Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I read this article in the NY Times yesterday. Yet another person has made up bits of an ostensibily true memoir, confessed that it was actually made up (or at least parts were, parts which happen to be the most interesting), and ultimately got the publication of their book cancelled. The need to fabricate fascinates me. Obviously, I'm quite a fan of myth and story telling. Fiction is great. However, it's the need to pretend that something is true, no matter how completely implausible that something may be (tossing apples over the fence into Buchenwald, for instance. Perhaps it is that hindsight is twenty/twenty, since I'm coming to the story knowing that it was made up, but there is no way that would happen, without the girl getting caught and extremely punished by the Nazis.)

It's interesting that had these false memoir authors marketed their work as fiction originally (as do many writers who write novels based on their experiences), no one would so much as bat an eye at the fact that they actually only spent several hours in prison or actually met their wife after surviving the concentration camps. I suppose that is the beauty of fiction--it allows one to create (and create would be the important word here) a situation that others will respond to, that others will (I hate to say it) be touched by, without the risk of being viewed as a liar, since it is the writer's job to create a truth through a falsity. And yet, there is no worry because the piece is already presented as a product of the author's imagination (or if you want to get all decon/post-structuralist, the piece is a product of itself). When the piece is presented as showing the truth through the truth, well then, things fall apart when it actually becomes known to be fake.

I'm a huge fan of the ideas of the death of the author, of there being nothing but the text. But the recurrence of falsified memoirs seems to prove such to be inaccurate. There may be just the text itself, but quite clearly, we as a culture want there to be an author, we want there to be something producing the text, something to back it up. There seems to be no more truth from tale. Or else we wouldn't care so much when the author turned out to be a sham, when the text turned out to be false. On the other hand, we also want to present truth, although what truth is seems to be getting more and more uncertain.

There's some sort of theatrical piece lying there in the human need to fake it (and also in the human need to have something extraordinary be actually true). This idea is in its infancy. And I hope no one reads this and thinks, aha! And then makes a piece without letting me know. My tendency of late is to bury myself in research, and then the research takes over and the piece never gets done or even written. Past experience proves that just sitting and writing lets the piece come out, sometimes accidentally, as in the case of TC, my adaptation of the Troilus and Cressida story. I'd been toying with the idea of adapting the Shakespeare play, did some research, stared at Fifty Days at Ilium for several hours, then a few months later, started writing something that I thought totally unrelated to the story. Upon finishing, I realized it was the story, just in a different form.

I've also been toying with the idea of a performance piece centered around revenge. My favorite song of late is the Decemberist's Mariner's Revenge Song, about a man seeking revenge on the rake who left his mother with gambling debts, ultimately leading to her losing her mind and dying. As yet, I'm not sure what other kinds of revenge stories to include, though I know that I want the structure to be short stories, mostly movement based.

That's it for ideas for now. I wonder if I bounce from project to idea to project too easily, never actually bringing anything to fruition. I operate with the mindset that things need to find their time and place, and that some ideas were never meant to make it. Perhaps in the new year I will make a list of ideas/projects that I should finish and then actually do that.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I originally wrote this almost two months ago, and never posted it, thinking that it was too angry. Then I started (and finished) the first draft a novel, ignoring my blog for that long. Anyway, looking back after two months, I don't think this is that terribly angry. Rather, I think it really gets right at what my frustration is at present and really always has been (ok, since I was in college and actually started thinking about these things):

Now that I'm out of the fuzzy protective blanket that is academia for at least a year or two, and now that I've dug myself into a $40K debt hole and am working at mindless (literally) temp job to pay down that debt and am not really connected to anything relevant to what I studied, I have to ask: why?

Why did I choose this art form when I can probably count one hand the number of interesting plays and performances I've seen in the last year? Why did I choose a form that appears to be constinantly at odds with itself--wanting to develop yet continuing to produce stuff in a style that is one hundred years old. Think -- if film or tv or the visual arts still continued to be b/w, silent, impressionitic, there is no way they would hold our interest as they do. Yes, I just labeled TV as an art form, mostly due to shows like Weeds and Six Feet Under, as well as those parody shows on Comedy Central, though those also run the risk of becoming tired, like theater, as they are continually made over. And yes, the truly iconoclastic will remain just that. Major art forms continue to grow, and get over the fact that the new expressions of style are "weird" and "frightening" and thus must be marginalized while we all either sit through A Doll's House. Again. (no diss on Ibsen, what he did was great. For the turn of the century). Or else we go to those "weird" shows in order to show that we are hip but not actually enjoying them because we have lost the trajectory of theater and thus an understanding of what is going on or what should be going on.

This is nothing new. And I am not trying to ignore people who have made great strides in the form. I am trying to figure out what I can do to continue to develop theater and why I should even bother, if I more often than not see only its flaws and not its beauty.

Theater makes me incredibly angry. It has become the fat, lazy art form (12/5 note: wow. ok, that is angry). There needs to be less theater. There needs to be more focus in theater, more focus on why are we doing this rather than "we need to get in a subscriber base and thus we need to do five shows a year" rather than "slow down, calm down, and create one great show." Peter Brook called this the Deadly Theater. Given how much deadly theater happens each year, we must really enjoy it. Or else be too desenstized to do anything about it.

There needs to be more support for theater. Why do we let shows run on and on for years? Give a show a few nights, if you miss it, so what? It would be like life itself, like time sifting through the fingertips, never to be repeated. (12/5 note: channeling artaud here, i guess.)

I offer no solutions. I do not even know what I, a freshly minted MFA, will do. Find the work that interests me and invest myself in that. Ignore the myriad productions around me that do nothing to spark an audience's (my) interest. If the deadly theater receives no support, it will be forced to go away.

Maybe that is the solution. Only invest time and dollars and effort into work that truly matters. Here we get into the issue of value judgement, and who's to say that a boring, uninventive, completely lacking in creativity show, is in fact all those things? A show has to mean something to someone or else why do it?

And maybe that is the solution. Stop doing theater just to do theater. There are plenty of entertainment options in the world. No need for a poorly conceived version of Cats or yet another production of a play by (enter name of realistic, edgy contemporary playwright here). Stop doing theater that has anything to do with television. This includes plays about TV, plays where people sit and talk for longer than five seconds, and ***here I stopped originally, way back in October.

And now here we are in December, and shows are dropping right and left, at least on Broadway. I find it hard to mourn their passing, given that they were all those things above that I was ranting about (for the most part).

It saddens me that I can offer no solutions to the conundrum of theater--a conundrum no one really even thinks about. Would most of the world notice (er, most of America) notice if theater just stopped? I am not suggesting that it do so, rather that we really need to seek out what makes theater necessary and return to that, or else it will fall from being a minor art form to no art form at all.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Block

I have been having a lot of trouble with writing as of late. If I am assigned something to write, there is no trouble. That kind of writing may not be fulfilling, but at the very least it is writing. It is the pulling stuff out of the air, out of my head that is giving me pause.

The reason for this, I believe, is that at some point, my method of creating and of thinking as changed from being a process that begins and continues in my head to one that needs a physical, tangible kick start. I've always considered myself to be a visual learner, but now I've seemed to have morphed into a kinesthetic learner. I attempted to take a movement class, in order to loosen the block and get ideas flowing by crawling and spinning and sliding my way across a physical space. Unfortunately, that class was canceled due to low enrollment after just one meeting. An outlet closed.

Using physicality to create is quite a different experience from sitting on the floor, creating in a notebook. I enjoy both, but the sitting on the floor method is easier to get started in theory. I have a floor. Let me go sit. There is no gathering of people, no, asking "hey, do you want to make something?" No wrangling of schedules (except my own). Yet on the floor, the ideas start and promptly stop, with no one but myself to force me to continue on (and I am so very lazy).

How do I trace my process back to the old, very effective and productive way it once was? I've attempted to repeat formerly useful habits--looking at a lot of art, reading a lot, thinking a lot about what dead smart people have said, jotting down ideas as they come. Yet that spark that was so vibrant years ago seems to be extinguished. Permanently.

I could moan and blame the world and the crappy fact that I have to work to pay for all the time I spent reading and looking at art and the like, but don't a lot of people work and still manage to find the time for the thing that they love?

I could also do something to break down this (multi-year) block, which is why I am starting this blog. It is an attempt to alleviate my frustration as an artist and to, I hope, get me writing again. It is an attempt to get me to remember why I am a dramaturg, why I want to make theater.

To start:

A stage that is just a stage.
A pause.
A man enters. Crosses. Lifts his right leg.

And for the moment, that is that. Why is he lifting his leg? What will happen? Perhaps I shall sit on the floor and see.