FlyOver: March 2008 Archives

Does reality trump fiction? Are there some experiences so close, so raw, that they need to be made into art only by those who experienced them?

In early February, a student veterans' group at the University of Oregon produced a show that was very much based on "reality," a show that might be called a work of nonfiction. The play, called Telling, featured the stories of the actors and other veterans who were students at the UO. More than 20 student vets spent the summer talking about their experiences with two writers (one staff member and one grad student). The students then took a fall-quarter course on stage movement and acting with the chair of the theater department, who signed on to direct the play. They started off winter quarter with intense rehearsals of the script the playwrights produced. The play ran for three performances in Eugene's Veterans' Memorial Hall (where Ken Kesey used to hang out, back in the day, or so they say).

Some of the veterans who acted in Telling were anti-war when they entered the service, and some are anti-war now (but certainly not all of them). Some of them didn't serve in Iraq or Afganistan. Their politics aren't cohesive, and there's a range of ages, experience levels and backgrounds. They told me that the recorded play would eventually be up on their website (though I haven't found it yet), where you can also read more about each actor and her background, should you want to.

I wrote a cover story in advance of the play for my paper. I attended three or four rehearsals, read the script and interviewed the students, the playwrights, the director and a writer who acted as a "consultant" for the process. Though the play itself had a variety of rough moments -- thanks to the demands of melding two dozen veterans' stories into some sort of narrative to be performed by 10 people, few of whom had any acting experience -- I found the entire experience both infuriating and moving.

A week and a half ago, journalist David Wright published an essay about the play on Inside Higher Ed. Although in my piece I record two actors jokingly referring to taking the play to D.C., I now hear this may not have been a mere rumor. And the goal of the playwrights and some of the student veterans is to export the model to other campuses -- to help other student veteran groups find some way to connect with the rest of campus. I'm glad they're getting some national attention for this process of producing art as a way to build community dialogue, But as a theater reviewer, I wonder if I have been in some way spoiled by my immersion in this story for other plays about the Iraq War.

March 31, 2008 4:15 AM | | Comments (1)

Vasantasena (center, Miriam A. Laube) jests with her servant Madanika (Eileen DeSandre) and her confidant Libertine (Tyrone Wilson). Photo by David Cooper.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival first opened its doors in 1935, when English prof Angus Bowmer ran three performances in a "festival" over the Fourth of July weekend, two of Twelfth Night and one of The Merchant of Venice. WIth a hiatus for WWII, the festival has been running since then. Funny story about the first one, recounted at every Backstage Tour (the backstage tour is most tremendously fun; I've been on, I think, four so far and will go again this year): The city government worried that the Shakespeare plays wouldn't make any money and decided to run a boxing match during the day to make up for projected Shakespeare losses. Ennnh! (Buzzer sound.) The boxing match lost money; the plays made money -- and the plays bailed out the boxing losses.

The OSF runs 11 plays (four Shakespeare and seven by contemporary or "classic" playwrights) a season, in rep, on three stages, with 783 total performances during the February-November runs (not all plays run at all times). There aren't usually boxing matches although, of course, any production of As You Like It contains the Orlando v. Charles wrestling match. Ashland's just off of I-5, 3 hours south of Eugene and about 5-6 hours (your mileage may vary) north of the Bay Area. It's 19 miles from the California border, and most of the OSF's patrons come from Cali (something like 45 percent, with 35-40 percent from Oregon), so it's no surprise that many of the plays (last year's Tracy's Tiger and  Distracted and this year's Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, for instance) contain many, many California references. The audiences laugh a lot; Oregonians like me get annoyed but understand. You can see clips and listen to longer info pieces here.

In any case, info dump aside, the OSF has never produced a "non-Western" play. Not as in non-Gunsmoke or something, but as in non-Western-literature play. Until now.
March 24, 2008 9:47 AM | | Comments (2)

Should promoting audience etiquette be part of our jobs?

I'm thinking about this because of a Guardian UK blog post about theater etiquette.

I'm also thinking about it because in the town where I grew up (which I believe Terry Teachout calls something like a "second-tier" city, in no doubt much more elegant terms), the classical music critic for the daily paper wrote about audience etiquette. I'd say "often" or "a few times," but the truth is that just because I have strong memories of the few times doesn't mean it was, or wasn't, often.

That critic, whose work I remember reading in high school and perhaps college, was Scott Cantrell, now of the Dallas Morning News. (I emailed him to see if I was making this up; I'll update when I get a reply.)

March 14, 2008 8:53 AM | | Comments (3)

Jen's Arts Day may be over, but I have a question: Should arts journalists be arts advocates?

If so, how should we do that -- simply by writing about the arts? Or should we do things like go easier on a theater company or art gallery that is having a hard financial time? What's our responsibility to our communities and to the arts that we cover?

What about podcasts (I like those of Jen Graves at The Stranger, Q&As (Rich is really good at this on his blog), panels and other ways for arts writers to get the news out about the arts?

Maybe this is a "duh." As in, "Duh, Suzi, if we aren't arts advocates, we won't have jobs at all." But I'd like to hear what others think about ethics, balancing reviews and previews and informational articles, mixing financial analyses with the desire for local arts groups to, well, keep on going, etc.

March 7, 2008 4:10 AM | | Comments (2)

Yo! Eugene checking in.

I'm Suzi Steffen, career graduate student, still (after almost two years) thrilled to have a job where they pay me to write. Even though I adore that job -- as performing and visual arts editor (and copy editor -- small paper) at The Eugene Weekly -- I'd rather be living in Portland. But I guess that wouldn't be flyover-land, and I'd be sad not to be living my dream and blogging for Flyover.

I'm a rather serious person, given to long contemplation of Serious Topics About Art and Architecture and Books and Funding and Music and Theater, but I also like LOLcats. I expect both to influence my posts here.

March 5, 2008 4:30 AM | | Comments (1)
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