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COLOR-BLIND HEROISM! (A plea to pilot season 2017)

Dear Hollywood [actually I’m referring specifically to the network and studio presidents that possess a troubling amount of indirect influence over the consciousness of the mass/general population],

You are FINALLY entering the last leg of Pilot Season 2017! Scripts have been refined, not polished, but refined. Budgets have been negotiated, and the production plans have been set! Only thing left is casting!

Now, needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), this current political moment is demanding a lot from artist. Many artists are looking at the world today, rolling up their sleeves and are heading to work. We must. Fewer artists have been quicker to respond or even more critical than our very own Hollywood producers and elites: Judd Apatow, Lee Daniels, Richard Schiff, Mark Ruffalo, Shonda Rhimes, Bryan Cranston, Chelsea Handler, Jack Black, Kerry Washington, Louis CK, the list goes on and on. The point is, these people all yield copious power in the television industry and now it is time for these people, and this industry to put its money where its mouth is.

If you scroll through Deadline with the tag “pilot”  you will be privy to the current production decisions being made regarding the shows that our American audience will tune into come the fall. Though I personally believe in television and even applaud it for being of the frontier of social and political consciousness (far ahead of film and often ahead of the Broadway theater); I too often see: Let’s tell a straight white man’s story and fill the rest with a few supporting minorities. I do believe that commonality is shifting but but we must count of networks like ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC to gear their primetime slots towards stories that matter.

Currently on the ABC greenlight list have: The Gospel of Kevin as their primetime hourlong drama. Starring Jason Ritter, The Gospel of Kevin, centers a straight, white, male (some-fucking-how) down on his luck and is LITERALLY TASKED BY GOD TO SAVE THE  WORLD.(that is the actual logline). *sigh* Not done. FOX has decided to greenlight: Behind Enemy Lines (no, seriously). Another criminal driven drama, but this time about our heroic soldiers and their desperate, tumultuous escape from some presumably war-torn, Muslim nation. Yes, it is based on the 2001 movie, the same tired-ass producers paired with 24: Legacy and Shades of Blue producer Nikki Toscano who is arguably as blind as Tobi Lasagna AND it will star Marg Helgenberger (ya know, the stale, wonder-bread, thin, old lady from CSI?) But it’s all totally fine because BJ Britt (the black guy from 24, thanks Nikki) will be starring alongside Marg. I won’t even go into detail about ABC’s other primetime slot contender, Doomsday: the aftermath of 9/11, when the U.S. government institutes a secret think tank featuring the most creative minds in science and entertainment that is tasked with dreaming up man-made disaster scenarios and their possible solutions. (actual logline). Sounds like wypipo saving the world, but I’ll just be quiet.

Ok, let me get to my point and wrap this up.

TV is a powerful medium, arguably our most powerful medium. We MUST take advantage of its potential to affect positive change. We don’t just need to place a rainbow of people in any story we can think of. We need to look at our world, look at ourselves in it and be conscious of the stories we are telling and the effect of how we represent the people in those stories. I am sick of the crime dramas going after the Mexican cartels, or thugs, or Muslim terrorists while we continuously make our heroes white. It is painting a picture that seeps into the minds and infects the beliefs of the American people and IT MUST BE STOPPED. Heroism has no gender, color, or creed. Neither does villainy. Represent them as such.

Pilot Season 2017, don’t fuck up.

Yours truly,

AD

 

 

 

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Our Obligation to New Work

This week on my Facebook timeline I came across an article announcing, “Fort Worth Opera Fires Longtime General Director Darren K. Woods“. The word “fire” immediately caught my attention. In short, the company was quoted as wanting to find someone who would “focus more on business and management”, and that while they appreciated Mr. Woods artistic visions for the company they didn’t feel he was the right person to continue to move the company forward in fiscal manners. In the abstract, the company’s logic is perfectly reasonable. As much as every artist would like to be able to create without thinking about money, the fact of the matter is we live in the real world and we require money. However, something that stuck out in every article and I’ve spent hours in tech thinking about is the mention of new work. In a statement about parting ways with the company, Mr. Woods said, “I have wanted to go into a little bit different direction where I am dealing more with new music, librettists, singers […]”. In fact, the company gained national attention for its productions of new operas such as  Kevin Putts’ Silent Night, Peter Eötvös’s Angels in AmericaPhilip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox. It is also worth noting that the company lost $125,000 producing the world premiere of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s JFK as a part of the 2016 season.

Now, I don’t know enough specific information to criticize Fort Worth Opera’s decision to part ways with its GM, but its had me thinking, how can we support the development of new work in a financially sustainable way? To be clear, I know I don’t have the answer, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about contributing to an ongoing conversation about what our obligation as artists, collaborators, and patrons is to new work.

Fact: theatre, whether spoken, musical, or operatic, cannot survive producing the same 10 shows every season, with the same 10 star names, with the same 10 designers. That said, they do serve a purpose. They bring people in the door, which guarantees attendance and cashflow in a positive direction. They can also be fun! I’d love to see the Nutcracker in NYC, or Wicked. But we can’t keep the form alive if we aren’t taking risks and producing new work. Motzart wrote 22 operas in his life time, but is most famous his later works, which are also considered more innovative. But it is a fact that without those first few operas, written in the conventions of the time, Motzart could have never gotten to The Magic Flute or any of his other widley produced works. Someone had to take a chance on a young 16-year-old. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was considered a flop when first produced, now it’s a part of regular repertoire.  There is also plenty of work that didn’t stand the test of time. In the 17th century alone, there were over 20 versions of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus written and produced. Of those, only about 2 are still regularly produced. And that’s just one story. There’s got to be a lot of bad in order to get to the good. If we aren’t reaching out to new artists – be they playwrights, composers, etc. – and taking a risk on their innovation we have no way of moving the form forward. We won’t discover the next Marriage of Figaro producing the opera over and over again. We need to work harder at finding a balance between taking risks on new works, and powerful, contemporary stories, and the classics or money-makers. After all, if we aren’t telling new, powerful, contemporary stories, why are we still making art?

It’s a difficult balance to strike. As I said, companies need money to survive. Something I would like to see more from larger regional companies across the country is a commitment to producing brand-new or less-developed contemporary work as a part of the regular season. Small fringe companies are great places for a playwright or composer to test out new work, but their resources can’t compare to a well-established company such as the Huntington, The Public, The Met, or the Boston Lyric Opera. Yes, its a risk to take on a work that doesn’t carry a star-name or has been flying under the radar, but ultimately we must take risks in order to move forward and everyone needs to pull their weight.

In the same vein, as artists and patrons we have an obligation to support new work. Take a chance on a new play, look around town for plays you’ve never heard of. We need to put our money where our mouth is. If you have the means, donate to companies that commit to producing new work. As an artist, take on projects where you’ll be working with new collaborators and new work. Read and listen to new plays and operas and talk to the people you know about producing them. Get conversations started and keep them going! It’s not going to be easy, it never has been, but it’s necessary.

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The Problem with Ironic Distance

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of talks about the power that humor and comedy have in relationship to times of political crisis, and how important that form is to utilize in today’s world. I want to just establish up top that my response to that, in short, is yes. I think when you look at the historical precedent set, you would be hard pressed to deny the political power that comedy holds.

However, I think it is important to acknowledge that not all comedy functions the same, or rather that is to say, when we talk about the revolutionary potential of comedy, we have to examine what comedy are we talking about, how is it functioning, and does that function allow for revolutionary potential?

I want to examine a particular form of humor that I feel has been increasingly relevant, and gauge it’s revolutionary potential. I want to discuss the humor of ironic distance.

Ironic distance is a form of humor in which the joke maker will ironically comment on a thing that they are already embedded within, as a means to try and distance themselves from that thing. This type of humor is often seen in the form of self-referential humor, meta-humor, and much of meme culture.

It should be noted, that often with this humor there is sort of a cynical implication embedded within it, in so far as that the joke maker will point out a thing that is wrong or has a negative connection, but will go ahead and indulge in that thing anyway. For example many narratives that utilize this humor may comment on a series of overused,  tropes, giving a wink and a nod to the audience, and then proceed to do them anyway.

It is at this point where we need to examine what this humor is actually doing with it’s form in relationship to its revolutionary potential. I would like to draw a parallel between what the form of this humor is, and a philosophical quandary about the dangers of the capitalist ideology.

Now when I use the word ideology, I use it in a specific way. I am referring to a Marxist definition of the word, that is being altered by Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. When Marx uses the work Ideology, he defines this as things “They do not know what they do, but they do it anyway” The things that we do without questioning, because of the circumstance surrounding the society we live in.

Zizek however argues that this analysis is no longer sufficient. Zizek makes the argument that ideology is now far closer to “they know it, and they are doing it anyway”. That is to say, we often know about how x (which can be any number of things) acts unjustly, but still we act as if we didn’t know that.

Ideology in Zizek’s mind does not require us to be mindless automatons in order for it to control us. Rather, it can actually allow a certain amount of revolutionary thought, as long as it fits within the box of the ideology (for example, think about the mired of commercials that include a sort of “progressive” message at it’s core, like amazon’s knee pad commercial, Coke’s National Anthem commercial, or 84 lumber’s “wall” commercial. All these commercials theoretically have messages that are actually a danger to the current capitalist political ideology, but in actuality they don’t , because the ends of these commercials are not to spread a worthy message, but rather to commodity that message, and make you want to buy their products)

The point being, is that for something to be inherently un-revolutionary, it does not have to look and feel like the ideology that it would be revolting against.

This brings us back to ironic distance. While this sort of meta, self referential humor may feel revolutionary because it is poking fun at old structures, in actuality a great deal of the time all it is doing is acknowledging what those old structures are, and then proceed to abide by them, i.e., “they know it, and they are doing it anyway”.

OK, fine, by why does that matter? How does this practically manifest in a negative way? Well, remember when I brought up cynicism, here is where this comes into play.

I should note at this time that when I use the word cynicism, i’m using it in sort of a convoluted way. (my apologizes) I am not using the word in the colloquial sense of the word, to mean a general sense of negativity, but I’m also not using it in the proper philosophical way, to mean finding purpose in life through the virtues of nature, and simple living. Rather, I am hyper focusing on one aspect of philosophical cynicism, the empathizes of a false regression in order to undermine a point.

This is best understood through the lens of one of philosophies earliest cynics, Diogenes. Diogenes would take great issue with many of Athens policies during his life, and would perform a series of increasingly outrageous actions to undercut them.  For example, when Athens outlawed masturbation, instead of gathering people and making a speech to convince the people that this law was absurd, he rather would go and masturbate in the marketplace, calling for all honest men to join him.

Now this sort of regression rhetoric is not a bad thing per se, in fact in terms of revolutionary potential it often is far more effective then a more traditional debate and engagement based technique.

However, when this cynicism is a byproduct of ironic distance, which has trouble with being revolutionary by it’s very form, we see a growing issue with a refusal to engage with thoughts, and rather an increase of a apathetic version of false regression. And one need not look farther then one of ironic distance greatest homes to see this happen, the internet.

When you look at a comment thread for an article that contains a political issue, what do you expect to find? Sure, there’s a wide variety of things you might find, some might be useful even. But one thing you can bank on being there is a sort of perversion of Diogenes rhetoric, in which somebody will refuse to engage in political ideas, and rather simply make a mockery of the very practice of political engagement itself, and often does that through the humor of ironic distance.

This sort of thing can manifest in many different ways. We could talk about the alt-right and their use of memes, or the sort of political apathy that can come as a result of this ironic distance.  But I want to ask you one thing in particular as I come to a close. How long did we put the idea of a Trump presidency at a cynical, Ironic distance? How long was it a joke? Well, it’s still a joke, but a very different one now, not the haha kind.

And so, when we talk about comedy, we must acknowledge that it while it almost always holds a certain amount of power, that power is not always used for a revolutionary purpose. There are times that this power is used as a means to support the existing ideologies. It is then important for us to really engage with the humor that we use and consume, and conciser, how does it work, what’s its function, and can it be revolutionary?

“In contemporary societies, democratic or totalitarian, that cynical distance, laughter, irony, are, so to speak, part of the game”

-Slavoj Zizek

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#icarltonchallenge

At this moment, I am undeniably meeting the arts world through a dance lens – forgive the lack of variety in posting subjects, I’m #just #too #lit about it.

This weekend, Music Producer Antigo2hard and dance group The Williams Family came out with a new dance craze: the ICarltonChallenge.

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The challenge? Take the song “iCarlton” produced by Antigo2hard and J.I.G. and the viral dance choreo done by The Williams Family (……..wiiiith full acknowledgement that every viral hip-hop dance move in our contemporary moment originated in the Black community and that these three white guys, although sharp and talented, are not the pinnacle of hip hop) and make your own version!

My friend Cam posted the Williams Fam video on Facebook, posing the challenge and asking for takers. Myself and our Fusion friend Shiv jumped on, and we got to scheming our video.

The next day, the three of us found time amidst our schedules – about three hours that we all had in common – to get this thing done. We met, and in an hour and a half learned/originated our own version of the dance. It was speedy and messy – every time we ran it and found a new opportunity for originality or cleaning, we’d laugh and jump up and down. Every time we’d run it and mess up, we’d yell in agony and start the whole thing again. Creativity in motion, people!

We headed down the street to meet Cam’s girlfriend, Mana, our videographer for the day. We suited up in full Carlton Clothes, and headed to her roof to get this thing done.

The real #challenge was getting the right take. The roof was wet. Our speaker was on one bar of battery. The sun was going down. And, worst of all, if we are filming a single-take, minute long video, and one of us messes up, we have to start again. And again. And again.

Finally, somehow, we got the take.

Less than 30 minutes later, we dropped this:

Afterwards, I skipped down the street on the phone with my mom, beaming.

My biggest takeaway? The amount of time I spend whining, saying “I don’t have time”, is just wasting the time I actually have to make art. The three of us prioritizing, organizing, and making something to be proud of together left me euphoric.

(Also? Post a vid of you doing something cool, and every ghost from your past will come back to haunt it.)

This post is also a shameless promo. If you like our video, share it on any internet platform with the #icarltonchallenge and maybe we’ll win!

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When it’s all worth it

“It’s Carmen, right? You said you’re a double major. With all of the hours and work that Jon was talking about, how do you manage it?”

“Honestly, with great difficulty.” I went on to elaborate on the choices and sacrifices I’ve made in order to *hopefully* graduate in 2018 with a BFA in Stage Management and Lighting Design from BU. I ended along the lines of, but it’s what I need in order to grow as an artist, and so far I’d say its worth it. Every year during portfolio reviews for prospective Design & Production students applying to BU I get that question from a parent or student, how do you manage the work load and the hours of the program? It’s a deceptively difficult question to answer. You figure it out, you make choices, and it’s never an easy choice between a good thing and an okay thing, its generally two great things. And sometimes, you need a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Sitting in the house of the Wimberly on Saturday night for the opening of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, I had one of those moments. As my first proscenium show, the process has been full of steep learning curves, mistakes, hardwork, lost sleep, and less than my best work on a couple school assignments. Due to many factors out of my control, I’ve been a little more removed from this process than I normally am as an ME. I’d never actually seen or heard the show all the way through until opening, meaning that all of my work on the process was largely out of context. Sure, I’ll point that light there. I’ll go switch that color. Let me go see why that won’t turn on. I woke up Saturday morning at 7:30am to go to work the portfolio reviews exhausted and relieved it was opening because it meant tech was over and I’d get some time to relax this week. But sitting in the house that night, watching the story unfold, I forgot about all work. I laughed, I cringed, I let myself be swept into the world. I sat beaming in pride that my work went into creating something so beautiful, both in terms of the design and acting. Yes, what we do is hard and some parts of it suck, but we get to transcend time and communicate the human experience, and that is beautiful.

Come see the show! Runs through 2/25. http://www.bu.edu/today/2017/cfa-tis-pity-shes-a-whore/

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It’s All Subjective

Canon conducted an experiment in 2015. They asked six photographers to take separate portraits of the same man. Each photographer was told a different story about the man’s life before the session. Every portrait looked wildly different.

The experiment revealed the power of an artist’s bias in creation, and what they make says more about them than whoever their subject is. This is examined relentlessly in Jackie Sibblies Drury’s REALLY, a play about photography, perspepctive, memory, and how subjective they really are.

Girlfriend, a photographer, is taking a portrait of Mother. The two women are connected by Calvin, present on stage only as a memory. His story is told through their varied accounts of their interactions with him. But the play begs the question: are either of them right; can either woman accurately capture who he was?

Memory, in this way, is compared to photography. A single image of a person cannot possibly encompass the entirety of their humanity, can it? The memories conjured by Mother versus by Girlfriend inform more about who those women are. What, and how, they remember is a testament to their own view of the world. For Mother, a damaged, lost boy who never got the kind of love he deserved. For Girlfriend, a frantic, volatile, but brilliant artist. Maybe both are true.

I left the play feeling as if I learned a lot about Calvin, or at the very least, his essence, the core of who he was. It has to be at least somewhat true, unless the Calvin we come to know is a fabrication pieced together by Mother and Girlfriend. Is that the goal of the photographer? Is it the most we can expect? And if that’s the case, how reliable are these snapshots of a person’s life, really?

There’s a problem of perspective in this play. All the characters suffer from it. They are wrapped up in their own life, worldview, idea of the other people, and they can’t seem to look beyond it. Even Girlfriend, who says she cannot sit still without thinking about the world outside herself, is caught up in her feelings. Even at the moments of most worldliness, there is a lens of opinion, emotion. There is no way to see anything objectively in this play.

And it has me wondering, is that true for me, too? Can my art be objective, or will even my most thoughtful, well researched, not-about-me art inevitably be about me? How I feel? What I think? Maybe the fact that I’m wording the question that way is my answer.

For tickets to REALLY, visit Company One’s website.

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How to Make Art When All the Other Stuff Threatens to Get in the Way

Question of the week: how am I supposed to make art when everything else keeps taking over my brain space? How do you keep the integrity of the story when you spend six hours thinking about whether or not you need to paint the bar a different color? Here’s what I have gleaned in the last few weeks, a few bullet points of baby wisdom, a couple of thoughts presented in convenient listicle form.

  1. Know the text. If you know the text inside and out, making choices about the art of it all becomes easier. The less you have to search desperately for answers, clutch at straws, the more the process will flow. The better you know the text, the easier it is to know when things are sticking out, when things don’t make sense, when something isn’t quite right. The sooner you can notice these intricate details, the less crammed you’ll feel when you get down to the part of the process when the nitty gritty takes over.
  2. Find time for silence. It’s really important for me to have time to clear my head. I find that this can only happen when I’m alone, distracted by nothing, no other people or sounds pulling my attention. Then I can sit and think with clarity, get through the thing that might have been taking up a lot of brain space. I also think it’s vital to be alone to recharge before getting into the room. I need to have time to clear the day away from me, especially when it’s been a day of dealing with minuscule details of production, so I can go into the room with eyes only on the art of the thing.
  3. Come in from the streetcar. My stage manager/all-around assistant Lydia taught me something the other day which her grandmother used to say- in order to see something clearly you have to come in from the streetcar. Go out of the room, get off the streetcar, walk into the room as though you were arriving for the first time, and I promise you’ll be able to see the thing with new eyes. When you find you can’t shake all the other ideas about the thing from your brain, come in from the streetcar.
  4. Bring snacks. You can’t make art when you’re hungry.
  5. Stick to your own rules. People work best when the rules are clear and followed. If your breaks are ten minutes, break for ten minutes and ten minutes only. If you’re starting your run at 2:45, start at 2:45. The sooner you make everyone in the room adhere to the rules, the less time you’ll spend trying to get everyone to adhere to the rules. That’s the last thing you want to be worried about when six things start happening at once. And this applies to you, too. If you set a rule for yourself, follow it. Do as you expect the rest of your team to do.
  6. Remember that the tedious stuff is part of the art, too. Yes, spending 6 hours contemplating the color of the bar is ridiculous. But wondering whether a white or black bar fits better with the personality of the character and communicates the thing you want to communicate is not unreasonable. The thing that feel like the minutia of the project all add up to create the project.

There will come a point in the process when you spend more time figuring out how to build that arch you need for your set than thinking about the overarching themes of the play. Know that this time will come, and be prepared for it. And then, make sure you don’t spend too much time there. Don’t get lost in the seductive feeling of making 6 definitive decisions in a day. Do what you need, then get back to the play. Always, always, always, look back to the play.

The play is, after all, the thing.