Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Revenge of the NYtheatre "i"

Martin Denton's blog, the "i," is up and running again. In its original incarnation, the "i" was the first theatre blog I ever read, and you have Martin to thank/blame for the 90 posts that I've published on Stolen Chair's blog since Thanksgiving of 2006 (I'll be throwing a live blog party to celebrate the 100th post...the party will consist of me drafting the 101st post over a glass of canned champagne).

"i" v. 2.0 is a Wordpress template, so this go-round it will be much much easier to comment on Martin's posts (in the past one had to email Martin directly).


Video clip from Shockheaded Peter

Perhaps useful to see before our retreat to make sure we don't accidentally create a poor-man's version of this incredible show (though I don't think that's actually a problem given the very clear Victorian stamp their production has). Here's the show clip and here's a link to the promo video.

More noir

For those of you in noir withdrawal since Kill Me... closed, Mathew Freeman just posted a link to Dreamscape Theatre Company's Marlowe-inpisred radio play.

We're still planning on doing a radioplay version of Kill Me... at some point down the line, but we're so insanely busy right now that this is likely a project for early April; we'd have to change quite a few scenes to make the play fly without the visuals...or at least throw in some voice-over :) Actually, I wonder if we could just add voice-over to the audio from our DVD of the show...I'll have to try "watching" the DVD with a blindfold on (otherwise I'll be too tempted to peek!).

Erik Erikson on Childhood

Hat tip to Kiran for finding this quote from Erikson's Childhood and Society:
"Every adult, whether he is a follower or a leader, a member of a mass or of an elite, was once a child. He was once small."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Alma Mater matters: On Stolen Chair and Swarthmore

Stolen Chair HQ received 3 big emails from Swarthmore College this week. For those of you who don't know the lore (if you already do, you can click ahead to the announcements below), Stolen Chair was founded in 2002 by 10 Swarthmore College students and recent alumni to create a piece for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Though today's Stolen Chair is by no means comprised solely (or even mostly) of Swarthmore alumni (aka "Swatties"), we have maintained a close relationship with the college ever since.

After Kiran and I moved the company to New York in fall of 2002, we continued to collaborate in New York with founding members Kathy Walley and Keetje Kuipers, as well as a handful of other New York Swatties. Kathy is now on our board of directors and training to be an ASL interpreter, and Keetje continues to provide frequent moral support as she pursues a career in poetry.

While part of "growing-up" has obviously meant casting a wider net and beginning to play nicely with children from other schools, some uncanny connections to the college have persisted. David Bengali, our resident designer and director of production, was introduced to us through our former costume designer and current board member, Caroline Barnard, when we were looking for a lighting designer for 2005's Commedia dell'Artemisia. Caroline knew him from Princeton and knew he dug Commedia...turns out he had also collaborated quite a bit with another company founded by Swarthmore alums: Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company, a major inspiration to us while we were undergrads. And Emily Otto, our composer and dramaturg, spotted our Craigslist ad after seeing Pig Iron's Hell Meets Henry Halfway at A.R.T. (where she was working on her MFA) and meeting with the show's dramaturg, Allen Kuharski, the Swarthmore theatre professor (and continuing mentor) who inspired us to create a theatre company in the first place. And I met Alexia and Cameron while we were training with the SITI Company at....(can you guess where?)...SKIDmore--wait, that's not Swarthmore; ah well, close enough!

And somehow, strangely, the line-up of collaborators for this weekend's retreat represents the most Swattie-dominated residency we've had since that very first summer creating Portrait of Dora as a Young Man, and, I, frankly, never could have predicted that we'd be working with these three very talented Swarthmoreans. Aviva Meyer, who had never worked with a theatre company previously (but had, since Stolen Chair's inception, been the company's fairy godmother, providing house management, set-up/strike help, and endless origami out of the goodness of her own heart), was finishing up her masters in public health at Columbia in 2004 when we begged her to come head up Stolen Chair's "offices." And though Sam Dingman (who co-founded the company when he was just a wee college sophomore) performed a curtain-raiser for Commedia dell'Artemisia, Kiran and I hadn't collaborated with him in over 4 years when we began work on Kill Me...! Elisa Matula, another co-founder of the company (who, as you might be able to glean from the inset picture, co-starred with Sam in my directing thesis production of The Dybbuk, adapted by Kiran), has returned to play with Stolen Chair after an even longer hiatus: nearly 5 years living in Paris! Elisa trained for two years at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq and spent a few years after that touring work to international festivals throughout Europe and training at the Roy Hart Theatre (and about a dozen other places I'm still slowly learning about), and though Kiran and I treasured our annual dates in cute little Parisian cafes and wine bars (Kiran has family she visits regularly in Paris and I accompany her to hang out in her Parisian digs and get some work done in what is certainly our most "fancy-pants" retreat destination), we never imagined we'd ever see Elisa in New York, let alone have the opportunity to create work with her again.

And speaking of opportunity, with the support of the Swarthmore Project in Theatre, a program that grants creative residencies in the college's Frear Ensemble Theatre (often with cozy lodgings in a nearby bed and breakfast), Stolen Chair has kicked-off the development processes of 5 of our 9 original productions. Retreats, both at Swarthmore at our Greenwich, CT location, have since become a vital part of each project's conceptualization.

Lastly, whenever we're producing a show, we reach out as much as possible to the Swarthmore alumni network in New York; they're smart, politically engaged, ready to laugh their asses off, and equally willing to be moved--could there be a better audience?!

Now onto the emails:
  1. A tear-sheet from the Kill Me Like You Mean It review and Stolen Chair profile which Jeff Lott wrote for the forthcoming March issue of the Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin. I'll post a scan of the review when we get it in the mail in a few weeks.
  2. Allen Kuharski, head of Swarthmore's Theatre Department, invited Stolen Chair to present a work as part of the featured entertainment for the 2007 Alumni Weekend. This will be a really nice way to commemorate Stolen Chair's 5th anniversary and Kiran and my (and Elisa and Kathy's) 5th college reunion. We just received confirmation that funding has come through for the project so now we're trying to decide which piece we should resuscitate from our repertory. I'll post details as soon as I have them.
  3. Okay, to be fair, this item isn't exactly Stolen Chair news, but yours truly is currently trying to sort through logistics so that I can be the guest director for a Swarthmore acting student's solo performance thesis. This is exciting for at least half a dozen reasons, but one that I just realized while typing is that I was the first directing student to devise an original work with professional actors hired by the theatre department for my thesis (a movement-theatre adaptation of The Dybbuk...yes, I did double-Dybbuks for my thesis, I'm that guy!). Coming back to the program as the "hired help" has will be a nice dramaturgical book-end :)
Long enough post?


After a very busy weekend featuring our 2nd Annual Unfundraiser Party, two Commedia dell'Arte masterclasses taught by Maestro Antonio Fava and a sold-out performance of Fava's Pulcinella's War, Stolen Chair is taking a break...for a couple days until we go into creative retreat next weekend to begin developing The Weimar Fairy Tale Project.

As we all scramble to get through the thick reading packet that Emily and I prepared, I wanted to throw out some more suggested reading material: Politicizing Puberty: The Zoning of Childhood Sexuality in Art, Advertising, and the American Household. Read it here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ben Brantley on CineTheatre

...well, sort of. It's an article on hip London auteur directors but he writes about a variety of projects that have CineTheatrical leanings.

Here's the article

Monday, February 19, 2007

An open letter of apology to Roald Dahl

Dear Mister Dahl,

I'm sorry your work was not included in the reading packet for The Weimar Fairy Tale Project. Your work will, without a doubt, still be primary influence on the creation of the piece, and to make amends, I am hereby suggesting that all collaborators working on the project read a 2005 New Yorker article written about your work: "THE CANDY MAN: Why children love Roald Dahl’s stories—and many adults don’t"

I hope you will accept our humblest apologies and a pair of complimentary tickets to the fall world-premiere of our production. The tickets and an industry packet will be waiting at the box office in your name.

Jon Stancato
Co-Artistic Director, The Stolen Chair Theatre Company

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law!

Well, there wasn't too much happening in Stolen Chair-land this long weekend (though next weekend we have our unfundraiser party, a weekend of Commedia masterclasses taught by Antonio Fava, and the NYC premiere of Pulcinella's War performed by Fava and Merve Engin), so I've spent the day lurking around the blogosphere...

Quite a few of the theatre bloggers have been buzzing about David Cote's new posting on "fraud" over at Histriomastix, and Isaac Butler from Parabasis pointed to Jonathan Lethem's related article on plagiarism, copyright, public domain, and intellectual property. Anyone who's heard me ranting about the public domain, cursing Mickey Mouse, Sonny Bono, and George Gershwin for infinitely extending copyright laws, and threatening to go to law school so I can defend artists against monopolistic estates in intellectual property disputes can see why Lethem's open-source approach appeals to me.

While Stolen Chair has certainly been guilty of cribbing a line or two for each of our shows, we are more conspicuous creative criminals in our theft of styles and stories. Though we didn't have this sort of theft in mind when we chose our name, it's become the company's calling card over the past half-decade. While I don't think we're in danger of finding ourselves in court anytime soon, I do spin my wheels thinking about where, exactly, legal lines should be drawn.

In some senses (and this could be the director in me talking), the poaching of style is perhaps more commercially threatening than stolen stories, which, provided they are attributed in the program materials, are, in many ways an advertisement for the original source material. Commedia and Kabuki troupes in days gone by fought bitterly (um...not with each other; or rather, yes with each other, but "like with like"...though I would pay good money to see Harlequino take on an Onnagata) when they found themselves competing with copycats trying to ride on the coat-tails of their innovation. (From my understanding, contemporary popular entertainers in the burlesque, circus, and neovaudeville circuits tend to be rather intolerant of an "uncredited homage.")

But that's what Stolen Chair proudly does: ride on the coat-tails of any theatrical or cinematic tradition that had, in its own time, broad popular support. Just because Raymond Chandler (and Ionesco and Moliere and Ludlam and Hugo, for that matter!) is not around to complain doesn't mean he would be too keen on our mimicry. And if we became profitable in sampling his literary voice [insert laughter here], I find that becomes almost as troubling for the concept of intellectual property law as Vanilla Ice's infamous dispute with Queen...all right, it's true: few things are as troubling as Vanilla Ice...

So, where does that leave us outlaws? Well, I don't really know. I'll keep thinking...Comments?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Long and thick... the best way to describe our reading packet.

140 pages.

141 if you include the table of contents.

We're such dorks!

Click here for a .pdf of the table of contents.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Special blog-reader discount

Use coupon code "BLOG" when you order on SmartTix for $5 off adult admission to Fava's February 24th performance, Pulcinella's War.

Legendary Commedia dell’Arte performer, maestro, and maskmaker, Antonio Fava presents his signature show, performing lazzi from the life, death, and resurrection of Pulcinella, the stock character he inherited from his father and one of comedy’s most beloved scoundrels.

The following is an excerpt from Maestro Fava's press release:

War, unfortunately, is a timeless and universal situation experienced by all cultures and peoples-- it is also a classic situation for the Commedia dell’Arte. Pulcinella’s War, by Antonio Fava, features Pulcinella and Zazzà: two masks, of the oldest and longest lasting comic theatrical tradition still on the boards - the Commedia dell’Arte, with almost five centuries of uninterrupted history.

Pulcinella’s War tells the comic story of Pulcinella who goes to war not for glory or honor but to solve his problem of love. To Pulcinella, war appears as a refuge, a solution, a form of intentional, planned suicide. The audience follows Pulcinella’s exploits and his relationship with Zazzà, the woman who is his match.

Fava gained a passion for Commedia dell'Arte through his father, a famous Pulcinella in Scandale, Calabria, Italy. From this, he would go on to become the world's leading teacher and director in the Rennaisance art-form so few know about or even understand. In 1980, he created the International School for Comic Acting in Reggio Emilia, Italy for the purpose of teaching and training performers from around the world in Commedia, Masks, Mask-making, Opera Regia, Tragedy and the original variety show.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New newsletter up

A poem for Valentine's Day:
Roses are red,
And so is your sweater.
We'd love you much more
If you read our newsletter.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Party time!!! Excellent!!!

It's official. The second annual Stolen Chair un-fundraiser (no cover charge, no suggested donation, no reason not to come and party away with the Chairs) will be held at.......Drumroll please.....I said, drumroll please......Dammit, who hired this drummer anyhow?!.....Could we get a triangle?.....Anyone?....Cowbell?....Okay: cue cowbell!....[clank clank clank clank clank]....

February 23rd
8pm until our Dramaturg says "Stop!"
Slainte Bar & Lounge
304 Bowery (Betw. Bleeker and Houston)
Drink specials from 8pm-1opm...
Raffle prizes...
A slideshow of Stolen Chair's greatest hits playing on the bar's TV system...
And the first public announcement of our next collective creation!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Get yer tickets now!

Tickets for Stolen Chair's presentation of Antonio Fava's signature piece Pulcinella's War have now gone on sale at SmartTix. Buy 'em now!!!

Kuttel Daddledu? More like Kuttel DaddleDon't!

So, I sat down with Kathy to translate the "Kuttle Daddledu" fairy tales by Joachim Ringelnatz. Turns out that Ringelnatz's book Kuttle Daddledu doesn't actually have any fairy tale adaptations in it. I was able to find the German version of Ringelnatz's take on "Little Red Riding Hood" (in a collection of Ringelnatz stories called 21 Erzählungen), but I already had the English version of that in Jack Zipes' Fairy Tales and Fables from Weimar Days. I wrote Prof Zipes to ask if he could direct us to some more of Ringelnatz's fairy tales, but it looks like we'll have to put this whole pursuit on hold for now...

In the meantime, Kathy's (rough-draft) translation of Ringelnatz's "The Stamp"
A male stamp experienced
Something wonderful before he was stamped.
He was licked by a Princess
And so love was awakened in him.
And he wanted to kiss her back.
But then he had to go on his journey
And so he loved her in vain.
That is the tragedy of life.

Toolkit #4

Mini toolkit update, mostly kid-vice instead of Weimar-vice (I didn't read any of the German sources today...):
  • A keg that pumps apple juice (or what happens when a keg that is supposed to pump apple juice actually pumps beer!)
  • Kids as mini-scientists: "Hey, come see what I discovered!"
  • Temper tantrums
  • The horror and anxiety of "Monkey in the middle"
  • Costumes that are too tight, that look shrunk in the wash (as if adults were actually wearing kids' clothing)
  • Cardboard boxes
I was hoping this entry would cure my insomnia. No dice.

Tomorrow (or rather, later today) is exciting though: while 1/3 of Stolen Chair will be in Long Island City seeing the Force trilogy, I'll be meeting with our Kathy (our resident Germanophile and loyal board member) and translating a few more passages from Ringelnatz's Kuttel Daddledu fairy tale (the German version is in the public domain and is online at Projekt Gutenberg).

"Dada" is often a baby's first word!

While I can't seem to find anything on the web to back me up on this, I'd like to pretend that the Dadaists took the name of their movement from one of the first syllables babies can easily pronounce (okay, Kiran, you're an exception--we couldn't all start with bird!). I was combing through some entries in David Cote's blog (Histriomastix) last night and found this fun comment on the work of Richard Foreman:
Sounds pretentious and headache-inducing, maybe? Not at all. It’s simply a yearly pilgrimage into the antic, forbidding cranium of Richard Foreman and I seriously, frivolously enjoy it. (I would like to see the work presented in a matinee performance for kids. See how they react to it. As I recall, there’s nothing inappropriate for children.)

Read the full entry here.
Perhaps, in developing the concept for this piece, we've been so singularly focused on identifying the grotesque with childhood glee (Shockheaded Peter, Roald Dahl et al) that we're neglecting the hypnotic delight kids get from surrealism, dadaism, and pretty much any other -ism that splinters signs from their usual signifiers (sidenote: one of the audience members for Kill Me Like You Mean It mentioned he was regretted not bringing his 7 year-old son "who would have had a blast with all that repetition."). I think kids would really dig Foreman in much the same way they dig Dr. Seuss (and, I suppose, "Teletubbies").

And, in chatting with Kiran over the past few days (especially after watching the gorgeous 1926 silhouette stop-action animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed), I realize we've missed another possible element of kid-vice: "wonder. " Now, Kiran is reluctant to use "wonder" as a shorthand because it is too passive to describe a child's very active appreciation of "beauty" (a term that I am, in turn, bothered by because it is so culturally-mediated that it becomes reductive when trying to evaluate the complex web of associations that cause "wonder"). Kiran thinks the way around "wonder" and "beauty" is to talk about "immersion" and "atmosphere," and I like this framework because the appeal of The Little Princess, Shockheaded Peter, Slava's Snowshow, Disney World (total theatre for tots?), and even Richard Foreman can all be analyzed using these same two constructs.

All right. That's it for now. I'm probably not going to post again until Tuesday, but, in the meantime, make yourselves at homes in the "Comments" section.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Blue Angel and Toolkit #3

So I Netflix'ed disc 2 of The Blue Angel, even though it was the "English" version, because it promised special features that disc 1 didn't have. Alas, the disc doesn't have any special features and English is only actually spoken when they can justify it within the plot, leaving me with a bit too much unsubtitled German to process (though the plot is easy enough to follow in any language). Good news: it's as fabulous (and sad) as I remember it, with stunning performances by Dietrich and Jannings, delightfully disturbing glimpses (onstage and backstage) of what Berlin Cabaret calls a "tingeltangel" club (not a "cabaret" proper...apparently there are quite a few semantic rules about cabarets vs. nightclubs vs. revues, etc), and some what seems, from some of my other readings, to be a fairly authentic peek at an authoritarian German classroom. We'll cue up a bit of the film for the retreat and add one of the scenes from the screenplay to the reading packet...

And here are some toolkit additions:
  • Noise that floods in from outside sources whenever a door or window is opened
  • Caricatures
  • A character that never speaks
  • A policeman or other authority figure who makes rounds
  • Costumes with peekaboo elements
  • Tophats and canes
  • First time inebriation (like in the Fantasy Island scenes in Pinocchio)
  • Other performers messing around while another performer is featured
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Greased down hair
  • Failed and/or anticlimactic magic tricks
  • Performance posters hanging on the wall
  • Piaget's stages of child development
  • Freud's stages of child development
  • Lacan's stages of child development
  • Prosthetic noses
  • Postcards of the lead performers
  • Clowns not doing clowny things, for that matter any highly stylized performer behaving "incorrectly"
  • Backstage banter in German

Fava in Performance: Pulcinella's War

Presented in association with The Stolen Chair Theatre Company...

Legendary Commedia dell’Arte performer, maestro, and maskmaker, Antonio Fava presents his signature show, performing lazzi from the life, death, and resurrection of Pulcinella, the stock character he inherited from his father and one of comedy’s most beloved scoundrels.

UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place
February 24th ONLY

Check out the full press release here. SmartTix info coming soon...

...and if you haven't booked your place for his workshop yet, HURRY UP!!!

Girls Gone Wild Effect

This issue of Newsweek has a strangely relevant (for us, at least) article about the effect that the celebutantes are having on parenting. Read it here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More thoughts on age drag...

Though I think we'll spend a good deal of time in retreat experimenting with the maximum sustainable layers of age performance (as we did with gender during Stage Kiss R&D), I wanted to throw out a construct that I'm particularly tickled by:

Stolen Chair adult performers acting as Weimar adult performers pretending to be children performers (for the purpose of suckering children into their kids-only nightclub, perhaps?) who then, over the course of their "skits," enact both adults and children.

It's a riddle wrapped inside an enigma, eh?

(Really wishing Blogger would let you add words to the dictionary; "Weimar" comes up as misspelled in each posting!)

Twisted Weimar Fairytales

"So kids, if you can keep your mouths shut for just 5 minutes, then I'll tell you the story of Little Red Cap, if I can still make sense out of it. Old Captain Muckelmann told it to me long ago when I was still little and dumb like you are now."
-From Joachim Ringelnatz's "Kuttel Daddeldu Tells His Children the Fairy Tale About Little Red Cap"

I'm about half-way through Jack Zipes' Fairy Tales and Fables from Weimar Days and everything about it is pretty much brilliant. This will prove to be essential source material for the development of this project, from the introduction which contextualizes why all of Germany's best writers were, in the Weimar period, writing fairy tales for children, all the way through the excellently translated crypto-Marxist/sexually liberated/deliciously macabre collection of fairy tales Zipes has assembled.

This will most certainly be in the reading packet!

(If anyone out there in blogland knows Zipes, please drop me a line and let me know how we can get in touch with him.)

Turn back, oh man

Is that a reference from Godspell?

Yes. Yes it is.

But Jon doesn't even know musicals.

True, but he knows that one. It was the first show he stage-managed in high school.

Okay, fine, but why is it on the blog?

Well, for starters, it's cool because it is one of only a handful of "collective creations" that have made it to the Great White Way. More importantly, as I cast my net wide in thinking about potential structures to inspire Why More Weimar (come on people: a new working title, please!), Godspell's metalayers might be useful fodder for constructing a world of performativity wherein the performance actually changes the lives/relationships of the performers. The musical's greatest flaw, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's confusing and can read as half-baked from both the actors and the audience's point of view insofar as there are few clues in the "book" as to what the stakes of its role-playing are: are these people channeling their biblical antecedents, are they the "real deal," or are they just play-acting? I think this blurriness, however, will actually work nicely for the many layered implications of whatever sort of "age drag" we try to pull off...

Template Makeover

This will be a very dull post:

I have upgraded the blog to the new Google template interface. The look (especially font-sizes and colors) changed slightly in the process so I hope you will all let me know if something is now causing eyestrain.

There. That's over now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Weimar Toolkit #2 and Questions

Toolkit additions:

  • German vocal inflections without German accents
  • A text filled with overly-compounded English words
  • A nightclub for children, run by children, fighting over who gets to be MC
  • Oversized and distressed formal wear
  • Muddy faces
  • Adult performers playing children playing adults (and children), "age" drag
  • Child soldiers fighting in World War I, child prostitutes in Weimar brothels
  • How children would perform soldiers, profiteers, prostitutes, cocaine addicts etc
  • Childhood obsessive and worshipful crushes on older children/adults of same-gender
  • Playing house before "house" was 1950s American suburbia
  • A game of "doktor" which is played as naughtily as young children actually play it
  • Schedules, Emily's story of the kid would attempt, in vain, to make appointments to play with an overscheduled imaginary friend

New questions that have come up:

  • How much do we want to draw from the sociohistorical context of Weimar, and how much do we solely want to borrow from its performance styles as a lens to view another sociohistorical context?
  • And what, precisely, are the Weimar performance styles? The "vice" of the aesthetic seems natural to grasp, but where are the techniques for us to emulate? Do we go to Reinhardt? To Piscator? To Brecht? To Marlene Dietrich and Conrad Veidt?
  • Where do we find our text style? Do we look to the playwrights of the day, impose another period's playwrights voice on that context, or look beyond theatrical writing?
  • If we want to use grotesque, how can we move past the whores of Les Mis to find our own grotesque as specific as George Grosz's? How can the grotesque be used as a visual indictment of how adults process young children?

Okay. To bed. Chairs, comment away!

"Irony was no laughing matter for him"

The quote is Peter Gay's description of Thomas Mann. Weimar Culture, Gay's slim monograph on the subject is, while full of such witty performative prose, (unfortunately) sleep-inducingly dry for readers who haven't already found a Weimar primer (almost rhymes!) elsewhere...

So I glossed over the parts that made my eyes glossy, but I still took away quite a few useful tidbits. Some choice quotes, which struck a chord of interest with me for a variety of aesthetic, theatrical, literary, personal, and political reasons:

  • On the widespread violence that followed the November Revolution which ushered in the Republic: "Everyone was armed, everyone was irritable, and unwilling to accept frustration, many had been trained and remained ready to kill..."
  • On the independent journalists who attempted to reign in the political violence: "[They] fought the assassins with facts and sarcasm."
  • On the sociopolitical efficacy of art: "But for many, even in Weimar, poetry and the theatre were entertaining or civilizing forces, with no, or only indirect and subtle, effects on conviction and conduct...the kind of poet the Germans seemed to love the most lent himself to conflicting interpretations, and could be recited with approval by members of many parties."
  • On political instability in the period: " the less than fifteen years of Weimar, there were seventeen governments."
  • On the party press: "...millions of voters read only the newspapers of 'their' party, thus hardening attitudes they already had."
  • On Heidegger: "What Heidegger did was to give philosophical the love affair with unreason and death that dominated so many Germans in this hard time."
  • On Weimar's destruction of the Empire's popular mythology: "By its very existence, the Republic was calculated affront to the heroes and cliches that every German child knew..."
  • On the Bauhaus' pedagogical principles: " was not an academy where the great teacher reproduces little editions of himself, but 'a laboratory,' where 'students stimulated teachers' and teacher, students."
  • On Dr. Caligari: "Caligari continues to embody the Weimar spirit to posterity as palpably as Gropius' buildings, Kandinsky's abstractions, Grosz's cartoons, and Marlene Dietrich's legs."
  • On the Weimar artists' reactions to the war: "Poets, dancers, composers, sculptors, even cartoonists, tried out new techniques to rescue the world from itself, or at least to express their disgust with what had happened."
  • On the surge of Weimar playwrights: "These plays had much life, little elegance, and absolutely no humor."
  • On the mirroring of art and life: "Expressionism dominated politics as much as painting or the stage."
  • Willy Haas, film reviewer, on Berlin: "I loved the rapid, quick-witted reply of the Berlin woman above everything, the keen clear reaction of the Berlin audience in the theatre, in the cabaret, on the street and in the cafe, that taking-nothing-solemnly yet taking-seriously of things, that lovely, dry, cool, and yet not cold atmosphere, the indescribable dynamic, the love for work, the enterprise, the readiness to take hard blow--and go on living."
  • On sexual licentiousness: "Young ladies proudly boasted that they were perverted; to be suspected of virginity at sixteen would have been considered a disgrace in every school in Berlin."
  • On Berlin's appeal: "In those days 'one spoke of Berlin as one speaks of a highly desirable woman, whose coldness and coquettishness are widely known'...but she was the center of everyone's fantasies and the goal of everyone's desires."

I learned quite a few German words, my favorite being "Bildungsroman," a literary trope which followed the education of a young man. I also learned about director Leopold Jessner's stock staging device, the Jessnertreppe, "a jagged arrangement of bare steps" on which the actors sat, stood upon to declaim lines, or fell behind to die.

In sum: while I think I've certainly enriched my understanding of the political, literary, and artistic movements that gave rise to the peculiar creature that was Weimar, the book didn't really add too much to the toolkit. I'm excited to read Alexia's copy (hurry up, Lex!) of Mel Gordon's Voluptous Panic, which probably covers similar ground as Gay's book, but sounds, from its description, to devote more attention to the variegated worlds of Weimar performance.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A trip to the library...

Weimar : a cultural history, 1918-1933 / Walter Laqueur.

The Weimar years : a culture cut short / John Willett.

Art and politics in the Weimar period : the new sobriety, 1917-1933 / John Willett.

Fairy tales and fables from Weimar days / edited and translated by Jack Zipes.

Grand Guignol / illus. with drawings by Antony Lake.

Grand-Guignol : the French theatre of horror / Richard J. Hand and Michael Wilson.

Berlin cabaret / Peter Jelavich.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


So full steam ahead on Why More Weimar?. Hopefully we'll have a better title within a few weeks. The questions that surfaced in today's company meeting fell neatly into three basic interrelated headings:

Ah, the age old question, "To play or not to play multiple characters..." Stolen Chair shows have pretty much run the gamut here: actors have "shared" characters, actors have played multiple characters using a variety of storytelling, puppetry, mask, and quick-change costume techniques, and Kill Me marked the first time there was a 1:1 ratio between actors and characters. This time round it looks like we're going to test out a casting technique that we've never fully embraced before (one could argue that the half-baked concept in Fair Ladies dabbled with this, but it was tacked on at best). We'd like to create a world of fully developed characters with complex relationships and thrulines, but place these characters in a context in which they perform other characters (a la Marat/Sade, from what I can recall). Now, such a context brings us to heading #2, the pesky dramaturgical nuisance of...

Framing Device:
If you, like me, cringe every time the camera cuts away from Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Cary Elwes, and Wallace Shawn to show the cloying and saccharine scenes between Peter Falk and baby Fred Savage (yes, I'm talking about The Princess Bride), you just might have Framing-Device-a-Phobia. The problem seems to be that the framing devices invariably attempt to create a naturalistic context for the explosion of style and fancy that they frame. This makes them a total bore, at best offering a welcome break from the zaniness of the plot proper, but more often than not, providing an opportunity for a low-risk bathroom break. Now, though I can't think of any films that do this, there are a few plays which give as much thought to stylizing the framing device: the aforementioned Marat/Sade and Pig Iron's Lucia Joyce Cabaret, to name just two (and both of these are performed by inmates at mental asylums). So, while we'll experiment with as many different framing devices (Sam tossed out the idea of a salon of sorts) as we can in our retreat, we're probably going to want to find a context other than Cabaret or Mental Institute unless we're prepared to be consciously derivative. No matter what framing device we eventually settle on, though, it seems that most stylized framing devices are best served by some degree of heading #3, an oft-abused Artaudian theory commonly known as...

Total Theatre:
I'll lay my cards on the table and say that I have never seen "total theatre," the potential for a theatre event to break through the traditional constraints delimited by inherently voyeuristic audience/performer interaction and mimetic mise-en-scene, pulled off by any American theatre. Period. (Full Disclosure: I have not seen any of bluemouth's performances, and, from the way Martin Denton describes their work, this seems to be their forte. I also have never been part of a Bread & Puppet retreat in Vermont.) Call me a curmudgeon, but I just can't ever talk myself into "buying" the conceit; it always feels like Epcot Center to me.

The main obstacle that any attempt to create a "total theatrical event" always seems to confront is the question of audience interaction. As Kiran put it in today's meeting: audience interaction requires audience members to perform. You can't effectively "recast" the audience (especially one comprised of the family-friend networks on which small indie theatre depends) as the other-half of your theatrical event without a) pandering to them a la bad children's theatre or b) inviting humiliation and anxiety into what should be a provocative but, ultimately, safe space.

So, we're setting ourselves the challenge of "expanding" the bounds of the theatrical event as much as possible (When does the show begin? When does the show end? Do our performers address the audience for what it really is or force it to "transform" along with the show?) without compromising either the artistic integrity of the performance proper or the audience's pleasure (though we might try to stretch the audience's understanding of what pleasure is...that's why they call us the pleasure stretchers. Oh wait. No one calls us that.)...

Okay. Off to read more Emil and the Detectives...

Weimar Toolkit #1

So, in the month leading up to our first retreat for any new project, I try to soak up as much research as I can about the periods, genres, and styles we're gearing up to steal. As I read/watch/listen, I jot little notes down in a little book with a series of normal sized pens that I invariably lose.

These notes serve a few purposes:
A) They're the only records I have of the materials I've sifted through so when Emily and I prepare reading packets for our collaborators, they become the basis for a nice annotated bibliography.
B) They provide a handy dandy orientation to what Anne Bogart calls "vice": the sights, sounds, and rhythms that are both iconic and ineffable in a particular period/style/genre.
C) They give me a toolkit to shape actors' composition work. During the retreats (and for the first 2 months of rehearsal) , the actors will, solo or in groups, devise short theatrical compositions which interpret a list of "musts," prompts to experiment with style/plotting/characterization/audience relationship/staging/vocalization/dramaturgy/music/costuming which are usually derived from my notes. In every single Stolen Chair piece, at least a handful of discoveries extracted from our composition-work end up in the final product.

Now that my directing has become almost entirely digital (I took all production notes on my handheld device during Kill Me...I'm "that" guy!), I thought it might be time to dispense with the actual physical notepads and take this list online, thereby making it much easier to cut-and-paste these thoughts into any handouts we need for rehearsals later on...

So, 90% of the things I'll be listing in this and future posts will not even remotely end up in what will evolve into the next Stolen Chair production (and one should remember that we haven't, as a company, even begun chatting about this project so this could all be dead-in-the-water by tomorrow afternoon), but here's what's been tickling my fancy whilst brainstorming around the skimpy research I've done of late:
  • Fat suits and pit stains
  • Frustratingly pedestrian fablistic morals
  • Introductions which spoil endings
  • The constant threat of audience interaction
  • Green lighting
  • Fauvist make-up
  • Pickpockets
  • A grotesquely raked stage, or a stage floor comprised of several conflicting steep rakes
  • An accordion
  • Stillness that becomes comical
  • "She was not vain; I mean really how could she be? She was so ugly..."
  • Cigars and cocaine
  • Bicycle horns
  • Smells of beer, sausage, sweat, and musty fabric.
  • Co-conspiratorial tone between performer and audience
  • Schadenfreude
  • Tom Waits' "Children's Story"
  • Giant lollipops
  • War profiteers and injured veterans
  • Naughty schoolboys and boring teachers
  • Capitalists and Socialists
  • Worthless piles of Weimar papiermarks
  • The war guilt clause
  • Two actions competing for audience attention and both losing to a third
  • A set that is destroyed by the show every night (but not in a Brechtian way!)
All right. That's it for today. Hey, maybe we should offer some sort of prize to blogreading audience members who can correctly pinpoint the origin of a final stage moment from its zygotic appearance in this here online production notebook. Then again, maybe we should just offer some sort of prize to our blogreading audience members period... :)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Fava's coming (back) to town!!!

Last year we inaugurated Stolen Chair's education program with a Commedia dell'Arte Masterclass taught by the legendary Antonio Fava. We are pleased as Punch (not Judy) to announce that Maestro Fava will be returning to NYC February 24-25 to lead TWO masterclasses (Intro & Intermediate). Fifty lucky New Yorkers will get a special treat and get to see Fava perform a one-night-stand of his one-man-show (details on that coming this weekend!).

If you have ANY interest in theatre history, physical comedy, mask-work, improv, or ensemble performance, you cannot pass on this opportunity to work with the field's greatest living master.

The details are here. This year we will be capping enrollment so hurry up and reserve your space before it's too late!!!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Back in the game...

"Weimar culture was the creation of outsiders, propelled by history into the inside, for a short, dizzying fragile moment"
-Peter Gay, Weimar Culture

Leaving no time for the inevitable post-partum depression which follows any Stolen Chair show (I mean, come on, the show "gestates" for nearly as long as a frickin' baby so we're bound to get at least a little bit weepy when it's all over...), we've already started hunting for our next idee fixe. So today I wandered into my local Barnes and Nobles to buy some clutter for my coffee table. $30 later (with my nifty faculty discount card) I'm the proud owner of The Complete Works of the Brothers Grimm, Erich Kastner's Emil and the Detectives (an insanely popular 1929 German children's book by the author who penned another children's novel about two identical twin girls that meet at a summer has been turned into quite a few Disney movies bearing the moniker The Parent Trap), and Peter Gay's Weimar Culture. These will keep good company with Glitter and Doom, the stunning catalogue of Weimar portraiture currently on exhibit at the Met.

So, in case you haven't pieced it together yet, a few of the Chairs are leaning heavily towards some Weimar-inspired handling of childhood. The absolutely terrible working titles: "Wrestling with Children" and "Why More Weimar?" (the latter should be pronounced with a German accent and the former should probably not be pronounced anywhere near local authorities). Imagine the love child of Shockheaded Peter, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Cabaret, with Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and William Golding's Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure. We want to create a piece which will be racier and edgier than anything we've ever done but simultaneously more "child-friendly." We're digging for that deeply f*#ked up wonderland where pure id meets, I don't know, cold and calculating capitalist exploitation, where all of the agency that has been traditionally stripped from children (I know, I know, I should stop with the child handling and wrestling and stripping!) can be thrown back into adults' faces in a celebration of how wondrously perverse we all long to be.

If the project of Commedia dell'Artemisia was to provoke "real" outrage (about sex, gender, art, fame, etc) whilst tickling some giggles out of the audience, and the project of The Man Who Laughs was to create a truly devastating "real" melodrama with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and the project of Stage Kiss was to blend the "real" of arousal with irreverence, and the project of Kill Me Like You Mean It was to create a world of "real" suspense which deconstructed itself through comic absurdity...then the mission of this upcoming piece would be to experiment with how "real" revulsion and laughter might mix to celebrate the elements of humanity we collectively sweep under a rug of propriety.

...Now, we haven't even had the first company meeting for this project and we're a month away from the first creative retreat, so all of this hyperbole might prove to be a tremendous waste of your time and mine, but I think it's so much easier to transfer inspiration from one obsession to another than to wait until the stars align into a perfect project. As long as you're turned on and looking at the world as your canvas, it doesn't really matter what you're painting...yet.