The science of art, Mu's new direction and more

by Joshua Humphrey • Feb. 18

News and notes |

I hope everyone's had a busy week with theater on their brains. I don't know what you've been up to, but I've begun designing a new board game - FRINGE! The base set will be a Minnesota setting (don't fret, expansions will bring your favorite fringes to life! New York! Capital! Indianapolis! They'll all be available for $29.95 at your local game shop! Base game not included). 3-5 players will pitch their show, draw their performance dates and venue, then attack each other through cards drawn from the Word of Mouth deck. Is John generating good buzz at the Rarig Thrust? Just play the "Irate Blogger" card to neutralize his performance points. The player with the most performance points after the last performance wins! But wait! Who just laid down the coveted "Encore" card?

There are still some kinks, but this should work better than my Wait List Murder Mystery.

Happy Tuesday! Let's get down to it.

It was originally my intent to have a section devoted to discussing the new report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) about the ethnic makeup of New York City Stages for the 2011/2012 season. The distillation of these numbers is that less than 25% of actors onstage are actors of color.

I'm mentioning it here because this week the Star Tribune reported that actor and director Randy Reyes will succeed Rick Shiomi as the next artistic director of Asian-American company Mu Performing Arts.

The AAPAC numbers are disheartening, so I cannot help but feel right now, as the torch is passed from Shiomi to Reyes, that it was a struggle getting here and there is clearly more work that needs to be done. Mu Performing Arts is one of many companies working to make our stages more diverse, so I tip my hat to Shiomi and to Reyes for both their past and future attention to the issue. Thank you and good luck to you both!

I'm not the only one preoccupied right now with diversity onstage: Laura Beck, writing recently for Jezebel, has a great rundown on just how embedded whitewashing is on stage and screen.

It Blogged From the Past!
Since I started the news rundown linking current news and writing on theatre diversity, let's cast our minds back to April of 2010 when the community was engaged in a similar discussion around race and casting, with the Children's Theater Company hosting a forum on the topic. The State of the Arts column gave an excellent rundown if you'd like to reacquaint yourself with the guiding principles of Intentionality, Collaboration, Imagination, Respect, Communication, and Consistency that Marianne Combs highlighted.

Hopping over to Uganda, British producer David Cecil last year staged The River and the Mountain, a play about being a homosexual in Uganda (where it is illegal). Cecil was recently deported back to Britain. He left behind his partner and two children. Until the charges against him were dropped, he was facing two years in jail for the staging. Cecil believes the deportation was politically motivated, and it seems to me that Ugandan officials surmised that, if they couldn't get rid of him one way, they'd try another.

I don't know how I would feel if I were in Cecil's position – frightened for my family and home would probably be my overriding emotion. But I also hope that he feels proud that a play he helped stage has brought international scrutiny to Uganda and their human rights abuses.

Pop Quiz
How much do you know about Bertolt Brecht? I scored 4 out of 10, so clearly I didn't listen to my theatre profs as closely as I should have.

The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) is running an event during their conference, STIMULUS/RESPONSE:

"What happens in your brain at the moment of inspiration? Where do ideas come from? Are they just a product of brain chemistry? A muse? Dumb luck? This real-time experiment will explore the process of creation through improvised music, art, comedy, and thought-provoking discussion by experts in the field of psychology and neuroscience."

It's not often where I get to be a science and theater nerd at the same time. They're not disciplines that cross as often as they should. This is something I'd like to see in Minnesota – a Brave New Workshop/University of Minnesota collaboration, perhaps?

This Week in Tennessee Williams
I like to believe that the theater community is geared toward creating the best work at all times, but there is more often than not disagreement on what work should be done, what work should be seen, and what work should be praised. A new biography out on Tennessee Williams catalogs his thoughts on actors, directors, other playwrights, and where he felt they should (and shouldn't) be concentrating their talents. I don't know how much the Guardian writer quote-mined Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life for the best tidbits of Williams snark, but the article provides a healthy helping.

Parting Thought
Back in November, Contact Music described a situation on the set of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit that left Ian McKellen in tears: because of size differences between Gandalf the Grey and the dwarves, McKellen had to act on a heavily greenscreened set, with only photographs of the dwarves and little lights for guidance. At the time, I thought that would have been a difficult environment, and I wish I'd known more about what McKellen was dealing with on set. I wonder no more, as Weta's digital effects package is now available.

Watching the first 20 seconds highlights the scene in question. It doesn't look like an easy job; McKellen's acting in a green vacuum, an acting challenge of the highest order that not every actor can accomplish. It must have been draining. McKellen's reaction to this situation? Tears and the statement "This is not why I became an actor."

Mr. McKellen, I'm with you. And, with that in mind, I ask: Why did you choose to work in the theater and what situation has tested that decision?

Until next week, happy theater-making!


Why I chose theater

As a child I loved stories. I was a voracious reader, devouring anything I found, whether or not it was appropriate for my age. The power of theater to share stories among the teller and the audience called to me like a siren. As a teenager I told myself that I could lash myself to the mast with common sense and keep theater as a pleasant hobby.

Yeah, that didn't work, but I should have known better than to try and fight the gods. There is nothing more powerful than stories and I have the very great privilege of telling stories with so many wonderful artists and audiences.

-Jenna Papke

Jenna--I know that love of

Jenna--I know that love of stories was reflected in Valhalla. I think we're hardwired to deal with ourselves and the world in story form. Making stories that resonate with people is important for that reason, since (I think) they provide us with tools to access ourselves and the world.