Why Blueprint?

This is gonna be a theater post.

Over at The Clyde Fitch Report Mr. Jacobs does a good new-asshole tearing, which is always fun to read, but even more so made me re-visit an inspiration we had last year.

It is really tough to go through the soul-searing craziness that goes into writing and then producing a piece of theater, and when you get to the end of it you have another bout of insane negotiation and buffalo-shuffling bullshit just to get *any* press at all to notice you. When they do, and they send someone who doesn’t know what his or her job is, it can make you tear your hair out. Reviews that list a plot summary and then talk about some of the other artists involved (usually limited to actors and directors)and each gets a one adjective qualifier… it can be really disheartening.

“The Big Balloon is a well-written comic drama set in the late 1950s. Sara, ably portrayed by Karen Actorress, is looking for the right man to help her overcome her past, and she thinks she might have found him in Doug, a charming but sometimes over-the-top Charles Actington. Things take a turn for the worse when they discover a secret about their fathers and their families… to say any more would spoil the ending. Kristin McDirector keeps the action crisp and Jonathan Sibelius’ music really sets the mood. The wonderful supporting cast includes Karen Older, Julia Younging, Charles Fatter, Arnold Shortish and Steve Blank.”

This review is obviously completely worthless. If anything, the only thing it *does* do is sort of spoil the ending of the play. Nothing is here, but you can imagine, right? Does it turn out they have the same father? Maybe their fathers were gay lovers? Who knows? I can tell you that the plot synopsis essentially makes MOST of the play a waste of time, if the plot is what you’re interested in.

I mean, it’s tough to tell stories in our medium. Ignore for a moment that when you submit yourself to live theater, you are making yourself a captive audience at a set time on a set day, and you’re putting yourself in one chair and agreeing that you will barely move, you will NOT cough or clear your throat, you will NOT eat a snack or pause the thing and get a drink. Ignore that, instead of stadium seating, you will either be in a folding chair, a painful off-broadway satin chair or, the VERY WORST, a chair on Broadway that you’ve paid 100 dollars for, and there isn’t room for your femurs. Ignore all of this, because it’s a given.

What you also have is the knowledge that many of the most exciting and exhilarating things you can do in storytelling are not really available to you in live theater. Violence? You can spend six months with a movement specialist, it will still look fake. Sex? At some point, quite quickly, it occurs to the audience that they’re on the edge of a peep-show. A crappy nap (and, honestly, have you ever seen a good one) or a nipple slip, and suddenly, we aren’t really telling a story anymore. We have our hands tied in so many ways.

So, go back to the review. They’re playing by other media rules. They are reviewing a TV show that has been produced live on stage. And that’s not fair, it really isn’t, a play, by its very nature, has something utterly other to offer an audience, and by failing to critique a play on its own terms, the critic is failing those who are searching for entertainment options.

((((((( Live theater gives you several unique things. One) a living person in front of you telling you a story. Two) A continuous immediacy, each thing that happens spontaneously follows from the thing that just happened and there is no turning back. Three) A Meta-level. Every play is a backstager, every play is survived every performance by every performer. Four) Synchronized Collaboration. I don’t believe there’s another art form that requires so much of so many, AT THE SAME TIME. Five) Unadulterated expression of talent. There’s no editing, no double-tracking, no stunt-doubles, no foley, no dubbing and no “let’s do one more to be safe”.

This parenthetical thing is not to argue any kind of superiority, I’m a studio musician and I know the value in getting it right with overdubs and editing. I’m just pointing out, live theater is different that TV or Film.))))))

So, I got to set up a straw man critic and then knock him down, but the fact is, it isn’t their fault. Our audience largely doesn’t know what they’re looking for, doesn’t know why they want to see live theater so badly. Or, rather, why they dread going when they feel like they have to.

We (as in Gideon Productions) felt like it was as much our fault as anyone’s. As much as we all love Pinter, it wasn’t like we were going out of our way, looking for a boiling psychological drama when we read reviews. I honestly look for shows that have hot girls not wearing much, that’s just how I roll. But we were always aware of the fact that we were trying to make sure that the plot and the pressure were as amped up as possible for the plays we were producing and supporting.

We also knew we had to produce an evening of one-acts. It’s simply what a production company does in New York. You get to work with a bunch of people, you get those bunch of people to invite their friends, so it’s totally a win/win. You get inspired by opening up your production company to a bunch of playwrights and directors and actors, and in turn you open up your company to a larger audience.

The problem is, we suck at making things happen for purely business reasons. If we aren’t inspired, we simply don’t do anything. So, when Mac came up with the idea of the Blueprint Project, we jumped at it. A paragraph that contained all the plot and the characters, given to four or five different playwrights, and then we produce the entire evening, one play after the other.

The success of the evening, for me, was that each play was seen as a live theater event. The plot and the characters were already given, they were even printed in the program… so how did each playwright design the show? How did each director handle the playwright and cast the actors? How did each actor create the character when other actors were doing a similar thing in the evening?

The conversations about the plays ended up being about the moments, the shared experience. We featured the meta-drama, we played up the synchronized collaboration… And we were pretty psyched about the whole thing. Now, we didn’t actually achieve anything, it’s not like we were teaching an audience how to see a play, and we certainly didn’t get any reviewers to re-think the way they critique a piece. But at least we know that we’re also part of the problem, and evenings like this are *our* attempt to remedy it.

We do want critics to come see our plays, and we do want them to talk about what they liked and disliked. But, it’s useless when they say “ably directed” or they say “well paced” or “beautifully acted”. None of that actually means anything. If you’re talking about “Lost”, you don’t need to tell me about your couch… but if you’re seeing “The Homecoming”, and the AC got turned on too high at the end – I mean, that could be amazing, just amazing. Think about that, how amazing would it be if the room kept getting colder and colder as that play headed towards its end. I would love for a critic to transport me to the theater, to let me know how it felt to be there. Even if it was agony, I’d be far better served with the description of the horror, than to be told is was “bad”.