Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coolest grant ever!

Good news for the Chairs!  We've just been given permission by The Field to announce our acceptance into the Rockefeller-funded "Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists (ERPA)" grant.  Here's the skinny:
Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists (ERPA)
If it's broke, fix it!

ERPA grows from the premise that the traditional non-profit model of fundraising does not support the majority of performing artists in New York City. This lack of financial solvency leads to early departures from New York, early departures from art-making, and ultimately, a diminishment of New York’s vibrancy and vitality. ERPA aims to combat these challenges by asking artists to conceive dynamic solutions for financial stability, and giving them the tools, resources, and cash to help develop their ideas. As its name implies, ERPA aims to thus revitalize performing artists’ and arts organizations’ economic lives for long-term impact.
In 2008 more than 350 community stakeholders joined us for community dialogues (aka Invention Sessions) across New York City. Moving into 2009, The Field invests in seven artists who brought forth innovative ideas to generate new revenue streams from their art for their art...
Congratulations to Kahlil Almustafa, Nick Brooke, Rachel Chavkin, Connie Hall, JoAnna Mendl Shaw, Jon Stancato, and Caroline Woolard.
These seven artists will be paid $5,000 to research and develop their projects under the auspices of the ERPA entrepreneurial lab. In the fall of 2009 their ideas-in-progress will be presented and publicly adjudicated to receive up to $25,000 in additional project implementation funds.
More than 100 ERPA applications were received and adjudicated by a panel of veteran arts and business leaders, including: June Choi, Shawn Cowls, Corey Dargel, Trajel Harrel, Jaki Levy, Kristin Marting, and Heather Rees. ERPA projects were selected based on their potential vision, impact, relevance, and viability.
And here's my proposal: 
Jon Stancato/Stolen Chair proposes a way to adapt the business plan followed by most Community Supported Agricultures (CSA). Like the CSA model, Stolen Chair hopes to build a membership community which would provide ‘seed’ money for the company’s development process and then reap a year’s worth of theatrical harvests.
You can read about the other thrilling proposals on the ERPA website.  We have an exciting 9 months ahead of us.  Please contact me if you'd like to hear more about the proposal or jump on board and help make this crazy idea a reality. this space for further updates as plans begin to take shape.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Real skuls are too distracting?

The Chairs and I have been so busy trying to make this play that there hasn't been much time to write about the play, but I couldn't resist posting this link sent in by Kiran's father.  Apparently, the RSC was bequeathed an actual skull to use in their production of Hamlet but the audience was paying more attention to the skull than the bard so...

Read the full story here

In other news, tickets are now on sale for Theatre Is Dead and So Are You.  Get 'em while they last...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Born to die

Ah, now that Vi is back in rehearsals full time again, it looks like we'll have a steady stream of rehearsal photos.  Good. We played with some really fun/sick lazzi today: 
  • Lazzo of Sicilian mourning (which I made Liza do 5 times.  She thinks I was trying to explore different "variations."  Nope.  Just damn funny.  Wanted more more more.)
  • Lazzo of the "Oriental" Seance
  • Lazzo of the Spirit Possession
  • Lazzo of death by consumption  (picture above.  Alexia's long sinewy limbs and dancerly control, not to mention her wide eyes, transform these classic death scenes from great drama into campy high art.)
  • Lazzo of death by smothering
  • Lazzo of death by poisoning
  • Lazzo of a toddler's death
  • Lazzo of the Dance of the Seven Veils (picture below.  Rainbow, who has never seen the classic burlesque Dance of the Seven veils was asked to improvise one.  I could have laughed my way through at least another 20 veils)
After rehearsal (and an exciting design meeting), Kiran and I devised a system to rank our lazzi (and their accompanying texts) in terms of their wrongness.  Now, those of you who have followed Stolen Chair's work over the past 6 years perhaps know that Kiran and I have a special affection for the wrong.  We like to break rules.  Is this iconoclasm for its own sake?  Maybe.  But what's so bad about that?  When you smash all the statues in the temple you find out what, if anything, is still worth having faith in.  And honestly, if these (metaphorical) statues were really meant to be invulnerable, a couple of kooky artists couldn't shatter them so easily.   

So, in an attempt to wrest our humanity and subjectivity from the monolithic pages of On Death and Dying, from the late-Victorian discomfort with corporeality, and perhaps worst of all, from the Judeo-Christian (and later Cartesian) soul-body schisms, we're trying to push past our own comfort zones the "unthinkable" around, to, and with "dead" bodies (which, of course, are fully alive actors performing deadness: more on "dead drag" in a future post).   

And how does this have any more artistic merit than dead baby jokes?  Well, if you have any tolerance for dead baby jokes (God bless them!), I imagine it's rare that you are actually visualizing a real baby (let alone one that you have known, loved, etc) being processed in blenders, falling out of trees, getting fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.  Completely disconnected from any social realities (our real fears of infant mortality, for example), these jokes titillate on a purely intellectual level with a baby-shaped-symbol serving as a placeholder for all of the grotesque abuse.  We laugh at the transgression because we are smart enough to know that it is transgression.  The dead baby jokes point to the taboo and let us share a laugh at its expense, somehow reaffirming the taboo's validity in the process.  Yes yes, it is wrong to put babies in blenders or to even think about doing that.  

Something about theatricalizing these taboos, though, is able to make the transgression seem more real.  The human body, live on stage in front of you: you can't replace that with a baby-shaped-symbol.  This is why the dead baby scene in the Scottish play can be so very chilling; we have been asked to accept this baby (or rag doll or bunraku puppet or whatever) as a real baby and suddenly it becomes very hard to laugh at the unspeakable violence done to it.  But maybe, just maybe, if you repeat that scene a few dozen times or score it with "Hit me, baby, one more time," you can pull it just far enough into the realm of the ridiculous that it not only still possesses its visceral wrongness but also gives us the distance to examine that viscera and say: why do I instinctively react this way? To paraphrase James Kincaid in Child Loving, visceral reactions love to masquerade as untutored, universal, and otherwise bio-evolutionary-psychological "reals."  More often that not, however, these so-called "pure" reactions are as socially constructed as contemporary norms of beauty.  Now, that said, humans are social creatures who spend their days processing the world through social constructs so we're certainly not suggesting that anything we ever do on stage is intended to lead people to negate the belief systems that structure these responses.  I guess we just think that we'll all be a lot healthier if we are reminded and reminded often that (most) taboos are as variable as our weather has been this fall.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Died laughing

Cheeks.  Still.  Hurting.  From.  Tuesday's.  Rehearsal.

In rehearsal it is often hard to tell if something is absolutely rib-bruisingly hysterical because you have a) discovered a comic moment so pure and undeniable that all audience members will be helpless to escape its contagion or b) found something that will be funny to you and only you because you know the actors very well and/or you are filling in necessary contextual blanks that actually allow the gag to make sense.

Honestly: either way, I left Tuesday's rehearsal feeling like the luckiest guy in the world.  I was actually paid (very little, it's true, but still...) to laugh so hard that internal damage was more than likely.

Though these might be famous last words, I think we may have actually tip-toed up to a workable process for Theatre Is Dead.  In the past, with the notable exception of The Man Who Laughs (which had no spoken text and was therefore immune to this particular issue), we've struggled to find theatrically viable ways to introduce text into the process.  Right now, scene fragments are trickling in as fast as Kiran can write them, and it was important to me that, as we experimented with her text in rehearsal, we didn't lose the commedia-esque stylization and physical comedy vocabulary we have been exploring in November.  Usually, we spend a few weeks exploring style-work, add the text in, get paralyzed by psychological analysis of the scripts, and wait for weeks before actors can actually feel enough ownership to begin exploring the scenes in their bodies again.  This is no good.  There has to be a way to explore style, character, relationships, physical space, and text together without one getting compromised.  

I'm hoping that the solution lies in rethinking what the "unit" of work is.  In prior shows, when rehearsing a scene, we might work page by page, or french scene by french scene, or by clusters of beats.  We may start by staging that unit silently, finding strong actions to communicate the character's objectives.  Problem #1 is that these actions are often quite "psychological;" they express the character's mental state but don't necessarily mesh well with the style in which we eventually intend to play.  Eventually, we'll layer the text in and on comes problem #2 when the physical actions dull and the actors become statues with scripts in hand.  

So, to avoid both problems we've changed the way we draft a scene's realization.  Instead of breaking scenes down arbitrarily or by psychological "units," we've tried breaking down in chunks more appropriate to the performance style.  As a vaudeville of sorts, the smallest unit of rehearsable action in Theatre Is Dead is an "act" (Not as in, "Act 1: Scene 3" but as in a "magic act").  Instead of viewing an entire scene as an "act" unto itself, we're breaking it up into many different smaller "acts" which we are, in the tradition of commedia dell'arte, calling "lazzi."  So in Tuesday's rehearsal we rehearsed "Lazzo of the Jacket," in which Dave's character tries to switch jackets with a corpse.  Before we even showed him the text of the scene in which this lazzo would appear, Dave improvised the given circumstances of the bit.  Because it was broken down as an "act," and not a "unit" of psychological thought, the same stylistic rules applied: exaggerated physicality, complicity with the audience, clown logic, etc.  

What Dave created through his improvisation was directly usable in the scene itself once we added text.  The action doesn't "mickey-mouse" the text because, unlike the actions that usually emerge from our silent scenework, it was not created to reveal hidden subtext; Dave's "Lazzo of the Jacket" was created specifically to amuse the audience.  In this model it is up to playwright, dramaturg, and director to lead the actor to lazzi that will, when complemented with text, create complexity (or at least, excess), character, and humorous juxtaposition.  

I guess the simple moral from all of this is: each aesthetic demands a drafting style befitting its ends.  You can't create a sculpture if you start with brush and palette.  Further, the tools you'll eventually use to shape the marble or clay or chickenwire or whatever will determine not only the final aesthetics but how those aesthetics affect the receiver of the work.  If you're hunting for new aesthetics and new responses, sometimes you need to invent (or repurpose) new tools, new materials.

Who knows if the seeds of these thoughts will be of any use to us in future projects.  Life in the lab is always interesting: experimental drug X may work on patient Y but not on patient Z.  But something will work for patient Z; you just need the time and the resources to figure out what that might be...

For my next trick...

...I will make a press release appear out of thin air.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

New show, new process

As with each new Stolen Chair collective creation, Theatre Is Dead and So Are You, presents us with a radically new rehearsal challenge, one which our past productions have prepared us for only insofar as they have helped us build a language to talk about what's working and what's not. Stepping into the lab today with Stolen Chair veterans Alexia, Liza, David, Emily, and Kiran, all I really knew with any conviction was that I wanted to push our characterizations to stylized grotesques and I wanted to use elements of Commedia dell'Arte to test and develop bits that will eventually become "acts" in our vaudevillian funeral.

I've been working with Alexia and David for more than 4 years now and Liza for over 2.  Cackled my ass off though as they surprised me again and again and again today.  We spent the first half of rehearsal attacking character from a few different angles: from prose descriptions, from photographs, outside-in, inside-out, upside-down and everything in between.  Tried to capture it all on video but they had the nerve to let their impulses take them out of frame.  How dare they!

After lunch (during which I decided that my clothes just didn't have enough black bean sauce on them), we came back to lazzi and concetti, some fun throwbacks to my Commedia training.  What's pretty funny here, though, is that I think this developmental process will more closely mirror Commedia training than our masked Commedia dell'Artemisia.  As of this moment, I imagine most of the elements that will eventually find their way into the script and onto the stage at the Connelly this January will begin their lives as improvised Commedia-esque scenarios.  While Stolen Chair actors have always collaborated intensely on the playwriting and directing processes of our productions, offering compositions to create plots, physical worlds, kinesthetic dynamics and more, Kiran has never had the opportunity to script with quite so much support from improvising performers and the only other project on which I've been able to cull my staging from moments of actorly inspiration has been Kinderspiel.  

Theatre is dead.  Long live theatre.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Take our sweet-@ss time to die!

For those that have been curious about what Theatre Is Dead and So Are You might actually be, our description now has a little more depth than the previous talking points ("'s got death...and...uh...vaudeville?).  As is so often the case, it was our desperate attempt to meet a grant deadline that forced us to fall in line.  Below is the project description we pitched which, because this was a production design grant, is actually 1 part Stancato to 3 parts Bengali (stir, garnish with pineapple wedge).  I think, however, that it paints a clear picture of the world we're trying to create.  After you read the text, you should definitely click over to some incredible vaudeville photography that Aviva dug up.  Rehearsals start this weekend and I am very very excited.

The Theatre is Dead and So Are You is a funeral for the stage in 12 acts.  A ragtag bunch of variety veterans are laying to rest their MC and impresario and doing so for the world to see.  They'll be performing his funeral live on stage, travelling from city to city, until such time as his body is too decomposed to make the proceedings pleasant.  Their "eulogies" are performed à la classic variety, each taking its own deadly turn in style or content as they celebrate the life and death of their dearly departed dead dead dead friend.  Even in their joyous performance, a spectre looms as each knows they've all been exposed to the fatal disease that killed their MC: Life (or is it Theater?).  As part of Stolen Chair’s ongoing mission to address theatre’s continuing vitality in a world dominated by film, this piece will also ask the nearly century-old question: is theatre a dead art and if so, what makes us continue to make and attend it?  

The world of this piece is one of joy in (de)composition.  We will explore how, as things fall apart, they can be recombined into new forms and creations.  Inspired by the Dia de los Muertos, we will celebrate death as a source of renewal, an escape from one dream into another even more fantastical.  We imagine a classic Vaudevillian variety stage that is full of the detritus of production - visual evidence of what happens when closed plays go away to die.  Our proscenium space will be draped with old, once glittering fabrics.  A rich red curtain, when pulled aside, will reveal masks and puppets large and small that grin ghoulishly out of the shadows.  Our players will explore the catacombs of an old prop storage where the caskets and shrouds contain the forgotten bits of productions now past their relevance to any audience.  A testament to the transience of live performance, these objects have been lost to the memory of anyone who once knew what they were for.  Inspired by the creepy magic of the inert but once alive, the players will clear out the space, leaving us with a totally empty unadorned theatre.  By achieving a truly “dead” space, we will make room for new creative life.

Throughout the following non-linear, vaudeville, variety event, the audience is in for a raucous immersive experience using not only the stage, but the floor, the balcony surrounding them from above, and hidden areas that can be heard but not seen, just as Artaud might have wanted.  The objects from the opening of the piece will reappear, ingeniously used by the actors in ways wewill develop in rehearsal, combined in designs that reveal new and unexpected harmony and imagery.  Various objects will be strung up to utilize the full volume of the space.  Some will be thrown over the balcony to dangle above the audience or the stage before we haul them back up.  What kinds of objects will they be?  Our collaborative design and rehearsal process will answer that question over the coming weeks and months, but it is certain that symbols of death will abound: skulls, dead flowers, rotting fruit, black fabrics, candles, religious idols, masks.

We will reveal the variety acts (and the accompanying magical reconfigurations of space) by closing and opening a big red tab curtain.  If possible, additional layers of curtains will allow for multiple depths of reveals, and layers of visual texture.  With multiple layers, clever lighting, and choreographed prop and set manipulation, we hope to achieve some Dali-style trompe l'oeil and assemble objects on stage to suddenly synthesize into a form.  Perhaps a curtain will frame a piano, an urn of flowers, and some dangling masks to create the image of a giant grinning skull. Supplementary funding from the ____ Foundation would allow us to construct a more visually striking and creatively versatile curtain. It will allow us to commission high-quality fabrics and an appropriate rigging apparatus (from a supplier such as Rose Brand) to implement tab lift effects to selectively reveal parts of the playing area.  A well-made and well-rigged heavy curtain acquired with the _______ Foundation would complement the Connelly Theater’s grand proscenium arch (and the stamped tin carved Greek masks that adorn it) to create a look of a classic turn-of-century music hall or vaudeville house.  While a homemade single tab curtain of inexpensive material will serve the most basic functional needs of this piece and our space, additional funding from the _________ Foundation will give us the resources to procure a set of multiple well-rigged, attractive, and heavier curtains, allowing us to take the visuals of this beyond the functional and to create a striking physical world for the players and for the audience.

The other essential design component of this piece will be a collection of coffins.  A grand coffin will sit center stage holding the corpse of the Vaudevillians’ deceased leader, opened and closed as his lifeless body is exhumed and used in the variety acts.  Moreover, the actors will make the entrances and exits rolled on in coffins and coffins will serve as central accessories for many of the acts. A coffin designed for this project would need to do several things. It must roll both horizontally and vertically.  It must support human weight.  There must be multiple ways to get into and out of it.  With our existing resources, we can create a simple pine box that meets these needs.  With support from the _____ Foundation we can actually construct ornate coffins which carry the significance and gravity of the coffins audience members have seen at funerals.    Additionally, this funding would enable us to build “trick” coffins designed to enhance the vaudevillian acts themselves.  Perhaps a saw-the-assistant-in-half trick, or a never-ending clown-car entrance of corpses.  Maybe a coffin that opens unexpectedly on its own at inappropriate times.   With our current budget, we plan to develop vaudeville acts that do not rely on such a “trick” coffin.  If granted support from the ______ Foundation, however, we would use our remaining development and rehearsal time (during the month of December) to generate new and more exciting choreography that can interact with the more elaborate and customized coffins.

Stolen Chair develops each new piece collaboratively: text, performance style, and design emerge organically together over the course of the rehearsal and developmental process.  The Theater is Dead and So Are You is in its earliest phases of creation, and as such we don't yet know in what direction the piece will go.  Our visual concepts for the piece, however, are beginning to take shape, and we welcome all opportunities to bring them to a more fully realized level of development.   

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Logo contest: $$$ & wine

This from Liza Green, our director of Marketing:

Stolen Chair Theatre Company (aka Stolen Chair) announces LOGO DESIGN CONTEST.

Calling all graphic designers, Stolen Chair is in search of a new logo. Ours is no longer a fit for our growing indie theatre company, and we are holding a design contest to find our next image. The winner will receive $200, a case of wine and tickets for our 2009 season. We will be accepting logo submissions until Oct 13, 2008.

About Us:

The Stolen Chair Theatre Company is a critically-acclaimed award-winning collaborative theatre laboratory dedicated to the theft, recycling and re-examination of historical performance styles, and to the creation of visually stunning and uniquely contemporary work where the earnest and
ironic happily co-exist. Find out more and check out our old logo at

What we’re looking for in the logo design:

* object and/or text based
* clean/modern
* can stand on its own
* scalable (should look good on business cards and on t-shirts)
* easily change color scheme
* no human figures
* include company name: Stolen Chair

Ideas that we'd like our logo to convey:

* delightfully wrong
* hip
* multilayered
* irreverent
* twisted authenticity
* collective/collaborative

Please submit designs (high res. pdf) before Oct 13, 2008 to Students welcome. Sketches welcome. Designs that are not chosen will be destroyed. Winner will be notified by November 1, 2008.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

And...we're back!!! Summer round-up.

Whoah. Not a single posting since Kiran's scripts for Kill Me Like You Mean It and Kinderspiel were published (click here to purchase). So, what's happened since then? Nice run of Kill Me at the Brick Theater's Film Festival: A Theater Festival. With only two performances, the piece didn't get reviewed, but Ian W. Hill said:
It was an excellent rethinking of the show for a different context, but it was hard to put the original version, which I loved, out of mind.

It was reconfigured as a radio play, done entirely upstage behind The Brick's movie screen, with the actors barely visible as occasionally moving forms. Video of the original production was front-projected, mostly out of sync with the scene being played on the microphones (though a fight scene was amusingly synced up with live foley that got more and more absurdist as it went on). But most of the time, the video "burned" as though in a projector and we were looking at a "MISSING REEL" title card as the actors went on with the story (by the end of the show, it had become "MISSING REAL"). It was a beautiful alternate version of the show, but I probably would have liked it better if I hadn't seen the original version.

The actors were all outstanding as voice-over/radio actors, with excellent mic technique.

Overall we had a blast creating and performing this little ditty and we loved working with the Brick again.

Other news: We were also very pleased to see the excellent work of Cameron J. Oro and Barbara Charlene rewarded with Innovative Theatre Awards nods for Leading Actor and Best Choreography for their respective turns in The Accidental Patriot this spring. Best of luck, guys!

E. H. Sothern as Hamlet with Yorick's skullWork has already begun for our next production, The Theater Is Dead and So Are You, which is booked for a run at the gorgeous Connelly Theatre in the East Village this January. We were one of the 200 saps who busted our butts for the NEA's New Play Development grant so we actually had to move pretty quickly on creating a preliminary concept for this piece, though I'm sure once we go into retreat this September we'll probably toss much of what we've worked so hard to articulate. At any rate, here's the blurb we're currently working with:
The Theatre Is Dead and So Are You is a vaudevillian meditation on mortality that will stare death in the face and laugh. Audiences will enter an East Village performance space transformed into a Bowery music hall circa 1890, with peanuts for sale and rotten vegetables to throw. As they struggle to understand their mortality, twelve variety verterans burlesque Death, using Vaudeville's unsentimental vernacular to theatricalize one of the most sentimental (and sensitive) subjects.
I'm excited that, like Kinderspiel, this play will allow us to play around with taboo. As we've been sowing the seeds for an image overhaul (new branding, logo, website, etc. more on that coming soon!), Kiran and I have really fallen in love with the phrase "delightfully wrong" as a concise tag for our work, and I think Theatre is Dead will certainly let us work within that rasa (a word I'm borrowing from Richard Schechner who borrowed it from Sanskrit drama to denote a "flavor" of performance). I'm also really curious to see how the non-linear variety structure of the v'ville inspiration will reconcile with the narrative storytelling which we will be weaving through it.

This will be Kiran's twelfth play for the company. Not bad for our 6th season.

The research so far has been downright thrilling. Emily, our intern Rachel, and I are collaborating on it all via a Google Doc so you can sneak a peak at the evolving reading list. It has been such a treat reading vaudeville and burlesque sketches, some of which are well over a century old and hearing them leap off the page. Sure they're hoary chestnuts, but once you get past the groans, they offer sheer delight and, formulaic as they are, they really create a world as anarchic as Stage Kiss' Ludlam-esque, Kill Me's Ionesco-an, and Kinderspiel's Weimar cabaret influences. Here's a fun raunchy bit from classic burlesque (don't think pasties and sequins, think n: A work designed to ridicule a style, literary form, or subject matter either by treating the exalted in a trivial way or by discussing the trivial):

Comic (dressed as young schoolboy): Teacher, can an 11-year old get pregnant.
Teacher: No, that would be ridiculous.
Comic (to a woman dressed as a young schoolgirl): See, honey, I told you we had nothing to worry about.

A couple of features of the above show why v'ville a particularly perfect container to process taboo: [Warning: forthcoming joke analyses are anything but funny]
1) It is amoral, not immoral. It is immoral to use such a set-up to libidinous effect. It is amoral, however, to use such a set-up to delight us by referencing the moral universe in which such a scenario is "wrong" and give us the opportunity to laugh about it without condemning or otherwise participating in the inappropriate content.

2) The gags revolve far more often around that which remains unsaid than that which is explicitly said, unlike more contemporary punchlines which only leave unspoken the cultural norms that make them funny.

A very grotesque modern joke: "What's green and eight inches long? Cribdeath." While it's certainly revelling in taboo humor, it says everything. We laugh because of the punchline's unexpected yet ultimately reasonable revalation. It's inappropriate to laugh about infant mortality, but we've already made ourselves complicit by letting our mind browse through what we thought would be humorous answers to the vague question.

The burlesque above operates a bit differently, confronting taboo in a slightly more oblique manner. It never explicitly says that the two 11-year olds have carnal relations, and, therefore, our complicity is an active choice we have to make as audience members. If we choose to fill-in-those-blanks, we are rewarded with a laugh. It transforms what might be groan-inducing fodder into a sort of conspiratorial pleasure: "Oh, I know what he's talking about! That's very naughty, but very funny." This difference may be more due to the fact that the modern joke is a single question followed by a punchline whereas the burlesque is a series of narrative circumstances culminating in a punchline that refers backs to the "clues" that have been dropped.
...yeesh I must love to read my own words. I suppose I have to make up for nearly two months of a "dark" blog. So...I'll keep going.

Those that know me even a little know that I am viscerally entangled in my own fears of death and dying on a nearly daily basis. It was therefore surprising to pick up Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' On Death and Dying (origin of the 5 stages of dying/grief) and find myself cracking v'ville jokes throughout. I really have to say that this seminal interdisciplinary work of the 1970's is far more dated than any of these v'ville bits, its seriousness begging to be burlesqued. Part of me is excited that I'm able to conduct this theatrical and academic research into death and dying without getting emotional and weird, but the other part of me is displeased that it's so easy to gain critical, safe distance from a topic so intimate and personal.

All right. Off to do more research. I'm going to ask our collaborators to post comments below about their early thoughts on the project and hope some of our other readers will do the same.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The New News: May 24, 2008

While I have very little idea how this magically seems to happen every time we close a show, we started rehearsing the new version of Kill Me Like You Mean It one day after we struck The Accidental Patriot. And while Kiran was cutting Kill Me down to 45 minutes for the festival gig, she was also revising Kill Me and Kinderspiel, which will be published THIS Thursday by United Stages and launched at a book party at the Drama Book Shop that evening (that's a caricature of Kiran in the Drama Bookshop's display window!).

So: all this news and more awaits you in our last e-newsletter, which you can receive regularly in your inboxes if you sign-up here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Memorable Highlights of the Theatre Season

We're on Martin Denton's list of moments to treasure from this year's season:
"12. Stolen Chair Theatre Company mounted two fascinating, ambitious, and entirely different new plays this year, both written by Kiran Rikhye and directed by Jon Stancato: The Accidental Patriot and Kinderspiel."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Our first film review :)

Nathaniel R. of FilmExperience (a really wonderful film blog!) had this to say:
If you're a movie nut but hanker regularly for live theater only to lament your lack of a Broadway budget --I'm describing myself but surely some of you, too-- I've got a fun suggestion for a night out...It's experimental theater but not self-serious and...I had a lot of fun watching it...The play was self aware enough to point out the awkward and in so doing, make it comedically entertaining...handled with go-for-broke humor and pre-method acting aplomb. I'd recommended this to any of you seeking a different sort of entertainment adventure this weekend...I'm going to be keeping an eye on this theater company from now on.
Read more.

And the clever fellow managed to catch the allusions in our press photos. Check this out:


A couple choice pull quotes from New York Cool

To be fair, I haven't read the whole review yet, but here are two "leaked" quotes from Bryan Close's New York Cool review of The Accidental Patriot.
"If Stolen Chair didn't already exist, someone would have to invent it...At its best, The Accidental Patriot is happily over-the-top, rollicking fun. (Think The Princess Bride.)"
I'll post a link to the review (and, presumably, read the entire thing) as soon as it is posted.

In the meantime, what are you doing reading this when you could be buying tickets for one of the two remaining performances? Use coupon code BLOG for a special discount...

Friday, May 09, 2008

A rave for the Patriot

Here's a teaser of what Mister Martin Denton of had to say about Stolen Chair's The Accidental Patriot:
[I]n terms of both audacity and entertainment value it's a fine example of indie theater at its best...and a harbinger of still greater things to come from this remarkable troupe.
Read the full review here and buy your tickets now! Just 6 performances left!!!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview: Jeff Lewonczyk of Babylon Babylon

Our next interview in the series building up to Friday's opening of The Accidental Patriot (our new swanky website for the show is up and running) is with Jeff Lewonczyk, creator of Babylon Babylon. What I love about Jeff and his collaborators and Piper McKenzie is that if you asked us to cite our influences, describe our processes, talk about our work, etc, one would think our respective companies would produce wildly similar work. Nope. Not even close. Ain't that grand?

Jeff and I had the pleasure of chatting a bit on the air when we podcasted together a couple weeks back, but we didn't have enough time to delve as deep into the conversation. I thought it'd be nice to continue it here. Enjoy! And go buy your tickets for his show and for ours! If you bring your Babylon Babylon program to the Accidental Patriot (and vice versa), you get in for only $10. Incredible deal, eh? At any rate, here's the interview:

1) Tell us about Piper McKenzie Productions and its founding. How does Babylon Babylon fit in with your overall mission and body of work?

For a company that’s been in existence in one form or another for ten years, we’ve been taking our sweet time crafting a mission statement. Still hasn’t fully come together yet, but phrases like “heightened theatricality,” “fascination with forms and content from the past,” and “the gray area between comedy and seriousness” all come to mind.

As for that founding, it was in 1998 in upstate New York, after my partner (and now wife) Hope Cartelli and I graduated from Bard College. We had produced plays together extracurricularly at Bard, and we never even really had a conversation about whether or not we were going to do it after finishing school, we just kind of started. Our first show was an ensemble-created piece based on vintage comic strips called “Piper McKenzie Presents the Tinklepack Kids in the Great Yo-Yo Caper,” which featured a magical Abraham Lincoln; it’s all been downhill from there.

2) I know that, like Stolen Chair, you and your actors work collectively to generate material. Can you talk us through the origin, from stage to page and back to stage again, of one of Babylon Babylon's scenes?

Well, it’s a bit more of a challenge than I’m ready for to pluck a single scene out of the roiling mass of humanity that is BABYLON BABYLON, but I’ll give you an idea of how the process worked as a whole. Even before we started working on stage, I gave the actors a raft of source material to sift through and start working with – selections from Herodotus, the Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, some contemporary scholarship, and much more. While everyone was digesting this, we did a number of improv exercises dealing solely with the mechanics of the Temple of Ishtar, the seat of Babylonian ritual prostitution in which the show takes place. Over the course of the process these exercises got more and more particular, and I started introducing characters that I wanted to see, and then started being more specific about the character distribution until it pretty much bled into casting. After everyone had a role, we did some more improv, exploring in more detail the characters and relationships we’d be bringing to the stage. Throughout it all, I was working on script material both inspired by and often separate from the material we were generating in rehearsal. With everyone’s common grounding in the source material, the world developed as richer and stronger than it would have otherwise.

3)This show has a cast of thousands, live music, and combat. Have you ever played on such an "epic" scale before? Any surprising challenges? Surprising delights?

Every single moment of working with a cast of 31 is filled with surprising challenges – especially when you’re determined to give everyone a handful of interesting moments and not let any of the characters devolve into some sort of vague, mushy “ensemble.” And even though I knew scheduling was going to be a difficulty, well, let’s just say there are difficulties and there are difficulties.

Interestingly, I thought the sexually loaded subject matter was going to cause some leeriness, but everybody was surprisingly game – I suppose that anyone who wouldn’t have been comfortable with that kind of material declined the opportunity to do the show. The surprising delights are hopefully what you’ll be seeing onstage – the fact that everybody came together to put something this huge together with very little time, and even less money, is something that I’m immensely proud of.

4) In your press materials (and in our discussions), you've disclosed Demille's influence on your production? Did Demille's camera work influence the staging in any way?

The DeMille influence was first and foremost a question of scale and content – we were hoping to reproduce the epic historical sweep of one of his productions. It was secondarily a matter of sensibility – throughout the show, there are moments and characters that employ the grandiloquent speech and presentational style that ran through his films. In terms of camera angles, though, it was both impossible and inevitable to approach the show’s visuals on those terms. The audience, you see, is lining both sides of a long, deep stage, and the action plays out on every square inch of it, sometimes isolated into a small scene in some corner, sometimes all at once and all over the stage. With actors sometimes playing right in your face and sometimes at a significant distance, I’ve found that the experience is not unlike watching a movie that cuts between close-ups and long shots. And during the scenes where simultaneous action is taking place all around the stage, the audience gets to be their own camera operators and editors, cutting the shots, panning, making cuts, etc. The show is not the same from any two seats, so we like to think it will reward multiple viewings…

5) As a director, how do you balance homage with pastiche when you take on style work, especially film styles? To what degree do you strive for a purity/accuracy of the forms you borrow? How do you work to get your cast on the same stylistic page?

After a certain point – and a fairly early point it is – I usually end up letting go of all the striving for emulation of style, and let the show start being whatever it is. Rather than forcing the cast into a particular style, I tend to allow the style to develop according to the chemistry of the cast. I have certain quirks and tics and preferences that I’ll try to throw here and there, some of which just occur naturally, but in general all of our shows end up having a different feel, because different groups of people absorb the original materials (and my own direction) differently. In BABYLON, one of the big questions was how modern we should make it – should we have everybody walking around talking in faux-Babylonian cadences and strive for a supposed “authenticity,” or should we go fully contemporary and allow people to use modern slang and references in order to make the world feel more immediate? The result ended up finding a natural balance somewhere between the two. In the end, I like to believe that we go beyond homage and pastiche and create something new and unique out of the material we’ve digested – homage and pastiche being significant tools that we use to get to that point.

6) Where can we find out more about your company and this show?

Why, at,, or at our show’s blog – the Babylblog Blogbylon – at

7) What are you going to miss about this production when it goes to the great production in the sky? What's next for you and Piper McKenzie? Are you eager to do something on a smaller scale?

Every time I try to conceive of something small it just starts ballooning towards a larger scale, so I don’t know that I can be trusted to accurately answer the last part of this question.

What I will miss most, I think, will be the sense of community we’ve built – when you have this many people in the room at any given time, it becomes more like a functioning mini-society – with all of its pitfalls and rewards – than the typical cast of a show. The Monday after it’s finished I’ll turn to Hope and say, “Why is it so quiet?”

As for what’s next, I’m doing a staged reading of the new play by William Peter Blatty (he of The Exorcist) at The Brick’s The Film Festival: A Theater Festival. I say I want it to be a reading, but it might evolve into something slightly more ambitious. And we’re planning a winter production of a cycle of short plays that take place in an alternate Arctic reality, based on a one-act that was produced at The Brick a few years ago entitled “Granduncle Tells the Children a Story of Kisselsrite During the War.” It will have a cast of only five or six, but I’m wondering if that’s where the smallness is going to end.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The New News: April 11, 2008

An e-newsletter just went out to our subscribers. You can read it here, but you all really should be on the mailing list so go sign up!

NYTheatrecast: Episode #209 - From Film to Stage Roundtable

Read more about the podcast below or download now.
More and more we see film influencing theatre. To discuss this trend and the various manifestations it takes are three directors whose upcoming works are strongly influenced by film. They are Jeff Lewonczyk (Babylon Babylon), Jon Stancato (The Accidental Patriot), and Ian W. Hill (The Magnificent Ambersons) and are joined by nytheatrecast moderator, Trav S.D.

The listener will quickly discover that the title of Jon’s show is really much longer and far more expressive.

There is much to learn from these three gentlemen about how and why they use film as a starting point and Trav S. D. draws this information expertly from each. Jon is more interested in the form itself which he uses to blend the swashbuckling era of Errol Flynn with the classicism of the Greek chorus and more.

Ian has recreated for the stage the original Orson Welles cut of this famous film. His knowledge of the making of this film is astounding and should fascinate any film buff. Jeff amazes Trav S.D. when he notes the inspiration for his play is the book by Herodotus. Deciding it has to be an epic film in the Cecil B. DeMille mode, his cast numbers 31 and includes battles and belly dances.

Interview: Kevin Lapin of Floating Brothel

Kevin Lapin and his collaborators are now presenting what promises to be a stunning piece of a physical theatre over at the Tank. In this interview, Kevin talks all about The Floating Brothel and how his company developed the piece.

1) So...tell us about the piece.

Adapted from historical accounts, Floating Brothel follows three women—a down-on-her luck country girl, a thirteen-year old prostitute and a high-class con artist—on their harrowing year-long voyage from the underbelly of London to the underside of the world.

It starts in London, 1789. A whirlpool of filth, thievery and political unrest. Jails overflow with petty criminals, many of them women forced out of work and onto the streets as jobs are reclaimed by soldiers returning from the American war. The penal code hasn't been updated in more than a century, and crimes as trivial as pickpocketing are hanging offenses. Faced with a legal system in crisis, and a growing humanist movement opposed to executions, the courts hit upon an innovative solution: ship the woman convicts to Australia to revive the failing all-male penal colony in New South Wales.

2) Can you give a brief description of your source material for The Floating Brothel? What drew you to the story and what sort of research did you do before the development process began?

Our source material was a number of historical accounts of exile to Australia like "The Fatal Shore", "Mary Bryant" and the journal of one of the characters, John Nicol. There's also a book that's actually called "Floating Brothel" that we drew from as well. We came across the material while working on another project. We loved it but couldn't use it on that project, so decided to save it for later.

We describe the play as historical fiction. This time period is extremely rich in its details, stories and even the types of jobs people did to survive. For example, in the play one of the secondary convict women says that she used to be a "pure-finder" which was a real job that involved going around and collecting dog turds to sell to the tannery at 3 pence a bucket. Even the love story between Sarah and John Nicols is based on his memoirs. With details as rich and colorful as this, why make stuff up?

We link to several of the most important references on our website in the "About" section, for those who want to read more.

3) I believe many in your troupe are graduates of Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Can you tell me how that training informed the process you used to create this piece?

The Lecoq school influenced not only the process for creating this play, but it's central stylistic conceit. The small stage that we use is called a "tréteau" at the Lecoq school and is linked historically to the small stages of traveling Commedia troupes.

I think one of the most important thing that you learn at Lecoq is creating new work as an ensemble. Every week, you work in small groups to create a short scene or piece which you present to the group on Friday. Both Megan and I very much enjoyed working with the tréteau at Lecoq and were curious to see if it would be possible to perform a whole show on one.

The way we worked to create "Floating Brothel" was very much in the style of ensemble creation that we practiced at Lecoq, that is to say, we started with nothing but an idea and then worked collaboratively to develop the final work of theater. I think it is true with any ensemble or collaborative creation that at some point in the process people step forward and take on certain responsibilities, so not every word or decision is made as a group or by vote, nevertheless almost every aspect of this play from the text, to the staging, to the costumes, to the marketing materials exist as a result of our group's collaboration and I don't think any of it would be the same if they had been the purely the product of individual creation. From my experience at Lecoq and working on other ensemble projects since, the group is better than the sum of its parts. I should add that in this case, we were extremely lucky that Megan started off the process by bringing us a fairly full outline or rough draft of the script. Although it has changed quite a bit in terms of structure and actual dialogue, it is a real gift to have a strong starting proposition like that to use as a spring board. It's the same thing in improvisation, which is another key element of the Lecoq method, that is getting on your feet and improvising to create and try things out, good improvs start with a concrete proposition and proceed by all the actors adding to it, "Yes, and..."

4) You face the extraordinary challenge of creating a ship on stage, and on a 3'x 6' platform, no less. How did you approach the staging of these nautical scenes?

One of the reasons that we chose this story was precisely because we wanted to stage it on the small "tréteau" platform. From our work with the tréteau at the Lecoq school, we felt that part of the magic of the style comes from trying to tell as big and as epic a story as possible from the confines of the reduced space. It wouldn't be particularly interesting or challenging, in terms of the staging at least, had we chose to tell a story that took place in an elevator, for example, because then the platform would remain exactly what it is, a small space. The goal, and challenge, is to transport the audience to many different places, the high seas, bustling London, a dirty bilge, all from the confines of a small 3' x 6' space.

5) Your press release mentions your use of cinematically-inspired staging. How did that vocabulary evolve? Were you looking to any specific films or directors in your approach?

The challenge of the "tréteau" which I just described in response to the previous question, that is of telling an epic story from a 3' x 6' platform (with just a few simple props), in many ways is the magic of cinema. Images flash and cross on a small screen and transport us to other worlds, big and small. The "tréteau" is like a TV or movie screen without the special effects. You have to consider establishing shots and close-ups in order to provide the audience with perspective and create the story line. On the small stage, we don't have the luxury of changing sets, or crossing to a new space to tell the audience that the next scene is taking place somewhere else. Similar to film, one scene often cuts directly to the next and the audience or viewer fills in the blanks of what happened in between. If we hear a knock, and then see a character closing a door and speaking to someone else, we understand that the person must have just arrived at this new room. Similarly, in Floating Brothel we often cut from one scene to the next or use small scale images (the boat on the high seas) and allow the audience to fill in the blanks with their imaginations.

6) How can people find out more information about your show?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Our ears are burning...

Yes it's true, I was googling us. Turns out our li'l show is the first search result for "Accidental Patriot." That's pretty cool. And speaking of cool, or kül, I just found out that Aaron Riccio has been buzzing about us over at kül: What Sounds Cool. Here's what he says as he recommends our upcoming swashbuckling adventure:
The Accidental Patriot (After seeing Commedia dell'Artemisia and Kinderspiel, I'm ready to go wherever Stolen Chair Theatre is willing to take me -- in this case, that's to the high seas of the American Revolution, and -- keeping with their CineTheater Tetrology of adapting film styles to the theater, one a year for four years -- as a 1930s swashbuckler. Tragedies, sea shanties, and drinking songs; shiver me timbers, folks, I'm going overboard.)
Thanks, Aaron!

Buy your tickets now! Use coupon code BLOG for $15 tickets!!!

And here are some photos to get you even more excited, all exquisitely shot by Carrie Leonard. your tickets!!!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Some Inspiration

Stanley Brode, one of the awesome merry men in our tragic chorus (Is it merry? Is it tragic? Stop, you're both right!) told me to check out this YouTube clip. Glad he did!

Whoa, Nelly. Stolen Chair explodes.

We had a very full weekend with scene work, music rehearsals (5 original songs in multi-part harmony), combat rehearsals (2 mass battles and 3 duels), production meetings, a podcast, and our postcard design (see right), not to mention all of the costume and set building that's happening for the show. I still haven't seen the entire 18 person cast in the same room yet, but I'll have that chance over the weekend. Big as this show is (it's really really really BIG!), the production itself is only one of the many many things that will be happening during the run. On the evenings that The Accidental Patriot will not be running, Stolen Chair will be producing quite a few exciting events.

Commedia dell'Arte Maestro Antonio Fava will be returning for a masterclass on April 26th, and on April 27, he will bring his performance, Pulcinella's War, back for its second NYC engagement (we produced its premiere last year in front of an oversold crowd!) in a one-night stand. More details on that will follow soon...

During some of our other "dark" nights, we'll be presenting Pirates, Patriots, Patricides, several evenings of short works of theatre inspired by ancient Greece, the American Revolution, and...Pirates! We've got some really wonderful work lined up, including a visit from the Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble which will be creating a live "soundpainting" of a Sophocles text, a Commedia-inspired take on colonial America from Ron Nicholson, and at least two very silly pirate plays: one from the inestimable li'l Jimmy Comtois of Nosedive Productions and the other from L. Pontius (off Broadway's Umbrella), directed by our very own Emily Otto (who might I add is doing quadruple-duty as the piece's director, the curator of this entire short works program, our dramaturg, and our music director!!!).

Oh, and did I mention that we'll spend the last couple weekends of our run rehearsing a new version of Kill Me Like You Mean It, which will have two performances (June 2 & 8) in the Brick Theater's Film Festival: A Theater Festival?

We'll have more details about all of this in the coming days and we'll also have interviews with Kevin Lapin of Floating Brothel and Jeff Lewonczyk of Babylon Babylon coming up in the next week. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The New News: March 17, 2008

So after months of blog & website silence, we've updated (check out the new header of our press bling on the homepage!) and e-blasted with lots of exciting news, summarized in ye ol' newsletter:
  • We formally announce the new play, The Accidental Patriot: The Lamentable Tragedy of the Pirate Desmond Connelly, Irish by Birth, English by Blood, and American by Inclination, the third installment of Stolen Chair's CineTheatre Tetralogy, an original 1930s-style swashbuckler (as Sophocles might have written it if he’d been under contract to Warner Brothers), set against the tumultuous backdrop of the American Revolution. This mash-up of Greek tragedy and Errol Flynn-era pirate films features both rapier duels and rapier wit as it satirizes heroism, patriotism, altruism, and all of the other flimsy –isms that move us to action.
  • We formally announce that tickets are on sale for aforementioned new play.
  • We formally announce the beginning of our first 2008 fundraising drive and kindly ask you all to make an online donation. If you could find it in your hearts/wallets to spare a few dollars for our fundraising cause we'd be especially appreciative--we're working with more zeros than we ever have before and it's taking all of our resources to turn that red into black!
  • We formally announce the airing of Stolen Chair's profile on WPS1 Art Radio, with Ian W. Hill donning his interviewer hat (and dishy baritone voice!). I talk about how the company was founded, discuss its unique collaborative process, cover all of our productions, previewing through the end of the 6th season, and even reveal the origin of Stolen Chair's name.
Kiran, Aviva, I are in Stolen Chair's Parisian "offices," stuffing ourselves with food and culture (in the next few days, you can read about our experiences with the former on my food blog: Three Little Truffle Pigs) and trying to put the finishing touches on the script for The Accidental Patriot.

The blog, quiet since our fundraising party in early February, will soon see a flurry of activity as I talk about the recently wrapped development process for The Accidental Patriot, preview the upcoming rehearsal process, and interview some of the artists who have been drinking the same Kool Aid we've been guzzling.

Stay tuned! And donate now! Oh, and we just launched a new Stolen Chair opportunities listserve for actors, designers, technicians, interns etc. If you're interested in that or our regular ol' newsletter, just click here.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Voices in print and on the air

Big press day for Stolen Chair and our Pirates of the Aegean party. We're a VOICE CHOICE (with the inset picture taking up almost the entire page!) in this week's Village Voice, and a podcast I moderated about indie theatre fundraising hit the NYtheatrecast website today.

So...hit the new stands, plug in your ipods, and get inundated by Stolen Chair's media-industrial complex :)! YOUR TICKETS!!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The new news: 1/30/08

Last newsletter of the month went out today. The pirate party headlined, accompanied by a reminder that admission is 33% cheaper if you buy online before party time rolls around. it. Buy online. Now.

Only other item was a plug for the K'spiel photos and the announcement that K'spiel DVDs are now for sale. $10 if you want 'em. Just email me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kinderspiel long last

Wow it took me a long time to get Aviva's lovely K'spiel photos on the company hard-drive, into our Picasa page, and then on the website. Here they are, looking quite Kantor-ian, if we do say so ourselves:

Monday, January 28, 2008

The busiest weekend of Stolen Chair's life...or one of them

Whoah. I am astonished I've survived to write this. This weekend (by which I only mean Saturday and Sunday) featured 2 marathon rehearsals of the swashbuckler culminating in a semi-staged reading (for which nearly 25 people showed up: surprising, since we were expecting 3), a podcast for I moderated about indie theatre fundraising (posting later this week), a decorating party for our fundraiser (less than a week away! visit and buy your tickets now!), and our quarterly board meeting.

Here's what John Clancy over at Scrappy Jack's had to say about last night's reading. (He even manages to plug like mad for our party. Oh, John, how we do love thee!)
Saw the first reading of the first part of Stolen Chair's latest last night, working title The Tragic Swashbuckler. Going to be great. Part three of their Cinetheatre Tetralogy, this time it's Errol Flynn meets Sophocles. So fucking funny and smart. Everyone needs to go to their big Pirate Party this weekend, Saturday the 2nd at the Underwater Lounge out in Dumbo. Nancy and I will be out on Long Island, partying like respectable people, but the rest of you can party like pirates. Live swordfighting, a Delphic oracle, DJs, all like that. Info and tickets at
So, yeah, the reading went pretty well (I will post a pic as soon as we get them downloaded); we never know what to expect with these things. It was great to hear people laughing at the reading. Sure, we camped up some material that might be a little more earnest in production, but I think a lot of laughs showed that people were on board with this crazy concept. Still working out the kinks with the tragic chorus but I feel like that's a pretty universal struggle for all playwrights and directors dealing with that trope.

Mission for the next few days is to turn our working title into a title that works...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Raping and Plundering and Photoshopping!

Here are my faves from our ever-so-much-fun photoshoot with the brilliant Carrie Leonard, shot on location at our party venue, the Underwater Lounge (one swanky space, if I might add!).


Monday, January 21, 2008

Aviva Meyer's swanky design for the pirate party website is now uploaded and pretty damn cool. Check it out at and buy your tickets now!!!

We just did a photo shoot to promote the party. Best. Stolen Chair activity. Ever. I'll post photographer Carrie Leonard's gallery for the day tomorrow or later in the week.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The new news: Party like pirates!!!

January newsletter #1 of 2 just went out to our subscribers. Read it here and sign up here to have the next one delivered straight to your email.

Here's the headlining news:
Stolen Chair presents Pirates of the Aegean (2/2)
A swashbuckling pirate dance party with an Ancient Greek twist.

Dust off your eye-patch and finish sewing your tunic, because on February 2nd, Stolen Chair will be swashbuckling our way into the Underwater Lounge for our Pirates of the Aegean fundraising party. DJ's, live swordfights, a Delphic oracle, and more.

Buy your tickets now at

  • Enter an underground pirate ship and maraud the coasts of ancient Greece!
  • Witness live swordfights fought with naked steel on the dance floor!
  • Discover what the fates have in store for your future at our Delphic Oracle!
  • Savor a glass ’er two o’ Captain’s Blood!
  • Dance as our sails are filled by music from three rockin DJ’s:
    -Been Jammin makes you shake your booty with Soulful Funky House Beats o
    -Friar Tuck’s hip-shakin' mix of funky house, breakbeat, and electro-techno will get you on the dancefloor and put a smile on your face
    -Shane Digital brings you thumpin mashup and some Baltimore club

…with clairvoyant performances by Lulu Miller and Jonathan Harford, spectacular swordplay by fight master Barbara Seifert, and décor by Laura Sheedy and David Bengali.

Doors open at 9pm and the party runs until 3am.

Tickets are $14 at the door (or $9 in costume) and $9 advance tickets are available at

@ The Underwater Lounge
located in the Water Street Restaurant
66 Water Street, Brooklyn
-Click here for map-

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


This is the much much much belated recap of our mid-December creative retreat for The Tragic Swashbuckler (working title). It was easily the best retreat in recent memory: good interpersonal vibes, good food, good drink, and um...good theatre! Click here to skip right to the photos.

The goal of the retreat was to figure out how the production's concept would balance the two influences: swashbucklers and Greek tragedy. Was this going to be a swashbuckler staged in Ancient Greek period? Would this be a Greek tragedy set on the Renaissance high seas? 20% swashbuckler, 80% tragedy? We left very confident about how to steer this ship (oh the nautical references are only just beginning, my friends!). We decided we would borrow some plot tropes, use of the chorus, and portrayal of violence from Greek tragedy and fuse it with the character archetypes, overall plotting, and moral/national fluidity from swashbucklers.

We also spent some time messing around with the biography of John Paul Jones, the "American" (really Scottish) pirate who is considered the father of the American navy. And it disturbed/delighted me oh so much to see us play around with the idea of American patriotism in an earnest way. Scary potent stuff. Talk about alienation-effect: scream at a downtown NYC audience and flash bright lights at them and they'll eat it up; but offer them up a slab of American patriotism (without the side of irony) and you'll have people lining up at the exits. Who'd of thunk that could be so darn provocative?

Another visceral discovery: combining swashbuckling and tragic modes of violence. In a swashbuckler, laughter abounds in climactic duels to the death but the deaths in the tragedies are...well...tragic. They are heavy. Devastating. Irrevocable. You get the sense that Sabatini (the novelist who penned most of the stories that would later become swashbuckler films, most of which starred Errol Flynn, were directed by Michael Curtiz, and scored by Erich Korngold) would hardly blush at the idea of bringing a character back from the dead after he's been run through, but Sophocles...if Sophocles is bringing someone back from the dead, it's to torture the already miserable protagonist. So, the idea of watching two laughing antagonists prance around with swords as they exchange witty repartee and then deal with the actual tragic consequences of their actions just gives me the shivers. I like the shivers.

One more thing. Or rather, one more thing before I paste in a few pages summarizing our activities over the weekend. Read Sabatini's Scaramouche and see the awful Mel Gibson movie The Patriot right now. They are both tragic swashbucklers, brilliantly and manipulatively dealing with the same cliches and contradictions that we're exploring in this piece. Do not, however, SEE Scaramouche (an awful unfaithful adaptation) or READ anything Mel Gibson says.

Here's what day 1 looked like (sorry for the wacky font sizes and any obscurely named exercises):

10:15-11:15: Warm up and Exercises

  • Personal Warm-up
  • One-Two, Princes Who'll Adore You
  • Chorus work:
    • Balancing the stage
    • 2, 4, 6
    • Shipwreck: using only the body and voice, create a shipwreck. you are the elements (water, wind), the boat, and the people on it.
  • Swashbuckling characters

11:15-11:35pm: "Ha ha ha ha ha" (Comp #3)

  • Plot of Robin Hood
  • Only text can be laughter
  • One moment of Choral laughter

11:35pm-1pm: "Pirates of the Aegean" (Comp #4)

  • Use plot from Trojan War (Greeks vs Trojans, Gods), but each character on stage must correspond to a swashbuckling archetype
  • Chorus is onstage the entire time and two actors play all roles.
  • Chorus watches a battle which is appearing in the audience
  • An oath declaring what separates the Greeks from the Trojans
  • Use 4 different levels
  • Curtain peels back to reveal tableaux of tragic ending
  • Use 5 lines of text from the Iliad and 5 lines from Sea Hawk screenplay (Spend no more than 10 minutes finding text)

1pm-1:45pm: Lunch

1:45-2:30: "Captain Blood Curse" (Comp #5)

  • Adapt plot and characters of Oedipus Rex into swashbuckling archetypes
  • Use a maximum of 10 lines from Sophocles' text (Spend no more than 10 minutes finding text)
  • One "sped up" fighting sequence
  • Do not use a chorus
  • The entire scene must be set to the soundtrack of The Sea Hawk

2:30-4:00: "I have not yet begun to fight" (Comp #6)

  • Plot from the biography of John Paul Jones
  • The scene must be structured: Prologue, Parados, First Episode, First Stasimon, Second Episode, Second Stasimon, Third Episode, Third Stasimon, Exodus (
  • The chorus is American revolutionaries
  • The song "God Save the Thirteen States" should be the Parados (stanzas 1, 3, & 4) (
  • 6 purposes of chorus pg 148 of packet
  • Use quotes from biography

4pm-4:30: Coffee break

4:30pm-6:30pm: Swordplay exercises (@ Molinari Hall)

And day 2:

10:15-12:15: More swordplay exercises

12:15-12:30: Snack Break

12:30-1:30: Comp #7

  • Work in partners
  • Use text from Prisoner of Zenda
  • Sword fight itself should be in swashbuckling style
  • When Rupert is stabbed, his death should be "real" and Rudolf is stunned and horrified by the murder he has committed

1:30-2:15: Lunch

2:15-4:00: Comp #8

  • Setting is Jacobean England, English colonies, and Caribbean Sea
  • Plot must include:
    • Incestuous relationship unknown to lovers
    • Someone's life must be sacrificed to save a ship
    • Protagonist must avenge a death even though he/she will be punished for that vengeance
    • Hubris
  • Characters must include:
    • Captain Blood archetype
    • Queen Elizabeth archetype
    • Rupert or Basil Rathbone archetype
    • Colonel Bishop or Prince John archetype
    • Arabella Bishop archetype
  • The protagonist must go through 4 identity transformations (pirate, Englishman, etc.)
  • Laughter in every episode
  • Choral prologue and then no chorus after that
  • Call and response speech ("What are we going to do with this money?" "Give it to Richard!")
  • A sea battle
  • 6 levels
  • Patriotic pageantry
  • Sped up duel which ends in off stage tragedy which is revealed in tableaux
  • Happy ending (not ironic!)

And now...silly photos:

Thanks to Dave Gochfeld and Barbara Seifert for joining the Chairs for the weekend!