Guest Blogger: Scott Wesley Slavin on the Actor-Audience Relationship

NIAMy friends, Scott and Valerie, just concluded 25 performances of Naked in Alaska at Edinburgh. 25 shows in a three week span. For those of you who follow me and have been reading my articles this summer on festivals for The Write Teacher(s) (and if you haven’t, click HERE), I have been exploring theatre in the Festival setting. I have just completed my fourth festival with the New York Fringe Festival and am now embarking on EstroGenius Festival. About two weeks ago, Scott posted the below. I was really moved by his words as he really is able to experience the actor-audience relationship. Scott is the director/stage manager/technical director/wizard of Naked in Alaska. Once he and Valerie are at the theatre, he is in the booth behind or above or to the side running the show. And observing. Many thanks to him for giving me permission to repost it here.

Running the tech for Naked in Alaska every day for the past two weeks has allowed me to experience 14 different audiences to the same show. It’s given me so many opportunities now to wonder about the actor-audience relationship. What is it? What are our responsibilities–on both sides? How can we each more graciously reach across the perceived divide and nurture a more fulfilling partnership during these brief hours that we spend together? What, in the end, is the greatest potential of this relationship?


“There is an implied contract,” author Ed Hooks writes, “under which the person in the audience willingly suspends his disbelief in the pretending on stage… so that he can empathize with the actors on stage. The audience for a theatrical production is not a voyeur. It is a participant, part of an active relationship. Each side brings something to the event, and they pretend together. This is why the events are called ‘plays.'”

In the seven years I’ve been with Valerie Hager, however, she’s taught me that the “active relationship” on the part of the audience goes far beyond “suspending disbelief.” Valerie’s the most giving audience member I’ve ever met: laughing, crying, whooping, standing, yelling out encouragement if need be. She knows in her bones how much positive energy and sustenance her empathic, vocal responses give to the performer, and how that transforms the performance, and thus the show, for everyone.

We’ve had some houses here in Edinburgh that roar with laughter, exhale with grief and empathy, and clap loudly with tears streaming down their cheeks at the end; other houses, just as large, who barely make a sound, save for an echoing cough or the thud of a seat flipping up and down. From the artist’s perspective, this can be incredibly unnerving (“What did I do differently tonight? Was something wrong? Did I do my job well? Did I do things that made me/my character unlikeable tonight?”); however, when that passes, I’m mostly just curious.

Do certain audiences come into the theater with a kind of aggregate nervous system that is energetically either open to the show that evening or closed to it? And, if so, how does that happen–what contributes to it? Is there anything an artist can do to massage a seemingly tight, closed audience into a relaxed, open one? Are there ways to welcome audiences so they may feel more free with their emotions and their responses once the show begins? How can we be more compassionate with ourselves after a challenging audience leaves and we have that sinking feeling in our hearts of “What the f*ck just happened?”

I don’t have any answers, and I admit to not being nearly as giving as Valerie is as an audience member. But I’m also learning that I may have a greater responsibility than I previously would have acknowledged when I sit in the dark watching another human being perform before me: that the relationship is more a two-way street than a one-way one, and that, like most human relationships, the more I am wiling to give, even at some risk to my own comfort and anonymity and “process,” the more–the very much more–I’ll likely get back. I may just get back my self.

TBB: The Pawnbroker Extends to FringeNYC Encores, I Am Me, EstroGenius Festival, Fountain of Youth

When one festival closes another one opens. Or overlaps. Or extends.  My journey has taken me through many of the festivals in NYC (Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, West Village Musical Theatre Festival, NYMF, FringeNYC and now EstroGenius). I won’t lie. I am tired as I am sure the many many artists who have taken part in this festivals. As exciting as it is to be able to produce these shows and have an audience, reviewers, industry be in attendance, I have been wondering when do we take a breath and recharge.

Over the last few months, I have been writing for The Write Teacher(s) about theater beyond Broadway. This has allowed me to interview artists that have been in festivals as well as the mother of all festivals, Edinburgh Fringe. Overall, this sentiment is joy but there is a layer of frenzy that exhilarates as well as drains.

I would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on festivals?

Click HERE to read more about the featured listing and and I will see you at the show!

TBB: Last Chance: The Pawnbroker, The Apple Tree; Free Ticket Giveaway to Donkey Punch

As one festival closes, more are opening. If you haven’t had the chance to see the Fringe, this is your last week to grab a few. I will be updating my tour as my schedule has shifted and, believe it or not, there is theatre outside of the Fringe Festival that I supported. It’s hard to be everywhere all the time. Stay tuned for info on the Women at Work Festival at Stage Left Studios and the EstroGenius Festival celebrates 15 years.

In honor of that, I am offering free tickets to Estro Alum’s Ivy Theatre and their production of Donkey Punch.

Uninhibited Kareena delves into monogamy while her uptight best friend, Sam, starts dating a pornographer. In the ultramodern world of sex, relationships and blurred lines, is it punch or be punched?

Question for you: What’s your favorite uninhibited play from the last decade and why?

TBB: The Pawnbroker, The Apple Tree, Summer of Love

There’s no reason not to support independent theatre especially when one of these shows may be the next Rent or The Book of Mormon or even The Glass Menagerie. Also, all of us started somewhere, so if you are an artist or are one in the confines of your four walls or even someone who appreciates it, please support! The second best part of seeing these shows is talking to other audience members. That’s for the next blog. Go to http://www.theatrebeyondbroadway.com or visit my Facebook page and I’ll see you at the show!

Guest Blogger Jennifer Curfman on Brecht and The Pawnbroker

Pawnbroker postcard mockupIt’s no secret that I have a soft spot for solo shows. I find them interesting and challenging at the same time I am usually in awe. As an actress, I have always done shows with multiple character rather than a show with one performer playing multiple characters. This time around I have the pleasure of working on the one woman show, The Pawnbroker, written and performed by Kaitlin Wilcox about the women in the life of Bertolt Brecht. I didn’t know Brecht’s back story rather just his work in the theatre and his plays. Today’s guest blogger, director Jennifer Curfman discusses her work.

When Katelin Wilcox first asked me to direct her one-woman play, The Pawnbroker, she had just finished its first public performance as a part of the United Solo Festival. Her wonderful director, Diana Buirski, was moving away, but The Pawnbroker’s professional life was just getting started, and it would still need a director. Katelin asked me to come along for the ride, and I jumped at the chance to work on this dynamic, compelling play, and to help it find its audience. Now, after two small workshops, a flurry of applications and emails, a dozen marathon rehearsals, and countless cups of coffee, we are poised to open The Pawnbroker at FringeNYC this weekend.
 
The first time I heard Katelin’s play, I was moved and angered by the stories of its five protagonists, women who loved and worked with legendary playwright Bertolt Brecht throughout his career, and who were instrumental in the creation of much of his body of work. Time and again, these women were each charmed, delighted, and inspired by Brecht, and also deeply wronged by him, personally, professionally, and artistically. They made extraordinary contributions to some of the world’s greatest theater and, until I encountered The Pawnbroker, I had never even heard of most of them.
 
The life of this play began years ago, when Katelin discovered the stories of Elisabeth Hauptmann, Helene Weigel, Marianne Zoff, Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau as she researched her college thesis. As a playwright, she has worked for years to give these women a voice, but it is her work onstage as an actor that truly brings The Pawnbroker, and these women, to life. Katelin is as smart and skilled an actress as she is a playwright, and I have the privilege of being in rehearsal with her, where I get to meet these five women every day. Together, we have worked to find what is unique about each of the women. It would be easy to think of that only in terms of the physical or vocal choices Katelin can make, but we also get to uncover what each woman most desperately wants, and how they each fight to get it. They each have their own charms and their own flaws, they are at once funny and tough and heartbreaking, and in every rehearsal I learn something new about one of them. And I want to fight for them too.
 
Katelin and I are thrilled to introduce these women to the FringeNYC audiences. As The Pawnbroker approaches its opening night, we’re in the thick of tech rehearsals and ticket sales, slide projectors and, yes, more coffee. But one thing cuts through it all. As Katelin recognized years ago, these women should be heard.
 
The Pawnbroker: Lies, Lovers, and Bertolt Brecht will be presented as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival. For more info: www.YouDontKnowBrecht.com
 
Performance details:
 
Sat. 8/9 12:30pm
Sun. 8/10 7:45pm
Wed. 8/13 5:00pm
Sat. 8/16 8:45pm
Thu. 8/21 2:00pm
 
FringeNYC Venue #12: 64E4 UNDERGROUND – The Paradise Factory, located at 64 East 4th St. (between Bowery and 2nd Ave.), New York, NY 10003
10472698_727771650604294_844854479345166573_nJennifer Curfman (Director) is a Resident Artist and Associate Artistic Director of The CRY HAVOC Company. She directedthe world premiere of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes, The Musical (Vital Theatre), which reopened this summer for an extended run in NYC. Other directing credits include Party Girl and Good Enough by Kitt Lavoie, Caught by Sharon E. Cooper, and the upcoming (One) Acts of HAVOC (Manhattan Rep). Associate directing credits include Romeo and Juliet, Kitt Lavoie, Dir. (CRY HAVOC), and the concert staging of Bros and Dolls, Matt Cowart, Dir. (Joe’s Pub). Acting credits include NYC Opera (NYC premiere of Dead Man Walking, Leonard Foglia, Dir.), Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, and the NY Philharmonic (Stephen Sondheim’s 80th Birthday Concert, Lonny Price, Dir.). Jennifer is a member of Actors’ Equity, and she holds a BFA from NYU.

TBB: FringeNYC Opens: The Pawnbroker, The Lost Ones, A 1940s Comedy of Errors

This week marks the 3rd anniversary of Theatre Beyond Broadway. That initial newsletter was all I had to share with you about the handful of upcoming shows. Now TBB has grown to have it’s own website, FB page and even it’s own business.

This is my thank you for keeping with me all these years and continuing to support and create art. Last night, I was at Alvin Ailey celebrating with other artists. Planet Connections Theatre Festivity had their annual awards ceremony where they give out awards recognizing the achievements of artists and organizations. I was fortunate to be on the team of three shows that won awards last night (Pieces, The Quest of the Hero! and Allie’s Appendix) as well as have friends that were also recognized for their work (Tatyana Kot and  John Patrick Bray).

I guess I am saying that you never know what will come out of an idea. Especially if it’s from the heart. My love for theatre is not a secret. I just believe it unifies people through being vulnerable and  collaborative. And I believe it needs to be seen. On that note, the Fringe opens this week. Please join me on my tour.

Also, I will be making some changes to the site and the newsletter. Stay tuned by following me on Twitter or Facebook. Have an amazing August and…

See you at the show.

First Fridays with Valerie G. Keane: Why Won’t Anyone Come to My Show?!

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Ron Swanson knows what’s up.

How many times have I heard the lament, “Why can’t I get anyone to come to my show?”

I am going to give you the answer.  Are you ready?  Here it is: because it is hard to get people to come to your show.

Really, really hard.

For those of you who are reading this and already disagreeing with me, good for you.  You have been doing something right and have gained momentum and reputation and it is you who should be writing this article, not me.  But here I am at my keyboard and I am far from perfect and I am writing this as much for myself as for the person who also finds it enormously hard to get people to attend their artistic ventures.

The first thing we can do is stop taking it personally.

On one level, it’s a numbers game.  It’s the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule, as it’s more commonly known.  80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  In business, and your art is a business on some level, 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.  In life, I often find that 20% of the people in the world are awesome and 80% of the people in the world are not so awesome.  Not evil or malicious, just not as awesome.

Of the 20% that are awesome, not every person in that 20% can come to my events 100% of the time.  They have conflicts because they are out in the world, just like me, creating great things that bring joy and happiness to others.  They can’t afford to come to every show because, most likely, they have not sold their soul to corporate America and have made sacrifices to be able to create their art and live an existence where they can peacefully rest their head on their pillow at night.  Or, they just don’t have the cash for another show because this economy still sucks and, to quote Sweeney Todd, “times is hard.”  They may also not be able to come because they just need a night off to themselves to do grownup things like clean their house or spend time with their family or – and I know this is a radical thought – just really need a night to do nothing and recharge so they can keep being awesome.  I don’t take any of these reasons personally as to why someone cannot come to my show. None of these reasons are about ME.  And who am I to say that my show is more important than someone else’s art, someone else’s money, or someone taking care of “first things, first”?

Here is another reason why people might not show up for you all the time.  Hang on to your hat.  (I love a good hat so please hang on to it.)  You are not the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Please, yes, have a positive attitude about what you create and love it and cherish it and be outrageously proud of your work.  But, oh my goodness me, please don’t have any delusions about your work.  Being angry because you are “so brilliant and amazing” and why didn’t this one or that one come to see you just makes no sense.  Oh, the rants I’ve seen on social media.  Stunning.  The in-fighting, especially in theater groups, that I have seen over who got what role and who didn’t, and wanted to shout, “Please get some perspective!  You are in a church basement.”  Don’t even get me started on “reviews” in the local paper that have sent people into hysterical, weeping fits.  Listen, as a writer, I have a small body of work consisting of some mediocre poems.  As a performer, I have a modicum of raw talent that I have never honed or invested time in studying the craft of.  It’s an honor that anyone lets me perform or read in public at all.  We live in New York City where we can go see a Broadway show or hear a Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet read any time we want.  The fact that anyone shows up to anything I do, in the theater or the literary world, is a blessing and a miracle.

Art affects the world.  No doubt.  What you do will affect people in the world.  That is a gift.  But if you are creating art for anyone else but you (and possibly an entity larger than yourself), you’re going to endure a lot of suffering.  The people that show up for you are the right people.  No more, no less.  Everyone at your event is exactly the person who was meant to be there.  Treat them that way and don’t insult them by mourning the people who didn’t come like they did.

I recently read my work at a large festival.  I was slated to be the first reader of the day on a Sunday morning.  When it was time for me to begin, there were zero people in the audience.  (Is this a mystery?  It was a lazy Sunday morning and they had to take a ferry – a whole ferry – to get there.)  The festival was a big deal to me, personally, as it was a very meaningful marker on my journey.  I had been asked to lend my voice to in this amazing celebration of poets across five boroughs when, just one year previous, and just trust me on this, that is not anything even close to something that would have happened in my life.  So, here I was on Sunday morning.  Zero people.  (Ok, there were five people who were there waiting to see the next readers.  I think two of the five people actually were the next readers.)  I didn’t care.  I didn’t even realize that I didn’t care until the end of the day on my way home.  It wasn’t a thought.  I got on that stage and I stood there and I spoke my words and I took in that big, brilliant, unwitnessed moment.  It was very Zen.  And it was so delicious.  And I’m not telling you this to prove to you how evolved I am (oh my, no – I am quite flawed and imperfect) but I am saying it to suggest a possible way of experiencing your own art, without suffering.  Without the ego’s dependence on anyone outside of yourself.  I am telling you, much like a new and fabulous hat, it feels great.  It is infinitely more meaningful and rewarding than any sold-out house, standing ovation, mega-kudos I’ve ever received.  Life is often counterintuitive, isn’t it.

Next month, I’m going to talk specifically about things that do and do not work in terms of getting people to show up and see your work.  I’m not contradicting myself here, even though I just expounded on the merits of doing it for no one.  I did say, oh yes I did, that your art, on one level, is a business and you do often need people in seats in order to keep producing more work and doing what you love.  But before we talk about what works with other people, I wanted to talk about what works with YOU.  You first.  Don’t take it personally.  Have perspective.  Have humility.  Humility is not self-deprecating.  Humility is doing what you do for a purpose larger than yourself with no expectation of what the outcome will be.

And one more thing.

Above all, just be a nice human being.  I remember a Seamus Heaney tribute I went to (one of many) that was sold out with a few hundred people in the audience.  I was so taken by this.  Admittedly, I have not read as much of Seamus Heaney’s work as most poets have.  I have great admiration for his poetry and it is beautiful and carefully crafted and he was, undoubtedly, one of the greats.  But so are many other poets and I couldn’t imagine a major venue being sold out while they were still alive, let alone after their death.  I felt I was missing something in terms of truly understanding what all those people were doing there and, not only there, but at multiple other sold-out tributes to Mr. Heaney.  After the performance, I asked the people who attended with me, “Why do you think Seamus Heaney is such a popular poet?”  And they answered, “Well, his poetry, of course.  But probably, mostly, because he was so warm and genuinely nice and he made anyone around him feel wonderful.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest reason that people will come, not only to your show, but will gather by the hundreds in your honor long after you are gone.

It’s not your fancy marketing plan; it’s how you have put your arms around people and taken a moment to celebrate their intrinsic worth.

173 (1)Valerie G. Keane is very honored to be part of the current Queens literary scene.  Her next appearance will be as a featured poet in Mike Geffner’s Inspired Word All-Stars on Thursday, August 14th at Coffeed in Long Island City.  (Tickets and info: http://tinyurl.com/pclsx9b)  Valerie’s work was recently published in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the Newtown Literary Journal and she is the founder of Poetry & Coffee, a very juicy discussion group in Queens for writers and readers, where people are waking up to great poetry and to life. (You can find Poetry & Coffee on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Poetry-Coffee/1474070439496056) When asked if she is a poet, Valerie says, “I still don’t know how you qualify as one and no one seems to know where the application form is.”