WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Globe, A.R.T. and Will LeBow's Open Letter

Photo Courtesy of John Phelan via WikiCommons

Lots to discuss today. If you've been keeping an ear out for the latest rumblings in The Boston Globe, you might've read or heard about an article published last week regarding Diane Paulus and the recent change of direction at the American Repertory Theatre. In addition to an analysis of Paulus's first two seasons, the article also quotes an open letter published by elder statesman of Boston theatre, Will LeBow, in which he criticizes "populism" as "more accurately called 'commercialism' ".

Before reading any further, I recommend that you go ahead and check out both for yourself.

In my analysis, and that of many others I've spoken with, it seems that everyone involved has a valid concern or a legitimate gripe on some scale. Generally speaking, I do think that the A.R.T. is potentially moving in the right direction. However, I must stress the use of the word potential.

Personally, I think many of the artists and patrons in the Boston theatre community were growing tired of the avant-garde, big ideas, eating babies and crazy concepts theatre that the A.R.T. was becoming known for. I'm not saying that risk taking is a bad thing... but I do feel that many of us feel that the kind of work being produced by the A.R.T. wasn't risky at all. In many ways, the A.R.T. is an institution with a dedicated base that will always go to see their shows simply because of the three letters, A, R and T. I generally see at least two A.R.T. shows a year, and usually more.

I have to be honest. I don't particularly like the A.R.T., though I greatly respect it. I think they have brilliant actors and do interesting work. But it's a 50-50 hit ratio, and when they're charging ticket prices that high, I can't afford a 50-50 chance of hating or enjoying a show.

So that's where I come from. In recent years, the best A.R.T. shows I saw were Romance and Endgame. The worst I saw were The Seagull and Paradise Lost. But ultimately, I still want to go to the A.R.T. It's a brand and an institution I hold to a higher standard.

"Populist" theatre is not a bad thing. While it's important that theatre remain holy, the last thing we want to do is make it "sacred". Something sacred cannot be changed, and theatre is constantly changing. Moreoever, I fear that this aversion to "populist" theatre is part of the elite atmosphere that I've written about previously. I'm not going to lie, as a young latino man, I feel uncomfortable in the audience at the A.R.T. Even when I'm loud and obnoxious (I'm a full bodied laugher), I can't completely enjoy my experience because I feel judged.

And there lies a large elephant in the room. The culture of elitism, whether it's accidental or not, does exist. This anti-populist rhetoric doesn't help. (I won't even bother getting into the debate over the term's use, but I do feel that using this term is mildly insulting to the Populist movement of the 19th century, a movement that is the idealogical precursor to the progressive movement of the 20th and 21st century. But that's the history geek in me.)

So Diane Paulus introduces some more interactive, more "pop" theatre and turns everything on it's head. I do have reservations of the very "poppy" nature of some of the season choices, but shouldn't we wait and see the results before we judge?

I understand that some people find the interactive theatre of The Donkey Show and Sleep No More "unshakespeare". However, I can't remember the last time there was such excitement amongst the artist community about the possibilities of theatre can be. When Sleep No More was in town, artists were buzzing. I myself missed this experience, and I'm very sad. But many people were saying "Even if you don't like it, you're learning alot from it and getting great ideas."

Isn't that what art should be? Is it a problem if art both inspires artists AND brings in new audiences?

Now, before I imply that I'm 100% percent on board with everthing going on, I do have to say that I'm not pleased with the de facto dissolution of the resident acting company. We have so few true resident acting companies, and I do think that's something the A.R.T. offered that we need. Not all theatres should have resident acting companies, but we do need that sort of an institution. Theatre has changed, but we've transformed the market into "gig to gig" contract hell for most actors and we've lost the tradition of repertory theatre, and career actors who would work at one theatre their whole lives and develop over time, training future artists. I love the actors at the A.R.T., Will LeBow especially. We shouldn't be throwing that away.

I can't say that I know what's going on at the A.R.T. in terms of human resources, but I do have some reservations when people are cut or let go as part of an overhaul. I won't pretend to know what's going on, but I do express solidarity with the artists and administrators who feel as if they've been purged in the new era. However, as far as I know the Staffers left by their own volition. While it's sad that these professional relationships turned sour, I also feel that these are the inherent growing pains that come along with a transforming entity. If a staffer chooses to leave, I would hope it was after careful consideration and not by pressure.

Back to the actors. I hope that in the future, the casting and employement decisions are made with the Boston theatre scene in mind. Quite frankly, there is a wealth of talent and passion in this city and a NYC centric attitude will NOT help the A.R.T. in the long run. These numbers are encouraging, but as a member of the local theatre community, I still feel like the A.R.T. doesn't care about me or my colleagues. This is a problem, if not of substance, then of communication. I think The Donkey Show has been great for the community. I don't know if an absentee Artistic Director has been. I have no problem with Diane working her own projects, but if she's going to be a Boston area Artistic Director, I want to see her reach out and tap into the local artist community ask about OUR needs.

In conclusion:

First, there's nothing wrong with populist theatre. I do think it's important to do Shakespeare's texts. But that doesn't mean "Ten Things I Hate About You" wasn't a kickass movie. I'm still in love with Heath Ledger, despite my status as a heteresexual male. There were about four lines of Shakespeare in that movie. But that doesn't mean I don't want to gay marry his character.

If it's good, it's good. If you insist on judging a book by it's cover, don't judge it as Shakespeare. Judge it according to what it is. Talk to Chuck Mee, I'm sure he'd like to have a debate with you about the validity of reimagining classic texts.

Second, we should wait and see before we judge. I don't want the A.R.T. to go clearchannel either. But I don't think we've seen that yet. And quite frankly, clearchannel rarely excites artists and if anything, attempts to stiffle creativity. Diane Paulus, to her credit, has excited artists in Boston and reminded many people what the possibilities of theatre are.

Finally, the A.R.T. (and all non-commercial theatres) should focus on their community. We are all in this together, whether penniless fringe or LORT contract behemoth. Don't dismantle your company of actors, and don't ignore the large community of artists around you. Work with them. Hire them. Inspire them.

Because in 30 years, our children will be the ones who keep the American Theatre, and especially Boston theatre, alive.



P.S. Please read this article about "Populism". I vote that we remove it from this debate, as it has nothing to do with what populism really is. It really distracts from the real issue here, which is creativity and commercialism.

P.P.S. Seriously, read about Chuck Mee's attitude towards texts. Here's a gem: "...none of Shakespeare's plays are original: they are all taken from earlier work. As You Like It is taken from a novel by Thomas Lodge published just 10 years before Shakespeare put on his play without attribution or acknowledgment. Chunks of Antony and Cleopatra are taken verbatim, and, to be sure, without apology, from a contemporary translation of Plutarch's Lives."

Food for thought.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Reflecting Pool

Sometimes as artists, it is hard for us to separate our work from ourselves. It would seem that this would be a more common case for actors, but ANY person in the theatre world can experience this - directors, designers, producers, etc. It can be nerve-wracking waiting to hear feedback about a project that you pour your heart and soul into. However, waiting to hear this feedback can be ten times as nerve-wracking when the words are yours as well. And I'm not talking about words for fictional characters - I'm talking about words that came straight from your personal history - your story, splayed out on stage for everyone to see. This was the case with the premier of play. this past Tuesday.

Our evening was divided into three sections, which featured 8 actors and 2 directors. The Real Family was a stand-alone ten minute play in which a young man discovers that his adoptive parents are actually his real parents. Dearly Beloved details the story of Morrie, who deals with major, deep seated commitment issues and his relationship with his best friend and his fiancee. (Dearly Beloved is part of full length play that The CoLab plans on workshopping and producing in the future - stay tuned for news!) And then we come to Growing Up.

First, let me explain our process. (That's what we're about right!?) In Growing Up, I like to think of myself as more of a leader or a "guider" as opposed to a director. While I had the framework for our show's vision, it was really the ensemble that that filled in all of the blanks. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. We started our rehearsal process by using a number of Viewpoints exercises. For the first several rehearsals, we did not use voice in the rehearsal room. As I discovered, this put all 7 actors on the same page. Voice sometimes creates levels of hierarchy - some people are just more vocal than others (I'm certainly one of them). The silence allowed my actors to all experience the same rehearsal and it allowed me to simply watch what compelled me as a director at any given time. As we continued the process, the ensemble answers various personal questions, similar to journal entries. They brought these answers into rehearsal and we used them to add voice to our work. While the actors did not share every answer with each other, they did share them all with me. As I went through their answers (I read approximately 80 questions), I highlighted things that stuck out to me as powerful and relatable thoughts about growing up. The next step was to pare down these thoughts to their core statements and arrange them into a script. Our script had three sections - childhood, love and loss, and what I would call "the realization of how our pasts shape our futures." This "script" was not necessarily a cohesive string of statements, but the ensemble did a phenomenal job of making these thoughts make sense.

Watching the final product, it was phenomenal to see the audience relating to these thoughts. They related because these thoughts were truthful and universal. I am 100% thrilled with how the evening went. All I wanted was for everyone to have fun - both onstage and off. And they did. As much as I LOVED watching the ensemble on stage, I also really enjoyed watching the audience react. At the line, "Middle school is the hazing for real life" they even applauded in agreement because they could see reflections of themselves on stage. This whole process has been so rewarding for me - I can see reflections of both myself and the ensemble in the work and these reflections are universal. We are all so similar in so many ways and this was a beautiful way of bringing so many people (and a standing room only crowd I might add!) together over one shared THEATRICAL experience.

I'd love to hear your feedback about the show if you saw it. Feel free to comment with any questions, etc. and I will happily respond. Again, a heartfelt thanks to all who came out. We're excited to move onto "what's next." :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I have a side by side image that will cause you nightmares.

First, here's a photo of Hollywood actor Paul Giamatti, which I found via IMDB.com

Now here's a photo of late 90's MTV comedian, Tom Green (Remember him?)

There is no god.


The Aftermath

Hey all,

It's been a long time since I've posted anything particularly substantial. I've just emerged from one of the most stressful three months of my life. I'm not quite recovered, but boy is it looking clear for the next few days...

First things first, I wanted to thank everyone who came out to see play. and especially to our wonderful cast, directors and volunteers. The night was a smashing success, no one got sued by international publishing corporations, and we made the first major step towards producing shows on a regular basis.

We were asked "What next?"

Well, you're just going to have to keep reading to find out. Also, after labor day, expect more regular postings on a daily basis! We've been busy this summer, but now that play. is done, we're going back to blogging on our usual rotation! Woo!

And I've got some bones to pick...


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Post-Show Glow or Audi-drenaline Part II



...while I'm still working on directing play, I've recently finished my stint as a 16 year old heroin addict. AND THAT WAS A FABULOUS EXPERIENCE. We had two very different weekends of shows. Our first weekend was a very intense experience and the audiences reacted as such. They were with us every heartbreaking step of the way and it was easy to use their energy to propel ourselves to the next scene. The second weekend was very different. The audience... and get ready for it... they laughed. I mean, they really found the funny/comic reliefs lines FUNNY and that was something. All weekend we had audiences that weren't afraid to laugh at the funny, be silent and watch the sad, and cringe at the scary. They moved in and out of these emotions over the course and the show and it gave us a different sort of audi-drenaline. Because they were able to recover from the intense bits and laugh, it gave us the freedom to make our performances even bigger and forced us to stay in the moment - keeping our composure when there was laugher, holding for laugh lines, surging forward when things got scary. And it was refreshing. And it was fun. And I learned from this experience, which after all is what this is all about isn't it? I love to act because I love that I have the ability to make people feel something. But I forgot that I love to watch live theatre because I like to feel. And I made people. Whether people enjoyed the show or not (and I hope you did), they reacted. And THAT'S what it's all about.

I thank all of your who came out the show and supported my cast mates and me and this endeavor. This is a project that I won't be forgetting any time soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Narrative in Eighth Grade Spanish in the Style of Frederico García Lorca.

Here's a gem from McSweeney's:

SON: ¿Donde esta el baño?
(It has been four years since SON has been home. He joined the army after an argument with his father over his inheritance of land. He learned of his father's murder while on the front line against the rebels. Reluctant, he must now enter the house as a man.)
MOTHER: (hanging up a pair of stockings) Mi casa es su casa.
(The guitar picks up intensity as both realize the truth in the MOTHER's words. The SON, overcome, falls to the ground and weeps. The stars flicker.)
SON: ¡Madre!
(He cries to the sky like a wolf searching for a moon that never comes.)
MOTHER: ¡Mi Hijo!
(She drops to the ground. Her fall broken by the dirt that she has tread for the last fifty years.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breaking the rules and playing to win

About a week ago I sent out some feelers to the ensemble of play. to get their thoughts on the process we've been working with for the last 6 weeks or so. This whole CoLab experience is a grand experiment in creating theatre from an actor's perspective and if/how that kind of theatre will mesh into a more mainstream market. So we wanted to see how the actors feel about it...not just us because, for the record, WE are loving it. Last night we had our first full-company rehearsal. It was the FIRST time everyone involved was in the same room at the same time putting everything together. It was interesting to see how different each of the three segments are. But there is a definite flow and through-line that is really exciting.

Anyway, for those of you who might have a hard time grasping what exactly we're up to, here are some thoughts from the actors on the process and the product and what we're hoping to show you with play.

Why did you audition for play.?

Robyn Linden:
I auditioned because I knew Kenny and his level of enthusiasm about creating theatre. My calendar was miraculously open and I thought it could provide a great (rare) opportunity for me to work with another theatre company and try a new style if I were cast.

James Marin: Why did I jump on this opportunity? Well, there are multiple reasons. The first of what caught my eye was the character descriptions. The second thing that caught my eye was that this company was offering training in Viewpoints and Suzuki. Free training! What more could I ask for? After researching the opportunity further I came to the conclusion that this was a company of young individuals trying to do something innovative and new. I wanted to take part!

Sierra Kagen: I had been following CoLab's creation and metamorphosis from afar, while I was spending a year in Italy. I was excited to come back and join in whatever fun they were concocting, and it just so happened that the first thing I was able to participate in was the audition for "play.". I felt so lucky to be given the chance to participate.

Jonny Hendrickson: Unlike some of the rest of y'all, I didn't know Kenny or Erika from Brandeis before this. I was looking for things back in June (May? idk, sometime before now) that I could audition for to keep my actor juices flowing and challenge myself in new ways for the summer, and the CoLab posting on StageSource just kind of popped out. It looked like something that would both excite me and push me to think of and interact with theatre in new ways, and it has proven to do exactly that.

Are you learning anything about your self as an actor or acting in general in rehearsals? If so what?

Sierra: I was so hoping you'd ask this question. I'm having an interesting time with this work, mostly because it's my first project after a year's hiatus from theater. But beyond that, the work we're doing in Erika's piece is so outside my comfort zone that it's throwing me off even further. That's a good thing! It's so easy for performance and acting to become easy and safe, and it's such a treat to have something that actually challenges me to explore outside my box. I've been telling everyone: "It makes me really uncomfortable... so you know it's good!"

Robyn: I've never been one for ensemble/movement-based work, because I'm such a verbal person and there usually aren't a lot of words, at least early on, in that kind of setting. Text really resonates with me, I'm a Shakespeare lover afterall, so I often feel disconnected and out of my skillset with ensemble work. This group is very trusting and willing to just try things, though, and I've found myself participating freely and impulsively as we play together. It reinforces for me the importance of being present, because the magnetism of the present moment of this ensemble is directly responsible for my engagement and the things I'm learning from the process.

James: This is universal realization about acting that I always come back to again and again. You cannot play it safe. I think that the actor needs to have a relative amount of comfort when performing. However, as acting is a form of creative expression that happens in "the moment", I think the art certainly has more to do with uncertainty than certainty.

How does working on a linear piece and the non linear piece simultaneously work for you?

James: I have an equal respect for theatre that is more concrete as well as theatre that is more expressionistic.To be working on both styles at once is certainly great acting exercise!

Sierra: In all honesty, I think the two are very disjointed from each other, but I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. Kenny's not at Erika's rehearsals, and Erika's not in Kenny's rehearsals, so naturally they're not feeding off of one another's work in any concrete sense of the word. It's nice, though, to be able to switch back and forth between the two, to feel the contrasts and the similarities without talking them to death.

Do they affect each other? How?

Sierra: I think the biggest benefit from doing both is that our ensemble work from Erika's piece naturally transfers into our rehearsal process for Kenny's pieces. I absolutely and unequivocally trust my scene partners, and am learning much more quickly how each of them works and how we work together. It has more to do with process than with product, and *gasp!* how ironic! That's the mission of the group!

James: This is a definite. The two go hand in hand. Within the rehearsal process we have often used expressionistic elements to give more of a reality to the concrete. We have also used concrete elements to make the expressionism have a basic form to branch out from. We have this idea of "play". Erika had us come up with concrete examples of the concept of play which we have thus proceeded to make abstract with expressionistic movement and dialogue.

How does this process surprise you?

It's been eye-opening for me that in Erika's piece the script is composed completely of our own writings - I've always struggled with, or at least not necessarily considered myself a "writer" per se. Rather, as an actor or director I always felt most comfortable taking even a small grain from someone else and expanding or interpreting it in new ways. Always, though, I would give ultimate blame/praise to the person who provided the small grain. In watching "play" come together, however, it has helped me realize that I, too, am the source of a fascinating story to tell and it has been awesome to see our stories intertwine, gradually molding into what will be one unified piece. I feel a different and new type of ownership over a script that, while it is not necessarily all taken from my writing, all emerged from a process of which I was an important segment. It's helped me gain a new appreciation of how much of "me" goes into every piece of theatre I am part of, every character I play. And it's helped me remember how that is when the most exciting, terrifying, and delicious theatre happens - when the actor in front of you is actually more herself than anyone else.

One sentence from rehearsals (either play. or your linear piece) that has hit you in your actor gut and screamed HELL YES!

Let's PLAY!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Plays Well With Others

Happy Thursday y'all!

Come help us support one of our favorite new companies New Exhibition Room and shamelessly promote our upcoming production play. as we get in on the fun of Candyland a new interactive zombie-loving, karaoke-enjoying play by none other than the amazing and multi-talented Dawn M. Simmons (I really like hyphens today).

We'll be at the Boston Playwright's Theatre (949 Commonwealth Ave. Boston) at 8pm to start the fun AND if you come tonight for the low-low price of only $15 you can see Candyland at 8 AND NewExRoom's Original Ensemble piece Shhh! at 10:00 before it heads to the bright lights of New York City to be seen at FringeNYC the internationally reknowned fringe theatre fest happening later this month.

Help support us, fringe theatre, and local artists...and maybe pick-up a FREE CoLab Magnet... by seeing Candyland tonight! You know you want to.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Buy Local: Not Just for Produce PART TWO

A couple of months ago I posted about only supporting theatres who hire local artists. At the time it hadn't occurred to me to think even beyond actors and designers but also to our creative leaders. While this part of theatre making is crucial, arts leadership is a field where it's much harder to keep within a local market to find the best candidate for a job. Because of the nature of the work it is expected that arts leaders will move around and continue to move up the ladder of arts administration with different organizations. They also have the potential to bring in fresh ideas from the communities they've worked in and make them at home in a new place. That said, today I found this article from the Chicago Tribune (shared with me via StageSource on Facebook). Although it encourages the acceptance of out of towners as theatre leaders it's a validating statement about growing the arts in cities across the country. About creating our own artistic identity and stepping away from the accepted idea of there only being one artistic hub (New York). And how staying in a community and helping it grow, creates more jobs, arts appreciation, and a better culture of audience cultivation and retention. When the people who work for you WANT to be working in the city, patrons take notice.


And I encourage you again - buy local!



Audi-drenaline (n) - a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands of actors, esp. in conditions of high excitement in association with the addition of an audience to a performance situation

For example, Erika could not get over how much her audi-drenaline enhanced her performance last weekend.

Okay, enough with the fake vocab lesson. We opened Refuge last weekend and I guess I forgot how having audience changes the caliber of my performance but MAN did I experience it in full force during the run. It all started on Wednesday night at final dress when the cast of WASP sat down to watch us. I could already feel "the buzz" backstage during the opening scene but when I made my first entrance, I was hit with the current and I became Becca. To quote Kaufman and Ferber's Stage Door, "But in the theatre, when you hear that lovely sound out there, then you know you're right. It's as though they'd turned on an electric current that hit you here. And that's how you learn to act." I mean that's it. Right there. An audience creates electricity. It's almost as if you're just backstage, minding your own business, running a few lines in your head when all of a sudden, you get a tingling feeling in the bottom of your stomach. The tingling starts to spread through your veins into your arms, your legs, your toes, your fingers, your lips, your eyes until BAM you make your entrance onto the stage, into the world of the play and your energy combines with the energy of the audience and all of a sudden, I'm not Erika, I'm Becca, and I'm here to take you on a journey for the next 60 minutes. Let's roll.

I'm looking forward to experiencing this again this weekend as we begin our second and final weekend of the show. The first weekend was amazing. I felt that I gave three solid performances and one decent one. After tech week and a four show weekend, however, I definitely needed a few days off and it got me thinking - what goes into keeping a performance fresh? We have an eight show run, but what happens when you have an extended run of a show? When I studied in London, I saw David Mamet's Speed the Plow with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum and they were in the middle of a several week run. As you can imagine, there was a packed house (which actually included Chita Rivera - pretty cool). The thing that stands out most to me, however, is the difference in the performances. Jeff Goldblum was "acting" and Kevin Spacey was "performing" in a world all his own. His energy was coming from the audience while Goldblum was just up there, to do what he had to do. I remember on that day that all I wanted was to be able to use the audience and give a fabulous performance even if the conditions aren't just right. I mean, you can try and get 8 hours of sleep and eat a protein rich meal, and drink plenty of water, but sometimes your costume is itchy or the other actors aren't quite giving you what you need or you're tired or you're just having a bad day. I guess that's what makes a great actor, truly great, the ability to recreate a performance night after night for the audience, with the audience.

FORTUNATELY for me, my cast mates are fantastic. They're energetic and talented and always on their game. And we're a family and we support each other through the show. All I'm saying is, thanks audience for helping us through when we're a little sluggish. And with that, I'm ready to do four more shows this weekend.

We're SOLD OUT for Thursday night but we have tickets left for Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 4 pm and 8 pm. Check out: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/116701 for tickets!

(L to R - Refuge Cast) Terry Torres, Krista D'Agostino, Nick Miller, Erika Geller

We hope to see you this weekend!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On the Inside of play.

Last night was another great rehearsal for play. We are starting to build the original piece from our writings, rehearsal room ideas, and imaginations. But the coolest thing for me about building this piece is how everything and everyone just fits together. Ideas flow. One person after another adds something to what we are doing. We speak the same theatrical language (which, honestly, can be really hard to find) and we don't mind talking. I got to rehearsal in a really energetic and kind of goofy mood yesterday and everyone just played off of that. And I played off of the other energies in the room. Some quiet, some tired, some just as goofy as me.

The thing about the 7 of us building the piece is - we just click. Plain and simple. It's not competitive or tense: everyone just checks their ego at the door (and we're all actors, so let's be honest, that's an accomplishment). I feel confident in saying we all really enjoy being around eachother and hearing eachother and telling eachother stories. Listening is a huge part of how we are creating, and I know, I am enthralled by my fellow actors. We all come from different places, different backgrounds, different kinds of families...and we're writiing a piece about growing up - so it's pretty interesting to see how different it can be for people and what is universal about it.
Apparently everyone who came of age in the mid-ninties still knows some horrible piece of boy-band choreography and knows how to play M*A*S*H. Who knew?

I'm hoping to get Robyn, Tony, Jonny, Sierra, Tierra, and James (and maybe Gideon too!) to help me out with a few more blog installments about how much fun we're having playing around and how excited we are to show Boston what actors can create and all the different ways we can do it. But for now - that's what I have to say.

Oh and go see theatre this weekend. Seriously. I mean it.
- Family (de) Values * Happy Medium Theatre Co.
- Candyland * New Exhibition Room
- The Tempest * Gurnet Theatre Project
- Quills - Bad Habit Productions
- Grimm * Company One