Professional Courtesy

Over the weekend, I found this post on HowlRound and it elicited a huge reaction from me. The story of my relationship with professional theatre definitely has a happy ending, but bears some striking similarities to the tale of Mr. Keel.

I’ve been a professional theatre-maker for most of my life. I had the good fortune to attend a performing arts high school, which gave me the training and know-how I needed to navigate New York’s professional scene from a very young age. I bought backstage every week; sent out headshots, resumes, and cover letters; went on auditions; booked jobs; and generally worked my tail off while going to high school. By the time I got to college, I was jaded enough to know that a four-year conservatory program wasn’t going to give me what I wanted; a full time career in the arts wasn’t about spending my college tuition money cultivating my art, it was about figuring out how to work with what I had. I bypassed the BFA in favor of a more “real world marketable” degree and continued my training on the side at some of New York’s many studios where such things were possible.

After college, I worked my way around a bit (both in and out of the field). It was during a

High school me performing in "The Laramie Project"

High school me performing in “The Laramie Project”

conservatory production of Twelfth Night at a big-name regional theatre that I experienced my career turning point. While I had learned a great many things from this company over the years (having trained and worked there several times), it was clear that the program I was embroiled in at that moment didn’t understand me, didn’t encourage me, and didn’t feed my art. I had found myself in an artistic dead space; while those around me could hear their ideas and emotions “resound” within the conservatory, mine were continually disregarded and devalued. Needless to say, I was depressed and lonely and just wanted to finish up my time there so I could go home, lick my wounds, and figure out if this whole “full time theatre professional” thing was really going to work out for the rest of my life. It came to a head one evening during a tech rehearsal in which the director, frustrated with the speed at which tech was running, stopped rehearsal to tell me (in front of the entire cast and production team) that I was “an idiot” for not understanding his clear-as-mud direction, and further elucidating how stupid I must be if I couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me.

That pretty much convinced me that I wasn’t cut out to be an actor. It wasn’t okay that someone felt like they could talk to me that way, it wasn’t okay that I had no recourse about it (what was I going to do, walk out of the rehearsal and never return?), and it wasn’t okay that if I did decide to take action I would be the one bearing the negative label for the rest of my career as someone who was “difficult to work with”. I finished the run, but packed in the trunk and retired from the stage, refocusing my energies on other things.

It took many years for me to want to come back to theatre. While I loved so many things about it, the negatives far outweighed the positives. Professional theatre seemed like a pleasant daydream; good for the young and naïve but in actuality not realistic if you wanted to work, live, and be treated like a human being. Hence my relationship with the term “professional” became fraught; professionalism and the lessons I learned as a professional theatre-maker were things I carried with me in all walks of life. Be fifteen minutes early, come prepared with your work, have a pencil on hand to take notes, bring a water bottle, make eye contact, communicate clearly… I could go on. But for that, being a full-time professional actor had baggage that I simply didn’t want to carry with me. I was angry. I was hurt. I was upset that I had spent so long hanging my hopes on a star that turned out to be a time bomb.

For me, after several years of staying away altogether and then an easy transition back into the theatre via teaching and mentoring (which I absolutely love), I can once again say that I am a “theatre professional” (or was I always a “professional” and just took some time off?). As you know, I now have several levels of theatrical involvement, all of which I consider “professional” engagements: I review, I fight direct, I dramaturge, I text coach, I teach, and (when the mood hits, but only when the mood hits), I perform. But that’s not the case for everyone. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones.

And I think that this, unfortunately, isn’t an uncommon experience. I think there are a fair number of folks who wanted to go pro, trained to go pro, and for one reason or another had to back away from the life of full-time professional theatre-making. Unfortunately, this experience can leave a bad taste in the mouth; we all have our reasons for breaking up with Thespis. As with any breakup, it’s painful and unpleasant, and the way that you handle that pain will determine your attitude about running into your ex at parties.

More often than not, performing looks way more like this for me these days. (Photo courtesy of Al Foote II Theatrical Photography)

More often than not, performing looks way more like this for me these days. (Photo courtesy of Al Foote II Theatrical Photography)

There are some who return to the theatre on an amateur level because they simply love making art. Theatre is a part of their blood, and just because they didn’t want to do it professionally doesn’t mean they should stop entirely. This is the best kind of community theatre: theatre made with perfect love. There are others for whom theatre on anything less than a professional level will have “the stench of failure”; they’re bitter, they’re angry, and they simply can’t let go of the past. This, I think, is part of where the “amateur” or “community” theatre stigma comes from; the idea that theatre made for pleasure is somehow “lesser than” theatre made for profit.

Let me make one thing clear: you have not “failed” for choosing a life that sustains and supports you. You have not “failed” for choosing a job with a steady paycheck and benefits, that will allow you to work human hours and be able to see your family on the weekends. You have not “failed” for not wanting to put your very soul on the stage eight shows a week for audiences, directors, and critics who may or may not be appreciative. You have not “failed” for refusing to do things that are degrading and/or embarrassing simply because you need to work this week and it’s the only job available right now. And you certainly have not “failed” for choosing to return to the theatre on your own terms, in your own time, in a way that fulfills your desire to make art.

Why is it “bad” or “wrong” to want to make theatre under any circumstances possible? Why is one person’s desire to perform seen as inconsequential or smaller than another’s simply because the first person isn’t being paid for their work and the second is? And what made us “professionals” fall in love with theatre in the first place? It certainly wasn’t the “spectacular” paychecks…

The “community theatre” stigma needs to be put to the side. I’m not saying that you have to sit through every amateur production of Oklahoma! you find in the papers with a willing heart and gracious applause, but let’s at least have some consideration for fellow artists. Everyone walks a hard road; why should we make it harder for each other when the world’s already a cruel place for us theatre types?

Drunk Shakespeare

Since I’m in dissertation land, time flows in strange bobs. For example: we returned from New York City over a week ago and I still haven’t managed to blog about one of the best parts of the trip: a performance of Macbeth by the Drunk Shakespeare Society!

When my mom proposed the outing, I was a bit dubious. The evening bills itself as a small ensemble of actors getting drunk and doing Shakespeare. “Well”, thought I, “This will either be completely insane and amusing, or a train-wreck of a disaster such that I simply won’t be able to look away and I’ll have no recourse but to blog about it passive aggressively in hopes that one of the actors googles himself and my blog entry pops up in the search results.” Lucky for all of us, it was an experience of the first degree.

The Drunk Shakespeare Society performs six shows a week in one of those NYC spaces that, through careful diligence, transforms from a hole in the wall to a magic fairy land of entertainment. They’ve annexed a room in the Lounge at 400 West 43rd (right next to a seedy Comedy Club) and transformed it into what feels like a society subscription library. Books are arrayed in every corner, splayed on oak bookshelves, and arranged by color. You’re basically sitting inside a Victorian library that had a bit too much Pride to be stifled by the social restrictions of alphabetization.

The premise is that one of the actors gets completely ferschnockered before your eyes, and the ensemble then performs a 90-minute cut of one of Shakespeare’s more famous pieces. The drunken actor generally takes the lead (so for us it was the gentleman playing Macbeth who took the dive) and is supported by the rest of the talented cast. To enhance the experience, you can pay extra to participate as the King and Queen for the evening, which entitles you and one guest to a crown, throne, a bell to ring and effect the play’s action, champagne, caviar, and home-hade chocolates. We didn’t spring for the throne,

And, of course, you can totally just steal the throne for pictures after the show.

And, of course, you can totally just steal the throne for pictures after the show.

but it was fun to watch others as they made the play for it. Apparently you can pre-purchase it; though the evening we were there it was up for auction before the performance.

In terms of talent, the company is not to be missed. Forget the gimmick, improv, and the smart additions to the script; these are some pretty well trained classical thespians with acting chops to match their colossal livers. And trust me, I don’t say that about everybody I see bark out a sonnet onstage.

What was most exciting was to see how these actors engaged with the text in a way that got their audience similarly engaged. And the folks in the audience weren’t necessarily folks I would expect to see at your run-of-the-mill production of Macbeth. At one point, as I was watching an actor and an audience member race to shotgun a beer while the fate of the play rested in the outcome of the race (…I learned all kinds of things that night… including that “shotgunning a beer” is a thing that not only exists, but can be included in sportsmanship competitions), I realized that this was perhaps one of the most noble arts endeavors I had seen in recent time. Here was, writing a dissertation on how Americans made Shakespeare their own in the post-Revolution years, and I was witnessing first-hand the modern incarnation of the age-old phenomenon.

Because, you see, Edwin Booth didn’t perform Hamlet “AS SHAKESPEARE WROTE IT”. Edwin Booth performed Hamlet as Edwin Booth wanted to perform Hamlet. Nineteenth century American actors basically re-wrote the text to conform to cultural norms of the time. Heck, King Lear as written by Shakespeare was removed from the repertory for hundreds of years because it was simply too sad (…they instead performed a version written by Englishman Nahum Tate somewhere around 1681 which wasn’t eradicated from the stage until circa 1838). So what were these slightly intoxicated actors doing if not following the noble line of history in updating a cultural phenomenon to make it more appealing to a mass audience?

And you know what, anything that anyone can do to make Shakespeare appealing to a mass audience while remaining hat-tippingly respectful of the text is fine by me. As much as I tout myself as a “purist”, I’m a purist who enjoys a good laugh like anyone else. So long as you’re not billing yourself as “AUTHENTIC SHAKESPEARE” but rather some kind of adaptation or alteration, so long as you’re enjoying and having fun and making art to help others do so as well, so long as you’re not causing trauma to unsuspecting middle schoolers and forcing them to swear off the bard for the rest of their earthly existences, do that voodoo you do. The world will be a better place for it.

Anyway, if you get half a chance, you really need to check out Drunk Shakespeare. It’s a hoot, holler, and everything between. I think it would be particularly useful/inciting for those who don’t feel that they enjoy Shakespeare, or perhaps that they haven’t yet found some kind of understanding of it. DS is definitely a good gateway drunk to the world of all things Bardy. Especially if you enjoy one of their (admittedly overpriced) cocktails with the show; that will definitely get the brain wheels greased and ready for action.


It’s the end of the semester which means that I’ve received what I’ve now come to regard as an end-of-semester tradition: the Facebook friend requests from students who were in my classes.

Since my students are millennials who grew up in the digital era, and since I do spend so much time speaking about social media in my classes, it’s not strange that they should seek me out or otherwise find me on the Internet. Let’s get real: when’s the last time you’ve had someone be a part of your life for any significant period of time and didn’t bother to Google or Facebook them? As I’ve so often said, the Internet is a monstrous facet of the modern era and it’s not going away. We can either embrace it, or be doomed to obsoletion.

This shot of the BPL can, for instance, be found on my Instagram. And yet? I fear it not.

This shot of the BPL can, for instance, be found on my Instagram. And yet? I fear it not.

So yes, I do connect with my students via social media. My twitter feed is public (as is my Instagram, this blog, and most of my Pinterest boards), my Facebook profile has enough security checks on it that I am comfortable with what’s available to the world being public information. If and when students find me, I approve friend requests.

I know that this can cause no small amount of anxiety amongst teachers of any age. I think the vast amount of social media anxiety in regards to one’s students stems from either a lack of understanding about privacy features, or a lack of understanding about digital boundaries.

So let’s discuss how and why I keep my feeds so public.

Social media is an excellent networking resource. I have personally met future employers, kept track of contract employers, and connected people I know who could usefully utilize each others’ talents via Twitter and Facebook (connections which otherwise would have been difficult or impossible to make). I have made a digital portfolio available to potential clients via my Facebook and blog updates (I always make certain to blog or micro-blog from projects to keep this sort of record on hand). If you want the best summary of why I’m the right girl for a job, just spend some time looking at my social media feeds; they’ll tell you how hard-working I am, my relative fields of expertise, and enough about my personality that you’ll know if you want to work with me but not so much that you’ll feel like you’re looking at a tabloid.

It’s important to understand that social media doesn’t have to lay your soul open for the world to see. Social media is, very much, what you make of it. Do I occasionally do and say things which might not be construed as the most professional/that I wouldn’t want my students to find out? You bet I do. I’m human; it comes with the territory. Am I going to discuss those things or even advertise them via the public forums that are my social media feeds? Absolutely not! If I don’t put it on the internet, then it’s not magically out there waiting for someone to find.

I can understand the argument that, sometimes, others will post things to your feed which might hint at previously mentioned not-so-awesome activities and that might keep a working professional from connecting with mentees in cyberspace. This is truly a matter of knowing thy privacy settings. There are ways to ensure that content others post either doesn’t turn up on your public feed, or must be approved before going public. Understanding these options will allay the fear of being exposed in a way that you’re not ready (or willing) to be.

Social media connections are not synonymous with unhealthy mentor/mentee boundaries. In fact, I look at these connections as an extension of my mentorship. In a world of poor Facebook-public decisions, I hope that my students can view my social media feeds as a good example of how to handle a digital persona. After all, how are students meant to understand the best way to build themselves a valuable digital presence if those skills aren’t taught, discussed, or demonstrated to them? This is a teaching opportunity which can assist my students in developing life-skills which will carry them into the job market, far past their careers at the University.

This is not to say that it’s “wrong” to keep your social media feeds private. Everyone has their own comfort level with technology, and that needs to be respected. But just as the choice to maintain a locked-down internet presence is valid, so is the choice to curate a public online persona and to utilize that persona to further enrich the lives of your students.

Thanking You

What with finals around the corner and the end of the semester only kind of in sight, it can be tough for us grads to really enjoy what’s supposed to be a day off to reflect about all the things that make our lives pretty great.

While I can’t promise that I’ll refrain from opening a book until Campus opens again on Monday (our break is Wednesday – Sunday), I can honestly say that I’m going to take at least a moment to honor the spirit of the holiday.

To make sure I do, the following is a partial list of some of the things I am thankful for this year:

  • My incredible advisor who is a super hero, rock star, and academic pit bull all in one. Seriously, this lady is unbelievable. The fact that she does all of the things she does (president of this professional organization, top of that research field, leading expert in all kinds of things, teacher, mentor, philosopher…) is a feat of its own, but on top of everything she makes herself so available to her students. She has done more for me this year than I think I can possibly relate in words, and I am thankful every day for her guidance and wisdom.
  • For that matter; all of my mentors (past, present, and future). They let me ask potentially embarrassing questions without judging me (or at least without telling me that they’re judging me, which is really what counts), they even give me valuable answers despite their own packed research and travel schedules. Every day in dealing with my own students, I only hope to be as awesome to them students as my mentors have been to me.
  • The well-stocked school library with ILL privileges that will get me anything I need from anywhere in the world in a reasonable enough time. With a slight bit of forethought, I can have any book that I might want to put my hands on delivered to me so that I can read and love it. Hooray.
  • A supportive partner who knows when he needs to leave me alone so that I can deal with some red pen problems, when he needs to ask me questions about my work so that I can talk my way out of a funk, and when he just needs to let me cry at him about Edwin Booth.
  • Good smart friends and colleagues with sympathetic ears, appetites for good beer, and heads full of giant brains. As a note: should this year be the year of the inevitable zombie apocalypse, this item of gratitude to the universe would be written no differently. Brains.
  • Lots of tea. And espresso. Oh my espresso machine. And really anything that makes liquid caffeine. As a note: the rest of the world should also be thankful for this and the effect that it has on me. Nobody wants to deal with an uncaffeinated Dani. Trust me.
  •  All of the wonderful theatre companies who continue to include me in their creative plans. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great many incredible theatre-makers this year, and I look forward to continued opportunities to come.

Alright folks, that’s that. Go eat some turkey and be thankful that you’re not on line at the grocery store. Unless you are in which case you might want to consider how planning impacts your life, stress, and happiness.

Have a great holiday!

At the Opera

I used to be afraid of Opera.

I know that sounds weird. I mean, it’s not like I had nightmares about a heavy-set woman wearing a helmet with Viking horns and yellow braids chasing me down while singing “Flight of the Valkyries” in a piercing soprano (…though now that I put it that way, it does sound kind of horrifying). When I entered my PhD, despite having been a theatre person my entire life, I had never seen an Opera.

It just seemed daunting. There was so much popular entertainment baggage associated with it. So much society told me I should be if I went to an Opera: well bred, musically inclined, interested in melodrama, in possession of a fur coat and those tiny steam-punk binoculars… What happened if I found it boring? Or worse, what happened if I laughed at the ridiculousness of some big tragic moment put to song in a way that seemed in keeping with the genre tropes that my admittedly narrow-framed world view understood to be a part of the Operatic aesthetic?

Cut to one day in my first-year research methodologies course, the Professor going on some tangent about various “alternative” theatrical forms. He wound up in an Opera rut and paused when he realized that he was looking at a roomful of blank-blinking faces. “Who here has been to the Opera?” He asked.

Not a single one of us raised our hands.

He freaked out a little bit (not in a scary way, but definitely in a way which made an impression). I mean, he was kind of right. A roomful of various theatre professionals now entering their second-ish career in training to become theatrical experts and not a one of us had attended live Opera. There was something shameful about that; he knew it, and I think in our hearts we knew it. I vowed in that moment that I would make it my business to see an Opera as soon as I could.

I didn’t have to wait long. A couple months later, I was presented with tickets to La Traviata as an afternoon outing with a friend. We went. I swallowed my anxiety about what to wear, how much to read the subtitles and how much to look at the actors, and if I would have a good time, and let the music wash over me.

It was a great evening. AND I got to feel morally superior to boot since it was the same day as the Superbowl that year (…I mean really, I took in a great cultural moment and supported the arts while the rest of America grunted at their television sets…). Two years later, I review Opera on a regular basis and I’m working hard to introduce the art form into the lives of those around me.

It can be tough to work up the nerve to have a new experience. But especially when that new experience involves supporting the arts, it’s important to buck up and give it a try. Here in Boston we have all kinds of opportunities to see Opera: Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Opera Collaborative, Boston Metro Opera, and Geurilla Opera (to name a few professional companies). There’s also more “home-grown” student organizations such as the MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players, performances by New England Conservatory’s Opera Students, and performances by Opera students at the Boston Conservatory. Take a risk, take a chance; you might just (like me) discover something new and wonderful out there in the world.

The Parking Lot Rule

As you can imagine, I see a lot of theatre.

As a reviewer, PhD Candidate, fight director, and general denizen of the theatre community here in Boston, it’s important that I remain active and supportive on the theatre scene. It’s also important that I stay professional whenever I’m out at the theatre. For those who have read my reviews, you will know that I see theatre that’s good, theatre that’s not so good, and pretty much everything in between. While the casual observer perhaps isn’t concerned about being overheard at intermission yapping with their neighbor about this actor or that directing choice, I very much am. When I’m at the theatre, I represent several different brands that have backed me and my professional thespian skills: Tufts University, New England Theatre Geek, and my own brand as an FD (to name a few). The last thing I want to do is compromise any of these brands by letting a half-thought sentiment be overheard by the wrong person. Theatre is art. Art is personal. We theatre people take our theatre-babies very seriously.

....this is a photo of the time that I managed to improvise a song in rhyme while playing the ukelele for no reason other than I sure had things to say about the experience in the parking lot (good things.  All good things).

….this is a photo of the time that I managed to improvise a song in rhyme while playing the ukelele for no reason other than I sure had things to say about the experience in the parking lot (good things. All good things).

So I have developed a solution to the inevitable theatrical eavesdropping which might potentially get me in trouble. I call it “The Parking Lot Rule”.

This is a rule that I impart to all of my theatrical companions as they enter the theatre with me. It’s actually very simple: no matter how bad a play is, we don’t talk about it until we hit the parking lot of the building. While inside the theatre, we can praise the show’s good parts, but criticism waits until we are outside.

This accomplishes several things:

1) It curtails the issues I discuss above.

2) It forces you to think about criticism before spouting it in the heat of the moment. Theatre is visceral; humanity has known that since the Greeks; often times it can provoke a visceral reaction which bypasses your critical thinky muscles. To put something down in a harsh way without first examining your criticism is not fair to the artwork, and the parking lot rule helps you take a moment to step back and figure out why it is that you feel a certain way about something before you hurt anyone’s feelings.

3) It lets the play settle in before you make a snap judgment. Sometimes, you really need to see a piece in its entirety before you can determine your feelings on it; the parking lot rule gives you a bit of breathing room in which to make up your mind before you begin to discuss your thoughts. It also allows the “small stuff” to fall away. Sometimes things will catch your eye in the moment which, in the long run, mean nothing; the parking lot rule allows those details to fall into perspective before you render judgment.

4) It allows the theatre to remain a “sacred” space. Acting comes with a lot of woo, and much of it I don’t (personally) subscribe to; but I do believe this: the theatre space is a temple. When a company is performing in a given place, that’s their home for the duration of their run (sometimes longer depending upon circumstances of the play). You wouldn’t criticize somebody’s cooking while sitting on their couch; you shouldn’t criticize somebody’s acting while sitting in their theatre. The parking lot rule allots a certain amount of respect to the art which I believe is necessary for healthy audience/performer interaction.

Whether you’re an experienced theatre-goer or just getting to know the theatre, I highly recommend that you give the parking lot rule a shot. In my opinion, it’s the first step towards learning to think critically about theatre. It has certainly served me well over the years, and I hope that it does the same for you!

Media Socially

As you have probably noticed by now, I like social media. I feel that it has a great power to connect and reveal, as well as make the too-distant world a smaller and more interesting place.

Since I have the vast fortune of being in a position that allows me to craft and mold young, impressionable minds, I utilize this belief within my classroom. One of my favorite assignments in my acting class (and, based on previous experience, one of my students’ favorite assignment as well) is a character analysis assignment I give them focused upon social media. And because I think social media makes the world a better place, I’m going to take the time to share this with you so that you can be jealous that your acting teacher never assigned it, or (perhaps) use it for your acting classes (…if you do, please credit me).

I execute this assignment after I have already had the students choose monologues and read their plays. After a few more traditional character development exercises, I give them a chance to sit for ten minutes in class and create a social media feed from the perspective of their character depicting the events of their play. They are free to use any social media they prefer (twitter, instagram, facebook, etc.), and they are encouraged to develop this in as much detail as possible using the strengths of that platform (personal details via facebook, creating twitter handles, hashtags, etc.). Importantly: they are not required to actually develop the feed, just create some notes about it. This assignment can be done on a piece of paper, or on a computer. I have students sit with their notebooks and draw pictures, I have others who actually generate a twitter handle on the fly and form a feed that way.

Then, I give them a take-home portion. For five points of extra credit on their midterm, they are given the option to participate in this assignment:

Midterm Extra Credit Assignment: Social Media 

We can learn a great deal from what a person choses to share about himself via a public forum; especially when that person is experiencing a life-changing event.

Create a twitter account for your character. The handle should be either akin to the character’s name, or something the character himself would use. Set up an appropriate profile picture, header picture, and header text. Now use that account to tweet in the persona of your character.

You must update the feed several times a week over the course of the next few weeks; at least five tweets a week, but more is encouraged; until your final midterm monologue presentation. Updates should be in character and reference events in the play, other characters in the play, etc. You may comment upon actual goings-on in the real-world news if you feel that it is/would be valid and important to your character.

The richer your feed, the more points you will be awarded. To enrich your feed, include: links, retweets, pictures, hash tags, begin to follow people, etc.

For a few example feeds see: @HomerJSimpson (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons), @Broslife (Barney Stinson, How I Met your Mother), @KurtHummelGLEE (Kurt Hummel, Glee).

If you choose to participate in this assignment you must: Follow me on twitter from your new account (@drosvally). Once I follow you back, you will be able to send me a DM from the twitter handle with your (real) name and a note that you will be participating in this assignment. To send a DM, go to your page ([yourhandle]) and click on the envelope icon underneath your header picture. Click “new message”.

Since the midterm is coming up quick, the window for this assignment is small. If you intend to participate, you must declare that to me AND begin tweeting by WHATEVER DATE.

I, once again, can’t wait to see what my students come up with. I’m sure it will be both amusing and amazing.


Last night, I finally had a chance to drop by and see the critically acclaimed production that I worked on with Zeitgeist stage. Bent is a show about what happens to humanity when humanity is killed. On a literal level, it’s about gay men during the holocaust.

It was a tough show to work on. We did one very long fight call to get through the myriad of violence which the actors had to portray onstage (several beatings, several murders of various types, lots of body-dragging, you get the idea). After rehearsal, I came home a bit of a wreck and in need of some emotional after-care. I was pretty sure that I was going to hate the show (in a way that only excellent theatre about provocative issues can make you hate it).

I was mostly correct. While sitting in the audience last night, I got to witness human reactions to the visceral physical and psychological trauma being depicted onstage. Many folks left at intermission because they simply couldn’t bear to see anymore. I felt bad for them, but understood; it’s difficult to get through a show like this. It’s not pleasant to watch, it’s not pleasant to experience, but these are the kinds of atrocities that we, as a society, need to be reminded of in order to grow as human beings. There was, clearly, no end but one for the show’s protagonist and I could understand the need to leave the theatre before that end occurred.

Needless to say, the performances and direction are top-notch. Zeitgeist is a company that’s supremely aware of the old Shakespearean axiom that you need to make an audience love your characters before they die horribly. Moments of levity were interspersed with the horrors we witnessed in order to allow space for air. In terms of dramatic structure, this kind of relief makes the tortures that much more painful (and that much more real). Humor allows us to connect with characters as people and so is an extremely effective device in high tragedy (and I have no other words for what this play is really about).

The actors are all incredibly strong. The couple next to me was pretty seriously pondering the prospect of attacking the Nazi guards as they walked through the aisle on vigilant watch. In a show like this, it can often be more difficult to portray the antagonist than the protagonist. While the audience is already inclined to be sympathetic towards those who are being oppressed, embodying a personification of true evil in this modern world can be extremely taxing to the soul.

You don’t have a lot of time left to catch Bent (they’ll be at the Boston Center for the Arts through October 11th…. That’s next week, folks!). I highly recommend a trip over; and not just because I worked on the show.

Busy Busy Busy

Man oh man the semester is in full swing and it’s going to be a long and complicated one!

I’m able to now officially announce that I’ll be teaching stage combat at Apollinaire this fall with their actor training program.  We’ll start with a six week unarmed fundamentals class, then move into a six week class on swashbuckling.  If you’re looking to pick a fight with me, coming to my class is a great way to do it.  I’ll be excited to teach this as, let’s face it, fighting with others is my favorite means of paying my rent.

I also recently put together a bit of violence for Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of Bent.  If you’re at all interested in hard-hitting theatre performed by extremely talented actors, you should check this one out.  The performance, from what little I saw at the edges of my fight call, is going to be intense.  These guys are the real deal and, as usual, Zeitgeist is producing theatre that speaks to the darkness of man.  Prepare for some emotional after-care after this one; whether that means beer or chocolate, you’re going to need it.

In addition to my two department-sponsored classes (one as an instructor, one as a TA), I’m also teaching another OSHER class this fall.  We’re reading Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice.  I love teaching adult students and find it incredibly fulfilling to spend a couple hours a week discussing Shakespeare with the brilliant folks who come through OSHER.  And, really, what teacher wouldn’t want to be given a classroom full of people who took their class by choice, for self enrichment purposes only, and who are doing it for the pleasure of doing it?  Oh… and I don’t have to grade them.  That also helps to make this class one of the more enjoyable things I do with my precious time.

Have I mentioned recently that I love teaching?

Someone remind me of this around finals when I’m going nuts trying to make sure that everything gest graded in time.

Finding Neverland

The other night I had the rare opportunity of seeing a show without the added pressure of reviewing it. While I absolutely love reviewing, I’ve been doing so much of it these days that it’s almost inconceivable to go to enjoy a piece simply as an audience member, so when I get to it’s definitely a treat.

"Finding Neverland" production Photo by  Evgenia Eliseeva; courtesy of the ART Media Repository

“Finding Neverland” production Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva; courtesy of the ART Media Repository

The A.R.T. has really been on a roll of late. With their many direct-to-Broadway productions over the past couple years, it’s definitely challenged Boston theater makers in terms of what gets put onstage here in the Northeast. The most recent from ART to the great white way is Finding Neverland, a musical adaptation of the Johnny Depp film we all know and love about J.M. Barrie writing childhood classic Peter Pan.

First of all: the show is excellent, the talented performers are spectacular, and it’s going to do really well on Broadway.

But what really struck me the other night was the audience. I see my share of shows at the ART and Oberon, and there’s definitely a huge demographic difference between the main stage and the avant-garde space tucked away in the back end of Harvard Square. But the other night, I saw something truly incredible: children in the audience.

People were taking their kids to see theatre. Whole families had come to see this show. I can’t even begin to tell you how magical that is; and how incredible a success it is to encourage this kind of theater going.

As someone who sees a lot of theater, I can tell you: audiences ain’t getting any younger. The vast majority of houses I wind up sitting in are filled with adults over the age of 40 (the Broadway League declares that the average age of a Broadway theatregoer was 42.5 years in 2012-2013). It’s pretty clear why this is a problem: as the audience grows old enough that they are unable to see theatre, the theatres will empty out. The bottom line is that if we don’t train a new generation of audiences, then we work in an art that is doomed to slowly strangle itself unto death.

Theatre which encourages young audiences to love it is theatre which does vital work in the community. And oh boy did they love it; listening to chatter betwixt parent and child during intermission and as we slowly filtered out of the auditorium, I couldn’t help but find the joy infectious.

So go see Finding Neverland; because it’s a good show, but also because we need to support theatre that supports theatre.