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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Theatre Vocabulary Quiz Answers!

Hello everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  As always, this is Bobby Keniston, your host for the evening.  Here are the results for the vocabulary quiz yesterday.  Feel free to let me know how you did in the comments section.

Part I.  Matching

1.  Actor/Actress---- I.  A person who performs a role in a play.
2.  Conflict--- F.  Opposition of forces giving rise to dramatic action.
3.  Cold Reading--- H.  A reading of a script done by actors who have not previously reviewed the play.
4.  Costume---- G.  Clothing worn by an actor on stage
5.  Denouement--- J.  The final resolution of a coflict in a plot.
6.  Center Stage--- C.  The center of the area defined as the stage
7.  Collaboration--- D.  Two or more people working together in a joint intellectual effort
8.  Diction--- B.  The clear pronunciation of words
9.  Comedy---- A.  A play that is intentionally humorous
10.  Downstage---- E.  The stage area toward the audience.

Part II.  True Or False

11.  Conversation between two actors on stage is called a monologue.  False (it is called dialogue)
12.  Crisis is a decisive point in the plot of a play on which the outcome depends.  True
13.  Interrelated conditions in which a play exists or occurs is called exposition.  False (it is called context)
14.  Climax is the greatest pont of dramatic tension or transition in a play.  True
15.  A dramaturg oversees the entire process of staging a production.  False (that would be the director)

Part III.  Fill in the blank
(the filled-in blank is the word in ALL CAPS)

16.  The creative process of developing and executing aesthetics in a production, such as costumes, lighting, sets and makeup is called DESIGN.
17.  The art and technique of bringing the elements of theatre together to make a play is called DIRECTING.
18.  A signal, either verbal or physical, that indicates something else, such as a line of dialogue or an entrance, is called a CUE.
19.  CRITIQUE is the opinions and comments based on a predetermined criteria that may be used for self-evaluation or the evaluation of actors or the production itself.
20.  CREATIVE DRAMA is an improvisational, process-centered form of theatre in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact, and reflect the human experience.
21.  A theatrical movement of the early 1920s and 1930s that is characterized by the use of such artificial devices as cartoons, posters and film sequences is called EPIC THEATRE.
22.  An ENSEMBLE is a group of theatrical artists working together to create a theatrical production.
23.  The technique of calling upon your own memories to understand a character's emotion is called EMOTIONAL MEMORY.
24.  The theatre of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I is known as ELIZABETHAN THEATRE.
25.  Detailed information revealing the facts of a plot is called EXPOSITION

Extra Credit:
Dionysus was the Greek god in question.
A dress rehearsal is the last rehearsal before performing in front of an audience.  It is when all aspects of the production, including lights and costume, finally come together.

I hope you all did well on the quiz!

Until next time, remember:  theater is a sport.

Friday, March 29, 2013

TALKING THE TALK--- Theater Vocabulary that Everyone Should Know

VOCABULARY

Good evening everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  I will be your host for this blog post.

Sometimes, being educational is a lot of fun.  Sometimes, it is just okay.

Nevertheless, I thought I would test you all with a simple theater vocabulary quiz.  It's not even every theatre vocab word in the entirety of the theater, just letters A-E (Actor through Exposition). 

I challenge you all to answer as many questions as you can.  Tomorrow I will provide the correct answers. 

Fun or not, theater vocabulary IS important. 

Without further ado, here comes the quiz.  Good luck and no cheating!

THEATER VOCABULARY, WORDS A-E
QUIZ

PART I.  MATCHING (2 POINTS EACH)
Match the correct vocabulary word with the appropriate letter next to the definition. 

1.  Actor/Actress _______                              A.  A play that is intentionally humorous

2.  Conflict ________                                     B. The clear pronunciation of words

3.  Cold Reading  _______                             C.  The Center of the area defined as the stage

4.  Costume __________                                D.  Two or more people working together in a joint
                                                                              intellectual effort

5.  Denouement ________                              E. The stage area toward the audience

6.  Center Stage ________                             F.  Opposition of forces giving rise to dramatic                      
                                                                             action.

7.  Collaboration _________                         G.  Clothing worn by an actor on stage

8.  Diction  _________                                 H.  A reading of a script done by actors who have not
                                                                           previously reviewed the play.

9.  Comedy _________                                I.  A person who performs a role in a play

10.  Downstage _________                         J.  The final resolution of a conflict in a plot

PART II.  TRUE AND FALSE
Please circle T for True and F for False.  4 points each.

11.  Conversation between two actors on stage is called a monologue.     T           F


12.  Crisis is a decisive point in the plot of a play on which the outcome depends.  T        F


13.  Interrelated conditions in which a play exists or occurs is called exposition.   T         F


14.  Climax is the greatest point of dramatic tension or transition in a play.       T           F


15.   A dramaturg oversees the entire process of staging a production.    T                 F

PART III.  FILL IN THE BLANKS (6 Points Each)
Fill in the blanks using the vocabulary words in the word bank below.  

16.  The creative process of developing and executing aesthetic or functional designs in a
production, such as costumes, lighting, sets, and makeup is called __________________.

17.  The art and technique of bringing the elements of theatre together to make a play is called
__________________.

18.  A signal, either verbal or physical, that indicates something else, such as a line of dialogue or an entrance, is to happen  is called a ________________.

19.  ______________  is opinions and comments based on predetermined criteria that may be used for self- evaluation or the evaluation of the actors or the production itself.
20.  ______________ is an improvisational, process-centered form of theatre in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact, and reflect on human experiences.

21.  A theatrical movement of the early 1920’s and 1930 characterized by the use of such artificial devices as cartoons, posters, and film sequences distancing is called _______________.

22.  An _____________ is a group of theatrical artists working together to create a theatrical production.
23.   The technique of calling upon your own memories to understand a character’s emotions is called __________________

24.  The theatre of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I is known as _______________

25.  Detailed information revealing the facts of a plot is called _________________.

Word Bank
Cue      Epic Theatre       Ensemble        Directing     Design       Critique       Creative Drama
Elizabethan Theatre        Exposition       Emotional Memory

EXTRA CREDIT
These are not required, but if answered correctly, are worth 5 points each.

1.  The name of the Greek god whose festival is where theatre was created:  _______________

2.  Explain what happens at a dress rehearsal in two sentences:
 
Hope you all enjoyed this little quiz.  Again, this is only words A through E!  Let me know how you think you did in the comments, and I will have the answers for you tomorrow!

Until then, please remember that the language of the craft is important, and, above all, that theater is a sport.

Find out more about me by clicking the links below....




Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meaning? What Meaning?: Why Bobby Keniston Loves the Theatre of the Absurd

While I Do Not Advocate Smoking, I DO Advocate Samuel Beckett, particularly Wating For Godot
Hello everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  I am your host.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host on this blog. That's right, I'm your host.  (repetition is key in so many things)  If you're worried about reading a blog about theater by some random guy , I will happily tell you that I have been a lifelong student of theater, in acting, directing and playwriting.  In fact, I'm a playwright with over 20 published titles (please don't feel bad if you haven't heard of me). 

Judging by the title of this post, and the picture of Mr. Samuel Beckett, I am sure you clever folks must know that today's post is about the Theatre of the Absurd.  What it is, some of the biggest names involved, and, really, why I like it so much.  You might even say I love it.  Well, not all of it, of course, but, if I were forced to choose my favorite type of theatre, I mean, was literally FORCED, I would probably answer Theatre of the Absurd.  A big reason will become clear from the pictures of people you will see throughout this post, including Mr. Beckett above, and this fellow below:

Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature, and, on some days, my favorite playwright (and in my top five on all days)
Let's start off simply enough with a definition:

THEATRE OF THE ABSURD:  
Theatrical movement beginning in the 1950s in which playwrights created works representing the universe as unknowable and humankind’s existence as meaningless.

Of course, origins of Theatre of the Absurd date back before the 1950s, even all the way back to the tragicomedies of Elizabethan Theatre.  In fact, the mode, or "genre" (for lack of a better word) of most Absurdist plays is tragicomedy.  To quote the play Endgame by Mr. Beckett, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.... it's the most comical thing in the world".  Arthur Kopit's 1964 Absurdist masterpiece (at least a masterpiece in my opinion)  Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, is subtitled as A Pseudoclassical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition, and that is certainly a dark comedy that achieves a sense of tragedy as well. 

And, yes, Theatre of the Absurd began as a French movement. 

Okay, let's look at some characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd:

---  Theatre of the Absurd, as mentioned before, puts into question the meaning of humankind's existence, and often finds that there is absolutely none.  Building on this point, Theatre of the Absurd often presents a protagonist who is almost a puppet to some unseen force, with no control whatsoever to the world around him (forgive the pronoun). 

---  Because life is not backed by any sense of meaning, in the Theatre of the Absurd, logical communication ceases to exist, leading to a complete breakdown of communication and, well, eventually and inevitably, silence.  A simpler way to say this is that many playwrights dipping into the Absurd will play with language a great deal.  One need only to the character Lucky in Waiting for Godot for an example of communication going completely haywire.  Mr. Pinter, who, as I mentioned, is a favorite of mine, says so much in his pauses.  I don't know if there is a playwright who uses ellipses (...) as well as he does. 

--- Some Theatre of the Absurd almost actively wants to parody the notion of what constitutes as a well-made play.  Look at Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, which he called "an anti-play".  In fact, why not take a look at this picture of Mr. Ionesco:
Mr. Ionesco, no doubt on the lookout for a charging rhinoceros
--- A good deal of Theatre of the Absurd mixes a kind of interesting stew of broad comedy, even Vaudevillian or slapstick (see Waiting for Godot--- Beckett loved Vaudeville), and mixes it with horrific things and tragedy.  After all, in a world without meaning, there is bound to be severe tonal shifts, wouldn't you say?

--- Many Absurdists plays may have a cyclical nature, in some ways representing the idea of humankind making the same damn mistakes over and over again. 

---- Big old wordplay.  Some of my favorite comes from Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, like their wonderful game of questions or referrng to England as "a conspiracy of cartographers". 

Why do I love the Theatre of the Absurd?   Look, I'm not a literary critic, I just know what I like, and largely, what I like are things that effect me viscerally.  Things I feel deep in my bones and that stay with me long afterwards.  There are many types of plays and musicals that do this for me, but, the largest percentage is represented by the Theatre of the Absurd.  I dig it when I go from laughing to being shocked.  I enjoy having to think about why something is making me feel the way it does.  I like the bold audacity that is represented in so many Absurdist works.  And, truly, I like playwrights who ask the big questions and aren't afraid of not giving answers (because, well, to the really big questions, there aren't any). 

Here is a partial list of some of my favorite Absurdist plays that I recommend to anyone and everyone (no particular order, just as I think of them) :

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett
The Caretaker by Harold Pinter
A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter
The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
The Maids by Jean Genet
A Night Out by Harold Pinter
The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco
The Zoo Story by Edward Albee
Rhionoceros by Eugene Ionesco
Endgame by Samuel Beckett
The Homecoming by Harold Pinter
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco
The Killer by Eugene Ionesco
Amedee or How to Get Rid of It by Eugene Ionesco
Jack or the Submission by Eugene Ionesco
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad by Arthur Kopit
God by Woody Allen
The Sandbox by Edward Albee
The American Dream by Edward Albee
The Nature and Purpose of the Universe by Christopher Durang
Firebugs by Max Frisch

Okay, so that's only a partial list, but there are plenty more.  That's enough to get anyone interested started, however.

Thanks for checking out my blog today.  Feel free to follow the links below to find out more about me.  In the meantime, life can be absurd, so it's important to remember that theater is a sport.  Bye bye.
https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport
https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Write a Play or How to Enjoy Repeatedly Banging Your Head Against the Wall, Lesson 7: Warding off Writer's Block an Embracing and Imperfect Medium


Hello.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  It's Tuesday today (at least for another twenty minutes or so), which means it is time for another lesson in playwriting.  This being said, this is also a lesson for anyone who writes anything.

As a playwright and teacher of young playwrights, there is one word that separates successful playwrights from unsuccessful playwrights.  Ready for it?

COMPLETION

Yes, it is true that not every person who completes writing a play (or a story or a novel, etc.) finds widespread success.  On the other hand, a person who never completes a piece has zero chance of finding success.  So there you have it.  The number one goal when starting a piece of writing should be to complete a draft.  This is the big goal in my intro to playwriting class.  Finish.

Finish, finish, finish.

I tell my students that theater, and, hell, all of writing is imperfect, especially a first draft.  That's what makes theater and writing exciting and alive.  Perfection doesn't really exist in the arts, and if it did, it would probably be boring. 

I also tell them this:  the only way to rewrite and rework a first draft they are disappointed with is to HAVE a first draft you are disappointed with.

My first semester as a playwriting student when I was in college was a pretty banner semester.  I wrote a ten-minute play that got a lot of attention, and followed it with a one-act play of about twenty-five minutes, and then followed that by a one-act play of about 55 minutes in duration.  I was a completion machine.  

My second semester, I was moved right from Beginning Playwriting to Advanced Playwriting.  Suddenly, the criticisms in the workshop setting were harsher.  Suddely, I didn't feel like a wunderkind anymore.  Suddenly, I started writing 15 pages of a project and then abandoning it, and then 10 pages, and then 5 pages... you get the idea. 

Even after graduation, for a good time in my twenties, I would begin a piece and then set it aside, worried that it was never going to look or feel like what it did in my head. 

I have a message for all young (and even not-so-young) writers who are reading this: 
IT'S NEVER GOING TO BE WHAT'S IN YOUR HEAD
              (AT LEAST NOT COMPLETELY)
I know this from experience.  From lots of finished plays that I've racked up over the last couple years.  That doesn't mean it won't be close, or, sometimes even BETTER than what is in your head.  It happens.  But if writing were simply a matter of having the ability to precisely transcribe the images from your head perfectly, then it wouldn't be much of an artform, would it?  It would be... well, robotic.  Stale.

I know it is frustrating when things are not working out.  I know that the big old SELF-CRITICAL voices can be strangling.   I take comfort in a quote by William Faulkner, who was pretty damn smart:  "Write.  If it's good, you'll know it, if it isn't, throw it out the window."  You want to abandon a piece once it is finished, then go for it.  Chances are, you won't, not if you've invested the time in creating the first draft.  And that first draft may "utterly suck" (to use a term one of my stuents and, heck, probably I have used), but that's why the Universe invented subsequent drafts.

One should approach playwriting as a serious endeavor, sure, but one should also remember that no one is going to die if scene five craps out and needs a complete overhaul.  Be happy you have a scene five that can be fixed!  At least you don't need a liver transplant, right?

A former writing and literature professor of mine from Bennington, a talented writer named Roland Merullo, has written a book called Demons of the Blank Page where he talks about some of the psychological elements that can keep people from writing or writing at their best.  He has a chapter devoted to "the need to be perfect", a close relation to writer's block, and talks about it much more eloquently than I do here.  I am in no way affiliated with the book other than being a fan, and am receiving no money for mentioning it, but I'm going to offer a link for you here if you're interested:  http://www.amazon.com/Demons-Blank-Page-Roland-Merullo/dp/0983677409/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364356792&sr=1-1&keywords=demons+of+the+blank+page

For me, in my own life, I had to learn the hard way.  You can't be a writer if you don't finish.  Simple as that.  You need the steam to move forward. 

Here are some tips:

1.  If you need to jump around in the play, do it.  There may be some plot point or bit of dialogue you know will have to happen, but you just don't know how to do it yet.  Move forward.  Fill in the blanks later.  There is no law that says you have to write your play in order. 

2.  The reason writers can get a lot of work done in college is because they have deadlines.  The reason Hollywood Screenwriters can crank out pages is because they have deadlines.  /Believe it or not, deadlines are great things for creativity.  They raise the stakes, force you to tell the self-critical voice to give it a damn rest, you have work that's due.  Now, you may not have school or business deadlines, so I recommend setting some other kind of deadline for yourself  (I think this is why NaNoWriMo is so popular).  Use a tactic like giving your friend something precious of yours and instructing them not to give it back unless you have a first draft in your hands by such and such a date.  Or, if you're good at challenging yourself, you may not have to involve other people, but give it some sense of stakes. 

3.  Here's a tip from Roland's Book:  Mock your self-critical voice.  Seriously.  I've tried it.  It's kind of fun.  Speak to your self-criticism sarcastically, watch it get peeved and sulk away. 

4.  This is one of Roland's tips, too, but it was and is also one of mine, before I read the book.  I tend to have good luck when I write quickly.  Writing fast helps me to keep the self-doubt and criticism away.  There's always room for the self-criticism (which isn't actually a bad thing--- in fact, it's a good thing when you have a draft done) later.  I tend to deflate myself if I don't get the draft out as fast as I can, and when I deflate myself, I deflate the project.  Enthusiasm is positive.  Write fast, when it still feels fresh, like a Honeymoon period. 

Again, these are all just suggestions.  Everyone has their own method.  And any method that leads to completion for you is a good method.

And if it doesn't?  Well, all I can say is try something another way to get to the finish line or maybe rethink your goals of being a writer.

Thanks for checking out my blog.  Until next time, imperfection can be a good thing, and theater is a sport.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SATIRE: Reality Television, Stage Mothers, and Teenage Fame


Hello, everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and welcome to Theater is a Sport, a blog about anything and everything having to do with live theater.  Thank you for stopping by and checking out my thoughts.

Today was a good day on the playwriting front, because my latest published play, Betty Lou Twinkle's Tabloid Scandal became available to license from Brooklyn Publishers (https://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=BETTY+LOU+TWINKLE'S+TABLOID+SCANDAL), and it always feels nice when a new work is made available to the public. 

Now, I'm not one to use this blog just to promote and shamelessly plug my own work,
(https://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=BETTY+LOU+TWINKLE'S+TABLOID+SCANDAL)
but, Betty Lou Twinkle's Tabloid Scandal is fresh in my mind, and it cotains some of the manic energy I used to have when I wrote satires in college.  It was nice, while writing it, to reconnect to that energy, and I am proud of the finished result, and hope it finds a wide audience.

One of the great things about Brooklyn Publishers is that they offer a script preview right on their website of all of their plays, so you can read a good amount of a play and make up your mind even about whether or not you like it and want to do it.  All you do is go to a play's particular page, for example
(https://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=BETTY+LOU+TWINKLE'S+TABLOID+SCANDAL),
and click on the button reading "Script Preview", and up pops a convenient PDF for your perusal of about 70% of the script or so.  If you like it, you can add it to your shopping cart right there and then.  How 'bout that?

But, seriously folks, this is a blog about education and not self-promotion.  So let me tell you a little bit about why I wrote Betty Lou Twinkle's Tabloid Scandal, which is now available for purchase and licensing at Brooklyn Publishers.  Here are the top reasons why I wrote it:

1.  I AM SICK AND TIRED OF SO-CALLED "REALITY" TELEVISION
Don't get me started.  I was talking to some students today, hearkening back to the days when the only "reality" tv shows were The Real World on MTV and Survivor.  Now, networks, instead of noticing that these were popular for their uniqueness, decide, instead, to shove as many reality shows on television as possible.  People liked The Osbornes?  Well, heck, let's give any other washed up psedo-celeb their own show!  And then, snowball effect being what it was, suddenly you didn't even have to be any kind of celeb, as long as you were outrageous--- these shows would MAKE you a celeb, as long as you are a depraved, ridiculous human being... yes, folks, Snookie was paid good money to speak at PRINCETON.  PRINCETON!  Oh, it makes me worry, and makes my skin crawl. 

2.  I AM TIRED OF TEENAGERS BECOMING SO FAMOUS AND PRETTY MUCH LOSING ALL SENSE OF YOUTH AND INNOCENCE, AND THEN ARE THROWN AWAY AS SOON AS THEY ARE NOT POPULAR ANYMORE
Don't get me started.  It's not right. 
I remember a number of years back, I wated the remake of The Parent Trap that a featured a cute, talented little girl named Linsay Lohan playing the role of twin sisters.  Although I don't typically enjoy remakes, I remember being impressed by this little tyke--- she showed a great deal of promise and talent.  She created the two sisters and made them different enough to be believable (including pulling off a pretty good British accent).  Now, of course, Miss Lohan has been in and out of trouble with the law, and is looked upon as a big joke.
It makes me sad.  Who puts their kids through that?  And more to the point, why?  There are plenty of child actors who have appeared to grow up well-adjusted (Jodie Foster for one, Elijah Wood for another).  It must have something to do with parenting. 
But to take people like Lindsay and put them on a pedastal and then delight in their falling off of it... it's just sad. 
No wonder they go a little cuckoo.
Which leads me to....

3.  STAGE MOTHERS, or PARENTS WHO LIVE VICARIOUSLY THROUGH THEIR KIDS, or, ANYONE WHO EXPLOITS KIDS FOR THEIR OWN GAIN
Sorry folks, but this includes Ellen, too. 
Think of it:  teenagers are already going through tremendous physical, chemical and emotional changes.  I know a great deal of talented teenagers, and, as a teacher, I want to nurture it, encourage it, and help it grow.  This being said, I don't want to throw them into constant media scrutiny and judgement and see how they fare.  When you are going through so many changes as it is, it is simply unfair to be put under a microscope and judged by the public constantly.  High school is hard enough, without making the WHOLE COUNTRY your scary hallway to walk down. 
That's all I say about that.

Betty Lou Twinkle's Tabloid Scandal deals with all of these things, but in a funny, outrageous way.  Betty Lou, our protagonist, has an overbearing mother named Darlene Rosepettle (a nod to the fierce Madame Rosepettle from Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad) who has thrust her into the spotlight since she was a baby on the reality televsion show Divas in Diapers  (which is a fictional show from my own imagination, but for how long?).  Betty Lou just wants to be a normal girl and play soccer.  But after she wins America's Future One-Hit Wonders, her mother hires her a fame mentor (named Versailles Waldorf-Astoria... get it?) who encourages her to create a tabloid scandal. 

I can't tell you how much fun it was for me to lampoon all of these aspects of our popular culture that bother me so much.  And even though the script is funny (at least I think so), I believe its message is a serious one. 

Gosh, I hope this play finds a whole lot of productions, and maybe makes people laugh but also makes them think a bit about how they look at the notion of celebrty.  Goodness knows this whole country needs and overhaul when it comes to that stuff. 

Seriously. 

In any case, thank you for reading my rant and shameless self-promotion.
https://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=BETTY+LOU+TWINKLE'S+TABLOID+SCANDAL
I hope you are all having a wonderful day, wherever you may be. 

Oh, yeah, did I mention...

https://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=BETTY+LOU+TWINKLE'S+TABLOID+SCANDAL

See you next time at Theater is a Sport, and remember... it's not just a title.  Theater. Is. A. Sport.

Friday, March 22, 2013

How Do Playwrights For the Amateur Markets Make Money or Bobby Keniston Takes Stock of His Relatively Young Playwriting Career

Note:  This is not me.  Not yet.

Greetings everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I am a playwright, director, actor and theater teacher.  Basically, I am a drama geek.  That is why I have this blog.  I write down my thoughts about theater on a given day and then wonder if anyone wants to read them.  I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the answer is yes, some people do. 

Today I am going to talk about a subject that I think will interest people more than many subjects I may talk about.  I tend to talk a good deal about the "craft" and have not talked too much about the actual "business" of theater.  So, today, I decided I would talk a bit about money.

Money.  Money.  Money.

Many people could joke that the title of this post very well could have been "Do Playwrights Make Money?" as opposed to "How Do Playwrights Make Money?"   In fact, when you have people at the top of the field like Tony Kushner running his mouth about how he can't make a living as a playwright (wonder if he would want to switch royalty checks with me), I guess it is a fair question.  Of course, Mr. Kushner does not write for the amateur market as I do. 

The late Tim Kelly, a very prolific playwright for the school and community theater markets, published over 350 plays in his life, and, when his career really took off, would have about 6,000 performances of his plays every year, all over the world.  His pieces were translated into dozens of languages.  He adopted the old quote and paraphrased it for the amateur theater market:  "You can make a living, but you can't make a killing". 

The reason so much of this is on my mind is that I have been taking stock or my playwriting career today.  A little more than three years ago, my very first play was accepted for publication.  No books out yet, no contract signed, just accepted for publication.  In the three years since (which have seemed to fly by), here  is where I am at:

--- 22 publications (including a contribution to an anthology of monologues, and co-author of a book of improvisation starters),
--- 80 productions of my plays
--- 140 performances of my plays
--- Productions of my plays in 36 states, as well as in Canada and Australia,
and
--- and unpublished play of mine represented the state of Maine at a New England Regional Festival for community theaters, where I won an award for Best Emerging Playwright

This looks pretty good listed out, I must confess, and I am proud, I truly am, and grateful for my successes. 

But let me make this clear:  I do not make a living from being a playwright. 

Okay, this may seem weird, but this blog is about education, so I'm going to share some stats with you, just so you know a bit about the money side of things as I have experienced them.  I will limit this to my published plays.  If nothing else, maybe this will make some people think twice before skipping out on paying royalties for producing plays.  I am going to limit this to my royalty earnings from the company with whom I have the most publications.  Again, this is neither bragging nor complaining--- I share these figures strictly for educational purposes.

ROYALTY EARNINGS MY FIRST YEAR AS A PLAYWRIGHT :  $365.78
EARNINGS LAST YEAR:  $742.99
EARNINGS SO FAR THIS YEAR (I will be getting more before the royalty period closes):  $928.17

Again, this is not a representation of all monies earned through playwriting, just my published plays with Brooklyn.  As you can see, there has been steady growth, but not exactly living wages, right? 

Here's how it works:  a school or community theater group wants to put on my play.  They pay for the rights to perform it.  A one-act play with this publisher costs $35 per performance.  For my early one-acts with Brooklyn, I receive $17.50 of that $35, for more recent ones, $21.  For more recent plays, I also receive 10% book royalty, or roughly $0.55 for the scripts sold.  

For a ten-minute play, the productions cost $15 to license, of which I receive $7.50.  Since, when ten-minute plays are performed for forensics competitions the royalties are waived, the books are sold in script packs of $12.50, for which I receive $1.25 for each script pack sold. 

So, first off, you might be thinking, "wow, he doesn't make very much."  But, in truth, I'm actually doing pretty well considering the age of my career, and considering I am primarily earning income from publications for the amateur markets.  Clearly, a playwright like Neil Simon, who once had 3 shows running on Broadway at the same time, was (and is) making far more cash than myself.  But, my career is steadily growing, my name and my work is getting out there,and, yes, my publishers, all four of them, work hard to get my plays produced.  I am very lucky. 

So how do playwrights for the amateur markets make money?  Simple--- volume.  The more productions, the more performances, the more money.  So, how do you get more productions? 

This is actually a simple answer, too. 

Time, hard work, and luck.

Yes, once in a while, a writer may come along who, for whatever reason, has a really big hit with their first play for the school or amateur market, get 200 productions a year from it, and receive a good-sized royalty check.  This does happen.  It has not happened to me (yet), but it can happen. 

For the rest of us, it is a matter of writing, writing, writing.  And, of course, the writing has to be good, at least good enough for publication.  And I feel I should let you in on a little secret that is very important to this discussion:  I have 22 plays published with four different publishers, and I still get rejected.  Not every new play is accepted by the first company I send it to.  I still have to make sure I'm writing good stuff, and, even if it is good stuff, it doesn't mean it is going to be published.  Maybe it's not right for a market, maybe the catalogue has too many "similarly themed" pieces, but, for whatever reason, I am not automatically published because I have some credits.  Granted, I think my work is considered perhaps a bit more quickly than it was when I didn't have anything on my resume, but that's only fair, isn't it?

But I digress.

The reason the publications are important is because the more publications, the more plays you are presenting to the public.  This means your name appears a lot more in the catalogue.  When your name appears a bunch in the catalogue, there's a good chance people are reading the synopsis and a better chance that they are ordering a perusal copy that will hopefully lead to a production.  The more production that are out there, the more press.  If you write one-act plays for high schools, you have to hope upon hope they are taking your script to a competition, where other schools from the state will see it, like it, and look up you other work. 

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm complaining about how I'm not making the big bucks (yet).  Don't get me wrong--- I do think playwrights have a very justifiable reason to complain, at least in the amateur market--- people lying about how many performances, being the bottom rung on a theatrical latter--- but, to me, at least, I think the system is tough but fair.  You have to work hard.

You have to write. 

Write.

Then write some more. 

I don't do a ton of networking right now because of my location, but, even still, the more I write, the more my numbers are growing.  And that's how it should be.  Are they growing as fast as I would like?  Well, I think most people wish they were making more money than they are... it's an expensive world, and, yeah, I would love to have better financial independence.  But, the fact remains, whenever I receive a royalty check, I get a huge smile on my face, because it is money I have in my hand that represents working on something I love, and this work somehow inspiring complete strangers to want to work on it too.

Thanks for reading this post.  Find out more about me by clicking the links below.  Until next time, please remember--- theater is not only a craft and an artform.  Theater is a sport.

https://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=ab&afn=Bobby&aln=Keniston

http://www.histage.com/author/authorinfo.asp?AuthorID=528

http://www.playscripts.com/author.php3?authorid=1113

http://www.hitplays.com/default.aspx?pg=ab&afn=Bobby&aln=Keniston

https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

Thursday, March 21, 2013

REHEARSAL NUMBER 2: Bobby Offers Advice to Community Theater Directors

REHEARSAL
#2

Greetings and salutations everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport, a blog run by me, Bobby Keniston, a realtively young man who has been obsessed with theater my entire life.  If you are a student actor, a playwright, a community theater junkie, or a plain old drama geek, you have come to the right place.  As Shel Silverstein might say, "Come in.  We have some tales to spin.  Come in.  Come in."

At this moment, aside from listening to the Magnetic Fields sing 69 love songs, I am sitting at my computer hoping to relay a little bit of advice to community theater directors about what to do at your second rehearsal.  A good while back, I wrote a post about the importance of a read-through and table work in general, and, assuming you agree, it is now time to talk about the first rehearsal away from the table. 

First of all, don't get me wrong--- there are some plays of complex themes and language that may require more than just a single rehearsal of table work.  If you are directing that sort of play, then, by all means, stay at the table if you must.  However, in my experience, I have found that the sooner the actors are up and moving around finding their characters in their voices and bodies, the better.  Clearly movement is very important on stage, and there is no time like the present to have your actors begin to start to feel things in their frames, renting out their bodies to their characters. 

Remember as I move forward that I am talking about community theater here.  The advice I am about to present is intended for amateur productions, where most of my experience as a director exists.  What I will present is also applicable to school theater, where I also have done a great deal of work.

When I direct community theater, which is composed of very game, often talented, but by and large untrained actors, I like to treat early rehearsals as almost an introduction to acting class.  In fact, I had an actor from one of my community theater productions tell me (in a positive tone) that after working with me, he felt like he deserved credit for basic acting college course.  WhileI don't know if that is true (although this young gentleman did learn a lot and grow exponentially), I do think education is part of being a community theater director (obviously it is the most important part of being a school director).

This is why, following the table work, I like to devote at least two, maybe more, rehearsals to character work.  Guiding the actors into finding their characters physicalities, voices, motivations, etc.  I like to start with brief physical warm-ups (including some voice stuff), and then move into what I call "The Movie Poster Exercise". 

The Movie Poster Exercise works very well with students, but is also appropriate for community theaters as well.  Have the actors close their eyes and focus on their breathing (they should be standing).  Pay attention to actors' breathing at this early stage, making sure they utilize dropping their breath into their middle (or diaphragm, as it is called).  Right from the start, make sure to encourage this type of breathing, as it will save you time later when dealing with vocal projection...

But I digress.

So, with their eyes closed, tell your actors to imagine their characters in their minds as if their characters were the stars of their own movies, and to picture how they would look as the hero on their own movie poster.   Assure your cast that the character need not look like them (one day they will have to look like them, but that's later).  Tell them to focus on how their character is standing, what body part do they seem to be leading with or exaggerating, what expression is on their face, how is their posture, etc.  Have them get a clear picture of this in their heads.  Then, and this is why their eyes are closed (so they won't feel silly or shy), have them slowly start to bring this posture into their own bodies.  Have them mimic their characters' movie posters with their own bodies.  Then, as they all seem confident, have them exaggerate it (use the idea of levels 1-10, and make them show this posture at an exaggerated 10, and then mess with different levels).  

Once you are through with this, have them drop it and return their bodies to neutral and open their eyes.  Now, I have found, is a good time to have them walk throuh the space, milling and seething as it is called.... have them start nomally, then play with the speeds (double speed, triple speed, half speed), making sure they do not bump into each other.  After a bit of having them walk as themselves, encourage them to start thinking of their characters' movie poster and start bringing that posture into how they walk.  Have them walk as their characters in a variety of different speeds.  After this exercise where everyone is doing it together, you might want to have people shar some things individually, point out where their character appears to be "leading from" and whether or not it is their intetion.  This is a great way to start having your actors creatively begin to "own" their characters, which is what every director should want.  Remember, you are their to guide and get a vision across, but it is very important to allow your actors to feel creative and to build their characters (if there is something that you feel is completely wrong, of course you will have to steer them in a different direction).  But this rehearsal should be a kind of productive play (after all, it is called a "play" for a reason).  This is all very fun, but it is also all very much a kind of work, too.  

In fact, the very foundation of work that everything else will build from.

In future posts I will happily be talking about character's voices, using improvisation in rehearsals, and all kinds of other stuff.  Thank you for tuning in tonight.

Until next time, feel free to check out the links below and remember--- theater is a sport.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WRITING INSPIRATION: How and Why I Wrote My Play "Citizen's Arrest"

A Production of My Play "Citizen's Arrest" as performed by Hettinger High School

Welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and today, I'm going to talk a bit about how and why I wrote my play "Citizen's Arrest".  I don't know if you're like me, but, if you are, you are interested in why and how writers write their work, and, even if you haven't read my stuff, I'm hoping that you find my experiences at least someone educational or slightly interesting.  If not, I'll aplogize in advance.  I'm a bit of an apologist.  (And and R.E.M. fan)

Anyway...

Inspiration is a crazy thing.  When you are a writer, you never really know when it is going to strike, so it is best to be aware of everything around you.  There's fodder for plays, stories, articles, and so much more in the simplest of events, occurences, happenings.... hey, even in just a consistent family joke.  So writers, store everything away... you never know when it will come in handy. 

So, let's see... in my life, I had published "Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel", "Confession: Kafka in High School", "Death and Pez", and "Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story".  I was feeling pretty good about my growing list of publications.  At about this time, I started reaching out to other playwrights that I had found on Facebook, dropping them messages saying hi, asking for advice, etc.  It turns out, I've met a lot of nice people because of this, a large group of people who write in my market and who I consider wonderful colleagues and pals now.  It's nice to have a group of people to talk shop with, to share success and failure stories with, complain about the market with... and, what's great, is that we have all been there and had the same problems.  It's a nice group of people.

I digress.

In any case, I had reached out to a wonderful playwright in my market named Jerry Rabushka, who was one of the first to really reach back out and offer me encouragement and advice (Jerry has a TON of plays published with Brooklyn Publishers, and is a very talented and nice guy).  He mentioned to me that Brooklyn was always looking for one-act plays with a large cast, even casts of 20 or more. 

A one-act play with 20 characters?!  I didn't really think I could do something like that, unless maybe I made a Shakespeare adaptation.... I mean, how do you fit 20 characters into a play that's only 30 minutes long without making a number of them just walk-ons? 

Nonetheless, I stored this information away in my mind, just in case I ever came across and idea that could accomodate 20 people in a one-act play. 

One day, I was riding in a car with my parents.  I was reminded of road trips with the family when I was a kid, my two older sisters and I crammed in the back seat, my dad driving.  Throughout my life, there have been times when my dad is driving that he'll witness someone making a slight infraction, say, walking just outside of a crosswalk.  When this happens, my dad will say, in a silly voice, "Citizen's Arrest!"  It used to make my sisters and I laugh. 

I'm sort of fascinated by the idea of a "citizen's arrest".  I have never actually performed one, and probably never will, but I find it interesting the idea of an average citizen taking the opportunity to fight crime, brandishing themselves a temporary deputy to enforce the law. 

On this day in the car, I thought of my dad and his "Citizen's Arrest!" joke.  He has since told me he picked this up from an old TV show, either The Andy Griffith Show or Gomer Pyle, I can't remember which.  I was thinking of how silly it was, and I thought to myself, "how could I push something like this to this most ridiculous extreme?" 

That was the seed of the play, Citizen's Arrest.   How to make something ridiculous even more ridiculous.  I pictured someone placing anoher person under a "citizen's arrest", but not stopping there.  I imagined this person stopping passer-bys to form their own "citizen's trial", complete with citizen prosecutors, citizen defense attorney, citizen judge, citizen bailiff... the whole works.  Then, of course, they would need a juy of citizens to make a verdict, wouldn't they?

As soon as I thought of needing the twelve jury members, I knew I had a one-act play that could be 20 characters.  And, indeed, Citizen's Arrest has exactly twenty characters.

COMMUNITY/SCHOOL THEATER PLAYWRITING TIP:  Always try to write more female characters than male characters, as, statistically, more females audition for community and school theater than males. 

I had a great deal of fun writing the play, which, if I'm not mistaken, took about a week for the first draft.  Once the basic idea was in place, it kind of just flowed out of me.  Here's the basic story:  a guy named Dennis, walking through an idealized beautiful park, drops a candy bar wrapper on the ground without thinking about it.  Dana, a concerned citizen, places him under citizen's arrest.  Dennis tries to be a good sport about things, but Dana decides to stage a citizen's trial right then and there.  An out-of-work actress becomes the prosecuting attorney, a coffee shop employee becomes the defense attorney, a moody woman on her way to a quilting circle becomes the "sassy judge, like the ones on TV", a construction worker hunk becomes the bailiff, a very slow typist with a laptop becomes the stenographer, and a tour guide and her tour group become the jury.  It's a great deal of fun.

RANDOM FUN FACT:  At the time I wrote Citizen's Arrest, I had recently been in a musical revue of Johnny Cash music called Ring Of Fire.  Four talented ladies named Tracy, Nancy, Mary Kate, and Lisa were all in the musical revue with me, so, in Citizen's Arrest, four of the tour guide jurors are Tracy, Nancy Mary Kate and Lisa, an all-girl Johnny Cash cover band.  They keep coming up with silly song titles throughout the proceedings and wonder out loud "What Would Johnny Cash Do?"

If I had to pick a favorite character, it would be Miguel, the coffee shop guy who plays the defense attorney.  He wants very badly to do a good job.  He claims his hero is Atticus Finch, and he always wanted to spak out for justice just like Atticus.  Unfortunately for Miguel, when the time comes to make his big impassioned speeches, he's got nothing, except for a few metaphors about how justice is like a cup of coffee.  It even goes well with cheese danish.

So, I sent the play off to my editor at Brooklyn Publishers, a cool guy named David Burton.

He accepted the play less than a week later.  At the time, that was my fastest acceptance, and, actually is still the second-fastest acceptance I've had.  It makes me happy to report that David really loves this play of mine.  He talked at the time about how it made him laugh out loud, and I think it is still one of his favorites of mine.  I know he has recommended it to many places looking for a large cast one-act.  It always makes a writer feel good to know that their editor is really pleased with the work they are putting out.  To be honest, I think David's reaction to Citizen's Arrest really was the beginning of him thinking of me as a playwright who was going to go the distance, and opened him up to talk to me about different projects to pursue and things like that. 

Citize's Arrest has done pretty well for me since it has been published--- it averages about four productions a year, though David insists it deserves more.   It also seems to have had a good balance of school and community theater, which is nice.

I'm proud of it.  It made my friends laugh, made my ideal reader laugh, and that's what matters most to me. 

I hope you have found this little story interesting and helpful.  If you're looking for a large cast one-act, or would just like to read a sample of Citizen's Arrest, please follow this link:  http://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=CITIZEN'S+ARREST  Just click on script preview to... you guessed it!... read a preview of the script!

If you would like to become a fan of Theater is a Sport on Facebook, please follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport

Thanks for reading.  I hope you are all well and happy and full of goo theater feelings.  Until next time, please remember that theater is not only a craft and an artform, but also a sport!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Write a Play or How to Enjoy Repeatedly Banging Your Head Against the Wall, Lesson 6: VOICE

VOICE

Hello everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you fondly to Theater is a Sport.  It is Tuesday, March 19th, and it is snowing hard in the state of Maine, including the small town of Dover-Foxcroft, where I send these letters and words out to you, dear readers.  I apologize to any regular readers for an unintended hiatus.  I am back now, and will try to write on a daily basis, sharing my thoughts about theater with all of you.  I hope you enjoy it.

Since it is Tuesday, that means it is time for another playwriting lesson.  I know you are all probably very excited about that.  After all, I studied this stuff pretty hard in college, and here I am, sharing some tricks I've picked up along the way for free.  How 'bout that?

On this snowy (for me) evening, I would like to dedicate this lesson to the idea of voice.  Not your speaking voices, of course, but the voice of your characters. 

It is crucial to be conscious of your character's voice, and just as crucial to keep it consistent.  This kind of talk is a bit of a precursor to the greater discussion of what we call dialogue.

As we begin to think about the voices for each of our characters, let us first think about people's voices in real life.  What makes up a person's voice and speech?

There are a number of things, naturally:  cadence, volume, syntax, accent; pronounciation, breath control, repeated phrases, vocabulary.... a whole bunch of stuff.

That's a lot of stuff, isn't it?  And that's not even everything when it comes to voice! There's also depth, timbre, and so much more. 

Before you begin to worry that it is impossible to keep all of that stuff consistent, I'm going to share a little secret with you about how to keep all of this stuff on an even keel without too much effort. 

Here goes:

KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS

Okay, so maybe that's not as simple as it sounds, or, at least, not all of the time.  However, if you really know your characters, you know your characters voice.  All of the things I have listed almost become automatic during composition (or at least consistent enough until cleaning up details in revision). 

Okay, let's look at an example:

Let's say you are writing a character of a punk rocker named DOUBLE EDGE.  He's in full punk gear, safety pin through a nostril, mowhawk haircut died green, punk clothes, combat boots, the whole works.  You see him clearly in your mind, and he looks pretty scary.   Let's take a look at some dialogue for DOUBLE EDGE:

DOUBLE EDGE:  I mean, gosh, all I was trying to do was sell some baked goods to raise money for the church, and those darn police officers came and told me I needed a permit!  Since when do you need a permit to do a good deed?  What the heck!?

What I have to say may surprise you, so I'll go with the first:  you don't expect the guy to be saying these things, and, unless explained why he might talk like that, audiences will be confused and may call shenanigans.

That is, of course, unless, like the clever playwright you are, you have decided to invert the cliche and have a punk rocker who was just born again and now leads a successful Christian punk band.  If we learn this information about Double Edge, then, of course, it makes complete sense and rings true why he would talk this way.  If this is not the case.... well, that dialogue feels very false to an audience, right?

As yourself this question when you are writing:  are you hearing your characters' voices, or are you hearing your voice imitating your characters?  Don't beat yourself up if you find that it is the latter for some of your characters.  That's okay.  It takes practice.  In college, most of the plays I wrote, I acted out in my head all the time, hearing my voice doing impressions of my creations.  This happens when you're growing as a writer (in fact, it still happens to me from time to time).

However, the best feeling of all is when you can honestly say that your characters are talking to you, and they are giving you a voice and not the other way around.  Don't worry--- that will come.

Thank you for reading Theater is a Sport today.  If you would like to become a fan on facebook, please feel free to follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport

If you would like to learn more about me, feel free to follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

In any case, I hope wherever you are, you are warm and safe.  My internet is spotty right now due to the snow, so I have to cut this a little short, so, please understand that this is an abbreviated lesson about voice.  Later tonight, if conditions improve, I will be writing another post to make up for my lack these last few days.  In the meantime, please remember that knowing your characters will help keep your voices consistent for you and the audience, and, of course--- remember that theater is not only a craft and an artform, but also a sport. 

See you later.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Absolute BEST Advice For Anyone Pursuing a Life in the Theater: or, Why I Do What I Do


Take a Look into One of These
 Hello everyone and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston.  I am a published playwright, and actor, director, and a part-time theater teacher.  I do what I do because I love what I do. 

But that's not the only reason.

No, I do what I do not only because I love it, but because it is what I am wired to do.  I am wired to either be onstage or writing works that are meant to be performed on stage.  Even my teaching is an off-shoot of this, and not the other way around. 

In a way, I sometimes feel like I don't have a choice.  I do, of course, I am consciously aware that I could start a new direction tomorrow, perhaps become an accountant, or at least find a steady job with good benefits, a retirement plan, all of that good stuff that I do not have, and somehow feel I should (at least if I want to be considered an adult). 

But then again--- what's so great about being an adult?

I digress.  Tonight, I am going to give the best advice possible for any young person looking to pursue a life in theater, whether it be as a performer or as a writer.  Are you ready?  I assure you, this is honestly the best advice I can give you.  It is also the same advice I would give most people looking to become a professional athlete... the same applies. 

Ready?

Here it is:

If you can imagine yourself, even slightly imagine yourself being happy pursuing another occupation, a safter one, then I highly recommend you pursue that other occupation. 

There it is.  The best advice, I promise.

This is not meant to discourage anyone from pursuing a life in the arts.  Far from it.  I would never discourage anyone from taking the path that feels right to them. 

In all honesty, though, it is important to take a look in the mirror, if you will, take stock of everything that is inside of you, and decide--- is this what would make me happiest?  Can I picture myself being just as happy in another line of work? 

If you can, do that other thing.  Please.  No, I'm not trying to limit my future competition, I'm just trying to help. 

While you are looking in that mirror, it might behoove you to try another exercise:  look at yourself, and pretend to be other people, voices of doubt.   "You don't really think you can make a go of this, do you?"   "There's, like, 99% unemployment for actors!"  "You're not good enough"   "You've got to be better"

Does this fill you with feelings of doubt?  Or, does this fill you with a certain drive to prove yourself?

Are you a thick-skinned person?  Do you deal well with rejection?  These are all things to look at. 

Actors and writers get rejected a lot.  Also, students in a theater program at respectable college are most likely going to have situations with a professor that make them feel worthless or, at the very least, not good enough.  It's just how it is.  Thos who never have that experience are the truly lucky ones. 

So, you're looking in the mirror.  No doubt has set in.  Those comments are no big deal.  Rejection--- hey, it's a part of life, there are always other opportunities.  Sounds like you're in a good place to give it a go. 

For me, I have never felt a doubt.  Never.  I've known what I was supposed to do for most of my life.  And, yes, I say supposed to do, because I do believe it is what I am supposed to do.  I honestly feel that living a theatrical life is how I best serve the world.  Maybe that sounds silly, but it is how I feel.  Of all the doubts I've had in my life (and I've had many), this has never been one of them.

You will struggle, emotionally and financially.  That's just how it is. 

You will try and try, and probably not get much for it.  Again, that's just how it is.

But the moments when you push through will give you an unbelievable joy.  You will have to work for these moments, but they will come.  You will find that standards of success in the arts are very different than standards of success in say, oh, being a stock broker.  You need to love the process and not just the performance.  You need to fall in love with what you do all over again on practically a daily basis.  You will learn there are levels between being a star and being out of work.  You will get day jobs just to support pursuing your art, and will have to learn not to complain about being tired or broke because of it. 

Because success is there.  It is possible.  I am not living a financially stable life from my playwriting, but I am leading a rewarding one, and, year by year, my career and royalty checks begin to grow.  It is a process that sometimes feels like one step forward and one step back, but you start stepping faster and farther. 

But before you can, you have to make sure this is the journey you want.  And if it isn't, that's okay. 

If it is, then you are like me--- a poor, damn fool who can't help yourself. 

After all, speaking for myself, I'm not good at much else. 

Thanks for reading Theater is a Sport today.  Tomorrow.... well, we'll just see, won't we?

Until then:  the mirror is your friend, always be honest with yourself, and remember that theater is not only a craft and an artform.  Theater is a sport.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Art Vs. Commerce: Is Art Getting Its Butt Kicked?

Welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston.  It is Wednesday, March 13th in the year of our Lord 2013.  I hope all of you lovely readers are doing well. 

I will try not to go off into a rant, but I cannot promise. 

I would like to begin by saying that I am not convinced there is a major difference in so-called "high art" and so-called "low-art", but I do believe there is a difference between practicing a craft with integrity and practicing a craft without.

I should begin by telling you something my old playwriting professor, Gladden Schrock, always told me:  theater is a vulgar medium.  By vulgar I do not mean crude--- by vulgar, I mean that it is a medium for the people, of the people.  Theater, by its design, is for all people, rich and poor, Queen or groundling.  To me, this is an unshakeable axiom.  If you disagree, perhaps you should stop reading right now. 

I am going to say something shocking here:  theater does not require a great facility.  Art finds a way.  Theater can be performed in church basements, on street corners, in drained swimming pools.... the list goes on and on.  For theater to work and connect, one needs only imagination.  It's true.  I'm not kidding. 

The problem is, well-meaning people develop grandiose ideas that theater must have a building that is a temple, a facility that looks wonderful on paper for their community.  Fancy lights!  Comfy chairs!  This way, people will come!  And yes, I want to stress that a theater should be a temple, but that does not mean the temple must be grandiose.  A grange hall putting on Neil Simon or a church basement putting on Tennessee Williams becomes a temple of the theater, even if for a short time.

So a community of actors, directors, stagehands and amateur designers all get together and find a space.  They decide to put on a season of plays.  They have dramas, comedies, a classic (maybe even Shakespeare), a musical... and, lo and behold,  Mr. Hapgood P. Artssupporter and his lovely wife who just WOULDN'T miss a show, gives a sum of money to this wonderful facility in town because "art is so important to the community".  "The wife and I especially like the comedies and musicals," Mr. Hapgood P. Artsupporter tells them as he hands them the check, "Never did understand that Shakespeare, though."  

Well, money is necessary to keep up a good facility and any organization.  And, Mr. Hapgood has a point:  the Shakespeare classic WAS the lowest attended show of the season.  And, you've got an overhead, and, dammit, this facility is important to the community... I mean, ART is important to the community!  (I am not trying to scold, I'm really not--- a nice facility is great for the community, but shouldn't what is housed in the facility have just as much pull as the building itself?)  But we can't survive on half-empty houses and a handful of advertisers... we need a steady stream of donors, maybe even an underwriter or two for our season at this important non-profit facility. 

So, let's cut the Shakespeare.  Next season, we will do some comedies, a musical or two, a serious drama, and maybe a farce (if people like the comedies, they should love the farces!).  Still a nicely balanced season, something for everyone, which is what theater is all about anyway. 

Mr. Hapgood and his wife brings their good friends, the The-ate-erLovers, who absolutely LOVE the theater, and want to hand over some money as well, because "art is so important for the community".  "Really loved that farce, and all the musicals," Mr. The-ate-erLovers says, "Great for the community.  That production of 'Streetcar Named Desire' was awful heavy, though."

Come to think of it, "Streetcar" was the least attended show.  True, it was the most raved about show of those who attended, but raves don't pay the bills.  And, this facility has become so important to the community over the last few years... we don't want to lose it!  We need to get people out.  We need to justify the ticket prices! 

You see where I'm going with this. 

It is very easy for any theater--- regional, community, what have you--- to ride the slippery slope between art and commerce.  To make allowances for what will sell well, or what you believe will sell well. 

I may be crazy for even saying this, but resist the urge.  Create good theater--- that is the number one goal.  Get people used to Chekhov and Shakespeare.  It doesn't happen overnight.  And, even before you worry about a permanent facility, put on theater wherever you can... get people hungry for it... then worry about a facility, overhead, etc. 

Yes, so often it feels like we are living in a society where people do not wish to be challenged anymore.  Where reality television runs supreme, where we are so scared of making our audiences think, that we'd rather just feed them white bread over and over again, because at least we know they like it. 

Sadly, this is not the purpose of art.  Yes, art should entertain, but it should also inspire.  And yes, money is important to survive, obviously, but what is the point of a theater surviving if it is compromising its very purpose and mission?

There has to be room for everything.  A community theater needs to push itself, needs to allow itself to grow.  It cannot fear a production that doesn't have sold out houses.... hopefully, the big farce at the end of the season will help make up for it. 

And here's the deal:  eventually, audiences will buy their own white bread and eat it at home.  There are so many screens there to occupy their time and help them to keep from thinking for awhile.  Make the live stuff a NECESSITY.  Make the live stuff VITAL.  Inspire, provoke, but, most importantly, CREATE.

Maybe just try putting on a Pinter instead of your tenth Neil Simon.  Maybe try an evening of new voices instead of holding "Little Mary Sunshine" over for another week. 

I'm not going to lie... Art is getting its butt kicked by commerce almost all of the time.  Let's try to give art a fighting chance, particularly in the theater.  Leave commercials to TV and 3D remakes for the cinemas. 

Let theater be about art.  And then, when people who are seeking art open their wallets, it will be in your modest or surpreme facility.  And either way, it will be a temple.

Thanks for reading.  If you want to learn more about me, follow the links at the end of the post.  If you would like to subscribe to my blog, you can enter your e-mail in the space at the top of this page where it says "submit". 

Hope you are well.  And please remember:  Art is permanent, money is temporary, and, yes, theater is a sport.

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