“When the producer makes the final decision, the theater and the art is dead. This is true of boards, of business managers, of commercial producers, now as for Nemirovich-Danchenko, King Louis, or those who hired Euripides. It is not without possible value to have producorial considerations in the process along the way, but they must neither drive the discussion nor determine the ultimate outcome.”—Dominique Serrand, founder of Theatre de la Jeune Lune
“WHAT YOU KNOW IS LESS IMPORTANT THAT WHAT YOU DISCOVER ALONG THE WAY TO FINDING SOMETHING OUT, OR DEALING WITH WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW.”—This could be a roadmap to Pinter—or a recipe for artistic creativity. It happens to be a comment by Dominique Serrand, founder of the late, lamented Theatre de la Jeune Lune, on process.
From an author’s blog—specifically, Mo Willems, author and now adapter of children’s lit favorite Knuffle Bunny—comes this marvelous paean to dramaturgs (despite the somewhat fraught alternate spelling—dramaturg vs. dramaturge; subject for another debate, another time).
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I’ve been working on a really fun project the last 4 months or so, but have been unable to chat about it until now:
The musical was commissioned by the Kennedy Center, and unlike the British Touring Production of the Pigeon Books, the book and lyrics will be written by, uh, me…
I promise the show will be a wild ride, filled with clever projections, Bunraku Puppets, dance, and at least one song in utter gibberish.
Tentative plans are for the show to run at the Kennedy Center in DC starting in May 2010 and then to travel around the country. I do hope you’ll make plans to check it out if it comes to your neighborhood.
Of course, something this big can’t be done alone. So, I’ll be heavily relying on the musical talents of Michael Silversher, the producesorial talents of the Kennedy Center’s Kim Kovac, and the brilliance of Dramaturge [ahem-sic] Megan Alruz (note: if you ever get the chance to get your own Dramaturge, do it! They’re awesome. The thought of losing my Dramaturge to other dramaturgically needy projects in the future fills me with dread. And, as long as you’re getting a Dramaturge, get Megan. She rocks.)
“We will all interpret a common experience quite differently, though we prefer to subscribe to the view that there’s a shared common ground, a known ground. I think there’s a shared common ground all right, but that it’s more like a quicksand.”—Harold Pinter
One of the program pieces written for The Second City Does Baltimore (click here for the online version, complete with far more delicious graphics and all that). ============================================================
On behalf of our Charming City, CENTERSTAGE—the State Theater of Maryland—welcomes the Windy City’s comedy ambassadors, eminent emissaries of Thalia (1), Chicago’s The Second City. Their mission: to write and perform a show based in and on Baltimore itself. Mixing their signature brand of spoof, satire, lampoon, and celebration (which they’ve successfully used in their own home town for 50 years), the group has delved into the hidden nooks and crannies of our little burg to create something like a theatrical caricature. Honest, funny (or we sure hope so), and brimming with plenty of affection and just the right amount of bite.
A tall order. But after weeks spent poring through dusty archival material and unearthing previously lost documentary footage, and after closeting themselves for long hours of discussion with some of the area’s leading historians and anthropologists, they had nothing. They still faced that writer’s nightmare, a looming deadline and a blank sheet of paper (2). So it was off to hit the mean streets for real. Or more specifically, to do an unholy amount of eating and drinking from one end of Baltimore to the other.
In all sincerity, Second City sent two of their finest and funniest scribes to spend a short week in Baltimore, meeting and talking with locals of every stripe. Tough work; you try finding striped locals. The idea was to soak up the lore, the legends, the atmosphere, some local brews and plenty of local cuisine to paint a complex picture that goes beyond the obvious—beyond what the world knows from television or movies alone, or what you could get from a visitor center. To do this, they needed to spend time with as many true Baltimoreans, native and adoptive, as possible, really getting at the heart and soul of what makes Baltimore, Baltimore.
This means our long, rich history, for better or for worse; our present; and our possible futures—also for better or for worse. This means the fancy, the fanciful, the quirky, the quixotic, the ridiculous, and the ridiculously wonderful. We needed to get them beyond sight-seeing; they needed real experiences, and they needed to talk to those who’ve been here and done that, who have real blood, sweat, tears, and time tied up in the fabric of our city.
It’s something they’ve done before, quite successfully. Who else has gotten the treatment? Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Boston…. Anyone who can manage to coax humor out of staid and stuffy Beantown can surely dig up material here in Baltimore worthy to tickle a funny bone or two.
So off they went. CENTERSTAGE staff enlisted as urban sherpas trekked the duo from Hull Street and Locust Point to Roland Park, from Canton to Ridgley’s Delight and West Eutaw, from Park Heights to Dundalk. They ate their weight in Berger cookies, Naron chocolate crabs, Utz chips, crab cakes, Goetze’s caramel creams, pit beef, lake trout, Attman’s juiciest, and many a diner delicacy. They met with civic and community leaders, titans of industry and finance, journalists and trendsetters. They also dipped into city markets to chat with vendors, bellied up to bars to learn the fine points of Irsay-bashing, relished the sounds and smells of Lexington Market, and hobnobbed with hoi polloi from Highlandtown to Hampden to Hollins Market. Thanks to M&T Bank, they got a tour of the Ravens’ practice facility; and thanks to Rebecca Hoffberger, they got an intimate, up-close insight into the mysteries of AVAM. They sat in on sentencing at Circuit Court, and went “backstage” at City Hall. They heard from fifth- and sixth-generation locals and quizzed recent transplants. Then off they went to make the magic.
With a frame written and music devised, open swung the vast vaults of comedy gold from Second City revues past, to offer up some tried and true bits. These were adapted and integrated into the show, as a director and cast joined the project back at Second City HQ. Using complex formulas and algorithms refined over five decades, all the new talents and opinions leavened the mix during rehearsals in Chicago—where several of us flew in mid-December to take a gander at the work in progress. Then, with the set you see duly constructed back here at home and the breath-holding anticipation of everybody involved, the company arrived on site to share the show with you.
A very special thanks must go out to all the fine folks who gave their time, their stories, their insights, their memories, and their opinions during the writers’ immersion. Without you—and you know very well who you are, sitting over there smugly smirking— this show wouldn’t exist. Well, it might, but it would probably stink.
(1) Thalia is, or was, the Muse of Comedy in ancient Greece. Which makes you wonder just how funny she can be. Weren’t those the folks who gave us tragedy, patricide, matricide, and the Oedipal complex?
(2) Frankly, I still wonder why they didn’t just try using a computer; after all, look how fast a word processor lets me fill up paragraph after paragraph with unsubstantiated nonsense.
" 'The Second City Does Baltimore: A Hilarious Spoof of Our City"
nice local blog about The Second City Does Baltimore:
“Second City” is a comedy troupe in Chicago, probably best known for being a launch pad for some of the nation’s biggest comedians. And they’ve come to do a part-improv/part-scripted show in Baltimore about…Baltimore. Here’s the scoop: The writers of the show spent some time here, going all over the city to absorb the culture, the neighborhoods, and the people. When you see the show, they “get” the city, to the point where you wonder if the writers grew up here (they didn’t). The show mocks the good, the bad, and everything in between: race and class relations, Peter Angelos, Natty Boh and Baltimore’s (unnecessary) inferiority complex. There’s a skit called “The Wire: The Musical”. You’ll See “The Real Hons of Baltimore City”. There’s a song about “The Sun”, and another one about Mayors Schaefer, Schmoke, O’Malley and Dixon.
Quite simply, the show is fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I was crying with laughter at a live show (or movie, for that matter), but this cast and crew made me do just that. My fiancee Sara and I are telling all of our friends to go see it, and we’re already planning to go back after seeing it last night, since the show is different every night (The show runs through February 20).
The comedy varies from biting satire to sophomoric (but still hilarious) humor. Every performance is a bit different with improv between scripted segments, so I can’t tell you everything you’ll see. But I can assure you’ll see a really talented cast that shows you why “Second City” has the reputation it does. As I told Jojo, tell me you won’t miss this show.
“Drama that fits comfortably into understood and reassuring categories ‘is not theatre but a crossword puzzle. The audience holds the paper. The play fills in the the blanks. Everyone’s happy. There has been no conflict between audience and play, no participation, nothing has been exposed. We walk out as we went in.’”—Harold Pinter (author of The Homecoming, currently rehearsing here at CENTERSTAGE); Pinter’s plays leave plenty of blanks, but certainly never fill them in for you.
"Our Flacco who art in Pittsburgh, hallowed be thy name. Thy Bowl will come. It will be won, in Dallas as it is in the Dome. Give us this Saturday, our weekly win, give us Touchdown passes but do not let others pass against us, Lead us not into frustration, but deliver us to the superbowl…. For thine is the MVP, the best of the NFL and the glory of the Purple & Black now and forever Amen!!"
Perhaps extra irony given that we’re the town that gave the world the Baltimore Catechism, once upon a time?
Long vacant, this once bustling and glamorous destination spot has been not only a festering eyesore of sort, a needling reminder of vanished glory, but a fraught spot of current contention in development circles. Stymied at every turn, the city itself has tried for years to dislodge the stalemate and foster some progress; all the way down to other businesses adjacent, among them Everyman Theatre and the Charles Cinema, have devised plans to make use of the space. Nada. So far. Maybe a little stirring?
“When you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, “We’re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world.” If you’re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.”—DAVID MAMET, Three Uses of the Knife