The Digest: May 10, 2012

Documentation of Olivier Choinière's "Projet Blanc." Photo copyright L'ACTIVITÉ

Yussef el Guindi on Making Theater in Seattle: In all my time in Seattle, I never actually met el Guindi, an award-winning playwright who’s called Seattle home for some time. But I have seen his work, which often grapples with the complex realities of being Egyptian-American in savagely satirical ways. But that’s hardly the only thing he does, and in this interview he offers some remarkable thoughtful and insightful comments on what Seattle has–and doesn’t have–to offer artists.

There are starting to be. It could be stronger. One of the things that would lure me to New York would be an organization like the Lark Play Development Center. That really is an amazing incubator for works in progress. I wish something similar existed here—in terms of the talent it assembles, the pull it has to draw in more talent, and its influence in seeding the works it helps develop out into the larger theater community.

Lark doesn’t usually fall under the umbrella of what Culturebot covers, but the point remains: At the Fusebox Festival, we recently presented a “Long Table” on what it meant to create work in a given community, and what communities could learn from one another, by bringing together artists from both Austin and further afield to have a concrete conversation on what it would take to make Austin less of an “incubator city” (not my term, FYI). I spoke a lot from my perspective coming out of Seattle, and one of the fascinating things I encountered was that some artists in Austin were speaking about strategies to create community and “transient institutions,” since the rate of gentrification was preventing building broader associations with particular spaces. They were bowled over by the stories I told about, for instance, Velocity Dance Center and Washington Hall in Seattle, two institutions for whom the support of 4Culture was crucial, and the impact 4Culture’s near-demise would have had on the community. Of course, Austin provides health insurance to working musicians, so if the rest of us can figure out a solution like that

Anyway, as always be sure to check out Paul Mullins’ two-cents. He’s the person you have to read to know about Seattle theater.

Claudia La Rocco Interviewed: Well, I’m a little late to this, since it’s a couple weeks old, but I just came across this lengthy interview with Claudia in Movement Research’s “Critical Correspondence.” La Rocco–who writes mainly dance criticism at the Times, was (previously, if I’m not mistaken) dance editor at the Brooklyn Rail, contributes to HyperAllergic, and runs The Performance Club–has a well-deserved reputation as a sensitive and intelligent critic of live performance. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, as the conversation wanders widely, but for a taste:

I mean while we’re also talking about systems that don’t work, we could talk about journalists and freelancers, and how its harder and harder for arts journalists to make a living. Every week there’s a new story about a paper laying off its staff or having someone who’s not equipped to write about art write about it, or just all of my friends and colleagues who are doing the same thing as the people they’re writing about—I mean they’re working a couple of day jobs and then scrambling to write. And you know the dance and theater worlds are not so good at taking care of their own people either. So I think it’s very easy to look at the visual art world as this sort of Shangri-La, and think, “If they only could operate—if they could only be a little bit smarter and a little bit more…” I think that the dance and theater worlds can get really holier-than-thou at the visual arts world and I can fall into that as well, I mean I think I’ve just sort of done it [laughs]. But I think it’s important to think about what dance companies have workers comp when they should? How many theaters in the city would collapse if they weren’t illegally using interns? You know, glass houses and stones and all that.

Theater Hacking: Easily the coolest thing anyone’s heard of in a while: theater hacking. It’s just in at the Guardian Theater Blog, but it took place in November. As part of Project Blanc, an event the artist terms an “ambulatory theatrical,” an audience assembled where they could collect headsets guiding their walking experience. What happened instead was that they were walked to the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, given second-balcony tickets, told to hide their headsets till instructed, and took their seats. What happened next:

When this audience hidden within the larger audience at the TNM pressed the right button at the appointed moment, they were treated to Choinière’s wry, running commentary on the production they were watching – a monologue that revolved around the question of why we revive classics in the first place, and asked whether the director had really found the contemporary resonances in Molière’s comedy that he claimed in the promotional materials.

Choinière – whose best-known play, Bliss, was presented in a translation by Caryl Churchill at London’s Royal Court in 2008 – has dubbed what he executed a “hacking”. The philosophy behind it: “to enter, to penetrate another cultural event without necessarily bothering or breaking or destroying.” Indeed, Choinière’s inaugural theatrical hacking flew under the radar at the time, completely unnoticed by the theatre’s staff.

Simply brilliant! Needless to say, the issue has only come up as TNM’s commentary on the one-night-only event has raised its profile. According to the Globe & Mail, AD Lorraine Pintal characterized his act as theatrical “rape.” Just the sort of hyperbole that doesn’t surprise me coming out of a major theater defending yet another pointless retread of a classic.

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