Thursday, April 28, 2011

From Up on High

(From the Parenthesis Rehearsal Blog for THE LADY'S NOT FOR BURNING)

Last night the cast gathered for one last read through at the table before getting to our feet. This rarely happens in a rehearsal process. There's simply never enough time. And yet these were hours wisely planned for by our director Bryan Close. After a week spent excavating Fry's rich language and complex imagery, we were able to hear the story of the play revealed more clearly than ever before, and to get a deeper sense of how our characters' journeys fit along the spine of this play.

It was exciting to watch each other breathe sense -- and real, human life -- into Fry's words. Several of us remarked that we were inspired by each other's work, which to my mind is the foundation for building a great ensemble. Like watching someone scale a cliff face by finding footholds where none were evident to you, it inspires you to reach beyond your perceived limitations. To see if you can't surprise yourself by finding your own unexpected hold.

I've never gone rock-climbing, but I imagine it's a good analogy for working in an ensemble. The trust you must have with your partners. The communication required to tackle a task in concert. The willingness to collaborate. The support you must lend as well as accept. And when all those things are working well, the enjoyment of the experience is unparalleled.

That's why I'm in theater -- to get a little piece of that high every time. And with only a week of rehearsals under our belt, I'm already getting that taste. Can't wait to discover what the next weeks will bring. Can't wait to find some of those unexpected holds.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rehearsals Begin!

Our first rehearsal for THE LADY'S NOT FOR BURNING is tonight and I am over the moon.  I am so looking forward to put aside my producer hat and digging into this gorgeous play once and for all.  Our cast is amazing, our design team outstanding.  I have such belief in our director and our entire production team.  This is the point when all the pieces begin falling into place and we see what it is we’ve been working on all this while.  What a gratifying moment.  Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted on our journey.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


 Well, hello.  It’s been a while, you look good.  But we’ve no time for sweet reunion.  There are matters discuss.  The theater world has been popping with a couple “controversies” lately and I’ve been dying to talk to you about them.  Diving into the fray like this will no doubt cause me to speak out of turn, but that has never stopped a Moore before and I don’t mess with family tradition.

First up?  You guessed it.  Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.  I’ll try to keep this brief as I haven’t seen the show. (See?  Speaking out of turn already.)  But like so many people, I’ve been fascinated by the media spectacle surrounding this mega-sized musical.  A veritable feeding frenzy, I’d say.  Granted, the show did leak some blood in the water.  Whether it’s the record-breaking $65 million budget, the delayed (and delayed and delayed) opening, or actors falling from the sky, journalists and late-night entertainers have not been lacking for fresh meat.  Even the less carnivorous content-producers have made a meal of the show’s creative ambition, the challenges of cross-genre adaptation, and the career trajectory of director Julie Taymor.  With so many voracious appetites in play, it’s been pretty nigh impossible to tell what’s really been going on in Spiderman-land.

Yet that’s the very question that keeps reverberating in my head as I watch all this go down – what the hell is going on here? What is happening?  How has all this come about?  What’s the collaboration been like?  What have the conversations been about?  How did so many pieces of the show – the safety, the storyline, the music – fall through the cracks enough, and for long enough, as to require OSHA inspectors, script doctors, and record producers to be called in months after the first public performance?  Is it just because the scope of the show prevented an out of town try-out during which they could have ironed out the kinks?  Or is there something more?

From where I sit (which is usually on a couch or in a cubicle, just to calibrate my place of authority), I have to believe that something fell apart here.  Some part or parts of the process did not function properly, and I really wish I could find out what it was and why it happened.  Not because it would be juicy, but because it would be useful.  There is a really great, authentic, and useful story here that we in theater could really benefit from hearing.  There are lessons beneath the hoopla.  Lessons about process, about collaboration, about mapping vision to execution, about budgeting, about just about everything, I’d imagine.  But we can’t get to those lessons from reading the press.  The story has to come willingly from the collaborators themselves, and that’s not likely to happen.  Which I get.  It’s hard to talk honestly about vulnerabilities and still maintain the perception of power.  It’s not impossible, mind you – Barack Obama’s speech on race, to pull from elsewhere, comes to mind – but it’s not easy.

Hoopla number two is the uproar over NEA chairman Rocco Landesman’s comments at a January conference on the future of American theater.  Asked to provide insight on the decline in attendance for the arts in this country, Landesman responded, “There are too many theaters… Look, you can either increase demand or decrease supply.  Demand is not going to increase.  So it is time to think about decreasing supply.”  In other words, a figure most artists expect to be their advocate in this country said we might need to get rid of some theaters because our audiences aren’t gonna grow.  Ouch.  Needless to say, many folks were hurt, offended, and frightened by these remarks.  But there were just as many folks – including me – who felt Landedman’s observation was valid and were glad he deftly stoked a conversation that really needed a kick in the pants.  I call that conversation, “Theater Economics are Broke, So How We gonna Fix It?”

One way to fix it – a way Landesman surely does not discount – is to get our government to fund us better.  The NEA has a budget of about $160 million.  This pales in comparison to England, which is the worst funder of the arts in Europe with a $900 million budget, which in turn pales in comparison to France.  They give $2.3 billion.  Excusez-moi?  So yes, we must fight like the devil to get our government to better understand and reflect art’s importance in this country.

.  You live in this country.  Do you really think that’s happening any time soon?  Me neither.  So like it or not, faced with such restricted resources, Darwinian forces do apply.  I don’t think this means we need to go winnowing out the field with a giant machete (nor was Landesman suggesting that), but it does mean we need to give ourselves a good, long, hard look in the eye.  We need to ask ourselves all sorts of tough questions.  Questions like, what is it that we do that is truly special, truly unique?  Can we focus only on that and let go of everything else?  Do we do anything truly special and unique?  Anything we truly think is valuable and needed in this world?  If we’re not sure, can we hold off on our ventures until we figure it out? Do we need to strive for more audience, or is it okay to give our existing audience a better experience or a greater connection to our organization?  Do we need to take on ambitious projects that require large amounts of resources, or is it okay to scale down and redirect that ambition toward community outreach or developing new talent?  What can we do to shake up our business model and make ourselves less dependent on donations and public funding?  Do we need to be non-profit?  Can we have a for-profit model and still make valuable art?  What can we learn from other fields – from tech entrepreneurs or cupcake stores or that really great dog-walking service that all your neighbors use?  What else should we be asking ourselves?

Clearly, the answers will be different for every organization, and I don’t mean to say no one out there is thinking this way.  But the negative and fearful response to Landesman’s comments suggests that many of us are reacting from a place of perceived powerlessness, a mindset in which all the operating forces exist outside of oneself.  It’s understandable that artists in this country often feel this way.  But it’s also convenient.  It lets us off the hook.  If all the forces are outside of ourselves then we never have to have look at ourselves to solve a problem.  And that’s just silly.  Not to mention a waste of your beautiful,  powerful, creative mind.  So wake up, wake up your friend, and take arms against that sea of troubles.  It’s survival of the fittest out there, and you owe it to yourself to make sure you’re fit.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mamet + Anna = Sam + Diane

Just read an old post from Ken Davenport's producer blog and it made me smile. In it, he reprints a leaked memo that David Mamet apparently wrote to his writers when he was working on "The Unit."  As you may recall from my post about Race, I have pretty conflicted feelings about Mr. Mamet.  I keep wanting not to like the guy, and he keeps winning me over.  I feel like Diane on a vintage episode of Cheers, utterly repelled by the man in front of me and yet simultaneously wanting to grab his head between my hands and smash my face against his.  In the end, I gotta love the man.  He knows of what he speaks, and I'll concede that his obnoxiousness is pretty hilarious.  Enjoy:  How to f-ing write! A mother f-ing missive by David Mamet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why NYC needs The Lady’s Not for Burning, and why you just may need Christopher Fry.

Let’s face it.  If you live in New York, chances are you’ve got a bit tough skin.  It’s a necessity.  The inhuman speed of the place.  Strangers shoving past on the subway platform.  New York Post headlines blaring out from every street corner.  Billboards as far as the eye can see.  The hubbub, the pretension.   The grit, the grime, the grift.  We’ve seen it all, here in this fair metropolis.  We have every reason to be jaded.

Add to that reasons why any American might be jaded.  The economy going south for two years and just now creeping back up.   Joblessness.  Lack of health insurance.  The endless dicking around in Washington and the vulgarity of the media that covers it.  Horrifying acts of violence perpetrated on innocent bystanders.

And if all that isn’t bad enough, we’re smart and informed.  We know that even if things get to feeling pretty okay here, they are far from okay somewhere else.  Say in Afghanistan, or Burma, or Taiji, Japan where they’re still slaughtering all those dolphins.  Have I ruined your day yet?

My point is there are very real reasons why cynicism often reigns supreme, in New York and elsewhere.  With everything going on, some days it feels trivial or even downright irresponsible to take an optimistic point of view.  But the truth is that optimism is good for the soul.   Embracing optimism is what allows the human spirit to soar.  Yet how can you do it when the world is what it is?

This is the very question asked by the playwright Christopher Fry in his amazing work The Lady’s Not for Burning.  With outstanding humor and largeness of spirit, Fry offers characters who occupy an array of positions along the optimism-cynicism spectrum.  A war-torn soldier, whose estimation of the world is so bleak after seven years of killing that he asks to be hanged.  An outcast woman who believes the world is what it is and nothing more.  A poetic convent girl who marvels at every moment’s new experience.  A suppressive mayor befuddled by challenges to his status quo.  A judge, both familiar and comfortable with methods of torture.  A young clerk in love.  These unforgettable people collide amusingly -- yet dangerously -- on the eve of both a wedding and a witch-burning, and what unfolds amounts to a compelling debate on the merits of life and death.

I don’t mind telling you that in the final tally, the playwright embraces optimism – but he does so without denying cynicism.  It is not a Pollyanna story.  Written amidst the devastation of post-WWII England, Fry’s play acknowledges, indeed emphasizes, that the world can be a very dark place indeed.  But he also shows us that the lightness of the human experience will triumph if we let it.  He reminds us that even in the darkness, we can still clasp hands and know that we are not alone.

As a playwright, Christopher Fry is fascinating and I look forward to learning more about him.  What I know now, I love.  He was a Quaker and sought to portray, in his own words, ''a world in which we are poised on the edge of eternity, a world which has deeps and shadows of mystery, and God is anything but a sleeping partner.”  I mean, come on.  How beautiful is that?  And then there's this, from his obituary in the New York Times in 2005:
He said he wrote his plays in poetry because that was ''the language in which man expresses his own amazement'' at the complexity both of himself and of a reality which, beneath the surface, was ''wildly, perilously, inexplicably fantastic.''
Don’t you feel you could use a little more amazement in your life?  A little more awareness that this life, beneath the surface, is wildly, perilously, inexplicably fantastic?  I know I sure do.  In fact I’m downright craving it.  What else could be a better antidote to the grit and grime and grift?  Which is why I’m devoting the next six months of my life to sharing this play with all of you, and all of New York, and all of the world.  I think it's that worthwhile.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Theater Memories of 2010

In chronological order:

The Last Cargo Cult  - Storytelling at it's best.

A View from the Bridge  - Theater as Fibonacci Spiral.

Venus In Fur - Ratcheting up and up and up.

Next Fall - Patrick Breen, loveable and laughable.

Everyday Rapture - Demand for a pocket-size Sherie Rene Scott skyrockets.

Henry VI Part 3 - Go big or go home.

In God's Hat - The seeds of inspiration.

American Idiot - Personal narrative trumps fictional narrative.

Burning Man: Metropolis - The crucible leading to...

Seeds - Parenthesis sprouts its newborn head.

Looking forward to 2011...

Friday, December 31, 2010

The End of the Year As We Know It

It’s difficult for me to leave loose ends, and yet I’m going to.  Two thousand and ten is coming to a close and there are three shows I saw in December that have not yet made an appearance in A Year of Plays – The Merchant of Venice, Featuring Loretta, and Blind Date.  Provocative productions, all, and they each deserve the attention I’ve given so many other plays over the past fifteen months.  Yet I find my writer’s heart has been yearning for a change.

For me, writing is a process that clarifies thought.  Whatever matters occupy my mind, my thoughts on the subject gain their sharpest resolution only after I’ve shoved them through the churning mill of invention, composition, and revision.  Yet since September, I’ve been occupied by a subject I’ve so far sequestered from this blog – which means for several months, I’ve left those thoughts unsharpened.  I suppose I should have tended to them in a journal all this while, but over the past year I seem to have become monogamous to A Year of Plays.  For better or worse, if I’m writing about theater, here is the lap in which I lay my head.

So what’s got me so occupied?  Well, the play I’m producing, of course.  Clearly.  And yet for some reason, I didn’t allow myself to write about it.  Well not just some reason.  At first it was practical, I was waiting until I had all my ducks in a row before spilling the beans.  But it soon became about perfection.  I dreamed of orchestrating an impeccably coordinated launch of a flawlessly devised and perfectly executed marketing campaign that would blow the socks off the theater world.  Good god, so that’s how you launch a theater company.  But alas, while I have the ambition for perfection, I have not the teeth-gritting, gut-splitting, will of steel that makes perfection come to life.  Not everyone can be the Black Swan.  But it’s just as well.  Life is messy, and first times are messier – just ask all the erstwhile virgins out there (ba-dum-dum).  So now I free myself to gush like a giddy school girl after the prom and tell you all about this show.  Orchestration will be for the masses.  For you, you get the good stuff.

I am so excited about this play.  It’s a lovely, lovely, GORGEOUS play.  It’s hysterical and timely and political, and yet also overflows with soul-stirring, life-affirming beauty.  It’s called…

The Lady’s Not for Burning
by Christopher Fry

… and it’s probably the best play you’ve hardly ever heard of.  Set in an anachronistic fifteenth century (no no no, stay with me, it’s good, seriously),  it’s about a soldier who comes to a town and asks to be hanged.  The mayor and townspeople are toothlessly small-minded folk, unwilling to disturb the precarious order of their lives to handle such a request.  A woman soon arrives to seek asylum from a gathering mob that has named her for a witch.  The solider, the witch, and two others form a quartet of strangers to this seemingly innocuous town, who soon discover they must either escape with their lives, or die.

There is so much I want to write about this show.  More about the play, which pulls of the remarkable feat of choosing optimism without denying cynicism.  More about the playwright Christopher Fry, who in the 1950’s was the hottest thing since sliced bread until John Osborne came to town with his kitchen sink.  About Parenthesis, the theater company I’m founding to present this show.  About the nuts and bolts of producing on a showcase code budget in New York City.  About striving to attach one’s personal goals to something greater than oneself – both to create sustainability and meaningful service, and to avoid drowning in one’s own reflection.   About fear.  And empowerment.  And growing up.  And on and on.

So that’s what I – and hopefully you – will have to look forward to in this next year of plays.  And now would come the time that I wish you a happy new year, except I simply cannot go without at least saying something about The Merchant of Venice, Featuring Loretta, and Blind Date.  So here is incredibly short shrift to three exciting and varied productions:

The Merchant of Venice – Exquisitely acted and Pacino did not disappoint.  I feel it’s a hard play to present to modern audiences.  This production confronts the anti-semitism (and also anti-feminist threads) with incredible smarts, yet those smarts still fight upstream against the prevailing current at the end of the play.  Sometimes Shakespeare’s time and ours just don’t connect cleanly.

Featuring Loretta – One of the three Suburban Motel plays that Bryan Close’s Occam Rep produced earlier this month.  Site-specifically staged in a conference room that felt exactly like a lower-rent motel, this play proved you absolutely DO NOT have to have an enormous budget to create successful theater.  The actors killed with smart, funny, fully-realized performances, and the direction quickly gathered us up in a suspension of disbelief that allowed us to transport elsewhere.  Really well done and I’m ecstatic that Bryan will be directing The Lady’s Not for Burning for Parenthesis.  In fact, without Bryan handing me that play in the first place, there would be no Parenthesis.  I owe him, and will continue to owe him, a debt of gratitude for that.

Blind Date – It was only here for a ten day try-out from Toronto, but mark my words it will be back.  Probably one of the most alive nights I’ve spent in the theater in a long time.  A hilarious, fully improvised show, where Mimi the Clown selects a member of the audience to be her blind date for the evening.  I have never squealed as loud or bit my hands as hard as when I watched our audience member Desmond swoop in to steal a kiss from under Mimi’s adorable, round, red nose.  Classic.

And that wraps up 2010.  Happy New Year, everyone.  May the next year see all your dreams come true.