Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Directing my own play (about me)

I've started rehearsals on Doctors Jane and Alexander, a play about my Mom and my grandfather going up in the Festival of Jewish Theater & Ideas. As I often do with my own work, I am directing it myself.

I have often heard people debate whether a playwright should direct his own play. My approach, when directing my own work, had always been to somewhat detach myself from the role of writer and to become a director. To stop thinking of it as my writing and just think of it as a play. But of course I have a certain freedom I wouldn't have with someone else's play - I can say, that line is just horribly written, it doesn't work at all, let's change it. Often I find I go there more quickly than my actors, who at time protest, no, I can make this work. Which may be true. A good actor can often disguise bad writing. But I try to avoid the bad writing altogether.

The one nice thing I find when someone else directs a play of mine is that I can really concentrate on rewriting during rehearsals - and I do mean during rehearsals. During Golem Stories, I would rewrite the play as they rehearsed, so that the new lines would come by the end of rehearsal, and I could hear them. And having a director with strong opinions (Glory Bowen in that case) is very helpful - unless I completely disagree, I suppose. I occasionally disagreed with Glory, but the play came out much better by the end of rehearsals, thanks in good part to her feedback.

Doctors Jane and Alexander has gone through many iterations. It was a ten-minute piece, written in 24 hours, for my 24/7 Festival. Alex Roe (of the Metropolitan Playhouse) did a fabulous job with that little piece, and staged it in ways I didn't expect and found very moving. Then it became a one act in NEUROfest, and Ian W. Hill directed it, once again doing a fabulous job with it. Both times, I was grateful to have an outside director, because the play is so personal - I'm a character, my Mom is a character, my grandfather as well, and in the latest incarnations, my brother too. It was interesting to have an outside eye who didn't have all the inside information.

When Ensemble Studio Theater gave me a Sloan Grant to develop the piece into a full length (and present it as a reading) I decided to direct it myself. It's partly because I enjoy directing, and it was a piece I thought would be fun to direct. But it was also because, having seen other directors work with it, I felt I was ready to direct - and even more, at the time, there were some actors I really wanted to cast in the reading, and I had the luxury of determining the casting as the director.

Now I have reached the fully staged version, and I am directing again. I have to say, it has been an unusual process for me, in the early rehearsals. Before we began, I urged the actors not to worry about the reality of who I am, who my mother is, etc, but just to perform the play (much of which is found text, from actual conversation) and interperet them. And I still urge them to do so. But as a director, my instinct is to insert my own experience. And my own experience, of course, come from the reality of my experiences with my Mom and others.

At first I resisted injecting that reality into the play, but the actors had questions from day one, and really, the answers that I can give are just based on my own life. So I find myself selectively injecting a little more reality into the show.

I do simultaneously have some strong feedback about the show. Henry Akona, who is composing music for the play, or rather taking my grandfathers relatively simple compositions and filling them with ornate, complex, and clever harmonies, has been giving me feedback since the reading at Ensemble Studio Theater, and with such a personal piece, it's particularly good to have an outside eye. Henry's also a director (he has been workshopping another play of mine, Rudolf II, for years) and someone whose opinions I greatly respect.

But the difference, in the end, between directing one of my own plays myself and having someone else direct is this: when I direct, I know that everything that's really important to me will happen on stage. All the reasons I was inspired to write the play will be directly in front of the audience. I feel relatively confident about my directing, so the chance are good I will like the end result. And I will have the enjoyment (as well as the work) of putting it together.

When someone else directs, something or other that I found important in the text will inevitably missed. But with a good director, some things I didn't even realize were there will be found. Which is exciting. And I get to focus on honing the script all the more. And that is also enjoyable.

ButI won't get to discover the play as a director. And that, for me, is the real joy of directing my own script. When I write, I deliberately only include minimal stage directions. First, I don't enjoy writing them. Second, I feel like it is up to the director to fill those moments in, while it's up to me, as a writer, to give the director dialogue, with only the occasionally comment, to make the meaning clearer. And the staging that works in one theater, with one set of actors, won't necessarily work in another.

But now, as the director, I get to discover daily what staging works and doesn't work with my particular actors, discovering the transitions, the flow of the piece, etc. And it's fun. Frustrating, sometimes, when I feel the flow isn't working. But almost an extention of writing, like I have taken a work half finished and now I'm providing the other half. Because there's only so much one can express in words. And I'm not always good at explaining I mean. But showing what I mean, by moving actors in space - that, I'm good at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shows announced for Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas!

We are working hard on the website, but for those who read my blog, here's a preview! Here are all the shows in Untitled Theater Company #61's upcoming Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas!

The Burning Bush
by Tracey Erin Smith
directed by Anita La Selva
Burning Bush Productions, Toronto, Canada
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave.

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Wed 6/3 @9:00, Fri 6/5 @8:30, Sat 6/6 @11:00, Thu 6/11 @10:00

Yentl meets Showgirls in this award winning one-woman traveling spiritual roadshow. Rabbinical student Barbara Baumowitz teams up with exotic dancers to spread their religion in this new version of an old-time revival. Critics Pick in Backstage, Audience Choice Award in Frigid NYC and Best of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Burning Bush Productions has produced award-winning theatre in New York City and across Canada. BBP also delivers workshops across North America in creating solo theatre based on personal life experience for both professional artists and lay people. We are currently developing our first feature film, based on ‘The Burning Bush!’ with Mr. Jackie Mason on board to play himself.

Cities of Light
assembled by Rebecca Joy Fletcher
directed by John Richard Thompson
Open Hart Productions, New York
at 92Y Tribeca and the Center for Jewish History

Wed 5/20 @7:00 at 92Y Tribeca, 200 Hudson St Tickets online or at 212-415-5500

Tue 5/26 @7:00 & Sat 5/30 @8:30, Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street Tickets online or at 212-757-0788

Wed 6/10 @6:30 at Center for Jewish History. 15 W. 16th St Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Light and dark in 1930’s Berlin, Yiddish Warsaw, Paris & Tel Aviv. Blinding lights, brazen comedy, cabarets of yearning and bite. An astounding era; a time of Jewish artists on the move. No need to brush up on your languages; these songs are mostly in English!

Open Hart Productions is the brainchild of playwright, performer, cantor, and scholar Rebecca Joy Fletcher. Founded in 2007, Open Hart is dedicated to researching and reviving the lost art of International Jewish cabaret. Currently focusing on Warsaw's and pre-state Tel Aviv’s cabarets, Open Hart also presents lectures and workshops. Fiscal Sponsorship: The Field. .

The Dig: Death, Genesis & the Double Helix
by Stacie Chaiken
What’s the Story?, Los Angeles
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Wed 6/3 @7pm, Fri 6/5 @10:30, Mon 6/8 @10:00, Thu 6/11 @3:00

An American archaeologist is summoned to a dig in the ancient Arab-Hebrew town of Jaffa. They've found something big—something that could change everything—and she's the only one who can tell them what it is. And her mother just died. And there's a lizard in her bathtub. The Middle East. Matriarchs. Cruelty. It's a comedy.

What's the Story? was founded in 2001 as a workshop for writers and performers who are struggling with personal story for the stage, the page and the screen. The workshop produces a biennial festival of new solo plays, regular public showings of works-in-progress. As of April 2009, What's the Story? is in residence at the Odyssey Theatre is Los Angeles.

Doctors Jane & Alexander
written and directed by Edward Einhorn
Music by Alexander S. Wiener and Henry Akona
Untitled Theater Co. #61, New York
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online
or at 212-352-3101

Sat 5/23 @6:00, Mon 5/25 @7:30, Thu May 28@9:00, Sun 5/31@5:00, Sat 6/6 @8:30, Sun 6/7 @7:30, Mon 6/8 @7:30, Fri 6/12 @9:00, Sat 6/13 @6:00, Sun 6/14 @1:00

Using found, fabricated, and occasionally finagled text, the playwright explores the life of his grandfather Alexander S. Wiener, the co-discoverer of the Rh factor in blood, through interviews with his mother, a psychologist who recently retired due to a debilitating stroke. An examination of art, science, ambition, and achievement, told with humor and song.

Untitled Theater Company #61 is a Theater of Ideas: scientific, political, philosophical, and above all theatrical. Past projects include the Ionesco Festival, the NEUROfest, the Havel Festival, and the Off-Broadway production of Fairy Tales of the Absurd. Most recently, they produced a calypso musical version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

by Howard Zinn
directed by Martina Plag
stadium-praxis, Philadelphia
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Thu 6/4 @7:00, Sat 6/6 @3:30, 6/7 @5:00

This toy-theatre adaptation uses wit and humor to illuminate history from below. Through innovative storytelling and theatrical devices everyday objects transform to reveal and celebrate the life of the remarkable “Emma” Goldman; the anarchist, feminist, and free-spirited thinker who was exiled from the United States because of her outspoken views.

stadium-praxis Strives to explore the point where theory and practice intersect to [in]form action. We create puppet artistry for adult audiences. As an art rich in ancient, folk and popular theater techniques, we use puppetry to address contemporary issues and advocate social change and awareness. We approach the puppet as metaphor.

Hard Love
by Motti Lerner
directed by Susan Reid
Genesis Stage, Atlanta
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave


Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Fri 6/5 @6:00, Sat 6/6 @5:30, Wed 6/10 @3:00, Thu 6/11 @7:30

In this fiercely romantic drama, Hannah and Zvi are reunited after divorcing twenty years earlier. Raised in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim, the couple ended their marriage when Zvi turned his back on Judaism and Hannah did not. Now the teenage children from their second marriages have become romantically involved, forcing Hannah and Zvi back into each others’ lives The first-ever full staging in New York of the work of noted Israeli playwright Motti Lerner.

Genesis Stage produces works of theater which are relative to the Jewish experience and reflective of the universal human condition. Genesis strives to challenge, enlighten, and entertain Atlanta audiences with world and regional premieres, as well as seldom-seen plays, which investigate the past, reflect on the present and envision the future.

The Jewbird
Created by the Northwoods Company
based on the story by Bernard Malamud
directed by Annie Levy
Northwoods Theater, Conover, Wisconsin
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Fri 5/29 @5:30, Sat 5/30 @5:00, Sun 5/31 @2:00

In this modern fable originally penned by Malamud, an unexpected visitor flies through the fifth floor Lower East Side apartment window of Harry and Edie Cohen and their young son Maurie. The small, scrawny bird plops down on the kitchen table in the middle of dinner, and begins to speak. What follows exposes the family’s uneasy tension between Jewish identity, past and present.

Northwoods Theatre Company is an ensemble group dedicated to creating and developing new work relevant to the Jewish experience of all ages. By treating source texts as it would sacred texts and working them into the script, Northwoods Ramah Theatre Company aims to make the connection between the story and Jewish teachings more apparent and accessible.

Jolly Good Fellows
by Steve Feffer and Tucker Refferty
directed by Mark Liermann
Whole Art Theater, Kalamazoo, MI
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Fri 5/29 @7:00, Sat 5/30 @11:00, Sun 5/31 @3:30, 6/1 @7:30

A dark comedy about two immigrant actors from New York in the 1890’s who make their living performing a stereotypical “Jew” and “Irishman” in the grotesque styles of the variety stage. They enter into a contract of convenience to keep up with the changing times, despite the personal costs of such performances. Songs and sketches from the period are included.

The Whole Art Theatre Company offers unique theatrical experiences, including the fostering of new work, that brings socially significant issues to the forefront. In 2007, they received a Foundation of Jewish Culture grant for Steve Feffer’s new play Ain’t Got No Home, the true story of the legendary Chess Records.

Laughing Fools
“Laughing at the Speed of Light”
written, illustrated and performed by: Flash Rosenberg
“Village of Fools”
adapted, directed and performed by: Stephen Ringold and the Grand Falloons
From stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer
at JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, near 76th St

Tickets online or at 505-5708

Mon 6/8 @8:00, Tue 6/9 @8:00

Flash Rosenberg and Stephen Ringold mingle their two distinct shows into one tasty evening. By the same unlikely logic that landed smoked fish in a bagel, Ringold’s vaudeville puppet theater “Village of Fools” will suddenly be served in the middle of Rosenberg’s comic slide romp “Laughing at the Speed of Light” to create a posh nosh and frolic of Jewish culture.

The Grand Falloons is an ensemble of theatre, vaudeville, and design professionals who have all worked with the Big Apple Circus for 20 years, as well as on the New York stage, on national television, and in opera houses, schools, museums and theaters across the country.

The Legacy Project: Echoes
Featuring the WORLD PREMIERE of Tikkun with choreography by Carolyn Dorfman and music by Greg Wall
Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Bente Kahan, New York
at NYU Tisch, 111 2nd Ave, 5th floor

Tickets online or at 1-800-838-3006

Fri 5/29 @7:30, Sat 5/30 @7:30

The Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and actress/vocalist Bente Kahan present The Legacy Project: Echoes, an evening of dance, theater and live music incorporating the best of the artists’ individual repertoires, their collaborative piece Silent Echoes and featuring the world premiere of Tikkun with commissioned score by renowned jazz and Klezmer musician Greg Wall.

Since 1983, Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company’s high-energy and technically demanding repertory uses movement as metaphor to take audiences on “intellectual and emotional journeys” (Observer Tribune). Led by artistic director Carolyn Dorfman and her creative drive to communicate human experiences, interactions perceptions, and truths, CDDC’s twelve dancers display extraordinary physical, technical and dramatic range.

by Sholem Aleichem
Translated by Ellen Perecman & Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Adapted by Ellen Perecman & Clay McLeod Chapman
Directed by Marc Geller
New Worlds Theatre Project, New York
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Sat 5/23 @8:30, Tue 5/26 @7:30. Fri 5/29 @9:00, Wed 6/3 @5:00, Sat 6/6 @2:00, Wed 6/10 @10:00, Fri 6/12 @7:00, Sat 6/13 @2:00

On playwright Sholem Aleichem’s 150th birthday, the first English translation of an old play: Jobs are hard to come by, so Madame Gold’s servants have limited options. To keep their jobs, they have to be willing to maintain the status quo by relinquishing their self-respect and free will. But how much abuse can they be expected to tolerate? Servants are people too, aren't they?

New Worlds Theatre Project is dedicated to bringing imagination and artistic excellence to English adaptations of Yiddish plays, and in so doing, to bringing dignity to the literary legacy of Yiddish culture.

The Most Radiant Beauty
written and directed by Tanya Khordoc & Barry Weil
Evolve Company, New York
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Sun 5/24 @3:00, Wed 5/27 @7:00, Thu 5/28 @7:00, Sat 5/30 @8:30, Thu 6/4 @9:00, Sun 6/7 @3:00, Wed 6/10 @ 8:00, Sat 6/13 @10:30

A one-act to be performed with Six Scenes from a Misunderstanding (below).

God said “Let there be light.” Einstein showed us what it could do. In this multimedia collage, puppeteers Khordoc and Weil use found text to explore Einstein, Genesis, the Atomic Bomb and the life-altering power of knowledge.

Evolve Company has been playing with puppets very seriously since 1996. Productions include Evolution, Brains & Puppets and Secrets History Remembers. They were also given the honor of creating the world premiere production of Motormorphosis, a play by former Czech President Václav Havel, as part of UTC #61's Havel Festival in NYC.

Rat Bastards
by Julia Pearlstein
directed by Eureka
Dixon Place, New York
Theater THE, associate producer
at Dixon Place, 161 Chrystie St., near Delancey

Tickets online or at 212-219-0736

Wed 6/3 @8:00, Thu 6/4 @8:00, Fri 6/5 @8:00, Sat 6/6 @2:00 & 8:00, Sun 6/7 @5:00

Venice, 1630. First it was the Jews, now the Muslims are moving in—and they're threatening to interbreed! If the Inquisition won’t stop them, Arlecchino will. When plague breaks out, holy hell breaks loose. A new Commedia on an old theme … because some things never change. With scene design by artist Philip Pearlstein.

Dixon Place is a home for performing and literary artists, is dedicated to supporting the creative process by presenting original works of theater, dance and literature at various stages of development. An artistic laboratory with an audience, we serve as a safety net, enabling artists to present challenging and questioning work that pushes the limits of artistic expression.

Scenes from a Misunderstanding
by Carey Harrison
directed by Henry Akona
WalkingShadow, New York
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Sun 5/24 @3:00, Wed 5/27 @7:00, Thu 5/28 @7:00, Sat 5/30 @8:30, Thu 6/4 @9:00, Sun 6/7 @3:00, Wed 6/10 @ 8:00, Sat 6/13 @10:30

A one-act to be performed with Most Radiant Beauty (above)

The simmering differences between two professors come to a head: has one of them delayed replying to a letter on the subject of religion, or did the original letter-writer delay posting it? What would such delays signify? From humble beginnings, titanic quarrels are born - especially when the aggravated parties are Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

10 Imaginings of Sarah & Hagar
by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
music by Juliet I. Spitzer
directed by Deborah Baer-Mozes
Theater Ariel, Philadelphia
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Sun 5/24 @7:00, Sat 5/30 @6:30, Tue 6/2 @7:00, Tue 6/9 @7:30, Wed 6/10 @6:00, Sat 6/13 @4:00

A theatrical interpretation in ten scenes (“imaginings”,) of the story of the mothers of two great nations. Sarah and Hagar. 10 Imaginings is journey through the complex relationship between these two women, their man and their sons, exploring themes that continue to take center stage in the world today.

Theatre Ariel is dedicated to illuminating the rich social, cultural, and spiritual heritage of the Jewish people. Theatre Ariel produces work that serves as a prism through which we can view the varied colors of the American Jewish experience and new work that draws its inspiration from classic Jewish texts or contemporary Jewish literature: reflecting on the past, examining the present and envisioning the future.

To Pay The Price
by Peter-Adrian Cohen
Directed by Robert Kalfin
Theatre Or, Durham, North Carolina
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

Tickets online or at 212-352-3101

Sat 5/23 @10:00, Sun 5/24 @5:00, Wed 5/27 @9:00, Sat 5/30 @2:00, Sat 6/6 @Noon, Tue 6/9 @9:30, Sat 6/13 @8:30, Sun 6/14 @3:30

Based on the life of Yoni Netanyahu, killed in action at age 30, the play illuminates the toll to a nation of a never-ending war.

Theatre Or (“or” means “light” in Hebrew) is a North Carolina-based professional theatre company developing a niche for producing American premieres of Israeli plays. Chicago's Tony Award recipient Victory Gardens Theater hosted Theatre Or's North Carolina English language premiere of Motti Lerner's Hard Love in 2006 as well as their OnStageIsrael Festival of staged readings of Israeli plays in 2008.


Golem Stories
written and directed by Edward Einhorn
at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St, near 5th Ave

RSVP online or at 212-352-3101

Wed 5/27 @7:00

A retelling of the legend of a clay man in 16th century Prague. Rabbi Loew creates a Golem to defend the Jews, but this Golem seems more interested in listening to the Rebbetsin's stories and falling in love with the Rabbi's daughter. Is he the reincarnated spirit of her murdered lover? Or does his childlike façade hide the face of a demon?

Pangs of the Messiah
by Motti Lerner
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

RSVP online or at 212-352-3101

Sun 5/31 @7:30

Set in 2012 amidst the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, this is an apocalyptic yet fiercely humane drama about eight West Bank Jewish settlers pitted against an Israel they feel betrayed by.

Playwright’s Forum
Various playwrights and directors
at Marymount Manhattan, 221 E 71st, near 3rd Ave

RSVP online or at 212-352-3101

Sun 6/7 @ 7:00
Seven minute excerpts of plays by member playwrights of the Association of Jewish Theater


How Some Jews in Chicago Re-Invented Comedy in Time For the Sixties
Presented by Jeffrey Sweet
at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St, near 8th Ave

RSVP online or at 212-352-3101

Tue 6/9 @6:00

Jeffrey Sweet (author of SOMETHING WONDERFUL RIGHT AWAY, an oral history of the Compass Players and Second City) gives a funny talk about how and why Paul Sills and some other young iconoclasts who hung out in Hyde Park (Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Barbara Harris, and Shelley Berman among them) created modern improvisational theater and changed the look of American comedy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Review - Every Little Step

This is my latest review for the National Board of Review

I have a very personal connection with this one, actually. When I was a senior in college, I went to see A Chorus Line. I was just contemplating the idea of changing my focus towards theater, and was deciding whether I would go to grad school. I was in tears by the end. I called my cousin, whom I was (and still am) very close with.

"It seems like such a hard business," I said. "What if, twenty years from now, I'm still struggling, still trying to be seen among the thousands other talented people who want the exact same thing. I've been joking about being a starving artist. Do I really want to be one?"

She comforted me. I decided to do what I loved. After all, it was just a musical, not reality...

Unfortunately, it turns out the essence of it was also completely, 100% true. I'm still not sure I made the right choice. But make it I did. And I would again. Perhaps.

Anyway, here's the review:
Every Little Step, the new documentary focusing on A Chorus Line, and in particular on the 2006 Broadway revival of the musical A Chorus Line, tells one part of a very large story. The saga behind A Chorus Line could fill many documentaries – from its start, when director/ choreographer Michael Bennett and the dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stephens first interviewed a room full of dancers about their lives; to the months of workshops as Bennett, composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Edward Kleban, and playwrights James Kirkwood and Nicolas Dante shaped the piece; to its triumphant first run; to the subsequent controversies about who owned the rights to the dancers’ stories; to its recent revival.

This documentary is a love song to Bennett, in part, and many of his huge cadre of collaborators are mentioned very little or not at all. It is also a love song to Broadway performers and would be Broadway performers, the sort of people who inspired the original musical. The documentary cleverly takes the subject of A Chorus Line—the audition process—and makes it the subject of the film. We witness the triumph of achievement alongside the disappointment of the hundreds or thousands of the talented who “really need this job” just as much, but aren’t lucky enough get it.

The movie is about the making of art, a messy, complicated process that defies formula. Ironically, the movie achieves what the revival, according to most reviewers, did not achieve: it captures the soul of the musical. The musical itself was a one of the first of a genre that is currently in vogue among the downtown crowd—documentary theater. In the original run of A Chorus Line, the actors onstage were telling their own stories, speaking and singing their own words. In this current documentary, a whole new set of stories is told, about performers trying to make it on Broadway by fitting inside the skin of those dancers who told their stories thirty years before.

The hidden truth about the musical is that it has a very dark core. A line of desperate dancers stands in front of an unseen, dictatorial director, who makes them bare every inch of their soul so that he can judge whether they are fit to be in the chorus of his upcoming musical. They submit to the process because they are so hungry to work, because jobs are so scarce and all around them there are others just as talented waiting to take their place in line.

Yet revealed in the process are the joys in working in theater, the reasons that they are so desperate to do this work and no other. And in this documentary, that joy is there. It is there in the moment one young man (Jason Tam) moves director Bob Avian to tears with a monologue he has heard hundreds of times, from hundreds of actors. The joy is there in all the dancers’ bodies, as they come to life onstage, trying to “eat nails” as choreographer (and original performer) Baayork Lee commands them.

The desperation is there as well. It is no coincidence that eating nails is the masochistic metaphor Lee has for the opening dance, the first audition.

Recently, television has offered a few watered down versions of the audition process, with shows like You’re The One That I Want. These flimsy recreations attempt to manufacture the same experience this documentary chronicles. It is so much more moving to see a set of performers who have spent their life honing their talent, performers whose personal dramas belong in the real world, not The Real World.

Yet what defines artistic success? It doesn’t end when one gets the job. The reviews of the revival indicate that what works in the audition room doesn’t necessarily work onstage, in front of an audience. One of the many ironies of A Chorus Line is that it was a musical about an audition that was created without an audition. It was created by the company as whole, in a long workshop that would be impossible today – the rules of Actors’ Equity would certainly not allow it. I suspect that the reason the revival was a critical failure was that these performers were asked to tell other people’s stories, not their own.

In this movie, we get to hear those stories, mixed with the stories from the past. And for that reason, just for capturing the spirit of those dancers past and present, it succeeds.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Facebook and theater (or the critic's paradox)

There are lots of reasons I like Facebook - it allows me to keep in touch with friends all over the world very easily, for one. It also allows me to list my events and invite everyone - though with diminishing effectiveness I find. For our fundraiser, I have 30+ yeses on Facebook and nearly 100 maybes. Actual count of Facebookers - maybe 20. Plus others, of course, who didn't respond to my Facebook invite. But it makes the count seem pretty unreliable.

Still, it allowed me to remind everyone that the Festival of Jewish Theater & Ideas was upcoming. And it reminded not just my friends - it reminded colleagues in theaters acroos New York and the world, and it also reminded a very special class of Facebook friend - journalists.

I write this on the heels of a few blog posts by jounalists on the subject. One post was by Alexis Soloski. She contended that, if she were to accept friend invitations from those in the theater, she would lose her objectivity. This news came as some relief to me personally - of all the journalists that I know and have sent a friend invitation to, Alexis is only one of two who have never responded. It's good to know it's a general policy.

But of course, as that last statement implies, Alexis' view doesn't seem to be shared by most of her colleagues. One colleague, Leaonard Jacobs, blogged about it. I would say that I have about 25 journalists among my friends, maybe more. And it helps. When I run into them, as I do occasionally, they know exactly what I and my theater company have been up to. We're Facebook friends, one explained recently to a puzzled third party. "There's no friend as close as a Facebook friend," I joked.

I joked, because I barely knew the journalist I was speaking with. We had interacted maybe once or twice, and then I had sent a friend invitation. As I often do in those cases. Because it's good for a journalist to know what I'm up to.

Now, would it affect that journalist's objectivity, should he/she be called upon to review my work? I don't think so. However, just so not as to impugn anyone's journalistic integrity, I have kept this jounalist's identity anonymous on my blog. I certainly would want to imply that the journalist friended any Tom, Dick or Harry that comes along.

Not that I think it would be a big deal if he/she did.

But really, is it any different than if he/she read my blog? Or if we chatted at a party (as we did)? Or if he/she was told something nice about me by a third party, or read something positive about me in a newspaper? When Ben Brantley goes to review a play on Broadway, how many of the people involved in the play has he met personally or interacted with? Many, I suspect. Some he likes, personally. Some he doesn't like. Is he completely objective? Of course not. You can't work in the theater and be objective. Nor can you have an informed opinion if you don't spend time interacting with others involved in theater. It's the critic's paradox.

Becoming Facebook friend cuts into one's objectivity in no greater way than that, however. It is just another way of keeping informed. Yes, at times the journalist is informed of where I went for brunch. But really, I have read feautures in the New York Times that informed everyone of just that sort of news about one star or another. I don't think every reviewer in town avoids those articles in order to maintain objectivity. Maybe for other reasons...

There is one journalist who came to review some shows of mine who recently informed me he/she (yes, still keeping things anonymous) would no longer be reviewing my work. We had gone for drinks, chatted a few times, and in his/her opinion a review would no longer be appropriate.

Damn, I thought, for a moment. I should have kept it on Facebook.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fundraiser for Festival of Jewish Theater & Ideas!

Come out tomorrow night to 45 Bleecker for our pre-Passover bash to raise money for the Festival of Jewish Theater & Ideas!

Starting at 7pm and going until 10:30ish...

Music of:

Randy Stern
Little Bear and The Bad Touch.


Sandwiches from Crosby Sandwiches
Brownies from Little Muse
Assorted other homemade items



Only $20 if you buy in advance with the code "Chametz"!

Buy tickets here!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Several responses to Seven Jewish Children

The debate about Seven Jewish Children rages on...I am not going to dwell on it too much longer. I keep getting sucked into debate about, partly because I feel like I am the only one providing an even somewhat contrarian view, on the blogosphere.

I was tempted to enter the sub-genre of those who parody the play with their own versions - Seven British Children came to mind, which would trace the British relationship with Jews to modern day. Or Seven Jewish Children I know, which would contrast the reactions among Jews I have met with the assumed reactions expressed by the play.

The play is easy to parody, because of its form. But in the end I chose not to, because - well, I have enough projects to do. And the play is rapidly losing interest for me.

But the one thing that gets me upset is the bullying that goes on against those who express doubts about the piece. And I must again talk about how that bullying is particularly ominous in England, where a word said against the work or even in perceived defense of Israel can be met with a torrent of anger, and where being Jewish has never been a simple thing, in the way, I would argue, it can be in New York.

I bring this up because I was once again contacted by someone who works at a University in England (someone we would term a professor, they would term a lecturer), who has written a response of her own. She has asked me to publish it for her, because she is afraid of the backlash if she should publish it on her own.

I just feel like I should do my best to allow her not to be "censored" (if Rachel Corrie can be called censorship, I can be a little slippery about the term here). Or maybe I mean bullied. This is not someone I've met or know personally. Just someone who noticed my comments on a few blogs. She calls it The More Things Change. It goes a little through the history of theater and how it has interacted with Jews.


After Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza

No Jews appear in the play. The speakers are actors, and if you like, writers, directors, literary managers and focus groups. The lines can be shared out any way you like, once the directors, literary managers, and focus groups come into existence. The characters are different in each small scene as the time, thespians, and audiences are different. They may be played by any number of actors.


Tell them it's a game
Tell them it's serious
But don't frighten them
Don't tell them we'll kill the Persians.
Tell them the gods will.
Tell them it's important to be quiet.
Tell them they'll have dance, if they're good.
Tell them to sit quietly as if they're in the temple on the Akropolis
But not to sing.
Tell them not to stand up.
Tell them not to interrupt, even if they hear shouting
From the place behind the back wall
Don't frighten them.
Tell them not to interrupt even if they know a secret that Oedipus needs to know.
Tell them the gods will be watching.
Tell them something about the Persians.
Tell them they're bad
In the eyes of the gods.
Tell them it's history.
Tell them the Persians will be our slaves.
Don’t tell them that.
Tell them the Persians will make us their slaves
Unless we enslave them first.
Tell them it's magic.
Tell them not to sing.


Tell them this Scaena will show The Massacre of the Innocents
Tell them they died
Tell them they were killed
Like this, exactly
But without the gold paint nor the Cartwrights’ Guild’s wagon.
Tell them Kyng Herod was a Jewe
Like the ones in Lincoln who killed little Saint Hugh.
Frighten them.
Tell them we acted as Christians.
Don't tell them what we did.
Tell them we were brave.
Tell them that Jewes teach their children to make cakes
Of the blood of English children
But don't tell them English:
This Play’s about the Holy Land, not here.
Tell them how many children Kyng Herod slewe.
Tell them the Jewes are danger.
Tell them there's no danger
If they accept Christ as their Saviour
And good King Edward
And this our Playe.


Tell them it's about Venice.
Tell them it's a Comedy.
Tell them Mirror up to Nature: Jewes covet blood.
Tell them: "The Quality of Mercy is not Strained...”
Don't tell them Religion.
Don’t tell them that Jessica's great great lots of greats grandfather lived in Europe too, in Spain.
Don't tell them he was driven out.
Don’t frighten them:
Tell them there are no Jewes in England.
Don’t tell them Old King Edward drove them out.
Tell them the Spaniards would drive us into the sea
if they could.
Don’t tell them that.
Tell them it's a Comedy.
Tell them to laugh.

Tell them something.
Tell them he's an anomaly. The rest of us are decent men.
Tell them a Jewess hid him in her house
In the days before his trial
From the anger of the mob
Which explains a lot, really.
Tell them we never liked him anyway.
Tell them he criticized the Liberal Unionists
And they didn’t even get it!
Don’t tell them we got it.
Tell them he was foreign, like Ibsen
And Madame Sarah, his Princess of Judea.
Don’t tell them that.
Tell them we'd never have guessed:
He sounded English. He’s a father of two.
Tell them it’s an illness, so we advocate mercy
And hospitalisation.
Don’t tell them that!
Tell them we’ve closed both his comedies.
Tell them we’re rehearsing a new one
About the Suffragette Hysteria.
And the Censor found it decent
And the Queen is amused.


Tell them to use allegory and metaphor and fantasy
So the Censor won’t get it.
Tell them to use slogans
And keep it simple
So The People will get it.
Don’t tell them that!
Tell them that art is the lie that reveals the truth
And theatre must fling together different perspectives
And cause people to be uncertain
And turn themselves inside out by their eyeballs.
Tell them the writers do this to themselves
If they’re brave.
Don’t tell them that.
Tell them the brave writers are steadfast in belief:
Men for All Seasons
And, once or twice a season,
A woman
If she’s good.
Tell them that the theatre must tell the news
Because The People don’t read.
Don’t tell them that the people who don’t read
Don’t go to the theatre either.
Tell them we know how The People think.
Tell them we concede we’re not The People:
We’re not that stupid.


Tell them not to use allegory nor metaphor nor fantasy
Because the people won’t get it
And Censorship is ancient history.
Tell them there can be no art after the Holocaust.
Don’t tell them that!
Tell them the theatre must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.
Tell them about the Holocaust.
Tell them: Jews covet blood because they have been bled.
Don’t tell them that.
Tell them the Jews think the Arabs are Nazis
Because Nazis are all Jews can think about.
Tell them this Jewish hysterical fixation with Nazis is not a crime, nor a sin, but an unfortunate and probably incurable illness, so we advocate pity and prescribe a grain of salt.


Tell them the Jew deals in slogans
And simplified history
And talks in tongues
And thinks she is Special
As did the Nazis.
Don’t tell them Nazis.
Tell them the Jew tells lies
That do not reveal the truth
To her own children
To herself
And the world.
Tell it in ten minutes.
Tell it For Gaza, but show just The Jews.
Keep it minimal, using no names
Because The Jews are really all the same.
Not people, but A Noble Ancient People,
Just like The Palestinians.
Don’t tell them that!
Tell them the new Censor is The Jew
And the theatre exists To Articulate Moral Outrage.
Tell them it’s magic.
Tell them not to laugh.