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Notes on the Festival

  • Posted on: 24 June 2009
  • By: Tony

Below are the "From the Artistic Director" notes for the Alcyone Festival Program. (You'll get a copy when you swing by and catch the shows.) I figured I'd re-post them here:

If the statistics hold true, 60% of you reading this are female. Around 20% of productions every year are penned by women. We set out to get working on changing that and in the process have begun something that no one I know of is doing. I think even this year’s playwrights are a little surprised. One asked three times to make sure we were talking about doing actual productions and not readings.

This crazily ambitious festival was a year in the making. Early on it was pretty tough going. I was having a hard time finding good plays by women that fit into our pretty broad theme. Most plays are only published after a New York run, and because so few female writers are produced, there is a dearth of published scripts available. So I began asking for help. And help poured in from across the globe. Critics, dramaturgs, writers, publishers—you name it. Suggestions for reading, people to contact, and even free copies to read.

Each year I probably read 3-400 new plays. There is no lack of phenomenal women writers. Six are featured this year, with enough time and money I could have easily programmed sixty. There is a lack of knowledge of the vast number of great scripts out there. We’ve been fortunate in the amount of help we’ve had in finding a sliver of them. If you read the 20% statistic and want to try to change that, do it. There’s four steps that would change that 20% stat overnight: Reading more great plays by women, Producing more great plays by women, Watching more great plays by women, and because not everyone can do all four like I can, the fourth step is the simplest—Telling others about the new writer you just came across and loved.

I know, I know. When I start talking about this festival, I sound like a harebrained cross between a mad-scientist and a jive-assed preacher. It’s a long-winded way of saying thank you for coming tonight. Without you, the final leg of the journey could not be completed. We know you have many options for your time and money, and we are grateful you are here to share a few hours with us. So sit back, have a great time, and when the show is over feel free to hang out and let us know what you thought.

Tony Adams,  Artistic Director 

Hello, Halcyon!

  • Posted on: 13 May 2009
  • By: emlewis

Hi, there! My name is Ellen Lewis, and I'm a guest on the Halcyon Theater blog. My play Heads is going to be part of the 2009 Alcyone Festival in June/July. Tony asked if I'd add my bloggable thoughts to the discussion here. I'm glad to do so -- it looks like it's going to be a great festival, and I'm glad to be part of it!


I noticed a picture go up on this blog the other day of the first read through of Heads -- director Jessica Hutchinson and her cast, Kerry Cahill, Miguel Nunez, Arch Harmon, Pat King.

It's exciting seeing actors tackling one of my plays, in a reading and even more so in a production. How flexible is the text? What do the voices in my head sound like when they're in someone else's body? I look forward to meeting these nice folks during their run, although I haven't figured out the exact date yet when I'm going to Chicago.

It's kind of strange to see my plays moving farther afield. I've been in contact with these folks, of course. With Tony (artistic director of Halcyon Theater) and with Jessica (director of my play) through e-mail. E-mail is wonderful. We can go back and forth, Qing and Aing. But I'm not there.

It didn't bother me -- I hardly gave it any thought -- with my short plays. I have a LOT of ten-minute plays and a few one-acts, and I blithely send them out into the world. I'm happy to hear reports back, and I love to get pictures. What fun to see what a play looks like when it's done in San Diego with two men versus in Shanghai and Los Angeles with a man and a woman versus in Canada, set in an actual book store (like Lend Me a Mentor). It's fun. I'm happy to hear reports back.

Full length plays, though... It's a little harder to let go of them. Writing a full-length play is like taking pieces of yourself and smooshing them, red and bloody, on the page. (Perhaps you discern, here, if you don't know me well, that I don't tend toward comedy-writing. Ha!) The writing of a full-length play (the research, the writing, the readings, the rewriting) often takes a year or more to complete. No matter how fictional a full-length play is, I don't know how it couldn't contain a lot of the writer in it. The "giving birth" metaphor is apt. And I'm delighted, really delighted, to see my plays moving outside of myself, and going places where I've never been, and doing things beyond me. Delighted!! Just... separation anxiety, I guess. I want the best for them, you know?

Live long and prosper, little play! May these nice people in Chicago take good care of you, and have a real good time making you shine on their stage.

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From the Archives: A Letter to Young Playwrights

  • Posted on: 10 May 2009
  • By: Tony

I'm thinking on Saturdays I'll re-post writings from the archives that I've been thinking about lately.This was originally published: June 7, 2007

It is an interesting time to aspire to work in a dead art form that no one cares about. How do we know theatre is dead and no one cares? We're repeatedly told so. Oh wait, I know that's been said for at least a hundred years, but it's really true now--isn't it?

No, but theatre today is sick, and in need of a doctor. Are you qualified? Here are some things you can do if you're not sure.

See as much theatre as possible. Even bad theatre. You can't know what is good until you know what is shitty--and why it is. It is easy to write off jukebox musicals et al. But people go to see them in droves. Why? Find it out and let it inform your work. Saying people are stupid doesn't cut it. Those "stupid" people are who you're hoping to make a living from. Oh yeah, most aren't stupid. I'm not saying do as they do, but don't let pretension lead to ignorance.

What works on film, doesn't work on stage. Don't write screenplays and pass them off for the stage. There are many things film can do that theatre can't. There are also many, many things that will always be more powerful live on stage. Find what they are, and use the strengths inherent in theatre and live performance to your advantage.

Read. You can't try to break new ground and alter the landscape if you don't know what that landscape is. I am amazed when I hear about college training programs without a history as a component. If you claim to be a feminist writer, please for the love of God, have read at least one of Cixous' works. You can't claim to experiment with the theatrical form, if you've no idea who Artaud is.

Look around you. Don't bemoan Stanislavski, Artaud, or Strindberg, or "the classics", or The Empty Space, still being taught and held up--unless you have a better way. If you do--do it and show others why it is better. Actions speak louder than words.

Avoid easy targets. Don't write idiotic conservative buffoons vs. heroic perfect liberals (or vice versa.) I've read so many new plays trying to critique the right, but can not seem to see conservatives as anything other than idiots and bible thumping caricatures. One point that seems to be lost on both sides is, like it or not--there is not really as big a difference between liberals and conservatives as we like to think. When critiquing war for instance, it can seems to me equal amounts of lunacy to blindly rubber stamp the current administrations policies as to say wars are never just (say to end a holocaust). When we try to paint with strokes that are far too broad, the arguments veer into irrelevance--and worse make boring theatre.

Be inspired. Inspiration is all around you. Notice things and let them out, cynicism is overdone--as is writing a play about a playwright trying to write a play about his/her exes and what went wrong.

Above all things remember your roots. Theatre requires two things. Telling a story to an audience. Story. Audience.

Theatre is storytelling. Don't forget that. There are many different ways a story can be told. But if you're not telling a story what are you doing and why?

Don't forget your audience. One of the biggest problems I see right now is here. If you have a disdain for audiences, work in a medium that doesn't require an audience. Don't talk down to them, they're smarter than you think--probably smarter than you. Challenge them--and yourself. If the audience "doesn't get it" it's probably not their fault.

Playwrights aren't the Center of the Universe. Neither are directors, actors or designers. If you think you're the only important part of a play--if you think: actors are puppets to do what the playwright says; directors are trying to steal/bastardize your work; designers merely do derivative interpretations of your creation--if you truly believe any of these, stop writing plays. Write a novel. Write poetry. Do not write in a medium that requires collaboration with other artists if you don't value them as artists.

Stop Whining. Play development in its current state sucks. No one will produce plays by women. Regional theatres only do safe chestnuts to keep subscribers. Wah, wah, wah. Whining doesn't lead to change--or complete your plays. If they won't do it, find some friends and do it yourself. Show everyone what is possible. Show them why.

No One Cares. Unless you give a reason for them to. Give them a reason. 

The Generation Gap

  • Posted on: 13 April 2009
  • By: Tony

 

Dr. Schreiber of San Augustine giving a typhoid innoculation at a rural school, San Augustine County, Texas (LOC)A couple of weeks ago I went to a discussion with Michael Kaiser. It was a pretty interesting hour or so. There was a lot to take away from it. With the amount of challenges down the road, we need to challenge a lot of our assumptions.

While I agreed with a lot of what I heard for the immediate future, much of what I'm hearing and reading about what is needed for the road ahead sounds like an old doctor giving a kid a vaccine. I can't help but think that sometimes the vaccines are built around faulty assumptions.

At one point at the Kaiser panel, someone asked what specific challenges the next generation of leadership will need to be aware of. The answer gave me pause. Essentially a "lost generation" may be the biggest obstacle in the future of arts organizations.

I've read and heard talk about a supposed "lost generation" for the arts--a whole generation that did not get arts education in schools. The common thought is that if kids do not have exposure to the arts at a young age, they will never support the arts. Two things strike me about this. (Lest it be mistaken, I am not arguing against arts in the schools; however, there are several problematic points in this line of reasoning.)

The generation that I've heard mentioned that is lost to the arts are currently around 40-ish down to around 15-ish. Those were also the ages Kaiser threw out. When I looked around the room that didn't make sense. I'd estimate half the room for a talk on managing arts organizations during a time of crisis was from this lost generation. The majority of our audiences at Halcyon and many smaller companies I know are also from generation. Those most active in the theatrosphere are in this age range.

College arts enrollment (hell, even the number of available programs) have exploded during the last generation. Enrollment it is now considered so vast to be a great problem. The sheer number of students seeking degrees (let alone terminal ones) far outstrips the available number of jobs. The generation that was lost on the arts is actually migrating towards the arts in huge numbers.

Sometimes I can't quite reconcile the above with the dearth of younger audiences reported by most institutions. How can you get a student to spend four years and sometimes over a hundred grand (of their parents money or from future crippling loans) on an arts education, and not get them to shell out for a ticket to so many institutions? The longer I go, the less I believe a lack of arts education is the primary culprit.

I've also read staggering amounts of material about "where is the next generation of leaders."  Boomers who currently run most institutions are fretting about who will take up their mantels and continue their direction.

Lost in the search for the next generation of leaders is an entire generation of leaders. That day will come; however, I've spoken to some who are (sometimes more than) a little insulted when they hear there is no one to take up the mantle. "I'm here. I'm ready. I'm smart. I'm visionary. I'm a leader. I'm broke. I can do this better. I've got a family . . ."

The key difference is that many younger leaders have started their own companies instead of waiting. They've left the field instead of waiting. They see the world very differently than the generation that preceded them. (Not a big shock, every generation does.) They want a chance. They want to run institutions differently. They want them to be "better." Better being a relative term of course.

When the boomers step aside they are going to want the next generation to continue on the same trail they blazed. Most folks in the arts under 40 that I know don't want to go down that same path. When arts institutions begin to reflect younger generations, I think you'll start to see more young audiences. The trick will be to not lose those already attending.

Personally, I don't think finding new audiences will be as much of a challenge as common wisdom dictates. I think managing the generational gap in handing over the reigns will make for a far bumpier ride.

image courtesy of Library of Congress via.

Importance?

  • Posted on: 17 November 2008
  • By: Tony

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was in Paris. Technically, I was still a student and a (sometimes paid) intern. The short answer to why is that I didn't need a green card (okay, they call it a carte de sejour) to do so.

The second production I worked on was a beast. A new play festival with 41 shows in rep over the course of a month. There was also a special night dedicated to "the Austrian Question."( Jorg Haider was very much in the spotlight of European politics that summer.) The sheer logistics of such a festival was staggering.

The folks working on it were very open, and the importance for me as an artist of being a fly on the wall for conversations between some of the heavyweights of Parisian theatre didn't really hit me until years later. Some folks I didn't even realize who they were until well afterwards. Which is probably good, as the 23 year old me would have probably made an ass of myself in front of most of them.

One person in particular fascinated me (and still does to be honest). I was working on something during a lull and a conversation was going on. Now even then, I knew who she was. It was hard not to, when she walked into a room people hushed. Her reputation preceded her.

She asked another person what he was working on.

He replied dismissively, "oh just something, you know? It's a gig, not art, absolutely not art, but a light-hearted farce. . ."

She asked if "it was the most important thing he could be doing?"

"No", he replied

"Well then why are you wasting your time on that fucking nonsense," She asked?

He paused for a minute to think before responding, "I've had a shitty year and I just need to do something fun."

"So, that is the most important thing you could do right now," she said.

He thought for a moment and said, "yes, I guess it is."

That conversation makes more and more sense as I've gotten older. Is what I'm working on the most important thing I could do? If not, why am I spending all this time on it? The other side is that sometimes allowing people to laugh is the most important thing that one could do. How can you tell the difference?

Once upon a time I lit a show that was so bad, about a minute into it I leaned over to my then girlfriend, now my wife, and apologized for bringing her. That was a low point. I could make excuses that it was an easy gig that paid, but I knew walking in the room it was going to be an awful show. But, I'll admit, that show shattered my expectations on how bad one show could be.

I talk to people all the time who know how bad the show they are doing is. Sometimes they are honest, sometimes they try to cover--often unconvincingly. Sometimes you can even see it in the actors' faces when they are onstage.

Why would we waste so much of our time, and nowadays time is a very precious commodity, on something that we don't think is even important? We all have. There are those shows we don't put on our resume, we don't tell our friends about. Most of us love what we want to do, but how often do we love what we are actually doing?

Experience has taught me that working on something those involved feel is important is often a major factor on not just how much they enjoy it, but also how good the project turns out to be. Is what you are doing, or about to do, the most important thing you think you could do? Why or why not?

Is that something you consider before starting a project?

In a conversation about the contents of other shows, do we hold ourselves accountable for what we ourselves work on?

It's the Day of the SHOW, Ya'll!

  • Posted on: 8 October 2007
  • By: Jenn

 

He's Sleeping!Well, not really... but it IS the day of the first read-through for Haroun and the Sea of Stories... and sometimes a read-through is just as scary...

Usually, I get so excited and emotional that I cry when I talk about the show at the read-through... I get all va-klempt...but today, there was so much going on there wasn't enough time or brain-room to get anything but THROUGH it... We started at a coffee shop then went to the park for sake of space and time... it was actually pretty cool to be able to read out loud together under the trees... Tony Sr. was being all producer-like, handing out contracts and talking business, and then being an awesome dad and taking Tony Jr. on endless walks around the park when he would get noisy... there were a couple of times when he would hang all over me (Jr., not Sr.!), and to be honest it was SO nice to have Tony just wheel him away if he would cry... then I would think, "does this make me a bad mom?" But if I paid more attention to him at rehearsals, it would make me a bad director.

It's going to be important to find that balance... I want Tony Sr. to be there... and he really needs to be, as the designer of the set, lights and sound. But I also need to be able to have the peace and quiet to think. It's going to be a hard line to walk... and since we can't afford to have a sitter, and I don't want to not see my kid ever, this is the way we need to do it...

Another by-product of being a parent, a.k.a. having a whole OTHER full-time job in addition to the theatre company and the day job, is that things do NOT stay in my brain the way they used too... That is one of the reasons we are using a dramaturg for Haroun. I'm really excited about this actually, because there are so many sub-levels to what Salman Rushdie is writing, and I don't want to miss anything. In addition to the undercurrents of his political situation (the bounty placed on his head, for one), there are so many cultural elements that are new to me. All of the names, for example, mean something in relation to the character. These are from a language and1st Read-through culture that I am newly discovering, and the last thing I want to do is look like an idiot or make the cast look that way. As another example, I have an idea for a tableau during the 1st scene that physically references a painting of a Hindu god... the names are all more Muslim, as the choreographer let me know. This is ok, and she agreed, as long as we know that going into it... which I didn't before she told me. So, it's scary that this sort of thing could happen a lot, and yet I don't want it to prevent me from making strong choices. That's why not only is our dramaturg going to be important, but also the knowledge of some of the cast members who are from that culture, and my husband (who is a historical nerd beyond belief!)

I'm REALLY excited. This is a perfect show for me, and I love the type of rehearsal process and specifically the body work that this type of show calls for. I just hope I can bring to it what it deserves, and what Halcyon Theatre is capable of...

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