When Theatre Doesn’t Measure Up

Nothing is more disappointing for me than going to see a play with high expectations and finding it weak, messy and poorly directed. Especially after hearing good things.

Makes me question all the “good things” I hear about many shows.

A recent experience was more than disappointing. I was on the verge of anger at the dragging and irrelevant plot, and was livid at the allowance by the director for one actor to play a caricature while most others were doing some downright Shepardesque realism, while he tossed in odd moments of expressionism.

Actually, those moments were about the only engaging thing in the performance.

And I guess I could give Mr. Director the credit for not making it boring.

Boring is the worst.

This was just….irrelevant. Ineffective.

It was also taking up the space and time in a theater that something better, more artful, more meaningful could have occupied. And that’s just a shame.

Life is short. Don’t waste it at a bad play.



When I Wish Upon a Star

Quickly following the year-in-review at the end of the December, full of “best of” lists and even a “best of the worst” list (which was one of my favorites) there came a few new lists: Wish lists for a better 2014—things we’d like to see from the Twin Cities theatre scene in the coming year.

I’d thought I’d put together a list of 10 of my own wishes, and for this I’m ignoring the financial and logistical difficulties.

  1. This town is full of talented performers, writers and musicians. Why not create an original musical? It was done last year by one company, but it could be done on a much larger scale. You know, Latte Da + Playwrights Center?
  2. Workhaus Collective is such an asset to the community, but I’d love to see more original scripts by others, whether as a whole season or as a single production in a season.  (oh, wait. Torch is doing this! And I’m excited!) We can do more
  3. As for previously produced scripts there are some plays and playwrights I want to see people tackle, like Caryl Churchill (who wants to take on Traps?) and Shepard (I’d kill for a good Buried Child production*) or more Mamet (for fuck’s sake!)
  4. Open a new performance space, and create a home for the itinerant companies that are ready for it. I know the logistics of numerous companies managing a space together are complex, but I think there are people running these companies that can make it work.
  5. Someone please fix the Theatre Garage, k?
  6. Festival programming: one ensemble company of actors, a few thematically or artistically related plays, running in rep for two months. Who says only the G should do something like this?
  7. More pop-up theaters. Sandbox did it this past fall in City Center. I’d like to see it create a new trend. I see plenty of empty storefronts and buildings.
  8. A while back someone did a show with mid-to-late-afternoon Sunday matinees, like in the 3 to 5 time slot. I thought it was weird, but realized I loved it because it fit nicely between daytime and evening commitments I had at the time. Someone should bring that back.
  9. And while we’re talking scheduling how about longer runs? ** I hate finding a show opening only to realize it closes ten days later and I’ve missed it. (I won’t even mention that one theatre’s production schedule which has way too many previews followed by too short a run.)
  10. Finally……Me. There should be more of me, which frankly I can’t rely solely on others for but can’t do on my own either. I act. I direct. You probably know where to find me. Last year was a good year but I had a few months I would’ve liked to fill.

As far as “wish” lists go, I’m hardly reaching for the stars on many of these. Baby steps, I guess.  Let’s do this, 2014!


* I’d direct that in a heart beat
** just like money shouldn’t be a factor in this dream list neither are audiences. I realize longer runs will likely stretch audiences thin for some folks, but short runs don’t have the benefit of buzz time.

Need to Ruminate

Today I witnessed a truly unique theatre piece. Original. Risky. Experimental.

There were things I liked, and things I liked…less. Including a moment or two that may have been weak.

There were things that I found fascinating.

There were things I didn’t understand.

There was a moment where I suddenly cried.

There was a moment I was suddenly inspired.

Perhaps in a day or two I could put it all in to words.

This. This is the reason I love the art of theatre.Image

A New Piece of Living Theatre

Over the past couple weeks I’ve done something that I realize I truly haven’t done for a long time. Along with five others I’ve been a part of creating, virtually from scratch, a short piece of theatre. We’ve taken an historic event, gathered raw materials from researching news articles and first person accounts, and without writing a fictitious line of our own built a 15-minute, dynamic, multi-faceted scene.

It’s ensemble built, and although we relied heavily on a structure and input proposed by a single member of the group—who was the person who brought us together—it’s probably some of the most team-oriented creation I’ve done since my days in an improv class. The members were open to hearing each other’s ideas for new things as well as criticism of one’s own, and the whole thing took on a sense of the old “yes, and…” attitude. We agreed on what we liked and what we didn’t, for the most part. And we listened to and respected each other’s contribution.

In about a half-dozen sessions, we discussed the story at great length, deliberated ideas big and small, threw together a list of elements, concepts and materials, put it up on its feet and began physicalizing the world of this story and then edited and shaped….and there it was. A new piece of living theatre.

What I can’t be sure of is whether it’s any good. We feel confident it’s at least compelling. Interesting. Engaging for an audience. We don’t expect the viewers to get every little detail or element. As someone smartly said in one early gathering, ultimately we’re not here to tell the whole story, we’re here to create a piece of theatre. An interpretation of a tale. A presentation that is enchanting, and makes the audience members want to know more.

The whole (short process, filled with quick choices) is not only a test of our skills, but is a testament to the ability (or shortcomings, perhaps) of each of us as theatre artists.

There are few people I’ve worked with long enough to think that I could possibly create something like this, so quickly, together. And the interesting thing here is that I’ve never worked with any of these people before. In fact, I think only one person in the group is familiar with any of my work, and that’s likely only a limited knowledge.

As part of Sandbox Theatre’s Summer Suitcase, a compilation of short pieces (for which all the set, costumes and props must fit inside a suitcase) this is a very short run, of a short piece. But it will be the third performance this year I’ve done with a new-to-me company, which helps to make this an exciting year. And even more, again this time, it’s with a company whose work I’ve admired and supported in the past, but had yet to work with and am happy to have the opportunity to do so.

This is some of the unique, experimental, putting-the-skills-I-have-to-work, kind of stuff I sometimes long for and rarely get an opportunity to do.

In a few days we’ll put it in front of an audience and see if it’s theatre.

A Short One-Man Show

My most recent post here was about a big audition where I didn’t know what I was doing. Well, twenty-some years later [aka just last week] I had another one where it may have seemed I didn’t know what I was doing. Only because it was a bit risky, and completely untested, and it was one of the most fascinating, challenging and interesting auditions I may have ever had.

I’m a huge fan of Sandbox Theatre and have mentioned them here before—they do original works that are company created, and typically in a very avant garde or expressionistic manner. When I first spotted their audition notice I was immediately excited at the opportunity (though I didn’t know any of these details.) I’ve loved their work in the past and think it would be terrific to get involved with them in some way, so I quickly signed up.

When I was able to snag a time slot and got the details I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the general audition for their Fall show they provided a few lines of text and asked people to create a one- to three-minute piece inspired by and using that bit of script. That’s it. There were no rules although there was encouragement to make it physical and to include anything that shows off your skills (duh. it’s an audition) so that could mean, singing, dancing, juggling balls of fire, whatever.

I thought this was the craziest thing to ask of someone at an audition (!) but then quickly realized that, of course, it made perfect sense for this company and the way they work, and I was pumped and inspired to put something together. I’ve written stuff before, I’ve adapted materials before, I’ve done original pieces as an actor and director, and I knew I could handle this challenge!

And then my mind went blank.

For two weeks I couldn’t get started, I couldn’t find inspiration from the bit of text they sent. I don’t sing well enough to call myself a singer, and I’m no acrobat and I can juggle three tennis balls well enough to say I can juggle but don’t make me move or throw in a fourth or light them on fire or the act is done. What can I do? What can I do to stand out and be interesting?!

I thought for a bit that I wasn’t going to be able to do this.

Then I realized that even though I don’t do those other things, what I can do and have done, is tell a story. And I have the skills to shape a story and craft one from new and other-used materials. Great! And I quit thinking about trying to be interesting.

So….what’s the story?

I couldn’t find the story…until one day, one line of the piece caught my eye:

“I…opened the window and started throwing out those things most important in life”

I realized I once knew a man who had done just that. He had thrown away everything, walked away from his life and his family and his loved ones with hardly a blink, and only years later realized what he had done. I sat down and started writing. I just needed to get words down on paper and trust that the flow of thoughts would come, things would take shape and I knew that no matter what I wrote I’d probably change it in a later draft anyway. I knew the story I wanted to tell, it was just a case of finding how to tell it.

Over the course of about a week I wrote about ten or twelve drafts of this scene, each one clarifying the story a bit more. The more I worked it, the clearer it became to me and the more I could see this piece not only being a viable audition piece for this company, but also a part of something larger. Perhaps it could be the starting point for a project I’ve been trying to find a way to write for a few years now. Perhaps.

Then came the sudden realization that I actually had to perform this and I had no idea whether it was crap or brilliant. I suspected it lay somewhere in between, but who knows? I was the only who had read it, wrote it or thought about it at all. Finally, with little time left I ran it passed a friend to give it the smell test.

It smelled fresh.

Still, the moment of the audition itself was nerve wracking. To do an original piece, that I wrote myself, that had never really, fully been done out loud and full out before, and had been given no outside direction (other than a few performance tips during the smell testing) made me feel, to say the least, a bit unsure of myself.

There I was again. Standing in an empty rehearsal hall, feeling naked and vulnerable, in front of a row of strangers (although considerably younger this time) behind tables covered in notes and papers and I tried to think back to that big audition I wrote about last week, and I tried to think of my previous accomplishments that made me feel confident I could create an original piece, and I tried to imagine the bigger stakes audition my nephew was having a thousand miles away at the same time and how I wouldn’t want for him to question his confidence, and I took a deep breath and I forgot all of it and just owned my original, never-before-seen, work-in-progress, short one-man show.

I simply began the story.

And it kind of rocked.

What an exhilarating, and memorable, audition.

Spinning tires

I’m sitting here in one of my favorite writing/reading/people watching places. At least for those which I can get to when I get away for a lunch break. It’s very literary. I’m sitting under a staircase designed to look like the pages of a book.

I came here hoping I could put my mind toward this new project I want to create. I’ve found the format, but I haven’t quite found dry ground to move on. I need to find the people and the secrets to populate this world, and they’re being tough to pull out in to the open road.

I’m stuck, and that’s frustrating. Not sure how to move forward quickly. Of course, quickly, has rarely been my m.o. so I don’t know why I should expect it now.

I know they’ll come to me eventually.

When you least expect it….

I’ve been struggling with getting traction on a new project. Little inspiration. Little energy available for it. I generally feed off of creative inspiration. It gives me a drive. So lately things have felt disappointing and a bit depressive.

This morning as I opened my eyes, the sun was shining and my dog was snuggled up next to me, and suddenly an image came to me of how this project might look on stage (it seems it’s always visual first) and then how a story might be told.

I may have finally found some traction and  the structure for this new project.