Monthly Archives: November 2006

CLOWN BIBLE, Auditions

I’ve never posted an audition notice on the blog. Let’s see how it goes, yes?

As some of you know, Ten Red Hen‘s next production is CLOWN BIBLE. A musical, highly physical, exploration of Bible stories, CLOWN BIBLE will trace the running gags of masculinity, power and corruption that run throughout the Holiest of Texts.

The show will be brought to you by the same team that put on {The 99-Cent} Miss Saigon last spring: Maya Gurantz (that’s me!) will be directing, Dave Malloy writing music and musical directing, Dell’Arte grad Jane Chen will be playing God as well as leading the Clown Training.

We’re looking for a few more dynamic, physically creative performers to round it out. Clown training/experience isn’t necessary, but certainly welcome. Small stipend. Performances are March 22-24, 29-30, April 1, 5-7, 12-14 (4-weekend run with possible two-weekend extension). We begin rehearsals in Berkeley in mid- to late- January, and perform both in Berkeley and San Francisco.

We’re holding an Audition Workshop. We’ll get together, walk funny, sing, and play.

Please prepare a song you love singing, and come dressed to move. If you play an instrument or have any special clowning skills (juggle knives? balloon animals?), please bring that, too. RSVP for a space by emailing

CLOWN BIBLE Audition Workshop
Monday, December 11
Willard Middle School Metalshop Theater
2425 Stuart St., Berkeley, CA

Directions: Willard Middle School is at the corner of Stuart St. and Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. Take BART to Ashby; head east on Ashby, take a left on Telegraph and walk to Stuart. Take a right on Stuart, and your FIRST LEFT onto Regent (unmarked). Walk one block. The entrance to the Metalshop Theater is located on your left, by the Willard Park Tennis Courts.

so the below didn’t make any sense

I just reread it, and I admit it, it doesn’t make sense.

But I do have something to write about the ensemble created/performer created theater “movement”, such as it is, and about the theoretical contradictions in the lingo and technique w/r/t notions of “the psychological”, the need for intellectual inquiry and context that’s so often lacking, and how the tools end up most effective when anchored to the artist’s strength of purpose and curiosity. Etc.

Later, later. After I write about my recent return to an obsession over becoming a commodity.

brief reviews, 2

Of course I wait until plays are closed or almost closing to do this, but here goes:

Love is a Dream House in Lorin, by Marcus Gardley, dir. Aaron Davidman, Shotgun Players (CLOSED)

This play was the culmination of a 2-year long process of creating a theater piece about the Lorin District of South Berkeley–deep research, story circles, and ulitmately a play (with a combination professional and local cast) that spanned the area’s history from the Ohlone Indians through the Japanese community who got carted off to internment camps in WWII, to the working class African American community who then moved in, through the unrest of the 60s, the crack epidemic of the 80s, to its current state of uneasy gentrification.

Community-based theater, as it has been in the past decade or two in America, is created on cross axes of two continuums: from very direct documentary to fictional conglomeration; from an entirely professional cast to entirely local people.

I’ve found that the further away you get from community people telling their own actual stories, the riskier the project–the more that the hired artist’s choices run contrary to the local community’s needs, the less ownership the community feels. And the attempt to summarize into fiction so often fails.

Shotgun took the risky approach, with interweaving, cross-cutting stories that each “stood in” for a particular historical arc of experience in the Lorin (using a loose verse rhyme scheme, which was alternately noticable or not, depending on the actor’s skills). I’m delighted to report that the play succeeded.

I do not have the stand-in of being a Lorin native to say whether the piece served local needs. The play certainly seemed like it accomplished Shotgun’s objective: a thank you, a peace offering, a gift from the theater company to their host neighborhood, and an invitation to the locals that says: this theater is yours, too.

Because, as theater, it was a riddled with Thing all the way through, an event. (Sure, it was too long–sure there were a few theatrical conventions that might have seemed–as they did to my friend, not to me–a little treacly.)

But the way they balanced the different historical narratives simultaneously (from mythic to small scale human dramas), and the way they were ultimately braided together and paid off–the painful truths of the tragedies they excavated from the land for all of us to see and how they landed it for us–was astoundingly smart and rewarding.


super:anti:reluctant, by mugwumpin, the Exit Theater (still running! see sidebar!)
I’m about to go onto a more philosophical tangent here, so let me say straight up, first off, and right away, super:anti:reluctant is fucking great and utterly engaging and ambitious and pleasurable and you should all see it immediately. It’s promoted as a meditation on heroes, but truly, super:anti:reluctant is about our increasingly hopeless need and desire to be heroes in the face of our fears of being failures.

Now, I’ve often found actor/performer created work to be a bit self indulgent.

(Though, of course, the caveat to that critique is one of my favorite quotations, from an interview with Dan Bejar of Destroyer and the New Pornographers, who is often labeled as making self-indulgent work:

This whole notion of self-indulgence baffles me, as if I’m supposed to be indulging someone else.

Word up.)

What I mean, however, about performer-created work is that it can lack intellectual depth. Some high technique craft-o-philes in current theater, those who think that Viewpoints or Suzuki or Laban or clown or Lecoq is the True Answer, or somehow creates more Innovative Theater or achieves some kind of Intellectual Authenticity to make a Big Statement About Something, misses the point. A lot of performer -based work searches for the surprising theatrical moment–but attaches a lot undue meaning to what the self-conscious stirs up, to what comes out of that subconscious choice. And forgets that by being subconscious, it is totally personal.

But that, contradictorily, ends up being way more attached to the “subconscious” and the “psychological” that even Stanislavski–without triangulating to the gifts and uses of the intellect and the process of artifice that pushes you outside what you already, even subconsciously, “know.” So even though it proclaims innovation and authenticity, it can actually lead to art that is as banal and boring and lacking in depth as anything worked up through the Method. This clearly, is a bigger beef I have and at some point, I’ll say it more articulately.

But super:anti:reluctant worked, I thought, because it had all the physical pyrotechnics of what the mugwumpin crew know how to stir up–was visually an innovative pleasure–but it was quite nakedly personal. That forced a kind of depth on the piece, made it one of the more honest things I’ve seen lately:

The fear of failure, the desire to be more than a failure, the ways in which the drudgery of daily life squelches the desire for the super-heroic at the same time that we need such large desire to keep going. The many layers of masks that we wear underneath, the large cultural moments embedded in our sense of self that we can’t reveal as such.

Oh, it was just great, and you really need to see it.

Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rosenwald, dir. Annie Dorsen, at Berkeley Rep (still playing! see sidebar!)

These brief reviews are getting too long.


All these reviews so far have been about the risky choice that somehow, magically, worked. It’s also risky to tell a coming of age story these days. Another one? Why? Haven’t we heard this story?

A song with actors running through it, Passing Strange traces the semi-autobiographical account of a young black kid from L.A. and his struggles to escape the stifling bourgeois shackles of home expectations to find himself as a musician and artist in LA, Amsterdam, Berlin and back home. In this attempt to locate “the real” and himself in it, he only discovers more masks, more diverse and complicated ways to “pass”–as a punk-rocker, as James Baldwin, as an expat, as an authentic black man, as an artist, as a human.

Stew’s dry, detailed, specific view of the world (and his youthful avatar) combines with a shameless musical romanticism to create an entirely pleasurable event. Great musicians, terrific set design (conceptually simple, expensive and beautiful). The actors were marvelous, the choreography neat and precise. But mostly, it succeeded as a coming-of-age piece because it didn’t land on a solution. You know, how most of those stories end our characters with some choice that they make, something they lose, something gained, and somehow it’s like they’re, I don’t know–finished? Like, that’s it?

At the end of Passing Strange, this character has barely begun–and is just beginning to see how unlikely he is to achieve the real (within and without himself)–he’s faced with his selfishness, his inability to love. There’s nowhere to run off and escape to. Complex as life, thank you.

look at all the plays!

If you notice over on the sidebar, there are a heck of a lot of plays currently going on in the Bay Area that are terrific. Which never happens. Anywhere. At any time. Is the world ending?

I’m serious, the other week I actually saw two entirely wonderful plays two nights in a row. This has never happened to me. And then I saw another great one this week–and my colleagues with similarly brutal standards who generally leave plays similarly frothing and pissed left All Wear Bowlers and Tartuffe giddy with delight. I have tickets to both and am, dare I say it? dare I dream? excited.

Capsule reviews coming, update on company business and upcoming projects soon, I tell you, soon. For now, make reservations for Ten Red Hen’s 365 Plays (Week 4).

Sound of a Voice / Hotel of Dreams

Jerry Langford weighs in again:

Saw one of the most haunting evenings of theatre ever last night–Woodruff’s production of the Philip Glass/David Henry Hwang chamber operas The Sound of a Voice and Hotel of Dreams.

Two short pieces where Glass compresses his oceanic style into six, mostly Asian-derived instruments and two voices. In the first, a samurai stops and stays in a rural hut where a widow tends to him. In nine long scenes, the arctic crust surrounding their hearts slowly thaws, with heartbreaking, rather than heart-warming, results. In the second, an aging writer finds an urban Japanese brothel where old men are permitted to sneak into bedrooms and lie chastely next to sleeping young girls who are the same age as their widows when the old men first met them.

Who would think that these profound conceits, so insightful about the nature of men and women’s interaction, particularly the self-destructiveness of men, and into both men and women’s relationship to mortality, could have come from the author of Disney’s Tarzan and Flower Drum Song 2.0? And not just that–he wrote these pieces at age 21! Or that Glass could be capable of such simplicity and delicacy?

I always hate hearing people talk of those things “that only theatre can do,” but Voice/Hotel showed those things only opera can do. The almost unbearable climaxes of both pieces could never be attained in spoken theatre. And the fine brushwork by Woodruff and by the scenic designer Bob Israel are nonpareil.

It’s exciting to have seen two truly great pieces in the theatre this year–Foreman’s What to Wear at the REDCAT and Robert’s double bill. Maybe not so exciting that I *don’t* see great theatre that *isn’t* by the same handful of great artists I loved one-half of my lifetime ago. But we have to be grateful for small favors. (To be fair, one other great show this year: Stefan’s Novinski’s O’Neill-like rendering of William Saroyan’s Time of Your Life.)

I recommend sticking with music theatre. That seems to be the one spot where the good stuff happens.

bitchy mcbitch

I once heard:

If you have talent and no ambition, go to San Francisco. If you have ambition and no talent, go to LA. If you have both, go to NY.

I don’t necessarily agree with the latter two–but golly day, there is such a fucking lack of ambition in the Bay Area–I mean national scale ambition. It’s so goddamn boring. I can’t believe they can’t fill even half the 365 slots. It’s embarrassing.

365 Plays / 365 Days

I have reviews of the three Bay Area plays on the sidebar and a longer update coming soon–but first:

365 Plays / 365 Days
In 2002, Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks committed to writing a play a day for the next 365 days. The world premiere of these plays will be performed as a year-long festival in major cities and communities across the country, spearheaded by Suzan-Lori Parks and Super-Producer Bonnie Metzgar, with David Myers as National Coordinator, Carol Fineman as Press Rep and Rebecca Rugg as 365University Producer (see Bonnie’s comment below). Hubs include the Public Theater in New York. From November 2006 to November 2007, over 700 theaters will simultaneously create the largest theater collaboration in U.S. History.

In the Bay Area, 52 unique companies (from big guns like Berkeley Rep to smaller groups like the Shotgun Players) will each stage one week of the cycle.

I am very excited to announce that Ten Red Hen is presenting Week 4 of 365 Plays/365 Days (December 4-10, 2007). We are using this project as a week-long meditation on the idea that Theater is Every Day, performing the plays in the intimate space of people’s homes.

While theater sometimes seems like a form of decreasing relevance in American life, it is also the most elemental–people need to enact stories live for each other. More than any other art form, theater frames the world of beauty in action.

That being said, theater is one art form that has the hardest time breaching the home space–I mean, it doesn’t really belong there, right? Yes it does! For one week, we will go to a different home every night and perform the plays, engaging with the home, existing technologies within that home, and our audience members in different ways.

The events are free and open to the public, of course. We will have more information on where the homes are and how you can come see them soon.