Friday, August 22, 2008

Late Edition

Even though the show's over, I can still post, right?

A great story about a spiritual journey to atheism, courtesy of Bitch Ph.d.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Car Dealership Update

So they've apologized for the "sit down and shut up" ad campaign. But much more interesting than that.. read this blog post from someone claiming to be the person who wrote the ad:

... do not condem any American that disagrees with me. You all can stand up and shout, burn flags, gather on a corner and cuss the government, males can marry males, females can marry females you can all buy one of those imports and send the money to Japan if you want, but you do not have the right to force your philosophy on to others. I think that it is time for you to understand this very simple little fact. You are in the minority and as loud as you yell and protest, you will always be in the minority.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why We Do This Play

From the Consumerist:

Kieffe and Sons, a California Ford dealership, decided for some reason to launch a radio ad attacking non-Christians and people who believe that prayer shouldn't be in public schools.

They have a transcript of the ad up and everything ("But did you know that 86% of Americans say they believe in God? Now, since we all know that 86 out of every 100 of us are Christians who believe in God, we at Kieffe & Sons Ford wonder why we don't just tell the other 14% to sit down and shut up.")

I particularly like how they're claiming that all 86% of people who say they believe in God are Christian. That's some really great deductive reasoning you're displaying there, Kieffe & Sons! You stay classy!

Shaping the Event

So... when does the theatrical event begin?

For many shows I see... it begins right around the announcement to turn off your cell phones. This is particularly true on Broadway, when you are confronted by a big ass curtain and silence. And then the curtain opens and you're supposed to be transported to a whole 'nother world.

I find it far more helpful to think of the event beginning as soon as the audience walks in the door.... you have a prime opportunity to begin shaping their experience immediately. Now, go too far with this and the audience will feel totally oppressed... but if you hit that sweet spot, you'll really draw them in.

So with ...Atheist, how to do this? What should the preshow moment be like?

Well... for one thing... there'll be alcohol served, and it should be a fun, casual atmosphere. How do we do that?

One way is to just have some awesome music, have some members of the company around, say.. hey over there's some alcohol! Get a drink! Hang out with us!... but what if we had a band? Like my favorite subway musicians? Would that be too nuts?  What if we gave out free popcorn?

We have an opportunity to make it clear that this a fun, relaxed show where the audience should feel comfortable and anarchic and like anything can happen. We can use that opening moment to prime them for it. Now it's just a question of how to make it work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some Youtube-y Research Goodness



Glenn Beck and David Horowitz:

More from David Horowitz:


Lewis Black:

Bill Hicks:

Research: Costume Design of Vaudeville

I don't know if this'll have any impact on the eventual show, but here we go:

The matching getups worn by Joe and Buster [Keaton] were extremely weird, particularly the skull caps they sported, which had an odd, yarnlike fringe of hair that made the two of them look like Dr. Seuss characters.  Vaudeville comedy (like most comedy since ancient times) derived much of its novelty from its grotesquness. It was frequently close to what we consider "clowning" not only because of all the broad physical action (necessary to fill the big stage), but also thanks to the cartoonish appearance of the performers.  Pants, coats, and vests mismatched-- striped, polka-dotted or plaid, take your pick.  Battered top hats and derbies.  Bodies frequently distorted with padding. And, especially strange by today's standards, the monstrous makeup. Some, to modern eyes, look more disturbing than amusing. Yet it served a purpose. The seasoned vaudeville comedian could get a laugh without uttering a word just by wiggling or flexing an artificially enhanced part of the face; think of Groucho's eyebrows, Chaplin's mustache, and the lips of the mistrels for some well-known examples.

W.C. Fields' makeup as a tramp juggler renders him unrecognizeable. He may as well have become a bank robber. Weber and Fields were virtually spheroid with all their padding. And the added features of the glued-on pointy beards and derby hats, plus the fact that Joe Weber was five-foot-four, made them resemble the town fathers of Munchkinland.

  -- Trav S.D. No Applause, Just Throw Money!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

First Week Of Rehearsals

Okay, our first week of rehearsals is done aaaaaand... so is the script!

Let me try to explain this while also honoring Dan's privacy about his writing process... ...Atheist was originally written as part of NaPliWriMo... it was written in a month, and Dan basically used every device he could think of to get from point A to point B.  

When I got that script (approx. 75 pages in length) I thought "hey, this is really awesome and inventive and fun! I'd love to do it! It probably needs to lose 10 pages or so and there are a couple of moments where I'm totally lost, but otherwise, I'm good". But this was not to come to pass.  As Dan went back through the script, he noticed large-scale changes that needed to be made and thus ended up doing a much more major re-write (that also shortened the play by 20 pages including added new material).

The end result is a much more tightly focused (and tightly wound) piece of work.  It relentlessly barrels forward from beginning to end AND the journey we're all going on is a lot clearer.  It's a pretty amazing piece of work.

The play divides into two parts, one largely comic one largely serious, yesterday as we read through the final draft of the script, I saw the second half of the play in my head, moment to moment, how it would look and sound and feel.  Now, the chances that whatever we end up developing will match that vision even 50% of the time is probably 1 in 10, but the point is, my initial impulses towards the material were immediately there, which for me as a director is a sign that I'm connected and ready to work.

We've been doing some character work by focusing on the idea of archetypes. Host desecration plays and vaudeville acts both relied heavily on easily recognizable archetypes, so I'm trying to use our vision of these characters in the popular imagination as a window in to how they should be played. What do we think about when we think about outspoken, angry atheists? Or shady salesmen? Or a female leftist Tenured College Professor?

That last one is particularly interesting, because we're trying to use the Right's idea of a female leftists Tenured College Professor (which is obviously villainous) as opposed to the Left's idea (whihc would be more heroic). Which also goes to show you in a fractured postmodern culture that you have to worry about whose archetypes you're using.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Some Vaudeville Thoughts

I'm reading Trav S.D.'s No Applause-- Just Throw Money to get more in touch with the vaudeville aspects of the play.

Two things just within the first ten pages of the book are relevant to The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist

First: Medicine Shows. Medicine Shows were a precursor to vaudeville in which companies would travel around doing sketch comedy and songs to help hawk alcohol based remedies and... um... morphine. ... Atheist is a medicine show on two fronts, selling both black-market viagra and the very concept of "belief" as cures to what ails ya. (If you're interested, here be some amazing pictures of medicine show performers including-- consider yourself warned if such things offend you-- a blackface artist)

Second: The idea of variety . Vaudeville shows were first and foremost variety shows. Or, as Trav puts it:

Over the course of a couple of hours the vaudeville audience might encounter singers, comedians, musicians, dancers, trained animals, female-impersonators, acrobats, magicians, hypnotists, jugglers, contortionists, mind readers, and a wide variety of strange, uncategorizable performers usually lumped into the category of "nuts".

In ...Atheist the audience witnesses a variety show except the variety is all kept within the confines of the play itself. The variety is in the genres and rules that the play constantly adjusts (one moment it's a goofy musical, the next it's a serious act of story telling, there's a magic trick that goes awry etc.)

One of my main jobs as director on this thing to help give the play enough concreteness that it's not bewildering to the performers and audience, and maybe this idea of a succession of variety acts (that's still always the same performers telling the same story! yikes!!) is a helpful way of doing that.