"Because the indisputable fact is, you guys are in charge, and I’m not. You guys work for the organizations and theaters, which are in a position to not only help me and other new artists from my generation, but essentially give us our starts. And how can you even begin to do that, if you know nothing about all of the stuff that my generation likes and says and does, or worse think those things are not only trivial and stupid, but something to actively fight against?"
We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language.
“Dramaturgs are beleaguered. They are bashed, they are silenced, they are badly paid. And still, they perservere. They are bashed by the very people they have sacrificed their own family lives and pleasure to defend! Playwrights! Already in these pages I’ve called them nuns. I’ve accused them of sharpening pencils too sharply. Let me honor you, dramaturgs. Let me shower you with love. Here is what we playwrights need and ask of you. We need you. We need you to be nice to us when the director is mean to us. We need you to be nice to us when the audience is mean to us. We need you to be nice to us when the artistic director is mean to us. We need you to sit next to us at the first rehearsal when we feel like we are being flayed open and exposed. We need you to sit next to us at the first dress rehearsal and tell us that it’s good or worth saving even though we feel worthless and doomed. We need you to sit next to us during the first preview and give us two or three notes that are easily accomplished when we want to leave the theater forever and take up marine biology or nursing or any profession that doesn’t involve public humiliation. We need you to deflect strange questions at audience talk-backs and remind the audience members that they are most helpful when they describe their own experience rather than trying to fix the playwright’s play. Or perhaps we need you to excuse playwrights from coming to talkbacks when we already feel flayed alive during previews; dramaturgs are better able to answer questions at talkbacks and then gently relate the audience response to the playwright who is either hiding or incapacitated in the nearest bathroom. (Gently knock and offer brown rice.) We need you to be articulate about our plays when we feel dumb about them, so someone can do the articulating for us while we do the more blunted and blind task of writing the thing. We need you to be as articulate about unconventional structure as you are about conventional structure. We need you to fight the mania for clarity and help create a mania for beauty instead. We need you to ask: is this play big enough? Is it about something that matters? Conversely: is this play small enough? And if the play’s subject matter is the size of a button, is it written with enough love and formal precision that the button matters? We need you to remind audiences that plays are irreducible in meaning, the way that poetry is. To remind our audiences that going to the theater is a privileged, emotional and irreducible experience. We need you to fight for plays at the theater where you work and in the broader culture. We need you to ask us hard questions. We need you to remind us of our own integrity and not to turn our plays into other people’s plays. We need you to remind us to make hard cuts and not fall in love with our own language when our plays are too long. We need you to drink with us if we are drinkers and not drink with us if we are abstainers. Train as an actor, or a director, or a set designer, because we need you to understand each element fully. We occasionally need you to leave the profession and become critics, because you truly love the theater, have critical and insightful minds, and would write about new plays with love and understanding. I love you, dramaturgs. I wish there were a better name for your calling than calling you dramaturgs.”—
Congratulations to Annie Baker and Rajiv Joseph, recipients of this year’s Steinberg Playwright Awards. The award is given every other year to playwrights in the early and middle stages of their careers.
The experience for a playwright of working in any theatre is energising. I have learned in the past ten years that the experience of working in theatres in different theatre cultures is also provocative and unsettling and found this to be fundamentally creative. It made my plays better.
I’m grateful for my awesome paid internship at Baltimore’s Center Stage, 2007-2009: challenging and fulfilling work, marvelous and talented colleagues, post-graduate training, housing and stipend. If a non-profit theatre company can afford to support and train and value its interns, so can for-profit corporations!
A new version of ‘Animal Crackers’ opens Center Stage season
September 03, 2013|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun
Anarchists have taken over Center Stage.
Not the bomb-throwing kind, but the quip-smacking, horn-honking, non-sequitur-spinning types known as the Marx Brothers.
Those indelible siblings — weirdly mustachioed Groucho, fake-Italian Chico, silent Harpo, straight man Zeppo — are being resurrected in an adaptation of “Animal Crackers” that opens the Center Stage season this week.
The original “Animal Crackers” was a 1928 Broadway musical that provided a typically nutty stage vehicle for the Marx Brothers and, two years later, an equally nutty film.
The plot, if it can be called one, revolves around wealthy Mrs. Rittenhouse (immortalized on stage and screen by uber-dowager Margaret Dumont) and a missing painting.
But the main focus is on three eccentric figures. The explorer Captain Spaulding is the Groucho role; the piano-paying Emanuel Ravelli is Chico’s assignment; and the Professor is the quintessential Harpo character, a guy in an overcoat who chases women but brakes for harps. (As usual, the role for Zeppo is less colorful.)
The Center Stage production will re-create a lot of shtick that will be familiar to fans of the movie, including the moment when a helpless butler (wonderfully named Hives) tries to open a folding table while Harpo does his best to thwart the process.
Helping to make such shtick stick is Paul Kalina, the show’s director of physical comedy. He has been working alongside stage director BJ Jones, who describes Kalina as having “nearly a Ph.D. in Marx Brothers.” An appreciation for the comic team may have been hereditary.
"My old man would skip school and take the train into Chicago to see their live shows when they were on tour," Kalina, 44, said. "And I kind of grew up with them. [Chicago TV station] WGN played a lot of their movies. I took to them and that whole era of comedy."
Kalina eventually discovered his calling at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California, where he honed his skills in the clown genre. “More in the line of Buster Keaton than Charlie Chaplin,” he said.
That led to Kalina becoming a founding member of a Chicago physical comedy troupe called 500 Clown (“You say ‘500 head of cattle,’ so we say ‘500 Clown’ “), inspired by the sense of anarchy that the Marx Brothers generated.
When Chicago’s Goodman Theatre staged “Animal Crackers” in 2009, adapted and directed by that company’s resident artistic associate, Henry Wishcamper, Kalina was brought in to ensure the right flavor of physical comedy. He performed the same service for a production of the Wishcamper version at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts this summer.
In Baltimore, Kalina has been reunited with two of the Williamstown actors, Brad Aldous as the Professor and Jonathan Brody as Ravelli, both making their Center Stage debuts.
In a recent rehearsal, Kalina worked with them on minute details in scenes involving such things as dropping tools in just the right way to make the correct amount of racket, and how to get perfectly tangled in a ladder.
"The physical part of this is so key," said Jones, the stage director. "You have to drill it and drill it and drill it."
In the case of the Groucho role, there’s not just the physical side to evoke — Groucho was wonderfully rubbery in the early years of the Marx Brothers — but the verbal one. His accent and way of phrasing are very much a part of the picture.
Stepping into Groucho’s aura and mustache for the Center Stage production is Bruce Randolph Nelson, a resident artist of Everyman Theatre making a return guest engagement. He did not come to the project as a lifelong Marx Brothers fan.
"I watched the ‘Animal Crackers’ movie and read books about Groucho to get a sense of what he was about," said Nelson, 46. "I watched video clips voraciously, starting with Groucho’s TV quiz show ‘You Bet Your Life.’ I marveled at his rapport and sense of improvisation on that show."
Unlike a typical play, this one is not so much about getting into character as it is getting into the character of the person who famously first portrayed that character.
"I wanted to get as close as I could get to imitating Groucho and then infuse my own sensibilities into the process," Nelson said. "What made the process so lovely in this production was that everyone realized I’ve got to be in there somewhere."
A perfect impersonation is not the goal of the production, anyway, especially since so many people still have clear memories of the Marx Brothers.
"You can’t live up to that," Jones, 62, said, "but you can live up to the spirit."
That spirit is totally, disarmingly zany. To spread that quality around, the “Animal Crackers” adaptation does not put all of the comic-engine weight on the actors in portraying Groucho, Chico and Harpo.
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A new version of ‘Animal Crackers’ opens Center Stage season
September 03, 2013|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun
Most of the others in the cast get a chance to reveal their chops by taking on multiple roles. It’s a familiar device in the theater, used most memorably in recent years in the Broadway hit “The 39 Steps.” This “Animal Crackers” has 21 characters and something like 60 costume changes, but only nine actors in all. “It requires a virtuosic ensemble,” Kalina said.
Marx Brothers stage shows were notorious for improvisation and irreverence, qualities that tended to get somewhat defused in the movies.
"I read firsthand accounts of what was happening in theaters when they performed," Kalina said. "People thought they were crazy. They did wild things. They would strip their producer and wheel him onstage in a basket and make him run off. That’s why audiences loved them. There was an extreme sense of play. Nothing was sacred."
Some Marx Brothers business has not aged well. Captain Spaudling’s first appearance in “Animal Crackers,” for example, involved being carried in on a covered chair borne by African natives.
"That would be politically and socially incorrect today," Kalina said. "But we had to have a spectacular entrance for him. I created one."
It would also be unwise to preserve all of the original “Animal Crackers,” which was a long play even before the brothers inserted things (performances were known to run for four hours or so).
The adaptation that Center Stage is using trims a fair amount of material — “The plot is simplified; it gets right to the Marx Brothers’ madness,” Jones said — but keeps most of the original music. (The movie jettisoned several songs.)
It also strives to retain the authentic anarchic edge. This is no ordinary play with a clear-cut beginning, middle and end.
"What the Marx Brothers did in 1928 was a kind of performance art, when you think about it," Jones said. "People never knew what they were going to do. ‘Animal Crackers’ is more like two plays that collide and one takes over the other. It was an assault on theatrical structure."
Jones got turned on to the Marx Brothers as a college student after attending an all-night festival of their films in 1969, a time when anti-authority antics seemed newly relevant.
"The Marx Brothers were anarchists, and we all felt they would have joined us, in a comedic way, in smashing down walls," Jones said. "If we’re trying to re-create anything in ‘Animal Crackers,’ it’s the sense of being at the first Broadway performance and seeing the Marx Brothers suddenly break out. Once you’re on this ride, it’s fast and clear and brisk. And you stay on it for the giddy exuberance of it."
"Animal Crackers" runs through Oct. 13 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Tickets are $19 to $59. Call 410-332-0033, or go to centerstage.org
“You don’t sing to feel better. You sing ‘cause that’s a way of understanding life. … The blues help you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone. There’s somebody else in the world. Something’s been added by that song. This be an empty world without the blues. I take that emptiness and try to fill it up with something.”—
-Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
some thoughts floating around rehearsal of DANCE OF THE HOLY GHOSTS
Extensive collection of media files (Midi, WAV, streaming audio, video, etc) of Marx Brothers material - some just a line or two of dialogue, some musical samples, and some extended selections from movies & television.
To put it more radically, the true horror of life, the essence of drama, lies in the lack of dramaturgy. If there were a dramaturge or demiurge, if we (truly) believed that someone else was writing the play, that someone else was handing out the roles, this would mean we would be sure that our existence had meaning, that there was a play in it somewhere. Armed with this knowledge, neither our personal apocalypse nor the shared one is frightening: it’s simply the writing on the wall. But what if there’s nothing written about us anywhere? What if no one writes us? If no one is watching?
We have nothing else to use against the Apocalypse besides our personal history, without being sure that there are eyes and ears ready to hear us out. So we feel our way with words, like children in the dark. The only thing we know is that as long as we are telling stories, we’re alive. Even if they are stories about the end.”
“In the theatre we always return to the same point: it is not enough for writers and actors to experience this compulsive necessity, audiences must share it, too. So in this sense it is not just a question of wooing an audience. It is an even harder matter of creating works that evoke in audiences an undeniable hunger and thirst”—Peter Brook, The Empty Space (via dramaturgyqandalyson)
"If a poet determines that a poem should begin at point A and conclude at point D, say, the mystery of how to get there—how to pass felicitously through points B and C—strikes me as an artistic task both genuine and enlivening. There are fertile mysteries of transition, no less than of termination."