November 30, 2013

Looking for love (in all the right places?) and a theatrical soulmate

For a long time now, Crossroads Theatre Project (@XroadsTheatre on Twitter) has been my baby. I've been writing and developing the scripts, doing the fundraising, hiring the cast and crew, interacting with peers and audiences via social media, and all that.

It hasn't always been easy, but I did enjoy doing those things myself. I enjoy my autonomy. I enjoy being self-sufficient. I enjoy the freedom it gives me to learn and explore in a hands-on, low-stakes way.

I don't regret spending so much time doing this more or less by myself. It's helped a lot with helping me figure out exactly what I want to do and the kinds of working relationships I want to have. That knowledge came in a far less painful way than it would have if I'd begun from a more ambitious vision or involved more people than absolutely necessary.

However, I think it's time for me to admit that I need help.

It's not because I can't do this anymore or don't want to, but I've come to understand that trying to do it all more or less by myself is starting to hinder my ability to grow. Right now, I'm in a phase where I want to focus on writing and developing more scripts. That doesn't mean I want to stop producing my own plays or abdicate all responsibility to someone else, but I do think that I am now ready for an artistic partner or two.

When I think about it, what I want looks a lot like what Jim and Pete had at Nosedive Productions. I'm looking for something where this person and I can grow together over a period of time. Granted, I'll have to be more intentional because my temperament and current situation prevent me from just lucking into finding someone who just clicks.

If I had to write a list, I'm looking for someone who:

  1. can commit to a long-term, non-exclusive creative partnership
  2. wants to share the responsibilities of producing theatre
  3. understands the importance of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. in arts and media
  4. makes bold artistic choices on each production
  5. is open to trying unconventional casting and rehearsal processes and non-traditional venues
  6. works magic on a shoestring budget
  7. has an interest in mythology, folklore, and fairy tales
  8. is something of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror buff
  9. can get along with someone who is a textbook INTJ
I don't really care about the resume or CV. I care about vision, passion, and commitment.

Do you know someone like this? Can you put me in touch with them?

November 2, 2013

Something I wanna do next Sunday and Monday (some preliminary notes)

Inspired by Cafe Onda, I want to do my own part (via Crossroads Theatre Project) to pursue the values of diversity, social justice, and inclusion in the arts by bringing people together to start talking and organizing.

I want to move beyond current institutional models (such as "submit your work and we'll tell you if it's worth showing it in public") because they really aren't in a place to meet most of us where we are right now. There has to be a better way, but the first step is to get everyone together and talking.

Like this.


  • Artists: people who make stuff
  • Audiences: people who go to stuff
  • Critics: people who analyze and evaluate stuff
  • Administrators: people who work for organizations that create/present/promote stuff
  • Not rigid categories (on purpose); people can be more than one thing

Having a virtual get-together to talk about supporting arts that represent people who don't fit the straight, white, middle-class mold: what we're doing now, what we'd like to do, how we can make that happen.

To create a digital community that energizes underrepresented artists, audiences, critics, and administrators to connect, collaborate, and create

Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 8PM EST and Monday, November 11, 2013 at 1PM EST

Twitter (no hashtag just yet, so ideas appreciated)


  1. Current and future projects
  2. Representation
  3. Audience engagement
  4. Organizing
  5. Intersectionality


  • Facilitated conversation with everyone present
  • Not a panel! No experts sharing divine knowledge from on high
  • Not a workshop! No Screenwriting 101 or Drawing for Dummies
  • Raising questions to the group and watching/listening to answers and helping move conversation forward
  1. Share and evolve collective knowledge and wisdom (Don't forget to document! Storify is our friend!)
  2. Facilitate relationship-building among artists, audiences, critics, and administrators
  3. Explore social media as a way of facilitating vital conversations and organizing
  4. Examine challenges and opportunities for representation in the arts
  5. Identify ways to show leadership no matter who and where we are
  6. Encouraged continued conversation and organizing beyond the event

Advance a grassroots movement of artists, audiences, critics, and administrators working outside the system to create and support art that represents those of us who live and work outside the straight, white, middle-class mold

  1. Show up! Bring your questions and ideas!
  2. Keep bringing this up on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
  3. Encourage other people to show up
  4. Continue talking after the event

November 1, 2013

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Support Crossroads Theatre Project

I've done quite a bit talking about Crossroads Theatre Project. One thing that never occurred to me was simply saying what it was that supporting Crossroads Theatre Project means and what it should accomplish. Sure, I could talk puff myself up by talking about quality and excellence, throwing in "professional" to make it stick. I could also use hot, trendy buzzwords like "innovative" and "authentic."

But that would make me sound just like everyone else, and I hate that.

I'd rather get to the point and tell you what I mean. Like this.

1. Your money goes directly to theatre artists.

Because of the small scale of Crossroads Theatre Project, every cent goes toward tools and resources for making theatre: casting actors, rehearsal and performance space, printing out scripts, and so on. You're not covering administrative overhead. You're helping real artists make art in the real world.

2. You're giving theatre to people who usually don't get to see it because Broadway tickets are too expensive.

People want theatre. People enjoy seeing plays. But they don't enjoy paying $100 for seats in the nosebleed section. Not when a movie ticket to a 3D movie with stadium seating costs about $15. By focusing on intimate, small-scale productions, Crossroads Theatre Project makes theatre affordable for the average person's entertainment budget.

3. You're showing that theatre arts—and all the arts—have value beyond how much money it makes. 

Every day, we're bombarded with messages that tell us that what we own is all that we're worth. Theatre reminds us that our humanity matters, that our lives are interesting and meaningful for their own sake. The ability to share that humanity with other human beings is priceless.

4. You're helping the arts reflect the diversity of the world we live in.

There are enough places to find stories about whitebread, all-American people. Crossroads Theatre Project does something different by putting people of color, women, and LGBTQ people front and center. This gives underrepresented artists a chance to show their stuff and underserved audiences a chance to see themselves portrayed in non-stereotypical ways.

5. You like what Crossroads Theatre Project is about and want to see what it can do.

Trying new things and coming up with new approaches for developing theatre by playwrights of African descent will always be part of how Crossroads Theatre Project pursues its mission. Every reading, every production, every collaboration is an experiment. So, Crossroads Theatre Project will always be a work in progress—fluid and ever-changing—just like any living thing.

Some things you can do right now.

October 31, 2013

So I got all scientifical and found out some stuff

In the vein of there being no problem that the right tool or right mindset can solve, and shamelessly ripping off the Just Ask Them Method of Orlando Jones, I whipped up a survey to see what was going on. I make no promises about this being statistically sound or even the most rigorous method ever. This only reflects the people in my own audience (and maybe the people in their audience).

The findings were pretty interesting, especially when it came to what kept people from seeing more theatre. Here is my extremely unscientific analysis of the findings:

  1. Most people (two-thirds of respondents) see plays once or twice a year, or once every few years.
  2. There's a strong preference for musical theatre (67% of respondents) followed by classics and modern stuff (57% and 50% of respondents, respectively), but there's also a good audience for quirky, off-the-wall stuff (48% of respondents) that doesn't happen all the time.
  3. The biggest hurdle to attendance are price (almost 75%)and transportation (almost 35%). Surprisingly, a good third of people said that having no one to go with (almost 30%) and not knowing what's playing (about one-third of respondents). In addition, lack of access for people with disabilities (wheelchair access, closed captioning for the hearing-impaired, etc.) was also something that impacts some people.
  4. After making it cheaper and bringing it closer, most people (38%) want more help to find out what's on stage.
  5. A huge majority of people (almost two-thirds) are willing to pay around $20 for a ticket. For people with a bigger entertainment budget, that jumps to around $50 (20%). So that means 80% of people are going to shell out for tickets that cost, at most, $50.
  6. A huge chunk of people (60%) are willing to travel up to one hour to see a play.
  7. If money, time, and location were not an issue, most people (70%) would see one or two plays per month or 3 to 5 plays a year. A good fifth of them would even go weekly.
  8. Representation of people of color and LGBTQ people is something that gets brought up when people ask what it would take to get them to see more plays.
  9. People want to see more theatre, but pricing and scheduling often makes that difficult.

When asked about what would get them to see more theatre, a couple of people made a very interesting suggestion: make recordings and/or livestreams of shows available like the MET and MTV Unplugged (remember them?).

This is gravy for a starving artist like me who's practically reattached my umbilical cord to a wifi connection because that's something I said I wanted to do, and more than once at that.

The only barrier, of course, is finding an affordable option (read: has starving artist prices) that also makes it easy for people to attend.

Can someone help me out here?

October 27, 2013

Why Orlando Jones is the smartest man alive right now (that's called hyperbole and I'm doing it on purpose)

A couple of days ago, Orlando Jones ("Not the little boy from Everybody Hates Chris. Not Solange Knowles. Not Orlando Bloom. Not the black Jeff Goldblum. Not Madea. Not Mos Def") did the smartest thing ever in the history of media folks and audiences.

He asked fans what they think (and followed up afterward).

Since diversity in theatre is a big thing of mine, I want to focus on that for a bit.

The vast majority of the time, when people talk about diversity in theatre, what the underlying question seems to be is, "What is it with Those People?"

Why aren't Those People coming to our shows? Why aren't Those People finding their work onstage? Why aren't Those People seeking out our programs and services? Why aren't Those People doing this, that, or the other thing? What is it with Those People?

(*Those People includes any group who is outside of the usual target demographic for theatre as a whole. This can include: People of color, women, LGBTQ people, working-class and poor people, disabled people, people without an MFA, young people, the elderly, and so on.)

Orlando Jones flipped the script. Instead of talking around the audience or filtering that knowledge through, say, a PR firm or marketing agency, he actively encouraged them to participate. He asked them what they needed and wanted from the media they participate in. In so many words, he invited Those People to share their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. It was a rare treat to see such a conversation happen in such a transparent way.

I really want to see more of that.

If I'm to be perfectly honest, I'm bored with the Why It's Important to Have Those People Around discussion. It's already more than clear that there is a problem and that more needs to be done. At this point, if this or that person or organization still needs to be convinced that including and involving Those People in theatre is something that needs to be done, I'm not particularly invested in converting them. I'm about as interested in doing that as I am in trying to persuade someone that dinosaurs did not hang around Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (read: not at all).

As a matter of fact, I'm tired of talking about Those People and want to do more of what Orlando Jones did and talk with Those People (which would, I guess, turn them into You People).

How would this sort of direct contact or direct confrontation impact how we go about making structural and institutional changes in the theatre community?

September 22, 2013

"Miss Saigon" Lies about the real questions about artistic responsibility

I came across a lot of posts with pictures of people writing, "Miss Saigon lies," then I found out about this Don't Buy Miss Saigon campaign.

Now, I haven't seen Miss Saigon, but from the description of it, it's probably best that I don't. To be frank, I'm not interested in discussing whether or not Miss Saigon should exist. It already exists, so arguing for or against that would be purely rhetorical at this point. Naturally, there are many Vietnamese people giving a, shall we say, less than enthusiastic response to the portrayal of Vietnamese people, especially Vietnamese women.

And, like clockwork, somebody white is going to read all that and say, "Ugh! You people just don't want anyone else to do anything! You get offended by everything! It's just fiction! They're just trying to tell a story! Why does it have to be about race or gender? It's not hurting anybody! It's not the writer's/director's/producer's fault that they're white! You should be glad they're talking about these issues! Write your own play! You're just haters! Blah blah blah!"

I will always be perplexed and frustrated by the ability of people who have one or more kind of privilege to completely ignore and dismiss all the nuance and context from any discussion about the ways that race, gender, sexuality, and class impact a specific cultural phenomenon. The cognitive dissonance it takes to say, "I believe that race, gender, sexuality, and class are systemic factors that affect every level and every aspect of society" and then say, "You complaining about racism and sexism in Miss Saigon is just you being a hater (and if you're a woman of Vietnamese descent, you're an ungrateful hater)" is along the same lines as, "God loves you, but you're going to hell," but without the whole stripping people of their human and civil rights part.

Whether a person is justified in liking or disliking some form of art, pop culture, or entertainment is, aside from incredibly reductive and simplistic, just plain ol' boring. I've never been fond of rhetorical or semantic debates, where the whole point of conversation is merely to display or sharpen one's wits or powers of persuasion. As times goes on, I have less and less interest in participating in debates about important issues where it's clear that the stakes are higher for one group of people than another. There's a reason why I'm no longer debating or arguing about the existence of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., especially with people who are not on the receiving end of them.

Rather than strip away all the nuance and context from a very complex and very important discussion that needs to happen about media representation and who has access to and control over the mechanisms that allow certain stories to be told by certain people, I want to explore those nuances and complexities.

This most recent controversy about Miss Saigon creates an opportunity for addressing questions that have always been there and starting (continuing?) conversations that have always been happening. Questions and conversations about the responsibilities of artists to the communities impacted by their work.

I'm not in the business of providing a one-size-fits-all approach to how those conversations need to happen. However, I do caution that the content of those conversations cannot be, "How can I do what I want without anybody telling me I'm fucking up?"

I won't sit here and pretend that these things are easy to figure out because they aren't. Nothing that involves facing the historical and cultural and political roots of a society will be simple or easy. But, I think that acknowledging the difficulty and committing to working through it would be an important step, right after having a shared vision and common stakes in the outcome.

Things to do when I get back to Brooklyn (or, "Why I Went Back To Brooklyn")

There are so many different directions and approaches I can go in, which I need to decide on before I get to the, "How much will this cost again?" phase. Part of me wants to revamp rehearsals to match my tabletop RPG roots, so that would require less cramming over a longer period of time. Part of me wants to use a non-traditional performance space a la Peter Brook's "The Carpet Show" something more or less portable that also creates the magic of the piece.

All of me wants to crack open standard methods of producing theatre, stripping away the non-essential and building up from there as the piece needs it. All of me wants to discard what is dead or inert about the way theatre gets produced, those things we just accept as true about making theatre without even knowing that we do them. And I do mean everything--from auditions, to rehearsals, to performance. Note to self: I should probably write about these at some point.

I suppose using my 3rd full-length play as the fuel for this theatrical research and development (h/t Gwydion Suilebhan) is a bit foolhardy, but then again, I do think that if I'm going to experiment, I'd rather butcher my own stuff than someone else's.

August 16, 2013

Epic theatre in mainstream US television: reflections on ABC's "Once Upon A Time"

I recently had a fascinating discussion with a friend of mine about the kind of I aim to bring to my understanding of ABC's Once Upon A Time, how my awareness of a world beyond the show impacts how I approach and understand it.

It took me a while to remember where I had seen something like this before: in the epic theatre as theorized by Bertolt Brecht.

There’s tons of material on Brecht that you can find for yourself, so I’m not going to rehash all that here. However, one of the things that struck me about epic theatre and how it’s exemplified in just about every bit of OUAT meta that I write is the relationship between the spectator and the events. In so many words, it’s about difference between, “This is happening right before my eyes, and it feels like I’m there” and, “I am watching these events from my position outside them.”

I’ve spoken before about how the characters in OUAT are not real people. They are creations given life by the decisions of a dozens of people—actors, writers, directors, designers, producers, etc. Thus, when I talk about race, gender, sexuality, and so on with this show, it’s with a full awareness that the show is not a self-contained universe with no connection to our reality as we live it now. The show is not a world created ex nihilo by the words of TV gods, but a mirror reflecting the hopes, anxieties, and worldviews of the society that created it. As I write and think about Regina, Snow, Charming, Rumplestiltskin, or (fuck you) King Leopold, I am using those names as a shorthand for the many things that they represent in our world, particularly as they relate to race, gender, sexuality, and such.

Unlike Brecht, I do not conceptualize this distinction as prioritizing reason over emotion. In all honesty, the difference is in what I get emotional about. Anyone who’s talked to me about the show knows that I’m very passionate about what its says through these stories and these characters. As a matter of fact, it is my awareness of these things beyond the show, which nevertheless make their way into the show, that make me so invested in what happens within the show.

Despite the sensibility I bring to my viewing of the show and how I analyze it, I know for a fact that the show itself encourages me to pretend that all that stuff doesn’t exist, to get swept up in the story, to allow myself to believe the illusion of the show, to position myself as something like a tourist to the Enchanted Forest and/or Storybrooke as though I am looking through a window in time and space and not at something that was created by real people in the real world. In other words, I am aware that I am being asked to turn my brain off and just let the show work its magic on me (no pun intended—haha, yeah it is). And yet, time and time again, I find myself resisting that sort of hypnosis, and I find myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable about approaching the characters as though they are independent beings capable of real agency.

Being fully aware of these things means that I’m already experiencing Verfremdungseffekt (badly translated as “alienation effect”) before I even begin to watch the show. As soon as the episode starts, what is supposed to be familiar to me is rendered strange simply because the context I bring to the show is so radically different from the context that created the show. Although this show is far from the first instance where I've experienced this, it has made me increasingly conscious of the fact that I experience Verfremdungseffekt as a matter of course. I suppose it comes from my keen awareness that most media is not made with me in mind. Not because people deliberately exclude women, LGBTQ people, or people of color, but because in mainstream media, "person" typically defaults to white, cisgender, straight, male, and middle-class.

Take (fuck you) King Leopold. King Leopold is not real, but I loathe him. Why? It’s not about King Leopold the flesh-and-blood human being because King Leopold only exists as words on a page, or pixels on a screen. I hate King Leopold because his mannerisms, his attitudes, and the way he treats people reflects the experiences of myself, my friends, my family, and my community with men like him. It’s about the big and small ways that King Leopold shows up in the men in our lives. My irritation is also compounded by that fact that, just like in real life, I am meant to think well of him despite the harm he does.

Contrast this with how in a lot of ways I am encouraged not to identify with Regina, not to see my own struggles as a queer woman of color reflected in her story. Pity her, sure. But not see myself in her, or her in myself. I’m supposed to see her story as being about redemption and not liberation. Success for this character is supposed to be about earning someone’s seal of approval and not establishing true agency. I’m definitely not supposed to ask, “What does it mean to have Regina do this or have this happen to her? Whose interests does it serve to frame her story that way?”

As a result of the ways that, simply by virtue of existing outside the assumed norms the show operates in, the things I look at in the show and the questions I ask are different. I am not unique in this because when I talk about media with people of color and LGBTQ people, we often carry that same implicit awareness of media as a creation by real people in the real world and not an independent reality. I believe that, in a lot of ways, it’s a strategy for resisting narratives that reinforce harmful ideas about people of color and LGBTQ people—namely, that we do not or should not exist except in very limited capacities.

(It is my intuition that people of color and LGBTQ people would probably grasp Brecht’s epic theatre better than Brecht himself did.)

I believe this is why the commentary of the actors, writers, or creators don’t really bother me much when it seems way off base from what we see on the screen. To me, that’s not them speaking with authority about a character or the show but reflecting their own position in the society that created the show. Therefore, their commentary, no matter how sincere, is not taken as objective fact but a reflection of their own subjectivity. That subjectivity comes with its own insights and blind spots. Why should I defer to their interpretations if I and others who watch the show are able to provide a deeper and more expansive perspective? Why should I assume that because they were thinking one thing when they were making the show that it could not have another meaning or interpretation that’s just as valid but coming from a different direction?

Now, I know that to some, denying or arguing against a creator’s interpretation is a lot like arguing with God. Which is interesting because, well, I’m Jewish, and struggling with or arguing with God is, in some cases, a moral imperative. Saying things we don’t like about the characters or the show is not on par with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet it remains that we do not have to accept a position just because it comes from the “gods” of the show.

Paradoxically, it’s the distance between spectator and narrative that has given me the freedom to incorporate the full richness of my entire humanity to the show.

August 3, 2013

Taking my work beyond the black box

Gwydion is making me think with his blog post ("Theater of Belonging"), especially this part:
What if we started combining what we usually think of as theater with, say, biology experiments? Or yoga classes? Or podcasts? Or role-playing games? Would we find new collaborators to work with us? And thus other audiences to engage with?
And on Facebook, Gwydion mentioned wanting to see more exploration and investigation in theatre, a parallel to research and development in science and technology.

(This is the part where a more patient writer would smoothly transition from one idea to the next. Forgive me for not doing so right now and getting to the good part right away.)

Whenever I feel the need to get back to the essence of what makes theater work, I go back to Peter Brook's The Open Door. One of the things that has most vividly stuck with me is his description of The Carpet Show. With nothing but a rug, the actors, and the audience, The Carpet Show transformed mundane spaces into vibrant, compelling performances.

After my most recent foray into The Open Door, I believe I had something of a breakthrough about the direction I want the development of my work to take.

I realized that more than I want to see my plays put on a Real Stage (TM) with all the bells and whistles, I want my plays to have vitality, to connect with the audience, to give the audience the freedom to imagine different realities. If that is what really excites me about theater, why would I put so much effort and energy into doing things that signify that I am a Real Theater Person (TM) and not an amateur with delusions of grandeur?

Part of me did--and does--want to convince other Theater People (TM) that I know and admire that I'm a Real Theater Person (TM) and serious about my work, which means I have to do "better" than a bunch of people sitting in a circle watching actors play pretend.

But the thing is: that's the part I like because I've never outgrown my need to play with my imaginary friends, to make up stories about them, and to go with them to worlds that can only be entered through the imagination.

Having finally admitted that showing my work on a Real Stage (TM) and proving that I'm a Real Theater Person (TM) are no longer my priorities, where does that leave me? Where does my work go?

Honestly, now that I've freed myself from that, it could go anywhere. In particular, I'd like to do my own rendition of Peter Brook's Carpet Show, using that format as a means of testing where the theatrical vitality of my work is found and how to bring that out in performance. Yet, I also want to play with adding a little bit of the spirit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, allowing audiences to participate by shouting and throwing various items. Oh, and I want people to be able to film my shows on their iPhones. And tweet during the show. And maybe nix the talkback at the end in favor of asking the audience questions during act breaks, where they are free to come and go and eat and drink and other "inappropriate" things.

In the meantime, I want to keep an eye on what works, what doesn't, why it works or doesn't work, and ideas on how to make it better. A strong sense of freedom and play, plus an equally strong insistence on figuring out what makes something work.

And get the hell out of the damn black box.

February 17, 2013

"Encanta" and indie theatre in the 21st century

Free copies of a full-length play for virtual strangers is not how things are usually done. For the most part, people usually have to pay to see a performance or buy a published script. But with Encanta, I've been much more free-handed about things that I ordinarily would be.

However, it does make you wonder: why would a playwright without a job at a pie factory hand out a script for free that is probably worth charging money for?

The first reason is pragmatic: plays are ultimately meant to be performed, not just read. Production, not publication, is where it's at for a play. The text of a play is, in my view, closer to sheet music than to a novel. Reading Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, while very likely meaningful and enjoyable, is nothing compared to hearing even a recording of it.

Secondly, a lot of theatre hasn't quite caught up to how to reach out via social media beyond promoting the next show. I'm not going to change that by myself, but I do want to do my part to engage 21st century audiences beyond asking people to follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page.

For me, the internet has been crucial for building an audience. It makes no sense for me to treat their participation as auxiliary to bringing my work to life. It also makes no sense for me to make my work less available to them just because they cannot be physically present at a performance.

Then there's the fact that I have never given my script to someone and had them less interested in a live performance. The vast majority of the time, when I gave out my script, the person reading it said, "I have to see this live."

So, to me, this means that I need a different process for engaging audiences with my work.

I came up with 3 layers of engagement that I believe would be a good way to guide how I get my work to its audience from now on.

The first layer is the "Hey, I'm writing this play. Interested?" layer. I call it "Creation" in the picture because that's what was legible in the circle.

This part of the process is not just about writing the piece. It's about sharing my vision for what the play will mean to the audience. For me, one of the first things I ask is, "Who will see themselves here?" and "What are they going to see about themselves?" It's the appetizer and a taste of what's to come.

A story about a sorceress and a pirate falling in love is nothing spectacular in and of itself. But when I say that every single character is LGBTQ and Latin@/Afro-Latin@, that means something to people. People, especially people excluded and marginalized in arts and entertainment, care about that because they want to see themselves in ways they normally don't get to see themselves. So, they're immediately hooked and want to know more about where I'm going with it. This usually means a complete draft. Or several, in the case of Encanta.

From here on out, things are a bit more experimental.

The second layer is the, "Let's see what we can do online" phase. I call it "Virtual Event" in the picture because, again, it's legible and fits in the circle. This is the main course.

The first thing that came to mind for this was a livestreamed performance where the audience hangs out in a chatroom or on a Twitter hashtag. No camera tricks. No movie magic. Just what actors can do just from the strength of their performance. This includes readings, staged readings, and workshop productions. Not to mention interviews with the writer, cast, and crew, and so on. I believe this could be the main form most performances would take because they would by far be the most accessible.

I have no idea how the logistics of this where tickets and what not are concerned, but it's one of the ideas I had.

Finally, there's what I call "Live Event" (once again, because it fits and its legible), which in my mind I think of as the "Icing on the Cake" layer.

Here is where the fully realized productions would happen. It's what we have for dessert. Just as every meal doesn't have dessert, every piece won't become a fully realized production. And that's fine. The point is to get the piece performed and in front of an audience.

The great thing about these layers is that they are very porous. None of them has to work in isolation from the others. For instance, it's entirely possible to combine a live event with a virtual event.

February 14, 2013

Special Valentine's Day thanks from Crossroads Theatre Project (aka me)

Anybody who knows me knows how much I HATE being on camera, so the fact that I made this shows that it really means something.

February 6, 2013

Back to my roleplaying roots

Inspired by Flux Theatre Ensemble's BARP (Big Artistic Risk Project) and Howard Shalwitz' TCG post about theatrical innovation, I've finally decided to put pen to paper about the sort of production process I want.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I want a production process that goes back to my roots in roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness, and so on. I come from a background where the only thing I needed to build a world, develop a story, and/or make a character were a few sheets of paper, a book, some dice and my own imagination.  I could enhance the experience with costumes and props, but I never needed them to feel fully invested in the setting, the story, or my character.

I love how, in roleplaying games, the act of exploration itself (through playing the game) organically gives rise to coherent characterization, narrative, and aesthetic. None of these things are truly determined beforehand. Sure, the Game Master (GM) may give you an idea of some of these things, and you can read about a lot of it online or in a rulebook. But it isn't until we start playing that those things really start to take form and come together.

I love the sheer freedom of roleplaying games. I love the fact that I don't have to wait to be given permission to bring something that enhances the game (music, pictures of people and places, props, even food!).  Even more than that, I love it when doing so inspires the other players to do likewise. In my favorite games, there was a jazzy vibe where each player brings something different yet essential, and we're constantly riffing off each other, just taking what each person offers and going with it.

The time commitment for a roleplaying game is also fairly manageable. It's not unusual for a group of roleplayers to meet every week and play for 3-4 hours. This could go on for months or years. I'm not talking about people who have no lives outside of roleplaying. I'm talking about people who often have families and full-time jobs that require their care and attention. For them, it's relatively to commit long-term to playing every Tuesday evening for the next five months. Much easier than, say, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening for the next five weeks.

I want to get back to that. Or, to be more precise, I want to bring more of that into making theatre.

This cannot work with the way theatrical productions in NYC usually happen. The key elements that need to change are the division of labor and the time commitment.

I'll address the time commitment first because that's easier.

I'd rather do one two- to three-hour session every week for six months to a year than cram everything into 3-4 months of frantic activity. To me, it's like the difference between microwaving a can of soup and making soup from scratch and putting it in a crock pot. With more time to simply breathe, would more nuances in texture and flavor emerge?

I also want a process that lets go of expected results. Nobody begins a game knowing exactly what's going to happen by the end. So, I don't want to determine from the outset if this process would lead to a staged reading, a workshop, or a full production. It'll definitely lead to something, but I want to tailor the results to the process rather than vice versa. Let's say that the group commits to six months of weekly meetings. If, at the end of that, a fully realized performance is the next step, that's what happens. If a staged reading is where it's at, that's what happens. If it's something in between, that's what goes next.

Another aspect of roleplaying games that I want to see more of in theatre is blurring the line between audience and participant. In roleplaying games, the audience and the players are one and the same. While theatre often plays with the fourth wall (mostly by dragging them into the play somehow), I'd love to simply have a play where the characters are doing what they do while the audience itself forms part of the scenery somehow (as trees, a faceless mob, a flock of birds, people on the street, watchful spirits from beyond, or some such), and the actors treat it as such.

Now, I want to be clear that this wouldn't mean six months of navel-gazing and twiddling thumbs then getting to the "real" work of putting on the play (learning lines, blocking, etc.). It would still involve much of the same stuff as rehearsals and production meetings. The only differences are that: 1) everyone is involved from the outset, and 2) it becomes part of the rehearsal process rather than separate from it.

The way it usually happens in theatre is that the performance and the production are treated separately. So, you have the cast doing actor stuff while the crew does designer stuff and production stuff. And then there's the director who's trying to hold it all together with the help of the stage manager and maybe an assistant director. Not to mention the producer who's trying to keep it all under budget.

For the scope I prefer to work with, this seems inefficient and arbitrarily limiting to me. To me, it matters less who does what than that it gets done. That is, if it needs to get done at all. (Personally, I believe there's something to be said about exploring what can be done with nothing but performers in a space before putting a lot of time and effort and money into hiring a designer.) Even when choosing a designer, it always struck me as strange that their work gets done in isolation rather than in collaboration with the people who are most directly impacted by those design decisions.

I suppose that the general principle would be to add more to the production as the need arises. I'd start with the essentials: actors, text, an empty space. Everything else would be added once we see a need for it and not a moment before. For instance, a designer would only come into the picture if no one has ideas, if no one can agree on anything, or if something needs to be made that no one can make themselves.

This reflects the setup of the roleplaying games I've been a part of that all start with players, rules, and a place to play.

The trade-off for all this freedom and input is more responsibility for the production as a whole. Everybody does script analysis. Everybody does marketing and publicity. Everybody contributes ideas for the set, props, costumes, etc. Granted, there may be people who have the final say on these things, but the process of actualizing a performance is shared by all.

January 3, 2013

2013 theatre resolution: turning ideas into action

I'll be the first to admit that it's really easy for me to get lost into thinking so much about something that I forget that I can do something with it. First of all, the inside of my head is an incredibly fascinating place to be. Second of all, I'm often beset by crippling insecurity, which makes it hard to trust and act on my vision of things. I know this needs to change.

I've used a lot of pixels to talk about diversity in theatre, especially when it comes to race, but I have to confess something: I'm tired of saying the same damn thing. I'm tired of listening to the same damn thing. If, at this point, anybody is still not convinced that diversity is a real problem that requires real effort to fix, there's nothing I can say now that will change their mind. So why waste my time? At this point, diversity in theatre would be better served by me simply creating and putting up my own stuff than participating in any conversation how important diversity is.

That's not to say that discussion is meaningless. Just Do It might work well for a Nike slogan, but I do think that the best actions are those that come from creating a vision, clarifying core principles, and developing a strategy. That said, I do think we must be careful not to get lost in spinning our wheels and following up with real action.

The sad thing is that I know it can be done. I know because I'm seeing it happen in the synagogue I'm a member of. Several people on my synagogue's Anti-Racism Task Force initially came as a way to honor the work and memory of a member who had passed away. However, through several house meetings, we got a real sense of who we were and where we wanted to go. Then we got the Board involved, and that led to several of us participating in an Undoing Racism workshop geared toward religious communities. From there, that led: to a sermon about race for the High Holy Days, organizing house meetings to get more people involved with learning about and doing more with anti-racism at the synagogue, and working with synagogues for Jews of color to make our congregation truly welcoming and inclusive. There is a lot more going on, but I hope you see what I'm getting at.

I must make it clear that most of the people on the Anti-Racism Task Force were not starving artists like me. Most of them were working adults with jobs and families. Most of us don't identify as activists, either. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences which inform our perspectives. That said, we committed to learning and growing together, and that allowed us to make huge strides in a short amount of time.

This is the experience I want to replicate in theatre. With that in mind, I know I have to make some real decisions.

My first real decision, then, is to only work with people who are committed to anti-racism in theatre. Even if I'm working with an all-women's group or all-LGBTQ organization, experience has taught me that lacking a commitment to anti-racism leads to excluding and exploiting the people of color within these institutions. It's a strategic organizing decision based on how I've seen these things pan out (confirmed by my participation in the Undoing Racism workshop).

This doesn't mean that the whole organization needs to have a complete anti-racist analysis from the onset (though it helps). There are a variety of ways to do this, but putting brown faces on the website doesn't count, nor does tacking on diversity in the mission statement or core values. I need to get a sense that the organization is taking active steps toward learning and growing in that regard. It doesn't have to be anything grand, but if I ask, "What are you doing to make your organization anti-racist?" even something as simple as, "Our Program Director is going to participate in the Undoing Racism Workshop by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond," will mean a lot.

I know this will be more difficult since I'm no longer in NYC, but I'm also still participating in the Task Force despite being hundreds of miles away. There are ways to do this. All I need now are the right people to come with me.