Friday, October 10, 2008

Required Reading: Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves

Writer Brendan Kiley from The Stranger writes Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves, ranging from doing new plays to giving Shakespeare a rest to (my favorite) telling playwrights to "[q]uit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop [and to] get them out there."

Read the whole thing here.

I'll natter at you about my thoughts about the now open Blood Brothers a little later.

Beating his plays to death like they owe him money,

James "Bitch Where's My Money?" Comtois

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Blogger scott said...

So I saw your show last night...opening night. I guess the evident observation of the evening comes in two words: Technical Director. Please - hire one. Please...for the safety of your actors, the ability to see them (lighting cues - or lack thereof), and to avoid the house manager feeling that audience members might stage a revolt for paying $18 a ticket to witness an evening of sloppy fumbling in the dark. I mean, the sleight of hand (blood effects) wasn't really discreet. It was almost forecasted even. And the general feeling of the actors being under rehearsed was pretty apparent and a little discomforting. But I must say, Blood Bros did succeed in getting my nerves on end. Though it was neither the content nor the execution of the plays that kept me at the edge of my seat. Rather, it was the continuous feeling invoked, similar to that of seeing a child recite a poem in front of a class, where, at the moment of stuttering or pregnant pause, you feel that vacuum of dread: 'please, get through it. Just get through it.' That was the horror of the evening.
Your actors were dedicated, and that's nice to see, but man, you gotta clean up the mess.
I wouldn't have written this if I didn't feel provoked at your latest blog referring to a guy negating the value of workshopping and workshopping work before it's presented. Sadly, I believe that this show could have used a good deal of workshopping before being presented. I say this not only in respect to the tech disaster I witnessed, but also to other elements. Direction for example. Take the solo piece about the paranoid girl. The actress is talented, but she needs to be told to stop masturbating with her pauses and forced dynamic of anger and paranoia. The most disquieting thing about someone who's presumably mad is that we need to discover it. The trick is in NOT being mad. The actor I saw made the obvious, easy choices of 'see how crazy I am. I'll pick a fight with you.' Zero sympathy for the character. You want to love your characters...or love to hate them...but what's the use in just hating them?
I guess I'm disheartened with alot of what I'm seeing lately, as if Off-off is beaten down, and the downtrodden look up and say: 'at least we're doing it', as if that's enough to pick yourself up, beaten, and proclaim you're fighting the good fight. Is it enough to say that there's nobility in putting up theatre in New York merely because you can - regardless of the quality? This is fucking New York! The theatre here should aspire to be the best - emulated by the world because here is where it's supposed to be at. What I saw last night does a disservice to theater because your work, in its entirety, on that opening night, was just not ready.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Hi, Scott. Thanks for responding and offering your candor. I am sorry you had such an unpleasant experience (and not in a good way).

No, you're right; the opening night was just not ready. We needed another two more nights in the space (little inside baseball: the actors actually had rehearsed a great deal, but we were unfortunately given very little access to the theatre itself until we opened, which meant that there was five days in a row with very finite time where we had to work on tech elements and straight runs of the show all but stopped. This isn’t an excuse, just an explanation as to what happened).

To be blunt, our Wednesday tech (we were unable to have a dress rehearsal) was utterly disastrous. I think the huge pauses you were seeing with the performances was due to having not been able to run the show in a few days and being rattled by not knowing if any of our cues were going to happen (I say this not in disservice to the running crew, again, it was dealing with limited resources on limited time and being a bit blindsided by this fact, as some of these glitches and snafus in the preproduction process happened at the last minute without any way of knowing or preparing for them).

Having said that (and here's where you're going to have to take a leap of faith and take my word on this), I don't believe I'm underestimating about needing only two more nights of rehearsal before being ready. The learning curve for Friday night went up...

(and trust me, Scott. Whatever tension and panic you had watching it in the audience had—and has—nothing on the tension and panic the crew and I had.) about 400%. (I say this not hyperbolically in that bullshit, "I want us to give 115%" way, I mean that the improvement level quadrupled.) It was actually a show. And I'm pretty confident that tonight's performance (Saturday) will see another huge increase in improvement.

(One of the things I really do love about theatre is that you have many chances to fix and improve upon things, and the learning curve is often very quick with folks, since they are aware of what needs to be done and how to fix it in a short period of time. More on this later.)

As for the reference of workshopping, I (and the author of the article) is referring to scripts, not productions. I’m absolutely in favor of workshopping the projects (rehearsing, preparing), but against spending reading session after reading session for sometimes years and slowly and steadily leeching out the substance and edges. It sounds as though you're mainly talking about the physical elements.

The one thing I take issue with here (and it's a small yet crucial point) is the implication that a.) you are telling me anything I don’t already know and b.) that we saw opening night as a flawless job well done (i.e., "At least we're doing it!"). No, and no. I, as well as everyone in Nosedive, take this very seriously and aren’t of the, "At least we're such troopers! Be proud of us!" mindset.

Do you really think we finished the show on opening night going, "That rawked! Nothing to fix here?" Come on, man. We're not falling back on the attitude that we're underdogs fighting the good fight. Shit doesn’t get fixed that way, and again, we take the task of staging a show very seriously and work hard to get shit fixed (which, having watched Friday’s performance, is at least setting my mind and nerves at ease considerably because it is).

Well, my response has already gone a little bit too long for a comment section, but since you stepped up and brought this up to me openly and honestly, I thought you deserved to be responded to with equal openness. I suppose if you want to continue this dialogue (and I’m certainly fine to), Scott, it may be better to do this over email, just to not bog the comments section downs with pages of diatribe from each of us (although again, I’m certainly fine to do so).


12:42 PM  
OpenID tarhearted said...

I loved, loved, loved the Brenda Kiley piece from The Stranger. Being form Seattle myself, and having started my career there, I think he's hit the hammer dead on the nail. Thanks for posting it.

Anyway, I can't wait to see your show. The premise is delightful!

7:04 PM  
Anonymous RLewis said...

While I found Kiley's article amusing, I have to say that much of it comes off as very inexperienced and just plain bad advice. And just going on the previous comments here, maybe a workshop or two (as opposed to readings) is not a bad idea for some shows.

12:51 PM  

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