“There is a certain immortality involved in theatre, created not by monuments or books, but through the knowledge an actor carries with him to his dying day that in an empty and dusty theatre, on a certain afternoon, he cast a shadow of a being that was not himself, but a distillation of everything he had ever thought or felt. All the un-singable heart songs that the ordinary man may feel but never utter he gave voice to and, by that, he somehow joins the ages.” Arthur Miller, quoted by Bill English on HowlRound. Read the full article here.
First, a little context. I went back to school (University of Texas at Dallas) to finish my BA when I was 38, and started grad school at 40. My last semester of classes, iirc, was Spring 1992. On the first day of the fifth course that I'd taken with Fred Curchack, we sat in a circle on the floor, and, as part of his orientation, he told us this story.
The dean, Robert Corrigan (who would pass less than a year later) stopped him in the hall on his way to class. "What are you teaching this semester?" Fred informed him the class was Performance Anthropology. To which Corrigan replied, "Ha! All your classes are the same. They're all Curchack 101."
Fred looked at us, and, without any further explanation but in a voice that made it clear nothing more needed to be said, informed us, "But he's wrong."
Every class you took with Fred gave you more access, opened the door a little wider onto his knowledge and skill. If the first class was Curchack 101, the five courses I took with him amounted to a graduate degree.
Here's a couple of videos of his work for you to enjoy. The first contains some excerpts from his one man Tempest, "Stuff as Dreams Are Made On," an example of how a solo actor can create a startling "theatre of images" equal to or more powerful than a stage full of special effects. The second, his "Burying Our Father: A Biblical Debacle," shows Fred's clown work and gives a taste of shadow play and the important role music plays in his work. The second actor in "Father" is Laura Jorgensen, also a brilliant actor and now his wife. Enjoy.
Though this article by Charles McNulty of the LA Times starts out as a review, it develops into something much more interesting. The title, "Character Development Counts in Bringing Plays to Life Onstage," is so inane I assumed it was satire (along the lines of "The Sun Counts in Bringing Daylight to the Earth"), but was pleasantly surprised to find a coherent and eloquent theory of what makes theatre fascinating for many of us. Here's a sample:
"So consider me officially behind the times: Years after postmodernism declared "character" dead, I still believe that the human being is the essential building block of the theater.
"My taste isn't especially conservative . . . but I prefer even the wildest rides to be personally inhabited. A theater of images, no matter how visually entrancing, is numbing to me. Some go to the theater to spin theoretical concepts. I go to reflect on the mystery of consciousness and existence."
It's thoughtful stuff, and while I like a "theater of images" as well (on one level, isn't that what ballet is?) McNulty's emphasis on human emotion and vulnerability mirrors my own belief that the best theatre deals with honesty and confession, not just creativity.
Tomorrow, to give equal time to the postmodern theatre, I'll post a video or two of my teacher, Fred Curchack's work. Zounds.
The Playscripts blog has an article as sweet as you'd expect from looking at the fresh scrubbed faces above. I decided to take a break from despairing about the state of the world, presidential candidates and my savings account to offer some happy thoughts based on a new play about . . . well, you'll just have to read it.
“The rise of the selfie has encouraged us to consider ourselves the star of every occasion. YouTube has enabled spectators to fancy themselves as performers.” Would that were true. Any theatre that drew in enough Millennials to make a dent in the current demographic would have a bronzed bust of its Marketing Director in the lobby ~ Jonathan Mastro.
I have a few thoughts on the topic (Shocker!) Shakespeare wrote his plays with audience reaction in mind. He knew there was going to be "inappropriate laughter", catcalls, belches, and people of both sexes urinating in the corners. And so he wrote his plays accordingly. Macbeth kills Duncan--ooh, heavy series of scenes. Better put a loudmouth drunk onstage and let people release those pent up emotions. Otherwise, everyone's going to get up and go to the bathroom at the same time, and that's always an awkward moment at the Globe (although waiting in line wasn't usually the problem).
My point being that playwrights don't write like that anymore. The expectations have changed. We expect everyone sitting up in their seats (check your posture!) and paying rapt attention to the exposition.
I kid, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. That's how most plays are written these days, and they're great. Sometimes. And on the whole, I'm glad we're not urinating in corners anymore. My socks get soggy.
But I do like a rollicking, raucous theatre experience. That's where we came from, even going back to the shamanic origins of our art form. Because the first 'plays' were freaky interactive, what with the chanting, the drums, smearing your body with goat's blood and ash, dancing spasmodically around a fire until you collapse onto the ground, gibbering like a monkey on mescaline, while your spirit-body converses with gods.
"How was the play?"
"It was OK. Zuul says hi."
I'd happily pay an online convenience fee for that show.
Though I was unable to attend Heller Theatre's production of "Bad Jews," a couple of friends did, and they were both impressed and highly complimentary. Though both have been associated with Heller, neither had any "skin in the game" with this production, so I asked Marilyn Clark to write a review so we'd have something on SL918, which she kindly did, and did a good job of it. Her review follows, but first, we interrupt this program for a rant.
If you hadn't already heard, this play freaked some people out--before those people ever saw it. A TV interview was cancelled, a couple of rabbis refused to come to a talkback, all because of the title. The idea that, because of its title, this play was 'too hot to handle' leaves me flabbergasted. What the hell? People can't distinguish between hatred and irony? They don't know the difference between anti-Semitism and a story? No, I don't believe that. People do know the difference. So why did that TV station, and even some rabbis run away from this show? Well, fear, obviously. What were they afraid of? It wasn't that they were confused about the title. No, they were afraid their viewers and congregations were TOO STUPID to know the difference between hatred and irony, between anti-Semitism and a story. In other words, they have no respect for the people they supposedly serve, because they assume that those people aren't intelligent enough to understand something so simple. (Well, that and the fear that the inevitable trolls would make trouble, which of course would happen. Trolls will be trolls.) This is not leadership, and it's not responsible journalism. It's . . . well, it's cowardice. It may seem like a small thing, after all, who cares about community theatre, but if you can't show a smidgen of courage and do what's right in the small things, am I supposed to trust you in the big things? No. End of rant.
And now, for something a little more positive, Marilyn's review of Bad Jews.
I loved Heller Theater’s production of BAD JEWS. The play was expertly cast and acted, a solid, engrossing family drama. The title is off putting. Its provocative incorrectness caused some rabbis and radio stations to distance themselves, per director Rebecca Ungerman. I found nothing stereotyped or disrespectful in the script or the interpretation.
It appears to me that the title refers to the attitudes of 2 cousins toward each other. Each is incensed with choices the other has made; each considers the himself or herself to be righteously right and disrespected by the other. Each is the other’s doppelganger, the repository of rejected, negative identity aspects. Thus, each sees the other as a “bad Jew” and defends against acknowledging their own complicity. Of course, this is the stuff of family relationships.
The play is set in the Manhattan apartment of Jonah, where his cousin Daphna, brother Liam, and Liam’s girlfriend Melody are staying on the evening of the funeral of the cousins’ grandfather. Jonah, a young man of few words, is definitely “on the spectrum.” He bristles with feelings as he hopelessly struggles to avoid entanglement in the conflict between Liam and Daphna. Hyper-verbal Daphna displays a volcano of feelings while brushing, tossing, arranging, stroking, fluffing her glorious mane of unruly hair. She dominates the play and delivers at least two thirds of the lines. Liam smolders with feelings of anger toward Daphna, whom he sees as a fraud. He is also besotted with his girlfriend. Melody initially appears to be a walking cliché, all agreeableness and sweet civility. She keeps her head in this maelstrom, although she is not astute when it comes to reading her beloved’s cues. She unwittingly provokes the violent confrontation between Liam and Daphna.
Each of the actors realized their respective characters beautifully and believably. Beth Geatches stopped the show with her bravura rendition of “Summertime”, which I can‘t praise enough. Excruciatingly precise, off key, delivered with such endearing aplomb, I much prefer her to Florence Foster Jenkins, legendary opera parodist.
I hope that Heller will enter this play in a theatrical competition. It’s definitely a winner.
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