May 25, 2008

Fairy Tale Scholarship

This is a site that analyzes fairy tales from a variety of perspectives. I haven't been reading it lately (deliberately, to avoid sponging others' ideas instead of developing my own), but it does give some in-depth material about fairy tales that you normally can't find.

bell hooks' "Remembered Rapture"

I have to buy this book.

Feedback (Stuff I Can Answer Now)

Now that I've had time to think about it, I'll clarify and articulate some of the feedback I'm looking for.

I pretty much take Matt Freeman's stance toward playwriting and feedback. Blogging my process is NOT my natural way of doing things, but because this is an experimental piece, I think an experimental approach to process is appropriate.

In my previous post I described at the kind of environment I wanted to foster. Now let's talk methods.

I like the "Yes, and..." concept:
As I post my ideas about theatre tribes, I get many comments that seek to knock down some idea, or seek to applaud it. But what I wish for is someone who wants to extend it. Someone who wants to build on an idea, strengthen it by adding a support beam, illsutrate it by providing a personal story or some other example.
Why not apply something similar to feedback for works in progress? Without getting too technical, the general idea is to do 4 things:

1. Describe which part(s) resonate with you and why.
2. Follow up with a question (or questions) related to that.
3. Share an observation about the style/content.
4. Follow up a question (or questions) related to that.

For example . . .

Sample Poster said:
"I was really enchanted by how you describe the trees. I guess it's because that's so different from how we usually conceive of the natural world. [snip explanation]

Several times you reference the audience when you describe what happens. That's not something you usually see in a script. What was the idea behind that?"

May 24, 2008

Feedback (Why Post My WIP?)

If you follow Devilvet's blog, you may have read some of these things, but I'm reposting some of those things here in a more coherent way.

Most people only interact with the playwriting process through critique or reviews. I wonder if there are other options we haven't explored yet. I'm curious to see what can happen if we take a more exploratory approach (at least at this stage), something that can help writers see the potential directions their work can take in form, content, and interpretation.

Central to this process would be the concept of safe space (drawn from my experiences as someone who inhabits minority space). To explain sort of what I'm getting at, let me draw a parallel between what I'm aiming for here and the experience of minority space vs. privileged space. Privileged space often - even unintentionally - serves to maintain the status quo (which is often problematic for people on the margins). As a result, the environment feels imposing and judgmental rather than open. OTOH, when I'm in minority space, I feel freer to express what I think and feel about things because the atmosphere is one of sharing. It's not about agreeing with or liking everyone or everything. It's about shared visions, values, and/or experiences.

The environment I want to foster for WIP is very much like that in minority space. There needs to be an engagement with the work that's more substantial than "liked it" or "didn't like it" but not as rigorous as a critique. The idea is to figure out what a WIP is doing, not whether it's any good or not. What I'm going for is getting a stronger grasp on what Stuart Spencer calls a script's Ur-play. That is, the play you really need to write (often oh so different from the one you put on paper).

Let me be clear: I definitely don't want to analyze my plays to death before I'm done. However, I do want to get a better sense of my play's style and content and become aware of the possibilities these present. Although on the surface these conversations don't do much, they do serve an important function once the serious revisions begin. Namely, they keep me in touch with the emotional core of my work. One of my weaknesses as a writer is that I try to do too much with each piece. I tinker so much that I often chip the heart of my script away. As a result, I tend to spend more time un-writing than writing or rewriting. Something like this can help me stay focused as I'm revising my work.

I don't have a precise methodology for this, only general concepts and principles, various areas of emphasis (described above). Overall, I like a format that offers an observation followed by a related question (a version of "Yes, and...") But this is not set in stone. It's just an idea of what I hope to get out of all this.

May 22, 2008

Act 1, Scene 4 (draft 2)

(Queen's palace.)
Queen summons Snow White. Snow White arrives. Queen ushers her to Mirror. She combs Snow White's hair as she sings or hums a haunting melody. She frequently glances in Mirror as her fingers crawl like spider legs in Snow White's hair.

Queen shows Snow White two barrettes: one a blossom, the other a butterfly. There is something too warm, too solicitous, too seductive about how she does this. Snow White hesitates. She picks the butterfly. Queen fixes it in her hair. She gazes at Snow White in Mirror.

Queen escorts Snow White - with Mirror following - into . . .
(Labyrinthine garden. We are the flowers and trees. Lovely and graceful STATUES arrive. Their beauty is hollow, for they are made of stone. There are an economy and elegance to their "steps" that suggest a court dance. They take their places in a clearing in the garden and watch, shifting positions ever so often. They could carry mirrors as basins. Meanwhile . . . )
Queen and Snow White walk among us, now and then stopping to smell the roses. Queen leads Snow White to clearing. They sit and relax for a moment.

Queen offers Snow White an apple. Snow White tastes a morsel and falls unconscious. Queen gazes at Snow White for a while, maybe even giving her a gentle caress. She takes the comb - now a knife - and slits Snow White's throat. Queen devours the youth and life pouring out of Snow White.

As Queen drinks, Statues transform into MIRRORS. Queen is now a VAMPIRE.

Once she has her fill, Vampire tries to look into Mirrors, but they turn away from her and leave. Now alone, she wraps herself in shadow and gloom and disappears.

Act 1, Scene 3 (draft 2)

(Queen's palace.)
Queen appraises herself in Mirror. Mirror touches faint wrinkles on Queen's face. Queen recoils.
[Listening to: "Come to Daddy" by Aphex Twin]
Queen has terrible nightmare where . . .

Mirrors turn grotesque, demonic. They attack Queen, ripping at her clothes and flesh like sharks, like piranhas, like vultures. They could also throw things at her as well - makeup, shoes, combs and brushes, etc. Queen tries to escape, but Mirrors cage her in. She tries to shield herself, but it's no use. They tear and tear until there is barely anything left to cover the essentials.

Queen bends and shrivels into a feeble old woman. Mirrors disappear. Old, ugly, and alone, Queen weeps.
[Listening to: "Angel" by Massive Attack]
Snow White arrives. She comforts Queen, who regains her composure. With hands and lips and tongue, Snow White pays homage to Queen as she replaces Queen's clothes. It is reminiscent of a priestess worshiping an altar. Clothes and dignity restored, Queen dismisses Snow White.

Queen thinks for a moment. A Mirror returns.

Act 1, Scene 2 (draft 2)

(As Woman becomes Queen.)
Snow White awakens and walks amongst us, cleaning us off and dressing us up with flowers.

Queen summons Snow White. Snow White obeys and gets to work cleaning Mirrors. Queen leaves. A Mirror follows.

Near Mirror, Snow White finds a pair of Queen's shoes. She examines them as if they are relics. She slips them on, appraising herself in Mirrors. She seems more and more like Queen. It is an unsettling resemblance. Maybe the shoes are a bit too small, though.

Snow White daydreams about three PRINCES. There is nothing charming about them. They are hard and rough, maybe even a little bloody. Despite their royal attire, they are more like wild lions than men. Mirrors join us as SPECTATORS of a strange circus where . . .

The first Prince does various tricks with 3 eggs. At the end of his performance, he cracks them open. Instead of yolk, each one bears one kind of treasure: silver, gold, and gems.

The second Prince has a fine cloak. He puts it on and vanishes, reappearing in our world. He takes a few trinkets from us and brings them back to her. He gives the cloak to Snow White to try.

Snow White dons the cloak and goes to the underworld.
(Underworld. Spectators - and we - are GHOSTS floating in limbo.)
Snow White travels amongst us, retrieves an OLD WOMAN.
(World of the living. Ghosts become MIRRORS again, as do we.)
Snow White returns with Old Woman.

The third Prince has a simple bottle or skein full of water. He gives some water to Old Woman, who is instantly revived and rejuvenated.

Queen returns. Daydream disperses.
[Listening to: "Venus in Furs" by The Velvet Underground]
Snow White notices Queen and cowers at her feet. Queen beckons Snow White to return the shoes. Snow White obeys. Queen lets the moment hover.

Queen whips Snow White. Her measured strikes - and Snow White's carefully timed trembling - carry the weight of a religious ritual with a strong BDSM twist. Her strikes grow more feverish and unrestrained. Once exhausted, she dismisses Snow White.

Act 1, Scene 1 (draft 2)

(Here and now as Sleeping Beauty dreams)
WOMAN arrives late. Beautiful but no longer young, she has the cold beauty of a rare gem or a glacier and moves with serpentine grace. She searches for a seat amongst us.
[Listening to: "Face to Face" by Siouxsie and the Banshees]
She and Mirror notice each other. Entranced, they come together and dance. They in complete harmony, Woman and Mirror, person and reflection.

Meanwhile, Trees transform into enchanted MIRRORS with eerily anthropomorphic features. They have a distorted quality similar to funhouse mirrors reflected in their postures and expressions. They rearrange themselves and and strike poses.
(We are now mirrors in a palace.)
Woman approaches Mirrors. They each give her something: makeup (lipstick at least), gloves, gown, boots, and crown. There is an element of ritual to how she dons the makeup (like war paint) and clothes (like a priceless suit of armor). She is transformed into QUEEN, a woman of terrible beauty with more than a hint of the dominatrix about her. Queen admires herself in Mirror(s).

Sleeping Beauty is now SNOW WHITE.

Prologue (draft 2)

(As we settle in and get quiet, we become sentient trees inhabiting an enchanted forest. This is a mythic landscape that embodies mystery and power. It is the abode of dreams and spirits – haunted and haunting, surreal, otherworldly. Deep shadows may hide . . . things. There may be fog and a full moon.)

Other TREES appear. They seem uncannily humanoid, even to the point of having facial expressions. They walk by uprooting then re-rooting themselves. Their slow, lumbering gait, a sort of shambling, has a rhythm to it, each step like a drumbeat. One by one, they root themselves to a spot and watch. Occasionally they could shift or stir.

[Listening to “Carousel” by Siouxsie and the Banshees]

GIRL rides a bike through the forest. There is something ethereal and creepy about her that makes her resemble a ghost (which, perhaps, she is).

CRONE draped in a shadowy cloak glides amongst us. She keeps to the shadows as she slowly approaches, intrigued by this incarnation of human ingenuity. She has a vitality about her that suggests great hidden power.

Girl notices Crone and invites her to examine the bike. Crone emerges from the shadows and does so. She then mounts the bike and rides. She flies above and around the treetops then descends. (Perhaps Trees lower themselves then return to normal to indicate this.) Girl marvels.

Crone turns bike into spinning wheel, perhaps by flipping it upside down. Girl marvels. Crone beckons Girl to the wheel. Girl hesitates. Crone ushers Girl to the wheel and positions her, a gesture both encouraging and seductive. Girl tries her hand at spinning but slips up and pricks her finger. She starts to lose consciousness.

Crone transforms into a powerful ENCHANTRESS who wears power and beauty like a garment of dreams and nightmares. She laughs as she disappears.

Girl drifts into a torpor and is now SLEEPING BEAUTY. She dreams of . . .

A DWARF trying out the spinning wheel then turning it back into a bike and riding away . . .

A blood RED CLOAK worn by a mysterious figure wandering through the forest . . .

A GROOM carrying a blood-soaked sack . . .

A MIRROR beckoning all to look . . .

Rewrites coming

So, there you have it - the first draft of the first act. Over the next few days I'll be working on the rewrites. There are some problems with Scene 1, which doesn't come across as I intended it to. I also have to flesh out character descriptions. If there are any particularly confusing parts, please feel free to let me know. I'm not going to tell people what it all means (at least, not yet), but I do want you to know what's happening.

The standard script format probably won't work for this play. Movement and visuals are inseparable from the story, and formatting such a play in the conventional way would undermine that. I may use a variation of the screenplay format since it allows for a more visual style that allows for simultaneous action.

One thing I am noticing is how elastic the length of this play is. The prologue can easily be a 10-minute play by itself, but if the director chooses to make some things simultaneous, it can probably take 5 minutes. Act 1 is particularly flexible. Played completely in linear sequence, each scene can almost be a 10-minute play, and the Snow White dream a one-act play. So far, it looks something like this:

INTRO: Sleeping Beauty
ACT 1: Snow White
ACT 2: Red Riding Hood
ACT 3: Bluebeard
ACT 4: Sleeping Beauty

If everything plays like Snow White, that's over 2 hours worth of material from the outset.
This doesn't include anything like transition or interlude scenes. Length by itself is not an issue, but I do care about demanding too much of people's bladders. Of course, 2 hours of interesting material plays better than 10 minutes of banal material. It's just something I think about.

Draft: Scene 3

(Queen's palace.)

Queen summons Snow White. Snow White arrives. Queen ushers her to Mirror. She combs Snow White's hair as she sings or hums a haunting melody, fingers moving like spider legs in Snow White's hair. The act is simultaneously motherly, seductive, and possessive. Queen shows Snow White two barrettes: one a blossom, the other a butterfly. Snow White picks the butterfly. Queen fixes it in her hair and gazes at Snow White in Mirror.

Queen offers Snow White an apple. Snow White takes the apple as if it were mana from heaven. She takes a bite. She swallows her morsel and collapses, unconscious. Queen bares Snow White's neck and bosom. She pauses. She takes out the comb, which is now a knife, then slits Snow White's throat. She gorges on Snow White's blood then transforms into a bat and flies away.

Draft - Scene 2

(Queen's palace.)

Queen appraises herself in Mirror. Mirror touches faint wrinkles on Queen's face. Queen retreats. Mirrors turn grotesque like demons with jeering faces.

(Listening to: "Come to Daddy" by Aphex Twin)

Mirrors circle around Queen. They attack, tearing at her like sharks, like piranhas, like vultures. Queen tries to escape, but they cage her in, tearing and tearing until there is barely anything left to cover the essentials. She tries to cover herself, but it's no use. She bends and shrivels into a feeble old woman in tattered rags. Seeing herself, she falls and sobs.

Snow White arrives. She embraces Queen, holding and caressing her as tenderly as a mother and/or lover. As she does this, everything goes back to normal. Mirrors become neutral again. Queen becomes herself again.

(Listening to: "Angel" by Massive Attack)

Snow White dresses Queen. Her careful movements are reminiscent of a priestess worshiping at an altar or a saint meditating on the image of a deity. She offers Queen a newly ripe peach. Queen devours a morsel. Queen becomes a goddess, radiating beauty and power. She sees herself in Mirror, enters rapture. Suddenly the moment is gone, and Queen is mortal again.

Queen reaches for Snow White's mask. Snow White retreats, leaving Queen alone. Queen stares at herself in Mirror, pondering.


Moving right along. Looking over the last scene, as much as I like the last part, the middle is a little off somehow. I don't know. It's just that it lacks the magic of the prologue and transition scenes. The first 2 scenes make me eager to see performers pull it off, but the previous post seems sort of dry, like an instruction manual. I think I've solved the problem, but I'll post the revision later.

What I often notice about my own creative process is that my first ideas are not always my best ones. Even the scenes I posted so far aren't the first incarnations of those events - only the most recent and complete ones. Looking over the scattered notes and doodles I make, it's often a wonder I manage to put down something coherent at all. I guess that's a problem with all creative people - translating the images in your head into something that you can communicate to others in a way that reflects or enriches what you initially imagined.

Part of what often stymies my process is the feeling that I have to make the layers of dynamics and meanings I imagine at different points in time obvious to my audience. I frequently feel obligated to make everything transparent despite the fact that transparent is not my nature. From time to time I think my rewriting process is un-writing and un-editing, making room for the mysteries that were in my initial conception but often get diluted once I put pen to paper. Basically, it's usually me correcting my tendency to overdo things, to put too much energy and effort into something that doesn't need it.

I'm considering is posting my revisions as separate posts, if only to show the development from draft (and a very rough one at that) to a more-or-less finished script.

May 21, 2008

Draft - Scene 1

For some odd reason, this story is coming together more easily on my blog than on paper. I don't know why that is.

(Queen's palace. It's a place of cold beauty like a gem, a glacier, a snake. A place much like its mistress.)

Queen summons Snow White. Snow White arrives and nearly swoons upon seeing Queen. Queen watches Snow White stumble over a proper greeting. Snow White starts dusting off Mirrors. Queen appraises herself in Mirror one more time. Snow White sneaks a glance. Queen leaves.

Snow White cleans Mirror with the care and devotion of a priestess cleaning an idol. After she is done, she looks into Mirror. She caresses its face. Mirror awakens. It wipes dirt off her face and hair. It tempts her with lipstick. Snow White hesitates. Mirror persists. Snow White takes the lipstick, carefully examining it. She gazes at herself in Mirror. The moment hovers.

Queen returns and gazes at Snow White. Snow White notices Queen and startles. She frantically drops to the floor and starts cleaning. Queen advances on Snow White, towering over her. Snow White pauses. Time slows down. Absolute silence.

(Listening to: "Venus in Furs" by The Velvet Underground)

Snow White cleans Queen's boots - an act of worship - occasionally caressing or even kissing them. Queen barely represses an orgasm. She looks at herself in Mirror then shoves Snow White away. Snow White retreats and disappears. Queen clings to Mirror.

Draft - Transition

I made a few changes to the Prologue. You might want to read it again to make sure everything is clear.

While Sleeping Beauty dreams, an elegant WOMAN arrives late and looks for a seat. Beautiful but no longer young, something about her manner suggests a serpent.

(Listening to: "Face to Face" by Siouxsie and the Banshees).

She and Mirror stop and notice each other at the same time. Entranced, they come together and explore one another, mirror images of each other.

As if it were a kind of dance, Mirror hands Woman various items - concealer, eye shadow, lipstick - that Woman dons almost like war paint, ever gazing at herself in Mirror. Mirror hands her various items of clothing - gloves, gown, boots, crown - which Woman dons almost like a priceless suit of armor. There is a touch (maybe more) of the dominatrix in her appearance and bearing. A creature of terrible beauty, Woman is now QUEEN.

Queen admires her handiwork.

Meanwhile, Trees become enchanted MIRRORS (perhaps even furniture too) with eerily humanoid features. We too become mirrors.

Sleeping Beauty is now SNOW WHITE.

May 20, 2008

More Notes - Design elements

I know this seems like I'm writing more about the play than the play itself, but this is a working draft. I suspect much of this will find its way into rewrites and updates. As it stands, take it as it is: working ideas about a developing piece.

Last time I touched briefly on style, pretty much allowing any rendition of this play that isn't parody, realism, or Disney. What follows will probably seem fairly obvious, especially to those used to avant-garde theater. However, what is obvious to me won't necessarily be obvious to the people producing this piece. So, in consideration for the people who actually have to do the work, these are some of the things I often imagine that don't necessarily translate well in a script - at least, not in the first draft stage.

I'll address each aspect of the work in turn.

TEXT (incl. notes)
The text is a springboard for performance. That's it. I establish firm boundaries not to limit your input, but to free you from the shackles of convention. What fairy tales and theater both have in common is that many people come to them with preconceived notions about their form, content, and meaning. There is a lot of inertia to overcome at the outset, and much of what I write are tools you can use to do that.

Movement is indispensable to performing this piece. The main challenge for performers is finding and/or creating a language of movement that conveys the sense of events without defaulting to pantomime. This play definitely lends itself to a more stylized performance that draws from many sources: non-Western drama, various forms of dance, and all kinds of rituals and liturgy, to name a few. Regardless of what you do, strive to avoid the mundane, everyday, and any-old-how.

The thing to keep in mind is that you are not portraying ordinary people. The inhabitants in the world of the play are barely human at all. They are more like entities, forces, concepts and essences given humanoid form. These beings are sentient but not necessarily rational. They may not even have free will as we understand it. Perhaps characters are as they are because they are destined to be so. Maybe events happen because they are fated to do so.

Next to performance, costume plays the biggest role in defining the characters. How the characters look should reveal a lot about who they are. It doesn't need to be extravagant or expensive, but it must be expressive. Simple but suggestive concepts go further than more elaborate designs that inhibit performance.

For instance, the Mirror can simply be the actor wearing black leotards and carrying a mirror on her torso. The Wolf doesn't need to be covered in fur from head to toe. He could also be the actor wearing regular clothes and a half-mask like a wolf's head.

SET DESIGN (incl. lighting)
A fixed set would make a lot of what happens difficult to pull off because the scenes change very suddenly and drastically. I don't imagine the play needing an actual set, but don't let that stop you from doing what you can to establish mood and atmosphere, as well as to suggest a sense of place. Whatever you decide, it should be easy to quickly and discreetly move various pieces as scenes change.

SOUND DESIGN (incl. music)
I don't believe the play will need sound effects, but music is another matter. Music can enhance the performance by giving the actors a rhythm to work with. It can also time the piece better than the page count. Whether you use the music of other artists or create your own, the general idea is that each scene lasts for the duration of one song.

Later on, I may note the songs I often listen to when imagining certain scenes. Suffice it to say, they veer toward the mysterious, hypnotic, creepy, haunting, disturbing and erotic: goth, metal, trance/acid, new wave (shut up), world music, and classical. Stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Velvet Underground ("Venus in Furs"), Danzig, Type O Negative (esp. "Bloody Kisses" and "October Rust" albums), The Eurhythmics ("Sweet Dreams are Made of These"), Depeche Mode (esp. "Violator" album), Bjork, Danny Elfman, Mussorgsky (esp. "Hut on Fowl's Legs"), Camille Saint-Saens ("Danse Macabre"), Kronos Quartet, Kodo, etc.

Although the above seems like I should direct this play, it's frankly impossible for me because I can imagine a thousand different ways to stage it and can't really make a decision because it changes each time I get back to it.

Notes for play - boundaries

There are many ways to stage this play successfully, but only three to surely do it wrong:

Parody. I like "Into the Woods" a great deal, but my work is not a comedy. To play it for laughs is to betray the spirit in which I conceived and wrote this piece. In fact, it's more like a combination of fantasy, horror, and erotica.

Taking it literally. When characters "fly" or "transform" or "disappear," it's more a suggestion about the quality of movement than anything else. This is merely the most efficient means to do so. Not to mention, it captures the tone and mood of the piece more effectively.

Disneyfication. This piece is emphatically not entertainment for the whole family. Bleaching out the sex, violence, and witchcraft would also undermine much of its power.

With those three hurdles out of the way, pretty much any interpretation is valid. This work deliberately gives a lot of room for the particular aesthetic elements. They are not tied to a particular time and place (in other words, not pseudo-medieval Europe by default). Each time I read it, I can imagine the same events staged in different ways. I hope you can too.

Draft - Prologue (of sorts)

This is me working out some stuff. For some odd reason, I write better when I post than when I simply type it or write it. Feel free to comment, but this is not ready for a critique just yet (namely because it isn't done). The scene isn't finished mainly because the rest of the play isn't. I may follow up with some notes or something.

I do, however, have an issue with format. Although I could technically put this as a very long scene description, is there an alternative method I can use to convey the flow of what happens on stage?

As we settle in and get quiet, we become sentient trees inhabiting a magical forest.

Other TREES appear. They seem uncannily humanoid, even to the point of having facial expressions. They “walk” by uprooting then re-rooting themselves. Their slow, lumbering gait, a sort of shambling, has a rhythm to it, each step like a drumbeat. One by one, they root themselves to a spot.

GIRL rides a bike through the forest. Wearing all white and a blank white mask covering her face, she looks like a ghost (which, perhaps, she is). She floats through the tress (who are watching) as if in her own little world.

CRONE arrives draped in a shadowy cloak that hides her face. Prowling the outskirts of the forest, she waits and watches, intrigued by the bike, this incarnation of human ingenuity. Girl notices Crone. She dismounts and invites Crone to examine the bike. Crone emerges from the shadows and does so. She mounts the bike and rides a little, swiftly and easily flying through the trees like an owl. Girl marvels.

Crone flips the bike upside-down. It is now a spinning wheel. She spins. Girl marvels at it. Crone beckons Girl to the wheel. Girl keeps her distance. Crone ushers Girl to the spinning wheel, a gesture both nurturing and seductive. She positions Girl at the wheel. Girl tries her hand at spinning but slips up and pricks her finger. Crone watches as Girl stumbles away from wheel. Consciousness slipping away, Girl falls.

Crone transforms into a powerful ENCHANTRESS. Girl drifts into a torpor. Enchantress laughs and vanishes. Girl, now SLEEPING BEAUTY, dreams of . . .

A DWARF trying out the spinning wheel then turning it back into a bike and riding away . . .

A blood RED CLOAK worn by a mysterious figure wandering through the forest . . .

A bloody GROOM dumping body parts into a sack . . .

A MIRROR beckoning all to look . . .

[more TBD]

May 12, 2008

My Theatrical Kindred Spirit: Artaud

I've been devouring Theater and Its Double recently, and I think I found my "soul mate" in Antonin Artaud. I know that he's old news for a lot of Theater People, but he's new to me, and it's been thrilling to finally find someone who would "get" my work if he read it. A lot of people think Artaud is incomprehensible, but I find him quite lucid. Reading "The Conquest of Mexico" has been particularly affirming in light of the difficulties I have with writing, especially with regards to certain theatrical dogma about playwrights using didascaliae (non-dialogue text elements; aka "stage directions"). This article is a pretty good overview.

In the meantime, I found my "dolls." They're cheap little plastic chess pieces you can find at Walmart and the like. Despite the squares, it's great to have a 3-D "stage" where I can position things and have some concept of scale. Since my work will incorporate movement more than dialogue, it's pretty important to me to have an idea of where things are in relation to one another. I bought an extra set for about $3.50 to have more pieces.

I might post some of my work so far, particularly as a creative exploration of Artaud's ideas in a vein similar to "The Conquest of Mexico." I don't think my piece will be quite that short, and there may be some speaking (mostly for effect). It might be a week or two before I feel comfortable posting anything. It's not up for critiquing or review so much as exploring ways and methods of understanding and staging non-traditional texts (God, I hate that word).

May 9, 2008

Playwriting and Voodoo dolls

I wish I had enchanted little dolls that would move around like I tell them to. I have Elrond and his twin brother, Aragorn, a Nazgul and his very big brother, and Sesshoumaru. All they want to do is stage combat. If they don't get to play with swords, they're completely useless.

I wish I could afford "scenery" for them too. This would make it a lot easier to get pen to paper. I don't know why, but I have to experience something in at least three dimensions to really understand it. Otherwise, it's all kind of a fog. For instance, most painting leaves me cold. I literally don't get it, but sculpture immediately engages me. Same thing with most poetry. I just don't get it. But music without lyrics often moves me very deeply.

It's hard to describe how often I simply struggle with words, how often the verbiage just gets in the way. Maybe I'm just not a writer.

Butts in Seats: New Models?

I came across a great discussion (via Scott's Theatre Tribe ning) about why more people aren't seeing theater. You know what surprised me most? How many "lay people" enjoy theater because it's a community thing, where the communal aspect is where they get the value.

With that in mind, here are some random ideas that popped into my head. Most of them center on package deals for groups, not individuals.
  • Offer dirt cheap tickets ($5 tops, and that's in expensive places like NYLADCHI) to a dress or technical rehearsal for schools and colleges. Let them see how things work behind the scenes in the Real World (ie, the world outside the classroom).
  • Turn your show into part of a complete night out by offering coupons and discounts to local restaurants. Better yet, feed people before, during, and/or after the show. Offer your show as a place for caterers to market their businesses. Include free concessions as one kind of entertainment package.
  • Do the Regal Cinemas Crown Club thing. You know why I usually patronize Regal Cinemas when I see movies with my family? Because I get free stuff based on how much I spend: free soda, free popcorn, even free tickets. I know that printing cards or a lot of paper costs too much, but how about we encourage people to save their tickets to get their free stuff? Say, for every 5 tickets, the 6th one is free. Or bring a ticket stub and a playbill to get a discount on the next show.
  • Stage public commercials. Make them funny; make them quirky; make them sexy; make them whatever. But do something different. In my town, there's a poetry reading called Word Stage (I know because they kept saying that in the microphone while I was trying to read). A little too preachy for my tastes, but I admire that they're not afraid to go where the people are.
  • Use business cards. Perhaps if they bring in the card when they get a ticket, they get a discount.
  • Utilize the captive audience on public transportation.
  • Get attractive actors on the auction block. Do date auctions for actors. Better yet, do one for famous characters in theater (Win a date with Hamlet/Romeo/Stanley/Cyrano/etc.) Paying money to interact with people in costume isn't just for Trekkies, comic book fans, role-players and otaku. There's nothing like the hint of sex to get people to spend money.
  • Put a Rocky Horror element in every performance. Genetically speaking, we're less than half a step from going "Oook-oook" and flinging poop. Are there places where the audience may get to make noise or throw things? Let them know. Ask them to bring in props or sell them on site.
My brain is pretty fried now. See what I'm doing when I should be writing?

May 8, 2008

New Voices and Blind Spots

Laura has a couple of interesting ideas going on at her blog. This post in particular raises some very interesting questions. First, "Can calm, intelligent discourse still be provocative? That's what I want to know." Then:
My interests here are twofold:
1) I'm joining in the call to arms to get some new voices in on the conversation, and
2) I am very curious to learn what are the posts (besides the arguments) that get people interested? That drive that ever elusive site traffic? I think devilvet posted some great ideas, and I'd love to see if more of that kind of post can get people talking. What does everyone else think? I'm interested to know.
I think now is a good time for me to elaborate what I mean by new voices.

Adam says it very succinctly here:
"As a big ol' alpha male I easily find myself wrapped up in the clashing debate style often seen on arts blogs."
This is what I'm getting at, and I think Laura's hinting at this too (Laura, please correct me if I presume too much). The initial question was about bringing new voices into theater blogosphere. To be specific:
The meme: enlist a new voice to join the theater blogging community - someone who brings a new perspective to the discussion of theater. Preferably one that is challenging to your own perspective. Some women, maybe, since they’re underrepresented?
This opened up a conversation about the way theater blogosphere frames a lot of discussions, and several people expressed their reluctance to participate because it often seems that the only valid way to communicate is through argument. And, whether people realize it or not, that way of framing discourse comes with its own problems, the primary one being how it marginalizes different ways of perceiving, understanding and expressing ideas and experiences.

Just as NYLADCHI (ha, I fit DC in there!) isn't the only place where good theater happens, argument isn't the only method of conversing. For instance, when it comes to giving an opinion about a show I've seen, I'm less interested in the conflict between "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" vs. "if you can't say something nice don't say nothing at all." I don't respond to that because I simply don't think of the issue that way. I tend to think in more open-ended ways, such as, "What do you do when someone you know does something that sucks?" or "How do you give constructive feedback?"

When I deal with the first style, it feels as though I have to respond in kind if I want to contribute. Since I often don't wish to - like I said, I'm more reflective than forceful - I remain silent. Before someone can take what I say out of context, there is nothing wrong with this. I'm not judging anyone who prefers this way of communicating. But, I am saying that if you want something different, you need to make room for it.

That's all I'm saying.

May 6, 2008

Theater Conversations

Over at another blog, Nick Keenan asks:

Do you feel like you need to be asked to join the conversation? Do you feel like you need (or want) to appear meek to be accepted in it? What parts of the conversation read as vital to to you and are there subjects and threads that strike you as irrelevant BS?
What great questions!

There are a lot of dynamics behind the answers to these questions. A lot of my responses to online and face-to-face conversations are feelings and perceptions based on layers of internal and external dynamics. I can't express them coherently and objectively. I can only relate general impressions. So, please take what I say in that vein as I answer these questions.

Do you feel like you need to be asked to join the conversation?

The short answer: Yes.

Part of this is my being an introvert (in the Meyers-Briggs sense), and strongly so. Go here for more information about introversion to get a better idea of what it is.

The other part may bear explaining.

A lot of the guys (and they're overwhelmingly male) on the theater blogosphere are frankly brilliant. They have Very Big Thoughts about Very Important Things, and I often don't. Often, the theater blogosphere seems like a private conversation taking place in public. I generally don't get the impression that they think I have something to add to the conversation.

Also, the popular theater bloggers have rigorous intellects, and they express themselves clearly and forcefully. They often hone their ideas through debate. For me, debate is an emotional boxing match because I rarely talk at length about things that don't mean anything to me. (That's why I don't play Devil's Advocate, especially when dealing with substantial issues as opposed to passing fancies. To me, it's disrespectful to treat people's beliefs and experiences like toys.) Often I get the sense that these guys only respond to a challenge of some kind. I'm not knocking it. It's just how they usually make connections with ideas and each other. It's not that I don't have thoughts. I just don't think anyone would care, so why waste space to say something that no one will respond to?

Furthermore, I communicate in a very water-like way. My natural way of perceiving the world, understanding my experiences and expressing myself incorporates precision, depth, and subtlety. The English language is a cumbersome tool to do that. We don't have words like yugen that express an ethereal, complex idea in a concise way. So, it's often a struggle for me to express a question or idea in the way I conceived it.

Do you feel like you need (or want) to appear meek to be accepted in it?

Yes. But it's society in general, not theater blogosphere in particular, that does this. I don't compartmentalize my life, so a lot of that baggage goes from one public space into another.

I often feel like I have to accentuate being non-threatening. I'm not an aggressive person. I don't go out of my way to make people feel self-conscious. But let's be real. I'm a big, bald, Black woman. I'm threatening even if I'm sitting in a corner reading a book. People often assume I'm stupid and violent until I "prove" otherwise. The only way I can "prove" that to their satisfaction is to be as acquiescent as possible. So, if I give the tiniest criticism, if I feel less than eternally perky, if I set the smallest boundary, I'm no longer treated like person with her own preferences and experiences, but the Angry Black Bitch. Either these people have not met any genuinely nasty people, or they're only noticing "attitude problem" because I'm Black, and we all know that Black women have attitude problems. Nothing that anybody says or does has any effect on how we respond. No, Siree.

Excuse my while I roll my eyes and suck my teeth.

One of the things that is most exasperating for me to deal with is when people talk down to me when they clearly don't understand or haven't listened to what I'm saying. I have yet to master the art of hiding my irritation at this, so that means I'm "unfriendly."

What parts of the conversation read as vital to you and are there subjects and threads that strike you as irrelevant BS?

It's not the subject but the approach that can turn me on or off. I think my response to the first question applies here too.