Sunday, October 7, 2007

Holy Origin Stories, Batman!

In recent comments, Ian and Melissa have made me realize that there's something missing from all this discussion about theatricality and form. The "why."

I'd like to hear about why you do theater, all you occasional contributors. And when I say "why," I don't mean the intellectual or theoretical why. I'd like to hear how you came to find your way to this particular form. I'd like to hear about why in an age of digital cameras and YouTube, you haven't gone to other forms.

I'd love to hear what I'm thinking of as "narrative why." Think of origin stories for your favorites super-heroes (Hat tip to Isaac for making me think about graphic novels and theater). Think of the stories of those transcendent moments of theater. Think of those stories of how you are too poor to buy a digital camera. They don't have to be positive - really. Sometimes I think I'm in theater because I don't know how to do anything else. Some sort of un-planned obsolescence.

What? You occasional contributors might ask. I thought your mission was exploring the intellectual framework for theater?! Well, yeah, it is. But I know I have a habit of justifying a visceral connection with a whole heaping framework of theorizing. So it occurs to me it might help us understand the theoretical claims of folks on this blog if we knew a little bit more about where we're all coming from.

I'm not going first. If you need inspiration, check out this story from Isaac.


Garret Schneider said...

Hey Man!

I've been watching your site for a couple of weeks now (OU MFA in Playwrighting with Erik). So here we go!

I started out by loving the attention, and they didn't cut anyone (in High School, that is), so I got to be in a friendly community in which I did horribly (but I enjoyed it, you know?).

Then I stopped for a couple of years. And then I saw this show which blew my freakin mind. This High School director was in love with Julie Taymor, and did this amazing ensemble version of Beowulf where the students put together this amazing show with masks, puppets, and shared voices. It blew my mind. You can't do that shit on TV, YouTube, Movies, or anything like that. You can sense the energy of the group, you know?

I realized that there things TRULY unique in theater that can't be done in movies. If you see a bad shakespeare play, you're even more bored than a shakespeare movie, you know? It was just so weird to see good theater after a long distance of bad ones.

That's why I loved THEATER. Then I started acting 'seriously', and I loved being able to communicate with other characters, and doing it in a way where I could get transported to another place. I guess I didn't so much ACT as just memorize the lines and act truthfully when people started talking to me. It was like a big puzzle. Kakuro, not a jigsaw.

Then I started writing and that is the best way to work through ideas and other aspects of what you're trying to understand. I had people argue with eachother over the reading of my first play (he stormed out!). And I realized the polarizing potential. I could jar people enough to storm out? That was possible?

Then I watched my college's Oleanna, and I got FREAKED OUT. How can words do that, you know?

And now I'm just striving to write perfect plays which incorperate all of the things I like/am passionate about.

Was this what you were talking about?

Or was this what you didn't want?

Have fun!

Aaron Carter said...


Welcome out of the darkness of lurking and to the light of contributor.

Yes, that's exactly what I'm looking for. And not looking for.

I'm wondering if we can separate our origin stories from our rationalization/reasoning we've put on them. See, what I mean is that you share how you were blown away by this Beowulf production. But did you really think in that moment "You can't do that on TV?"

There's this fatal flow in the stories we tell ourselves, I think. For example, I trace my decision to become a playwright to a production of Macbeth that I was in. I played MacDuff, and would show up early to run my lines and blocking before anyone got there. A favorite ritual of mine.

But as I did that show, walking through the blocking, thinking about the people that were about to fill the lawn, I thought: "I'd rather just sit here at the edge of the stage and talk to the people as I come in." And that's when I knew I wanted to be a playwright.

But of course, there are two problems with that story.

1) If I wanted to talk to people as myself, I should have become a solo performer, not a playwright. That's kinda like saying I want to connect with and audience by calling cues backstage where no one can see me.

2) The real reason I wanted to stop acting is so I'd never have to say the line "O Horror, horror, horror." Again. Christ, I hated that line.

So my rationalizations creep in later, after the fact. I dunno - there's a lesson in narrative somewhere in here. I've been thinking about Willy Loman today because I read a play that paid homage to/accidentally ripped off his final choice. And I'm thinking a lot about the stories we tell ourselves.

Somehow, I want to get to a true origin story - and look at the beginning simply, without artifice. I once was a sixth-grader in a raccoon suit. And now I'm a literary manager. Which is the more honest role?

Amy said...

For me, theater is my home - literally. My parents met doing theater. My father was a producer at a summer theater and I grew up doing seven shows a year. I worked there, ate there, slept there - all the furniture in our house ended up at the theater. When actors didn't have a place to live, they lived in my father's house. My dad is also an actor and my first "adult" memories are of him on a stage in the Crucible and the audience spellbound. I know who my father is through theater.

The theater was a safe haven for me - my island of misfit toys where I fit right in. At school, people shunned and mocked me, at the theater, I was part of a band of adolescent sophisticates - we drank champagne, wore outrageous clothes, and snuck out to gay bars.

Every show we put up was a community of artists fighting to get a message across to the audience.

I love the empty stage in the middle of the night. I love the stage in the afternoon with wiggling children wanting to play in a class I'm teaching. I love the gray-hairs at a matinee tipsy from their manhattans at lunch.
I met my husband doing a show, I married my husband on a stage. I performed in a show up until I was eight and half months pregnant with my daughter.
I did not go to church, I went to the theater. The collaborative force of all the people involved in getting a show up was more inspirational to me than any sermon. Still is.

I guess I do theater because I have to - like a second language, I "think" in theater.

Garret Schneider said...


So you want to see that isolated moment when we CHOSE to be in theater without any of our own rationalizations in it?
Because it is never one choice?
It is never YOU saying 'man, mcduff is awesome, wait i want to talk to PEOPLE--> PLAYWRIGHT'
So I guess it's a lot of little choices and compromises. And when you look up you say 'oh shit, i'm in theater and i love it'.
'oh shit, i'm a playwright-- what am i doing???'

or, you may just not question it like you don't question breathing.

But, gosh-darnnit, that is weird.
Because it really probably ISN'T that one choice. Like writing a play, it's a series of little choices. And when the main character says 'i should never have gone on that bus', the audience knows that the bus was a big thing, but all those stupid moves he made before that put him on that bus.

Great job, man.
Now I'm questioning my motives.

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