December 18, 2012
September 7, 2012
July 22, 2012
June 4, 2012
May 3, 2012
From Tony Graham
As artistic boundaries are breaking down, bigger questions of aesthetic knowledge arise. We also talked about the shackles imposed by the category of Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). It is low status, under-resourced, and can be beset by bad practice and a poor reputation. At the same time, it has gained in artistic credibility in the last period and has attracted interest because it raises such radical questions about the nature of theatre. Young audiences bring something else to the party. We agreed, I think, that TYA hangs on the issue of ‘a child’s perspective’ and that this therefore requires special attention and expertise in repertoire, method and sensibility. At the same time, it’s theatre. It’s like any other theatre experience except that our audiences are younger. It’s imperative therefore that we employ the best theatre artists.
How do adults and children differ as audience members? Do they come to the theatre with different expectations?
Adults choose to go the theatre. Children rarely do. Some are brought there by teachers or parents. This is where our problems often start. I wish that ALL children, as a right, could experience theatre a few times a year, along with live music, art, and dance. Children need opportunities to participate in and experience a high quality cultural life. The United Nations has a charter where it states that all children have a right to culture. Is to deprive children of cultural experience any worse than depriving them of air, food, shelter and security? Without play and aesthetics, children’s inner lives can shrivel up and die. But of course this is invisible, although the effect is often all too visible — lack of empathy, less able to express, watch and listen. Governments should be ashamed for not putting arts education at the top of their agenda. In all seriousness, what is more important to all our futures? But I’m off the question here. Children do bring something fresh to the theatre experience. But this demands a great deal from those who work in this field. If we are to make real, meaningful contact with young audiences we have to be honest - and this can prove to be challenging.
Children have a sixth sense when it comes to theatre. They know when you’re moralizing, when you’re trying to ‘teach’ them something, when you’re glossing over things. They recognize deception because this is all too often what they experience in life. On the other hand, offer children a truthful, complex, dark where it needs to be dark, reflection of life, and they will pay more attention than any adult audience I have ever observed. Anyone who thinks children are ‘innocent’ cannot have spent much time with children. Less experienced, certainly. But with a broad and growing emotional intelligence and perception from the moment they are born. Of course, it is important that we present them with hope. Children do not and cannot have the same experience as adults. They cannot distance themselves from the drama in the same way we do. We need to protect them into emotion not away from it.
One of the questions you’ll be discussing at the conference next week is how much theatre is driven by ‘ought’ and how much by ‘art.’ Are you on the ‘ought’ or the ‘art’ side?
Who would even own up to being on the ‘ought’ side? But think about it. Teachers and educational authorities will often decree what children should and shouldn’t learn and at what stage of their development. Parents will, understandably, want to protect their children and shield them. These are not problems for adult theatre makers. But anyone who makes theatre for children has to consider the boundaries of taste and the moral dimension. A great Swedish theatre maker, Suzanne Osten, argues that nothing we do on the stage can ever be as hard, complicated, oppressive and challenging as life itself. And our children can experience shocking things: war, civil war, natural disaster and so on. Even or maybe especially in so-called ‘civilized’ societies, millions of our children have to protect themselves from warring and hopeless parenting, poverty, bullying, racial and sexual abuse and discrimination. What right have we to pretend that life is all sunshine and light? Artists have a responsibility to tell it like it is, albeit through metaphor. The key thing is that we consider the child’s perspective, to offer them a way in, to create a safe haven in order to explore the danger and daftness. To try to find a way to be truthful AND hopeful.
Children love it when we take them seriously. They often won’t forgive us if we don’t. Sometimes, when we get it right, theatre is the only place where children can see that they are not alone. Not because of some moralizing drivel but because what we portray is what life feels like to them in all its beautiful, complicated, messy, vulnerable, hysterically absurd and funny imperfection. To translate this into a joyous, rich experience for our young audiences requires not moralizers but artists.
April 21, 2012
> Oddly enough, from way "up north", The New York Times reviewed the show Jake is performing in this month here in Washington, D.C., joining the bandwagon of very favorable write ups given locally for Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude" at the Shakespeare Theatre. FYI, Rob
> April 20, 2012
> Theater Review
> The Laughs Evoked by Anguished Souls
> By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
> WASHINGTON - Great gusts of laughter are rippling through the Shakespeare Theater Company's<http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/> capacious Sidney Harman Hall here. If you stood outside the auditorium's doors, listening to the happy tumult inside, you might assume that one of Shakespeare's comedies was being performed, or that some of Noël Coward's bright young things were deploying their barbed wits in plush drawing rooms.
> Not exactly. The characters causing such continual merriment are actually the tortured souls of Eugene O'Neill<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/o/eugene_oneill/index.html?inline=nyt-per>'s epic drama "Strange Interlude," circling one another through the years, scratching at their heart sores as they grapple with the demons of hopeless love, unquenchable guilt and the mystery of God's indifference to man's search for happiness.
> Time can play strange tricks on art, or rather on perceptions of it. When "Strange Interlude" first opened on Broadway, in 1928, it was greeted as a monumental attempt by America's greatest playwright to push the boundaries of theater beyond the straitening conventions of the time. Its subject matter, daring then, includes frank discussions of abortion and adultery. Experimenting with form O'Neill exposed the workings of his characters' psyches by having them speak their thoughts aloud, so that dialogue and interior monologue play in counterpoint, revealing the distance between men and women's words and actions and their darker impulses.
> Even the play's extensive running time betokened its importance. Staged in two parts with a dinner break in between, it ran about five hours. Although not all the critics<http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=FA0A11FE3858167A93C7A91789D85F4C8285F9> heaped praise (Alexander Woollcott called it "the 'Abie's Irish Rose' of the pseudo-intelligentsia"), the play became a big hit and won O'Neill his third Pulitzer Prize in less than 10 years.
> It was not, I should make clear, considered a laugh riot at the time. And yet the director Michael Kahn's stylish, oddly fascinating new production of "Strange Interlude" makes a convincing argument - unintentionally, I suppose - that while O'Neill's expansive drama may no longer be wholly persuasive as a probing philosophical exploration of the human condition, it remains surprisingly engaging entertainment. It is a rollicking mixture of ripe melodrama and acerbic comedy, the humor deriving from the almost farcical manner in which the lives of its characters keep tangling themselves together in fraught, borderline absurd ways.
> One of the biggest laughs of the evening, for example, arrives when Charles Marsden (an amusingly priggish Robert Stanton), the effete novelist who nurtures a chaste, lifelong love for the ravishing and neurotic Nina Leeds (Francesca Faridany), turns up in her brooding presence for the umpteenth time, surrounded by the usual suspects: her unloved husband, Sam Evans (Ted Koch), and her lover, Ned Darrell (Baylen Thomas).
> Marsden has been tortured by Nina's sisterly affection for a couple of decades by now, and still he comes back for more. Looking on quietly as the other characters circle one another warily, Marsden finally breaks his own silence with an inner wail, "What am I doing here?"
> The audience guffaws, its collective interior monologue surely chiming in unison, "What indeed, Charlie?"
> Credible emotional logic and subtle psychology do not figure prominently in "Strange Interlude," which accounts for a fair portion of the humor that Shakespeare Theater audiences discover in it today. It is not easy to enter into the spirit with which the angst-riddled Nina conducts her affairs.
> Grieving for Gordon Shaw, the glamorous fiancé she lost in World War I, Nina is tortured by guilt because they failed to consummate their love on the eve of his departure. She blames her father (the excellent Ted van Griethuysen) for depriving her of this pleasure and possibly the child that might have come of it.
> And so Nina embarks on an odyssey of self-sacrifice that involves nursing wounded soldiers back to health; her ministrations include jumping into bed with them, to the shock and consternation of both Charlie and the doctor running the clinic, Ned. He urges Charlie, for whom Nina promptly develops a father fixation soon after her actual father dies, to help Nina find some stability by marrying the good-natured if witless Sam.
> Indifferent to her own happiness and still expiating her guilt over her lost love, Nina agrees, only to discover - egad, no! - that madness runs in Sam's family. His mother (Tana Hicken, making a fairly ludicrous part entirely credible) divulges this news to the secretly pregnant Nina, and urges her to get rid of the baby lest the curse continue. She gently hints that Nina find "a healthy man" to father another child. She would have done so herself, she recalls, but "I was too afraid of God then to have ever done it!"
> Nina's relationship with God is less traditional, and soon she has trained her appraising glance on Ned. Suddenly they are casting themselves as selfless participants in a plan that will bring about the most happiness for all. "In the interest of science I can be for the purpose of this experiment a healthy guinea pig myself and still remain an observer," Ned muses to himself. "I observe my pulse is high, for example, and that's obviously because I am stricken with a recurrence of an old desire."
> Ned's racing pulse, and Nina's responding lust, rather complicates their neat arrangement. As the years pass, Sam prospers, transformed from a self-lacerating failure into a business magnate by fatherhood. The fates are less kind to Nina, who realizes too late that sacrifice isn't as much fun as she'd hoped, and to the love-struck Ned and the ever-neglected Charlie.
> Mr. Kahn has trimmed O'Neill's text with a skilled hand, reducing the play's running time by perhaps as much as an hour. Still, the play remains liberally endowed with long bouts of expository dialogue or heated, passionate exchanges dappled with exclamation points.
> Nina: "No, don't go away, Ned - ever again. I don't love Sam! I love you!"
> Ned: "But I don't understand! Sam gets everything - and I have nothing!"
> Nina: "You have my love, my lover! Isn't that the nearest we can come to making everyone happy?"
> Despite the actors' fine work, these exchanges pulsate with pulpy excess. Ms. Faridany makes Nina's evolving obsessions, from the dead Gordon to the son named after him, about as emotionally convincing as they can be, employing a mid-Atlantic accent that strongly recalls Katharine Hepburn. She also looks sensational in Jane Greenwood's gorgeous period costumes. (The slinky red number that she slips into when Ned returns to her orbit, after trying to escape her clutches, earns its own laugh.)
> Mr. Koch similarly gives a persuasive rendering of Sam's abrupt transition from abject failure, convinced of his wife's indifference, to proud father and preening businessman. Mr. Thomas brings a brooding, understated sexual allure to his role as the scientist undone by his own experiment in manipulating human lives.
> But it is Mr. Stanton, who might as well be walking around under a neon sign reading, "Mother Fixated," who keeps the audience in stitches most frequently. At this point in his career O'Neill was not the most subtle interpreter of Freud. (He often denied any influence whatsoever, not always credibly.) Charlie has an apron-string problem so pronounced that you half expect to see the actual strings trailing behind him.
> In 1985 a Broadway revival starring a bewitching Glenda Jackson mostly attempted to meet O'Neill on his own, deeply sincere terms. Still, both Frank Rich<http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/22/arts/theater-a-fresh-look-for-o-neill-s-interlude.html?scp=3&sq=Strange%20Interlude%20Glenda%20Jackson&st=cse> and Walter Kerr<http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?_r=1&res=9F0CE5DB1339F930A35750C0A963948260&scp=2&sq=Strange%20Interlude%20Glenda%20Jackson&st=cse> noted in The New York Times that "Strange Interlude" inspired bouts of laughter. Mr. Kahn's production, without explicitly sending up the play, nevertheless comes close to turning it into a higher-brow "Design for Living," threaded with musings on metaphysics. Time will tell if this unlikely transformation turns out to be just a strange interlude itself in the history of O'Neill's big, flawed, fascinating work.
> Strange Interlude
> By Eugene O'Neill; directed by Michael Kahn; sets by Walt Spangler; costumes by Jane Greenwood; lighting by Stephen Strawbridge; music and sound by Fitz Patton; projections by Aaron Rhyne; hair and wig design by Tom Watson; assistant director, Jenny Lord; production stage manager, Joseph Smelser. Presented by the Shakespeare Theater Company, Mr. Kahn, artistic director; Chris Jennings, managing director. At the Shakespeare Theater Company's Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington; (202) 547-1122; shakespearetheatre.org. Through April 29. Running time: 3 hours 45 minutes.
> WITH: Robert Stanton (Charles Marsden), Ted van Griethuysen (Prof. Henry Leeds), Francesca Faridany (Nina Leeds), Ted Koch (Sam Evans), Baylen Thomas (Ned Darrell), Tana Hicken (Mrs. Amos Evans), Jake Land (Gordon Evans as a boy), Rachel Spencer Hewitt (Madeline Arnold) and Joe Short (Gordon Evans as a young man).
April 20, 2012
I would like to share with you an experience I had today with my 2 year old son. We attended with my 9 month old a performance entitled, "Just A Dream: The Green Play". An original play by Adventure Theatre and based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. This play is intending for an audience much older than my barely verbal 2 year old. But, I like to expose him to different experiences and artistic mediums. And, it is a lot better than television:)!
Well, we made it through the performance without the boys acting out. Which, this alone made it a successful outing! And, Jan Braxton (the 2 year old) seemed to enjoy the production. It held his attention.
What I wanted to share with you and the reason for my correspondence is what happened today at our local playground. Jan Braxton discovered an empty chip bag on the ground. My husband and I were both a good distance away from him and told him "No. That is trash!" Thinking that in our germ filled world, he should touch trash! Well, our little guy dropped it at first. Then, immediately picked it back up and started running to the trash can that was about 30 yards away. He threw the bag in the can. So, there you have it. Unfortunately, but honestly I have to admit that our family isn't great about recycling (or reusing and reducing for that matter). And, we did not teach him this behavior. Then, it occurred to me; wasn't that the whole point of the play we saw today?! So, you taught my little guy and he taught us this evening. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to your craft. You obviously did a great job and made a different in this families life (and the world, right?!). I promise to follow JB's lead and do better in the future to care for our planet (and follow the 3R's).
I hope this note finds you all well! Thank you, again!
Sincerely, Joy Garren