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.