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Telling the Stories of Others

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Have you ever come up with an idea for a project and immediately wondered “Who are you to tell this story?”

I do. Often.

Ironically, the more life experience I gain, the greater the inability to have a definitive opinion about anything. Think that there is a situation in which I could never ever sympathize with, BAM, life circumstance that totally proves me wrong. Assume I hate something with a passion, BOOM, someone finds a way to make it interesting.  Believe I’ll always want this particular thing, POW, it twists in a way and suddenly is no longer desirable.

Additionally, I’ve made it something of a project as a director to work hard at empathizing. It sounds silly saying it that way, but it’s true. I have made an effort in my rehearsal spaces to listen in as deep a way as I can. And increasingly, in my life I’ve found it an interesting challenge to try and imagine the perspective I am instinctively least inclined to side with. Human emotions naturally being a somewhat foreign substance to me, I have compensated by creating this project of trying to imagine how a person could hold an opinion that seems thoroughly odious. And more and more it seems to me that no one intends to be evil, even when they seem that way to me, but that cruelty is a function of laziness and acclimation to circumstance. If you change your focus on the overall picture, it’s easy to change the interpretation.

Right about now you’re probably saying “Duh.”

It shouldn’t be so surprising that it’s possible. It’s what I ask of my actors all the time. And every time I try to really play the devil’s advocate on an issue, I can’t help but feel a little piece of that reasoning stick. Enough that any time I hear myself make a blanket statement, I find a little piece of my brain wondering if there’s a way to argue the opposite.

One consequence of this tendency is a constantly shrinking number of things that I feel like I can claim expertise on. I am ever made aware of the number of things that any number of people will know more about than I do.  It doesn’t really upset me. The truth is, I am fine with the conscious simultaneity of an increase in knowledge resulting in a realization of how little I know. On a Zen level (a concept I know nothing about) this makes a kind of intuitive sense. Or perhaps its more a consequence of a world full of data: the more you consume, the more you realize is out there for consumption.

But it has made for some trouble in my generative work. It’s made me wonder what kind of stories I can claim enough ownership of to really tell. In truth, there’s not a huge variety of experience in my life. The number of places I have lived, ones in which I feel like I have any authority to speak about, is incredibly small. I am struck often that even here in Philadelphia, the place I have spent my adult life, there are large portions of this city that I can safely say I know next to nothing about. I have grown up middle class with an emphasis on education. I went to a nice college and therefore, even if my earnings are low, I enjoy a kind of liberal cocoon that doesn’t force me to interact with harsher realities of life too terribly often.

I am not a person of color. I am not a person who has experienced disability. I have not known the stresses of fame. I am a female, but one who for the most part has had an incredible wealth of opportunity to feel empowered regardless of my gender. I’m not terribly poor or terribly wealthy and as such have not traveled to distant lands or seen the worst that my city has to offer me. I do not know a person in the military. I don’t have undue amounts of power over any group of people. I have had the luxury of experiencing relatively little violence and, up to this point, have been blessedly untouched by deep tragedy. In short, there are not many extreme circumstances that I have had to confront.

This list of attributes is not the sum of potential experience, of course. I have felt extreme joy and passion in a variety of outlets vastly different from each other. I have had close experience with addiction, mental health issues, and dysfunction in my circles of family and friends. I do not mean to denigrate the life I live. I enjoy it and seek out ways to expand the world through knowledge and experience wherever possible. But mine is a life of certain kinds of privilege and many kinds of shelter.

And increasingly often when I sit down to imagine a piece, like I have been recently for my upcoming work THE BALLAD OF JOE HILL, I think, “Who are you to tell this story?”

It’s hard to compare the struggles I’ve had – asshole bosses at coffee shops, long hours for little pay, menial tasks that could bore one out their skull – with those that I see on the page. On a pretty fundamental level, it’s a life I’ve chosen. I could leave the arts and could likely get a much better paying job. I could apply to graduate school in Chemistry. I could parlay a college education into a much better job. So when I put up with crap, it’s because there’s enough about my life that HAS felt worth it to keep going.

What would the feeling of truly being trapped feel like? Of having no family, no support network, no back-up plan to turn to? What if I was confronted with a cause I might have to give up my life to support? What if I was faced with death? What if I truly did have to live life in the way that these laborers I read about did? I don’t know.

When I first made the piece, I didn’t know enough to realize how little of this worldview I might have no ability to conceive. And ironically, I now know just enough more to know how much I didn’t then. I want to be a responsible author and creator. I don’t want to lay claim to experiences that are not my own.

But the truth is that I’m more and more interested in stories unlike my own. I think the theater I see today is one filled with people that are mostly like me. There are so many plays of people and their relationships and college educated debates and beige couches. I am tired of watching it. I want to examine the very ecstatic and debased world of which I know much less. Because if I wanted beige couches I’ll go home and sit on mine (though, full disclosure it’s a darker, chocolate, brown).

So the best I can do is try and imagine myself in those other circumstances and hope that all that listening will help me imagine a reality I cannot personally know. And hopefully the projection of myself into that other life is based on enough experience to be meaningful. And if it isn’t…

If it isn’t… I’m not sure. I guess I just keep listening. Try harder. Invite people who do know enough to help me tell it.

What else is there to do?

– A

Talking out loud

Hey all,

Here’s a little something for a Sunday. It’s an interview I did a few weeks ago with Seth Reichgott for a Brandywine Radio. If you feel like hearing me blathering for a bit, jump about halfway through. Karen DiLossi gives a nice little overview of what’s she’s up to with Partners for Sacred Places if you feel like listening from the beginning.

http://www.brandywineradio.com/audio/backstage/BSOS-12-21-2012-DiLossi-Mackey.mp3

A

An Open Letter

In response to a comment from yesterday’s post:

Murph,

A lesson from a teacher who has already taught me a lot: Good intentions don’t matter much if they aren’t borne out in action.

First off, I owe you a public apology. You’re absolutely right. It’s inexcusable that I have checks that have been sitting on my desk since October. We delayed handing them off and  I let it slip under the radar once we got out of show mode. I take full responsibility for that and I have no excuse. It’s behavior that is unprofessional and just plain rude. Despite the impossibility of conveying real emotion online, I want to say to you that I’m really, genuinely, sorry. And I’m doing it in a public place because too often, people do crappy things and no one but the person who the crappy thing was done to ever hears about it.

So I agree that you have every right and reason to doubt the seriousness of my word. I can’t take back that neglect (much as I wish I could). The only thing I can do is say that I feel real remorse at having disrespected someone that has always treated me with care and kindness. I’m clearly still learning how to stay on top of business practices in a responsible way. I should know better and will make sure to DO better in the future.

A second lesson from a teacher who has already taught me a lot: When you mess up, the least you can do is admit what you did wrong, do the best you can to fix it and write down your mistake and display it somewhere prominent so that you damn well remember next time not do the same thing again.

A newly hung sign in my work space, tapped to the wall directly in front of my desk:

Photo on 2013-01-19 at 14.52

Suffice to say, you’ll be getting some mail from Swim Pony this week.

And just to quickly touch on the other point you made: I also agree that $1,500 is not a living wage for designers, even if it’s the standard. Designers are, in my experience, some of the most overworked people in the industry (second maybe to production managers). In the interest of disclosure, I will say $1,500 was the level I started out at for the designers on my last show. I picked that number for all the usual reasons (it’s a small operation, don’t have access to a lot of foundation funds without non-profit status, it’s the standard of companies with a lot more capital, etc, etc) but when a designer came to me, I took an honest look at the workload and agreed that we could to do better. We pulled another $1,000 from other places in the budget and the show didn’t suffer a bit.

Of course, $2,500 also isn’t enough to live on either, but it’s a step in the right direction. And more importantly, I hope it shows that when I’m the running an operation, people can tell me when they think something isn’t fair or right. That I’ll try and support them the best I can. That I will apologize, do what I can to make amends, and work to change when I don’t. That I want to know when I’ve hurt someone’s feelings or done something wrong as much as that’s hard to hear. That I’ll make it a core principle of my company to give people what they deserve as much as is possible.

I suppose my hope is that if I keep taking steps in that direction, and encourage those around me to do the same, in 3 or 5 or 10 years I will be offering something that is liveable for myself and the people I work with. But, as is clear today, I’ll have to prove that with actions or my words by themselves won’t mean all that much.  It’s a lesson I’m going to work hard at following in the future.

A

Put the money where the people are

I was working this morning on some research and prep for Swim Pony’s upcoming re-working/re-mount of The Ballad of Joe Hill for the Live Arts this fall and I started thinking a bit about the stage hand strike (IATSE Local 8) that’s currently in progress at Philadelphia Theater Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

strike

I have read the small bits of info that are out there for the public:

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/homepage-feature/item/49737-stage-strike?Itemid=1&linktype=hp_impact

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2013/01/16/stagehands-strike-philadelphia-theatre-company-suzanne-roberts/

but beyond this surface level of information, I can’t say I know a lot personally about this particular situation. I don’t really know the ins and outs of this company (lord knows they are not in any rush to hire directors creating out of the box devised ensemble work) so I don’t really want to speak to the conditions at the place.

I have worked on both sides of the producer/gun-for-hire dividing line. I know the intense weight and pressure that a producer has in keeping the boat afloat. I know the resentment of feeling unfairly compensated for your work. I think both of these emotions are understandable. I also think both sides ought to experience the others’ shoes for a few miles. I bet it would go a long way towards decreasing anger and frustration on both ends.

Unions are imperfect animals. I certainly have steered clear of AEA on many occasions because I find that they often make it impossible for me to create in any way outside of the traditional system. Artists create works in many kinds of ways, but there is incredibly restrictive limits on the kinds of contracts I can engage an actor in. In a devised process the difference between training, research, writing and rehearsing is super muddy. That’s what’s wonderful about it, that the work is so unique to the participants, but it can be near impossible to work that out with a union rep. It’s often exhausting and not possible to create in the standard 40 hour week. 8 hours of generating isn’t doable. It just isn’t. But for AEA, a week is a week. I could cite any number of other irritations and frustrations (don’t get me started on site specific work and the equity cot) but the point is this – in theory a union should allow the workers to lobby for rights that serve them better in the professional world. That world of theater is changing rapidly and the union in some cases can actually hold an out of the box thinker back. This is one example of one union. I’m sure you could cite a multitude of others in the arts with just as anger inducing rules.

That said, in a system in which the employee has little agency – a situation which the traditional regional theater model can often engender – I totally understand the feeling of being an expendable cog in a massive system. The truth of the arts is that the supply versus demand equation is often skewed – there are too few employers and far too many people looking to be employed. Add to that a labor force that generally isn’t in it for the money. It makes sense that as foundation endowments disappear and budgets shrink that a producer might feel that ANY job is a good one when there are scant alternatives. It’s hard to bargain when you have little leverage. A union is a way to gain that amass that leverage.

Everyone knows there’s no money in the arts, right?

Well…

Here’s the thing. I don’t disagree that it’s reasonable not to expect to be making Wall Street money any time soon. But in the past few years I’ve sat on a few grant panels, and I’ve taken up the habit of really digging into the financial records of the companies I’m asked to evaluate. There was a trend that really bothered me, especially with small to mid-sized companies. More times than I’d have liked, I saw a company make a slow steady growth in budget size and increase the external features of the company – the amount of money spent on advertising,  materials for set and design rental, expense of space rental, etc – but keep the actor salaries consistent. I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk too specifically (for a whole host of confidentiality reasons) but I will say you can learn a lot in the 990’s that non-profits make public.

At the NPN conference last month I heard a representative from Doris Duke say that all artists worth their salt will be undercapitalized. If you have imagination you will always dream bigger than your resources. Or as I would put it, the idea expands to money allotted to it. And when we first start leaving that DIY phase we often immediately start dreaming bigger with the little cash we have. It’s so satisfying to put that money towards outcomes we can see and receive praise for – better theaters to rent, cooler lighting effects, fancier set pieces, etc. What’s harder is to do remember that the work someone did for free last time is worth more than free. Ditto for way under paying as well. It’s doubly hard when you are paying something to be objective about what that work is actually worth. I once worked at a company where the base actor salary hadn’t been raised in 10 years.

I get it. We acclimate. It is hard to pay more for something and have the product be the same. Which is why something I almost never saw in those grant panels was the same level of production value and an increase in salaries for the people they were working with.

There’s the old “industry standard” line that I hear floated around. Look, the simple truth is that $250 or $300 a week is not a living wage.  But I hear people actually excited about numbers like this all the time. The truth is we’re often working far more than our income alone would justify. We do it because we love it. We do it because we care about the companies we work for. We do it because we’re asked for favors. We do it because it’s what everyone around us is doing.

But if we institutionalize and capitalize on that, we get artists and crew who always feel like they’re doing too much for too little. And that, in turn, breeds resentment and burnout. It’s the thing that starts making one hold a little part of themselves back from a process because you feel like you’re being taken advantage of. Or get unreasonable about schedule changes or breaks or little things that in most professions wouldn’t be as big a deal. It’s easy to get lazy or pissy when you’re on the defensive and when you feel like you can’t be honest about your needs.

Let me say I am all for entrepreneurship. I understand that a company that has just started will have to go through a “I’m paying you less than you’re worth phase.” It’s like any start up: you begin with blood and sweat and tears. The difference though in the arts, is that we institutionalize that initial phase. We make business  models of over working and over extending. That’s fine when you’re just beginning but when you are hitting year 5, 10, 20, you shouldn’t be hearing the same kinds of complaints. We stay in the “do more with less” model forever. As Andrew Simonet of Artist’s U says, “Let’s start doing less with more.”

We producers need to really take time to think about the reality we’re asking our peers to take part in. Can you really afford that show if doing it means everyone involved needs another job in addition? Is that actually covering your costs? Even if someone will do that much, do you want to be the person that asks them to? We should be asking the people we bring on what it’s like to work for us and then really trying to listen to them.

I think we all need to seriously put our money into the people. Your set design will shrink or expand to the money you allot to it. Clearly, we can adapt, because we all had to do it after the housing collapse. What if you just committed to $50 more a week to the actors in the cast? What if you just promised to pay a TD a little more each time they worked for you? What if you gave a designer enough so that they could really just concentrate on your piece? Each of these shifts might be a couple thousand dollars. In the larger picture, it’s really not that much. I know this is hard. I raise every single dollar that gets paid out by Swim Pony. I stare at budgets all the time. But if you want it to happen, you can do it. That’s why you’re in the arts, you get shit done.

You might say that now is not the time, with the economy the way it is and so many companies reeling from the fallout. I say now is exactly the time when we need to get clear on how we want to operate, now when there are so many forces that might push us in the opposite direction. And while we can’t all jump immediately into the ideal situation, we can make incremental changes Because the truth is, if we endow people and not product now, we pay into a long term stable investment. If we begin from trust and principle, then we have a place to start talking from. If your workers know you have consistently valued them and their work, they’re going to be a lot more flexible when you come to the table with them in the future.

A

UPDATE – Just saw this posted and figured I’d add it to the mix

http://cuetocue.backstagejobs.com/?p=909

Running and Crying

Today is the 30th day. Somehow that seems impossible. The 15,000 challenge has become nearly 33,000 words and it seems like I’ve barely scratched the surface. So when I sat down today, I wanted some kind of summation of what I’ve gained, gleaned, gotten out of taking an hour (or two or three) each day to sit and write about what I do. If the goal was to force myself to think every day about why I make theater and what I want from it, what was the conclusion?

Throughout this month there was a story that kept coming up for me that I never found a way to fit in. I kept sensing that it belonged in the conversation somehow, but could never quite decide exactly what message this part of my history should proffer or in what larger topic or category it should fit. But since today is the last official day of this writing project, and I haven’t found room for it yet, it seems like there’s no choice but just to get it down and see what happens.

So.

When I was 23 I learned to run. Or rather, at 23 I took up running because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

I had, much to my chagrin, found myself rather suddenly and violently in the deep thickets of a very messy romantic entanglement.

The messy part, at least initially, wasn’t my fault.

I had met someone online and fallen very hard in a very short period of time. It was, in retrospect, a pretty standard infatuation, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt unspeakably new and inevitable all at once. It was like a melody I was humming every moment of every day. Lot of long emails, a date that started as coffee over a couple hours but went on for 12, a person’s new smell and taste. These things reminded me of my capacity to grow bigger and contain them.

I felt like I was really alive at a time in my life when there weren’t many things doing that. I was out of school, working on theater that wasn’t my own, working a job that wasn’t terribly challenging and wondering where all this would head. And then all this feeling just flew into every day. It became a kind of purpose.

This: wanting to cook someone dinner, striving to be the most spectacular version of myself, finding a way to speak about my life and experiences with interest and meaning, it was a palpable sense of physical closeness to someone, but also to the idea of seeing myself as the very best version possible. It felt like I was becoming. And that sense of drive gave me back the part of myself that I had been seeking. The part of me that can feel purpose like a tangible object, soft but strong and pliable, like velvet in your hands.

It was that violently blissful sense of self that shook off the drudge of “just living” and rocketed me back into a sense of possibility and get shit done-ness that I so desperately wanted and needed. And in that phase I started to imagine a life so big that it could contain everything that I wanted and needed and imagined for the future.

So when I found out that this thing that I had not only placed my eggs in but had made my basket had a fiancé in another state I just about lost my mind.

Just like that bliss before it, I was stuck with a new constant sensation: an inversion of that previous emotion that cut into my belly and my chest like a sharp knife.  It was hard to believe that this feeling was so viscerally physical. I thought some days, “This is going to kill me.” I actually felt like I might die it hurt so bad.

One night at 3 am, in the midst of this tumult, I was thrashing around making myself miserable. My bed smelled like him. It was making me nauseous. I wanted to put this thing back together. I needed it to be fixable, not just to hold onto this person, but so that I didn’t need to let go of the version of myself I had found, the better, more infinite, version of me. I couldn’t breathe. And I knew that I literally couldn’t stay in my own skin for another second longer.

I stood up and said, “Stop it. This is all of this you are allowed. You need to go.”

So without knowing exactly what I was doing I put on my gym shoes and a hoodie and a hat and I stretched for a minute and went outside into the winter night and I set off running. I was not a runner. I did not “run” in that easy blithe endorphin-rushed way you think of in Nike commercials. It was awkward and painful and cold. And did I mention the crying? Just running and crying like this big nasty, snotty, wet train barreling down the streets of Philadelphia.

But it was also distracting. So wonderfully distracting that without knowing what path I took or retaining memory of how I did it, I managed to trek from my house at 6th and Washington all the way up to the Art Museum at the end of the Parkway. And I stood on the steps and the feeling started to rise again. I threw up. And then I took off again and ran home.

I ran a lot that year.

Though it was no fault of mine for finding myself in this situation, that I continued to stick around for another year to torture myself most definitely was. But I used the running as a way to distract enough from the present to hold onto that vision of myself as huge and massive and awesome. And I also used it to distract myself from the growing crap pile I was swimming in. Literally and figuratively, I got myself on the move after two years flailing around trying to find myself as an artist. I spun into a productive fervor of need and idea and creativity and hard ass work that launched me into the orbit I’m in today.

Which is why I am deeply conflicted about how to analyze myself in this context.

I read this now and it makes me feel weak and stupid. I hate that this is a part of my history. I wish it wasn’t part of who I am. I feel like I should be better than the person who took off running to try and escape. I wish often that I could have cut that longing off. That it doesn’t still bother me. That I could smooth that experience out enough so that the raw edges don’t still catch at me once in a while.

And there’s another part of me that still wishes that I had been amazing enough to make it turn out different. Because the truth is, I still want to believe that I could be awesome enough to do the impossible, so that I can recapture that feeling of being so incredibly full. There is a part of me that still wants to believe there is enough in me to grasp what I want  and through sheer force of will reclaim it and that feeling of potential in its most potent form. There are times I wish I still had enough raw need and emotion and hurt to need to run and work and create in the blind panic I did then.

I wish both of those things at the same time.

I like to accomplish things. Hard things. I do not like the idea that I cannot achieve what I set my mind to. It is the reason the best of my works are the best of my works. It is the reason I can find myself in a moment in a process saying “I have no idea how to solve this. I have no idea where to find an idea where to solve this.”  And yet each time, somehow, I found a way to do it.

The reason that year-long entanglement went on as long as it did was because I really believed that if I wanted something badly enough and was patient enough to wait it out then what I wanted would become what everyone wanted. But amazingly in that one case, it didn’t happen.

Which is why it still bothers me.

Which is why when I finally got close enough to see the giant STOP sign emerging, when I got so far away from the shoreline from what I wanted to happen that I couldn’t even write a map for how I might get to where I wanted to head, it didn’t get easier. There was not a comfort in finally forcing myself to move past it.

I still want to be awesome enough. For… what? I don’t know. But I still want to believe that there is work for me that is so fulfilling it can make me grow larger every day. That there is a life that vast. It is that need to reach that inspires me to do better. But the despair at the distance between infinity and myself is also the thing that started me writing here to you all in the first place. The thing that made me look around at certain amount of stasis in my career and the field in general and wonder if I can tolerate it when parts of it make me feel so small.

Hmmm. Is that a conclusion?

There’s still one part of the running story I left out:

One the way home from that first run to the Art Museum, I suppose from all the cold air and crying and deep breathing, I got a nosebleed. A gusher. I had assumed that people giving me the terrified wide berth on the streets were doing so because my ugly and obvious feelings were so ugly and obvious that they were scaring pedestrians.

In fact I was just covered in blood. All down my face and all over my hoodie, completely soaked through to my shirt.

And when I finally got home tasted iron on my lips and looked down my very first thought was not the sadness. It was, “Some day I’m going to write a story about this.”

So.

There we are.

The need to achieve the impossible, to get that hit of ecstatic delight, is likely a race one can never win. That feeling is really an idea of perfection that helps us move forward. And it’s up to us to figure out how to negotiate it.

And I guess that’s all we can do.

A

PS – I’ll be back soon.

I have a feeling that I’ll still be writing here with fair regularity, though likely every couple days instead of every single day. (Who wants to read that much anyway?)

I’ll take a day or two and let you know when I get back.

“Play Play”

Can I admit this? 29 days in, I’m finally ready.

I don’t know what to do with plays.

I make most of my living in making theater and I pretty much never deal with them. You’ll notice, if you comb through Swim Pony’s website or press kit that the word “play” never appears. It’s not an accident. It’s always “show” or “performance” or “piece” instead of play. Even “theater” makes me pretty nervous. It’s why I went with “Swim Pony Performing Arts” instead of “Swim Pony Theater Company.”

“Play” and “Theater” conjure up some very specific ideas in my mind. Red curtains. Plush seats. Proscenium stage. Fly system. 3,000 seat houses

Google image search the word “Theater.”

No really. Do it, I’ll wait.

No really. I need to prove this point.

See what I mean?

I know that’s a little reductive, but I think that’s probably what most people think when they think theater. I think it’s probably what most theater audiences think when they think theater.  I almost never work in spaces like that. And the few times I have, I’ve spent all my time wishing I was back in a dirty warehouse or in a de-sanctioned chapel space or outside. These spaces feel so filled with another era’s idea of performance that I spend most of my time trying to get the play to undo everything the space does. So much of what I make is about teaching audiences that the performers are aware, that they aren’t separated by an imaginary wall, that this is about communing with each other and personally, I feel like this:

Theater-Carre

Just gets in the way.

Some may maintain that the concept of theater is bigger than the building that shares its name. Maybe, in theory. But I’d counter that until the specter of that building (and the many nastier, sadder, dirtier, worn out, step down versions of it) gets out of our minds Theater the art form will stay synonymous with Theater the space.

So back to the p-word.

What do you do in a theater? You do Plays with a capital P.

Plays are written by someone who is impervious. They must be, because we are not allowed to change anything they say. Plays can be pulled apart to study their dramatic arc and action. The best Plays’ plots are incredibly clean and wrap up neatly at the end. Big things are revealed in Plays. Plays are about words. They have monologues and juicy scenes where the best actors get to show off their emotions. Plays suggest blocking with stage directions. Plays take four weeks to rehearse.  Brilliant Plays deserve standing ovations. Plays are done in Theaters that look like the one above.

These are my stereotypes about “Plays.” I call them “Play Plays.” Aka – stuff that is exactly what you think of when you think of a play in a theater.

My problem with the traditional system (playwright writes a play, company produces it, director directs it, designers design for it and actors act it) is that at every level it’s so hard to connect the parts of the chain. When your job is super clearly defined, why think about anything else? When the system is too well defined, it gets hard to innovate. If there’s a single way to do things, people whose talents lay outside that box tend to stop participating. Some artists get around this and force their niche into Plays and Theaters.  But many end up feeling alienated from the majority. I know I have.

There are lots of super talented people who do Play Plays in Theaters. Their talents can translate into the larger messier definition of the word. But some of my worst collaborations have been a result of working with people when their idea of theater and mine are different. I know I break a lot of the rules that matter a lot in the Play Play system. I don’t break them to be a jerk. I do it because I think there are lots of things about a “Play” that prize only a few aspects of live performance. I often want to explore the rest. Sometimes to give the other elements the floor you have to change the way you do things. And if a creator is so entrenched in one way of doing things, it gets exhausting to explain or apologize why you want to do things differently over and over and over.

I talked early on in this space that there are things theater is awesome at. I believe that many, dare I say most, scripted shows minimize opportunity for a lot of these things to happen and hold onto a lot of the things that I think keep theater shackled to versions of itself that I want to shed:

That actors perform the script exactly the same every time.

That ideas should developed in the head of the playwright for most of its conception and development with other elements only added on top of this foundation.

That once we hit opening night, the time when the director and actors could in theory learn THE MOST from how the thing works with people, the play has to stop getting changed.

That words are the predominant driving force (and they kind of have to be if they are the thing that you get handed at the start of the process) and sound, movement, visual landscape, are all lower places at the table.

That words on the page are the best way to begin.

That italics between lines are enough to describe what else should be there.

That you can create a set, sound and light design for a finished script.

That actors should have to make sense of and say every word that’s written.

Sure, there are playwrights who think about those things. But they have to think about words more. That’s why they’re playwrights. They think about words more. And while there are some pieces where that makes sense, I think most people don’t realize that’s a choice, that a play could equally start from an impulse of sound or physical space or movement. When was the last time a sound designer’s name was as high up on the playbill as the playwright? We’ve enshrined one way to build a theatrical experience, and we’ve taught our audiences that way is THE way that things are done. And that “Play” way has lead us to one dominant way of thinking about “Theater,” a way that doesn’t often serve other elements taking the lead.

I’ve worked hard to develop a theatrical eye. But that eye happens not to be well served by being handed a script. I need to be able to question the playwright, just like I question all the other elements, and encourage others to question me. I need to see the thing formed in process. I like the option to have a piece start from music, or an actress I love.  I don’t think I’ve directed a fully staged “Play” since college.

As I near the end of this 30-day experiment, I wonder if I’m not sick of theater, just “Theater” and that I do like making plays, just not “Play plays.”

The former, to me, feel like something I can add to. The latter I think will have to change if it wants to survive.