Monday, April 30, 2012

non-misogynist romance movies part 2

I wrote about non-misogynist movies a month ago and it's time for another installmen.

  • The African Queen - produced over a decade before the second-wave feminism of the 1960s, this movie is not intentionally feminist, but it is anyway, because it treats both its characters, the riverboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) and the missionary (Katherine Hepburn) as individuals not male/female "types." In fact they are so far from the usual romance movie types that this isn't even classified as a romance - according to Wikipedia it's an "adventure" movie. And Hepburn's prissy missionary, Rose, is unlikely to ever be involved in a romance except that she and the rough-hewn captain Charlie undertake a mission together and the heightened emotions involved in going down an unpredictable river towards a dangerous goal throws them together. There are a couple of moments in the movie where they think they are going to die together and it's very moving how they handle those situations - which only makes their ultimate success even sweeter. It's no wonder it's considered a classic.
  • Impromptu -  not considered a classic, but I very much enjoy Judy Davis's portrayal of George Sand - the pen name of French author Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. The movie is about the difficult start of the romance between Sand and composer Frederic Chopin, although many liberties are taken. The movie exaggerates their opposite-sex traits to amusing effect - Sand often dressed in men's clothing so that she had the freedom to move around on her own and go places where women were not permitted, although I doubt Sand was nearly as boyish as Davis's portrayal - she is seen galloping away on a horse to avoid her discarded, jealous boyfriend, and at another point shoots him in the arm when he's dueling with Chopin. "You're a menace to art" is her droll justification. Meanwhile Chopin has fainted dead away. Chopin is played by Hugh Grant, and he's very entertaining - hyper-sensitive but not effeminate. And it's true that Chopin was sickly which could explain his "feminine" aspects. Bernadette Peters plays Marie d'Agoult as the villain, a scheming bitch who deliberately tries to keep Sand and Chopin apart. It's a great injustice to the actual person, not only for the nasty personality of the movie d'Agoult - not only scheming but constantly nagging her lover Franz Listz. Worst of all the movie never mentions that d'Agoult was also a published author with her own masculine pen name.  So that unjust portrayal does take away a little from the over-all feminist sensibility, but the main thing is that Sand and Chopin are both artists with distinct, contrasting personalities who find a way to make it work.
  • The Owl and the Pussycat - also not a great movie (although it received two award nominations and did quite well at the box office) but it's the original inspiration for my play Julia & Buddy so I wanted to mention it and it does count as a non-misogynist romance. Like the previous two movies here, this is about opposites attracting - Felix, played by George Segal is a prudish bookworm and Doris, played by Barbra Streisand, is a loud-mouth prostitute. The movie is better than the play as far as presenting a romance of equals, thanks no doubt to Streisand - the play is much more focused on the bookworm Felix. The movie is pretty zany and it seems like Doris never shuts up for the first 30 minutes, but I thought it captured pretty well the feeling of longing for somebody you don't even like or relate to much, as Felix does for Doris after their night together. And his excitement and embarrassment while trying to by a ticket to see Doris in the X-Rated "Cycle Sluts" is really funny and the pot-smoking & bathtub moments in Felix's fiancee's parents' house is pretty amusing. And the ending, filmed in Central Park, is surprisingly moving.
A clip from the movie - gross and funny at the same time. Unfortunately they skip over the part where Felix is buying the ticket.

"Ohhh - my gawd you could."

Saturday, April 28, 2012


I have the first draft of the introduction to my newest play THE RIMSKY-KORSAKOV AFFAIR:

Catherine the Great did not have sex with horses. If you are shocked that I even thought it necessary to mention this, you are most likely in the minority. Many people, including me, were first introduced to Catherine the Great via the rumor that she died when a horse fell on her while being lowered on top of her. I heard it from, of all people, my high school history teacher. And I don’t remember the teacher actually denying it. She just told us the rumor and let it go at that.

The story is due to sexism, naturally. Catherine the Great availed herself of the privileges that come with being an absolute monarch, including sex with beautiful young subjects. But since she was a woman it was seen as unnatural. And since she was engaging in unnatural practices, who knows how far she would go? If she likes beautiful young stallions so much, why not an actual horse?

And three hundred later, it is still seen as a defiance of nature for a woman to take the same sexual liberties as a man, even though for the first time in recorded history, a larger than tiny fraction of women are taking those liberties. You can tell that there is still a double-standard because the term for women who enjoy sexual relations with younger men is “cougars” and the term for men who enjoy sexual relations with younger women is “men.”

Patriarchy has no intention of dying without a fight. And to that end the boosters of Patriarchy have developed a “scientific” theory to explain the divergent sexual behaviors of men and women under Patriarchy, “evolutionary adaptation.” Also known as “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” The official umbrella term for this political movement (in spite of the claims that it is science) is “evolutionary psychology” and it is all the rage among big media opinion leaders. At least three of the name-brand columnists in the New York Times, John Tierney, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd have cited evolutionary psychology “studies” to justify their own belief that men and women have opposite, essential natures and anybody who denies this belief is simply anti-science.

Both cougars and Catherine the Great flout the basic tenets of evolutionary psychology which are that
a. women are innately more monogamous than men, and
b. women innately prefer older and wealthier men, whereas men prefer younger, beautiful women.
It should be mentioned that evolutionary psychologists have yet to figure out what to make of homosexuals. As far as they are concerned all modern sexual behaviors are the result of the procreational choices of our pre-historic ancestors. Since the sexual preferences of homosexuals don’t lead to procreation, they don’t fit into the iron-clad algorithm of strict adaptationism that evolutionary psychologists swear by.

What Catherine the Great and 21st-century “cougars” have in common is economic independence. Unlike women under the extreme patriarchy that has dominated the world since forever, Catherine and women in industrial/post-industrial societies can hold jobs that pay at least a living wage, and control the disbursement of those wages themselves, and are therefore not obliged to marry a man on the grounds that he has enough money to support her and their children, with the only other options being prostitution or living a life of economic and sexual impoverishment as an “old maid.”

However, the economic realities that shape human sexual behavior are never acknowledged by evolutionary psychologists, because that muddies the streamlined perfection of their belief system. So much so that the leading proponent of "evolved" gender essentialism, David Buss, went so far as to insist that a culture in which women were sold into polygynous marriage by their families  (the Turkmen of Persia) was an example of female sexual preference for older powerful men.

What I’ve done with this play, in part, is to suggest a possible scenario for how the rumors of Catherine’s alleged "unnatural" practices began - rumors spread by disgruntled men informed by the traditional sexual double-standard. The main difference between then and now is that the 18th-century justification was God’s will, whereas now it is the workings of “nature.”

In all cases the insistence that it is unnatural and unfeminine for a woman to choose younger sexual partners, or have more than one sexual partner at a time should be refuted and opposed by all who believe that women have a right to sexual self-determination without the interference of the bullies of the Patriarchy.

Friday, April 27, 2012


THE SIBERIAN SHAMAN by Catherine the Great starts off with such promise! I really had high hopes during the first thirty pages of the play.

It starts off with something I didn't expect - Mavra the maid from the play OH THESE TIMES! is back. Actually, nowhere in the play does it indicate she's the same person as the Mavra in OH THESE TIMES! - maybe "Mavra" was a sort of generic name to give all Russian maidservant characters in Catherine's day. But I was hoping it was the same character. And then the play starts out like some kind of 18th-century Marx brothers routine with Mavra as Chico.
(with both hands in her pockets)
Your wish, madam?
First, listen carefully to what I have to say, then run as quickly as you can.
Very well, I’m listening.
Run to my daughter
At once.
(Turning around, she starts to run out.)
Where are you going?
To Prelesta Nikolaevna, your daughter.
To tell her what? You haven’t let me finish.
I’ll tell her you told me to run to her.
I’m sending you to my daughter with instructions.
Ah! I thought -
Run to my daughter, and tell her I’ll be right there -
Very well.
(Turning around, she starts to leave.)
Wait a minute. Don’t be in such a hurry.
Catherine also dropped the Restoration Comedy characteristic-names that we saw in the previous play (Mrs. Tattler, Mr. Notshallow) although the names are funny sounding anyway - in addition to Bobina there's Flena Drobina - I don't know how that's pronounced in Russian but I kept hearing it in my head as Fleena Drobeena. And the daughter's name, Prelesta, sounds like a prescription.

As an aside - I really hate the format that Catherine follows in dividing up her scenes. Basically a new scene begins whenever a character enters or leaves. For example:
Prokofii! Prokofii!

(Prokofii enters.)


Your wish?

So annoying!

In present times, whenever there's a holy man, especially one from an exotic religion, there's a very good chance that he's not really a holy man, just a guy running a scam. I thought maybe that was only a modern trope, but no, sure enough it turns out that the Shaman in this play is also running a scam, in cahoots with the Butler of the Bobin household, who turns out to be the Shaman's brother.

Catherine may have been diplomatic and subtle as a politician but she certainly wasn't as a writer. She lets us know that the Shaman is a fake almost right away, with another promising scene. The Shaman has been invited into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bobin because Mrs. Bobin (or rather Bobina - in the Russian mode, women's last names are feminized) has taken ill.
Well here’s what happened... our mistress fell ill, from a simple chill. (The Shaman) brought her some kind of herbal water - 
Which she took...

No sir, she never did... the vial broke. We were afraid to say anything...

But how did she - 
We are to blame. 
(Smiles. Prokofii laughs.) 
What are you laughing about? What happened? Please tell me. 
Very well, all right... I’ll tell you... only if you promise not to tell anyone. 
Don’t worry... tell me. 
We put another vial in its place -  
With medicine in it? 
No sir... just plain water. 
And your mistress drank this water? 
Constantly... with a small spoon. 
And did she become better? 
Bit by bit, sir... the water began to act as a laxative! 
But around here the rumors flew that she recovered thanks to the the Shaman’s precious potions. 
But please don’t tell on us. 
The Bragin in this scene is a friend of the suitor of Prelesta (side effects may include...) and Prokofiii is a manservant. I thought it bode well for the future plot that he and Mavra were in cahoots.

And then we get to see the Shaman for the first time and that scene is just wild:
(The Shaman runs across the stage and stands with his back to the wall, near the orchestra)
Look! Just now he drew nearer; perhaps I can attract him somehow. If I don’t succeed, you try something to get his attention.
Very well, we will watch you and then try ourselves.
Amban-Lai of the 140 degrees, these people wish to speak with you.
(Lai, with his face rapt, stands in one place and hops.)
That got him going!
Mr. Amban-Lai, we would like to hear your wisdom.
(Lai, standing in one place, does a pantomime as if someone is tickling him.)
I will see... if I can do it...
(to Lai with a tone of derision)
Don’t you need a crutch?
(Shows him a walking stick. Lai shakes his head to the right and to the left.)
Haven’t you stood still at the wall long enough?
(Shows him his watch.)
See what time it is already.
(Lai nods his head forward and to the side, in the manner of Chinese dolls.)
(Showing Lai a purse with money.)
Does this please you?
(Lai stretches out both hands in front of him.)
Ha, ha! Mr. Amban... you are certainly no dummy.
(Lai barks like a dog.)
What kind of voice is that? It sounds like a dog barking.
I’ll try. Mr. Shaman, haven’t you  made us wait long enough in anticipation of conversation?

(Lai mews like a cat.)
Isn’t that Chinese?
Does Chinese sound like the cry of a kitten?
Mr. Lai, could you perhaps be pretending?
(Lai crows like a rooster.)
I’m beginning to think you’re playing a joke on us.
(Lai clucks like a hen.)
Amban-Lai of the 140 degrees,  come to your senses!

(Lai suddenly rushes forward, pushing the others apart and runs from behind the wings, at full speed.)

What a crazy man!
Never in my life...


He almost knocked us all down.
Please excuse him.
I don’t know what to think!
He certainly stretched out his hands to take that money.
I beg you, don’t judge him so quickly.
In many ways he acts just like village women in hysterics.
His fellow Siberian Shamans all make even more sounds and movements than that. I appeal to anyone who’s ever seen them. But it must seem strange if you’re not used to it. Shamans learn such things by degrees; this one has attained 140 degrees. There are rules so that by degrees they can reach this state of trance.
Live and learn! Who among you, brothers, has ever heard of rules... so that by degrees... one may go out of one’s mind? What a science!
He has a reputation as both a wise man and a sorcerer.
He acts like a child...
And plays the buffon. 
(Lai enters gravely with a rapt visage, holding a shamanic kettledrum in his hands. He strikes it intermittently at first, then quickens his steps and then blows  and runs around Sidor Drobin singing oo oo oo, producing a sound like the howling of a storm.)
Don’t tell my wife, she’ll think he’s enchanted me.
(Lai continues his running around them all, shaking and frightening them, hopping and singing ooooo, iiii, eh eh eh eh, a a a a.  Then he runs straight up to the chair, where he falls as if unconscious. His followers leave him after a short ballet.)
Now that is some pretty bold and original dramatic business there. And a huge cast - there are already fifteen characters in the play and then she throws in an indeterminate number of followers who do a short ballet.

I'm sure that all the barking, meowing, crowing, etc. was thought hysterically funny by the audiences of the time - hell, I'm sure today's audiences would laugh too. As I was reading it I thought, "not bad for the Empress of Russia." I mean, she has this amazing, promising set-up - a sham Shaman, mischievous servants, wackiness galore. That narrative train is chugging right along - and then it completely derails.

As I said, she's not the most subtle of writers. It isn't enough to reveal that the Shaman is fake once, we must be told many times.

But then she introduces a character named Ustinia Mashkina who is either extremely stupid or insane and all the other characters express contempt for her. She's certainly portrayed as annoying, Catherine constantly describes her as affected. And I mean constantly:
I’ve come from Zaraisk, matushka, from Zaraisk.
Did you bring us any much news from there?
From Zaraisk, I first went on ahead to Moscow, and having met up with some acquaintances there, I accompanied them here.
Who do you mean?
(affectedly, holding a fan in front of her face)
Does it vex you that I have come?
(affectedly to Bobina)
It is my fate, you see; out of jealousy for their husbands, all the ladies envy me!
She's shown to be fooled any time a man says he loves her - she apparently can't tell when somebody is teasing. My guess is she's based on someone Catherine knew who was autistic. This was before autism was recognized as a condition. She's a pitiful character but Catherine displays no empathy for her and she seems to be placed right into the middle of the play as a plot device: she believes that she is engaged to the man that Prelesta (ask your doctor about...) loves, Ivan Pernatov. But of course it turns out that Pernatov was teasing Ustinia Mashkina and she thought he was sincere. But even though they know she's a delusional fool, some of them believe that she's actually his fiancee, especially Prelesta because Prelesta is also an idiot.

So the Ustinia Mashkina character is there to keep Prelesta (do not take on an empty stomach)  from getting together too quickly with her beloved and meanwhile, what happened to the Siberian Shaman plot? Well, we barely see him after his big dance scene and then we find out about his fate through servants' dialog, and then later from the master & family's dialog because why the hell not tell the same thing twice?
The trouble’s already happened; he’s been arrested.
The Amban?


Yes, they’ve just led him away.

Oh, poor fellow! He wasn’t so clever after all.


They also say he swindled a merchant’s widow out of her money. He promised her he would reveal her husband in the flesh, and for two day sin a row he brought her some kind of bearded man in disguise. Frightened, she took him for her dead lover. But now the entire sham has been exposed.
And this, by the way, is the only other conversation between Mavra and Prokofii - the smart-ass servant plot was discarded along with the sham Shaman plot to make way for the stupid and mean-spirited Ustinia Mashkina plot.

But the worst thing about the Ustinia Mashkina plot is that at the end of the play Catherine has a character compare her to the Shaman, after she's been heartlessly fooled yet again. These are the last lines of the play:
You are all leaving, but I must remain.  
You resemble these Shamans; both you and they follow rules you’ve invented. At first you deceive only yourself, but then you deceive everyone else who puts their faith in you.
This is idiotic. The Shaman was deceiving everyone because he was running a deliberate scam. Ustinia Mashkina is just a haplessly delusional character. But hey, if you're going to destroy a perfect comedy set-up, why not completely blow it away with a wrong-headed moral too?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How We Learned About Ourselves and Each Other Through Acting Games

The title of this post sums up the plot of CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION, but it was smart of Annie Baker not to use it as the title of the play. The actual title makes the play sound far more deep and mysterious than the alternative.

But I was flabbergasted when I read the play the other day. As I blogged about on Tuesday, Mac Wellman opined that the critics don't really get the sharp edges of Baker's work. And Wellman disparaged what he thinks American critics love, which is "Sentimental Melodrama" aka "Face Value Theatre."

I was flabbergasted because Baker's play is basically a one-episode tricked-out soap opera, without a single sharp edge. I am not kidding. Through the structure of the acting-class we learn who is married, who is divorced, who is attracted to whom,  who cheated on whom, who was molested, who can't get over her ex-boyfriend, who has an ill family member, etc. etc. etc. You know - gossip. The kind of stuff that people who are not Mac Wellman just absolutely cannot get enough of.

I think it's a good play, but then I don't think the problem with American theatre is not enough edge and too much respect for boundaries. As I demonstrated Tuesday, American theatre companies are obsessed with surpassing, pushing, breaking and smashing boundaries. And far from not enough intellectual sharpness, there is in fact a denigration of emotions. I found it telling that in her intro to CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION Baker makes sure to tell you that the characters "are not fools." Why would she need to do that? Because it's the natural inclination of the contemporary theatre world to look down on a play that is about average people, interacting in the usual ways. Having more female than male roles doesn't help either.

Baker manages to avoid having her play dismissed thanks to the acting class scenario. It works for four reasons: it gives a dash of high culture to the proceedings; it's very meta - actors pretending to take an acting class and in some cases playing acting games for the first time; it freshens up standard play conventions like monologues - one of the acting games is to have a person pretend to be another person in the class and tell the audience about "themselves" - so there are several monologues throughout the play, but characters deliver each others' monologues. Finally, it works because it's funny to see these people being made to act in odd ways required of acting games.

But the reason it's a good play is because it is well-plotted. Baker ensures that as we gradually learn about the characters outside of class, we see how that impacts their interactions during class, and vice versa

Yes, it's very well done but it is in absolutely no way cutting edge or boundary-breaking. I read hundreds of plays a year through my various theatre activities and I promise you, there's nothing edgy about CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION. A CHORUS LINE, first produced in 1975 is far more edgy.

I don't know if Mac Wellman is talking about another play by Baker that has sharp edges, but I suspect he was just flattering her when he said the stupid critics missed the sharp edges of her work - I guess he didn't want her to think, after all the nice things she said about him in the Dramatists magazine interview, that he was lumping her in with purveyors of Sentimental Melodramas. But really, that's exactly what CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION is, and that's why it will be performed fifty years from now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - April 30, 2012

Well the Alison Bechdel article did not talk about the Bechdel Test and I was rather disappointed - I think more people have heard of her through that than through anything else. Anyway, the parity score is a crappy 18% this week (50% would be gender parity.)

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: -14%

April 30, 2012

Total writers: 22
male: 18
female: 4
gender parity score: 18%

Last week's score
Total writers: 22
male: 15
female: 7
gender parity score: 32%

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oh you earthlings and your "melodramas"

I see that Annie Baker and Mac Wellman are congratulating each other in the latest issue of The Dramatist. The best part is Wellman's dissatisfaction with theatre critics, whom, as I noted earlier on this blog, all think he's a genius no matter what they think of his plays - although they almost always love his plays.

But apparently this is not enough for him, because in spite of their good taste when it comes to piling on the superlatives about his work, they still insist, occasionally, on admiring work that engages human emotions rather than simply adoring incoherent word salad:
Theatre criticism is a remarkable one note only interested in what I call Sentimental Melodrama. They miss any intellectual sharpness, visual or physical acuity. They are only interested in what I call Face Value theatre. What you see is what you get, no time for reflection (incidentally they miss the sharp edges of your work.)
Now of course he doesn't give any examples of these pieces of sentimental shit, because he's too savvy a political player for that - you don't get to a lofty perch in Academia by being blunt to your colleagues.

But certainly we know that critics looove Shakespeare. So I'm going to assume he means Shakespeare - Wellman thinks that critics are fucking idiots for enjoying all the sentimental melodrama that Shakespeare engages in - which is plenty -  instead of focusing on what really counts, which is Shakespeare's wordplay.

Unfortunately I haven't seen Annie Baker's big calling card Circle Mirror Transformation yet, and didn't find it last time I was at the Dramatists Book Shop. But here's a review from the Washington Post:
Resonantly, too, the playwright has constructed a comedy about acting that gives actors terrific moments. Everybody gets at least one: The state of Marty and James's marriage, for instance, comes coursing to the surface in a sharply rendered scene in which Mendenhall and Winter reveal their characters' mutual resentment while role-playing another character's parents. The expertly played sexual tension between Talbott's Schultz and McElfresh's Theresa supplies another swell undercurrent for the evening. 
The state of a marriage? Mutual resentment? Sexual tension? Sounds like Baker indulges in a big stinking pile of melodrama there. Perhaps that's why Wellman hastens to say that critics "miss the sharp edges of (her) work." Because although they praise the melodrama, they failed to see what theatre is really about - sharp edges! It's all about being edgy. And pushing those accursed boundaries.

One of my personal peeves is the absolutely mindless worship of "pushing boundaries" in theatre these days. A few months ago I posted on the NYCPlaywrights weekly email blast a long list of theatre company manifestos in which they proclaim their seething hatred for boundaries:
Since becoming Artistic Director, Diane Paulus has programmed
innovative work that has enhanced the A.R.T.’s core mission to EXPAND
THE BOUNDARIES of theater. 
The legendary Maly Drama Theatre began against all odds in war-ravaged
Leningrad in 1944, performing in relative obscurity until the mid-70s,
when current artistic director Dodin and other well-known artists
joined the company. Maly Drama grew, in breadth and ambition, to
become an internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning theater
famous for CHALLENGING THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES with Dodin’s thrillingly
imaginative productions and accomplished ensemble of actors. 
The honor is presented "to an artist who embodies the courage and
pioneering spirit that Ms. Stewart encouraged at La MaMa, an artist
BOUNDARIES and expanding our understanding of human potential."
Stewart died Jan. 13 at age 91.
Ridge Theater has established itself as one of America’s premiere
creators of multimedia theater, opera, and new music performance.
Ridge productions are epic visual and aural works that typically
position performers within film and video projections, REDEFINING
TRADITIONAL THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES. Dramatic staging by acclaimed
director Bob McGrath and haunting film work and projections by the
filmmaker Bill Morrison (“Decasia”) and the visual artist Laurie
Olinder are hallmarks of the Ridge style.
Ars Nova is on the prowl for talented artists who see the future of
live entertainment and want the chance to show off their skills. We’re
interested in edgy, offbeat, charged performances that tell a story,
make us laugh, showcase musicians with a vibrant new sound, or BLUR
THE BOUNDARIES between theater, music and comedy. If it can be
performed live on stage, we’re interested! 
    Our shows share a common distaste for the mainstream naturalism/
realism that characterizes much of contemporary American theatre.
    They evince a belief in stylization, kineticism, and formal
    They take seriously the notion of comedy as a philosophy of life.
    They revel in the form and matter of both American pop culture and
global mythological archetypes.
    They embrace the inherently collaborative nature of the art form
and constantly seek new forms and processes with which to involve
their fellow artists in the creation of new work.
    They’re fun, dammit.

This contest is for a groundbreaking play that explores the theme of
Boundaries. Though the characters can be few and the location
specific, we are looking for big ideas and challenging questions. The
Boundaries we wish to explore can be physical, emotional,
psychological, cultural, political, spiritual or all of the above, as
long as it is expressing an individual perspective on something
humankind can intimately connect to. This is not only an opportunity
to have a text exposed to different audiences, but a chance to engage
in a cross-cultural exchange that fosters a collaboration with
multiple directors around the world who will each have a personal
vision of the play. It should offer each director and cast in the
various locations a unique opportunity to work on the development of a
provocative and engaging text through the lenses of audiences around
the world. This play should speak both on a personal and universal
level. It should be ambitious and STRETCH THE BOUNDARIES of what is
Theatre has always been an evolving and dynamic form of self
expression. It is meant to PUSH BOUNDARIES and raise questions. 
We are looking for NEW scripts for our regular Shelterskelter show. We
are also looking for new scripts for a possible "adults only" late
night show which would follow the regular show. This is a chance to
PUSH SOME BOUNDARIES and experiment with more mature content. Deadline
for submitting scripts is June 1, 2011. In general, scripts for
Shelterskelter should be 30 minutes or less in length. Indicate you
are submitting for Shelterskelter in the subject line of your email. 
For The Inkwell, that means we want to work with playwrights who:
seek a sustained and open collaboration with The Inkwell’s playmakers,
playgoers, and playwrights
create impossible worlds that PUSH PAST THE BOUNDARIES of Theatre As
We Know It
spin yarns in their own way, without regard to what is popular,
producible or profitable 
PUSHING BOUNDARIES, taking artistic risks, exploring new ideas in
Theater & Film. 
The Phoenix Fringe Festival presents innovative, experimental and
provocative theatre productions in the downtown Phoenix area. With a
mission to promote artistic exploration by showcasing a variety of
works that PUSH THE BOUNDARIES of art, the Phoenix Fringe Festival
works with local theatres and producers to create this exciting annual
event. The 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival will be held from April 1-10,
2011, at a variety of theatres and galleries throughout downtown
Set in Louisiana's bayous, the play explores the struggles of two
brothers locked in a fierce tug-of-war for their souls. This is the
first Southeastern production of a work by this 28-year old Miami
native and New World High School graduate whose plays are PUSHING THE
BOUNDARIES of form, language and sexuality in provocative and poetic
ways. Winner of the New York Times 2009 Outstanding Playwright Award. 
Visiting and resident artists PUSH THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES at the Hop in
The Hop offers the visions of singular and adventurous downtown and
Off-Off-Broadway theater-makers in winter and spring 2011, presenting
works that push visual boundaries, break open social issues and offer
rich retellings of classic works. In addition, the National Theatre
Live continues, bringing to Hanover the best of the British stage via
high-definition video broadcasts. 
Our season is drawn largely from the established dramatic canon,
though new plays, devised, and contemporary work have also frequently
been produced. As part of the University's English Department, we
primarily produce 'straight' plays, though musical theatre continues
to be an vital, if not annual, part of our seasons. In all our
productions we pride ourselves on exploring the multiplicity of ways a
theatrical story can be told, on PUSHING THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES , and
on creating exciting work for a young, contemporary audience. Though
our work is centered on the dramatic text, multi-media, music, dance
and puppetry have all made their appearance on a regular basis in our
For over 25 years, NYTW has been devoted to building long-term
relationships with artists and giving emerging and established artists
alike the space to take risks and explore their creative visions.
Further, as a home for project exploration and new collaborations, we
aim to support work that PUSHES THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES and reflects the
world around us. 
Following six award winning seasons the ensemble looks to the future,
continuing its focus on development of new works, the exploration,
discovery and re-envisioning/re-imagining of classic works. Our
intention is to stay open to new ideas and PUSH THE LIMITS AND
BOUNDARIES IN ALL DIRECTIONS. We thank you for your support of live
theatre and look forward to entertaining and provoking you to think,
laugh, weep and explore with every production. Onward! 
Trans-Global Readings: CROSSING THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES (Theatre: Theory-
Practice-Performance) [Paperback] 
Put simply, we consider an unproducible play to be one in which the
cast size, subject matter, potential depravity, complexity of staging,
or scale of spectacle take the play out of consideration for most
other companies or producers in their right minds. They should be
extreme, outrageous, epic, imaginative, and SURPASS THE BOUNDARIES of
convention. Our belief is that the right combination of these
qualities – especially when coupled with satire, allegory, or fantasy
– make up what’s most transporting, stimulating, and surprising about
The mission of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) is to
expose, entertain, educate, and inspire our audiences with the
powerful, transformational potential of theatre. BETC stages plays
that chronicle the human condition. We target an audience of adults
and young adults in Boulder County and surrounding areas through
production of contemporary plays, regional and world premieres, and
revisited classics. Through our professional theatrical productions,
we alter our community's cultural perceptions and provoke discussion
BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES enlarges and updates Theodore Shank's 1982 book
American Alternative Theatre, examining the ways in which the
experiments of the 1960s and 1970s continue to affect contemporary
Centaur Theatre is proud to mark the 15th anniversary of its Wildside
Theatre Festival with a spectacular line-up that BREACHES THEATRICAL
BOUNDARIESand breaks new ground. Performed by both seasoned and
emerging talent, the avant-garde works range from slapstick comedy to
the surreal. Co-curated by Centaur Artistic and Executive Director,
Roy Surette, and writer and performer Johanna Nutter, this exciting
edition of the festival includes the winner of Centaur’s Best of the
Fringe Award, Blink Blink Blink; the North-American, English-language
premiere of Bliss; and Bifurcate Me, Wildside’s first bilingual
We envision an annual production that unites students of all academic
backgrounds and interests, BREAK BOUNDARIES, and eliminates the
stereotypes associated with engineering students. We envision an
energetic, innovative, and unique production that maintains a high
level of quality and fun every year. We envision a significant annual
contribution to a charity that we care deeply about. 
Formed in 2006 at Goldsmiths, University of London by Charlotte Croft,
Laura Hemming-Lowe and Chloe Stephens, SKIPtheatre BREAK BOUNDARIES
between performance, theatre, music, fashion and art. Charlotte, Laura
and Chloe work collectively as artistic directors to create theatrical
experiences for audiences where space, play and interaction are
Similarly, the Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi’s annual Chandigarh
Theatre Festival was an effort to BREAK BOUNDARIES between different
genres of performing arts by making events more comprehensive. The
endeavour was to promote both regional as well as Hindi theatre of the
region, as also the local theatre groups. 
It not only survived fire and flooding water, but rose to become the
place the theater community looked to for BOUNDARY-BREAKING plays.
When the Omaha Community Playhouse did an impressive staged reading of
Sarah Ruhl’s vibrator play, it seemed clear that the Barn was the
place to fully produce such an intimate, humorous look at sexual
Transform festival sets out to break boundaries - YORK company Pilot
Theatre and their ever-progressive artistic director Marcus Romer will
take part in Transform, a two-week festival of BOUNDARY-BREAKING
artistic endeavours at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. 
2008 launched the musical side of the company with a modern day,
version on the classical ‘Wizard of Oz’.  In 2010 sunlight productions
gave a little back to its theatre roots, creating a youth bursary in
conjunction with the Riverside Theatre youth drama school. It was in
2010 Sunlight Productions developed its community and education work
further which led to our drama being used as a meduim to BREAK THE
BOUNDARIES between the classroom and the community.  Consequently
Sunlight Productions Theatre AS Education was born and has been
developing ever since. 
The 2010 Must Experience is all about Shakespeare. Over the course of
the camp, students will explore one of Shakespeare’s comedies and
learn skills needed to approach the play in three unique ways: in
classical Shakespearean style, in a style of Asian theatre, and as the
basis for devised or improvised work. We welcome students interested
in developing performance and production skills, learning new
approaches to theatre, collaborating with other creative students, and
BREAKING BOUNDARIES of the expected as a way to reach new
understandings of making theatre 
PuSh Festival: Multimedia work Amarillo potently BUSTS BOUNDARIES of
traditional theatre 
POINTLESS THEATRE CO. is dedicated to creating bold, visceral, and
affordable spectacles that gleefully SMASH THE TRADITIONAL BOUNDARIES
between puppetry, theatre, dance, music, and the visual arts.  Through
our work we excite a passion for adventurous art in the nation's
capital and nurture a diverse, active, and inspired audience. 
GWAR is the predominant project of Slave Pit Inc. and the culmination
of numerous artists and musicians from nearly two decades. This is a
band as well as a theatrical troupe that has been ahead of its time
for many years as they SMASH THROUGH BOUNDARIES that no others would
even contemplate. 
Maybe your bad vision doesn’t require a trip to the optometrist.
Pangea World Theater’s Alternate Visions Festival promises to showcase
diverse talent and DISINTEGRATE THE BOUNDARY between artists and
audiences with unique viewpoints told in new lights. The festival,
which runs through May 1, is currently featuring a world-premiere
performance of Eleven Reflections on September, a multimedia
performance exploring the tension between Arab Americans and others
post-September 11. Also featured are open-mic nights, panel
discussions and video screenings of culture-defining and norm-breaking
The Icarus Theatre Collective explores the harsh, brutal side of
classical and modern drama. We also value post-modernism and the great
surrealists, blending classic stories into a new Theatre of the
Absurd, which maintains a cohesive, evocative story. Tales of
mutilation, rape, and incest are not anathema to us, rather we choose
to relish what others shy away from, show what others daren’t, DESTROY
BOUNDARIES when others would create rules.
The winner of eight Tony awards and featuring “the most gorgeous
Broadway score this decade” (Entertainment Weekly), with songs by
Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, Spring Awakening is a celebration of
youth and self-discovery that combines classic text and rock and roll.
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening follows a group
of 19th Century German teens as they grapple with sexuality, morality
and rebellion in a world of unresponsive adults, Spring Awakening
EXPLODES THE BOUNDARIES of musical theatre to reveal the touching and
passionate journey of growing up. 
Presented by Yale Repertory Theatre and World Performance Project at
Yale, celebrates the diversity of voices and experiences in today’s
world. NO BOUNDARIES explores—and explodes—the frontiers of theatrical
invention through cutting-edge, thought-provoking dance, music, and
theatre. Tearing down cultural, linguistic, and geographic barriers,
NO BOUNDARIES extends and enhances the educational mission of Yale
University through a series of performances by artistic innovators
from around the globe—right here in New Haven, right here at Yale.
Perhaps a little too slow-moving and slightly drawn-out at times, it
is nonetheless effective in tugging at the heart-strings. Touching and
sentimental, time is not the only boundary crossed here; SURELY,

 What a bunch of zombies. Break Boundaries! Smash Boundaries! Maybe they hate boundaries so much because they figure that on the other side of boundaries are braaaaaaiiiiiins!

The kind of playwrights Wellman likes, he explains:
(have) an attitude towards story-telling that is very different from the norm in our theatre in These States. Often their plays operate like a game of three-dimensional chess: characters who are firmly located in one apparent world suddenly find themselves in a situation that is drastically elsewhere... Sometimes the apparent explanation for a series of events is more baffling than the events supposedly elucidated... and still other plays, a series of apparently unrelated scenes take on an evocative, if malign mood, when linked together. 
Three-dimensional chess! That sounds smart! Not the usual Theatre of the Retarded that critics in These States adore so much!

And clearly the critics are ever so dull because I have yet to see a single chess metaphor in their rhapsodies for Circle Mirror Transformation. The NYTimes said:
Lauren gets the big finish too. In a final exercise, she and Schultz pretend to run into each other 10 years in the future. Everything is made clear: People know you better than you may think. Many truths are unspoken. Everything will be fine.
That sounds alarmingly coherent and... dare I say it... traditional. How about the LA Times?
The play allows us to make discoveries of characters as we fit together the scraps of their biographies. It comes as something of a surprise to learn that James, who broods depressively over his estranged daughter, teaches at the college and that his marriage to Marty is not as idyllic as it initially appears. And it’s only over time that we sense something is not quite right about Theresa’s manic friendliness or begin to appreciate the sharply observing intelligence of Lauren (Lily Holleman), the youngest of the group. A socially remedial high school student, she's the only one brave enough to ask, "Are we going to be doing any real acting?"
Damn they love that line "Are we going to be doing any real acting?" I don't think a single review fails to mention it. But hey, it's funny - and anybody can get it. So what else is there - biographies? An estranged daughter? That doesn't sound a bit baffling and nothing at all like three-dimensional chess. Clearly the critics are less discerning than even Wellman gives them credit for, they failed to sense a single sharp edge.

Obviously my next step is to track down a copy of Circle Mirror Transformation and find those sharp edges... but then, maybe I'm not really cut out for comprehending theatre. I mean, I suck at even one-dimensional chess.

In the mean time, enjoy these remarks from Theresa Rebeck:
Last year I attended a cocktail party for a theater that was doing one of my plays. The artistic director was making a little presentation, introducing me to his staff and his board, and he said -- in front of everybody -- "Theresa's plays are always really well-structured, but don't hold that against her."

The next day I wrote him an e-mail. "Hey, is it somehow considered uncool to structure a play these days?" I asked.

"Actually," he wrote back, "my literary department kind of does think that."

Literary departments aren't the only ones. I was hosting a session at the Lark, a New York developmental theater that helps playwrights build plays in a workshop setting, and one of the writers presented a beautifully written complete mess of a play. After many people, including myself, praised the grace of the writing, I admitted that I found the play incoherent. The writer nodded and laughed, delighted at my response. "I just wanted to stay away from anything that resembled a plot," she explained.

"Oh, well, plot," I said.

Here's a plot: Two guys are waiting for somebody big and important to show up. That guy never shows up, but somebody else does. They go back to waiting, and then the tree grows.

Here's another plot: A lonely guy lives on a farm for a long time. He gets bored with his life. He gets a crush on his sister-in-law, and she gets a crush on his friend. Eventually, everyone goes home, only now all of them are even lonelier than they were before.

Here's another plot: A king divides his kingdom between two of his daughters. All hell breaks loose.

I think it goes without saying that young would-be playwrights in developmental workshops should be so lucky as to write plays as good as "Waiting for Godot," "Uncle Vanya" or "King Lear," none of which would have existed without a decent plot. Obviously a theatrical masterpiece needs more than a plot; many television shows are nothing but plot, and it is doubtful that they will stand the test of time. But I also don't think that making fun of plot, or acting like we're all somehow "above" structure is such a good idea.
More here...

UPDATE - I just came across another worshipful piece on Mac Wellman (except for this blog, is there any other kind?) called, what else, Mac Wellman: Pushing Boundaries.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Hey - go take the NYCPlaywrights survey!

Right here!

The solace of sonnets

NOTE: this post is written in response to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Happy Birthday Shakespeare project

Shakespeare's mistress, aka "The Dark Lady" was a raging bitch. I know because Shakespeare says so, many times. Here's an example in Sonnet 131:
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
For well thou know'st to my dear doting heart
Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
Yet in good faith some say that thee behold,
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;
To say they err, I dare not be so bold,
Although I swear it to my self alone.
And to be sure that is not false I swear,
A thousand groans but thinking on thy face,
One on another's neck do witness bear
Thy black is fairest in my judgment's place.
In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
And thence this slander as I think proceeds.
He says that although she is not generally considered beautiful, he thinks so, but she behaves badly: "In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds. And thence this slander as I think proceeds."

It's interesting to note the legalese of the last line - saying anything negative about her is slanderous, except in reference to her bad deeds - that charge hasn't been thrown out of court.

In other sonnets he mentions she's cheating on him; she looks at other men when they are together; she lies all the time; and she's not even beautiful (he - says - that - alot.)

And yet he can't stop loving her.

The same thing happened to me. I came to love a guy with whom I worked on several theatre projects, although initially I didn't think he was attractive. During our final project together I realized he possessed some nasty traits, and even nastier friends, and when I called him out on some bad behavior his response was not to admit wrong-doing and apologize, his response was to stop speaking to me.

Logically what I should have done was shut down all tender feelings, immediately, and consider myself well rid of him. But instead I was in anguish for weeks.

During this time I happened to read an article on Shakespeare's sonnets, which I had never thought about much before - I'd only cared about his plays. And as I read about the "Dark Lady" sonnets I realized: Shakespeare understood exactly what I was going through.

You can't get a more accurate representation of the self-loathing that comes from realizing you love someone you don't like than Sonnet 147.
My love is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
He says it right there - reason, which he compares to a physician, is gone and he's consigned to utter irrationality: "For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright, Who art as black as hell, as dark as night."

It's a bad, bad feeling.

The Dark Lady sonnets are generally considered to be 127 - 152. The one that inspired me most is Sonnet 151 an ode to the triumph of erotic desire over all:
Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then gentle cheater urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.
For thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason,
My soul doth tell my body that he may,
Triumph in love, flesh stays no farther reason,
But rising at thy name doth point out thee,
As his triumphant prize, proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
No want of conscience hold it that I call,
Her love, for whose dear love I rise and fall.
I found his references to penile hydraulics, in the sixteenth century yet, most impressive. I'd never written a poem but 151 made me want to try my own sonnet:
My hopes drown on the bottom of the bay.
Brooding, I lie alone on a stark shore.
Beaten down by the predictable fray,
Prostrated I will never see you more.
I blame myself for my poor judgement: how
I dismissed any bad weather report;
The ill-starred forecastle of your port bow;
Your inability to find a port.
But still the white-foam-spraying dreams remain,
Sweating a sad tormented yearning girl.
Admitting that I may be quite insane
Again I search the oyster for the pearl.
No longer Gräfenberg the place will be -
The letter will forever stand for thee.  
The bit about the oyster and pearl is perhaps the most obvious part, but "sweating" and "Grafenberg" are also sexual references. It's not especially good, but I found it hugely diverting to write, and any time not thinking about a person I wanted to forget but instead on the rigors of a Shakespearean sonnet was better spent. It was an absorbing challenge to express my emotions within the discipline of fourteen lines of ten syllables with abab-cdcd - efef-gg rhyme scheme - read more about the form here. I admit I often ignored the unstressed-stressed syllable rule, but Shakespeare ignored it plenty of times too.

After the diversion of writing poetry you have the additional benefit of a completed poem you can recite in your head many times like a prayer to drive out evil spirits.

I wrote 110+ sonnets over the course of three and a half years. I know, I know, three and a half years, that's an absurdly long time to get over unrequited love. After I wrote the first ten, I thought I was done and the healing process was complete, but the desire to wring every drop of poison from my soul drove me on for much longer than I ever would have predicted.

On several occasions I borrowed lines from Shakespeare's plays:
Oh, how much I loved you! And even now
I feel echoes of relentless passion
That ripped through my life, and still recall how
Foolish I was and how you came to shun
Me, and my crime: loving excessively.
It was most unwisely done on my part,
But if wisely done, is it love truly?
That crazy reckless wanton fool, the Heart
Cannot else - t'is its only enjoyment
To throw itself into a high-speed fan.
Oh, it does make love to this employment!
Will never make a well-considered plan.
And I, too weak to prevent heart-breaking,
Entranced by visions of your love-making.  
If you know Shakespeare's plays you may recognize "make love to this employment" is a reference to this section from HAMLET:
So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't.

Why, man, they did make love to this employment,
They are not near my conscience. Their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow.
'Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensèd points
Of mighty opposites.
A pretty unexpectedly earthy way to put it, but then that's why he's Shakespeare. I also borrowed from AS YOU LIKE IT, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and OTHELLO. 

I don't plan to quit my day job and become a poet (although really nobody can make a living as a poet anymore), the main purpose of my sonnets was therapy. Like Shakespeare's Dark Lady, they may not be objectively beautiful, but they're beautiful to me. And in the spirit of Sonnet 151:
The passionate and ardent amoureuse
Best longs to see, blood-engorgéd, her man's
Virile member - oh she cannot refuse
Its cock-sure charms, the king of all organs,
And most exquisite and beauteous sight
To put fantastic sunsets all to shame,
With pinks and purples, his, in dusky light.
Involuntarily she calls his name
His darling sacred name and reaches out
To caress veracity's own token,
The luscious swollen token of no-doubt -
His approval manifest unspoken.
Oh! Longing longing in futility,
He will not rouse the staff of life for me.
Although Shakespeare was a professional poet, I suspect that getting all his frustration, self-loathing, lust and anguish out on paper benefited his emotional health too. But certainly he knew his work was good - he mentioned on several occasions that his sonnets would be immortal, as in Sonnet 107:
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul,
Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage,
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,
Since spite of him I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.
It's immodest as all get-out, but he was right - his sonnets did stand the test of time. And I'm grateful they did.