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2014: excavation review themes

01 cover [crop]

Crop of  the Chance Magazine issue 3 subscriber cover title line. Issues 3 and 4 of Chance were completed, printed, and delivered to subscribers and newsstands in 2014.

I have now accumulated four years of comprehensive listings of performance events (2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) that took me into a performance space of one kind or another. The listings now seem to represent my memory, and certainly provide a physical illustration of the ebb and flow of activity month to month during these particular calendar years. The listings include theatrical performances, screenings, readings, and panel discussions and presentations. If I’m in a seat in a performance space, odds are that I list the event.

During my seasons as a Drama Desk nominator (2012-2013 and 2013-2014), my theater consumption topped 300 productions each May-April season, maximizing new creative input for me to process and minimizing time to process each experience. When I relinquished that nominator responsibility after the 2013-2014 season after our nominations were announced at Studio 54, my gluttonous pace of theater calmed down.

As I seek a “new normal” balance of observing and writing about what I’ve seen, my writing during 2014, as in 2013, fell into several categories.

Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Critics Institute.

In 2013 I visited the O’Neill campus as a guest to wander the grounds and attend a reading, and explore the Monte Cristo Cottage where O’Neill spent time as a child and which the O’Neill Center now maintains as a house museum. In 2014 I was accepted as a Fellow to the National Critics Institute, led by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, and learned from masters of the craft over two weeks of what we all call (with a smile) “critics boot camp.” We wrote about experiences that were exercises not to be published with our critical observations of works in progress on the O’Neill grounds during our time there, including I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard that begins previews at the Atlantic Theatre Company on January 7, 2015. We also worked on short pieces of criticism we were allowed to publish — on film (Jersey Boys and Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun) and off-campus theatrical adventures (A Lie of the Mind, All Shook Up, Fiddler on the Roof, and Gypsy). The NCI colleagues I met and the experiences lived in Waterford may have changed the trajectory of my writing career.

Chance Magazine.

In 2014 I wrote occasionally about individual productions that especially moved me, but my creative energies were focused in large part on Chance Magazine issue 3 and issue 4. Through the year I had general editorial duties as well as primary writing responsibilities on specific articles including a monograph on Ming Cho Lee (for issue 3) and an extensively researched essay on the Lake Lucille Chekhov Project (for issue 4).

I attended and wrote about a Chance photo shoot featuring actors from Annie-B Parson’s Big Dance Company that resulting in a photo spread in Chance issue 4. And I led and participated in regular meetings to manage articles in development (pieces on Maria Irene Fornes and the dance-design collaborations of Martha Graham + Isamu Noguchi + Jean Rosenthal among them). There are plans in the pipeline for Chance to be part of the Prague Quadrennial in June 2015, and I expect to write about that as plans are explored and then finalized.

HowlRound, Dramatics and TDF Stages.

Publication development is a great adventure but costly; at Chance we all have been working essentially for free during this start-up phase. Happily, I also wrote for coin for some other outlets in 2014.

I have been thrilled this past year to join the NewCrit staff for HowlRound, writing about theater-related subjects from my current birth in New York City. I interviewed Jill Rafson about her role as dramaturg and creative partner on The Mysteries at the Flea Theater; edited a conversation between Cecilia Friederichs and sound designer Fitz Patton on the Tony Awards decision to eliminate the sound design award; interrogated actor-writer-director Daniel Talbott and actor Sam Soule on their long collaborative relationship; mused with playwright Brett Neveu on boxing as metaphor and great theater; experienced the wonders of the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short play Festival; and pondered the site-inspired work of Peculiar Works Project. I have other articles for HowlRound in the pipeline; I’ve been thrilled to join their team this year.

I drew upon my research for Chance monographs and other inspirations to craft a piece for Dramatics Magazine on Jo Mielziner and Boris Aronson that appeared in September 2014. Another tie-in to my constant work with designers on Chance was an invitation to write a piece for TDF Stages on the TDF Costume Collection.

Panel Discussions and Public Interviews.

Wingspace Theatrical Design in Brooklyn hosted representatives from Chance at a late March 2014 salon to talk about achievements during our first production year and plans in place for our second. Several Drama Desk-sponsored events captured my imagination on topics ranging from promoting Broadway to the range of Shakespeare performances during the 2013-2014 season.

I missed several panels and events sponsored by an organization in which I have enjoyed membership over the past few years — the League of Professional Theatre Women, yet did attend and write about a LPTW-sponsored public discussion with the witty Mercedes Reuhl.

The Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas sponsored a panel at the CUNY Grad Center on the dramaturg as producer. And several individuals with long histories at the O’Neill Theater Center and a 2014 book published on the O’Neill’s 50th anniversary held a discussion with each other and an enthusiastic audience at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Women Hired Off-Broadway 2010-2014.

I wrote a report on 2010-2014 Off-Broadway hiring trends published by LPTW after analyzing data initially collected by LPTW colleague Judy Binus. The data project report was developed in part to address the lack of attention to Off-Broadway hiring and production trends among the rich sets of research and advocacy on behalf of women in theater that have emerged in recent years.

Film Musings and Serendipity.

As in 2013’s musings on Anatomy of a Murder and Stephen Sondheim, I shared a post during the year about a resonant and beloved film story that involves several folks who informed the balance of my experiences all year long. I continue to work with Jeff Sweet, writer of the O’Neill history published in 2014, on several books involving theatrical folks — one on contemporary playwrights and a second on the history of the Yale Repertory Theatre. During these 2014 conversations, many individuals mentioned Herb Gardner — author of A Thousand Clowns.

2015 promises to be full of Chance and talking to playwrights and observing theatrical design and many more hours in theaters. And perhaps a few more paid writing gigs.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 4, 2015)

[from] Art of the Night (1928) by George Jean Nathan

“If you have violent prejudices, do not be afraid of them.”
“Take your work seriously, but not yourself.”
“A sound piece of criticism has never yet been spoiled by an injection of humor."

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