Tuesday, July 30, 2013

FWL of Blogspot, meet FWL of Tumblr

I'm giving Tumblr a try. If things work I'll be posting here and there too (and over there I'll also slap up pics from Instagram, maybe repost images and other things, we'll see).

So, here goes nuthin.

Blog here.

Tumblr here.


Monday, July 29, 2013

But we're not just talking about the art,

are we? (See part 1 here and part 2 here.) We're talking about attendance. Isn't that the conundrum? How can we continue to make art at all if we're not participating in a relationship with the audience? So how do we do that with integrity? Without pandering to a target audience that clearly wants what it wants?

So many old tropes are reinforced here--

1. We as a gay theater can't sell tickets to our audience unless we pander to them by doing plays with male nudity.
Translation: gay men are superficial and sex-obsessed, and queer women and trans people are devalued so much as to be omitted from programming, or even consideration.
2. If we want to do successful, substantive gay theater it has to be about more than just "gay mating rituals" if we want to get butts in seats.
Translation: we can't count on gay men unless the work is superficial and sex-obsessed. (Again, sexism and cissexism are on display, not to mention the theory that gay men only see a certain type of theater is soundly disproved on a nightly basis in all theaters EVERYWHERE.) Also, straight people don't want to see plays about "gay mating rituals." (And GOD FORBID we do work that straight people don't want to see.). THEREFORE, we should be doing shows that are about "more" than such petty, insubstantial, marginalizing things as gay sexuality. 
So we applaud Celebration for doing The Color Purple, which, even if wonderful (I'm sure it was wonderful.) (I'm sorry I didn't see it.) (Seriously.) (I'm a bad theater queen.) (Sorry.), is a mainstream Broadway musical based on a popular, decades-old Steven Spielberg movie and Alice Walker novel that happens to have a shade of lavender. A show that is "NOT specifically about gay mating rituals"...but is about so much more than that.

Do you see what just happened there? What a trap this whole conversation is?

HOW'S THIS FOR A THEORY? There IS something radical, perhaps even artful, in "the naked-boys era" that might possibly elude the average theater-goer: the joyous celebration of gay sexuality in a world that is hostile to it. CELEBRATION, get it? The fact that members of the gay artistic community have to apologize for such things could be a reaction to that hostility (regardless of the bravery Rohrer wants to assign the gesture). You think because five Supreme Court justices were progressive enough to throw out part of DOMA, we've all moved on and don't have to grapple constantly with this shit anymore?

What if it's even deeper than that? What if it's a response to a lifetime of being indoctrinated in the heterosexist value systems that, in our truly bravest moments, we'd love nothing more than to subvert with, among other things, PLAYS ABOUT GAY MATING RITUALS?

Or maybe, JUST MAYBE, we want to tell our stories without being concerned about whether the mainstream will embrace them. Maybe we feel strongly that we should be heard, and that our relationships, our lives, and our sexuality matter. However substantive or frivolous the presentation may be.

SO, GLBT THEATERS OF AMERICA: do remounts of gay-ish mainstream fare and run for ages if you want. I truly hope that's not pandering of a different sort. Either way, if that helps you pay the bills so you can mix in a hot Genet production, the next Philip Ridley, or some badass new trans playwright  out there, I'm all for it. I'm definitely down for that stuff (and no one needs to get naked either) (but it's cool if they do).

What are we

congratulating Celebration's revelatory production of The Color Purple for, exactly? (See part 1 here for background.) Is it not boring the audience with yet another play about "gay mating rituals?" Well done then, especially since the ones about straight mating rituals are so much more compelling.

The suggestion that there is greater art, or art that's less "marginalizing" (And just as an aside, uhm, marginalizing?) in work that has appeal beyond those who enjoy plays about gay mating rituals (with or without nudity) reveals a valuation of art reflective of the heterosexist community that Celebration has to survive in.

It's a heterosexism that's reinforced by the assumption that Celebration must strive to become an "all-around great theater" (All-around?) by doing plays "NOT specifically about gay mating rituals." I could unpack Rohrer's comment even more and ask why an "all-around great theater" can't include theater where "boys take off their clothes to catcalls," but I think I've made my point.

And let's not forget that this preoccupation with nudity is reflective of the community's Puritanism, too. So a theater's done a few shows with nudity in them. Or even a ton of shows with nudity in them. Why should it automatically have to defend that?

I'll consider the audience relationship in the next post and wrap it all up.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gay theater and pandering

I enjoyed some posts last week at Bitter Lemons about Celebration Theatre's recent hit production of The Color Purple. Most incendiary among the writing and comments was the suggestion that the intimate John Doyle remount at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London should be giving credit to Celebration's version (or at least New York critics who heap praise on it should). I never made it to the Celebration show but heard all around great things about it.

My first response was that John Doyle does this sort of thing all the time and it's a bit of a stretch to assume he's running with someone else's concept. But then Michael Kricfalusi confirms in a subsequent blog post that one of the London producers saw the L.A. production. So yeah, it sounds like, even if Doyle's take is drastically different (and I'm sure he puts his stamp on it), Celebration should at least get a tip of the hat by somebody.

After that, comments meandered; Colin, Bob Verini, and various others started chiming in; I'd more or less moved on until Jason Rohrer, in response to accusations that he suggested L.A. theater stop thinking of its own audience (I know I know; check the whole thread out if you like.), posted this--
It’s true that Celebration, over the years, has done a fair amount of theater that celebrates the gay community. That’s their mission, and I’ve seen plenty of it. The KIND of show they put up, however – the MANNER in which they pandered to their audience – over time tended to marginalize that theater, such that when he assumed the co-artistic directorship, Michael A. Shepperd bravely proclaimed the end of the naked-boys era. Because pandering to your target audience can lead to a degeneration of the art.
I never said it must. Is it likely to trend that way? Absolutely. Ask Michael Shepperd. That he and Michael Matthews are fighting that trend with shows like A COLOR PURPLE is wonderful, and necessary. To expect that suddenly after a couple of shows NOT specifically about gay mating rituals, the Celebration will be known as an all-around great theater as opposed to a place where boys take off their clothes to catcalls, is silly. Especially when they keep putting up Steve Yockey. But I think they’re moving in the right direction.
My initial response to this is, "Yes, thank goodness the gay theater isn't merely doing plays about gay mating rituals. Because that would be so gay." (Actually my first response is "whaddya got against Steve Yockey?" but never mind.)

Jason brought up some of my pet peeves about reactions to gay theater; they're reactions I often share, and I've written about them before. (Check here, here and here just for a few.)

For the record I count myself as among those who get irritated by pandering gay theater (although, compared to pandering straight theater, at least it's gay). And if even the artistic leadership of the theater is concerned about it, clearly some reconsideration of programming was in order.

That said, I'm curious about the praise for a theater innovating its gay programming and elevating the art form by staging an intimate remount of a Broadway musical based on a decades-old Steven Spielberg film and Alice Walker novel. I mean, celebrate them for putting on a good show, sure. Sounds like there was a lot of passion in that project. That's great. But what makes a show like that more aesthetically valuable than shows about gay mating rituals?

I'll dig into this more in the next post.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Scary stuff

Check this out--
Venus de Mars has been a longtime fixture in the Twin Cities music scene, producing seven original albums over the past two decades. Known for provocative stage shows that involve lots of black leather and reverb, the transgender rock musician tours regularly around the country, singing songs inspired by her experience living between genders.
 De Mars does not have a day job. She makes about $20,000 a year entirely on her music, painting and other artistic endeavors and considers herself a professional artist.
The Minnesota Department of Revenue, however, disagrees. Its ruling earlier this year defining de Mars as a hobbyist who cannot claim tax deductions for her artistic work could set a precedent that advocates for artists say would put artists' careers in jeopardy.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's easy for me

to mull all this Fringe stuff over with my blogger hat on. (See part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.) When I was a producer all I wanted to do was get people in the seats. If me writing a review of someone else's show helped spread the goodwill enough to help my show in any way, why not? No kind word was above using to help promote my show.

But then I felt like my main goals as a producer were to come in below or on budget, take care of my creatives, get them an audience, and make sure the audience had a good experience (whether or not they liked the show). When I wasn't doing that, I was just trying to enjoy the Fringe as an audience member, or meet and get to know other artists, enjoy their work, grapple with it, and have a good time. I don't think there's anything terribly negative or calculating about any of that. And I can say with confidence that I did all of those things.

Minus the occasional AC problems. Sorry Alex.

Okay, one last thing and then I'll quit; I promise. No new post for this one either. 

Towards the end of my run I put a kind word out of my Facebook feed from a friend on my show's Fringe page. And of course I did in part to indicate that all the pull quotes I used have the same value, objectively speaking. All expression is tainted, problematic, flawed. We get pissed because the LATimes isn't covering us, but what does the LATimes know? We worry that our friends like our work only because they're our friends, but who gets us better than our friends?

We worry that people aren't going to get our play. Won't take us seriously. Will take us too seriously. Or we worry that we're just doing a play no one's really going to see in the scheme of things, so why do it at all? It's just the Fringe; it's not [insert big regional or New York theater here]. It's not a TV show. Not a movie. Not even a webseries. Why write a play? Why produce it? Why invite an audience? Why write a blog? Why do any of it? Why bother?

Why not?

Who cares about reviews

 or media at all, right? That's my first response, anyway. (See part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.)

And I don't just mean as an artist, either, although I think that's a healthy attitude. I once read an interview with Sarah Ruhl where a journalist started quoting a review and she said something like "Can you please not quote reviews to me? I don't need that rolling around in my head." I love that, and sometimes as a producer/artist I wanted to express something similar; that's the challenge of taking on both roles and one I'd accepted from the onset. 

But I digress. In regards to festivals, I still think the chance element is a part of the deal. I enjoy Outfest every year and I know I'm going to see some bad movies every year, and that's part of the bargain. Fringe seems the same way, and I'm certainly comfortable with that. 

(After writing this an actor friend who's appearing in an Outfest movie this year posted a review of his film in Variety, so maybe it's not a perfect comparison. Oh well.)

Charles McNulty brings this up in his writing about this years Fringe in  this LATimes article--
And it must be said that searching for gold at any fringe festival in the world, including the all-mighty Edinburgh Festival Fringe or North America's grandee, the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), is a game in which the pursuit is the real thrill.
But what he also does is argue for a curation model for the Fringe. My challenge to that suggestion is that a curation model is really just an opportunity for a curator's (or curators') point(s) of view, taste, and predisposition to pander to its audience to emerge. It doesn't guarantee higher quality or consistency at all. 

Because how do you measure any of these things in a reliable way, as a curator, a user reviewer, or reviewer of any other kind? The easy answer is "you can't, so take it all for what it's worth and move on." And maybe that's what we all do. Still, critics are critics and there are ways to behave as such. Those ways, whether made by a critic from the establishment (if they ever start seriously showing up to or covering the Fringe) or some kind of DIY online frontier, are there to help increase the writing's value to audiences.

Artists and producers who are compelled to behave as critics, and whose written responses are treated as criticism...well, I guess everyone can grapple with that conundrum however they wish. But if I do decide to produce in next year's festival, don't take it personally if I don't review your show.

Okay, almost done. I'll be back with a wrap-up in a bit.

As an aside

Playbill has a fun article about playwrights attacking critics. The whole thing is worth reading but I like the writing at the end quite a bit.
In the best of all possible worlds, added [Time Out theater critic David] Cote — who is a librettist and playwright, as well as a critic — both sides would pay close attention to one another's work, but otherwise refrain from contact.
"One thing you can say about both critics and artists: They should aspire to total freedom from judgment. Just as a truly independent critic should not worry about being right or wrong, the liberated artist should be indifferent to good or bad reviews. I wish I were that free." Read the whole thing here.

Bob Leggett wrote a column

recently on Bitter Lemons asking if it's possible to be friends with someone whose show you review. (Part 1here, and part 2 here.) Bob actually writes for Examiner.com and is a critic, so we're talking journalism now, which makes my answer "well, sure, but there's this whole concept called 'conflict of interest,' with precedent on how to disclose relationships, or when conflicts are too great and you just need to let someone else do it." 

Bob's thinking about these ideas a lot too, and takes some of them for granted. Here's a quote from his post--
I also thought about the discussions I have had with other reviewers and actors regarding shows we have seen together.  At times, we agree, but on occasion our views have been worlds apart.  That doesn’t stop me from respecting them as friends or as fellow reviewers, because we all have our built in biases when it comes to objectively reviewing something.
Add to that the amazing tweets I received from this year’s fringeships, and the beautiful words they spoke to me as we talked at the Awards after party.  The only conclusion I can reach, based on the overwhelming evidence presented, is that not only can a member of the press and an actor be friends, but that they should do so.  For it is in doing so that we make theatre the true community that it can be....
I'm glad Bob feels so encouraged about objective critique and mutual respect amongst journalists, friends and theater-makers. I still wonder about how we're even defining Fringe journalists, though. The intermingling of so-called "press" and creatives is confusing at the Fringe, to say the least. I know glowing reviews of shows were going up on online media written by people who were also participating in the Fringe, or who had friends in shows they were reviewing that they didn't disclose in their writing. Some of those reviews were of my show; of course I thoroughly appreciated them, quoted and Tweeted the hell out of them. I think it goes without saying that as producers we need all the good press we can get (and maybe the bad press too).

At least a couple of people using press passes to see my show without purchasing a ticket didn't write a review at all. Maybe it was because they didn't like it, or maybe it was because they were collecting free shows by using a press pass they were able to procure somehow and had no intention of ever writing anything. If the latter's the case that's fine; I wanted butts in seats so having some who didn't pay was fine with me. If it's the former, how valuable are their reviews if they're only willing to write about what they liked? And then there are the critics who just seem to like everything, to whom I'd ask the same question.

On the flip side of all that, I had one guy accept a pay-what-you-can ticket to my show as a Fringe participant (paying $0) who I also knew had a friend in the cast. He told me to my face that he liked my show and then published a misspelled pan of it on some capsule review site he'd made for himself. Of course later in the Fringe I saw him collecting press kits at other shows and representing himself as press, so I don't know if he was just being skittish about his friend's reaction to his reviewing our show, or if it's a learning curve for some of these folks. I don't care about his opinion of the show; what I care about is the way he went about forming and expressing it. I only bring this example up because it, like the others I mention, is a variation on the same theme: the challenge of representing yourself as an artist, a friend, a critic, or a peer reviewer at the Fringe (or, by extension, on the Internet).

And I guess people have been talking about this for a while now. I know Bitter Lemons is always talking about the role of criticism in theater and on the Internet. As I've said before, I am not a critic and have no desire to be one or present myself as one. I have strong opinions but I don't always see a value in sharing the tougher ones with people who clearly don't share my taste or value system (aesthetically speaking). I also have a knee-jerk suspicion of critics in general, particularly ones quick to dismiss, or who refuse to engage or who are clearly not curious, or challenging thinkers. 

But then, if we should call into question all of these biased reviews or self-made critics with DIY websites, how else do we get a sense of what's successful and what's not, in a festival that's barely covered by the media at all? The LAWeekly does its best, and I appreciate that, but as far as I could tell the next closest thing to legitimate news covering the show was the Examiner and LAist (feel free to correct me in the comments if I'm unaware of anything). I remember standing in the enormous Opening Night Gala at the Fringe, in the great Fringe Central space, jammed full of fabulous artists of all kinds, and wondering why the LATimes was nowhere to be found. This has already asserted itself as a huge annual event. I'm happy to have been a part of this cool, edgy thing that the establishment's not paying attention to (if that's what we're going for here), but what's it going to take for something to be too big to ignore? 

Okay back in a bit with more about the establishment. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

So when I started writing reviews

after seeing Fringe shows, I was confronted with a rating system with three choices:  "Loved," "Liked," or "Not my thing." (See here for part 1 of this post.)

This don't allow much room for nuanced response. It took me a while to realize you could offer a review without choosing a rating, which I wish I'd done instead. Even if I were to go that route, I'm still not inclined to talk negatively in print about my fellow artists, especially ones I've developed relationships with. Other people may feel comfortable doing so and may do it well, but that's really not my style.

And for those that think there's something wrong with that approach, I don't think it's dishonest or coddling to focus on a work's strengths, even if I did find the work more than a little flawed. If we are a part of a community of artists, I want to approach the work as an artist, to respect the work of my fellow artists, to admire the strengths and absorb the thoughtfulness. It's how I want my own work to be treated. And honestly, criticism (and I'm talking about peer review, not journalism here) is kind of pointless if it's from strangers or if it's not invited. Most of these artists are relative strangers to me, so how would they know to take my notes? Who am I to them?

Anyway, I played the game and wrote a few reviews for individual show pages. I tried to focus on things I liked about certain shows, whether or not I thought the shows were entirely successful. I tried to be honest in my responses. Sometimes I clicked "loved" on a show that I didn't exactly think worked, objectively speaking, but it had heart and warmth and serious ideas and intentions. Sometimes I didn't bother to review shows at all because I knew people involved and didn't feel comfortable, I didn't feel like I had anything to add, or because I didn't think a show needed my POV added to all its raves. Sometimes I didn't review a show because I didn't care for it, which of course left the chorus of supporters to cheer it on...that's fine. The show was clearly for them and not me. 

So the fact that these reviews were then used as a component of some kind of rubric to grade the work's value is strange to me, and it feels at odds with the community emphasis the Fringe seeks to perpetuate. Aside from the fact that it's an unreliable measure, considering that it's easy to create dummy profiles and game the system, it's also an aggregation of responses that are as varied in motive, information, and attitude as any audience's make-up.

Some might say that's exactly why it's valuable, but if I'm a member of a community of artists, supporting my peers through networking, cross-promoting, or seeing friends' shows, is it really appropriate (or even possible) to then publish a reliable reaction to the work at all, either as peer review, criticism, or publicity support? And I ask this question as a producer who sent emails requesting reviews from friends and colleagues in order to keep my show from getting lost in the FringeMeter.

I spoke to Ben Hill, Fringe Founder and Festival Director, and he told me that he sees no shows at all for fear of some bias emerging from his reaction to the work that would either make him favor or discount one production over another. One could suggest that as a response for other producers to apply, but that can't be the only way for producers and participants to operate with integrity in a community that seeks to facilitate both collegiality and free-for-all commentary.

There was a part of me who didn't want to write any reviews for any shows at all. I'm not a critic and I sure as hell don't want to be. Still, I felt obliged to return the favor when a nice review appeared on my show's website, and so the game began. And that motive immediately discounts (at least partially) the value of the review I wrote. I wouldn't say anything I posted on any show's Fringe page was dishonest, but it was often charged with a sense of obligation, concern about a relationship, or any number of other concerns. The very fact that I refused to post a negative review on anyone's page alone makes my value as a "reviewer" questionable. So then how valuable is any grading method that incorporates those reviews?

These kinds of questions come up for me in a consideration of Fringe journalism as well. I'll post on that in a bit.

More Fringe thoughts

Okay, finally back with some more writing about my experiences with the Hollywood Fringe. It's going to turn into some long, multi-post meanderings; I hope you'll stick with me. 

There is a tension in the Fringe between the organization's emphasis on "community" and the realities of self-promotion and competition that the festival's producers and creatives have to rely on. I wasn't always too bothered by it, but one of the more peculiar aspects of this comes out in the Fringe's system of reviews on individual show's pages at the Fringe.org website.

Fringe producers are encouraged to see and support each other's shows, trade comps, and network with one another. Of course I wanted to do this, in part because I had friends producing in the festival, but also because I met really interesting and nice artists over the course of the events and I wanted to see what they were up to. And some of the shows just sounded good. I think it would've been ridiculous for me to have produced in the Fringe and focused only on my own show.

But just as the festival encourages community, it also encourages "reviews" on individual show pages. I participated in this system to a certain extent, in part because I saw the ways other shows were requesting reviews and learned it was a commonplace, but also because of the emphasis on the "FringeMeter" aggregate system on Bitter Lemons, the go-to non-Fringe.org Fringe website during the festival.

The system turns show reviews into a grade a'la Rotten Tomatoes. I suppose it's as reliable as anything else out there, since no mainstream theater media reviews the Fringe save LAWeekly, which manages some capsules but still has no way of getting to more than a portion of the tons of work in the festival. (I'll get to that later.)

One could argue (as I noted more than one Bitter Lemons writer doing over the course of the Fringe) that a community allows for respectful, productive critique, making honest assessments on the Reviews portion of the Fringe website a viable tool if used in a mature way. But how can we count on that?

I saw one show produced by friends of mine get lambasted in its user reviews immediately after, in part by other producers, based on what was apparently a rough tech of a preview performance. When I saw their opening night, they'd solved a lot of their problems and had a smooth performance. So was that lambasting a fair response, especially from colleagues? How can we say a quickness to pile on a show with problems isn't a result of a competitive urge? And if that's the case, where's the objectivity in that?

And even if all parties were to agree to some ground rules about respectful critique, since when should peer review be shared publicly, aggregated, and treated as a measure of a show's appeal to general audiences?

So needless to say, I struggled with whether or not to review shows at all. I went ahead with it, and I'll write a little more about that.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Holly L. Derr on The Miss Julie Dream Project

L.A.-based writer/director/professor Holly L. Derr just posted some thoughts about our show on her blog today. She mixed it up with Neil LaBute a few months ago in the comments of a critique she wrote about his adaptation of Miss Julie (linked in the quote below). She knows her stuff; I'm so glad she liked our play.

Such nice comments, and great to be paired with my friends over at The Time Machine Musical.
Blending pop culture references with the fever-dream logic that characterized Strindberg’s inferno of a mind, the show delves into sexual politics, desire, and authorship without ever resorting to the dogmatism that characterizes the originals. Rather, Miss Julie and her dreams are effectively removed from the birth-is-destiny philosophy of Naturalism, enabling us to examine them in the context of a modern woman’s life. Turns out, we’re still being objectified and put on pedestals off of which we are bound to fall.
She also has some smart observations about the Fringe in general, as well as Best of Fringe Extensions. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

For kicks

I added some posts I like to my "Best of" links to the left. Check em out if you like.

Monday, July 08, 2013

I picked up

where I left off on David Wojnarowicz's bio, Fire in the Belly, by Cynthia Carr. I'm still somewhat early on in the book, and she's talking about his "cryptic phase." I had to share this sentence--
Like many young writers, he was struggling to disgorge his real subject matter and let it blurt.
I love that.

Fringe thoughts

I'm wrapping up my tenure as first-time Hollywood Fringe producer, and I'm also acutely aware of how I've neglected poor FWL in service of The Miss Julie Dream Project. So I thought I'd write up a little something about my experiences at #hff13.

I saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 or 17 shows, not counting mine. Some shows were intense and messy, ambitious and indignant. Their success or failure were secondary to how brash, nutty or edgy they purported to be. And no, I didn't see the Brazilian sex show so I'm not talking about that one; no offense but I don't think I need that in my cranium. Some of these shows I quite admired. Some of them had captivating moments in the midst of less captivating situations.

Some made me feel like I was the only person in the world without a sense of humor. Seriously, one hot shit Fringe show had the guy next to me making my chair shake with laughter, while I didn't crack a smile once.

Some shows were like rough little gems. Not even diamonds, exactly...jagged and maybe kind of bad but still marvelous and sweet and interesting. You saw the art and the love and the passion on the stage, even if not much else in the way of sets, costumes, or even story were there.

Two shows had a kind of stunning polish or power to them and I recommend them in their extensions, which are happening this month. They're both in the Asylum Lab and they're White Hot and Ceremony. I know no one in White Hot and I paid for my ticket. I supported Ceremony's crowdfunding campaign and consider Michael Kass a friend, but I can't imagine seeing that show under different circumstances and not being impressed by both Kass's performance and my friend Diana Wyenn's direction. White Hot, by Tommy Smith, is a nasty mess of a play; I mean that in the best possible way. I found the writing exciting and the production stellar.

As for my show, I'm quite proud and fond of it and it exceeded my expectations. I can't believe what Fell Swoop came up with and I loved getting the chance to figure it out and cast it and rehearse it with a smart director and six fine actors and watch it and share it with others six times over. I'll have more posts in the next few days recapping some of the online responses to it and adding more pictures and things. But for now I'll leave it at that.

I think I have more to say about the Fringe in general, but I've got to mull that over a bit and think how to flesh that out. More later.