Archive Page 2

23
Feb
16

Carol, Tangerine and queer cinema

Carol is a visually sumptuous film that captures the New York of the fifties. It’s on the verge of ‘something coming’, but still steeped in the fifties formality. Todd Haynes’ direction isn’t heavy handed, he gives the actors room to fill moments, the dialogue is sparse but so much is clearly said.

 

I like the film for many reasons the sheer beauty of it, the fact that it’s an unapologetic queer story, and that it isn’t trying to do too much. We follow the characters as each makes major changes in their lives; in the end the world is full of possibilities.

 

When I look at Carol I see a film intrinsically different from Brokeback Mountain. There was nothing new in Brokeback, the acting was beautiful the cinematography breath taking, but in the end Hollywood sings the same old tune, two men fall in love, act on it, so of course one of them has to die. There was nothing ground-breaking other than it came from a big studio and big names worked on it.

 

Carol, based on a book by a queer woman and directed by a queer man, unashamedly tells the story of two women and has a feeling of self-ownership and hope.

Unlike so much coming out the big studios these days Carol is a thinking person’s film, it’s not a big story, but it is an important one. The director was in charge and was given room to work; the result is a film that will last much longer than most of what’s running out there.

 

Tangerine

This is a list of firsts, filmed by Sean S Baker on an IPhone 5 it is the first “fictional” movie filmed in the US where we have trans actors playing trans people. This may not be pleasant to watch, but is a real situation for female to male transsexuals out there living on the street or just getting by. It doesn’t judge. It puts you in an unknown world that we would usually avoid at all costs. It isn’t for everyone, but there is a wonderful raw quality to the work. The acting isn’t groundbreaking but in most cases honest, the world they occupy is limited and has its borders, as well as being broken. The sound track is pulled together by a quilt of indie musicians, some only 17.

 

It will be interesting to see what he makes next.

 

With trans folk being in the media so much right now with Orange is the New Black, The Danish Girl, About Ray, and Transparent, we have many depictions some honest, some romanticized, some missing the mark. With all of this comes a constantly repeating question: who should play these roles?

 

As a queer artist I am torn on the question of whether queer actors should be first in line for the roles. On the rare occasion we see queer people playing queer characters on screen we see a depth that is sometimes missing from other performances. Am I reading too much into this? Quite possibly it’s hard to judge. Looking at Ben Whishaw, for instance, in London Spy there is a visceral connection to the understanding of the relationship.

 

With trans roles I want to see a trans performer bring something only they can viscerally know to the work. An example of this is the French film Wild Side. The film cast Stephanie Michelini as the lead portraying a trans women living in Paris. There is something mesmerizing about her performance in the quiet looks and silent moments, her sense of exhaustion and her non-apologetic decision to live her life as she does. Filmed in 2004 you see immediately how far we have to go to catch up with this kind of filmmaking. Living as a queer man, just like living as a queer woman or trans has its own history and has informed us in ways straight people do not experience.

 

On the other hand, as a theatre maker I want to see the character not the performer. It shouldn’t matter who the actor is sexually “in real life”, it is the actor’s portrayal of the given role that is important. This is the current argument amongst artists in the field today. We are all human, we all experience joy and sorrow, we should be able to portray any character without the actor’s personal orientation being brought into question.

 

In a perfect world that is true, I have no doubt that the straight and non-trans actors working in these roles are striving to be as authentic as they can be.

 

We don’t live or work in a perfect world. Hollywood and American media especially have no idea how to break out of stereotypes and poor writing choices, not only with queer characters but with pretty much any minority character depicted on small and big screen. What’s even more disturbing is that they don’t see there is a problem. One has only to look at the merchandizing for the Star Wars film to see that they are clearly out of touch with the public of 2016.

 

We still hear the argument that those who are out will never get work. We see less of this in the music industry. At present more and more recording artists are coming out, and making videos that depict their sexuality without apology. As musicians they are their work so a sense of authenticity and acknowledgement of who they are can only help as they create their own brand.

 

For actors, and especially, let’s be clear, male actors, the fear that being out is a career killer is still quite real. In other parts of the world this is not necessarily an issue, they do the work and get on with it. I don’t want an actor to sacrifice their career just to be out, but I would love to see more queer actors demanding a more adult approach to the work and how we are portrayed.

 

It is here the American movie industry is years behind Europe and the independent scene not only on what is produced and who portrays whom, but how the films are viewed. I will acknowledge that HBO and Showtime have made great strides in this area.

 

Do I think it is different for women than it is for men? Yes I do. We have a different view of women’s sexuality as a culture. Women have been objectified and marginalized within the arts world as well as all walks of life. How a woman looks and dresses, does she wear make-up, all the mundane sexist crap that women deal with daily. This is changing, but very, very slowly. A woman’s sexuality isn’t seen as her own, it is about the straight male gaze and she has little agency. A man’s expression of his orientation reflects directly on how he is viewed as a man. People see queerness as a feminized weakness, he is somehow soft. These are not manly qualities in the western cultural view. This too is being challenged and rightly so.

 

All of this is going on within the discussion of who gets to play gay on screen. So the conversation isn’t an easy one or one that has a clear answer. As a director I want an actor who is right for the role. If it’s a queer role I will do my best to cast a queer actor because there is less to translate. Do I think straight cannot play queer? Not at all. Desire, passion, and love do not know boundaries in the real world. Would I want to see an actor labeled and unemployed because the powers that be don’t think the audience will buy a queer man playing straight? It’s been happening for a long time you just didn’t know about it.

 

At the end of the day for me no matter who the actor is, did they treat the subject with respect and integrity? Is it a three dimensional character or a flat one-dimensional stereotype?

 

These are the battles still being fought.

 

 

 

 

 

12
Feb
16

Angels in America can it play today?

So a local theatre Company Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette CA will be performing the cycle very soon. They are the first repertory company in the Bay Area to put this on in a while, not counting college productions. The last one was the ill-fated ACT production that was a misfire on all counts.

I find the work to be one of the best plays of my generation not only because the themes speak to my own life but also because it covers so much of who we are and what drives the country, the good and the bad. Never do I feel preached at, talked down to. The play expects me to be a thinking audience member, it doesn’t distract me with flashy musical numbers or heart felt ballads it hits me with the truth of human longing. It is us, at our best and our worst. It lives in a world where dreams and hallucinations cross the line into our own world and inform us of what we are seeking. The writing and style are clear and the thrust of the work makes us look at the world we inhabit with all the politics and religion and humanity with love and humor. The plays never pull us away from the real human struggle of desire, longing, and most of all hope.

Having lived through what was one of the seminal experiences of my generation as a queer man the AIDS epidemic, the work stands as a monument to the fallen and a glimmer of hope of who we could be.

My own history with the play is big in its own way, I saw the first production of the first play at the National Theatre in London. Sitting next to a young French tourist on one side of me with a group of American tourists who had been bused in on the ground floor the whole thing was a bit surreal.

When I got back to the States my mate called me to tell me part two was playing in LA and to get my butt down there ASAP we had to know what happened.

After that went with a good friend in NYC and saw the cycle there, with a lot of the original cast.

Then it was mounted at ACT much later and not very well. Then of course the film, which I still have some issues with but on the whole like. So I have seen it in many forms and iterations and each time the writing stands strong.

Does the work still hold up in the year 2016? Having a Black president didn’t destroy racism in this country; neither did the right to marry dispel homophobia. These events have magnified what we like to try to ignore and even hide; we still have a long way to go. As long as people feel the need to stay in the closet to guard their safety and their place at work, or go to a church that thinks they are less than human because of who they love, then we will still see the truth in the character of Joe Pitt.

I feel this work along with many others opened the door for queer theatre and how we are represented onstage. The themes are so much bigger than gay or straight; they tackle how we navigate, how we live, and what we do to cope. It is, at its heart, an American play.

In todays theatre world it is hard to know what will work, what will audiences take on? We think that we must make things shorter, flashier the list goes on. We forget Nicholas Nickleby, Angels in America, The Shores of Utopia, Pride and Prejudice, the Norman Conquests all are two or three play cycles. The audience came and more importantly they came back to see what happened. As we try to connect with audiences we need to build work that speaks to what we are living through or experiencing now, how does theatre reflect our life and our struggles? Angels still holds itself up in that regard. Town Hall and its Artistic Director Joel Roster have shown an incredible leap of faith in the work and the craft and it has paid off if you are in the area I urge you to attend.

 

 

15
Jan
16

Why I’m not watching the Oscars again this year

Why I’m not watching the Oscars again this year

Last year with the amazing travesty of the non- nomination for Ava DuVernay director of Selma (it appears the film directed its self) I had, had enough.

I remember very fondly the Oscars of the past going to parties, hosting one or two parties on my own, rooting for your favorite film. Now as a mature theatre practitioner I can no longer really join in with enthusiasm.

This year again seems to be the straight, white boys pat on the back club. We are rewarding business as usual instead of championing new filmmakers and new voices.

Yes several of the films nominated have tackled large issues, The Big Short, Spot Light are good examples, missing from best picture list Carol, Straight out of Compton, Beast of no nation, and The Lobster. Nothing blows up in Carol or The Lobster so I can see why little boys have trouble watching it. Carol also has very little to do with men, and its about two women so I can see also where Hollywood would rather nominate The Danish Girl a film that misrepresents two queer people in a relationship when one decides to transition, (for those who haven’t seen it that isn’t the story they are telling.)

 

I love a good blockbuster don’t get me wrong they inhabit a big part of why we go to the movies, but it isn’t the only voice. We are not rewarding thinking films, original films, we are lifting up the status quo and frankly it’s really boring. We hear complaints about ratings of the Oscars well try giving films that really pushed us, made us think, covered non white issues, weren’t made for the adolescent straight boy of 15-25, and you might be surprised as to who tunes in.

 

Tangerine got nothing. A low budget work filmed on an IPhone has done very well and addresses a trans world with real trans people that’s something we don’t want to see or acknowledge .It also sports an amazing score written for the film. 45 Years deals with an older couple addresses their love and emotions and realize that even people in there 60s and 70s still have an emotional and erotic life, one nomination for best actress.

 

The actor nominations were a little odd; Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs not Macbeth, apparently Stalone was the only actor worth mentioning in Creed, Missing Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. Everyone seems to be claiming its DeCaprio’s year, well I hope not because he leaves me cold. I know many who find him appealing I just don’t see it. He plays one note and not very well. Matt Damon’s behavior off screen has unfortunately soured me on anything he is doing on screen.

 

I am a massive Cate Blanchett fan but the film is really about Rooney Mara character so the nomination should have either been the other way around, or put them both up for best actress. Lilly Tomlin in Grandma anyone?

 

As far as design goes Furry Road, Star Wars, were feasts, but so was Crimson Peak, and Macbeth.

Huge strides have been made in the last few years with digital capture and the actors face and body being used as a base to animate character. When do we start to acknowledge the work of Andy Serkis and the people working within the special effects world trying to bring a more three dimensional authentic character to the screen?

 

Documentaries lets talk about the ones we didn’t want to touch, the ones we should all be hearing about, Going Clear the documentary about Scientology and The Hunting Ground a documentary about rape on our college campus, The Mask you live in a documentary about how boys struggle with the narrow view of masculinity in American culture.

So in short the work that is up is mostly white men saving us from something or braving the wilderness or what ever. They say it’s a cowboy town and the last few years have been proof of that. For me this year I will be cheering for digital awards and design as I have friends working in these fields. But I will read the results online rather than tune in to a show, and an award that has again missed the mark.

 

My list of a few films to see from last year

Carol

Tangerine

Macbeth

45 Years

Straight out of Compton

The Lobster

Suffragette

The second Mother

Ex Machina

Dope

Mad Max Furry Road

The Dark Horse

What we do in the Shadows

Beast of no nation

Documentaries

Going Clear

Hunting Ground

The Mask you live in

Deep Web

The True Cost

07
Dec
15

Training

 

Why are American actors not getting cast in major films and TV? How is it that they are put aside for Australian, UK and New Zealand actors? What is not happening in their training?

 

This is the question that has been driving me for a while. It’s not that I think they’re not being taught well, but what is the focus? Are they taught to have the rigor of practice that we are seeing from our over seas competition?

 

Basic technical skills like working and drilling dialect is a case in point. Here our counterparts outstrip us; Revenge, Hannibal, Fringe all had non-American born protagonists but you wouldn’t know it to listen to them. There are many reasons why we are falling behind. The movie industry is seen as something that many can do and requires no skill. How often have you heard ‘you look amazing you should do film.’ Yes, it’s still happening. The untrained actor in the US wants fame but doesn’t want to work for it.

 

Actors are athletes in their own way. The body is their instrument, their physical presence that they rely on. So it makes sense skills that need to be drilled work on voice and body. I’m not talking about the actors who gain weight or starve themselves for a role that is a whole other conversation. I’m talking about drilling lines, knowing the script, keeping yourself in performance condition. As actors, we are our own canvas; we must hone the physical skills and intellectual skills to be able to work in our field. Skills such as portraying emotions, knowing how to break this down in a physical way. What is my breath doing? How is my voice affected? What is my physical stance? Actors must be able to portray emotions whether or not they feel it.

 

The introduction of the American method has kept us behind twenty years in the field. This is my opinion, and one that is shared by others in the industry. We train people to give themselves therapy on stage and to take everything as personal. Turning everything inward. I find it far more interesting to see how others inform you and how you react to what is in front of you.

 

Yes, these are generalizations but we have to start somewhere. On returning from his tour of US schools and universities, Christian Penny, head of Toi Whakaari in New Zealand, found students unable to take on larger questions without it becoming a personal attack on them. We need tougher skins, we need to be able to drop offers that are not taken up and move on, without grieving for the brilliant idea or offer that didn’t fit or work. To be able to hold our own when challenged, to separate from the work, it really isn’t all about you.

 

I’m not asking you to all be super men and women, but be in shape what ever your shape is. Make sure you can endure a day of rehearsal and shooting. Stop being precious about your offers. Make them and keep them coming. Drill your skill set, voice and diction, breath control, movement. These are your tools. Know how to use them and be ready to.

The face of theatre is changing and we are not keeping up. There is a movement of mixed training and media that cross disciplines. Companies like Knee High, Complicite, and DV8 physical theatre are leading the way.

 

I will leave you with this quote from Michael Fassbender

 

“Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods because he practiced that fucking swing 100 times a day. Why should acting be any different? It’s just boring repetition, and through that, I find things start to break down, and you start to find the nuances, all the interesting little details.”

 

02
Nov
15

gender and sexuality in the news

So much about the queer and trans community has been in the news lately. Here is the list I have taken up for discussion:

  1. The Danish Girl, a film about Lili Elbe
  2. Tom Hardy
  3. Mat Damon
  4. Stonewall (the movie) and what it means to whitewash our history

Lets start with Caitlin Jenner

There has been so much talk about Caitlin and what she should and shouldn’t do, say, or think. I find it so interesting how everyone wants to make her a hero. She is a woman who transitioned, a woman who, when she presented as male was a white Olympic Gold Medalist. She came from a place of privilege and a somewhat conservative base. There has been a great deal of chatter about her political leanings and what will happen with her reality show. Simply because she is in the spotlight does not make her a spokeswoman for the transgender community. Jennifer Boylan writes about her in this way,

“Living in the bubble is an impediment to understanding other people, … If Cait’s going to be a spokesperson for our community, this is something she’s going to have to understand.” 

I find this to be a double-edged sword. Caitlin is bringing the discussion into homes and places that never would have had this discussion or acknowledge trans people in the first place. A role model? Not too sure about that. She is making her transition her career, in the way the Kardashians do. Let me be clear, I think the entire clan is worse than useless; famous for being famous. It is perhaps a strange accident that Bruce Jenner, now Caitlin, fell in with them and has the ability to actually make a difference. This is certainly a happy accident, one that affords Caitlin the money and connections to have a very successful transition. Not everyone in the trans community has that kind of opportunity. Be that as it may, Caitlin is living a public life.

So this begs the question what is public and what is private?

Recently, Graeme Coleman, a “reporter” for a Canadian queer publication asked Tom Hardy a blatant question about his sexuality in a very crowded news conference for the new film Legend. Hardy shut the reporter down hard and quickly. The reporter was then eviscerated online for prying into something that isn’t anyone’s business. Here is Coleman’s response to the editorial backlash:

“The hostile reaction and personal attacks I’ve endured online, combined with Hardy’s apparent reluctance to talk about the issue, leads me to believe that I have my answer. Yes, clearly it is still difficult for some celebrities to talk about sexuality in the media.”

-Graeme Coleman Via Queerty.com

 

As a performer and director here is a list of questions, in my opinion, he could have asked Mr. Hardy:

  • How is the sexuality of this character relevant to the story as a whole?
  • What did you do to prepare for the role?
  • How do you find the acceptance and non-acceptance of the sexuality of this character challenging to play in 2015?

Instead, he chose to try to ‘out’ Mr. Hardy for a cheap headline claiming that we need more role models in the world.

First, Tom Hardy is an actor, he is not a public official, the spokesperson for a faith-based or political movement, engaged in hurting or blocking the rights of the community. He is an actor, doing his job. His personal life is just that, his. What he does on screen and stage is fair game what he does in private isn’t.

Just because you want to know a private thing about a celebrity doesn’t mean you have the right to know that thing. Everyone is entitled to a private life. Now, if he were a public official or head of some organization preaching bile then by all means have at it. The list of republicans caught cheating with other women and boys is legion, and it is always the ones who shout the loudest who are not playing by the rule book they want us to play by.

Stop beating the bushes for role models and heroes, and start being the kind of person you want to be. Tiger Woods is a great golfer, that doesn’t make him a role model in his personal life. You want heroes and role models try Jimmy Carter and Maya Angelou, not a sports figure or an actor.

Why is this important? Lets look at the other side of this argument let’s look at the debacle of Matt Damon as an example of why this is still a hot button issue for actors.

Matt Damon had two instances of foot-in-mouth. First with his bulldozing a black director in Project Greenlight and then his foolish attempt at discussing what it means to be a queer out actor when he is neither. Here is the quote from his interview with the Guardian.

“I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.   …But at the time, I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy – more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor – it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out.”

 

Kevin Fallon of the Daily Beast talks to this very well.

“What Damon should be doing … is using Everett as a case study for why the way gay actors are treated in Hollywood needs to change. What a waste that Everett’s career didn’t take off the way it maybe deserved to, and only because some casting directors were worried that he wouldn’t be taken seriously as a straight character because of his sexuality.”

 

In many ways Everett was and remains his own worst enemy, but the treatment he received does hold true for the time he was at his peak. Today we have several out actors doing very well. So Damon’s viewpoint is clearly that of the old cowboy town of Hollywood. We see even though he protests the opposite that he believes queer actors need to be quiet about who they are and who they love. Now for many straight actors it’s no big deal to parade out the spouse and kids at awards, the PR is great. But in a straight male world if a queer man does this it’s threatening and somehow taints everything this actor does

Really? Again, Kevin Fallon in the Daily Beast says it best regarding Hollywood.

“It’s an industry that has the power to influence public opinion and galvanize cultural change. The gay community is desperate to enlist it in its fight against institutionalized shaming of openly gay people and the dangerous repercussions it has not just on a micro, individual level—an ambitious actor who might hide his sexuality and true self to serve his career—but on the macro, cultural one: the impact on a demographic of young people whose rates of suicide, homelessness, and depression greatly outweigh their peers because of lingering prejudice against them. 

Damon is preaching about actors’ sexuality being none of the public’s business in the same interview in which he casually talks about his wife, kids, and fatherhood on several occasions. And I would like for someone to convincingly make the case that a straight actor who follows his advice—not talking about being straight—will see his or her career affected in any way by such secrecy about their heterosexuality. Or that their career would be harmed in any way by talking about their opposite-sex relationship or love life.”

So in the end it is the actor who makes the call not the press and when they do, they do it because they feel it’s right. It is us, the public, who should demand that we see this performer as an artist not who they happen to be boning on the day.

This brings to me to two films one is out and one is soon to be, let’s start with the big train wreck Stonewall. We have all heard the reviews and we’ve all heard the director’s defense of his interpretation of our history. Let’s start with the quote that sums up the problem

 

You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people,” he says. “I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny’s very straight acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him.”

Roland Emmerich from his interview in the Guardian

First off, I really don’t care about a straight audience. I am beyond caring about the straight white gaze. They are not the only people who are important and who go to movies. The American film industry is the product of pandering to this gaze, the view of straight white men from the age of 14 to 24. And what do we have to show for it? A plethora of superhero movies, big men running around being manly, a lot things blowing up and a lot of people getting shot. The films of real content are either independent, low budget, or foreign. Here was a chance for a gay man to make a movie about our struggle and triumph and he whitewashes it.

The people who rioted were not all straight acting white boys, they were people of color, trans, queens, butch dikes, the people who took a stand so that this director could be out and work, and he repays them and us by giving us a rewrite of how it started so poor straight people can handle it. It’s not their history and it’s not their story, it’s ours. To have one of our own pander it in this way is a stab in the back. We are not out here demanding equality so you can change our history to fit a Hollywood version of the truth. If you can’t be honest don’t tell the story.

If you wanted to market the film try going outside the tired status quo. Who knows, you could have made something of value, something that would have got people talking. You missed it. We could have had another Milk or Selma, or Angels in America. What we got was a film telling us that a white straight acting boy started it all and the rest (that would be all of us) followed.

On to The Danish Girl.

It looks to be a beautiful film. I have my doubts as to the story they are choosing to tell. This film starring Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener, and Alicia Vekander as Gerda Wegener is billed this way in IMBD

“The remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.”

 

By all accounts the couple were openly bisexual. However, the preview doesn’t look like that’s the story being told. I could go off on how women’s sexuality is never taken seriously by the film industry, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole.

The preview itself looks to be stunning and well performed; I have no problem with that. My problem, they couldn’t find a trans actor or actress to play this role?

Okay, I know it’s all about the skill of the performer and we don’t mind asking straight and gay actors to perform against their nature. This is different; this has a weight that we can only guess at. I have no idea how this film will land I hope that it will do well as it looks to be a somewhat accurate telling of the tale. I still have research to do, so we will see. How we as artists choose to engage with the subject of sexuality and gender needs to be thought out, what we do has repercussions and we must remember that.

19
May
15

Musicals

There is a fascination with musicals in the USA. We come to it honestly through music hall and burlesque. The unfortunate truth is that they’re popular and make money. What promises to come to Broadway is asfollows: American Physco, Groundhog Day, Tuck Everlasting, Heathers, and RebeccaIf it’s money-making film we should make it into a musical. 

 

No, actually we shouldn’t.

 

In doing a quick search as to what plays are being produced in New York there are three in development, and 4 revivals planned. The list of musicals,both new and revivals, are legion. For me this has a lot more to do with the commercialization of Broadway than anything else. We are not promoting the thinking man’s theatre to the out-of-towners.

 

Now let me be clear, I made my living for several years doing musical theatre, its hard work and these actors are just as committed to their craft as non-musical performers. Taking this into consideration, along with Equity’s decision to go against their voting base and demand a pay frame for 99-seat theatres that is unsustainable for those theatres, we see what is happening to the play in the US, and the news isn’t good. Most of the new work is coming from the UK, as good as that is, where are the American Playwrights? Why are we not hearing from them? We also have to realize that this new financial constraint on small theatres will make it twice as hard for emerging playwrights to get produced. We won’t even start on the subject of female playwrights getting produced.

 

We are distracted and sold entertainment in the form of musical theatre. We are not challenged to think, or to wrestle with current affairs; we are seduced into humming along and watching the big production numbers.  I always get Les Miserable or Evita thrown up to me as examples. How many people who see Les Miserable make the comparison bwetween the struggle within the story and what is happening in the outside world? Evita is a love letter to a tyrant; lovely music but she and Peron murdered thousands of their own people, it’s almost as good as Springtime for Hitler.

 

I have nothing against entertainment or musicals, but the balance has shifted and we are not challenging our audiences on a larger scale, we are not asking them to think. 

 

If we do our jobs well we can challenge and engage, without preaching, we can promote discussion, we can make trouble. We can stop placating and start provoking. According to the corporate producers there is no money in this, so it is up to the small theatres and the fringe theatres and independent theatre makers to keep up this tradition.

 

As someone who has produced I see the economic and understand that rent must be made, but I’m an artist first. I didn’t follow a career in theatre for the money. I followed and continue to follow theatre as my craft and as a way of communicating and starting a conversation with the audience. Yes, to entertain is a worthy thing but at what cost do we continue to drink the Disney Kool-Aid? We have big issues to face and address and its time we started to look at them through different lenses, before its too late.

02
May
15

Questions 

So now I am back in the States after a full year in New Zealand finishing up my masters. Having been able to observe the Wellington theatre scene as well as staying in touch with the American theatre scene, I’m not too surprised that theatres in both countries are now facing some of the same challenges.

 Regional theatre is facing a dwindling audience base and getting people to buy season tickets is affecting their yearly budget. Bad business models and having non-creatives driving the season choices has taken its toll on regional theatre everywhere.

The question in both places is what can we do to make theatre more relevant to the audience today? How do we reach a modern audience who are diverse, and are looking for different things from their theatre experience?

What then do we commit to as theatre makers, and how do we connect to the people we are making theatre for?

I have had the chance to see this working on a smaller scale with a very different and diverse demographic in Wellington. The big question for these makers is whom are we making for? If it’s just for other theatre makers, what’s the point? 
Barbarian Productions under the artistic guidance of Joe Randerson, is a great representation of where we can go, here is their mission statement. 
We Are Barbarian.

We write, perform and make media that is fierce, funny and counter-cultural. We make work inside and outside of theatres, with groups and individuals, amateurs and professionals.

Our shows use clown, mask, music, dance, wigs and puppets – forms which we bastardise and fuse together with stand-up comedy and lecture. We often work with community groups and untrained actors – we like working with people who want their voice to be heard. We respond to new venues and forms. Our work ranges from large-scale theatre works (Yo Future, White Elephant) to smaller, interactive street experiments with an online component (Brides, Help Us Change, Wig Wam Jam).

We strive for a new economics in performance which allow a broader audience to participate in our work. We love strong and unusual voices, diversity and change. Art making is the most efficient way we have found to ask complex questions and express radical politics, while maintaining our status as naive fools. 

 

Their definition of theatre is large and inclusive. I went to an event that they organized titled Political Cuts. You went in got a coffee and had your hair cut for free as long as you openly and calmly discussed your politics and what you were looking for in an MP. This was just before the election. Coming from America it was a breath of fresh air the crew didn’t judge or contradict, but gave you a forum in which you could be heard and hear others. You could also get your haircut to match your favorite politician. 
Great you say but is this theatre?
We must broaden our definition of what theatre is. We have large buildings that house 300, 400, 1000 people how can we connect and keep these places viable? 

I don’t operate on this scale although I have worked for what we would call conventional theatre venues at this level, and feel they keep the audience at arms length. This is the model we seem to be locked into but is this model serving our work, and are these spaces serving the audiences who come to take part in a theatre experience? How do we explore and re -imagine the spaces we have or the spaces we work in?
The work of A Slightly Isolated Dog has taken a classic story and devised around it to build this work
Don Juan explodes with the energy of a music gig or a club. It’s a cabaret. It’s chaos. It’s a furious adrenalized romp through the games of attraction and sexuality. It’s the BEST… PARTY… EVER.

Five mad performers use a variety of theatrical forms and styles to bring an adaptation of Moliere’s classic play to life. Loaded with pop songs and flirting, this imaginative work will continually intrigue, delight and surprise.

While the bar keeps serving drinks. All night long.

Created by A Slightly Isolated Dog, one of Wellington’s most innovative and exciting companies. Critically acclaimed and award-winning shows include: Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants (2009, 2011), Perfectly Wasted (2012 – in partnership with Long Cloud Youth Theatre) and Settling (2007).

Warning: Contains Course Language and Adult Themes.
This work will be performed in what Circa refers to as their black box theatre, but the company wanted to perform it in the lounge. I believe they will start in the lounge and bring the audience into the theatre.
Their Mission statement

A Slightly Isolated Dog Ltd. in creating theatre that connects to and collaborates with the community in new and innovative ways.

It consists of a series public events – both live and online – that take the form of conversations around provocative issues and questions. These conversations, involving both professional experts and members of the community, are part of the creative process for two new theatrical works.
So here are two companies trying to engage with their audience in a very interactive way. They are taking issues we face daily and trying to build work around them so that the artists and the audience can look at them through a different lens. In both companies what the audience wants to see and how they interact with the work is a crucial part of how they perform.
Not every one wants this or is capable of building this. So my thoughts, be passionate about what you are building! Do not put something up or in your season that you think will raise revenue, the people will smell it a mile away. Own what you do and promote what you do. Be connected to your work.

As to the large houses, how can you get your audience more involved, how could you bring them in, instead of holding them just out of reach?
I have worked in a small immersive  “found” theatre space for the last 7-10 years. Those of you who saw us at Cue Live got to see us learning to use an intimate space to its full potential. For me this format suits my work. Larger venues require a different set of skills; ones that I feel don’t connect with the work I want to continue to make. So look to see us in more non-conventional spaces where the work surrounds and encompasses you to make you a part of the work you are there to experience.




RSS notes 4 stage blog

  • Interpretation July 10, 2017
        So I have responded to two blogs on this subject and felt like I needed to hash things out on my own turf. The subject has come up regarding several different productions and plays that I have either seen or directed myself. First I want to address two Shakespeare works that Jeremy Cole […]
  • Pride June 23, 2017
    As this is actually Pride month I want to reflect on the state of the community, because some ugly truths are surfacing and we need not only to address them but also to grow up a wee bit. I promise to go back to writing about the theatre but this feels too important.   The […]
  • The perks of cross casting April 6, 2017
    So no its not a fad its been going on since theatre started. There are many arguments and stances about how we cast regarding gender especially concerning Shakespeare. The Globe wants to do what they refer to as traditional or historical casting of the female roles If they stayed true to historic accounts they would […]
  • What is our role? January 27, 2017
    As artists and builders what is our role in the current world order with fascism on the agenda for America and across Europe? Do we play our instruments and entertain as the ship sinks or we are marched to the camps? There are many who do not want to cause trouble they see their role […]
  • Drag in Theatre and Performance August 8, 2016
    What is the definition of Drag? According to Wikipedia it is as follows: A drag queen is a person, usually male, who dresses in drag and often acts with exaggerated femininity and in feminine gender roles. Often they will exaggerate certain characteristics such as make-up and eyelashes for comic, dramatic or satirical effect. While drag […]