Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Absolute

"A man must go forth from where he stands
He cannot jump to the absolute, he must evolve toward it"
- Victor Wooten, The Sojourn of Arjuna

Believe it or not, this is a continuation of my "Music Video" post. I'm getting a little lateral here. Sorry about that, but if you stick with me, this should get interesting.

At the same time I find myself pursuing theatrical thought experiments, trying to figure out how to engage an audience and evoke that "undeniable hunger and thirst" that Peter Brook describes, I find myself giving advice on playwriting shortcuts. You see, I'm of two minds. On one hand, I want to pursue unbridled experimentation and really put some theories to the test. On the other hand, I'm pragmatic enough to know that unbridled experimentation is almost surely doomed to failure more often than success, and theatre is far too expensive an artform (in L.A. in particular) to run the risk of bankrupting any future productions with today's wild hare. (As a libertarian, I'm all-too familiar with the struggle of idealism versus pragmatism.)

The production of Juana I directed last year was perhaps my most unbridled experiment so far, and it was an unmitigated disaster. I am very proud of my cast and crew for doing their best in the face of an impossible play, and I take full responsibility for my part in the debacle. But to be honest, the only thing epic about the production was the level of "fail."

And so I decide to take baby steps towards this ideal (that is, "necessary theatre-going, a.k.a. Immediate Theatre). Part of this process is to identify productions where the ideal is showing through, and to attempt an analysis of what went right. I'm not particularly interested in what went wrong, except to learn from my own mistakes. I can thenn bring these ideal aspects into my own work, and see if I can duplicate the success I perceive. Finally, I take the lessons I've learned, and continue from the beginning of this process.

In short: Identify, analyze, experiment, repeat.

For those of you not as familiar with my theatrical background (and for the love of god, who reads this blog? I'm guessing mom, and the occasional surfer who took a wrong turn at a Google search) in college my wife and I ran a children's theatre company that produced a one-person show written by Allen Partridge entitled Einstein's Quest. The purpose of this play is to teach creative problem solving to children, to wit: "Identify, analyze, experiment, repeat." So yes, I have taken my scientific procedure from a children's play.

To be continued ...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Theatre, Music Video Style

Okay, this post is going to be a bit "out there." Bear with me.

Is there any artform more distant from live theatre than the modern music video? I don't think there is. Modern theatrical techniques have enabled a much more cinematic experience from the stage; automated scene changes and special effects can almost make you forget you're seeing it live. Yet there is no technique that can duplicate the "MTV-style" editing, the extreme camera angles, the super slo-mo, and the myriad other things that give music videos their unique look.

Sometimes music videos open up a theatrical world in miniature, reminding me of the toy theatres of long ago:

Best production of Waiting for Godot ever. Or, at the very least, the one most people have seen.

Not, strickly speaking, a play. But very theatrical. I would like to see this play, if it existed.

Music videos give you a sense of something, they convey an emotional life. They give you the barest bones of story structure (when they're done right)

And sometimes music videos are a triumph of style over substance, revealing worlds that exist beyond plot points and characterization. This last video has no story, but it is as riveting to me as anything I've seen onstage. It's a dance and it obeys the three unities of French Neoclassicism(!), so I suppose it has theatricality. All I know is if I saw this live on stage they'd have to pick me up off the floor when it was all over:

Can this sort of thing even happen onstage? Can it happen in an under-99, and in some way convey a cogent narrative? I think so.

More on this later.

Monday, August 04, 2008


It has a slightly stylized voice (the play is set in the 1940s) but this is pretty naturalistic, even for me:
Yeah, well, no doubt she’s off arguing with Merv. New number and
all. And he’s playing too fast or else missing a verse or who knows.
It's almost an acid-test for actors. Can they read the line and deliver it as written? I can tell so much about an actor's "method" and diligence with this one line.

The second draft of Pin-Up Girls is almost done. The first reading will be scheduled soon, and rehearsals begin after that. We open in October! I'm a bit nervous, naturally. But the writing is going very well. Knock on wood.