A lot of news stories caught my attention today, half of them theatre-related. Here’s some bits:

HowlRound and Julie Felise Dubiner dare literary managers and dramaturgs to reach new heights with play development.
One of my favorite quotes:

We must read books and newspapers and travel and meet other theater makers and people who make something other than theater. We have amazing skills, but we have become unable to fully utilize them or grow as artists and people in our own right. We must get out of our offices and bring ourselves back into the creative process. How dare we tell artists what to do or not to do if we are not willing to do it ourselves?

However, I think Dubiner falls into the trap of echoing what so many theatre artists are echoing today, which comes right out of Outrageous Fortune (grumblegrumble) – mainstream theatres are too ingrained, too staid, and inflexible. They don’t know what new play development really is. And then she, rightly, challenges them to develop new works – with dramaturgs and literary managers spearheading this effort.

I’m a dramaturg, from time to time. The way I explain that aspect of my craft is that dramaturgs are the nerds of the theatre world — we do all the historical research on plays, we research the crap out of everything. If you’re developing a play, you want to be where the action is, not where glued to a musty old encyclopedia in the basement of the library. I do. I love that crap, and I will do it for you all day long.

Trouble is, I think this is seriously disrespectful toward theatre art in general. Disrespecting history, philosophy, and science — the hard and sometimes boring things one needs to research to fully understand plays — does a massive disservice to the playwright, the timeperiod of the piece, and ultimately to all the artists involved. I’m a director, too, and I always do my own dramaturgy because I think it’s fascinating. Does it affect my interpretation? Yes. Does it keep me out of the action, the heart, of the play? Not at all, and in fact that research usually brings me deeper into the world of the play and into my imagination. I think all theatre artists should be their own dramaturgs, and if you don’t love the craft enough to do that while building a character, or a set, in your head and then on stage, then you’re not really practicing the full spectrum of the art.

But dramaturgs do save time, in that respect. One presentation, then a presence during rehearsals, and occasional production meetings and conferences, is usually enough to help the other artists understand what they need to understand about the world. Despite my love of research, one of the greatest pieces of advice I got from a director (I was an actor in his show), regarding our actor packet, was to read and absorb all the information, and then come back to the next rehearsal and not touch the packet again. To just trust ourselves to remember what we needed. I like that bit of advice, to this day (the dramaturg for the show was clearly not crazy about it).

Now, ironically, one of the things Dubiner proposed in her essay was for someone – “us” in general, no particular agency was pointed to – to develop a national database for new plays to be read, instead of relying solely on submissions and the submission process and the development process and literary departments to filter and tame the work before it gets to the artistic director. I think this is, in general, a great idea. But who will fund it? Who’s in charge? This could lead to some potential censorship, depending on, for example if Dramatic Publishing takes the project on, or the NEA, or even perhaps the Facebook-like website Theatreface.

And then I saw this:
Seattle’s 4Culture is Decommissioning it’s artist registry

Their reason:

Diminished revenues have made hard choices in Public Art 4Culture programming necessary. As part of our 2012 Annual Plan development, we carefully examined the Artist Registry program and the intensive staff time and funds committed for outreach, selection, and production and maintenance of the complex web resource. We conducted a survey of artists and constituents and received an overwhelming show of support for the continuation of the program. We understand that the Registry termination will be a loss to many.

If we’re going to point fingers at large theatres as the gatekeepers, and therefore jailors, of new plays and new play development, we might have to curry favor with them later to get their money and help for a new play registry. In the meantime, an organization that exists to fund artists and their work in Seattle is defunding a similar registry.

Interesting timing.

Finally, a human interest story:
Rebirth of a Director: Mike Nichols talks about bringing “Death of a Salesman” back to Broadway.

This article seems mainly about the relationship between Nichols and Elia Kazan, the infamous director behind the original Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire. However, there are some nice bits of advice for directors, including my favorite:

Something else Nichols has learned — and which he points out is evident in all great plays, including “Salesman” — is that there are only three kinds of scenes: “fights, seductions and negotiations.”
Ponder that, and you won’t have to waste your money on drama school.

Happy Leap Year Day!

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