The Digest: May 4, 2011

Salt Horse's "Titan Arum." See below*

NPD is Hell: A pair of pieces on the hell of new play development. In the Brooklyn Rail, Alex Kilgore offers us “The Shame of Theater,” a lengthy essay on the absurdities (and occasional hypocrisies) of the development process. Similarly, over at HowlRound, Aaron Carter offers us “Zombies Limping in Circles, or an Argument for a Taxonomy of NPD Technique.” While the former concentrates on the system itself and the latter on the system’s (often negative) impact on the final product, what both pieces share is a strong perspective that the system is broken. Playwrights compete for scraps from theaters that claim to be focused on artists but which are really presenting institutions tossing around buzz-words in search of grant money. Most commissions don’t get produced; workshops and residencies are often poorly supported efforts offered as sops to funders. And the plays that eventually do make it through the development process are often so gutted by the process–with the playwright cajoled into trying to appease an artistic director rather than do justice to his or her ideas–that the end product is weak, “lobotomized” in Carter’s formulation.

Older But Good: Just came across this brief personal essay in Bellyflop from February; a little behind the times, but a personal essay is a personal essay and this one’s worth reading. In “Is This Appetite Healthy?,” dancer Charlie Ashwell wonders about the value of doing nothing rather than something. Having recently finished a show, she retreated from London to spend some time decompressing at home with her mum, and began to wonder about the sense that we have to keep doing things…for some reason. It’s well-advised for artists to ask themselves “why?” these days. Not only are New York curators and programmers telling you “you’re doing too much!,” but as Andy and I have argued previously, the reasons for doing something–often having to do with career advancement, the idea that, as Ashwell puts it, “constantly scrabbling around, notching up brownie points or kudos or eking out the best possible-sounding CV”–much like the reasons we typically argue for arts support in the general culture–ancillary values to economic development, health, and so on–obscure the value of the art itself. We wind up looking every which way to prove why art, and by extension the practice of making it, is important, anywhere except at the art itself. “To feel, to experience, to know what you really want to say, if anything,” Ashwell sagely points out, sometimes requires doing nothing at all for a while.

Future Notes on a Book Club(?): Regular readers will, by this point, be painfully aware that for the past couple months, the theatrical blogosphere has been enmeshed in a discussion of narrative (or maybe story) that goes back and forth without ever seeming to go anywhere in particular. Over at Parabasis, which more often than not has been the hub of discussion, Isaac Butler has proposed a group read-through of a book on the subject: Peter Brooks’ Reading for the Plot. As discussions have usually (and for good reason more often than not) gotten caught up in debates as to what everyone’s trying to talk about when we talk about “narrative” or “plot” or “story,” I for one think it’s a great idea that could help elevate the level of the discourse, and I’m sure anyone’s welcome to take part. Looks like it’d kick off around mid-June. The book can be purchased on Amazon for all of about $25.

Odds & Ends: My former colleague Michael van Baker reviews Catherine Cabeen’s Into the Void at On the Boards, mentioned last week – Nottingham, England launches a new festival of radical theater – contemporary dance blossoms in the Arab Spring – who knew Cleveland had so much flippin’ theater? – ticket deals for Mark Morris via DTWquotes on art from the remarkable Tadeusz Kantor – a lit-crit-y but still interesting exploration of social media, performance, and identity from Art Forum – theater that transcends the moment and projects forward

*Just because I love the photo, if nothing else–dancer Allie Hankins, a friend of mine, for Titan Arum, from Seattle’s Salt Horse Performance, which opens May 13. Photo by Tim Summers.

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