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Babashook! A Gay Odyssey

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DID YOU HEAR THE NEWS?! THE BABADOOK AND PENNYWISE THE CLOWN HAVE STARTED DATING!!!! The latest development in the trend of cinema’s villains becoming gay icons. While on the surface it may seem like a harmless pop culture joke to turn such despicable characters into rainbow flag waving, twink chasing big silly homos but if we pull it apart more we find an interesting background.

Growing up gay I always found that the villains were my favorite characters. Ursula, Hades, Jafar, and Scar to name just a few, we’re the characters I found the most to relate to. Ursula, banished to a cave was desperate to be as beautiful as Ariel was told she was. Hades, betrayed by his brothers wanted to get the recognition that he was denied not living on Mount Olympus. Jafar, the true brains behind the crown wanted the chance to prove that it was he who was running things not the Sultan and Scar wanted to get out of the shadow of his domineering older brother and unify the lions and the hyenas.

Though these may seem like inverted readings of classic tales they were the opinions I had as a young boy. I believe it is because gay people have been so exposed to themselves being demonized by all facets of society that we begin to believe it, subconsciously and relate to characters that are just as maligned as our community. Why else would we latch onto The Babadook, an otherworldly entity who embodies depression violence? Or Pennywise, a demonic clown who feeds on the fears of children and literally eats them? Or–yes he’s a gay icon–Freddy Kruger (Nightmare on Elm Street II is hereldad as a great gay film), the child molester turned dream walker who kills teens as they sleep.

Gay people have been conditioned to vilify themselves and so when we see movies we tend toward the characters that line up with that worldview. We cant see ourselves as the heroes, the man who gets the girl or the one who everyone trusts because in the eyes of the world we are not trusted. We have been babashook by how we’re perceived and now we have a pantheon of gay icons who are themselves: murderers, predators, deviants and demons.

 

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BOUND Part III: Discovering The Essential Dramaturgy of Dramatherapy in Rehearsal

This post is an installment in a small series. Please read the first & second blog posts contextualize this one. The goal of this series is to provide a behind-the-scenes view of a specific dramaturgical process.

One of the challenges faced during the process was that we dealt with difficult material that was often generated by writing prompts completed by cast members. In a “professional” arts setting, actors are expected to deal with emotional issues sparked by the work on their own time. In a high school theatre setting, there is another layer of responsibility placed on the facilitators (adults) to ensure the mental safety of participants.

Mental safety, however, is often a lesser priority than physical safety, which seems to be a given. In this specific process, we knew we would be dealing directly with difficult experiences, and so we worked to prepare for that. While I think we did well, I know we were not entirely successful in guiding our actors through the process unscathed (not that this can ever truly be accomplished). This process, in which I took on significant personal responsibility for students, prompted me to arrive at conclusions that played a big role in my decision to return to school.

Much like in SOT, we spent a significant amount of time helping the students to warm up their bodies, voices, and minds, too, to do the tasks they needed to for rehearsal and performance. But after emotionally exhausting rehearsals, the actors could be left feeling raw and vulnerable. So what about the “cool down” process?  There wasn’t much in place for that, other than verbal confirmation that a “cool down” was necessary. As a leader in the room, I was blindsided (why?) by this need, and unsure of how to pursue it in a group setting. This was not the only process that has led me to believe that we as educators AND practitioners need to create a habitual space for the cool down.

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EHS Students work the Physical Score for BOUND.

 

In academic settings, there are structures in place that technically can deal with these issues. In the high school that I worked in we had councilors, and at Boston University we have Behavioral Health. But the removal of these challenges from the rehearsal room implies that they are not a natural or relevant component of the theatrical experience, and I find this to be a dangerous perception. By no means am I advocating for confining the mental health of participants to the rehearsal room. I am aware that these issues can and do take time outside of theatrical spaces to deal with. What I am advocating for is a sort of dramaturgy of drama-therapy: A habitual structure of attention to the mental health of performers in all levels of process.

Dramatherapy as a practice is layered and complex, and there is not space for a full exploration of its methods in every rehearsal room. But I strongly believe that an element of dramatherapuetic concepts should be a staple of our processes, just as physical safety is a staple. Not all processes are going to necessitate the professional skills necessary to deal with issues of mental health, but I believe that it is the responsibility of theatre practitioners to have the basic skills to address with such issues if they do arise.

We do not have to—nor should we—solve all problems within the boundaries of the rehearsal room. However, the process of creating BOUND showed me that these skills need to be present—even if they are just the skills to identify patterns and make a referral—to be a responsible facilitator.

 

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Devising theatre

It is interesting taking on a devised project. The process can be filled with surprises and is, from what I know of the few I have been a part of, always challenging. Whether that challenge comes to light in the concept, performance, design, etc., it is important for a company to be prepared.

I plan to devise a performance with two other classmates and that is all it has been, planning. We plan to use different sources of inspiration and need to take the next step in finding out as much as we can about them. We need to answer all the questions, but when will we actually know what all the questions are? We need to find out how we are splitting up the work load and how to support each other in completing tasks. Everything we are doing or going to do is to be prepared.

Something might catch us off guard at any moment and it’s terrifying. Every step is more rigorous. Does anyone out there have any tips? Maybe it is better to figure it out on our own. We are simply taking a step out into the open and grabbing on to what we can. When in the development process, it is easy for me to get overly ambitious and excited and grab onto more than I can chew, but I know that, in order to be clear in every step, I need to take things slowly. I’m starting by taking in as much as I can, so I can give more when it counts.

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Let’s Try This One More Time

Change
I can’t hear you.
Seriously, I can’t.
Not a single word coming out of your mouth is available for my comprehension.

The reason isn’t in you. Start again.

Change

The text? THE TEXT.
That thing that is essentially the playwright’s entire contribution to the theatrical process?
It’s all in the text. (If the text is good)(If it isn’t a new play)(If it isn’t Beckett, or exception #2,3,4..ETC.)

Yes. Yes, that thing.

Change

The Scene.
That would be the thing that I’m not getting.
Please speak up.
Please let me hear what you have to say.
or maybe it’s not that.
I’m begging you…..
I’m telling you and I don’t understand why you are here if you are not here to deliver.
I want to hear, I want to know, I want to share.
Why won’t you let me in?

Damn it.

I’m bored now.

(Hold) if you can maybe not just let (them?) (me?) trudge through it
Let’s all endure it for…………………….

Chaaaange

(((((((((I’m sorry, Mr. Tanner isn’t available for judgement calls at the moment))))))))))))))

However long the exploration takes this time.

Is it alright to resent you?
That’s where I am. Resentment. (Sorry?)

Change!

The professional term for that is boredom.

WAIT, I HEAR THE ACTOR!!!!!! youseethatyouseethat… you.see.that…?
That’s it, let’s dance, we found the thing that makes it all come together for one hot second and-

Lights out.

The scene is over?

Wait…

What?

IT’S ALL OVER?

But, but…..

We’re at time.
Dinner time, remember. You need to eat. We all need to eat and think about anything else.

But I didn’t hear any of it?

I saw it… yes. But I remain uninformed….

I was there, I was present.
Right?

I feel so left out.

I didn’t hear any of it.

Change

I didn’t feel any of it.

Which side of the process am I on? Can you tell? I can’t. Not today.
Find the story. Do it. Share it. Keep it simple.

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Challenging my Activism

This week, I’ve been researching and writing for our Antigone program note assignment. The play that I’m dramaturging is Antigone in New York by Janusz Glowacki. Glowacki also wrote Hunting Cockroaches, which was produced here at BU in 2016, directed by Stephen Pick. In Cockroaches, he writes about the strife of poverty, but specifically uses humor as a tool to get the audience warmed up for the hard truths he serves about American society. He does the same with Antigone in New York. It’s a story about three homeless immigrants (one Puerto Rican, one Russian, and one Polish) who live in Tompkins Square Park in Lower Manhattan in 1990. The play itself has moments when the characters make me laugh out loud, but the subject of homelessness is no laughing matter. In my research, I’ve discovered the challenge of dramaturging about an issue that makes me unsettled.

This play gives the audience the opportunity to question their understanding about how homelessness and poverty intertwine, but at the end of the day it is purely a story set on stage that is, to a degree, entertaining to watch. Yes, it ends with a call to action: the Policeman calls out that “Current statistics now say that the number of homeless in New York City is growing and that by the end of this year, for every three hundred New Yorkers there will be one homeless person which means that in this theater there is at least one prospective homeless person. And you know who you are. Have a nice evening.”

That’s it. The play ends there, with a statement designed to provoke, to insight. But, who could say if after I left the theatre, I would have felt compelled to do more than just bear witness to this story? Sure, I would have learned a lot — but if this play had been produced without a strong dramaturgical eye or the choice to give the audience more information about the current state of homelessness, I don’t know how much it would have stayed on my brain. Sadly, that proves that this issue is one that is easy to normalize, and that is why the dramaturgy is so necessary!

My research has taught me that there are PLENTY of ways for individuals to contribute to improving the systems that are designed to look out for marginalized people who may be at risk for homelessness, and the systems of aide for the people who are already there. This has taught me that if I want “making a difference” to be one of my goals in my art, I have to do the work to know enough about the subject matter to see how it’s actively affecting members of society who are not as privileged as I. I don’t want to be a lazy artist or audience member or person.

In addition, helping give voice to marginalized people is a complicated act. In the digital age, we have outlets, some as popular as Humans of New York, which is a platform for telling the stories of all types of people, some of whom have endured plenty of systematic oppression, and some of whom are homeless. Photographer Brandon Stanton is noble in his activism with the wide variety of stories he puts on this platform, but at the end of the day, isn’t his position of privilege as a white man who is making money from this venture exploitative towards the people he is representing? He takes a photo, publishes a story, and for some of his viewers, that’s probably the only way they interact with some of these types of people. Yes, he’s giving a TON of visibility (18 million likes worth) to a lot of people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have much attention on the internet, and that is a huge step itself. But does he give compensation to any of these individuals? Do any of the proceeds from his book sales and other revenue go towards organizations that work in social justice? I don’t know specifically what the details are, but certainly this platform is solely based on story telling, not promoting organizations or activists. I don’t mean to fault Stanton solely as an individual, but I do question activism on social media and how it may be giving audiences a “free pass,” like they’re engaging with the issue without actually engaging in it.

Interacting with Antigone In New York has given me more motivation to investigate further into what I, as an artist in the process of my education (which I will never be done with) can do to widen my perspective AND take concrete steps to being an active participant in society’s progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Draft Life

“All writing is re-writing.”

“No one gets it right the first time.”

“Time to put some flesh on those bones!”

Life as a playwright is full of adages about the importance of revision. And I’m all about that. Trust me, as someone who’s been an English teacher, I truly, deeply understand how crucial revision is and how much higher a piece can fly once its author has a little time away (and then a few pointed questions and a few words of encouragement) to give them a second wind.

But for the past few days, I haven’t been thinking about that. Not at all. Because for the past couple of days I have been flying what feels like the highest on this beautiful first-draft feeling. I did it, folks. I did it and it doesn’t matter that I’ve done it a dozen times before. I WROTE “END OF PLAY.” I have a complete thing. It’s a story with a beginning and middle and end. And I’ve been unable to resist the urge to say “Hey! I wrote ‘end of play’!” to playwright friends who ask how my week’s been. And they’ve given me these big, genuine smiles that tell me I’m not alone in this feeling, this magical fleeting feeling that we get when a thing that we imagined EXISTS.

And now I’m looking at this thing I wrote, still with a happy fondness, but also with an awareness that we’re reading it in my seminar next week and it’s going to come out into the air. And I’m starting to think again instead of only feeling. What do I want its second draft to be? …What do I want IT to be? …How do I use my next few days, weeks, months to make this first lump of clay into an ultimately exquisite expression of the human experience? (…That’s the dream, and to really work toward it I have to let myself, just for those moments I’m working, believe it’s possible.)

So now’s the time for me to re-gain my appreciation of revision. And as I write this, I’m realizing that I already know exactly what I need… a few pointed questions and a few words of encouragement. I’ve written out for myself what I think the play is asking and why I wanted to write it. I’m ready to read it through, listen hard, and dive in.

The move from first draft to second is always such a strange line… how much does one change before the thing is a “new draft” instead of a constantly-changing glacier just moving along its natural path? But I think what’s most important as I aim my pen at the ice is to hold that sense of flying high in my mind. Because it’s that right-brain emotional maelstrom of joy that’ll hold me steady as I apply the left-brain questions to get this thing closer to its ultimate form.

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Notes on things to do as a Production Dramaturg at BU

What follows started as a reference list for me, but I think it could be useful for me to be transparent with what I’ve learned in the hope that it can make the role of Production Dramaturg easier on other students.  I am not doing this work perfectly.  That’s part of why I’m writing it all down.  

I’ve worked in the role of Dramaturg on three productions at BU’s School of Theatre since starting my MFA, and I’ve learned a few things about some of the communication that needs to happen in order for me to be a successful dramaturg in a room with people who have generally never worked with a dramaturg. Most of what I suggest is logistics based and some of it will inherently possess my artistic views on how processes should run.  This post is by no means exhaustive and should be tailored to the needs of the play, the needs of the production, the artists, etc.  As you will see, my work as a dramaturg is entirely relationship based and requires generous communication with the team.  All dramaturgical decisions should be made in collaboration.


(This reads a bit like an advice column.  Just know that I’m talking to myself.)

Have an initial conversation with Director touching on their relationship with the play. Get a sense of why they picked it, why they feel the story is important, what drew them to it in the first place and how it’s living with them now.  Ask all those fun Dramaturgical questions that feel right to you.  Try to get a feel for how they imagine your role in the room.  Be transparent about what you’re excited about in terms of the show and the process.

Questions for the Director before rehearsals begin:

  • How do you want to run the first week of rehearsal?  
    • How do you want to handle the cast’s first encounter with the script? What role can I play?
  • What is the best way to disseminate dramaturgical information for this show?  A private FB group? A public blog?  Physically, in the room? A combination?
  • Set up a weekly director/dramaturg check-in, preferably over food/drinks.
  • Will there be a program? (Initial thoughts)
  • What do we want our audience’s experience of the lobby to be? (Initial thoughts)
  • Are we interested in doing any post-show conversations/experiences?

Find out, by talking with the Director and Stage Manager, how to be included in all Outreach and Marketing conversations. The Dramaturg can be a great resource for bringing in guests, experts, anyone that can enrich the experience for the creative team, cast, or audience.  The Dramaturg can also keep an eye on how the show is being projected to the world and if it fits with the actual production.  Here is a list of things to ask for:

  • Please include me in all conversations regarding the development of the poster.
  • Is it alright if I run the design and content of the program? At BU, we often only get a small half sheet, but let’s see how we can use it.
  • Please include the line “Dramaturgy by Corianna Moffatt” on the poster as well as on any Marketing materials, including the FB event and the show info posted on The Bridge.

Don’t be afraid to dramaturg the set-up of the room.  Stage Managers often set up tables and chairs for the first read, which may or may not be useful for the show.  SMs also often set-up tables and chairs for the Director and team to sit behind during rehearsal.  That may or may not be useful for the production.  Check-in with the director about how they best work and what they envision.

Be friends with the SM team.  Help them learn how to work with a dramaturg.  Here is a list of a few asks to make:

  • Please cc me on all rehearsal reports.
  • Please add my name to the heading of the rehearsal report under the Director’s name, ie. “Dtrg. Corianna Moffatt”
  • Please cc me on all notes that are emailed out to cast members, particularly text notes.
  • Please keep me in the loop about all Production Meetings.  This includes letting me know when they are happening and cc’ing me on any notes that are sent out. *Try to be at as many Production Meetings as possible.  Important dramaturgical decisions are made at these meetings, ie. What does blood look like in this world?  What color palette do our costumes live-in?  These are artistic and dramaturgical conversations.  Let the artists do their work, but the dramaturg is an expert on the world of the play.  Take part in the conversation.

It is important to be credited for the work you are doing as the Dramaturg.  The little things matter and it’s an act of activism to help build recognition and appreciation for the work of the Dramaturg.

Tips for rehearsal:

  • Let there be food!  Is the first cast meeting a brunch date?  Is the first read a potluck?
  • Find ritual in rehearsal.  Do you always begin with a short check-in?  End with reinforcements?
  • Build in at least 15 minutes for warm-up in every rehearsal.  Invite everyone in the room to join the warm-up, not just the actors.
  • For runs:
    • Check in with the Director about what they would like you to keep an eye out for or what to listen for.
    • Ask how the Director would most like to receive notes. Emailed after rehearsal?  Short chat?  Would they rather receive big picture notes?  
  • Before the show opens check in with the Director about any “Thank You”s they would like to send.  Ideally, any celebratory notes to the cast and crew will be delivered co-signed by the Director and the Dramaturg.

What would you add to this list?  Feel free to send me an email at cdm@bu.edu or comment below.