WORD OF THE DAY

Syzygy

noun

  1. state of mind or being in which all members of a group are thinking in tandem with each other
  2. a straight-line configuration of at least three celestial bodies in a gravitational system

Eat the Rich

PJ O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich is a fantastic example of academic writing. My sister needed it for her college-level macroeconomics class, and I picked it up for fun. Eat the Rich, if you’ll pardon the pun, is delectable to read. Not only that, it’s lots of fun to read. “Academic reading” and “fun” don’t usually come together in a sentence unless separated by “not”. But it reads like a dictation of a comedy routine/[Activity] for Dummies book.

“I had one fundamental question about economics: Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? It’s not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they’re boiling stones for soup. Nor can education be the reason. Fourth graders in the American school system know what a condom is but aren’t sure about 9 x 7. Natural resources aren’t the answer. Africa has diamonds, gold, uranium, you name it. Scandinavia has little and is frozen besides. Maybe culture is the key, but wealthy regions such as the local mall are famous for lacking it.”

  • Chapter 1 Love, Death, and Money

-Kendall

My most favoritest play

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams contains any flavor of human being you could find in history. When I watch, I see everyone I’ve ever met in each of the characters. The characters are Everymen/women, but their caricatures are multi-faceted and complicated instead of simplified or made more dull.

The rising action and climax slide in so subtly that the shit hits the fan right before the audience believes the story will never get traction underneath it. The characters’ objectives take a while to develop and collide, but the slow speed of the accumulating pressure makes the inevitable explosion so much more jarring and gripping.

-Kendall

ATYA: Chapter 4 – Attention

Nothing curdles the muscles faster than unwanted attention. And nothing flushes the face faster than attention wanted but not given. I know as an actor that I feel simultaneously furious and ashamed when a director leading a rehearsal is clearly paying no attention to it. Bogart unapologetically exposes the delicate nature of attention received and given. I interpret her ingredients for a director’s healthy attention as a cocktail made from expectation, shifts from active to passive gaze, a splash of care, and a dash of challenge.

Expectation: There has to be present expectation so the actors can be witnessed. If there are no/low expectations, then the performative energy can rebound off of nothing and then will sputter out and die.

Shifting gaze: Shifting from active to passive gaze can allow for attention to detail while recognizing and maintaining the broader meaning that the actors must deliver to their audience.

Care: Actors have to feel supported lest they forget/doubt what the director needs from them.

Challenge: Director’s attention has to contain a subtle hint of challenge to just shift the rehearsal into the uncomfortable. A special kind of angry desperation born from challenge creates the greatest artistic choices.

I also really enjoyed what Bogart said about the witness. The audience is just as active as the actors are. There are clear observable effects of an active audience. Look at the Houston Rocket’s performance at Home as compared to Away. An actor’s performance palpably shifts when he/she can feel the audience’s electrified attention.

-Kendall

Company: George Furth and Stephen Sondheim (Jayden Stumbaugh)

The 1970 concept musical Company, with book by George Furth and its music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, was a brilliant work during the time in which it was originally staged, given the socioeconomic context of its creation and appearance. I make the argument that this musical retains its quality and necessary placement within the canon, though its intention can easily be misplaced.

Not containing a linear or definite plot, Company revolves around a New York bachelor named Robert (Bobby) who is turning 35. The progression in content arises from the witnessing of interactions between Robert and the five married couples that he surrounds himself with, as well as with his three girlfriends. Interpreted as a “series of vignettes”, the musical numbers and scenes within Company are given in no particular chronological order, and they discuss the self-examining process Robert undertakes regarding the concept of marriage. Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics and composition tie beautifully with what essentially amounts to a series of short stories created by Furth in order to form one of the most noticeably compelling musicals of the century.

Company provides excellent theatrical quality in its flexibility. A first examination of this text may lead one to believe that this musical is too focused. The characters within this musical are mostly upper-middle class, white New Yorkers. This is in itself could lend to interesting analysis in socioeconomic and racial ideologies of the time in which it was created; however, I believe it is necessary to understand that such an analysis would not be beneficial, as the fragmented nature of the musical does not allow for such a subject to be its centralized theme.

“What do you get”.  The moment in this work where we are able to witness Robert utter these words is beyond significant, as we are exposed to the true nature of what this musical is trying to communicate. This meaning may not be lost in the attempt to recreate an aesthetic similar to that of the late 1960’s (an example being the 2011 New York Philharmonic version starring Neil Patrick Harris), but it can easily be muddled. In contrast, John Doyle’s 2006 Broadway adaptation did not place emphasis on the aesthetic presentation of the text, and benefited greatly given a modern audience.

Though I am personally drawn to this musical for other reasons, I do not feel that negates the impact and sustainability such a work could have. I was born almost a quarter of century after its creation, with no understanding of 1960’s social practices, and yet I still see potential in its fundamental process of self questioning. If we have such an ability, why not stretch and squeeze and see if we can place the concept under a different physical lens?

Unethical Acts: Tzachi Zamir (Jayden Stumbaugh)

The example of quality academic writing that I decided to share is Tzachi Zamir‘s 2012 article Unethical Acts. Winning The Philosphical Quarterly’s 2012 prize for most distinguished essay, this work discuses the ethical dilemmas proposed by dramatic acting. Divided into several sections, Zamir’s work first strives to give technical context (regarding the profession of acting) to subjects of possible ethical concern. Zamir then offers and explains an example through which we may analyze such a subject, before refuting two potential responses to ethical reservations within the craft. This essay concludes through suggesting that a “value-related ambiguity can be a means through which an important and evasive source of the distinctiveness of acting as a performing art can be understood”. The subject matter of this work is one that I feel is very rarely and directly spoken about, lending to its potential for active discussion. I also enjoyed the reading of this work due to Zamir’s ability in acknowledging separate points of view while still providing personal assumptions. The quality of this work serves to be as valid of a function in its readability as its content does.

Unethical Acts

Chapter Five: Magnetism (Jayden Stumbaugh)

This chapter in Bogart’s work deals with the magnetic nature of the theatre, examining the seven “ingredients” that seem to make it inciting and attractive. These include empathy, entertainment, ritual, participation, spectacle, education, and alchemy. This particular chapter seemed like a relevant starting point given my current predicament, that being the fact that I am not entirely certain why I want to make theatre the foundation of my career, let alone why I am so drawn to it as an art form. Though it may not be the best exercise to pull out individual aspects as the most noteworthy within this chapter, as they should be considered in combination, I was most drawn to the alchemic aspect of theatre’s attractiveness. I have often seemed to view theatre as an analytic exercise, but I have noticed that some of my favorite experiences came from willingly allowing my imagination to be free. As Bogart states, “The theater is an ideal vehicle for magic and alchemy because it can ask an audience to make an investment of imagination”. Careful reading of this section allowed me to better understand why I am drawn to this art form, and I believe that this understanding is essential in beginning to comprehend the other subjects within this work.

Articulation: Chapter Two but Discussion One (Kaitlyn)

In Anne Bogart’ book/manifesto And Then, You Act, she divides her focuses into eight chapters. Her first chapter, context, is such a central idea to theatre (particularly modern theatre thought) and is very important. However, in terms of chapters we should look at for class first, I believe we should start with her second chapter about articulation.

As I was reading this book, I found myself envisaging each chapter as an element of a house (I’m a visual learner). In it, I found context makes the walls of the house but it is articulation that are the bricks. From the beginning of the chapter, it is clear that the use of words is powerful. I find that the first sentence of this chapter personifies this power: “One of the most radical things you can do in this culture of the inexact is to finish a sentence” (17). What a statement! I find this truth really hits home to our generation, where ‘like’, ‘um’, and ‘yeah’ are frequently used to break up or muddle sentences.

Bogart defines articulation as “expression, communication, speaking pointing, verbalization, clarification, and enunciation” (18). Such a broad definition requires articulation not only to perform a wide variety of jobs but to encompass many niches. For example, articulation is a form of definitive action found in multiple ways including metaphors, symbols, and (I argue) silences. Articulation must also creating framing which is structure for our thinking (25). So articulation not only has us use words in multiple forms but also as the building block for framing and clarity. Articulation really requires us to take the text (the base of theatre) and bring clarity to all the other aspects mentioned in later chapters (context, intention, attention, magnetism, attitude, content, and time). Since, in my opinion, text/words are the root of theatre, I think it is important to talk about articulation first because it both explores this root and creates connections between the other chapters of Bogart’s manifesto.

Dramaturging the ‘Truth’ in The Exonerated: Ethics, Counter-Text, and Activism in Documentary Theatre (Kaitlyn)

*This article comes from the academic journal of Theatre Topics

My academic article looks at the question of ethics vs. historical truth for dramaturgs in documentary theatre, looking at a specific case. The author was presented with a dilemma while being on a dramaturgical project for a documentary theatre piece called The Exonerated, which used interviews to look at the cases of 6 people who were wrongly convicted of a crime. The production she was working on took place years after the original showing and in that time, one of the people presented in the play was pled guilty for a different crime. The dramaturg, along with the creative team, had to decide whether to bring this information into the world of the play or not, dealing with the possibility of the activist piece making less of an impact.

I have provided document below so you can read it in full. I chose this particular piece of academic writing because of its subject matter, since I am looking at documentary theatre as it evolved from the Living Newspaper, its academic but readable language, and its success in looking at the different issues that this question brought up.

Dramaturging the Truth in the Exonerated by Christine Bean

Not About Nightingales by Tennessee Williams (Kaitlyn)

“Ev’ry man living is walking around in a cage. He carries it with him wherever he goes and don’t let it go till he’s dead. Then the walls come to pieces and he stops being so lonesome cause he’s part of something bigger than him” –Jim (Act I, Episode 4)

Not about Nightingales is one of Williams’ earliest plays, years before the successful Glass Menagerie or Streetcar Named Desire. He wrote it in 1938 after reading newspaper accounts about torture and riots in a Philadelphia County prison. The script was actually left undiscovered and unproduced until the 1990s. This three act play looks at life inside of a corrupt prison, where inmates are given spoiled food and threatened constantly with being sent to the unbearably hot torture cell known as Klondike for ‘bad’ behavior. As the play continues, inmates from Hall C are fed up with their condition and decide to go on a hunger strike, led by the boisterous Butch. When a beloved inmate kills himself after being subjected to the Hole, the entire prison joins the hunger strike. Tension continues to rise as the Warden heats Klondike to ungodly temperatures and sends the entire Hall C to suffer. Eventually the play boils over as those who survived Klondike break out and a full prison riot ensues. There is also a romance that develops throughout the play between an intelligent inmate named Jim and the Warden’s new secretary Eva but even they are part of the rising tension and the action that encapsulates the last act.

This is my all-time favorite Tennessee Williams play. Though less known then his Pulitzer winning plays of the 1940s, Not about Nightingales has a tangible atmosphere that jumps off the page. From the moment you meet the inmates, you feel the increasing tension of their situation and the drive to take a stand. Like a bullet train, this play continues forward with great speed and I have to finish it in one sitting every time. His words seem to create the sense of suffocating heat. Despite having read it many times, I can’t help but get angry at the torture these prisoners go through, horrified by the deaths of these poor human beings, and cheer the prisoners’ cry for change. Also, I find the ring of human truth in these prisoners’ desires. In the cell scenes, you hear the prisoners’ longings, no different than any man: decent food, clean lodgings, love, and freedom from a cage (both physical and mental). Williams dedicates this play to Clarence Darrow, one of American history’s well known lawyers and it’s clear that Williams holds strong ideals of justice for these prisoners. Not about Nightingales has many aspects that reflect my ideas of ‘good’ theatre: relatable characters, a tangible atmosphere, and powerful words that ring true. I would recommend reading this if you want a Williams’ play that is sadly overlooked but deserving of praise.