Thursday, February 21, 2008

No such thing as zero budget

First off, thanks to Scott Barsotti for breathing some life into this lapsed blog.

A couple of days ago I got an email about Collaboraction's Studio Series project. That series has a lofty goal: creating art not tied to commercial considerations. One line in the call for particpants stuck out to me, however:

"This is a quarterly, process driven-program that lives and breathes in our studio, performs for one weekend, and operates with a $0 budget." (emphasis mine)

Now, I'm not criticising Collaboraction. They've been completely upfront about the goals, process and compensation. If you don't want to play by those rules, you just don't audition.

But it did get me thinking about the cost of making theater. And while that phrase "$0 budget" is true in the sense that there's no money exchanging hands, its not true in the sense that there is no cost.

Even if something is donated, is has a value that one could account for in a budget. Even if people are not paid, their time and energy certainly has a value.

So it strikes me that there are two kinds of budgets possible for any given production - one in which you account for cash flow. And another in which you attempt to account for donated time, materials, and space. Would publishing such "total picture" budgets help people quanitify the true cost of making a piece of theater?

Volunteer time and unpaid/underpaid time are a kind of hidden cost of making theater. And anytime there is a hidden cost, it seems to me that someone in the process has a vested interest in keep that cost hidden. Who benefits from the uncounted costs of production? Is this a product of a broken production model, or is it the neccesary cost of making an art in a form that resists commodification?

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Take Back Genre

I've been working the past couple days with an interesting fellow named Charley Sherman, who's been around the Chicago scene for a long time and spent 8 years in London as well, before returning to the states 5 years ago. He worked a bunch with Steve Pickering as a director and adapter with Organic Theatre and Next, and now runs a company called Wild Claw with a show opening next week at the Athenaeum. We've been talking a lot about horror in specific, something that is very interesting to me lately. It seems that in the glory days of horror (film particularly), atmosphere was much more important than effects. It didn't matter if you saw the violence, saw the apparition, saw anything at all, as long as the suspense was palpable and the story probed some facet of human fear. Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, Halloween, all classic horror films with very little blood on screen, everything is implied. Your imagination fills the gaps.

I think the scariest stories are not about death and dying, or being harmed by someone, but about one's own weaknesses being exposed in the presence of danger. The fear of being lost, or abandoned, or failing miserably (certainly death and harm can be a consequence of these things and often is, especially in horror). Fear drives people to cowardice as well as heroism, to light as well as to dark. These are not things that rely on effects and sensation, but on storytelling. Atmosphere is what sets up horror, so why is it (as an example of genre) virtually absent from stage?

Horror, when done well, is full of subtext, truly a writer's canvas and an actor's medium. So why does film dominate the genre (and most sub-genres) while most stage horror is campy parody or tongue-in-cheek midnight riffs? Not just horror though, why is their such a lack of good, well-crafted genre stories onstage?

Or am I just missing it?

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