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May 12, 2008

Comments

Nick Keenan

I too need a safe zone, Mac, but I think it's useful for those of us that need that kind of separation to learn to leave our ideas a bit more prone to the public. To build better firewalls, if that makes sense, that allows us a level of creative protection but also allows valuable information to leave the rehearsal space.

The tipping point for us as a company was that we realized that most shows are bad at REMOVING that safe zone for the benefit of the audience. In my experience the audience craves to be let in on the process, and actually values the work a lot more if they're allowed to look behind the curtain a bit and see where the work comes from.

It's the difference between watching a movie and suddenly showing up on set. It's a dramatic difference.

I definitely think it's important to remember and be aware of the safe zone when navigating through rehearsal, but if I had to wager a guess, I believe it's going to prove imperative for the continued vitality of theater to find a way to reconnect with our audiences who feel shut out or disconnected from our work. I don't think that means dumbing the work down... I think it means letting them in on the conversation - letting them through the firewall - before we're done with it. It means exposing the rehearsal to risk and trusting that the audience will value that risk.

And yes, it also means being aware of the potential sabotage that can come from a hostile critic, and dealing with that criticism or even vitriol in a way that is non-destructive to the process. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Far from it.

We've been trying this at my theater company for a couple shows now (http://newleaftheatre.org/blog) through a kind of confessional blog and podcast, and while the jury is still out, there are signs that we're starting to seeing the impact - the blog doesn't necessarily bring new audience in, but it does cement a permanent relationship more quickly with audience members who have seen only one of our shows.

What's been most encouraging, though, is that by opening up the guts of the production process to public scrutiny, we've started to value the public conversation as a new part of our process. When we treat it with respect and caution, It keeps us honest as artists - the problem is usually not that we're not taking risks because we're afraid of how it'll look on the blog, it's that any day we show up and coast and goof off and don't push ourselves, we have nothing to write about.

We prep our cast that we'll be maintaining both a safe zone and exposing some elements of rehearsal to the public - and we invite our cast and crew to contribute to the blog. Having multiple voices and perspectives from the same process I think is key to making something like this work for a company. But this kind of communication and internet openness is a part of our generation and the next generation, so you'd be surprised how often cast and crew not only buy in to the idea of subjecting the guts of the show to the public, but they get excited about it.

Aside from that $0.02, Mac, I've admired your thoughtfulness and voice of reason throughout your archives and your older conversations with Dr. Walters - who I also admire. Glad you're still asking these kind of questions.

Scott Walters

Mac -- Help me work through something (since I am TRYING, unsuccessfully, not to post to my blog). This is a theory, so turn up your crap detector to its highest setting. I think that SOME (I might even venture: A LOT) of the high-dudgeon blog posting (OK, let me be more specific: A LOT OF MY OWN high-dudgeon blog posting) is a reaction to the boring vanilla-ness of such much of the theatrosphere. It is the blogging equivalent of loudly ringing a bell to wake everybody up and get everyone's attention. If the discussion was more substantive, more thoughtful, such posting might be less necessary.

How this connects to the ideas you and dv are circling around concerning rehearsal blogging is that such rehearsal blogging -- or even post-show reflection blogging -- might encourage an actual give-and-take, problem-solving type of blogging that would not only be interesting to read, but highly educational. The key, I think, is in how the post is written. For instance, if I am directing a show and blogging about it, I am NOT going to post "Actor Z really sucked hard last night. I don't know why I cast him." But I might write: "Struggling with scene 3 from the show. It seems to drag in places, and I can't figure out whether it is line pickup or that we haven't made the interaction dynamic. I tried a speed-through, asking the actors to say the lines as quickly as possible, to exaggerate the speed -- a few moments that had lacked life suddenly came alive. Still -- how do we get that without sacrificing all the relationship stuff we've developed recently?" Do you think such posting would make the rehearsal unsafe? What if the blog was an open forum for everyone involved, so an actor could post something in reference to the above: "When we did the speed-through, I felt out of control and disconnected, but there were a couple moments when I felt as if I was thinking as quickly as the character thinks. I don't respond well to technical directions (faster, funnier, louder), but I CAN respond to "think faster.'"

My wife is a knitter, and I am amazed at the on-line communities that have formed around that hobby. Everyone shares problems and solutions, and the community is supportive but also really insightful. My wife recently posted a comment about her struggles knitting lace, and the blogger devoted a lengthy post to how she might strengthen her skills, and other commenters chimed in with suggestions. If we could get the theatrosphere moving in that direction, I, at least, would feel less inclined to jolt things to life through intensity.

OK, you can turn off your crap detector now.

freeman

I wanted to say that self-promotion is what it is. I shamelessly self-promote on my my blog because, well, I can and I should. It's a rare thing to be able to control one's own media message. I don't hide that, I embrace it.

I did try writing about the rehearsal process and did, at least, the best I could for When is a Clock. Suffice to say I'm not a journalist, so I can't be objective, I have limited energy, and posting was scarce. But more than that, the rehearsal process is an active, delicate thing and exposing actors and directors processes to the broad public during rehearsals can shape things negatively. It's a private space and a safe space. The internet is neither.

devilvet

My response to Mac would probably curround the following over at my diggs...which mac links to above...

"Fourth, whether or not you want to invite discussion on what you share is totally up to. This one is very important to people who are excited about sharing but worried about some kind of negative outsider presence spoiling the fun. Just because you are posting pictures or telling the world all about your process, if you don't want to worry about possible comments from the peanut gallery, then explicitly say so. Personally I would find negative comments from outsiders about my rehearsal process invasive, so I wouldn't do it to another. On the other hand, I have frequently put up notes and design concepts, etc. and asked for comments and ideas. I have never regretted it.

You can certainly use your blogger settings and your prerogative about not only what you share, but who you let respond. Tony Adams has very explicit rules about how and who he will let comment on his blog and who he wont. RVCbard has made some requests for the sort of discourse she wants on her blog and I think people will respect that if they know. So, please share...and please let the reader know the rules of the house.
"

However, if the above doesnt seem at all plausable or possible to you...the is no doubt in the heirarchy of priority a vaible rehearsal room is more important that a viable blog presence (barely though).

In a manner of speaking we are already starting to talk about the rehearsal process. Even if what we are talking about is how difficult it is to let people in.

If the ideas I propose feel like too much exposure then I'll suggest something else. Don't blog about the rehearsal, blog about those first five minutes before the rehearsal starts...you know when the actors are starting to arrive one by one...

Mac, you are right in that you can not control how others behave on the internet...but you can control how others behave at your blog. You can at blogger...I don't know typepad.

However, if you aren't willingly to share small peeks into the rehearsal process, then can we discuss what you are willing to share? There has to be something...more...

There has to ways to beef up our promotion so that it is exciting, viable, performative, attractive...

I want to be able to go to our various blogs and metaphorically get the "DVD extras" on the show...very different than merely get a digital postcard.

Or heck even if all you want to give me is the postcard than use the benefit of the internet to give me a couple dozen variants of it. Over at themammals.blogspot.com...We didn't do daily posts on the rehearsal process but I would photoshop rehearsal photos of the actors and post them...it was my first step, my dipping my toes into the pool so to speak of sharing more online.

So, back to questions since they are the best way to keep the conversation going...

I'm getting that some people are pensive about if/how much to share of the rehearsal room/process...

What that are you willing to share? Or...when are willing to share?

-dv

Mac

I won't be able to answer all the comments until tomorrow evening, but they're great and I will!

Tony

Something I've long wondered about the need for a safe-zone is whether that is really true? Or we just have become accustomed to it?

If you look at sports, the full coverage of teams say from pitchers and catchers reporting through the world series greatly helps fans (audiences) feel like they are a part of the team. And it gets people talking about more than just the box scores. There is more to be gained by opening it up than lost.

It would take some adjustment. But I think the rewards outweigh the inconvenience. Yeah, we'd need to figure out the rules of the road on what is okay, just as sports have rules on reporters in locker rooms. And like DV says some people, myself included, have comments policies (mine's basically don't leave douchy comments anonymously).

Now I just have to figure out how to fit seven more hours in the day to actually do that.

Scott Walters

Tony makes a really good point. Part of the problem theatre has is that it has become so private, so artist-focused, that it keeps everybody else out. The sports parallel is an interesting one. When a football team loses, they players get hammered by just about everybody. Writers opine, fans fill the sports sites with assessment, talk radio shows are devoted to sports opinions. Result? More attention for the sport. Now, how comfortable is that for the quarterback being hammered, the pitcher being sliced and diced? But they handle it. But artists? Man, we would shrivel up an DIE under that scrutiny. Or...maybe we wouldn't. But we sure act like we would. All that delicate rehearsal time, and if somebody posts negative comments about a show once it's open WEE-OOO, the yogurt hits the fan. Are we really, truly that delicate? I'm just askin'.

RebeccaZ

Coaches aren't always into laying down for their fans and those who want to criticize and not support the team...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=6Mfw_6onXMI

Go Cubbies. That's what I'm talkin' about ...

=)

RZ

devilvet

I've tried the Sports Analogies before with various folks in my day to day arts life... especially when they were concerned about bad press or bad reviews. I found that for those folks that we that concerned about it, that the analogy never translated.

(shrugging my shoulders)

However if we must then... what about batting practice...that is a possible metaphor. When do i get to see the actors swing for the fence without the stress of a 3-2 count? When do the pitchers toss a few back and forth and sign a couple of autographs before the game?

RebeccaZ

Well ... to play along with your new analogies, DV ... we don't see Lou writing about what goes down in his practices or the discussions they have in the locker room or the dugout.

I do think that if you could invite your audience/fans into the rehearsal, that could be fine ... and they could even write about it afterwards, because your artists would know that people are there observing and that they were responsible for what the people were walking away with, which would switch some of the behavior and allow them the chance to put their best feet forward...which can be a very good thing. The players on a sports team are always in "performance/readiness/best behavior" phase when they're meeting with their fans and the ballpark opens.

RZ

RebeccaZ

But ... on the other hand ... you probably won't be able to get down to the brass tacks/intimacy as well because you're being monitored by the peanut gallery and you have to put up a wall that private rehearsals/practices take down.

RZ

Mac

Tony and Scott, shouldn't your comparison be based more on the degree to which the media and public have access to the details of training and practice for sports teams, rather than the games themselves? The games, like the performances of plays, are fair game, it seems to me.

I'm genuinely ignorant on this front (I'm a sports illiterate). How much coverage is there of training and practice in the various mainstream sports? To what degree is it welcomed by the participants?

Tony

Mac, I think that's more to my point. Not only the games, but the pre-season training and practice are also covered and considered fair game. Fans can watch training camps.

Not every player likes it, but (most) are begrudgingly accepting of it. The Knicks had a very different stance for a while, but that stuck out as being the exception to the rule. But, the more that fans learn about the players and how they work/train, the more invested they are in them succeeding (or not.)

Not that it's always rosy . . .

DV-right now there is usually no time that someone outside of the production staff is allowed to see anything like BP. I don't know if it's chicken or egg, but often we often don't really ever do anything akin to it--many companies don't even do group warm-ups or the occasional speed through that would be akin. But for those who do the house is closed until they are over.

I was thinking about this the last speed through we did for Henry. Is there a way to let the public see how much fun they were having doing the theatrical equivalent of BP?

devilvet

RZ,

Am I missing your point or are you missing mine? First I acknowledge that for most the sports analogy doesn't work. Then I wonder out loud about a comparsion to batting practice which happens before every game and that anyone with a ticket can watch.

As this conversation progresses I am done trying to convince anyone who doesnt want more access to the rehearsal room to do so. However, I think there still have to ways to share what we do that exceed mere promotional materials. Or amplify it to such a degree that I achieve intimacy even if the artist doesnt reveal all their secrets to me.

Tony, the speed thru...maybe. The first read thru...maybe...a couple of minutes of joking around...why not...

You just had that birthday party with drinks and what not (I had a blast) during that party (apologies since I dont remember everyone's names) I had an interesting talk with your fight choreographer, with your lead about the show and positives about the cast and experience...all which could have provided excellent audio or video content for the halycon blog or your personal blog.

The opportunities, the content, it all around us if we look for them.

Tony

DV--I concur.

Abe Goldfarb

You know, even though some folks are thrilled about the idea of exploding theater's supposedly insular process, as an actor, I would be mortified to read rehearsal coverage online. I wouldn't feel nearly comfortable enough to make the choices and mistakes I need to make in rehearsal to give a finished product. I'm certainly not narcissistic enough to want to share MY process. If anything, in-depth blogging about rehearsals would make theater folk seem even more self-involved and wankery.

My two cents.

Joshua James

Whatever is forbidden, in whatever field of endevour, there's gonna be someone blogging about it eventually.

Same with documentaries, etc.

Me, I like rehearsals to be private because as Mac said, it's about the trust between the artists involved.

But if someone wants to write about their process, more power to them. If someone is willing to work with someone who is engaged in that type of exposure and it's cool for them, why not?

I've written about some theatre experiences in the past, but rarely name names . . . that's not to say I never will, just that I think doing that requires some consideration on my part.

And Mac, I'd like to note that I appreciate your presence on blogging front immensely, I find you to be thoughtful and reasonable and most of all, a good listener.

I think many of these squabbles that have bedeviled the theatre-sphere are not unlike the squabbles one finds in a theatre group - most of the time they are the result of petty disputes of ego.

Most of the time. Not all of the time, sometimes they are about fundamental ideas . . . but I think most of the time it's only about ego.

I keep a private journal, in addition to my blog, and I'd note someone about the many flame wars I've watched and, as well, participated in.

Oftentimes it starts thus.

Someone challenges someone else's idea and instead of listening, the challenged hurls a personal insult.

The insulted fires back, and we got a flame war.

Then the idea, if there was one, becomes besides the point.

Devolves from there.

Flaming can be fun, and I daresay that there are though who deserve being flamed (you bet, I'd say they exist) and I wouldn't even go so far as to say people shouldn't FLAME ON whenever they get the urge.

It's a free internet, do what makes you happy.

Me, I want to do less of that, which means there are certain discussions I stay away from because, to my eye, they appear to be only that.

I think sometimes that's what you mean when you mention tone. It's not really about tone or civility but INTENT.

Some folks really do intend to share and discuss ideas.

Some folks have other intentions, and exist only for the fire. And tone and civility usually go out the window first.

I think groups can have great, fantastic discussions about ideas and art and whatnot, and can do it without regard to tone or civility, can be as rude as they wanna be if their intent is really an exchange of ideas and information.

Others, I think, don't have that intent but rather live for the fire of their ego.

What was it Aaron Eckhart said in THANK YOU FOR SMOKING?

I remember now. "I don't have to prove that I'm right. I only have to prove that the other guy might be wrong, that's it."

That's my .02 cents, for what it's worth.

devilvet

The thing that is interesting about this, but ultimately I can feel already sapping my energy and enthusiam is how many folks leap from talking about our art to abusing the trust of actors and/or "self-involved wankery".

As if indepth artist coverage of your own work controlled by you has to either be some sort of preening of ones feathers, falsely profound navel gazing, or the equivelent of a internet bully stopping by to tell you 'you suck'...

I'm confused and frustrated. That sharing of process has to be born out of narcissism rather than reciprical curiosity and developmental inquiry...

It almost makes me wonder why even have a blog or it you dont have one why read them and/or post? How is sharing my process anymore narcisstic that photos of one's cat and/or posts about how one spent there weekend?

Am I the only one here narcissitic enough to say that POV saddens me?

-dv

devilvet

The thing that is interesting about this, but ultimately I can feel already sapping my energy and enthusiam is how many folks leap from talking about our art to abusing the trust of actors and/or "self-involved wankery".

As if indepth artist coverage of your own work controlled by you has to either be some sort of preening of ones feathers, falsely profound navel gazing, or the equivelent of a internet bully stopping by to tell you 'you suck'...

I'm confused and frustrated. That sharing of process has to be born out of narcissism rather than reciprical curiosity and developmental inquiry...

It almost makes me wonder why even have a blog or it you dont have one why read them and/or post? How is sharing my process anymore narcisstic that photos of one's cat and/or posts about how one spent there weekend?

Am I the only one here narcissitic enough to say that POV saddens me?

-dv

Mac

DV, I think you're getting unnecessarily upset. We're still just talking about it. We only started talking about this last week. There's a spectrum of opinions in this comments section. It's important to understand where the edges are so you can color in the middle.

Trust the idea and the conversation to build at its own pace over several posts on several blogs. I like that you're passionate about this stuff, but you might find it rewarding to be a bit patient and analytical as well.

Nick Keenan

I liked your analogy about DVD extras as opposed to DVD postcards here, dv. I guess the only thing I have to say is, don't blame the medium of blogging for mundane content. We've all seen DVD extras that are slopped together and embarrassing, and we've also seen DVD extras that are revealing, even revelatory, about the work itself. I love #2, I am also mortified by #1.

I guess what we're all calling for is better craftsmanship - onstage and online. I think new media offers us a possibility for a richer conversation with each other and our audience. Think of this - before I started talking about my own work online, I NEVER would have been aware of or made the effort to see Mac's work or Scott's work (Les Mis in prison? Shit yes!) or hell, even dv's work and he's in my city! But the blogging about the shows has convinced me... next time I'm in the neighborhood I'm going to seek it out, because I have a natural urge to compare the talk with the walk. That's a new potential audience, a deeper potential for conversation, and while it's fed by regionalism it's not limited to regionalism.

DVD extras also reveal more about the people involved in the production process, not just the people who get screen time. Telling their stories as well as the stories of the cast feeds a stronger production ensemble, and a community of theater goers who are aware that producing a play doesn't purely consist of memorizing lines and stepping onstage - it takes multiple levels of craftsmanship. Bad example: theaters are well served when the master carpenter can explain a rigging system to their audience, or how those bloody intestines could be pulled out from under a shirt. Eyes are opened wide at how magic is efficiently constructed.

So yes, it opens us up to potential navel gazing, but I think that's more a choice that individual theaters make when they choose the voice of their blog.

isaac

A couple of thoughts (to get impolite for a second):

First, blogs are run by individuals according to their taste. If you don't like what someone does on their blog, you could make a polite suggestion about something you'd like to see there or you could stop reading it. There's been a lot of carping over the years about what people "should write" on their blogs. I personally find it absurd. What the hell do we care what someone else writes on their blog? It's not a column at the Times, it's a frickin' web journal!

I think writing about what we *could write* on our blogs is a different story (and i believe that's what devilvet was doing, in case that was in doubt). So in the interest of that... Mac, I think you *could write* more entries, because every time you write something on your blog, it's awesome and I miss your reasonable and hilarious input day-to-day in the theatrosphere.

Anywhoo...

I gotta say, I agree completely agree with Abe (and not just because he has photos of me fucking a goat... oh shit...) and I think that, other then in a company-created-work scenario where everyone consents to being written about, doing in depth discussions about rehearsal during rehearsals are a mistake and a breach of trust. (I don't, btw, think it's a particularly narcissistic idea... i talk about my process and my thoughts about art on my blog all the time...). I mention company created work because I still think there's an uncomfortable power dynamic when a director or producer says "oh, and by the way I'm going to be writing about that... IS THAT OKAY WITH YOU?!"

The Atheist Viagra blog will be a research/commentary/theory blog on how Dan and I (and hopefully the designers) are approaching the play and its themes. When we get to rehearsal, I'll be discussing my own performance in rehearsal and maybe what it raises for me and MAYBE what I think I could do better, but only if i have everyone's consent to do so and could do it in a way that didn't insult anybody.

Theatre isn't sports. Sports involve physical exertion. Theatre involves making your soul vulnerable to people in a way that invites them in. Rehearsal is an extended process of getting an ensemble to make the private public. It's a tender thing. That's part of it's magic. Opening it up to the public should only be done when everyone agrees to it and when it won't be destructive to the process.

Also I just want to note that very few actors are taking part in this conversation and it is specifically their interests that we should be concerned with.

So yes... I'm precious. Less about my work and more about my collaborators.

devilvet

I'll admit I'm upset. But, that is not all I'm sharing.

I'll rephrase some questions though in hopes to evolve the talk...

a) How does self promotion evolve beyond narcissism?

b) Should Narcissism even be a concern? Theatre is after all truth twisted in with exhibitionism, so why concern oneself, especially while talking about their work or process on their own blog with the question am I being too narcisstic?

c) For those out there that are concerned with how the notion of a digital camera or mic at rehearsal or at the coffeehouse afterwards will limit their approach or jepordize their security...could you talk about some of those edges of acceptability to you? Is it completely hands off...or would stills/photos be acceptable without captions...or discussions of approach without naming actors, or maybe closer investigation but after the show closes?

Are there options, are there shades of grey?

-dv

devilvet

Issac,

Yes..yes..I'm not trying to be a little Hitler here (should versus could). But, I am trying to talk about the sort of theatrosphere I want to wake up to when I switch on the monitor.

-dv

devilvet

Questions - Whose permission does a director need to share ideas about the blocking of a intrique scene on stage?

Whose permission does the playwright need to talk about whether or not cuts are necessary after the first read thru of a first draft?

Whose permission does the audio designer need when he writes about how his new software made yesterday's tech phenominally smoother?

Maybe one of the reasons why this seems so impossible to alot of folks is becuase we are putting heavy focus on the actors process in the rehearsal room, and we are missing all the other potential avenues for sharing.

I mean of an actor doesn't want to part of a blog commentary (not a review by an outside 3rd party mind you) who involved in the midst of the creation would really betray that? And again I ask is taking pictures of actors during a run thru is that endangering? Or it is potential negative narratives that we are pensive about?

-dv

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