The Devilvet puts forward a proposal: enhanced self-promotion. Rather than have bloggers stop promoting their shows on their blogs (which won't happen and shouldn't happen), make the promotion interesting. Talk about how you created your show and what it might have to offer.
DV suggests, and Scott Walters cautiously seconds, the idea that bloggers begin writing about their rehearsal processes as a means of sharing with others outside the production what we're making and how we're making it. I noted my concern, specifically that I felt the rehearsal environment is delicate. DV responded:
Mac, please endulge me...elaborate about the delicacies of the environment. Lets try to map the obstacles...then we can strategize possible tactics.
I'll explain why, but let me say one thing first: I am in no way attempting to preemptively shoot down DV's idea by pointing out a problem with it. I'm pointing out a problem in the hopes that it will modify or clarify DV's initiative. I want it to work out.
I've been in theatrical rehearsals as a playwright, a director, and an actor, and sometimes two of the three, so I've experienced rehearsals from several angles. In general, as a performer, I'm a low maintenance guy. I'm a believer in re-running moments rather than talking about them too much. I prefer my directions to come in the form of: "Stand over there." "Don't get angry so fast." "Give her a little look to show that you're sorry, then exit." But if I'm in a scene with an actor who needs a lot of discussion or even special exercises to find a moment, I feel it's incumbent upon me to be patient and cooperate. It might be me some day who needs the extra help.
But whatever the method being practiced by the artists involved, it's a pretty across-the-board truth that everyone in a rehearsal room needs to feel that they can trust everyone around them. There's a kind of intimacy there. You want to find ways of expressing moments in the play unexpectedly, strikingly. You want to reach a little deeper both in yourself and in your relationships with the other actors so you can give the audience interactions and beats that are initially startling, and then profoundly recognizable.
And how do you do that?
Well, you have to get silly. You have to go too far. You have to try some wrong choices. You have to be vulnerable and ridiculous. You have to do that first, and then you refine.
Which means that you need to believe that you're in the room with people you can trust. People that won't laugh at you or shit-talk you or undermine you. If there's even one person in that room who gives you that feeling, you're gonna shut down and make safe playing (or directing) choices in order to protect yourself, and your play will be that much duller as a result.
So, the rehearsal room needs to feel like a safe place.
(An interesting side note: one thing that originally drew me to theater was that I was a weird kid who didn't fit in and got laughed at and mocked a lot, and then I discovered this place where people weren't allowed to laugh at you. That's no longer the chief attraction, and I've discovered since that the theatrical world harbors its fair share of bullies, but it's nice that there's at least an over-arching ethic that sneers and abuse are unwelcome in rehearsal rooms.)
Along similar lines, Scott Walters wrote this on his (currently suspended) Theatre Ideas blog last June:
I will continue to write this blog, and I hope that readers who are interested in new models of how theatre might be done in the communities outside of NYC will continue to read. But I will no longer be addressing the NYC theatre scene, nor will I be responding to defenses of the NYC scene, nor attacks emanating from the NYC scene. If such posts appear in my comments box, I will ignore them or delete them. I will no longer define my ideas in terms of the dominant mode of production. I plan to be more utopian.
If there are "warm, supportive" people who have been reading, but who have been reluctant to comment for fear of abuse -- this blog is now a safe zone. So I hope you will let your voice be heard.
I don't quote this to reopen old wounds, but to draw attention to Scott's use of the term "safe zone" and to draw an equivalence between an online safe zone and a rehearsal room safe zone. In the rehearsal room, directors are often trying to gently help actors through difficult transitions or to make specific calibrations in their work. Often both parties feel weird and exposed during this process. They have to trust each other. Opening this artistic, professional, and personal transaction to the internet means bringing in a whole bunch of new people to this delicate process, people you're not sure if you can trust. People with a history that's not entirely bereft of instances of abuse and ridicule. I can't help but wonder: if I open my rehearsal process up to those people, what are they going to say? And will their online voices be ringing in my ears and the ears of my colleagues each time we meet again to work?
In short, it is my belief that a rehearsal process requires an environment that is quite unlike the one that predominates in the theatrosphere on a periodic basis. I would very much like, like DV, a more substantive discussion of our artistic approaches and struggles online, particularly between those of us who live too far apart to be likely to experience one another's techniques and approaches firsthand, in collaboration. But if I had to choose between keeping my rehearsals safe and risking that safety for the sake of promoting that discussion, I'll choose the former in one-fourth of a heartbeat. The trick, I think, is going to be in making that choice unnecessary.
Let me say a little bit more on "tone." I know perfectly well that every time I bring it up, some folks are going to react as if I'm trying to control their speech, or that I want to squelch truth-telling in the name of empty politeness. I simply don't agree that there's a stark choice between an honest-and-abusive conversation and a civil-and-dishonest conversation. I wish people wouldn't frame the debate in those terms.
But look, whenever I bring this up, I already know something before I do so: I've lost. It won't happen. I get it. The people who want to write in a certain way will keep writing that way. What can I do about it? I can't control anybody else's behavior. But I return again to Scott's "safe zone" idea. Some people, myself included, will shy away if the order of the day is intense, aggressive discussion. They will go looking for a place where they can speak without fear of that sort of thing. The temptation will always exist to call people like me "thin-skinned."
But let me submit something for general consideration: it's not all bad to be thin-skinned. It's not much good in a comment-thread flame-war, but maybe it helps a bit in other ways. Thin-skinned people have to learn a delicate, careful approach to life that can bring out the best in certain other people. They have quicker access to certain vulnerabilities that can be valuable in an artistic or rehearsal process. They can notice small but important thing about other people that the thicker-skinned people miss. I would suggest that the thicker-skinned people might conclude, if they were to study us thin-skinned folks more carefully, that we have a place in this arena and this conversation, and that they might be losing something by chasing us away.
Or maybe not. Each person can decide for themselves.
Anyway. Back to you, DV.