PressPausePlay is a new documentary from directors David Dworsky and Victor Kohler that discusses the dynamic that technology has created in allowing nearly anyone to become an artist. This film focuses on several questions that are relevant to the work I’m interested in and the work we do at the Project [theatre] and raised even greater questions in me after watching it.
The question at its core is: has the advancement of technology in artistry (ie, cameras, musical equipment, digital tools of all varieties) allowed for a greater advancement in culture and creativity because of the democratization of art? Or has the democratization of art created a vast cacophony of mediocrity in which true talent finds it even more challenging to break through? Both sides of this coin are explored in the film and I’d highly recommend checking it out, but from a personal standpoint I have to say it was somewhat vindicating to hear a dialogue about this subject. This has been a concern and certainly a personal experience of mine since moving to Los Angeles.
As an actor in LA or New York—or any major market for that matter—you are fighting against a tide of other “artists”, talented or not. The objectivity of talent isn’t a part of this point, however, because most actors—unlike many other artists—are not necessarily in the business of creation. But with the proliferation of a culture that is always “on”, whether that is creating content on youtube, reality shows or even traditionally narrative works, has come a proliferation of mediocrity in the craft of acting. I think the great actors have always been rare; if they were common they probably wouldn’t be considered great. But as the amount of content has exploded with the introduction of non-network cable channels, satellite offerings and, most recently, the wave of web-based content, the pool for those wanting fame has deepened. But, of course, the rarity of greatness has not changed at the same rate. Which is why people would rather watch Honey Boo Boo down a twinkie/redbull breakfast than go to the movies. I heard a statistic recently that quoted the #1 answer to what do you want to be when you grow up as “famous”. That doesn’t lend a lot of faith in the concept of actor/artists.
But I digress.
This is not a discussion about actors or acting for that matter. But the relevance of training and craft is at stake here because when an artist’s goal is not in creating art or making a point but instead in achieving fame or notoriety, then art doesn’t stand a chance.
But back to the point of the ease of technology as a tool in the artists chest. In our work at the Project [theatre], innovation is paramount. As a live medium, however, the core of theatrical innovation is not necessarily in technology. We certainly can utilize a variety of new tools in the creation of the stories we tell, but the true core of theatre must still be the story itself. The art of theatre lies fundamentally in the story that is told.
But, as PressPausePlay explores, the way art is consumed has magnanimously changed. And our contention at the Project has always been that we will be a part of that change; that we will create work that addresses social constructs, challenges, failures and successes, but that innovation must accompany that work’s presentation.
As traditional theatre audiences dwindle and everyone can experience art at their very whim and in the palm of their hand, we believe the communal experience of live theatre will only become more important. There is a serious and undeniable revolution at hand here, kids. And I believe that the live experience must evolve to continue to be relevant.
Theatre, music, film & visual art are exploding all around us. And to break through the noise, artists must focus ever more solely on the art of it all. We must realize how great an opportunity we have to create truer and more poignant work. Because true art, like true greatness, is rare and easy to spot. And true art will always live on when the noise finally dies down.
this weird guy
tonight i went and bought a pack of cigarettes at the corner store and encountered this weird guy. I hope this doesn’t end up on the news but…as I was walking back to my apartment on Russell I walked past this weird guy at the Pink Elephant Liquor & Deli. I watched the film “Slacker” tonight about the counter-culture in the early nineties in Austin, Texas and my head was filled with experiences in which I would come across the absolute mundane to create a serious statement about the worthless. Obama is facing a tough re-election and in this midst I realized I’d done little to nothing to ensure my way of life would continue in its meaningless status-quo. Oh, to work back to a meaning-full state of being in which the world hated my country, my country hated its own progress and I was awash in anti-love for an artistry I wasted 4-years to produce. Why-oh-why, my brethren, should I continue to give you un-halting evidence of my own great talent and fortitude when you want nothing more desperately than to denounce it. I sit here, happily (and believe me, happily) unemployed, awaiting the next paycheck that the generous donors-not conscientious capitalist participators-had provided. I am a suit un-steamed, a french-bistro-apron un-tapped, giving myself and my time to a cause I cannot with good conscience deem worthy of a singular “thumbs-up” much less two of them. Where are we? This man, this aimless man, donned a clear poncho in front of my visage, in an attempt to prevent blood from spraying on his “culturally-aligned-and-acceptable” clothing, so that he could wind his night out with a trip to Jumbo’s or the Tea Room or Monday Social without the stain of deeds unspeakable. Good luck to you, sir. Good luck weighing the humanity of the “liquor-store-deed” before you end your evening with the sight of a pretty young girl in a cat-woman costume. I hope you have the gall to make it through without finding yourself hurling on Hollywood Blvd. with the memory of a desperate, bloody face filling your mindscape. This story ends with you alone, in an apartment in Sherman Oaks, watching YouTube videos that assure your own existence. We’ll see you again. The next time someone crosses the path of your boss that didn’t quite know the pickle in which they were investing themselves. I love being back here. To see these stories unfold. So lucky.
The shrill squeak of the escalator fills the air and I sit on a wall nearby waiting for significance to hear my call. The Hollywood/Western station is quiet now, missing its dreams of daylight. I’ve lived back over the hill for a week now. All I’ve wanted finally at my fingertips, yet still nothing fills me. I watch as strangers flood by, searching for something similar, expectation a fleeting song. This is truly LA. Watched Swingers tonight for the ten millionth time. Waiting for the day that film doesn’t do a number on me.
Beer and Cigarettes was well over a month ago now—nearly 2 but who’s counting. I remember going through a severe stage of withdrawal that took weeks to self-diagnose. My girls left me in an unfamiliar world which has grown so deceiving over time. The perceived success of that experience left me un-whole, waiting for something to once again fill a void that has long since been brushed over. I am alone here in many ways, certainly artistically. But the success, by it’s very deceptive nature left me yearning, like an addict, for more.
These last two months have seen much activity, sure, that’s where the deception thrives. Without oversight, that’s where this emptiness thrives, waiting for the next lull to rear it’s ugly head. But one must focus on the positive I’m told.
This last month alone I have achieved something most consider miraculous in this town. I have booked and shot 2 industrials, produced and starred in a short comedy, lost my representation, moved to a new apartment with a girl whom by all accounts is my lucky catch and been cast in a show back in south florida, which pays me the rare living wage for pursuing my profession of choice.
Here’s what needs to be happening: I need to write the Herald project in the next two months. I need to simultaneously be writing my dust-bowl thriller with a completion date of like May, and I also need to be writing the pilot and subsequent episodes for “Reality Bites ” (working title). Writing must become my existence if I am to thrive here or anywhere. The whole reason I started creating work at all was because I felt I had something to say, and that something must be prevalent now more than ever.
I piss in a bush so I can continue this tyrade without making the short trek home. So what’s the point…it’s late and the morning is coming sooner than I’d care to articulate.
30 is approaching, friends. I remember a live long past in which I knew my greatness could come before this time. Time’s up fancy-pants magoo, and the clock is running out it’s batteries. Here, now, in this labrynth of desire, filled with art and slop, both equally and sadly valid, I must make a mark or hit the road.
Better get started.
it’s hard to be happy
It’s interesting to think of art as an evolutionary process. For us I’ve always thought it to mean that at the end of an experience we always come out wondering if it worked. Hell, we always go IN wondering if it’ll work. We use that phrase alot even “will it work, did it work”. I like that. I like that our mindset is fluidity and change. I think it’s a challenge for us because we also have to finalize a specific piece at some point. Art cannot be presented unfinished nor without specificity. Satisfied or not, the artist must make the decision of what their art is. And therefore, at the end of a project, once the work is presented, the artist is telling the audience “this is finished, you may experience this now”. BUT. I love that our mindset is fluidity and evolution. I love that we may never be satisfied. In the end, it’s hard to be happy.
Tonight we met with Mother Echo. Holy shit, these guys. They have been incredible collaborators. Our process working together has been easy and powerful. They’re amazing musicians and have been a fuckin dream to work with. We’ve crafted a soundtrack to the show with their existing tunes that enhances the story and they’ve been crazy willing to play and help tell this tale. Check them out at http://www.motherecho.com/. Seriously rockin my fuckin socks.
Also, great rehearsal today with me, Jackie & Shi Ne (You can call her Shina). Working scene 3—which is only the three of us. Finally Jackie and I have started asking real questions about who Donnie & Connie are and how they came to this moment together. And Shi Ne is so aware and attentive, asks great questions and WORKS her ass off with us. It’s what’s right and she’s awesome. It’s interesting to realize how little answers and we had going into the Miami production. It was go go go down there and now we finally have the time to develop this story more fully. And I can focus on my acting as well—something I didn’t feel I was able to do in Miami. I told Jackie today that I felt very generic in Miami, that my choices were ones I thought fit rather than educated decisions. And that’s bullshit. But now…it’s on Donnie.
So! After nearly a week of seeing an incredible amount of talent at our Los Angeles auditions, Beer & Cigarettes: The Comeback of Constance Lingus is officially cast! We saw over 40 people during 4 days of auditions and callbacks and I am overwhelmed by the actors who have signed on.
Adam Epelbaum as Charles
Ameenah Kaplan as Sheila
Juan Lozano as Jim
Shi Ne Nielson as Nina
And of course Jackie Rivera as Constance Lingus!
And me as Donnie. Right.
So there we are. Starting Rehearsals next week. Nice. It’s hard to believe that people working at this caliber are willing to put the project first, believe in it and are willing give so much of their time and enthusiasm to the project. We’re super stoked to bring this experience to Los Angeles. We just hope Los Angeles is super stoked we’re coming.
oh yeah! im supposed to blog!
Whoa. Ok, so I just got back from, um…the arctic. Yeah, that’s it, the arctic. Shipped out just after our smashing success in Miami in March with Beer Samplers: Starring Constance Lingus. So!! Let’s catch up, shall we?
Since last we met, the Project has been focusing on several things:
We became finalists for the Knight Arts Challenge Grant. You can check out the story HERE. We are one of only 57 finalists for this prestigous award alongside a number of fantastic proposals that seek to innovate and enhance the south Florida arts community. We’ll keep you posted on this—they plan to announce the results in December.
We also began developing our next project. With plans to go into production in the spring/summer of 2013, this is a big idea that we think will take Miami by storm. More to come on this as well, but it’s pretty hush-hush at this point.
But, most prominent on our collective plate has been the West Coast Premiere of what is now officially titled Beer & Cigarettes: The Comeback of Constance Lingus!!! This is a sneaky piece of information, though as we haven’t officially announced this production. BUT! Because you’re such dear friends and I love you so, I wanted to tell you all about it.
I’ll continue to update this blog regularly-unless another northern adventure comes a-callin’- with production information as well as the process of putting on this strange but spectacular show. But here are some snippets:
- we’ve had 2 days of casting and seen some fantastic talent here in Hollywood. The response to our audition notice was so overwhelming that we had to add an additional day of casting next week. And we’re only casting two roles!
- we are performing at the Dragonfly in the heart of Holywood’s Theatre Row. This venue has been an absolute dream to work with and we’re so happy to be at home there.
- 2 nights only! A limited run with the intention of raising some investor and producer interest. Let’s get some money behind this sucker!
So that’s my first update since I’ve returned from the chilly pole. Stay tuned. More to tell, exciting stuff happening here.
Opening the Show
I spent the last 3 or 4 hours doing something I’ve been kind of putting off or at least was a bit of a low priority: creating the walk-thru for Beer Samplers. What the hell is a walk-thru you ask? Good question. I didn’t know until tonight. When I made it up.
A walk thru is essentially the blocking of everything in the show except the scenes. Between each of the scenes of Beer Samplers our characters are still alive, reeling from that particular experience, planning their next move, hell, even just going to the toilet. Their world doesn’t stop when the house lights go back on, they’re experiencing the next moment in time along with the rest of the people in the room. And they have to move and shift and get ready for the next scene, all while logically following the story.
It was fun and relieving, to finally be able to solidify and visualize the show wholly for the first time. I felt a weight was lifted. And I also started thinking…
We make up a lot of our own rules in our work at the Project. We don’t really have a guidebook to fall back on. We make the decisions we feel are best or the most logical. Sometimes they work. And sometimes they fail. But we’re kind of forging our road as we travel, I guess.
We had a whole discussion tonight about whether we should make clear to our guests they are not really supposed to interact with the characters—God forbid during a scene, but even in transitions I don’t really want to deal with it. In the end, Elaine brought up the winning point: by warning people or asking them not to do something, we’re retaining the convention of traditional theatre. We’re immediately breaking the immersive illusion because we’re pointing out “you’re at a show, act like it”. We want people to be what they are when they’re with us. We want people to bring themselves. But Jackie said it best: we’re asking people to take a risk when they come see our work, it’s a different kind of theatre experience. And we have to be willing to take a risk with our audience, that they’re a different kind of theatre goer. We form some sort of symbiotic trust circle where we’re all in this place experiencing this night together. They trust us to take them for a ride, they’re showing up, they came. They’ve done their part. So we have to trust them that they’ll engage in our story, live in the experience we’re creating and enjoy the night. And I guess that’s all we can ask.
Producing this show-Beer Samplers-has been, for the most part, surprisingly simple. Now, we’ve obviously had the safety net of the Arsht Center behind us financially and structurally and that certainly has helped. But I really think we’re all getting quite the handle on this puttin’ on a show thing. I’m very proud of my ladies. They work tirelessly and so often without me having a clue what they’re doing.
The show is…great. It really is. Today’s rehearsal was great. Lela’s sick as shit, but she was a trooper. And brought a new sense of purpose today. We’re finding the details now. If only we had another week or 14. This has been a ridiculously short time to put together a play. Juan and I started writing only about 7 weeks ago. With a new work like this, you want months of writing, then weeks of development at the table, making changes to the script, then finally getting the actors on their feet once we have a pseudo-final product to work with. Then several more weeks of rehearsal before you would EVER want to put it in front of an audience. We had about 6 weeks to write it and a week and a half to develop and rehearse.
Why? Why would we do this to ourselves? Again, we have the safety net of the Arsht. We have nothing to lose. Unless it’s terrible. Then we have lots to lose. Thankfully, it’s really, really rockin awesome. I can’t wait to see if it works.
Last Night photos
we should talk about Last Night.
we opened our run of Last Night tonight. so strange to call it a run. a flash-mob/improv-everywhere/public act/piece of theatre. we played our first show? no. it happened for the first time tonight. there it is. this was truly the most terrifying experience of my life. i have never, in any of the crazy shit we’ve done, been so nervous to walk into these bars as I was tonight. to see the faces of people that have no interest in having their night interrupted. but we did. and they…well, i was gonna say paid attention but i don’t know if that’s right. they were engaged. they looked up. they cared, whether it was an annoyance or exciting. but i was terrified. i was terrified for my actors, i was terrified for my team, i was terrified the piece was terrible or that one of our beams would go out or people just wouldn’t care. and there were times when it seemed people weren’t into it…just, at all.
all of this sounds so bad. There were awesome things. Lots. For real. Whether it was someone shouting that jamie likes anal or people telling rayner he was making a fool of himself when he handed out condoms or a guy defending jamie’s honor by tearing rayner down from the stage, people were engaging with this story we created in an incredibly visceral way. And many people really DID enjoy it or at least get a kick out of it.
why did we decide to do this? a couple reasons.
- we want to build an audience from the ground up.
- we want to engage with a different audience.
- we want to experiment with the form.
- we want to market for Miami Made!
it’s hard to walk away from this and understand what this is or its effectiveness at all. or even its worthiness to some extent. is this even theatre? i kept asking myself that tonight. we’ve certainly memorized lines and blocked it and lit it and costumed it and hell even propped the shit out of it. We are still storytelling. And we are still using text to communicate the story. And these characters have rich lives that we’ve created together. And we have worked very hard to keep this from becoming a sketch – we are trying to make a point. so…i think it is theatre.
And are we actually engaging the people whom don’t give a shit about theatre? will this really be the thing that suddenly changes that? will they tell their friends about this, will it stick? Maybe. but maybe it doesn’t matter. it’s easy to say “well if one person changes their mind about theatre…it’s a success.” but i think that’s beside the point. First off, I don’t blame people for not being interested. Even well-produced and well-performed theatre is often boring or irrelevent and most importantly presented in a way in which many people are simply uninterested. and some people just can’t stand it. Secondly, while it is our goal to engage people outside a traditional theatre audience, our only control is bringing the work to them - not their response. we cannot create this work with the goal of pleasing, that is the absolute antithesis of our purpose. Sure, the work is a success if it brings us a new audience and if it changes someone’s mind about the craft- and hopefully it will.
But this work is primarily a success because it accomplishes our mission. We aim to redefine the way people experience theatre. Whether people enjoy it or not – in a weird way - doesn’t matter. OF COURSE WE WANT THEM TO! But even if they don’t, they’ve still had a theatrical experience they’ve likely never had before. And if we’ve engaged with our unknowing and even somewhat unwilling audience on even that basic of a level, well, we’re accomplishing this mission. And this work is a part of that mission. This is the toughest, wierdest thing we’ve done yet. But for better or worse, it’s totally necessary and – I think and I hope - exactly the right thing we should be doing . Rayner said it best tonight when he said there’ll be a lot of misses. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be ripped off my stage by someone so utterly engaged in these two characters. I feel like both my actors will take a few days before even they can comprehend this experience. they both have balls of steel and are creating their art in the most honorable way - for art sake. they are to be infinitely commended.
this is hard but valuable work. i’m almost sure of it.
Plus it’s only gonna get better.