Performance News Digest: Jan. 19, 2011

Mike Daisey's "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at Berkley Rep.

In the Studio: I have something I like to call the “Facebook rule”–I post links to articles on Facebook all the time, and if one of them takes off with tons of comments, no matter how innocuous I think the subject is, then I figure there’s actually something interesting there. Case in point, this little piece from the Guardian‘s theater blog. Now, I don’t want to get bogged down in the details (ballet vs. contemporary, etc.), suffice it to say that what I found interesting was the initial premise: “Whenever I have an opportunity to interview a director or choreographer,” the author writes, “I always ask if I can watch them rehearse. The theatre chaps usually decline.” Choreographers, on the other hand, are less wont to do so. That’s definitely been my experience as well, which I’ve always found interesting. Admittedly, a number of dancers and choreographers made clear that there’s a big part of their process that’s off limits, but I’ve been in rehearsal for run-throughs, techs, and even setting work on brand new dancers. I’ve never been invited to watch so much as a run-through of an experimental piece before opening night. So come on Culturebot readers, give us your thoughts. That’s what comments are for.

Challenge vs. Abuse: Over at Parabasis, Issac Butler has an interesting little note about a conversation he had with a director about “the whole theatre artists saying they want to make challenging work, and he said ‘well, it depends on whose definition of challenging you’re using. What community is being challenged? And by whom? And how do you define what is challenging?'” Butler lays out his dichotomy: it’s one thing to be challenging by pushing your audience in uncomfortable ways, another to just plain abuse them. For my part, though, I think it risks becoming a cop-out to suggest that context is the only delineator, because theater is usually preaching to the choir. Avant-garde work is usually about as challenging for its audiences as the sort of thing you see at a regional theater or on Broadway, because audiences self-select. The real question that’s unasked is, “How entertaining should it be?” Because it’s the entertainment value–which, if you want to be cultured, is often an act of paying to see a “challenging” show–that keeps the butt in seats, which is precisely why I see the logic of actually abusing your audience: the difference between “challenging” and “abuse” is often just another way of delineating whether the artists kept up their end of a transaction.

Terry Teachout, Playwright?: Well, maybe he already was (probably, in fact) but I didn’t know. I have, however, appreciated his work as a critic (for the Journal and online) for quite a while, and was surprised to learn he’s deep into a residency at Rollins College working on a one-man-show about the relationship between Louis Armstrong and his manager Joe Glaser. Which, um, well, let’s help the WIP showing goes well for Teachout, because it’s his first time directing, and even a seasoned actor may need some help flipping back and forth. But what particularly caught me was this comment: “The play itself is probably not what you’d expect. Most one-man shows about famous people are unchallenging, sweet-tempered exercises in hagiography. Not Satchmo at the Waldorf. I’ve tried to show Armstrong as he really was and make him speak the way he really spoke–this is absolutely not a show for kids, unless you’re the kind of parent who’d take your kids to see American Buffalo–and I’ve also tried to suggest the knotty complexity of his quasi-filial relationship with Glaser, an ex-gangster from Chicago who ran his career with an iron hand.” Teachout has a stellar rep for being one of the most engaged critics with mainstream American theater, so if he’s saying that, I can only assume he’s actually pushing some buttons.

Steve Jobs’ Agony Doesn’t Stop Mike Daisey: Monologist and former Culturebot contributor Mike Daisey will go ahead with the new show he’s been touring, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which opens this week at Berkley Rep (in rep with The Last Cargo Cult), despite the fact that his subject recently announced he was stepping down indefinitely as CEO of Apple to pursue medical treatment. This is…not a story. Except to point out to California readers they can go see the show. Mike Daisey may be many things, but a shock-jock he ain’t. Whatever tiny lumps he may throw Steve Jobs’s way, Jobs no doubt earned them, along with his billions.

The A.W.A.R.D. Show, LA: Choreographer Barak Marshall and Body Traffic won the LA edition of The A.W.A.R.D. Show, earning a tidy $10K grant to make new work. Congrats! Insofar as it helps out emerging-ish artists produce work, I’m all for it, and next week the show turns to my old hometown of Seattle.

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