Conference Notes

Notes from the Mid-America Theatre Conference in Kansas City MO, 2005

By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2005 Geralyn Horton

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 relevance.

Why? What is it I have that you might want, and why should you want it???

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, instruments
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, visions.

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, 2nd City

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

Hobnob Project

locate software

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 directions?

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 mind easily

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

overlapping boundaries

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 diary character.

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 with

quiet female took on the persona of Dracula

blog format:
"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 by them.

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 dinner

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

web sites:

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 of play

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 year.

Class criticism tends to make writers conscious of action

2nd semester is realism, 3rd nonrealism; which most students don't understand.

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 etc.

Have New Script Ensemble, working together MFAs

New Script Development group creates scripts together, includes improv.

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.... deal randomly.

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, Dresden.

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 failed reading

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 reputation.


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