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Ivy League Arts

The Harvard Crimson recently posted about the new “Theater, Dance and Media” major or rather concentration to be offered for its students for fall of 2015.

At first, being at BU in its B.F.A. Theatre Arts major, I think it can’t as good as our program because it’s so broad. I am proud of my choice to go deeper into my “fine art” study with a program that does benefit from being a part of the larger university but also offers a stronger focus on theatre making starting with performance. But it was a choice to want that.

Harvard will be the seventh Ivy League to offer some form of major in theater following Yale, Brown, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Cornell. It is important that these iconic places of study for our country have a solid appreciation and acknowledge of the importance of art. When our most revered and highest places of education teach how to be an artist, engage in creativity, and about our current status quo of the arts in society the pay off for the next generation could be significant. It cost $5 million to start the program and that won’t even maintain it for that long (although more money is expected to come from future donors without worry). This is a significant investment and shows that Harvard actually does care about this topic, this part of our society. Universities can be responsible for creating and bolstering great works and great people. Perhaps this Harvard Theater, Dance and Media major is broad, but it’s also a start. I say the more the merrier– the better for Boston theatre artists as well.

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The (New Play) Hunger Games

I saw this really interesting article on HowlRound this week about the Samuel French Short Play Festival; there is a difficulty in getting work produced. There are so many factors, adaptations, getting the piece out there, work shopped and placed in from of prospective producers, making getting a brand new play being produced by a company that didn’t commission it a rarity. Samuel French is now beginning their “OOB” Festival (Off Off Broadway), a theatrical competition where submitted new short plays are reviewed, and given a reading. In short, following the readings, the plays are ranked and the winner of this contest receives the grandest of all prizes – publication.

I have heard about many different types of theatre festivals that have met all over the country over the past years. Of these varying festivals, the one thing they had in common was reaching toward a common goal of “How do we get (Insert here) included more frequently in the theatrical consciousness?” This one however had a markedly different feel than all the rest.

I am all for new work, I think it is critical for the continuance and survival of the theatre. I truly believe that create an accurate gauge of the current theatrical climate of this generation, we must have a flurry of plays from right now to show future generations what we cared about, and by “we”, I mean the focus of theatre artists in this generation. There are ways to reach a successful outcome, and I am not sure this is it.

For one, it takes away the focus on the art itself and puts it more on the end result, the classic “process vs. product” debate. Instead on allowing the play to be developed and questions by various people (directors, dramaturges, actors, and management) across varying levels over time, the festival focuses on a final product that needs to be hastily produced and judged. It almost feels like a theatrical version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate, and every author is on his or her best behavior trying to get access to the grand prize.

But even if you win it all, are the best of the best and get published by Samuel French, which is not even a guarantee that the play will be produced. There is a chance it could sit on the website or in warehouses waiting to be shipped, only to be glossed over by people planning future seasons for years to come. Wouldn’t it be theoretically better to instead of trotting a final project out like a show pony to present the current state of work and see if any theatre(s) across the country say “Hey, we should help make that thing happen. I am not sure what it is, but I am sure it is something”.

There a lot of exciting things going on in the Samuel French OOB Conference, however, I think there is a lot of missed opportunities are happening as well. It will be interesting to see what comes of the grand prizewinner, if we can remember who it is years down the road.

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The Right To Work?

As a student I’m always thinking about how I’m going to get that equity card (imagine reading that like a magical, glittery sign in the sky), but I sometimes don’t really stop to think about what I’m doing to my career when I get it. On the surface, yes, I know. I’ll be in a union. I’ll have an organization with my best interests supposedly at heart. I’ll also be limiting the the work I can and can’t take. I’ll be decreasing my options while simultaneously increasing them. If I want to work where I want to work, then the reality is that I need to become part of Actor’s (and stage management) Equity Association (AEA).

New York–my future home–has a fairly high rate of living, and if you weren’t aware…. money doesn’t grow on trees–not that there are much of those there. BECTU, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, is the UK version of IATSE/AEA/USA. They are currently fighting the battle over money with the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

The bullet points of this article basically state that SOLT is refusing to increase the wage of the BECTU members to the living wage. They’re stating that they should just live in less expensive places. Guess what?! When you’re doing high end theatre, you’re pretty much forced to live in a city with a high living rate. This “negotiation” is bullshit. Why do we have to fight so hard for something that we need?

Why are we being forced to be starving artists?

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DIY Theatre: Not About Yourself

Do It Yourself theatre is not a new idea for me. I know about wokring hard for projects I care about and using non-traditional methods to see those projects through. Just because its not a new idea to me doesn’t mean I don’t smile wide when I see it hit the news.

So reading this article definitely brought a smile to my face. Not only was there plenty of Do It Yourself spirit in it, there was a book titled DIY (Do. It. Yourself.) linked about taking art into your own hands.

But what really struck me about this article was when it talked about the collaborative process that goes along with any Do It Yourself project. It put the focus on the collaborators and not the self in this instance. In fact, the measure of success came from the growth of the collaborators and the successes they see. So instead of Do It Yourself the concept given was Do It Together.

Do.                                                                                                                                                                                             It.                                                                                                                                                                                   Together.

OH HELL YES! I will admit that I am a bit greedy when it comes to any self-officiated project I work on. I get very Memememe and only want to think of my own growth. I sort of put other people’s successes as a bi-product of my own success. In other words, if I am succeeding and doing my job right than everyone else probably is too. This is to say I won’t help or care about other peoples work, but it is to say I overlook their success. It shouldn’t be that way

The takeaway? I know I need to put other people’s successes over mine in any collaborative process. At the end everyone is going to see the collaborative work, not just the section of work that I did. Sure I should do my job to the best of my ability, but I need to think back to the days when I played sports.

Sports?

My coach always highlighted that the team is only as good as its worst player because they are on the field too. This meant that everyone needed to work their hardest, and anyone excelling above the rest needed to drop back to help the people trailing behind. If someone couldn’t throw, you helped them learn how. If someone was having trouble finishing a miracle mile, you ran beside them. It was a matter of making everyone better for the experience, and something I lost sight of.

So going on into the future I will no longer DIY, I will DIT, do it together.

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UK Tribune Supposts Actors Being Denied Minimum Wage

There is a hot debate going on between a fringe theater director and producer, Gavin McAlinden, and four cast members who argue they deserve minimal wage for their involvement in a production of David Edgar’s Pentecost.   Upon reading the headline for the article from The Stage,  I was immediately disturbed.  Once I finished the article, I was left with a few questions.

Now, let’s all be aware that just saying the actors were denied minimum wage sets up McAlinden as a villain.  The actors were denied minimum wage, but they also were working under a profit share set up with the company.  The actors were told they would receive  60% of the profit.  They were also informed that they shouldn’t expect much come back from the production.

The group of actors initially took action against the director after two actors were let go.  They argued that the production was not at all a profit share environment, but no different from a regular job.  They said the play was not a collaborative process, which is part of the justification for profit sharing.  They said they were in a clear hierarchical structure that gave them demands as though from a patron.

After they took action, a judge ruled that the actors were classified as workers under the Nation Minimum Wage Act and the Working Times Regulations 1998.  Therefore, they were required to be paid minimum wage.  However, after an appeal, a judge ruled that the previous ruling was incorrect in saying that the actors were workers.  The second judge rules that the actors are self-employed professionals, which doesn’t guarantee the minimum wage that accompanies workers.

Wow, okay, where do I stand?  As an actor, I am lead to ask myself: Am I a worker or am I self-employed?  When cast in a play, I am an employee or am I doing freelance?  I want to say that I’m self-employed, because I prefer that connotation.  However, actors need to get paid.  The lack of funds accessible to actors kills the sustainability of our theaters.  So, classify me as a worker!  Get the actors their minimum!

But, that’s only a portion of what I believe.  At the end of the day, I side with the director.  The actors walked into the process aware that they are not receiving minimum wage.  They agree to profit share.  They are aware there will be little money in return.  But then, somewhere along the way their opinion about that set up changes.  Fair.  It didn’t feel the way a true profit share should be, but we choose the projects we take.  When you are informed of the circumstances of the production and agree to it, then you must deal with the consequences.  If you sign onto a project with one agreement, you stick with the agreement until its over.  I’m sure their experience was more like a job than an artistic collaboration.   And I’m also sure that if they had known that going in, then they would have demanded minimum wage or not joined on at all.  Unfortunately, they made an agreement.

Part of me is disturbed by how easily the tribune could rule actors of undeserving of minimum wage, however, I would have made the same decision.

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At this point it should be clear that I’m falling int love with HowlRound. This week, it was an interview about collaboration with Carson Kreitzer and Matt Gould. It is click-baiting-ly titled: Unlocking the Mystery of Writing a Musical.

I loved it!

I’m all about collaboration. I just think it sucks to have to be the only idea-machine all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone else (or many someone elses) could help bear that burden? That’s part of what intrigues me about musicals. They are, in almost every case, massively collaborative. There are few people who can master lyrics, music, and plot simultaneously, and so these jobs must be delegated. Not to mention the addition of directors, designers, dramaturgs, actors, technicians, and a cascade of others. A musical is a collaboration on steroids.

(I was once involved with a project in which a single individual attempted, Wagner-like, to serve as the sole source of words and music for a new musical. And also as director and stage manager. The project was unpleasant for all involved. Especially the audience.)

How would that work, I wonder? I have wondered this about all sorts of collaborative teams. How does a team of TV writers work? Screenwriting partners? Director and choreographer? Director and playwright? Director and dramaturg and playwright? Lyricist and composer and animal trainer?

How do all of these teams work?

This article was a peek into just such a collaboration; Kreitzer and Gould have a great respect for one another, but also complement each others’ talents. Kreitzer is logical, linguistic, Apollonian, she is the mistress of the mind. Gould is Dionysian, emotional, illogical, freewheeling. Together they fill each others’ gaps and highlight each others’ strengths. As a matter of fact, it’s a lot like a marriage.

J_Carson%3AMatt Interview picture 2

This comparison to matrimony is explicit in their interview, but I think it’s even more true than they say.

Can I tell you a story?

I met my wife in college. It was a random coincidence, we were in someone’s dorm room, I honestly don’t even remember our first meeting. But we became friend-group friends, and then friends, and then best friends. We were seeing other people, but those relationships ended of their own accord. I had a huge crush on her, and we finally kissed at a party. It was a college thing to do.

I kept expecting it to end, that there was no way my best friend and I would actually work out. It seemed way too easy! But time went on, and things kept being great. And when we finally got married it felt so right. And I felt so lucky.

Because I was lucky. I randomly found this amazing life-partner when I was 19. Total blind luck! I know lots of people who are looking for marital bliss, and mostly I tell them: “uh… be lucky?” Because as far as I can tell, that’s how I did it.

And I think collaborators are the same way. You just luck into that perfect fit sometimes. And when you find it, don’t let it go!

J_Carson%3AMatt interview Picture 1

And I guess if you can’t find the right collaborators… uh… be lucky?

Or date around. That’s what my friends are all doing.

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The Search

In 2006, a contemporary artist named Dan Cameron visited New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and quickly responded by founding U.S. Biennial, Inc, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the funding of an art biennial that would take place in New Orleans. “Prospect 1,” the first biennial, took place between November 2008 and January 2009, featuring 81 contemporary artists in 24 venues across New Orleans.

Tavares Strachan’s “You Belong Here,” on the Mississippi River, part of P.3.

“Prospect 3,” or “P.3,” opened to the public today. Franklin Sirmans, the artistic director of the exhibition, attended a press conference this past Thursday to discuss the big reveal this weekend. I stumbled upon a Q&A between Sirmans and ArtNews reporter M.H. Miller. I had never heard of anything like this. Dozens and dozens of artists cover an entire community with their work and everyone celebrates by seeing as much of it as possible for three months. P.3 features 58 artists in 18 different venues from art museums to the Mississippi River and closes January 25th. I think that its beginnings are fundamental to the importance of art. In the Q&A, Sirmans said, “The founder of Prospect originated it here in the wake of something….after something big, something really, really big that needs to be made sense of. And art, and the ideas around art, are a way of doing that.”

Sirmans strongly believes that the content of a biennial should be intrinsic to the city itself and New Orleans is a place that has overcome extreme hardship time and time again. The socioeconomic makeup of the city begs the question of what it means to embrace your individuality and coexistence. Sirmans says, “One of the unique things about this city…because people come here just to celebrate alone–is that you put people in the same space. You walk down Bourbon Street at midnight on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you see people from all over the world next to each other, sweating on each other, dancing with each other… But then what happens after that? I feel like here it’s the most stratified city.”

An advertisement for the unveiling of Prospect 3.

New Orleans is a communion of cultures, ideas, class, race, and sexuality. So of course there is a large group of people invested in artistically expressing their identities and beliefs across the entire town, for everybody to see, to help everybody make sense of the things in life that are impossible to understand. And yet, they still try. Valiantly. Exhaustively. And that is the beauty of it. That is why humans are basically good. Because something like P.3 is taking place at this very moment.

This is a quote that Sirmans chose to open his notes for P.3 with, from Binx Bolling’s The Moviegoer. I think it’s wise to continue to share it- “What is the nature of the search, you ask? Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

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