Category Archives: The Meaning of Art

IRL vs. Web 2.0

My business life consists of two polar opposites.

A – Driving hither and yon to talk over tea with theatre artists of all types.  Today I met with a Stage Manager after first meeting with a couple of administrators.  Sunday, I met with a playwright.

B – Composing my life, eco-events, and theatrical processes in approximately 140 characters, witty copy, and interesting comments.


B – Web 2.0

A – This is all new to me.  I am inherently shy.  I lead well, but only when no one else steps up to the line.  Striking out into the world means speaking eloquently, being myself, pausing, breathing, relaxing, honoring, and meeting some pretty damn fine people that I otherwise would have passed on by.

B – This is all new to me.  I write.  Now I get to stretch my writing skills.  Now I have to read a gazillion blogs and tweets and articles to keep up.  Not to mention the how-to books.  I know a lot people, but I don’t know what they look like.

I think I like IRL better.  But it is only through Web 2.0 that I have been able to fully begin to explore what it means to be actively engaged in meeting people and creating sustainable mutually beneficial relationships. Because reading others ideas, writing my own thoughts concisely, representing an idea in an image, this has been part of the process of finding me so that I might step out my door and seek others.

But, this leads to much deeper questions: with all the marvels of web 2.0 do we do what I have done?  Use what we’ve learned to step out into the world?  Or do we use it as an excuse to step away from people we face in order to tweet to the people we follow?  Can the two worlds really be married?

In a sense, I feel like many communities in the U.S. are facing what the theatre faced with the advent of film: A new medium that can either snuff the real or make it stronger.  I vote for it making us stronger, which is why I’ll keep racking up the mileage and coffee shop bills to talk face-to-face with all the very cool people out there.

Sharing the ‘O’ Love

I have a colleague from the past, who I absolutely loved working with.  She was so wonderful that I was always somewhat sad that I would never truly get to be her friend.  She was one of those ‘Intimidating Unattainables,’ at least in my young eyes.  She was my senior by several years, far more established and mature, quick-witted, intelligent, clever, beautiful.  I made up for it by attempting to befriend her other friend who seemed more catchable.  A 6’8″ married man who also made me laugh really hard and was equally intelligent and beautiful, but he wasn’t as intimidating so I felt more comfortable weaseling my way into his friendship.

Well, I reconnected with her last year when she introduced her blog, Living Oprah. She lived the prescribed life of Oprah for a full year.  A really fascinating social experiment, to say the least.  She’s also an accomplished Theatre Artist, just so you know.

Her book comes out in January.  Go check it out.

Risking Innovation Day Three: Perspectives on Reception

Resistance Reconsidered: Feminist Theatre and the Challenges of Reception

Not surprisingly, the discussion started out strong and then branched back to the topic of women playwrights.  I believe it is a result of Emily Sands study that has it in everyone’s minds, but I find it frustrating that we keep going back to the playwrights and leave no time for everyone else.  Or, perhaps women playwrights are due for a good monopoly of discussion and I just felt left-out since I’m not one.  Either way, that’s where it ended up.  However, let’s start at the top.

First of all, the question was posed “How are we defining feminist theatre?” According to my notes, neither this question nor steps to answering it was visited for long. I found this somewhat disappointing because I run a theatre company that promotes the role of women in theatre, so does that make us a feminist theatre? Because we don’t exist to create one-woman shows about gender bias, or musicals about menopause. We exist to create dialogue and actively employ women so they can have career changing opportunities that will help them break through the glass proscenium. I’d like to know if people look at GAN-e-meed, think “feminist” and run away screaming.

The discussion continued to question whether specific marketing can devalue the content of feminist theatre and if feminist theatre is “unpalatable” to commercial audiences. Eventually, this led to the conclusion that it comes down to geography and local community: the context for audience reception. Which is the basis for building an audience in any theatre, not just feminists. Of course, no one said that. And then, of course, we came to the playwrights: It’s not about palatability, it’s about getting plays in the pipeline.

I have to admit, I think I tuned out a little as the session concluded because, as I noted earlier, a lot was said but very few Actions were proposed for making a difference. There was very little innovation in this session, although there were a lot of play titles being thrown about that I now need to go read. Huzzah.

Dramatic Lessons: Training Teachers in the Use of Theatre and Dance in the k-12 Classroom

To be honest, I looked at the first handout and almost left. But then it struck me that I could attend this session not as someone looking at publishing a book on pre-k theatre, but as a future professor who wants to teach this very topic. So I stayed. Learned some stats, played some games, and pretended to be part of the large intestine.

Here’s some stuff I learned and did:

  • Goals for teaching pre-service teachers:
    • Confidence in their own creative abilities,
    •  Help them become artists in the classroom,
    • (Re)awaken their passion for teaching
  • 93% of communication is non-verbal. What?! Really?! No wonder emails always get people into trouble.
  • Even the most reticent teacher will welcome a way to make their work more complete.
  • Know the curriculum for the school you’re in. Meet with teachers and find out what they need. Other arts teachers will be your biggest allies.
  • Teachers are terrified of [theatre] and administrators don’t understand what we do and why it’s important.  They need the opportunity to learn the process.
  • Meet once a year and say “What do you need and what can we offer you?”

Risking Innovation Day 1: Directing, Debuting and Intelligencing

Risking Innovation Day 2: Nutshells and Photos

Risking Innovation Day 2: The Glass Proscenium

Risking Innovation Day 2: Writing & Falling Girls

Risking Innovation Day Two: Training Directors & Convincing Admins

Risking Innovation Day Three: Talk-Backs and Vulnerability

Next Up:

Day Four


Risking Innovation Day Two: Training Directors & Convincing Admins

  • Risking Innovation in Directing Training: A Presentation of Manifestos on the Academy’s Approach to Training Directors for the Future

First of all, I would like to officially admit that it took almost an entire day of cogitating to figure out that when a professor or grad student says simply, “the Academy,” they’re simply referring to life in Academia, as in, at a college or university.  Like saying “the man” when referring to the government.

I normally forgo dignity and ask the foolish questions both for my own sake and those around me who are clueless too but this time I’m grateful I had the sense to sit it out.  Foolish would not begin to describe how I would have looked asking this question in this particular setting.

On to the panel…

Each participant read out loud a pre-written or thought-out manifesto on how to improve director training.  The largest pitfall appeared to be that directors left knowing how to direct only in a University, not in real life.  They also seemed to agree by the end that the manifesto for a Grad Student should differ from that of an undergrad.

It left me wondering first why on earth there even exists undergrad programming in directing since life experience really is what makes it possible to tell stories, and second what exactly I would get from going to grad school…other than the degree so I can then teach at colleges.  I don’t want to spend three years of my life not learning anything.  I just spent the last 10 years living life outside of the Academy and learning a helluvalot, I don’t care to stop now.  The purpose of returning to school is to learn what I can’t learn out here on my own with a limited budget.  But, if as they said in this panel, I won’t learn anything useful for real life anyways, how do I justify going back?  It left me disgruntled.

  • Enhancing Teaching and Learning through Theatre: Support for Model Programs; Research Findings; and Collaborative Opportunities

Like most programs, this did not include prek as I had hoped.  The discussion began at k, and I was so tired and hungry by this session that I didn’t have the sense to get my hand up in time to ask for prek references.

There were a lot of references to research I already knew about and some questions/comments about the lack of support from administrators in schools for the inclusion of theatre arts in the school day.  Yadda yadda yadda.  Same old discussion with, yet again, no active solution proposed.

And so ended Day Two of the ATHE/AATE conference, Risking Innovation.  Finally.

Next Up:

Day Three

Risking Innovation Day 2: Writing & Falling Girls

Here we go again.  More ATHE conference Day Two for you.  Previous posts are listed at the end of this one.

  • Writing About Theatre Practice

This may be old hat for the professional writers out there, but I’m a lover of writing, not a pro so this little panel held a lot of useful info, even though I walked in late.

  1. “Nostalgia” for discoveries and experiences (as a teacher, director, whatever) can be a hindrance because these things need to be re-examined and formulated into scholarly language.  In other words, take a step back and take your heart out of it just long enough to see what’s there for others who don’t have your personal memories.
  2. Get a couple of samples of the journal first before submitting.  I’ve heard this before, and I have yet to do.  I guess I will now since it’s been said to me so may times!
  3. Articles need an argument and a theoretical exploration.  “reframing an experience in terms of an argument.”  Right, that would be why all my ‘essays’ read like poetry; I rarely have an actual argument.  Ha!
  4. Journals to explore:  Theatre Journal, Theatre Topics, Players Journal
  5. Don’t worry about cutting things down because it could be the case that “the thing that you have to cut from this article is the kernel of the next article.”
  6. Only peer-reviewed journals will be considered for a tenure track.
  7. “You must eliminate every word in that sentence that doesn’t deserve to be there…good writing is good writing and scholarly writing doesn’t have to be baroque.”  -Robert Barton
  • Risking Theatre for the Very Young – Art, Education or Experimentation?

This presentation was a delightful introduction to an educational program at University of Wisconsin-Madison spear-headed by Manon van de Water.  She discovered a script that was then translated into English for children called “The Falling Girls.”  Two girls fall from the sky into the dessert.  There is a girl in the dessert who draws them pictures.  The two girls fight and try to figure out how to get back to their planets.  I only saw excerpts and haven’t read the script, but is certainly reminiscent of The Little Prince.


The goal, as described by the musician, Jonathan Brooks, was to “provide a landscape where very young children can making meaning for themselves.”  And, it appears they did just that.  The set was vertical, with many places to climb, swing and grab.  The three girls, dressed all in white were deeply physically engaged, having spent months working with improvisational movement techniques like viewpoints, Meyerhold, and Grotowski.  The children came to the theatre and went through a pre-show sensory/aesthetic experience that lead them into the theatre: a tunnel with textures, a “Hamster disco,” and lights.  At each point, children could choose to take another path around the sensory experience if they wanted.  They were empowered to make their own choices.

On entering the theatre, the actresses were already on stage, a disco ball rotated on the ceiling and the children could slide down a plastic slide before taking their seats on fuzzy faux fur mats.  Unlike traditional theatre that has a clear beginning, the beginning felt blurry, allowing the children, through various empowering sensory experiences, to slide effortlessly into the role of audience member.

One actress said the challenge was “combating adult preconceptions of what children enjoy and what is appropriate for them.”  And then the two actresses, in costume, did a gorgeous movement presentation for us.

What I found the most exciting about this project is that although the production was supported by an education team that worked with the children and created the pre and post-show experiences, the show itself was created by artists with very little knowledge of early childhood education.  Just enough humanity to understand that kids are smart, receptive, curious, and genuine, and that was enough to push this project forward with might.

Next Up:

  • Risking Innovation in Directing Training: A Presentation of Manifestos on the Academy’s Approach to Training Directors for the Future
  • Enhancing Teaching and Learning through Theatre: Support for Model Programs; Research Findings; and Collaborative Opportunities

Previously in Day Two: