Sunday, December 20, 2020

Trident Dabbles in Podcasting

       Due to this once-a-century pandemic, performing artists have had to completely re-imagine what live performances mean, or if live performance could even happen without jeopardizing the safety of everyone involved.  Frankly, depending on whether or not life can return to something resembling normalcy anytime soon, this is the status quo: if we don’t reinvent the wheel right now, what else can we do?

    For Trident, reinventing the wheel means figuring out how this pandemic is affecting the theatre community at large, and reminding it that it is a community.  Everyday on Twitter, I read the laments of understanding theatre artists who see the reason why most performance venues are shut down, but miss the times that were, and the sense of belonging to a group of people with whom they shared a somewhat transcendent connection.  Cue the musketeers: “One for all, and all for one!”

    Therefore, I’ve chosen to begin a podcast.  The main topic will be theatre history, more specifically some of the unusual stories and absurd nuances that have enraptured me or that have made me shake my head.  But all have made theatre my lifelong study and chosen practice.

    For each episode, I speak with a guest who I have met through my many years of study and work in theatre.  Some of these guests are local, but many are far away from Sheridan.  Overall, the fact that we have a few common connectors does in a way show that we are all in this together.  We are all affected by this, and we can all make something of it.

    The title of the podcast is the punchline of the favorite joke told my old college theatre instructor, Tom Empey. Besides being the most influential theatre mentor I had, Tom instilled in me such deep love and respect for the art, and at the same time the ability to acknowledge and enjoy some of the oddball turns that the art has made in its evolution.  Tom died in 2016, and I credit most of my successes to him. He was a great man.

    When teaching Ancient Greek Theatre, amongst the glossary of terms to know are the influential tragic playwright Euripides (sounded out: you-RIP-a-deez), and the tragedy by Aeschylus titled The Eumenides (sounded out: you-MEN-a-deez).  After thoroughly explaining the significant impact of the two terms in a very stoic and scholarly manner, Tom would look at us and pinch the fabric of his slacks by his knee.  He’d say, “You see these pants?  Euripides, Eumenides.”  The term “dad joke” doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Nonetheless, a moment of levity was achieved in the midst of what could be otherwise considered fairly dry material.

    That’s precisely what I mean to do with my podcast: Euripides, Eumenides. I mean to inject just a little more humor into the world today as I discuss bizarre and often hilarious stories from the history of theatre with a friend who has no prior knowledge of what will be discussed in the episode.  This way, with the element of surprise, the guest has the opportunity to react more honestly, much as we are challenged to do with a role we would take onstage.  

    Even if you’re not a student of theatre history, these stories and the interactions with my guests give some light to our somewhat bleak current circumstances.  Even with the promise of a vaccine, we may still be in this for the long haul.  So, feel free to laugh a little, and possibly learn some things about why we, as the theatre community, keep practicing this art.

    I’ve already got a few episodes done, and I plan to make them available in the new year on all major podcast providers.  If you want to know more information, I’m always happy to hear from you!  Feel free to write me: trident@tridenttheatre.com

    I’ll see you at intermission (when we can have one of those again, that is)!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Rediscovery Version 2.0

 



Rediscovery, Take 2


This past spring, my time ended as the full-time Theatre Instructor at Sheridan College.  The position was always interim, which by definition, is unfortunately finite. 

At this point, I must publicly thank my faculty partner Stephanie Koltiska for all her support, engagement, and positive collaboration.  We did great big things together and I wouldn’t have made it through the last two years without her, the angel on my shoulder.  She’s going to continue doing some amazing things for that college and her students, and if you invest in Stephanie and her program, you’ll be proud that you did.  She’s a gem, folks.

Transition always allows the opportunity to reflect.  But moments of nostalgia and self-evaluation should be similar to the interim nature of my Theatre Instructor position: finite.  So, now that that chapter in my life is over, I’m wondering what some of you might be wondering: what am I going to do next.  Well, I’ve got some ideas brewing.

The lockdown earlier this year and the following months have allowed me the opportunity to recharge my creative batteries, as they were nearly spent.  In that recharge, I reminded myself what truly matters to me about the delivery of my artistic product.  

A mentor of mine once told me that theatre must be for the community in which it is delivered, otherwise the message doesn’t land.  Allow me to translate.  One of the original purposes of theatre that has maintained its presence throughout theatre history is to allow the audience the chance to view itself in a controlled format in order to correct any damaging practices.  If theatre doesn’t engage, sustain, progress, or challenge a community (yes, challenge – but much as an instructor would challenge a student to learn), then the art form may not have a purpose in the community.  I wholeheartedly believe that theatre has a place in this community.  Your consistent patronage has shown me that, Sheridan.  So, I look forward to developing a theatre product directed at you ... and beyond

I looked back at the mission and vision statements for my production company, Trident Theatre.  Feel free to go look at them as well at tridenttheatre.com.  Despite not devoting myself to the development of my brand for the past two years, my mission and vision statements remain true.  Trident “strives to … [remain] progressive and relevant in the creation of its product…” and “… connect audiences to theatrical experiences on a visceral level that demand conversation long after the theatrical event is over.”

So, what does this mean?  The theatrical community as a whole has also taken a punch.  At this time, Broadway theaters are closed until at least January, and I’d be surprised if the Great White Way opens even then, and thousands of other theatrical communities throughout the world are facing similar challenges.  So, what is the future of live performance?

I’m looking at several options for myself and Trident.  I’m currently working on several productions for the Sheridan area.  I’m also looking to expand the “community” with podcasts, and I hope to launch my own after Thanksgiving.  I’m working on models for acting lessons, and for consultation for dramatic experiences.  Mainly, the goal is to connect people to those “visceral experiences” I tout in my mission statement, and to help theatre evolve to a point where it is safe for COVID times and beyond, and relevant to the time in which it is presented.

If you'd like to know more, how you can get involved, or just would like to connect, Trident has platforms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or you can just write me at trident@tridenttheatre.com.  I'd love to hear from you!

I’ll see you at intermission!


** This post was originally written in May 2020.  Feel free to read through prior blog entries to find the original!**


Friday, May 22, 2020

Rediscovery



Rediscovery

This past week marked my final week as the full-time Theatre Instructor at Sheridan College for the foreseeable future.  The position was always interim, which by definition, is unfortunately finite.  I consider it a privilege to have worked for the division of Visual and Performing Arts in the capacity that I did, and I’m not entirely vanishing from the department in the future.  I get to teach a class this fall with a lot of the students I recruited; a great group of hungry minds. 
At this point, I must publicly thank my faculty partner Stephanie Koltiska for all her support, engagement, and positive collaboration.  We did great big things together and I wouldn’t have made it through the last two years without her, the angel on my shoulder.  She’s a gem, folks.
Transition always allows the opportunity to reflect.  As I look back on the last two years of work, under fast-paced conditions in which long-term planning almost didn’t exist, I had my successes, to greater or lesser degrees.  Within that time, I directed more plays than any other time in my life.  Some of them came together weeks before opening, some of them came together mere hours before opening.  The students grew and adapted to new concepts, and faced introspective challenges, as should happen in college. 
For me, I learned just how much I could do in a two-year long title fight, and in this case my opponent was my own ambition.  My ambition allowed me to take a punch or two, but give them back just as hard or harder.  Some of them were knockout blows, and some of them were well-timed surprise hits that managed to increase my stamina over time.  In this quarantine, I’ve developed a rekindled love for the sweet science.  I’m prone to metaphor, as you may have noticed from prior entries. I appreciate your indulgence.
But moments of nostalgia and self-evaluation should be similar to the interim nature of my Theatre Instructor position: finite.  And, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have a lot of time for long-term planning.  At this point, I’m wondering what some of you might be wondering: what am I going to do next.  To be honest with you, I’m not quite sure yet.  But I’ve got some ideas brewing.
This period of lockdown has allowed me the opportunity to recharge my creative batteries, as they were nearly spent.  In that recharge, I reminded myself what truly matters to me about the delivery of my artistic product.  A mentor of mine once told me that theatre must be for the community in which it is delivered, otherwise the message doesn’t land.  Allow me to translate.  One of the original purposes of theatre that has maintained its presence throughout theatre history is to allow the audience the chance to view itself in a controlled format in order to correct any damaging practices.  If theatre doesn’t engage, sustain, progress, or challenge a community (yes, challenge – but much as an instructor would challenge a student to learn), then the art form may not have a purpose in the community.  I wholeheartedly believe that theatre has a place in this community.  Your consistent patronage has shown me that, Sheridan.  So, I look forward to developing a theatre product directed at you. 
I looked back at the mission and vision statements for my production company, Trident Theatre.  Feel free to go look at them as well at tridenttheatre.com.  The rest of the site could use some updating, but hey – I’ve been a tad busy the past couple years.  Moreover, my mission and vision statements remain true.  Trident “strives to … [remain] progressive and relevant in the creation of its product…” and “… connect audiences to theatrical experiences on a visceral level that demand conversation long after the theatrical event is over.”
So, what does this mean?  I will remain committed to creating theatre projects that are relevant and relatable to this community.  How will I deliver that?  Not sure yet.  But, here are some idea floating around in my head: new plays (or maybe older) that address the current human condition, classes or forums on film and theatre styles, possibly acting lessons for students and adults (this stuff is useful both on and off stage – I promise), and experiences that allow us to appreciate our collective culture.  Sounds ambitious right?  Well, to be honest, the bell has rung and I’m still in my corner recovering from the last round.  But, you should see the other guy.
If you'd like to know more, how you can get involved, or just would like to connect, Trident has platforms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or you can just write me at trident@tridenttheatre.com.  I'd love to hear from you!
I’ll see you at intermission!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Necessity(?) of Ritual in Theatre

Nearly this time last year, I used this column to ponder the fact that plays can have universal themes throughout history, and thus maintain the true definition of the term “classic.”  This year, classes begin next week, and I approach the year with a new academic puzzle to ponder: the pitfalls and epiphanies inherent in explaining to present-day college students that theatre was linked to religious ritual for the vast majority of its lifetime.
For the purposes of this column, I’d like to take a moment to define the term “ritual.” Certainly the theatre has certain patterns that are performed in something of a repetitive manner upon each visit.  For example, we understand that when the lights go out, it is time to pay respect to the action on stage.  Some people prefer to dress up for theatre; in my experience this has actually prevented people from attending, as they don’t feel they “have clothes for that kind of thing.”
No, for this column, I’m suggesting that ritual actions performed by audience and artist alike that not only happen often, but have significance; a significance that transcends physical state, that is communal and irreversible.  Actions that are performed for the betterment of the soul.
From Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, the western world intertwined religion and theatre.  In Ancient Greece, wars would stop in honor of theatre festivals.  Beyond the desire to avoid the ire of the gods, citizens required to attend festivals would do so willingly and gladly.  Theatre cleansed the soul of the average Greek citizen, given the thorough catharsis presented in the tragedies, and the matchless levity in the comedies.  Throughout the festivals, the gods were always given their reverence.  It was understood that the reverence in these festivals would allow citizens to reap the blessings of the resultant bountiful harvests, and prosperous business dealings.
But, how do I recreate this scenario for students who live in a world where religious ritual is optional?  In the healthy breadth of diversity available to students today - which I fully endorse - how can I make students connect to something that couldn’t be further from their current experience?
This discussion came up between myself and another academic, who suggested that virtually all art is a direct response to religion.  She felt that at times throughout our history, religion has posed a restrictive element to people’s lives, a tension then relieved by artistic expression.  This could explain the number of times any art form has been associated with evil or evildoing.
But, that didn’t explain to me how ritual could have been lost along the centuries.  For the better part of the twentieth century, many theatre artists chose to attempt to explain the human condition, warts and all.  For such a complex topic, perhaps there was no time to offer a prayer to a god who no one remembered anymore anyway.
However, perhaps that isn’t necessary.  Regardless of the Greeks’ need to appease their gods with works of art, today they are used to help us analyze social ills.  They served that purpose for the Greeks, too.  But, perhaps today the ritualism is done in a different way.
I recently read an article summarizing the reports of a psychological study done in London, meant to study biorhythms of audience members.  The results were astonishing.  Evidently, when an audience views a play, the bodily rhythms of individual members often will involuntarily sync: heartbeats, breathing, you name it.  Despite having little relationship with each other, reports showed that subjects remained synced even through intermissions, and after the plays had finished.  During the event, the audience experience the same events as one entity, ignoring any sense of individual biological makeup.
So, perhaps there is something about theatre that is ritualistic simply by experiencing it.  Maybe there needs to be no reverence to any gods to feel a communal sense of the same experience.  Just attendance seems to be transcendent enough.


I’ll see you at intermission!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

More Than Just a “Comedy”

This weekend, Sheridan College Theatre & Dance will present “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” by renowned screenwriter Alan Ball.  You may know that name: he won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for the film “American Beauty,” and also created the HBO series “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood.”  While not necessarily renowned for being a playwright, Ball has a talent for writing characters who wade through the mires of true love, physical intimacy and truth and deceit.
This ability to create a pantheon of characters who contend with this short, yet very complex laundry list of psychological constructs is what attracted me to this play in the first place - beyond the fact that “American Beauty” has been my favorite movie for decades.  I’ve wanted to do this play since I first read it, as I knew it would be a piece that would speak to many, and would allow the actors and audience moments of levity and honest self-reflection.  Like any seasoned director would tell you, the conditions have to be just right for such alchemy.  I firmly believe the conditions are right for such a perfect storm.
The play is about bridesmaids.  While the Oscar-nominated comedy of the name “Bridesemaids” might conjure images of over-the-top humor and abs sore from laughing, this play will also offer moments of humor, but balances them with some dark turns as well.  Through the play, we see five women who have been asked to be the bridal party for a woman who has all made them feel “less than.”  Each of them is dealing with a personal cross to bear, of which they are not necessarily embarrassed, but ... well, we all have our skeletons.  The play takes place in a bedroom of the bride’s parents house, as each of the women escapes the awkwardness of the reception, seeking refuge.  And, without spoiling too much, they find solace and unity in each other.
However, as nicely resolved as that sounds, I will suggest that not one of these characters finds resolution in the two hours’ traffic of our stage.  As Chekhov would have us wondering with any of his plays, as spectators of these events, we get the opportunity to identify with these characters, either wholly or individually, and ask ourselves some essential questions about life.  We get to see the consequences of choices made, and how they affect these characters.  Similar to the characters in Sartre’s “No Exit” (which has offered comparison many times throughout the rehearsal process), these characters are in something of a purgatory, between a choice and consequence.
I would suggest that this is precisely what our predecessors in the Greek Theatre - and those eras it inspired - had in mind for the purpose of theatre: self-reflection.  In addition, it’ll give you some laughs.  My students were lucky enough to have the Actors from the London Stage in residence last week, who said that these students have absolutely “cracking comedic timing,” and described their performances as nothing less than “extraordinary.”
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is at the WYO this week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 11-13 @ 7:30p, with an additional matinee on Saturday the 13th at 2p.  Tickets can be reserved at the WYO Theater Box Office.

I’ll see you at intermission!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Art is representative of its time ... I guess. ;)

As I prepare for my classes this week, I came across this little nugget, which has given me some food for thought: “As art a reflection of the society in which it was created, a playwright’s words reflect the societal viewpoints and the circumstances of the time and period when the works are first created.”  While I agree with this to an extent, I am also reminded of the idea that themes often present themselves throughout history, and therefore we get the impression that history repeats itself. While this allow plays from different eras to have similar themes, it also allows themes from different eras to be consistently relatable and give the feeling of being “present tense.”  For example, why do we see so many plays about revenge?  Perhaps because, as a people, we’ve never learned our lesson about the metaphysical destructive potential of vengeful actions ... but I’m just spitballing, here.
Really, what I wanted to convey with this column is to illustrate my fascination at how themes tend to present themselves throughout history, but can still be relatable to new generations throughout history as well.  This came to my attention last week at Sheridan College while I was teaching Theatrical Backgrounds, which is the Dramatic Literature and History course.  This year, I have one student in the course, so we meet as an independent study.
In our meeting last week, we were discussing the classic Greek Tragedy “Medea.”  As a refresher, this play is about the sorceress Medea, who is accompanies the fabled hero Jason throughout a good portion of his journey, and engineered many of his successes, mainly because of her love of him.  When he marries another woman for political gain, her heartbreak drives her to a madness that culminates in the deaths of not only Jason’s wife and father, but Medea also murders her own children herself.
In further reminder, Greek Tragic heroes - or heroines in this case - all carry a tragic flaw, which is a human misgiving that leads to the character’s downfall.  An audience watching should recognize the flaw, and hopefully learn to correct this said flaw.
So, as I discussed this with my student, we tried to identify Medea’s tragic flaw, which could be argued to be her love of Jason.  And, truly representative of her generation, my student said that Medea broke the “golden rule: never date a ****boy.”  Having an inclination of what she meant, but still showing my age, I looked the term up in the Urban Dictionary, and found this definition: “.... [a] boy who is into strictly sexual relationships; he will lead a girl on and let her down ... Boys like this will pretend to genuinely care about the girl but always fail to prove the supposed affection.”
While I laughed heartily, it pleased me beyond measure to know that a student can truly extrapolate a profound truth about her current reality and circumstances upon reading ancient texts.  Of course, upon thinking about this later, I realized that the current generation sees a story like this through these particular lenses, to the point where there is actually an unspoken code with a “golden rule” understood about such circumstances.
I think about this as I look at the world and how it is interpreted by the youngest generation of adults.  Women like Ms. Wyoming, Beck Bridger, who I worked with this summer in “Master Class;” women who have remarkable things to say, remarkable stories to tell, and profound perspectives to share.  A playwright writing in this time MUST take these perspectives into account to truly capture the voice of the time and period.
In the end, though, it’s somewhat bittersweet that ancient works can still be relevant: sweet that current readers can connect to them, and bitter that the tragic flaws have apparently not inspired better behavior in the populace.  I guess we dramatists still have our work cut out for us.

I’ll see you at intermission.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Dream Fulfilled

Years ago, I saw a play that changed my life.  I was attending a college trip to a larger city, the goal of which was to see several professional productions in a weekend.  This was 1999, and the play was Terrence McNally’s “Master Class,” the title still freshly abuzz in the theatre world for having won the Tony Award for Best Play just three years prior.  I went in hoping that the play would live up to the hype.  I left the play, having fully experienced a word I had just learned in my theatre studies, and had come to love: “Catharsis.”  Here I am, 19 years later, fulfilling an oath I swore to myself that I would do that play someday.
“Master Class” is inspired by the series of master classes that opera legend Maria Callas taught at Juilliard in the early 1970s.  As an audience, you will get to experience what we hope will be an adequate representation of being in one of those classes.  Ambitious singers from all over the world attended these master classes, hoping to extract something of the magic that made Madame Callas arguably the most famous opera singer of all time.
I’ve assembled quite the crew for this one.  For the first of what Maria jokes are her “victims,” we have Miss Wyoming hopeful Becky Bridger, who has just spent two years enhancing her musical craft in Los Angeles.  Next is fan favorite Dan Cole; notably, we’ve seen him recently as one of the outstanding ensemble members of “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical.”  Finally, we have Trident mainstay Jennifer Reed, who many may remember from her performances in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and as one of the ensemble members of our production last summer “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised].”
But, stepping into the main role of Maria Callas (“La Divina”) is the incomparable Mary Jo Johnson.  To be honest, this is a project that Mary Jo and I have talked about for years.  Evidently, we had both had a similar experience of seeing the play, and thinking, “Ooooh ... I wanna do that.”  This is quite the role, as I would estimate about 80% of the play’s lines belong to Maria, but the role is much more intimidating than just an exercise in memory.
The real challenge of this play will be to enter Maria’s mind, which the audience actually does at a few key points in the play.  The play has something of a magic realism to it, which allows the audience to transcend the seemingly fragile film of reality, and see the inner workings of one of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century.
For those of you intimidated by the subject of opera study, worry not.  The play is as much about opera as “Million Dollar Baby” is about boxing.
Trident will present “Master Class” at the WYO Theater during the last weekend in June, and the first weekend in July.  We hope to see you there!
And, as always, I’ll see you at intermission!