A different kind of performing…

Most people consider the task of ‘acting’ or ‘performing’ to be to create a sense of realism – to act as a real person and establish the illusion that ‘this is happening right now for the first time’.  Stanislavski, and many others like him.  This is the traditional view of what it means to be an actor or performer.

Director/ writer/ theatre artist Robert Wilson (along with several other contemporary theatre artists) look to break the theatre away from this sense of the ‘real’ and, in their work, seek to establish a heightened sense of theatricality that, they believe, open the doorway to a more poetic sense of meaning.  Highly visual, highly stylized.

But to perform in a work of this genre, an actor cannot apply the kinds of methods that serve the more ‘realistic’ performance of a traditional play.  The New York Times interviewed an actor, Helga Davis, who is currently performing in the revival of Wilson and Philip Glass’ operatic work Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Here is the article.

Working relationships

An article/ blog post appeared in the New York Times about the upcoming Broadway production of “Clybourne Park,” a much-anticipated play that most people have assumed would likely be a nominee for this year’s Tony Award for Best Play.  Clybourne Park’s expected April 2012 opening has been put into question after the departure of well-known Broadway and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin from the production team, at an investment loss of over $2 million.  It appears, according to the article, that his departure is likely due to interpersonal difficulties between himself and playwright Bruce Norris after Norris dropped out of another Rudin-produced project.

We often talk about the importance of maintaining good working relationships with one’s collaborators – that being honest, upfront, a good worker, and a good person to be around can positively affect one’s career, often more than one’s level of talent.

We don’t know all of the details of what went on between the two parties, here.  Other producers are likely to jump onto this obviously worthy project, and the producer will certainly continue work with other writers on other projects – it’s unlikely that anyone’s career is at stake here.  But it’s important to note, that the interpersonal things that come between people in educational or community settings do not go away in the professional world.

Stage vs. Screen – theme?


This is a New York Times article by Jason Zinoman that reviews a stage adaptation of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the novel which inspired the classic sci-fi film, Bladerunner.  There is a casual statement early in the article that I found intriguing…

“a downtown play is a better forum than a Hollywood blockbuster for a grim meditation on religion, consumerism and what it means to be human.”

I’ve been thinking about this comment in the past few days since I first saw the article, wondering if it’s true; that the forum of ‘a downtown play’ in and of itself is a better place for discussing issues so central to our existence.  Certainly, I believe that the immediacy and presence of live theatre has the potential to take the discussion of issues such as these and deepen them in a very personal way, that a significant impression can be made on the audience of a theatrical presentation.  And while I believe that some artists have been able to stretch the medium of film to create works with lasting effect, the category of movies with the label ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ rarely even attempt to function on that level.  ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ films might be more comparable to ‘Broadway entertainment’ – where the form and purpose of the work is often more likely attempting to amuse or excite an audience, rather than to consider or examine the significant issues of their lives and a new way.  And if that’s true, then those of us who are called to work in the theatre (particularly the kind which might deserve the label ‘downtown’) might consider that the scope of our work should perhaps include “religion, consumerism and what it means to be human.”

Martin Rayner, actor

Here is a blog about actor Martin Rayner, who recently starred as a dying Sigmund Freud in the Off-Broadway production of Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain.  Rayner collapsed on stage a few nights before the end of the run, at which point it became public that he has been battling cancer during the process of the play.

I was lucky enough to get to see one of the preview performances of the play during the 2010 Christians in Theatre Arts symposium in New York, and found both Rayner and his co-star Mark H. Dold to be excellent in their ability to capture the essence of the struggles and personality of their characters without succumbing to simple imitations of the historical figures.  The play supposes a conversation in 1939 between Freud only weeks before his death and a young C. S. Lewis, after his conversion but before the bulk of the writing for which he is most known today.

Talent or Determination?

New York Times Article

This is an article from the New York Times that talks about the source from which achievement or excellence in a field might emerge; is it the always elusive natural ‘talent’ or the determination to improve one’s skills?

It has for a long time been our perspective that while some people may be gifted by God with a certain amount of natural talent, anyone is capable of improving their natural skills through concentrated and focused effort.  In the world of theatre, film and entertainment, it is not always the most gifted which survive the field for the long term, but those who find ways of continuing to work, improve and contribute, even if they aren’t the star – that being a part of the theatre IS success in the field, not the spotlight.

This article mentions that it takes 10 years of “deliberate practice” to excel in a particular field.  Others have quoted an investment of more than 10,000 hours of focused rehearsal and study (about 1.15 years, if you practiced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 59 1/2 weeks in a row – which would be neither possible nor effective).  Most students entering college level study in the field of theatre have less experience in deliberate practice than in what might be called ‘theatre activity’ – games, performances and events which are more about the participation than about concentrated, evaluated experience which progresses the skill and produces work of consistently higher quality performance.  And it is unlikely that any student, after completing 4 years of college, can fully reach the “10,000 hours” necessary to reach the level of accomplishment to which most students aspire – even if they arrive with a high level of ‘talent.’

But what we strive to accomplish, as educators, is to shift the mindset of our students from theatre activity to focused practice of the art of theatre, provide the template for rehearsal and study which will improve their skills, and set them on the life path where they continue the journey towards excellence in their field, enabling them to apply those skills in the service of their fellow theatre practitioners and the audience for their work, allowing the Lord to work through their dedicated efforts.

Actor/ Audience relationship

A New York Times article about shows that were successful in their Off-Broadway productions, but struggle in their Broadway incarnation with the changed venues.  Off Broadway theatres are typically smaller houses (often 500 seats or less), whereas Broadway theatres can be much largers (up to 1500 seats).  The change in the relationship of the performance and the audience can greatly alter the perception of the show itself – some plays are intimate, others are on a grand scale – and attempting to translate an intimate production into a house built for grand presentations can be a challenge for designers, actors and directors.

This is why we are pleased to have a flexible, Blackbox theatre at Belhaven, where we have the ability to make adjustments to the space to fit the scale of the production itself – moving the seating in or out or even away to suit the show – and have our Theatre 151 space for productions that are “ultra-intimate” (about 35 seats…).

Hollywood’s attempts to court Christian audience

Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” proved to many Hollywood executives that there was an untapped market of people looking for specifically Christian material. In the years since, a handful of films out of Hollywood have attempted to reach that market with varying degrees of success – which has still left room for the independently produced Christian films, such as the ones produced by Sherwood Baptist Church (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, etc). But with dollar signs in their eyes, the dream machine of the mainstream film industry has yet to fully tap into that audience. Here is an article from the New York Times that addresses this issue.


Article on Playwrights’ royalty percentages

New York Times article

Some of you may or may not be aware of how the legality and royalty situation works in the theatre, but in recent years, it’s become more and more of an issue where producing organizations are asking for a percentage of future royalties on a play, in order to capitalize on the success of a play after they’ve produced it.  The two producing companies mentioned in this article, The Public Theater and the Roundabout Theatre are two significant stages in new work development, and this is a good step forward to relieve the burden placed on the potential for a playwright to actually see the financial benefit of the success of his or her own work.