Sunday, January 31, 2010

Plays and Playwrights News

Sorry I've been sort of MIA for a while. Busy times here at NYTE HQ.

I wanted to pass along some updates about our Plays and Playwrights books.

First--with very mixed feelings, I report that Plays and Playwrights 2003 is now officially out of print. This anthology contains wonderful work by Joe Godfrey, Catherine Gillet, Andrea Lepcio, Ato Essandoh, Nat Colley, Leon Chase, Marc Morales, Joseph Langham, Maggie Cino, Edward Musto, and Kelly McAllister. It's the third of our anthologies to go out of print (following Plays and Playwrights for the New Millennium and Plays and Playwrights 2005).

The interesting--and very gratifying--thing is that demand for the plays in our out-of-print volumes continues unabated. What can we do to help make sure that these plays remain available to those who want to read/perform/produce them? We are moving rapidly toward a solution!

This month, we will be releasing our very first ebook, a new edition of Plays and Playwrights for the New Millennium. There will be very complete details here on the blog very soon; for now I can tell you that it will be available for Amazon's Kindle, and will feature--in addition to seven of the plays we originally published in the print edition of this anthology--terrific never-before-published bonus material. The extras include one-act plays by Garth Wingfield, Lynn Marie Macy, Edmund De Santis, and David Dannenfelser, plus a tantalizing excerpt from one of the latest Kirk Wood Bromley plays, plus an excerpt from Gary Rudoren's screenplay based on "So, I Killed a Few People..."

Watch for the official release, very soon!

Finally, I want to mention that Plays and Playwrights 2010 is in the works. Our publication date will be a little later than usual this year--we're aiming for release on or about March 31. Again, watch this space for the latest details.

I am so excited about both of our new publications--can't wait to share more about them with you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Cradle Will Rock at Theater Ten Ten: Why Does a Company Choose to Do a Show?

One of the things I find most invigorating about the indie theater community is how purposeful it usually is. The artists and companies working in this sector think carefully about the projects they will devote their scarce time and resources to; they want to say something very specific when they produce theater, and they are generally very articulate about what they're trying to accomplish.

This comes through when we ask artists to participate in our festival preview features on (our preview of the FRIGID New York Festival goes on line in less that two weeks, and when you read it you'll see what I mean).

I recently got some information about Theater Ten Ten's upcoming revival of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock which provides another strong example of the clear and valuable goals that theatre-makers have in mind when they embark on a project. Today I am sharing with you here on the blog the Director's Note, prepared by director David Fuller and assistant director Carissa Cordes, for this production:

Writer and composer Marc Blitzstein completed his first opera The Cradle Will Rock in 1936, in a torrid frenzy of work just weeks after his wife Eva Goldbeck suddenly died. The seeds for the opera were sown while Eva was alive and translating Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Novel, when Blitzstein played his song “The Nickel Under the Foot” for Brecht himself. Brecht suggested that this song, about a woman forced into prostitution out of hunger, become the centerpiece for a political opera: "Why don't you write a piece about all kinds of prostitution - the press, the church, the courts, the arts, the whole system?” With encouragement from John Houseman (producer) and Orson Welles (director), Blitzstein played his finished Cradle for Hallie Flanagan, the director of the Federal Theatre Project of the WPA. Flanagan agreed to allow Cradle to be produced under the Federal Theatre Project #891 on Broadway. It became an unforgettable part of theatre history.

After the success of Cradle, Blitzstein went on to compose music for two revivals of Shakespeare’s King Lear (1950, 1956) and Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic (1960). Two more of his works were produced: the opera Regina (1949) and the musical comedy Juno (1959).

Blitzstein is also well known for his English language adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (1954). He was called before The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1958, but while he admitted to having been a member of the Communist Party, he refused to give up any information and HUAC let him go without any further incident. On the night of January 21, 1964 he was stripped, robbed, and beaten to death by three sailors he was trying to pick up at a bar in the Caribbean.

The story of the opening night of Cradle is perhaps one of the most important stories in American theatre history. Fearing a volatile political message in a time of worker strife, the federal government prevented the scheduled opening on June 16, 1937 at the Maxine Elliot Theatre, posting armed guards. Ironically, the actors union, Actors Equity, went along with this and forbade its members to perform on stage.

Determined that the show should go on as planned, and having already sold out the opening, Houseman and Welles managed to find a space and piano. The cast, crew, press and audience marched uptown, just over a mile, to the Venice Theatre. With no actors, no set, and one spotlight, Blitzstein sat at the piano onstage, determined to play and sing the entire show himself. The actors, who had been encouraged by Blitzstein to exercise their freedom of speech, but who were risking their livelihoods in a time when jobs were scarce, one by one joined Blitzstein in singing the show – prevented from appearing on stage, they performed from among the audience!

Cradle’s message endures. During the original production, the US was fully immersed in the Great Depression. Strikes and union organizing were becoming lethal at the hands of the police, as wealthy conservatives were fiercely fighting labor movements favoring the rights of workers. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) and its theater arm, The Federal Theatre Project, were under fire as hotbeds of Communism and funding for the arts was drastically slashed. Today, the US is again enduring a great economic upheaval fostered by greed. Unemployment is at a high not seen in several decades. We are embroiled in a war that profits the oil barons. Wall Street profiteers make billions at the expense of their shareholders. Now on the verge of finally providing universal health care to its citizens, Congress is assailed by fear mongers not unlike HUAC who equate Socialism with Communism in a red-baiting media barrage. Arts advocates fight annually against budget cutbacks, trying to keep arts education and nonprofit arts organizations alive. Sweatshops endure, migrant workers are victimized.

“Steeltown USA” may be a thing of the past, but change it to “Oil-town” or “Mortgage-town” or “Insurance-town” or “Meatpack-town” and the stories of Joe Worker and Larry Foreman ring true. When Harry Druggist tells his tale, perhaps we may think of a town Wal-Mart took over, or of a dark empty local storefront we passed today. In Cradle we see artists selling out to the wealthy, health care influenced by big money, the press owned by big business, the church controlled by its donors and war encouraged for corporate greed.

With our national election, we began a change that must continue, or, The Cradle Will Rock.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stolen Chair Theatre's Community Supported Theatre: Event #3

Here's the latest report from Jo Ann Rosen on Stolen Chair Theatre's ongoing Community Supported Theatre (CST) initiative:


There is little difference between scientists and artists of the theater, according to Professor Gabriel Cwilich, a condensed matter physicist who advises many theater productions. In this case, he was the enthusiastic and entertaining guest speaker at Stolen Chair Theatre’s third event for their Community Sponsored Theatre (CST), a program designed to share the creative process with their members in an effort to cement a long-term relationship with them.

According to Cwilich, both professions attract people who are passionate about their work, both require training, and both use analysis extensively to find success. Of course the vocabularies are different, but increasingly they are finding additional commonality by communicating their ideas on the stage. He said during the last decade or so, about 150 plays have been written on science, most notably among them Copenhagen (physics) by Michael Frayn, Arcadia (chaos theory) by Tom Stoppard, and A Number (cloning) by Caryl Churchill. The gentle shift in the theater from dysfunctional family to the personalization of science and its effect on family or on an intimate community of people is noticeable enough for Cwilich to proclaim that “a new discipline is born.” His talk, entitled “Science and Theatre: What Can They Teach Each Other?” demonstrated how science has inspired playwrights to stretch the boundaries of predictable play structure and how playwrights have opened new avenues of communications for scientists.

Cwilich is a professor in the Physics Department at Yeshiva University in New York City, and is currently the Director of the University’s Jay and Jeannie Schottenstein Honors Program. He is also involved with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic, not-for-profit institution that makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economic performance. He has a strong interest in the relationship between science and the arts, and has been the scientific advisor to numerous off-Broadway theater productions. He dotted his talk with familiar examples.

First, Copenhagen. In Copenhagen, he explained, Frayn focuses on a single conversation that took place in 1941 between the two eminent physicists, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. There are many speculations about what was said during that conversation and Frayn builds on that uncertainty. The problem, then – the very thing that excites scientists – becomes the play’s thesis. The discussions and arguments between Heisenberg and Bohr are interesting, persuasive, and comprehensible, as they circle around and around, both physically and intellectually.

He described the structure of Stoppard’s Arcadia as a mirror of its topic. There are two story lines. One takes place in the present and in the past. Cwilich explained that present and past reflect the arcs in chaos theory. In the play, the present and the past move closer and closer until they merge or collide, making it unclear what we are seeing – a parallel to chaos theory in which swinging arcs multiply exponentially, getting closer and closer to one another until they ultimately smash.

Cwilich further emphasized that science in theater was not new. The first performance of Ben Jonson’s comedy, The Alchemist, was performed in 1610. Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People and Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo were written in 1882 and 1937, respectively. And, there are others. Science provides dramatic vehicles for playwrights and the stage allows scientists to reach new audiences.

For Kiran Rikhye, Stolen Chairs’ Resident Playwright, this CST project, Quantum Poetics: A Science Experiment for the Stage offers the opportunity to create a play by exploring and researching material that is both new and foreign to her. As in last month’s event, Rikhye and Stolen Chair’s resident actors presented characters and snippets of dialog that hint at what she’s learned and the challenges she faces. One character who was presented, an 18th century Jesuit priest, says: “Always put your ideas into language the layman can understand. Always put your ideas into language the layman wants to understand. Put things into language the layman thinks he can understand. Put your ideas into language.” It is fascinating to follow the research and see results in rhythmic poetic lines such as these.

The evening was one of partnerships. A receptive audience entertained by an informed and generous speaker, and talented actors bringing smart lines to life. Carrying out the theme of partnerships in the cocktail hour was co-founder and resident director, Jon Stancato, who added a gastronomic touch with mac and cheese and strawberries and cream. All inspired by the duo of science and theater.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Page 121 Productions: Effecting Disaster Relief for Haiti

Here's a note I received from Stephen Kaliski, an contributor and also a playwright/director who heads an indie theater company, Page 121 Productions:

Dear Friends,

In the wake of this week's devastating earthquake, we've decided to do our small part in helping Haiti endure such a calamity.

For The 121 Effect, we will pledge the first $121 raised off of ticket sales for His Minute Hand to The American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund. We will also donate an additional $121 for every 60 tickets sold.

Although theatre is an inherently community-based art form, we believe in its ability to inspire global change. We hope that the local audiences gathered for His Minute Hand will come together to contribute to a nation in desperate need.

If you are unable to attend, we encourage you to follow the link above to donate to the Red Cross.


Stephen Kaliski, Artistic Director
Jeffrey Feola, Executive Director
There's detailed info about His Minute Hand here. Kudos to Stephen and Jeffrey for taking action for this important cause!