Post from February, 2017

No, It Doesn’t Always Come Together

Monday, 20. February 2017 0:16

Just over a week ago I was sitting alone after a fairly trying rehearsal, thinking about what we had accomplished and where we ought to go next. Probably I was scowling, which seemed appropriate. It was then I heard someone say, “Don’t worry; it always comes together.” My first impulse was to give a really snarky reply, but I thought the better of it. What would be the point in abusing someone who was not really a theatre person and who was living in the happy delusion that shows always come together?

Then this week after a choreography rehearsal, during which much progress was made (choreography had been a bit behind schedule), the student assistant director made a statement that seemed to indicate that if all the pieces were caught up, the show would somehow mysteriously fall together. This was a little better, but not much.

The fact of the matter is that shows don’t always come together. And those that do, don’t come together by accident or magic.

In most cases there is a certain shared energy in a company that seems to grow as opening approaches, and this helps a production come together. But most directors know that that energy is not enough to build an artistically cohesive production.

Shows come together when someone makes them come together. Ideally it is the director who causes the show to come together, a director who guides/forces/coerces/manipulates the company into coming together, which may be more or less difficult depending on the cast, the designers, the production, and the interpretation.  I have even known directors who purposely initiated director-focused company ire in order to weld the performers into a unit. That works because shows can also come together if a cast, as a whole, is reacting to an incompetent/hateful/unbalanced/weak director. Failing one of these scenarios, the show will not come together, and the results will not be pretty.

A show not coming together can manifest in different ways: often the actors seem to be in different universes or all going in different directions artistically or thematically. The musical numbers may not fit seamlessly into the show. The lights or sound may not coordinate properly with the acting and staging. The costumes may not work with the rest of the show.

But a work of art not coming together is in no way limited to theatre. If the conductor cannot somehow bring together the separate elements of the orchestra, the score, and the interpretation of the score, the concert will fall flat. The same holds true for a choreographer and the dancers.  And a film director is very likely to produce a disjointed movie if he/she cannot bring all the various pieces together.

Nor is the problem limited to the collaborative performing arts. If a photographer and subject don’t somehow come together the result is probably a wasted photo session. The same is true of a painter or sculptor and his/her subject.

In fact, no good art “just comes together.” The disparate elements of any work of art—whether it is performing or visual or plastic or written, whether it is a script or a poem or a novel or a musical composition—must be cajoled, massaged, manipulated, orchestrated—and sometimes forced—to come together. This is the source of a great deal of an artist’s angst—knowing that all the parts must somehow coalesce into a unified whole—and having to work to make that happen. Sometimes, it is not intuitive, or even instinctual; sometimes it is the greatest challenge in making art. And it’s a challenge that we must meet repeatedly—every time we create.

Category:Creativity, Theatre, Uncategorized | Comment (0) | Author:

Art is Powerful and so are Artists

Tuesday, 7. February 2017 0:37

This week a conversation with a friend who is an actor and a writer turned to politics, as so many conversations do these days. He said that he was being very cautious lately because “Federico Garcia Lorca was shot in the street.  You know that sometimes they take the poets first. Why do they do that?” “Because artists are powerful,” was my response.

I was thinking at the time about Patsy Rodenberg’s comments in the video Why I Do Theatre. She says much the same thing as my friend, that often repressive regimes want to suppress the artists first, because artists are powerful and use that power to tell the truth, which is something intolerable to those same repressive governments.

Make no mistake, art is indeed powerful. And that power ranges from the trivial (Hitler’s toothbrush mustache was reportedly copied from Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy) to the profound  (Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, among others moved people with their photographs of American farmers during the Great Depression. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as a response to the witch trials of 1950s McCarthyism. Shepherd Fairey’s Hope poster became for a time one of modern America’s most influential and imitated pieces of art.)

And powerful art is not limited to the US. Leo Tolstoy has been an influence on a significant numbers of other writers, philosophers, and politicians. Anouilh’s Antigone “became a symbol for the [French] underground during WWII). Rodenberg’s South African actors had all been imprisoned, presumably because they spoke the truth and had influence, at least in the view of Apartheid.  Ai Weiwei continues to make art that is “highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.

And the power of art translates into personal power for the artist. In a Tiffany’s ad during the 2017 Super Bowl, Lady Gaga says that her transformation into an artist was due to the power that she felt; she goes on to say that talking about how creative one is is “empowering and important.”

Perhaps it’s time that we too recognize the power that we have, that we understand the nature and the potential influence of the creativity we possess. The artists that produced many of the Super Bowl 2017 ads did just that. In addition to making ads to influence buying, several made ads with political content, one of which was so powerful that Fox Sports deemed it “too controversial” to present in full so it ended with a web address where viewers could see the conclusion. The ad generated enough traffic to the 84 Lumber website where the entire ad was posted to crash the website. That’s power.

Certainly all of us do not set out to make political art—but it may be anyway. Nobel winner Toni Morrison has said that “all good art is political.” And she makes a pretty good case for there being no other choice. Morrison is not the only person who thinks this is the case. Regardless of whether we agree, we must remember that by virtue of being creative and artistic, what we make is important and influential and we, ourselves, are powerful. How we use that power is up to each of us individually.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

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