre and leave. I cannot begin to think of what line you have to cross emotionally to announce your disgust.

If you’re bored you just sit in your seat and drink your beer, or meander out quietly. You don’t announce that you’re done.

So points to Fernando Meirelles and Jose Saramago. I long for my next deserved walkout.

My first of course (my first dozen) were for New World Order.

Happy Birthday Mr. Pinter, theatrical oppressor first class.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


How to Blog.


Oh Scott.

Scott Walters fresh off a long break (during which the Theatre Tribes manuscript had best have been at least first drafted ;) ) starts shooting at the feet of the theatre blogosphere for not caring enough quickly enough about what he cares about.

See, because promoting our own work and thinking about politics aren’t relevant to anything.

Scott, I’m as big a backer of yours as you’re going to find outside the group of folks whose grades you decide, and this and your martyred assertion that you and only you provide any energy in this sphere is a bit much.

I am required as a purveyor of an immediate art form to be alive and present in my world. I am required to know what I think about those things that are present in my world. My community doesn’t stop at the Austin City Limits. If I sit in the cesspool of only my own artform, only in my community I will stagnate, and so will my storytelling. You know that. So why is this all of a sudden Not Good Enough.

You disappear for months at a time from this virtual beer hall, and things still move along with quite a bit of velocity. Remember: you’re not reading all the same blogs we are, and you’re not writing for the same reasons we are. Further? Spitting on the people who sit above the water on this iceberg actually putting themselves out there at all for not putting themselves out there enough is ludicrous. I don’t have tenure. I need the people in this community. I can’t call folks out. I have to keep the Big Ideas vague.

Others not speaking to your priorities doesn’t equal lack of focus. Other’s not being pissed is not apathy. And theory is all well and good, but the minute I stop pushing this rock uphill in the real I stop mattering.

Now go read the 15 posts of mine you missed and have a cup of ginger tea. :)

And go read everything Don Hall has written in the last couple of weeks, which is more vulnerable, real, and human than we deserve.


There is a problem.

(Actually there is a better article here)

I’m going to ponder awhile as to where it lay, because kneejerk reactions are bad for you.

But while we’re here? There IS a problem. 12% in New York and 17% nationally without correcting for multiple productions isn’t a rounding error. And don’t come back with a meritocracy line. Meritocracy is a utopian ideal, this ain’t a meritocracy. Never has been, never will be. So if all you have is “if their plays were better they’d be produced” you are blind and need to get that taken care of.

And further? We care because there are stories we’re not telling to audiences we’re not serving, and for a couple million characters in search of an audience? That matters.

Now go read Isaac’s thoughts on it while daddy thinks.

P.S. Susan Jonas who co-authored the study and is a commenter on the original blog post (AND wrote the book on dramaturgy) was TOTALLY a professor at the University of New Hampshire while I was there… small world, no?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Just a simple breadcrumb trail…

Some time back I asked where people were supposed to find these Hot New Plays that No One Was Doing.

After the 6 week wind sprint to find an appropriate show to produce that ended in our selection of the Nina Variations I have to ask a pertinent follow up:

Where do you go to find any published work?

Now, you're going to say Dramatists, Samuel French, Amazon...

I'm producing shows on a shoestring I have a $50 paint budget, I can't drop $100 on texts. Which leaves aside the fact that even if I had $100 to put into the search I can't really take risks on scripts when I have a limited budget to acquire them. It also ignores the time factor. Local bookstores have a TERRIBLE drama/theatre section, even the really good bookstores, and good shipping cost money.

"Travis? Have you ever heard of the library?"

Oddly enough I have. Have you ever heard of Grad Students? The City library has the canon (just like me!), the UT library has LOTS of stuff. It's out. Did you return YOUR books at school? No you did not.

The goal is to take risks in show production. To expand the audiences experience and the performers. But if the pool of texts are whatever I happen to know off the top of my head that’s not going to happen.

I am not as theatre well read as I should be. Production and day job take  up the waking hours, and when I’m In Between I don’t want to hunker down with another script.

So the questions as I see them at this moment:

  • Where do YOU find new work without a solicitation or open call?
  • Where do you PURCHASE your published works?
  • Where do you find a well stocked collection of published works to plow through?
  • How do you selected plays to read?
  • Do you have play reading goals or periods around production to keep yourself immersed?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

True and False


True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor

Lest I for some reason forget to mention it later in this entry:
David Mamet is a self-impressed windbag.

This is a book that would feel better, less martyred, and truer if delivered by Don Hall over beer. Shorter too. (The expurgated Don Hall version; “Say the fucking words and mean it…”) I’m sure I am the last person in America to read this book so I will gloss the contents to get to my problems with it.

Mamet spends the first half of this short book mocking everything any actor has ever attempted to use to create a system for themselves. Systems are signs of fear in an actor according to Mamet.

Of course his hard target is Stanislavski, but his deconstruction of the Method is more slipshod than the average blog post, leading me to really hate the first half of the book. The easy criticism of the book is that it’s a writer telling performers to shut up and do the words, and stop trying to do anything BUT say the words. His choice to lob grenades instead of really digging in and taking the Method apart piece by piece reinforces that perception. It’s one thing to feel that a system has invalid points, or to even feel that having a system is the wrong choice, but the mocking tone really grates.

The secondary target of the first half of the book is acting training in general and  academia in general. So it’s a good thing that he is in no way affiliated with any sort of acting training program, that would be awkward…

The idea is that: due to the given invalidity of having any sort of process or system by which you approach a script or a role the concept of paying someone to teach is rank stupidty. Further it is real world avoidance. If you weren’t afraid of having a career in theatre, or of performing at all, you would simply head out into the real world and Do it.

Mamet’s conjecture throughout the first half of the book is that actor’s think too much, that acting is a 100% non-intellectual pursuit, and that actor’s need to get over themselves and do it. He seeks to strip anything academic, intellectual or mystical away from the craft of performance, asking how the musician or busker would approach performance. 

Thankfully the first half of the book ends and he actually shares some thoughts on How Things Should Be.

Which of course means that he puts back all the parts of Process that he thinks are valuable and gives them slightly different names.

  1. Mamet is wrong about a need for a system. And he knows it, which is why he suggests system in the second half of the book without calling it that.

    He suggests simply ‘breaking it down into smaller pieces’ and attack a script. But in a shortened rehearsal process in an itinerant work place you need a shared vocabulary. Mamet feels that you only need two weeks rehearsal. With a rep company who already shares a process and a vocabulary? Sure. If you eliminate both It’s simply not feasible.

    His frustration comes from the misguided application of any acting theory to performance itself. Actors coming from an academic background are taught to act via a method (Hagen, Meisner, Stanislavski et al) and they then take that method on stage with them. I’ve yet to run into the young actor who has been taught that they are rehearsal techniques and that by curtain they should be removed from performance much like concrete forms.
    This is not Algebra II, do not show all work.
    (This goes double for Viewpoints)
  2. I love his admonition to actors to simply perform each scene properly and let the writer (and I would add: director) worry about the arc of the character and the play. If actors approached every scene as an entity to itself we could eliminate the phrase '”playing the end” from the theatrical lexicon, and we’d be happier for it.
  3. Mamet desires for actors to play the scene with interesting actions, but never really answers how expects them to choose that action. The answer of course is that they (or the team) does a little dramaturgical digging and they come up with the best action (NOT intention – systems are for wimps) for the character.
    But by all means active interesting intention choices for all.
  4. Mamet talks a lot about actors doing Funny Voices without ever simply defining Funny Voices. So far as I can tell he means the heightened language trap that many actors fall into even in Realism, but as he didn’t define it I’m going to extrapolate his Say The Words As Written Loudly And Clearly through the No Funny Voices point to agree with me that the War on Idioms must be stopped.

    English is an idiomatic language. You speak in idioms every day. Feel free to stop trying to turn the idioms in your script into Shakespeare. (+1 for Mr. Mamet’s anti-intellectualism screed)
  5. Mamet in his quest to strip away a century of bullshit from the art of (especially American) acting attacks the mysticism as a pretension of the actors club. He asks why musicians and buskers don’t feel the need to Be Someone Else when they perform, and suggests that it is fear that drives actors to claim some sort of artistic shamanism.

    And then misuses a common legend a half dozen times. After trying to demystify the art, he exhorts actors to return to a time when actors were buried at a crossroads with a stake in their heart." A desire for actors to return to the boldness they once had.

    Of course the actors were buried like other mystical creatures (werewolves and vampires among others) because it was believed that they actually incarnated their characters, meaning that their souls were loosed from their bodies. The stake was to keep that loose soul from wandering about the moors.

    There is too much dependence by actors on this belief that they will Become Other, but the concept itself isn’t the destructive force that Mamet presents it as.
  6. He spends an awful lot of time telling actors to stop telling others after a show that they were “off tonight.” I get the sentiment. I am as guilty of it as anyone, and it’s passive aggressive and annoying to the participant. But much like talking to an athlete immediately after the game you’re going to get one of two things:
    A.) You get them in the process of them breaking down their performance.
    B.) You get the Bull Durham nothing of consequence litany.

    Audience members: Don’t ask if you don’t mean it.
    Actors: Don’t answer “Nice Job!” with “No it wasn’t”.
  7. Mamet seems unconcerned with repeatability. In the first half of the book he keeps going back to the idea of simply reacting to what you’re given every night rather than trying to adhere to a game plan, because one is honest and the other is artifice.

    That doesn’t work for me. The audience paid to see a show, not to see me figure out what I’m doing every night. If you can’t have honesty in your scenes repeatably, you’re not good. That doesn’t mean we toss out the idea of doing the show as intended every night.

    This whole piece doesn’t seem to jibe with his say the words right policy, but I could be misreading it.

Is there too much bullshit attached to the acting process? Sure.
Is there too much dependence on third-hand recollections of acting theory? Yes.
Are there too many charlatan acting teachers? Yes.

But that doesn’t mean we throw out the entire machinery. It means we scrape the rust off and get back down to the bare metal of what it is we do.

Can True and False help with that? Absolutely. Particularly the second half of the book. But read the whole thing because reexamining how you go about your craft and (frankly) getting all fired up about acting theory is good for you.


Have you read True and False?

What worked for you?

What didn’t?

What is YOUR single biggest pet peeve about current acting trends?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Your Wednesday Potpourri


If you are in Austin and I haven’t already invited you in some way, we (where we = Gobotrick Theatre Company) are holding auditions on Saturday for our November production of The Nina Variations by Stephen Dietz.

Drop me a comment for more info.

Google Chrome

There is no other tech news in this cycle. Google gots a browser. So you’re not a geek? You don’t try every app that comes down the tubes? Why is Chrome for you?

It probably isn’t.

Oh it’s faster than your browser. Mostly safer. Definitely simpler. But let’s face it… You don’t give up the SUV if you have the resources, no matter how ‘neat’ the Smart Car is. We like our cupholders and 12 speaker systems.

But you should download Chrome anyway.

But you just said… yeah yeah yeah. Chrome was built for one purpose. Applications.

There was was a small program called Bubbles that essentially ran browser windows for whatever you wanted that you could leave in your system tray as though the were running on your desktop. The problem of course was that is took a whole bunch of resources to leave it running.

Chrome has optimized the hell out of that process.

It’s not going to be you cruising browser. Not yet. but if you use Yahoo or Google calendars, Y!Mail or GMail, remember the Milk or another online task management system, Google notebook, or any of the online Office replacement products Chrome is something you’re going to want to splash into your life.

Create a toolbar with your Chrome links to those products and you will feel very much like they are operating from the desktop rather than the cloud. That’s a good thing.

Sarah Palin

Mock away. Hell, you most likely already have. I know I have.

But let me publish this before they dump her and I can’t take public credit for having thought it:

Sarah Palin will win John McCain the presidency.

You heard me.

John McCain was floundering with an unenergized base and an odd, hard to parse record (it depended on who he was trying to piss off at the time). The Democrats had an energized fringe and a fed up base that wanted to win even if their particular candidate wasn’t the torch bearer (PUMAs be damned – no f’reals).

And the cultural conservatives were out of play.

Let me step back.

What is the best way to energize the cultural conservatives in America?
Appeal to their persecution complex.

All politics isn’t local. It’s personal. Unless it’s not.
Picking on John McCain wasn’t personal for the cultural conservatives, he isn’t one of them. Their identity isn’t tied up in being a Republican, so Republican identity politics didn’t hit their hearts.

Sarah Palin is one of them. She is theirs. They know her, or someone like her. They know someone with a handful of kids (even with an autistic or Down’s Syndrome baby) from their church. They know someone who has a daughter who Got in Trouble despite their best teachings.

And now? Now the oh-so-smart liberals are making fun of her. Belittling her. Accusing her of bizarre backroom baby-switching. Now the liberals are condescending to this poor woman who already has so much on her plate.

And so she will be a rallying point. She IS a rallying point. The claims of sexism are already flying.

The snark on Daily Kos and Talking Points and other liberal bastions about her and her family are already being attributed to Senator Obama.

And the truth doesn’t matter. Qualifications don’t matter. Perception matters.

Her nomination isn’t historic any more than Pumpsie Green suiting up for the Red Sox long after the fact was. But that’s the narrative.

Attacking her for only being governor of a population that would barely crack the top 20 CITY populations (about as big as Charlotte) isn’t sexism. But that’s the narrative.

You want sexism?

Do a count of the ‘that' poor woman’s uttered in the next 60 days.

Count the number of times we are told that things (aside from poor Bristol Palin) that we are told, or are telling, are irrelevant or none of our business. Treating her differently than we treat John Edwards or Gary Hart because she’s a woman.

But that’s going to be the narrative.

And the cultural conservatives are going to rise up and protect their own.

They were going to stay home in November. Senator Obama was going to reap the bulk of the independents and his own fractious base, and McCain was going to be left with the inert Republican base. But now he gains the conservatives that were going to stay home, along with a healthy handful of braindead independents who are just going to vote for ovaries.

I hope I’m wrong.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Let America be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I am the very model of a modern theatre generalist.

Scott Walters in response to a Mike Lawler post posits that theatre specialists are a symptom of our industrial approach to theatre and need to be dodged on a regional level…

I am of course paraphrasing, so please take a moment to visit the horses mouth.

Welcome back.

I am that theatre generalist working regionally (though I think the word clouds the difference between what I do and working at a regional theatre), and I think Scott has over-simplified.

Not about my value to an indie theatre company. I am ridiculously valuable to an indie theatre company (or TWO!). I can do whatever it is you don’t have one of, and do it competently.

But if you get twenty of me together and make a troupe of me?

You’re going to get competent theatre.

Never brilliance. I am not a brilliant theatre maker. Maybe there is a breed of brilliant theatre generalists out there, but I haven’t met very many (i.e. any – but I’m being generous). But that’s kind of the point of generalism no? breadth in lieu of depth.

With specialization comes virtuosity, which for my money is required for brilliant theatre.

Let’s be generous to me and say that I’m a 7 across the board.
At everything.
Graphic design, floor mopping, acting, sound design, carpentry, board oping, networking, marketing… whatever. I’m a 7. Comfortably above average.

I am by definition never the best person for the job. I am never your first call for anything. because 1.) there is necessarily someone better 2.) you’ll “save me” for the slot you can’t fill.

You wanna see some burn out?

It’s not just a question of the industrial approach to theatre, it’s a question of wanting the Best Available person for the position.

In baseball terms?


Kevin Youkilis.

Can you win with 9 of him? Maybe… but I doubt it.

What Scott meant to say (TOTALLY putting words in your mouth Scott… it’s like I’m a playwright!):

Indie theatres should be built on a core of generalists. A core / corp of people who can get shit done affordably and capably, spiced with truly virtuosic talent to transcend the Just Okay.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oops I did it again…

And I know better…

We all have quirksfaultsfoibles that slow our pace towards whatever it is we’re headed.

Most of us, by the time we reach the relative age of maturity, have some idea of what those are. Some of us manage to course correct for those quirksfaultsfoibles and end up where we’re headed anyway.

Not me.

Overandoverandover again.

Forgive the seeming interview speak:
One of my greatest weaknesses is that I’m not selfish enough.
Combine that with a decided lack of a Big Picture plan for my life in theatre and you will find that I have managed to get exactly nowhere.

And I did it again.

Over the past 6 weeks I have been locked in the process of show selection for the November slot we have reserved at the Dougherty Arts Center. This is for a project with my Not-My theatre company, and we had chosen to do a published work rather than new so we could focus on Production rather than development.

After plowing through a large number of scripts we finally have zeroed on one we’re pretty excited about (which I will talk much more about once we’ve actually secured the rights).

Except that: there’s nothing in it for me.
There isn’t a role for me, I’m not directing, and it’s already written.

I will end up as the TD, the LD, carrying a bunch of the production / promotion load, and when it comes off well the only people who will have any idea that I contributed will be the people already in the room. I don’t need to sell the people in the room. They know now.

And to move from this rut in my life, more people need to know what I can do.

Not to mention that to stave off burn out there needs to be a payoff. Some kind of payoff. The satisfaction of a job well done doesn’t refill the tank.

But at no point in the process was I smart enough to be selfish and insert myself into the selection criteria.

I’m an idiot.


I work with really great people. They would throw their weight behind a pet project of mine in a heartbeat. But remember the whole “no big picture plan” thing from a few paragraphs ago?

Yeah. I don’t have a pet project or dream role in mind, so there is no direct reimbursement to be had.

Oh the joyous 1-2 punch of my theatrical idiocy.

Don’t be me, and don’t be ashamed. Be selfish.
Be your own best advocate. No one is going to hand you anything

Friday, August 15, 2008

Product trial: Scribd


You can embed .pdfs on your site. Or on your blog.

And your audience can download them if you’d like.

Read this document on Scribd: Transformations OPT