Leave a comment

Not a White Knight

Last night I went to Company One‘s production of An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a co-production with ArtsEmerson. Despite my anticipation over this long-awaited production, I couldn’t help but enter the theater distracted and out-of-sorts. My unrest arose from an encounter minutes before I walked through the door.

I arrived at the Paramount around 6:50 pm, picked up my ticket, and crossed the street to Caffè Nero for coffee before the 2.5 hour production. I had brought along “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine to read.

As I drank my coffee, two girls sat beside me at the communal table. One had a sandwich and water in front of her and the other a cup of clam chowder and a bottle of coke. I didn’t know Caffè Nero served clam chowder. It smelled… funky. I never actually saw her eat any of the soup. One girl was trying to open the bottle of coke.

“It hurts my hands,” she said, grimacing at her friend.

I pulled out the bottle opener on my key-chain and offered to crack the cap, to which she smiled and thanked me.

She didn’t need my help. It just happened to be unobtrusive, unassuming, and thoughtful.

After that I noticed her friend (who sat beside me) would find something interesting to look at over her left shoulder (the side on which I sat) for long spans of silence. She would smile at her friend across from us, who would hide a smirk and give me a quick sideways glance. I paid this no mind.

From one look at these girls I saw they could be no older than seventeen.

What happened next was what shocked and upset me most that night.

A man sat at the end of the table. I hadn’t noticed him before. His headphones were in and he had been engrossed in his phone.

He took up conversation with the girl across the table from me. I tried not to listen. It was none of my business. I ignore a majority of the conversation until I heard her ask:

“So… what are you looking for?”

“Oh, well… friends,” he responded.

I closed my book and stared down the end of the table, dumbstruck.

The man was easily 30 years old.

“I’m new here,” he says, and goes on to explain he’s lived in Boston for nine months after moving from Armenia.

“Do you go to school around here?” He asked.

“We go to W.J.O.H.S.” she answers.

I cringe. “H.S.” H.S., you idiot: HIGH SCHOOL! I want to scream at him.

“Is it near by?” At this she nervously looks at her friend.

“It’s a ways—way over there,” she says, gesturing in an arbitrary direction.

The man hardly notices my incredulous gaze throughout.

“So, do you have—are you on Facebook?”

“Oh, no, I don’t have Facebook, sorry.”

“Oh, I see.”

The table grows quite. She begins texting her friend sitting beside me, glancing across at each other in recognition. They pack up their things and begin to leave.

“Goodbye,” she says to the man, “it was nice meeting you.”

He smiles and nods and goes back to his phone.

I feel filthy.

In my feminist heart of hearts, I know she did not need my help. I know she did not need a machismo savior to swoop in and defend her. She did not need a White Knight. She was smart and confident and independent. She went to high school in the city. She read that man like a book and dismissed him with ease and charm.

The girls were gone. The man was swept up in his phone. I flipped through my book. Unable to read. Unable to think. My heart was beating at an uncomfortable rate.

I gathered my things and approached the man. I get his attention through a shoulder tap.

“Oh?”

“I just wanted to let you know that those two girls you were talking to were sixteen years old,” I say to him.

Sixteen?” He looks surprised.

“Yes. They were high schoolers. So the next time you’re looking to ‘make friends’ you should at least make sure they’re eighteen years old.”

He thanks me for telling him and explains how he is still new to Boston. He thanks me again and goes to fist-bump which I instinctively engage and feel horrified immediately after.

“NO. You know, this isn’t a fist-bump moment. This is not cool. That is predatory behavior. Do you understand me?” I say to him. “Do NOT do it again.”

I left.

It was a mixture of pride, shame, and sadness that followed. Four other people had sat at that communal table and said nothing while the man spoke to the girl, just like me. They didn’t bother to look up from their devices. They opted out of any kind of social responsibility.

I walked across the street to the Paramount.

A critical function of the theater is to implicate an audience’s role in society and comment on it in a safe, fictional space. It can evoke an audience’s empathy, anger, confusion, biases, prejudices; it can question our beliefs, morals, and laws. But the ultimate, underlying question is how do our perspectives and values meet and engage the society around us?

I saw An Octoroon. I haven’t quite decoded everything I felt through the production. But I believe I have a grasp on how Jacobs-Jenkins is inviting me to engage with the society around me. His message resonates quite timely with the #OscarsSoWhite movement on social media. He invites audiences to question and challenge the lack of stories from all people of color (POC) featured in film, television, and stage productions through the subversion of the melodramatic fetishization and dehumanization of POC derived from The Octaroon, by Dion Boucicault.

The discomfort and anger I felt towards the predator in the coffee shop is exactly the kind of power and responsibility the theater wields. It has the capacity to showcase the dangerous in a safe, controlled environment. And, in my ideal vision of theater, it should inspire an audience to take action. To confront injustices they witness, to stand for their believes, to ask questions as to why things are they way they are.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ mission aligns very similarly to my own. I want to promote and produce theater that empowers under-represented voices in the theater. Theater that challenges the status quo. And theater that requires action and engagement in response, that creates dialogue between individuals and their society.

As for representation in the theater, this is a pretty special moment in Boston. Back The Night by Melinda Lopez, Baltimore and Milk Like Sugar by Kirsten Greenidge, The Convert by Danai Gurira, Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, An Octaroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; all plays written by playwrights of color and confronting challenging perspectives within American society.

It’s a special moment in Boston to support diversity in arts and entertainment, because without active engagement we cannot reshape the status quo.


 

When I think on my coffee shop experience, I can’t help but thinking about a quote I encountered while working on my thesis: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” – Irina Dunn. Then I think on playwright Pam Gem’s idealistic optimism that both men and women fall victim to the ridiculous expectations of society. Then I think of tough love, maternal or paternal love. Then I think of David Mamet, “There is no character. There are only lines upon a page.” I wonder about how I hear and understand what people say differently based on who is saying it and what social context it falls in. I wonder if I really know what he wanted. I contemplate the concept of “the right thing to do.”

I imagine I will remain engaged with this moment for some time to come.


 

Special thanks to Ramona Ostrowski and other ArtsEmerson & C1 staff for allowing me to vent my frustration.

Leave a comment

Oscars So White, Murphy So Right?

Over the past month critiques of the Oscars overwhelming number of white nominations has set the internet on fire. Solutions, boycotts, battle cries, etc. Among the many responses, Ryan Murphy stands out.

Murphy, the writer/producer behind Glee, American Horror Story, the HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart, and many other TV programs has announced plans to create a new production company. This new production company, called Half, aims to have 50 percent (or half) of it’s TV shows directed by women, people of color, and/or LGBT people. This initiative could obviously help chip away at the Great White Problem that has become The Academy Awards. However, there’s something important in how Murphy presented this new company.

In a press release Murphy, a white man, was quoted saying “I personally can do better”. He not only recognized Hollywood’s problem and took action against it, but acknowledged his previous mistakes. He does not propose that Half will solve Hollywood’s problem, but he’s simply creating a space for underrepresented people to head new projects. If the rest of white Hollywood could match Murphy’s self awareness (and if theater companies in America could listen up as well!) then we’d be on our way to true equality. In the entertainment business, at least.

Murphy’s heart is clearly in the right place, but at the same time why half? Why not all? Even if every single director in one production company were women, people of color, and/or LGBT people this would still be a small section of Hollywood. Does this mean that the other half of the company will be comprised of straight white men? Are half of those spaces being reserved for them?

Time will tell. Regardless Murphy’s sense of responsibility is notable, and far more admirable then most of Hollywood.

Read the full story here:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ryan-murphy-launches-foundation-tackle-861436

Leave a comment

Man-ing Up as a Writer

Mya Kagan, a New York based playwright, has built a steady career for herself as a playwright and screenwriter since graduating from NYU in 2006. Her resume includes productions and awards in NYC, and her impressive list of special skills (she can speak American Sign Language, French, Hebrew, and Zulu) confirm that she’s clearly an accomplished and interesting woman—but has being a woman prevented her from receiving opportunities?

This question sits at the center of Mya Kagan’s project Submitting Like A Man (SLAM). Kagan, like many young playwrights, submits her work to many theaters. Like many young artists, she experiences rejection regularly (she boasts a 10% success rate, better then most playwrights). Unlike most writers produced in this country, she’s a woman. As her website (http://submittinglikeaman.com/) states, “51% of the population in the US is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female”1. Kagan grew curious wether her gender deterred theaters from producing her work, and as a result she will spend the next year resubmitting her rejected plays. 117 theaters will receive an unchanged script with an unchanged application, with only one exception–she’s submitting under a male alias.

Kagan openly admits that this project is not an exact science—many uncontrolled elements could influence the results (new readers, weaker competition, etc.). I’m not interested in the uncontrolled variables. I’m sickened by our country’s broken new play development. As a male writer I’ve also submitted my plays into what seems to be a black hole. The maddening process requires endurance, patience, and quite a lot of stamina because often times it does not work out. But there’s always hope, right? If you’re a man at least.

I, like most followers, am nervous for Mya’s results. If her acceptance rate increases even a little bit then every reader in this country must look at themselves and ask “why do I favor masculine writing?”. But if her acceptance rate remains the same (or falls) the question will still remain. Only 20% of our stories don’t come from a masculine perspective. If this project does not produce “desirable date” the question we must still ask ourselves, why aren’t women being produced? Then again, if Kagan’s project results in a higher success rate then nobody wins. We’ll scold theaters for their subconscious (or conscious?) sexism, and we’ll encourage female writers that someone will make space for them soon.

The results of Kagan’s project are irrelevant to me. The fact that one writer became so frustrated with her career that she would dream up such a strange project, put it in practice, and present it publicly on one of the cruelest forums known to the human race (the internet) should make us all ask ourselves “why do we favor masculine writing?”. Kagan should be admired. She’s raised the question in a non-accusatory way, she’s taken matters into her own hands, and she’s taking a risk. Let’s learn from her efforts now instead of waiting for the statistics to role in.

1Kagan, Mya. “Manning Up.” Submitting Like A Man. N.p., 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Leave a comment

Confessions of an Amateur Dramaturg

I took a huge jump into the unknown when I signed on to becoming the Dramaturg for the new play, Baltimore, by Kirsten Greenidge. However, I was so interested in being a part of the process that I pushed aside that unknown, telling myself it was a new learning opportunity for something I could find I’m good at!

My Definition of a Dramaturg before beginning the process:

I research the world of the play and provide the actors and crew with information regarding events that occur or are mentioned in said world. For the audience, I create a display that shows some of this information so that they can be informed as well.

My Current Definition of a Dramaturg:

I research the world of the play in its entirety and provide the actors and crew with information regarding events that occur or are mentioned in said world; a mix of information plain and clear, with thought provoking articles and opinions surrounding subjects discussed in the play. I tend to questions asked by all members of the process and share information given to me by members. I assist the Sign Language interpreters as they tackle finding appropriate translations for the play that will provide non-hearing audiences with the same effects that hearing audiences will receive. I create a display for the audience that prepares them for what they are about to experience. The display starts to drop in aspects of the play that the Playwright, Director, and I believe will help the audience receive the play best. It is interactive, giving the audience the opportunity to respond in varying ways. Curate talkback facilitators and guests that will give the audience something to grasp onto which helps bring the play outside of the theatre and into their physical world.

I’m sure I will learn even more as opening night ascends! This experience has expanded my knowledge of a role in the theatre I didn’t know existed before coming to college and had poorly understood before joining the Baltimore team. I am also finding that I quite enjoy taking in the needs of the audience from this angle.

Here’s to jumping headfirst into unknown experiences and coming out a better artist!

BEVERLY

Leave a comment

A Manifesto, of Sorts.

 

To begin a journey, I have to know where I’m coming from. Otherwise, how will I know when I’ve done something worth noting?

Three years ago, I was given an assignment to create an artistic manifesto. What did I see the future of art to be? What did I want to bring to art, to the world? Three years ago, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what it meant to be a living, breathing, contributing artist – let alone an “adult” – in this world; and I most certainly didn’t know what my artistic manifesto was. So, the assignment resulted in me babbling on about how technology and art were going to collide and bring forth a new nation of art that was going to balance and do things…. and some cool sculpture I made from Crayola clay that, I think is still in a box at home.

Long story short, I’ve grown. I’ve learned, experienced, questioned, challenged, fought, and seen. Three years, from three years ago, and I can now confidently say that I think I know why I need to make art.

I give you, word vomit, in the form of little 000s and 1111s that make letters:

  • Race
  • Origin
  • Human Psyche
  • Evil
  • Collaboration
  • Representation
  • Access

(in no particular order)

I feel like everywhere I turn, I am constantly being asked – and asking – why? Why am I here? Why did they do that? Why is the world such a horrible yet simultaneously amazing place? After some time of not being able to confidently answer those questions, a clearer me was born. I want to answer the why, which consequently is never fully answered because answering one question often creates another and another and another. I am realizing that everything I am currently doing this semester, is forcing me to do just that.

Why do we need to keep having race discussions in ““““post-racial”””” America? Because racism is so engrained in our short, short life as a country, that human lives are still being ended, endangered, and horrifically judged, because of the color of their skin. Where do I, as a white half-Latina woman, fit into this subject, and how do I use the privileges I have to give others the opportunity to use their voices, without stifling my own? How does art change minds? Make people think? Start conversations? Because an artist sits back and observes, absorbs, and ruminates every experience they have and brings it into their work – representing it all simply because they opened up their minds to seeing how others see things.

Why do I feel so strongly about blurring the lines between acting and dance? Because the lines have never been clear in my own training, so why should they be in the theatre world? Why am I so drawn to working in ensembles, to collaborating verses creating on my own? Because more minds are better than one; because it becomes less about how I can’t come up with or stick with any good ideas and more about bouncing ideas on a myriad of walls and seeing which ones stick. Why did I do this to myself? I must be crazy. Because underneath the anxiety and doubt that I still deal with on a daily basis, though I’ve identified that it is not justified and just designed to scare me – I know I can do this, I know I need to do this, and I know I will do this with others who are just as passionate.

Now, my, A Manifesto, of Sorts, can go on for about ten pages, but I just need a peek into it to see that it is going, at full speed, whether I am ready for it to or not. All I can do is take this final semester of undergrad, and sit back, observe, absorb, and ruminate, like any good artist, budding or not, should. Yes, I did just should on myself.

BEVERLY

Leave a comment

Podcasts: DVR Radio

Hello Folks! Its been about a year since I posted here and with the new year (and new class). I am back and ready for action and coming out the gates talking about one of my favorite things.

Why Podcasts? They are the “in thing” right now, and if you aren’t listening to one I’m sure the person next to you will excitedly suggest a few to you. As many news outlets are noting, 2016 will be the year of the podcast, but that begs the question, What is the future of podcasting?

In this WIRED Article the claim is made that podcasts will need to move “beyond audio” and utilize Vine, GIFs and more interactive mediums to truly succeed. Without these, they will never be able to make the full jump into the mainstream culture.

My response goes something like this

The fact is, podcasts ARE THE MAINSTREAM. And they got their due to being intimate events. Listening to voices telling stories, reviewing movies, going on comedic riffs without any visual context lets us imagine what it was to be there. Sure, the audience is not being spoonfed how to respond, and that is fantastic.

As my favorite podcast, Comedy Bang Bang, put it “It’s DVR Radio!” When they are talk shows they feel like a conversation you got to listen in on. When they are suspenseful or scary it becomes like a ghost story told around the fire. It is like having a group of people whisper sweet nothings in my ears, and I do not need to see those people to enjoy their presence.

Will I complain if podcasts add a visual medium? No.

Do I think they need them? Hell no!

If the president is now making appearances on podcasts like Marc Maron’s, then I think the medium is doing fine as it is.

P.S. My parents love podcasts… and if they found them without me or my sister bringing them up, they must be at least partially in the mainstream. Also, they are really enjoy You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes in case you needed another podcast to listen to.

Leave a comment

InterACTive: Theatrical Team Building

Out in Chicago a production just opened called The Last Defender, and interactive piece of theatre where the audience of 16 people try to prevent the destruction of the world. The stakes are high, the puzzles are difficult, and the success rate barely exists. Also… the poster is pretty fucking epic

Now, I don’t have the pleasure of seeing this production, because it is in a city far from where I live, but you can read about experiencing it here. The important thing to me is what shows like this mean for theatre.

The premise of working together with a room full of strangers (or group of friends/ co-workers if you get together enough people together) lets us learn alot about team dynamics. Self proclaimed leaders are bound to emerge, alliances are bound to be created, and as the success rate of The Last Defender, a measly 20%, suggest, chaos ensues.

So why should we care?

Theatre like this gives hands on learning to its audiences. If 16 people are not able to work together to save the world by solving simple problems, clearly there exists a problem in the world. Clearly we need shows that makes us rexamine just how well we work with those around us. CLEARLY WE NEED TO BE TOLD THAT BEING IMPORTANT IS NOT AS IMPORTANT AS SAVING THE EARTH!!!!

So if you are in Chicago go and see this one for me… but if you are in Boston you can go to Room Escape Adventures and get trapped in a room with a zombie… maybe those stakes can teach you how to work with those around you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 214 other followers