Theatre? What's that?

Have you artists seen this article?

Monday, June 18, 2007 (SF Chronicle)STANFORD/NEA chairman blasts American culture in commencement talk/Speaker tellsgrads to reject passive consumerismJulian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer The leader of the National Endowment for the Arts decried culture asbankrupt and called for the elevation of artists and intellectuals insociety at Stanford University's commencement address on Sunday. Dana Gioia, a businessman-turned-accomplished poet who now heads the NEA,acknowledged that he was a controversial choice as speaker. "A few students were especially concerned that I lacked celebrity," hesaid from the field of Stanford Stadium, where an estimated 25,000graduating students, faculty members and family members had gathered forthe university's 116th commencement ceremony. "It seemed I wasn't famous enough," added Gioia, the first poet and thefirst Californian selected to head the federal arts agency. "And that isthe subject I want to address, the fact that we live in a culture thatbarely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts and artists." On the field, students dressed in caps and gowns -- accessorized witheverything from animal masks and wigs to blow-up dolls and bumblebee wings-- fanned themselves against the heat and waved "Thanks Mom and Dad"signs. Many talked on cell phones to family members in the stands, tookphotos of one another on camera phones, or sent text messages. "Everything now is entertainment," said Gioia (pronounced Joy-a), who isin his second term as head of the $133 million federal endowment, whichfunds art institutions across the country. "American culture has mostlybecome one vast infomercial." Gioia, the first in his family to attend college, earned a bachelor'sdegree and an MBA from Stanford and a master's from Harvard. He worked for15 years at General Foods before dropping out of corporate life to write. He said his exposure to artists, musicians and writers began early --through radio and television. He listened to classical musicians likeJascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, and jazz greats Duke Ellington andLouis Armstrong. "All of these people were famous to the average American -- because theculture considered them important." Today, he said, culture is about NBA players and "American Idol"finalists. "When virtually all of culture's celebrated figures are in sports orentertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young," Gioiasaid. "Why do these issues matter to you? This is the culture you are about toenter. You now face the choice of whether you want to be a passiveconsumer or an active citizen. Do you want to watch the world on a screenor live in it so meaningfully that you change it?" For members of the graduating class, Gioia's speech was valid -- to anextent. Many students talked of a different type of creativity atStanford, a campus that has long been a breeding ground for research andstartups such as Yahoo. Katherine Brainard will work as a software engineer and intern atMicrosoft this summer. "I think there are much bigger problems in education than a lack of thearts," she said. "I don't think that broader culture has ever been 'highculture' anyway. But if you can't read at a second-grade level and you'regraduating from high school, that is the problem." David Ollison, graduating with a degree in economics, plans to go on tolaw school. He said he is decidedly a "left-brain guy." While trying tokeep a female blow-up doll named Francesca perched on his shoulders, hesaid that his primary interest is making money. Besides, he laughed, "I'm a pop-culture whore." A group of guys dressed in various animal outfits debated the issue ofwhether culture is bankrupt. "You choose your own path in life," mused Zach Henick. "If you want to gointo arts, go into arts. I'm pursuing economics." His friend Jay Rubenstein, wearing camel ears, paused to proclaim,"Society sleeps in a bed of pigs." He added that the quote is his own. "I think culture has to be what you make of it," he said. "For me, myculture is sports." He plans to work in energy trading and has a job linedup at Morgan Stanley. Staci King, who wants to become a doctor, said she always had arts classesin her public schools in Chicago. She plays the jazz guitar and listens togospel and R&B. She said she had dreamed of attending Stanford since shewas in kindergarten. "I still play and will always play the guitar as a pastime," she said,smiling. "But I didn't want to be a starving artist."Online resources www.nea.gov E-mail Julian Guthrie at jguthrie@sfchronicle.com.----------------------------------------------------------------------Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle


Coming soon to a theater near you...

When Cassie and I took on Crowded Fire we began an overhaul of the website. In conjunction with our terrific Managing Director, Erin Gilley, and our Board Member Extraordinaire, Julie Baum (who also serves as graphic designer), we set about changing a great deal of what we had up there. One of the key components of our new approach was video. We wanted to be able to advertise our shows in a way that we thought would be appealing. A way in which we are used to responding to advertising. Little commercials, if you will.

Well... it seems we're not alone. Not that we thought we would be. Here's a link which describe's The National Theater's (London) new Youtube page... which can be found here.

Now all of this is a terrific idea... except Crowded Fire isn't technically allowed to show video with actors from actor's equity in them. We managed to get around this for our current show , but if things don't change for us, we won't be able to use clips from our shows to help our shows. On other equity contracts, theaters are allowed... either that, or they are simply doing it anyway. But because we are on a waiver, they are loathe to make an exception for us.

That's actually the part that bothers me. We are expected to grow into an equity contract without the benefit of an accesible and (relatively) cheap marketing tool. Other, larger, wealthier, companies have access to this same tool... and the money to access other forms of advertisement, but we are hamstrung. Which, of course, makes it harder for us to grow. Catch 22.

Hopefully we can get this resolved. If for no other reason than we would also like to do some multi-media work. I'd hate to have to shut equity actors out of a production in which we use video as an integral part of the plot.

But mostly, I want to be able to share our work with as many potential ticket buyers as possible. And to sell as many tickets as possible. So we can pay as much as possible. To everyone.


We can't leave our chairs, but the little guy can

And the Chronicle speaks.

"American trailer-park gothic meets classic horror story gothic and “Call of the Wild” elements in Lisa D’Amour’s electrifyingly musical, invigoratingly literary, smartly comic and unexpectedly deeply moving mother-daughter coming-of-age story about a 10-year-old and the golem she creates from mud in a derelict trailer park. Expertly staged by Rebecca Novick and performed with mesmerizing skill, the 90-minute Crowded Fire West Coast premiere is a stunning act of theatrical alchemy."--R. Hurwitt


Tongue Waggin'

Here's what audience member Elizabeth Benedict wrote to us after seeing the Anna Bella Eema preview.

"Thanks to all at Crowded Fire for a really wonderful night in the theatre.We talked about it all the way home. It is the kind of evening only the theatre can give you. I give it a definite thumbs up. It certainly is not your same old -same old. A very fresh voice and three really strong performances-- what more do you want from a Friday night in June?"

Thanks to all who made it out for our opening weekend! We run until July 1st at TJT and (drum roll) we just EXTENDED! We will have a 2 week run at Berkeley's Ashby Stage, July 5-15th.



A sound is worth a thousand words

It is terrifying. You'll understand when you see the play. The line load is insane. I talk for 16 pages straight, right at the top of the piece. Then Danielle takes over for an equally long stretch. It's quite a responsibility starting an epic journey. We previewed last night and open tonight. Each time it gets smoother and easier. But the weight of such a hefty piece of text can mess with your mind.

I'm comforted though. Here's why:

The thing I've noticed about acting in this piece, is the listening. Everybody always says listening is the key to great acting. However, the 3 actors literally have to just listen to one another, because we are in our set chairs the whole time and unable to see each other. We have no visual cues. We can only listen and respond. The entire play really is like a piece of music. Even in the performance of it.

I always love the end, when I get to lay my eyes on Danielle and Julie backstage. They have become my supportive cast mates that I only hear for the 100 minutes we're together on stage. We have only our voices and our prop sounds to support one another. It's the only way we can communicate our presence and our love for each other. It is the only way to say, "I'm here for you. I've got you. It's all of us in this together!"

Who knew a sound is worth a thousand words?