Saturday, July 27, 2013

“I believe, in the theater, something surprising should happen every ten seconds.”

This is something I read awhile ago (a year? A bit more? A bit less?) and it stuck with me. Rather than blog about some generic “we’re still working on the play” stuff (we are), I thought I’d share this in full. Link to where I found it here. There’s a link from that site to some video.


The following was written for the, “From Where I Stand”, symposium at the Under the Radar Festival.  It does not include all of Taylor Mac’s beliefs about the theater but a good number of them.  

I believe belief is for assholes.

I believe irony is useful and fun at the beginning of a performance but tedious if held on to. 

I believe that truth, in the theater, is often confused with a clearing away of theatricality.  I believe the clearing away of theatricality is as much of a glorious lie as the theatrical.  I believe homophobia, racism, and sexism—in the theater—often manifests itself through the championing of “Realism” and or “Quiet” plays.

I believe people who use quotation marks with their fingers are assholes.

I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  Because I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not a teacher; I’m a reminder.  I’m just trying to remind you of things you’ve dismissed, forgotten, or buried.

I believe self-consciousness kills creativity.  So we must work together to create environments where we can kill self-consciousness first.  Make your rehearsal room a place that kills self-consciousness.  Ask yourself, “Will these florescent lights kill self-consciousness?”  No?  Then light the rehearsal room with nice pleasant lighting already.

I believe designers should be in the room everyday, playing, not just sitting and taking notes.  I believe we must give our designers things to play with in the room.  I believe designers and even stage managers should do warm ups with the company.

I believe love when used as a verb is true and when used as a noun is a lie.  

I believe in verbs.  

I believe you can make a living as a theater artist but in order to do so, without making work you don’t like, you might need to think about falling in love with verbs more than nouns.  I believe money is never really the reason but often the excuse.  So when you say you can’t do my play because it will cost too much, I know what you really mean is, “I’d rather spend the money that I have on something else”.  I believe that’s fair.  

I believe if you set a financial goal, you will reach it and if that financial goal is small, your budget will be small, artists will barely get paid, and everyone will be a little grumpy.  

I believe if NYC had no art and only Wall Street, nobody would want to live here.  And so I believe 10% of all Wall Street salaries should go to artists.

I believe administration is an art form but if you’re an administrator who really wants to do a different form of art, you should quit your administration job, do that other art, and make room for administrators to take your job who actually love what they do.  Because I believe there is nothing better than working with someone who loves what they do.  
I recognize that sometimes I hate what I do and that the grumpy people around me may be just going through one of those hate-phases as well and to give them a break.

I believe sometimes it’s good to shut up and keep swimming but I believe sometimes it’s good to say what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it.

I believe theater is a service industry.  It’s like being a plumber and theater artists are blue-collar workers who wear better clothes, for the most part.

I believe theater artists should be students of humanity

I believe, to learn what your audience needs, is the job

But caution that sometimes we confuse need with want.

Giving our audiences what they want is not the job.

Sometimes giving them what they want is a fringe benefit or happy accident but it is not the job.

I believe you may be saying to yourself, “That’s very presumptuous of him to think he knows what the audience needs”.  But I believe if I were a plumber you wouldn’t think it was presumptuous of me to say my job is to learn what your plumbing needs. You would say I was a good plumber.

I believe sometimes we confuse what the audience needs with what the artist wants.  That makes crappy art.  But I believe there is room for it all.  Including crappy art.

I believe authentic failure on stage is one of the great art forms.

I believe I sometimes fail at my job and I sometimes succeed and that humanity exists in both.  I believe if I want my audiences to experience the range of their humanity, and I do, then I must reflect back at them, authentic success and authentic failure.

I believe I am a mirror and each and every one of my audience members is both snow white and the evil queen.

I believe I did not move from the suburbs to the city to see work about the suburbs.  I believe if we model our theater after a suburban mentality we will perpetuate the status quo.  I believe the great American middle class is not great.  I believe the Greeks and Shakespeare wrote about successful people falling from grace, in their tragedies, and they wrote about down and out people rising and falling in and out of doldrums, in their comedies, but didn’t bother with the middle class because the middle class is boring.
Middle class stories are neither tragic nor wildly comedic simply because, when it comes to the middle class, the stakes aren’t high enough.  Take that, Willy Loman.

But I believe most plays nowadays are sadly about the middle class.

As a result, I believe it is hard to find works of consequence.  I believe in works of consequence and hope to make all of my plays and performances works of consequence.  I believe if something doesn’t happen in your play that changes all the characters, players, and audience then it isn’t worth doing.  

I believe if you’re a theater artist you are not cool so stop acting like you are.

I believe whole-heartedly in craft.  I believe craft is essentially a commitment to learning the past, living in the present, and dreaming the culture forward.  But I believe establishing standards for craft will not create great art but will foster the patriarchy.  I believe contradictions and inspiring questions make great theater but sometimes wish I and other theater artists would just decide already.

I believe if you don’t see your story on stage… that is a good thing.  Have a little curiosity already.  I believe the call for Universality in the theater is a way of telling minorities they should act like the Majority.  I believe minority theater artists are often asked to create work that the Majority can see themselves in.  I believe if you’re a semi-wealthy white woman and you work for a fancy theater and you go to the Humana Festival and see The Universes, a hip-hop theater company that is made up of minority theater artists, and you don’t like it because you wonder, “Where the middle aged white woman’s story was in all of that?”  The answer is, “In all the other plays at the Humana Festival”.  

Having said that, I believe the audience matters.
I believe the audience should matter so much that without them the play and players could never reach the stories end.  I believe each performance of a play or performance piece should be different from the previous performance of said piece.  And not in simple ways but in giant big brave adventurous ways.  I believe the audience deserves to alter the outcome of the events.  I believe that it is essential for performing artists, each night they go on stage, despite the author and directors intentions, to not know whether the performance will be a tragedy or a comedy.  

I believe all plays are flawed except the extremely boring ones so stop trying to make my play perfect.

I believe perfection is for assholes

I love assholes, but I don’t want them to run the theater.
It’s okay if they make some theater but they shouldn’t act like they run it.

I believe being an asshole is often a good thing but sometimes it’s, just being an asshole.

I believe we should say sorry every so often when our passions get the better of us.


I believe Artistic Directors should say hello to the performers that come to work in their theaters and that, in my experience, more than half of you do not.  I believe this is unbelievably rude, hurtful, and counterproductive.  I believe if you don’t want to meet me, you shouldn’t book me at your theater.

I believe Richard Forman is commercial theater.  I believe my work and all “experimental work”, is commercial theater.  I believe the non-profit sector is and has been incredible but that it’s taught audiences that theater is something most people won’t want to see.  I believe, like the fashion world does with experimental work, where they market it as the best of what they have and as a result Alexander McQueen is the most successful selling show in the history of the Met, that if we stopped telling a vast majority of the people that they won’t like what we do, they would actually like what we do. 

I believe experimental artists and commercial artists should collaborate more.

I believe someone reading this should give me lots of money to start my repertory theater.  I believe a culture of repertory is the answer to most of our industry problems.  I believe if you freeze a play you kill it.  I believe theater artists need long runs and need to tour in order to truly learn what their work can do.

I believe your lattzi, monologue, scene, play, manifesto, is not long enough.

I believe ten-minute play festivals should be excommunicated from our industry.

Because I believe we almost always stop before we’ve truly finished.

I believe in words and the combination of words and their ability to surprise.

Most importantly I believe in surprise and that if you want to remind your audiences of the things they have dismissed, forgotten, or buried, then you need to surprise them. 

I believe, in the theater, something surprising should happen every ten seconds.

And that, that surprise does not have to be big; it can be a breath.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 20: Peter Brook, Design Meetings, and Promotional Material

“I am ready to disclaim my opinion, even of yesterday, even of 10 minutes ago, because all opinions are relative. One lives in a field of influences, one is influenced by everyone one meets, everything is an exchange of influences, all opinions are derivative. Once you deal a new deck of cards, you’ve got a new deck of cards.”

That’s a quote from Peter Brook in The Empty Space. I find myself coming back to it continuously in the last couple of years. Hopefully it’s informing an ever-evolving approach to creativity.

Put a bird on it.

I recently met with our Speech & Debate design team: Craig Alfredson (Set/Lights/Projection) and Christina Dao (Costumes). We’re all busy bees, so we had to meet at 11pm in a bar. I’ve never worked with either of them in this capacity before and I’m excited to have the ball rolling. Christina was one of our invaluable dressers on Bomb-itty of Errors last year and Craig has been a helping hand on many things that I’ve worked on. As always, we’ll be trying to make a lot with a little, and we definitely discussed what it means if you describe your aesthetic as “shitty”. Don’t let that scare you, let that free you.

First design meeting.

We’re very excited to have Andrew Lewis on board to design yet another poster for Twenty Something. He’s due to show some ideas any day now and I’m getting excited. Of course, we’ve also got our great promotional photos from David Cooper:

Alex Rose, Scott Button, and Claire Hesselgrave will star in Stephen Karam's Speech & Debate.
Photo by David Cooper.

The Double Play Pass, our little joint venture with Staircase XI, is still coming your way August 1. Check back here and on our Facebook page when the time comes.

 Summer love,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Speech & Debate, The Double Play Pass, The Out Vigil, and Bomb-itty

Hello Blogosphere!

Happy to be making my first post as Associate Artistic Producer with Twenty Something Theatre. It’s a very exciting time for this company and I’m happy to be here for it.

This fall I’ll be directing Twenty Something’s next show: Stephen Karam’s Speech & Debate. It’s running October 2-12 at Studio 1398 on Granville Island. Speech & Debate is a play that Sabrina passed along to me when I first came on board in the middle of 2012. It had been on her shortlist of plays for Twenty Something for a couple of years and it’s not surprise why. The script runs the gamut from hilarious comedy to tense drama, making sure to include a song or two along the way. The cast & crew are all in place and we’re already rushing around getting all kinds of “behind the scenes” things done.

On that note, we’re proud to present the Double Play Pass – an early bird special that gives people the opportunity to get a ticket each to Speech & Debate and Staircase XI’s November production of Stewart Lemoine’s Cocktails At Pam’s for just $25. The Double Play Pass will go on sale August 1 and you’ll be able to link to it from

Right now we’re busy meeting with potential sponsors and program advertisers. With the Double Play Pass, we’re able to offer great value and lots of exposure to our advertisers. If you or someone you know wants to get involved by sponsoring our production and our company, we can be reached at

On the development front, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a reading of Julie McIsaac’s The Out Vigil last week. I already knew Julie to be a great actor, and the same humanity and passion that she puts into her performances is all over the beautiful play she’s written. Watch out for our workshop production in 2014.

Speaking of 2014, The Bomb-itty of Errors, the little production that got me all wrapped up with Twenty Something in the first place, is going to appearing on the Arts Club’s Revue Stage starting April 10. I’m including a link to the Revue stage series next year, which also includes a World Premiere by Colleen Murphy (I directed her play The December Man in Saskatoon last fall and it’s BEAUTIFUL) directed by my UBC buddy and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades co-artistic director Mindy Parfitt.

Stay tuned folks. Twenty Something is in motion.