The Digest: April 28, 2011

Naming Conventions: Over at Parabasis, Isaac Butler takes strong disagreement with the Deborah Pearson’s Exeunt essay on narrative I linked to a few weeks ago and praised; George Hunka had a pair of more positive takes on it. Butler’s critique is scathing but mostly in an editorial fashion, and in the process he sets up a bit of a straw-man argument, but at heart he’s got a very valid point: one of the challenges I’ve faced trying to make a similar point comes down to how we name things. “Narrative” is far too broad a category, and those of us throwing bombs (myself included) at contemporary theater practices need to learn to be more clear and specific. That said, people who disagree with us might also at some point choose to defend their position, which defines “theater” as the way things are done now in the mainstream–playwright driven, standard production process, using a set of production and performance techniques taught in colleges and studios all over the country and indeed most of the advanced Western world. Everything else is apparently an attempt to radically deviate from what’s in reality just the mainstream conception of performance today. And furthermore, of course, more people need to deal with the reality of theater as a live art, and distinguish the text from the text-in-performance (in other words, Shakespeare today ain’t Shakespeare in Elizabethan England, anymore than Greek drama in an NYC theater is truly akin to Aeschylus at the Festival Dionysus). Point us, read all of these pieces on narrative if you haven’t already, because this is actually a very rich and fascinating discussion, and check out the comments.

O Solo Mio!: Okay, that’s a really bad pun but cut me some slack–yesterday was my birthday and my head’s not really in the game. Over at HowlRound, playwright and occasional solo performer Susan Miller has an essay on how she came to solo performance, and it’s definitely worth the read. I have a real love-hate relationship to solo performance: I’ve seen some truly amazing stuff, and I’ve also seen how it’s often a formulaic, even ossified, form that mainly serves to scream, “Look at me! I AM!” Too much of it is painfully autobiographical, and I occasionally find outright uncomfortable to get to see the artistic process by which violence is done to true-life experience to make it fit a fictive convention that may or may not move an audience. But I always stick with solo performance and subject myself to it because often, it’s solo performance to which creatively stifled actors and writers turn when they begin to realize standard theater conventions today don’t permit them to create the sort of work they want to do (and I want to see more of). In fact, the health of solo performance depends, I’d argue, on how close-minded most theater practice is, but that’s a different story. Also, I’d like to plug at the same time Seattle’s Solo Performance Festival, about half-way through its run. It’s a kick-ass, up-by-the-bootstraps fest of often exciting work performed on a shoestring budget, and my former site The SunBreak is one of its media sponsors this year, and we have coverage of pretty much the whole fest.

Furious Fools: Very cool bit o’ news out of SF–foolsFURY Theater is putting together their own festival of ensemble-driven theater work, one of the only fests of its kind in San Francisco. FURY Factory goes down starting June 7, and features companies like Pig Iron (Philly), Theater Movement Bazaar (LA), and Band of Toughs (Denver). It’s a fascinating and ambitious line-up, and we should all be nice and help contribute to their Kickstarter campaign to fund it all.

Dance Schtuff: We got…nothin’. Really. Come on people, help us out–surely somewhere out there on the Inter-tubes there’s a bunch of bunheads screaming at choreographers about something, working out ideas online and discussing the fine and vibrant art-form of dance. But honestly, this author hasn’t found too much yet. There’s itch journal (not online), Critical Correspondence, Dance magazine, and…? Help us out!

Odds & Ends: Andrew Haydon on King’s Head pub theater’s amazing In-Yer-Face Opera, where Mark Ravenhill is updating Monteverdi – Dance magazine profiles choreographer Andrea MillerGuardian theater blog on contemporary playwrights’ lack of artistic ambition – Upstaged looks back on the history of making Anything Goes PC (we like musicals, too) – Lynn Nottage’s new meta theater piece, on Wicked Stage – Exeunt on the one-on-one theater festival, another cool thing London has more of than the US – Bellyflop interviews emerging performance artist Stacy Makishi