Tag Archives: Non-Profit

Immediate Concerns

DL: Coming back to the question of what can provoke action or engagement … how close to home does the material need to be?  Let’s try something a little more local.

[Violetta as the bond trader …]

DL: You know … let’s being it Even Closer …

[Violetta as literary manger …]

DL: Let’s bring it EVEN CLOSER … does anyone want a beer?

[confused silence]

DL: I’m not acting!  And we don’t have styrofoam beer – who wants one?

[beer is distributed]

DL: what about the recent trend – at least at ps122 – of handing out beer.  “Beer is the only thing that makes it bearable …” but if we are conceding that theatre’s audience is so small that its effect is small, are we also conceding that the mechanisms of theatre are too complicated?

MD: I have a problem with the whole design of these scenes.  these scenes start with a woman who’s been raped, and then you’re using the same frame to show these next scenes makes them seem impossibly more petty and I don’t agree with that strategy at all.

DL: I think it’ s more about the strategy of documentary theatre

MD: but I think decision to stage them the same way skews things

DL: what about this kind of theatre where the actual making of the play that presents social injustice is founded on social injustice

MD: there’s a huge difference between theatre as an art form and actual institutions – political theatre can still happen, even if a given institution might be problematic

CW: but what institutions are dedicated to fighting injustice?

DL: but they do present these works, like nickled and dimed –

W9: what is your mission statement and what did you do – on SW’s 100 anniversary – to get funding for this?

DL: yeah, but compromise gets me hot

W9: well, why is that okay for you instead of these institutions?

DL: but if ps122 or I are acting in bad faith that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the instutitions

MD: these institutions also chose to sell out their core beliefs and adopt a corporate model

W9: as long as you admit your own complicity

JH: admitting it is the first step

PL: in this conversation we keep talking about the political as if it were change, as if it were revolution – but it seems like it’s more commonly characterized as recognition, which is a different exchange, with different results

M3: sometimes preaching to the choir is necessary – to be reminded that the struggle is worth it, to sustain engagement and action

MD: there’s also political theatre of the stastus quo – works that are about keeping things as they are, that you’ll be moved, but not too much, and you’ll stay a subscriber and go home happy

M4: I don’t believe the Illinois Gov was changed by the exonerated so much as he detected in it the evidence of a social curve, a momentum that allowed him to make a statement or a public stand – precisely because it’s being backed up in public.


We really do come back to this later

Lights off–or it’s not theater, says DL.

Brilliant timing!

David cuts to Black Watch 3! ABout non-profit theaters–shushing Linda of NYTW….will it provoke her? Was it written to problematize exactly what she does and how she does it, the way she does it? 

Coriolanus even gets a laugh here–Coriolanus has already been mentioned by this crowd. It already has resonance. 

Do I have to go to Germany to do my job, (Linda)?

DL references the break–ActUp, debts, strikes, and Rachel Corey when it didn’t happen–as the most viable kind of political theater. Is it political theater only when it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do?

All in the Family comes up.

David protests “television?” is not theater.

Man says no, political theater–All in the Family–it transforms consciousness and culture. It gets regular people to talk.

CW: the room is often so full of discussion about theater, but the discussions become strident, hostile, theater is broken down–all the discussions become destructive towards theater.

What Linda is poking at…a play about Kabul is the politics of theater–theater about politics is political theater?

Bad theater. Hollywood? Clifford Odets. It’s exciting to be able to take things to task: is David Obama for Theater? It feels dominated by the few. There is sophisticated interaction–but it is not divided up well. I wonder what David Barlow is thinking. Or Zachary. Or Eileen. Or the many other faces I see out there. Why do some people feel as if they are allowed to speak, and others not? Why are the non-participants not speaking? What are they thinking? 


I left the theater and moved to Gaza. And I felt just as useless there! She says. It’s not only one event happens–even in action. Doing a political play that doesn’t get a result is not a failure–it is a moment in time.

You cannot measure the changes in peoples minds.

The notion that reality tv is theater–and that we are addicted, in this country, to theater.  There is a basic humanneed for theater–we cannot afford theater at 50 dollars a pop, but we can afford tv. It’s elitist to say that theater is only a live experience.

Talk to Iraqis, or see a play about Iraqis, or get up and move around–and a person gets up and moves around!

You are super unusual! Man walking around…so walking around in theater is a radical act. How bizarre that something not bizarre should be bizarre.

How do we behave when we are watching, how do we behave as a citizen in a public space–home theater, tv, vs. in a theater.

Insulting the actors.

Insulting the audience.

Locking the audience in the gallery.

TV directors making a “captive” audience so you are glued to a screen. What’s the difference between tv and theater?

There is no difference in the show, says Linda, when we do not watch the tv, what the audience says is irrelevant. We can affect the action as audience.  (We can?)

Bearded man has long comment. It gets impossible to take all of this in.

Let’s do Torture!

(Not live torture, he says)…Dang! Is this the point at which someone should jump into the ring bearing a broken beer bottle and say “Torture, let’s talk about torture”? Some crazed member of the audience?

Radical Inconvenience and Radical Empathy

Can we draw any conclusions about the Bonjour Chien story as it nudges the spectator, as SW did ?Life as political theater vs. political theater? asks DL.

Linda, who did the Churchill play, and is here from NYTW, the controversial, is pointedly asked by a respectful DL: What did you want to get out of the audience?

Linda says–we just wanted to respect Caryl’s wishes.

David doesn’t believe it:

Surely you wanted to do the spectator some good, Serene Majesty?

Linda says “it’s” about the relationship with the artist. So NYTW is about the relationship with the audience. Interesting to know.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Linda invokes what she calls the “conversation” with NYTW and Rachel Corey. And Caryl Churchill. Sounds satisfied, sure, and justified. 

Now where are the voices which were so critical of NYTW last night? Why are we all being so polite tonight, even David? Where is the openness? Linda drags in the large topic of  Israel–what would Israel say?

Is it possible to pay the royalties and not stage the play? Why stage the play then? Why have to endure the 7 Jewish Children Play–funneling money to Hamas. Oh Israel–the conversation opens up. A strong and intelligent critique of the play; the sending of money to Hamas. A lot of us here are critical of Israel. Inbal Djalovski, where are you? With your radical politics, with the school we are talking about opening in Gaza? Send specifics, send people, not money.

ACG says we are talking not about political theater anymore, but about politics. Can political theater be anything more than interrogatory? Is there any substitute for a logical discursive: I do not consider this theater (he sez) it is a seminar.

A chorus ensues! I can’t even track it!

But we are in a theater right now!

But we have paid our admission!

No, it’s Just a Seminar. And now political theater is any old gathering that talks about politics.

Young man says political theater is supposed to plant seeds.

What is enough? Does political theater make us do something?

Molly talks about the personal politics of transformation: Radical Empathy.

I want to be a good artist but also have fun and eat burgers.

Who did she help by starving herself.

Political theater is notoriously boring: we get hit on the head. South Pacific, West Side Theater are also political.

Linda says— when it happens.

David has to intervene, to let a considered man raise his point, and David wends that back to “updating.” West Side Story with Israelis and Palestinians.

Theater and art–art is political no matter what–it sounds like Matt Dillon whispering down there–

James brings up the Importance of Being Earnest in Singapore.

We listen to the white-bearded one. How interesting. There are many people speaking, but many people here not speaking, too.

This is smart…but it does feel a wee bit like a French tv show with no commercials and 4 versions of Philippe Sollers.

David slaps on a scene!

When we need a break from this! Well tim’d!

**********Meta Comment on NYTW, A Play for Gaza, Sarah Kane and the effectiveness of the Absence of the Play, etc…

Not to sound disrespectful, but there is a larger irony here which we learned about last night, and which became radically clear to me, at least as a listener, tonight. Last night, there was some intelligent, and severe critique of the easy, sloppy politics of the New York Theater Workshop in reference to its recent benefit for the Caryl Churchill “Play for Gaza.”  From what I understand, while the spirit of this play is to give voice to the disenfranchised, and to somehow “inspire” activism–most readily by Churchill’s own caveat, i.e. the play may only be performed if no admission is charged and if, instead, the audience is directed to donate to a non-profit trust which directly benefits Gaza–it cultivates the antithesis of what theater can potentially do in collaboration with its audience. In this instance, NYTW undermined the very politically salvific nature of theater it presumed to promote, i.e. despite the seemingly liberal politics of its do-gooding stance in staging the reading of a play for no money, and for inviting audiences to take the action of donating for a cause. 


Because, to paraphrase what someone said last night, the NYTW only invited a very select audience, an genteel audience of whom they could be sure–presumably sure of their financial potential as donors, and sure of their political views. While there was a “discussion” after the play, a carefully moderated one, this discussion had no surprises, of course. Everyone agreed, everyone politely discussed their levels of nuanced agreement, no one is embarrassed, no one is uncomfortable, and no one is offended. Perhaps, in situations such as this NYTW event, because of this surety, people feel both so guilty and simultaneously absolved for having the “right” political views, they of course give money, maybe even more than the NYTW imagines they would have had the conversation….

…been open to a general public?

…been allowed to occur without careful moderating, selection, discreet censorship? Had there been real risks and real generosity in allowing a spectacle to take place, and allowing the audience to experience authentic discomfort, confusion, disagreement? Had non-profit theater organizations been able to imagine theiaudiences more generously…

The nature of Venice Saved: A Seminar is that indeed–the performance is uncomfortable, tedious, at times disappointing, at times maddening, but it only ever is what it is in the truth of the moment. A group is engaged in varying levels in a process of performance and also of politics. The fact that the form, and the direction, of Venice Saved: A Seminar allow for the “unknown” to  occur leaves open the possibility for theater to turn into reality, for politics and art to create a genuine, resonant effect. There is an acknowledged and an unacknowledged hierarchy present in Venice Saved: A Seminar; however, there is also a willingness to trust the performers, the audience, and whatever other varying conditions collaborate with the performance of the play–brilliantly appropriate because it too is open ended; SW’s play, too, is a fragment which has de facto trusted history (and us) to “read” and to understand for Weil what she may have meant.

Venice Saved: A Seminar is political theater while the NYTW-model of political theater does not trust the “polis,” the audience, does not allow them to struggle, does not tolerate their process. The New York Theater Workshop staging of “A Play for Gaza” is not a “workshop” model, but a “showroom” model.  Political theater in a democracy must be about the work, the process, the experience of a work, an audience, and time as they collaborate and unfold. As Venice Saved at PS 122 is.

A Lovely, Empty Building

And Violetta the Dramaturg gets a round of knowing laughter, and applause …

DL: So okay, what about the two talking heads do you agree with?

JG: both, really – I agree with James’ critique of the institutions, but I also think that there are things that could be done to make theatre more interesting.

DL: Like what?

JG: Like this – not that public conversations are the answer –

DL: Right, this is going to broadway!

[sidebar on advertising for theatre]
W10: well, ours isn’t a theatre-based society.

DL: okay, but this is a dark question – so revive me – but, okay, we were talking about the prevalence of beer in downtown theatre.  everyone does it – isn’t it over?  and my friend said it only makes it bearable, because already everything’s happening in such stretched circumstances.

EK: story of divulging the plot of Take Me Out to couple, the news of it being about a gay ballplayer ruining their entire evening …

DL: quote, “Joe’s Pub is connected to a theatre?”

W7: Well, what’s happening with all those people energized by Obama – has the action from it followed through, the calls for national service, the scope of people who heard that is huge, but have people taken it up? I think it takes a lot to move people, even now that push has come to shove, and people are angry, but still there’s a lot of passivity.

M9: does the problem go beyond political theatre, that it’s more a question of an activated citizenry?

DL: it raised Simone Weil’s idea of engagement – the constant amping up stakes – she’s eccentric, but she is also bringing suffering into people’s homes by example.

W1: But it’s single – it’s only touching a few people, and it’s from the aristocracy – compared to the factory workers in Illinois who refused to leave their workplace.  There’s an idea of collective action that seems much more forceful.

M2: there is an element of SW as a dilettante

M8: saying SW’s only dramatic work also misses the point that her life was also an act of drama – however futile it might have been.

M2: but we’re sitting here – she wrote a play, and that’s a powerful statement about the power of theatre.

W11: was she really thinking about theatre or was she just writing a play?  is doesn’t seem to me that she was necessarily interested in theatre as such – she was interested in various behaviors and power and politics.  but this whole conversation has been posited about question of an audience and a stage, and I don’t think that has to be connected to her intention.  is she just inhabiting a genre with a set of contraints to examine a political problem?

M10: I’m not here because of SW, I’m here because of the theatrical event.

[the unarmed parachuting nurse brigade story is laid out …]

DL: the point being that SW was inherently theatrical.  the idea that she’s a rich chick who gets saved is the same complaint made to political theatre in general – that we dip in and then duck out.

JG: So many revolutionaries have come from the ranks of the rich or the bourgeoisie

The Tragedy of Coriolanus Lost

Violetta re-positioned as a lost, lonely, desperate dramaturg …

DL: So, are you sympathetic?

JB: It’s a sad story!

[Is this the kind of theatre production where you can get another beer?]

DL: Okay, we know this story … was she sympathetic?

AML: Well, people laughed.

W2: if you switched the genders, wouldn’t it make it all more pointed?  you’re changing the text all the time, and it’s not quite fair.

DL: it’ s not fair in the slightest.  but the problem with making those changes is that we actually already pretty much know what we’d get.  there’s a broader question to be asked which isn’t just about sympathy.  the more we seem to know about the issues being discussed, the more ambiguity we seem to find.

re: 7 Jewish Children … can you claim to be political when no one’s actually going to see the work?  relative to tv or film, in the culture –

JH: do you mean literally no one sees it?

DL: no, I obviously don’t mean literally

W3: but so what – if you don’t mean literally, what’s the number that makes it worth while?

AML: it seems to be that Churchill’s political gesture is outside her play – the play can be acted any way at all, despite the gesture.

W2: when I saw the collection booth outside The Exonerated, I was horrified.  I was there to see theatre, not to participate in someone’s cause.  I was scandalized.  There are other ways to help them.

DL: With activist theatre in the 60’s they were passing the hat all the time.

KB: I don’t go to the living theatre to be manipulated.

GLK: but I don’t think it’s manipulative at all – it seems very up front.

KB: I think it cheapens the experience … if you go to see the best piece of political theatre you can imagine, and you come out and someone asks you for $10, is that all that experience was worth?

JB: I agree that I don’t like being pressured, but that doesn’t make the show manipulative.

DL: But if the show is changing your life, I don’t get the resentment …

JH: I can see it if you feel like you’ve been set up.  Why do the play if you’re just asking for money?

CW: Why is your indignation over allegedly being manipulated cancelling out your estethic experience …

GLK: also, by your logic Harriet Beecher Stowe would have resented the Emancipation Proclamation …

Facing the Mirror

So far we’ve been taking [American] theatre’s claims at face value … let’s try another scene: Violetta as non-profit theatre casualty.

This scene provokes broader and more Brechtian questions to be asked:

– can theatre be political if the audience is all on the left

– or if the audience is marginal

– or when the institution itself replicates all the same injustices most political theatre tries to protest

Is this really the right format to advocate for democratic ideals?


Violetta reappears once more … a laid-off literary manager, bemoaning the unfair collapse of the American Theatre.

As ever with the abject, her anguish is met with kindly laughter …

Can an institution like theatre present political work when it’s riddled with injustice itself?