Notes from the Mid-America
Theatre Conference in Kansas City MO, 2005
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2005
Subject: MATC Notes-- creating plays for the elderly with Dementia
Shirley Hudson Finlay College of Wooster (Ohio?)
playwright, acting teacher
Working with the elderly w/dementia, enabling them to use their
imagination and what memories they still have to construct stories
that give them a sense of meaning and control and pleasure in
the Moment, beyond the expectations they can no longer fill. Contrast
with Therapists who drill them in basics like "What day of
the week is this? What's your daughter's name?" That's all
downhill: no one w/ dementia "gets better".
Re: Goffman (Presentation of Self in Everyday Life)
we take on masks and costumes and rules: eg, don't belch.
Applied to Dementia: lost contact with context, rules are broken,
they need to be cued for simple routine things.
Our society doesn't listen to the old who have dementia-- they
lose their sense of self, and social value.
1998 founded Time Slips Project.
shift from memory to imagination, storytelling through ritual.
GO WHERE THE PATIENT IS Rather than trying to rebuild the person
whom they used to be.
uses picture prompts.
starts by reading last week's story--- which they will have forgotten
that they wrote but they will enjoy it anyway: can't build w/
dementia, every instance is new and w/o recent context.
patients free associate w/ visual or verbal prompt and with each
other, create group stories void of inhibition, and delight in
hearing them read or acted.
Finlay uses what works w/ dementia as exercises for writers and
for plays of her own; has founded a community based theatre collective
with the elderly.
Roots & Branches is elders and NYU students
Receives both academic and social services support.
Subject: So We're Going to the Theatre! Why?
Karen Paisley Kansas City Rep: development and outreach
"Relevant" is relative.
What's hot in NYC may not be for our community. If we want an
accountant to come, and he doesn't know why he should, we have
to tell him why.
Did a beautiful production of Pirates of Penzance, made it work
for the schools; material, actors, study guides for teachers:
how can something as distant as English aristocracy matter to
inner-city kids? The Pirates aren't so different from Gangs, and
flip flopping from ruthlessness to idealism is eternal adolescent.
Took photos of classes that came, presented with posters and programs
and video, as a permanent gift to the school library.
Not just get kids to come once, but make it part of their lives.
STARS Support The Arts (R?) Schools.
Remove the financial obstacles. Charge "pay what you can",
but something b/c they don't respect what given free and we're
training them to buy a ticket.
Relate the theatre's main mission to audience motivation. Communicate
Why? What is it I have that you might want, and why should you
Don't be afraid to say "Truth and Beauty", or to follow
TCG's Ben Cameron's example and preach the spiritual value of
the Art of Theatre! It is Transcendent!
Make clippings from local newspapers every day, what is my community
interested in? Immigration is important to immigrants legal and
illegal, and to all citizens, and it is under-discussed. Did "View
From the Bridge" in a community center with live translation
into Spanish and discussions. These characters are our young people's
grandparents: they don't see them as Italians, but as fellow immigrants.
Paisley's favorite is Arthur Miller: all his plays move people
across the divides of class and background, and invite us to see
ourselves as a community and ask "how should we live together"?
In doing audience development, begin with the end in mind and
match your resources to it. Know where you want to go!
We inherit a top down leadership model, but that's not Utopia.
Converse with the people in your town, make them colleagues.
Teachers are being forced to teach to a test driven curriculum,
anything you can do to help them widen the horizon without blowing
the tests makes them your friend.
Even the elementary schools are important. In fact there may
be a window of opportunity to awaken love of theatre, and it closes
young. So go to the young, but take the real thing, not watered
down pap. Be in their space--- go where the people are, don't
be afraid to leave the lighting. If theatre comes and they want
it, they will build a bridge. Teach on a stage, not in a lecture
hall. Share the stage space, invite the community into it.
Penelope Cole and Steven Hayes-Pollard
Big Moment: digital video feed to Leister Sq in London, cable,
students' show "seen internationally"
process inspired by Churchill, movement companies, Kauffman.
set w/ kids to do actor-driven show w/ included dance & music
from Boulder/Denver 6m, 6w, all had worked w/ teachers before.
each student had multiple production assignments as well as acting
and administration gig.
signed up first, then brainstormed ideas re: Am/Scots culture
used the Old West, cowboys -- Steve, the writer teacher, was from
England so for him it was the mythic image aspects of West.
Plot: Shady cattleman send Wild West show to lure investors to
shady cattle deal.
Steve did some sketches, but 3 hour Sat workshop sorted out what
students could do.
Ensemble building exercises, improvs, animals, campfire songs,
masks, body work.
sections arrive at tableau vivant: w/ titles:
Attack on the Deadwood Stage (coach, not proscenium)
Perils of Pauline -- paying the rent
what's a stage? discovered that they didn't share vocabulary,
get to a performance style from this particular group.
Steve created the basic text.
Ensemble equality, 11 stars plus tech wizard.
Scot Free! an extravaganza ---
140 sound cues, 40 were pop or folk songs
36 movement moments w/ fights, dances, acrobatics
Star Trek and Train Spotting incorporated
style derived from Scottish Country dance and square dance improved
by doing the dances in character.
Red River Valley--- melodrama
text was constantly changing, still cutting dress rehearsal,
and when changing venue during post-Fest tour; actors owned rather
than resisted changes.
played at Covet Garden Market, 1st performance sucked, the next
day it was in the round and wonderful.
Subject: Scripting Plays for Interactive Multimedia
Kathryn Farley, Dan Zellner
how to write for hybrid, w/images
Farley: studied w/ Mary Zimmerman, Frank Galati, creates using
tools that students use in their daily life, part of Farley family,
Zellner: Studio Z on Net (Second City, comedia, story theatre,
virtual Vaudeville === a video game)
uses computer based technologies, visible on stage, let the strings
show projected imagery moves and is immersive, performer in the
piece, collaboration with designers, can be changed up until opening
night dates for signing off on imergy
Banff project, in a week's time from different parts of the world
brings script from drafts through elements
create a features list for software programmers
moments in a selected text: Dracula familiar text more imaginatively
develop a syllabus
moments-- first bite -- visual basis vs text re: literary collaborators
in different countries
goals: multiple points of view some of which are not known to
the characters. how do you lock down imagery or dialog or stage
multimedia suitable for multiple choices and in a contested history
such as Dusablem the founder of Chicago; facts and significance
all in dispute.
Electronic Visualization Labs
first person (shooter) 3 screens for narrative, branched
storyboards appear to be drawn
objects can tell the story or they can be characters in the story.
3 D design was so labor intensive that you can't change your
too flexible, must invent limitations
visual people are fixated on pixels of green, 1000's of choices:
must sign off on moments and secure time for humans to rehearse
in an environment with some constants set and in place
design had more of an effect on dialog than vice versa
adapters don't use diary form --- blogs, journal. parameters:
"what would happen if Dracula came to campus?" focusing
on the Art Dorm. meet a character first and then meet others through
news report of landing -- small animals in a state of excitement,
students admitted to health services.
unconsciously began to embody the character they most identify
quiet female took on the persona of Dracula
"Lucy the oddest things happen when you live at Jones..."
technology references Renfield, he will give me the power to carry
on and thrive. "Good evening, Dear Journal" blend in
with== place to study, but not my homework.
juxtaposition of the reading of diaries and the imagery suggested
back screen projection, played from a computer triggering images.
Improv Kitchen Project
plasma screens on every table ad lib TV
green screen: actors can hear everything audience is saying during
programmers can you tell me the basic elements of the character
so I can pick 5 parameters to write an algorithms like "if
you do X then Y6" \what would we name it and what is gained
by splitting it off.
how different from Lepage and June Lune?
mimetic vs interior
Satie somebody to build him a light organ-- we're doing this.
poetry for the scene designer, plus choreograph the entire environment
writing text that gives parameters of relationship
Subject: Another Way to Work -- Developing Plays in Mid-America
David Rush Southern Illinois U.Carbondale
Heads PhD program with creative dissertation & w/ full production
Writer is to "go out into the community and generate a production
of your play -- your own." How the hell do you DO that?
Rush is Chicago Dramatists emeritus, does his students SICU plays
(Carbondale) yearly using Chicago talent, which is good enough
to show the writer the play.
Also connected to Stage Left-- funnels scripts there
1/3 of his teaching is the contacts he can make for his students.
Karen Paisley- lit manager & Outreach, Kansas City Rep
Collaborative lab is where developmental work happens
KCR has educational K-12 component, audience outreach component,
Collab is the artistic component.
Actors need to be together and do their art
Collab process is actor driven
Sends people out into the community
Professional theatre is economically driven, but stories become
the fabric of our whole life, they heal us.
Warns writers: a cover letter matters
Never get too busy to sit down and make work.
Roger Gross --- U of Arkansas and California Shakespeare Festival
UA curriculum begins w/ 10 min play 3 basics: individualized
characters, action, structure. Students will write 8 of them 1st
Class criticism tends to make writers conscious of action
2nd semester is realism, 3rd nonrealism; which most students
Assignment: find a theme and write a play in each form.
4th term is screenwriting, sit com-- that's group writing for
an existing show.
2 film scripts, one full length and a short that will actually
be made into a film
Begin w/ adaptation, small based on poem, painting, or song
Next solo play, dramatic monologue.
Interdisciplinary work: good collaboration with directing students
Have New Script Ensemble, working together MFAs
New Script Development group creates scripts together, includes
MFA actors take on new scripts
Full production of each playwright grads full length play--one
made main season.
Best way to help writers is by seeing what their specific difficulty
is and giving them an particular exercise to crack it: instance,
people who come from lit and think plays are dialogue rather than
creating behavior: they should write a realistic play in which
no one speaks. For "thinkers" Goss assigns five mins
free writing, no hesitations allowed.
"36 dramatic situations" -- one assignment uses this,
students think it's a joke but it is not.
Assign them to write a play to fit a strange title.
3 deck shuffle exercise: words on cards: set, character, situation....
Assigns random speech patterns based on grammar for characterizations
Exercises work: one of the 24 hour plays won a bunch of contests
Independent interwoven monologues ACTF in Washington.
David McTear Rockhurst U.
adapts Shakespeare-- Kennedy Center committee
multimedia presentation w/ dvd
teaches at a Jesuit U w/ focus on social justice
mental illness and creativity
Installation in gallery via loops
Effect of war on women nonpolarizing exploration re: Trojan Women
Hecuba character and a chorus of women
Audience walks into a bombed out museum exhibit on the Trojan
War, empty frames and statue case, swathed body on floor who comes
to life, bemoans, using found text by women who are carrying women's
experience of war in the last century incorporating found text.
Hecuba speaks only classic, chorus speaks only primary source
material on more recent war experience.
General figure speaks extracts from speeches by general(s).
Soldiers don't speak
rear projection screen 9 by 12
"Dead can dance" section: speeches over music --from
Tibet, Congo, Palestine, Berlin, Guatemala, Uganda, Sierra Leone,
Dance to Bang On a Can's I Lost a Sock
video of children and women and injuries of war.
major contribution by choreographer who worked out body imagery.
Frank Higgins -- U of Missouri, KC, U. of Iowa pro playwright
"The Sweet Bye and Bye" "The Taste Test"
Writer war stories: Balliwick Theatre, Barter Theatre after a
dictated into tape recorder a grand Ole Opry play about local
music for AD of theatre: 3 top actors read it --- the play that
was produced killed the new play program at that theatre.
Went to Ashland New Plays Fest -- woman in charge at Ashland
thought women wouldn't behave as they did in the Higgin's play.
When competing playwrights critique each other within the company,
that is a Bad thing-- one shot him down but it wasn't that writer
who got the benefit, but 3rd.
Reading at Cherry Lane, contract was like pre-nup w/o even a
blind date: no deal.
done by Theatre Virginia
Olympia Dukakis got sit-com, had to bow out.
Virginia Stage was going to do miracles, but AD was fired; new
AD Chris Hanna knew him, picked Stock Market.
In spite of difficulties, New Plays are the quickest way for
anybody like an AD or director or star actor to get a national