Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy World Theatre Day!!
World Theatre Day Message, 2009
from Author Augusto Boal:

All human societies are “spectacular*” in their daily life and produce “spectacles” at special moments. They are “spectacular” as a form of social organization and produce “spectacles” like the one you have come to see.

Even if one is unaware of it, human relationships are structured in a theatrical way. The use of space, body language, choice of words and voice modulation, the confrontation of ideas and passions, everything that we demonstrate on the stage, we live in our lives. We are theatre!

Weddings and funerals are “spectacles”, but so, also, are daily rituals so familiar that we are not conscious of this. Occasions of pomp and circumstance, but also the morning coffee, the exchanged good-mornings, timid love and storms of passion, a senate session or a diplomatic meeting - all is theatre.

One of the main functions of our art is to make people sensitive to the “spectacles” of daily life in which the actors are their own spectators, performances in which the stage and the stalls coincide. We are all artists. By doing theatre, we learn to see what is obvious but what we usually can’t see because we are only used to looking at it. What is familiar to us becomes unseen: doing theatre throws light on the stage of daily life.

Last September, we were surprised by a theatrical revelation: we, who thought that we were living in a safe world, despite wars, genocide, slaughter and torture which certainly exist, but far from us in remote and wild places. We, who were living in security with our money invested in some respectable bank or in some honest trader’s hands in the stock exchange were told that this money did not exist, that it was virtual, a fictitious invention by some economists who were not fictitious at all and neither reliable nor respectable. Everything was just bad theatre, a dark plot in which a few people won a lot and many people lost all. Some politicians from rich countries held secret meetings in which they found some magic solutions. And we, the victims of their decisions, have remained spectators in the last row of the balcony.

Twenty years ago, I staged Racine’s Ph├Ędre in Rio de Janeiro. The stage setting was poor: cow skins on the ground, bamboos around. Before each presentation, I used to say to my actors: “The fiction we created day by day is over. When you cross those bamboos, none of you will have the right to lie. Theatre is the Hidden Truth”.

When we look beyond appearances, we see oppressors and oppressed people, in all societies, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and casts; we see an unfair and cruel world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is up to us to build this other world with our hands and by acting on the stage and in our own life.

Participate in the “spectacle” which is about to begin and once you are back home, with your friends act your own plays and look at what you were never able to see: that which is obvious. Theatre is not just an event; it is a way of life!

We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.

Augusto Boal

(Original Portuguese)
* means also having the nature of a spectacle or show (note of the translator)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Sign of a True Artist

"What is the sign of a true artist?" There's only a handful of questions in the history of modern society that have elicited such an enormously varied number of responses. I decided to do a Google search using the term. It yielded about 1500 returns. Some were thought-provoking, others were grossly uninformed. Such is to be expected from the Internet. In any case, I decided to compile a short list of them.

As I read through these, I noticed that many of the authors seem to have a narrowly defined idea of what it means to be an artist. I think it's important to remember that it's impossible to define ANYONE in one sentence. And I think the truth probably lies somewhere within a cross-section of ideas. Still some of these, I don't necessarily agree with. Others I think have a definite place in the spectrum of thought. What do you think?

Here's what I found:

…[someone] who attempts to avoid glorification, preferring to allow the work to speak for itself. It’s the sign of a true artist. A consummate creator.

It's the sign of a true artist that she can write something that speaks deeply to the experience of a listener who superficially has little in common with her.

universal unpopularity: the sign of a true artist!

You can feel emotion in every single image … which is the sign of a true artist.

He basically said f___ you to everyone and fought to make the album that he wanted no matter what the record company, management and fans said. That is the sign of a true artist.

[I] have always thought that the sign of a true artist is how they confuse your sense of reality by pushing what you think you see over the top of what you can actually see.

It is the sign of a true artist when he can infuse the ordinary figure with a special sense of wonder.

I can't think of another artist … that elicits such passionate discourse. I've always thought that this was the sign of a true artist for to them nothing is as offensive as indifference.

He will lie even when it is inconvenient: the sign of a true artist. (Gore Vidal)

You have created a very powerful image to portray your feelings ... the sign of a true artist.

… if she performed in an empty room, she would still give it the works, the music is more important … than the people who witness it, and that is the sign of a true artist …

The sign of a true artist, in my most humble opinion, is the ability to reinvent him/herself.

I think that the sign of a true artist is somebody that can find beauty in almost anything.

… the sign of a true artist, in my opinion, is to make a piece of art that, at once, remains varied and cohesive at the same time.

… the sign of a true artist is the need to create, no matter what the circumstances …

I suspect that the sign of a true artist is to disguise themselves within their work because they realise [sic] the precious lifeline that anonymity allows.

… he wanted to express his feelings for everything that he came in contact with. This, to me, is the sign of a true artist.

… the sign of a true artist … is best measured by the many different ways he attempts during a lifetime to render the world as he and we are privileged to see it on a good or bad day.

the sign of a true artist is … one who is never totally pleased with the final project once it’s put to bed.

… eclectic taste. I think that’s the sign of a true artist, someone who isn’t locked into one particular scene or genre for inspiration.

The sign of a true artist is when you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How Long Must Iowa Remain Fringe-Festival-Free??

The other night I was at an grand opening event for Des Moines's newest arts venue, The Des Moines Social Club, when a regular theater-going patron recognized and approached me. He asked me if I knew if there was going to be another Iowa Fringe Festival this year. I guess, for some reason, he thought I might have the answer. But, sorry to say, I did not.

For those unfamiliar with the history, Des Moines hosted Iowa's very first Fringe Festival in the summer of 2005. It was organized by the then newly-appointed Executive Director of Stagewest, Ron Ziegler. Ziegler had had the idea of organizing a Fringe Festival here in Des Moines for a while after having seen the success of the Orlando Fringe Festival down in Florida. Whether or not he brought the idea with him to Stagewest or helped fully realize it is a bit unclear. But since Stagewest touts itself as being "theater on the edge" they immediately jumped at the idea and got the ball rolling with Ziegler at the helm. Consequently, it was a smashing success thanks to all of the supporters throughout the community.

In 2006, after just one year of service, Ziegler stepped down from his position at Stagewest for reasons unknown. But with him went the sense of the fringe being a community-wide effort. The fringe, now solely under the direction of Stagewest, left a lot of people involved with the organization and planning from the previous year scratching their heads. Non-the-less, the event went on and again the community particapted despite some bitterness.

Because of this feeling of animosity that was left over from the 2006 fringe, a new independant committee comprised of people from various other theater groups throughout the community came together. This group was formed to address the Stagewest Board of Directors concerning opening up the Fringe Festival planning as a community-wide effort. With some persuation, the group was able to coerce the board into conceding their stronghold on the event.

In 2007, the Fringe was again on its feet with a renewed sense of openness throughout the theater community. And again the festival grew in both numbers of performers and numbers of attendees. Unbeknownst to everyone, that would be the last time Des Moines would be hosting the Iowa Fringe Festival.

It is now approaching the summer of 2009 and there's not one sign of another Fringe Festival. Why? What went wrong? What happened to the idea of the fringe being an open, communal experience? What happened to the SPIRIT the FRINGE??

Well.. I don't know. That's a question only Stagewest can answer. I've heard various reports from the independant organizers of the 2007 Iowa Fringe Festival. I'd hate to relay any of them if they weren't true. But I think the theater-going public deserves an official response. Because I'm tired of people asking me about it. And I've not read one public report concerning what happened or if there are any plans to continue. No one seems to know. And if they do, they don't want to talk about it.

So I'm laying down the gauntlet for anyone willing to comment here in public on what happened. Otherwise, I'm going to offer the version I was given.. true or otherwise and people can judge for themselves.

Any smart person knows that in order to build an annual event you have to keep it going. Businesses and artists know that in order to become successful, you have to produce. This is coming up on two years now without a Fringe Festival and I for one am a bit upset considering the thing was just beginning to take off and now we're back at square none. (And no, I didn't misspell that.) So if anyone has an explanation as to what transpired and how we can "fix" things please comment here.

We can't have another Fringe-free year!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An incomplete list of people and places.

Looking over my list of performance groups and venues made me realize that as much work as I put into compiling that list, I'm sure there's probably someone or someplace missing.

If you are a with a theater group or work for a performing arts venue here in Iowa that isn't on my list and you are visiting this blog, please contact me and let me know. I've checked other sites and I'm proud to have one of the most complete lists out there and I'd like to keep it up to date.

Also, if you are a performing artist and have your own blog let me know that too. I'd love to provide a link.

More to come!