Robert Brustein visited the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University at the beginning of our 2009/10 season to address the uphill battle that artists face, here in the United States. As Peak Performances programming takes a short pause, we thought it would be an opportune time to revisit Brustein’s “The Four Horsemen of the Cultural Apocalypse.”
In his talk, Brustein mentioned: community standards, DH Lawrence, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare’s “many-headed multitude,” Rudy Giuliani, “The Language Police,” free expression, Phillip Roth, the Brooklyn Museum, taste, Democracy in America, Pac-Man Mouth, and Barak Obama’s dancer’s walk and oratory style.
We made a recording of Brustein’s lecture and include a link below. The third file includes a post-talk Q+A moderated by Jedediah Wheeler, Executive Director at Peak Performances. Check it out! Share it with your students! Share it with your teacher!
We had a great time gearing up for his appearance at MSU and had a lot of engaging discussions about his work, here at Insite HQ.
Hope that you enjoy Robert Brustein and “The Four Horsemen of the Cultural Apocalypse” as much as we did!
Sara Wintz was Communications Assistant in the Office of Arts & Cultural Programming at Montclair State University during the 2009/10 Peak Performances season. Her writing has appeared on Ceptuetics and in The Poetry Project Newsletter. She recently reviewed Liz Waldner’s performance text, Play, for HTML Giant.
As a critic, I do my best to find the meaning in art, to deconstruct why something exists, and sometimes that’s tough to answer. Sure, some art is overtly political, and some art can be a triumph of storytelling. Crash Ensemble, the Irish musical group that closed out another stellar season at Peak Performances, may have been both of those things, but I couldn’t tell—to me, the group was simply an aesthetic delight.
Performing two separate concerts, Strange Folk on May 8 and Bright Visionon May 9, Crash Ensemble brought vitality and excitement to instrumental music that’s eluded my naive, pop-addled ears over my short lifetime. Perhaps I could make allusion to postminimalism or polystylism, but that would be doing a dishonor to the Wikipedia article I road in on. Instead, I’m content to share my delight over the sound that washed over the audience. Read more »
“So, what’s a dramaturg?”
I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked me that question over the past couple years. Actually, the comedians in my life tend to ask about being a “dramaturd” just as often. And I don’t blame them—to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out the answer myself.
I usually answer the age-old question with the vague but typical response, “Oh, you know, someone who does a lot of the historical and background research for the show, making sure it’s accurate to the time period, that kind of thing…”
Now, after reflecting on my first couple years of production dramaturgy experience, I think I’m starting to formulate a more complete definition. I’ve now officially dramaturged two MSU student productions: Crazy for You in the fall of 2008 and As You Like It this past fall. The vast difference between the various job “responsibilities” both entailed has taught me countless lessons about the field of dramaturgy—in particular, its wide range. Read more »
Hello Insite Readers!
Here’s another great batch of student responses! This time, to 1001, a play by Montclair State alum, Jason Grote, presented by the B.A. Theatre Studies Senior Class. Student Forum is very pleased to present our favorite three responses, by Joseph Rosario, Ally Blumenfeld and Gillian Holmes. These critiques were written for Dr. Neil Baldwin’s Play/Script Interpretation Class and fulfill the mission of Montclair State’s new Creative Research Center: to spotlight exemplary student writing. Montclair State’s Creative Research Center is directed by Dr. Baldwin. High-five, Neil! …and now, to Gillian Holmes!
“What are any of us but a collection of stories?” Jason Grote’s Scheherazade asks the audience of 1001. All things considered, especially in the context of theater, Scheherazade makes a great point. Which is precisely why 1001 was a poignant, compelling choice as a piece to be put on at Montclair State University by the Theatre Studies Seniors. Often it seems as though theatrical productions overlook the very important aspects of stories that beg to be told, forgotten in the wake of flashy musical numbers or a political message. If the story is neglected, it would be extremely difficult for the audience to understand the piece on a deeper level, after all, if we are all just a collection of stories, the easiest way to comprehend the message of a piece of theatre would be to use information from our own lives. Storytelling, a tradition that goes back to before theatre ever existed, illuminates issues, gives us ideas, and offers solutions - among a host of other things. Which is why this particular piece was a bold, challenging selection done at an extraordinary level, much to the credit of the director and ensemble.
Jason Grote’s 1001 was a labyrinth, full of twist and turns. The kind of play that will have you wondering until the very end how the story of Scheherazade and Shahriyar correlate to the story of Dahna and Alan. This play holds significance to myself and (I am assuming) to rest of my classmates because it takes place at a turning point in history, one that we were alive to witness. The September 11th terrorist attack imprinted a permanent image in our minds. How could anyone ever forget how devastating that day was, how devastating the months to follow were as well. Footage of the crumbling towers played on television repeatedly.
We were all affected in some way or another. It has been nine years since that day and there have been many theatrical pieces written and produced about it. One popular film is Flight 93, which tells the story of the passengers who overthrew their hijackers, and though they sacrificed themselves, saved the lives of many. Then there is World Trade Center: which tells the story of two firefighters who were trapped under masses of rocks and the remnants of the collapsed buildings. Both films are heartbreaking and painfully realistic, which is the usual style of any of the works I’ve seen so far, based on September 11th. Then there is 1001, Jason Grote’s play that takes two different worlds and fuses them together creating parallels between two couples from different eras, living under different circumstances, and facing different hardships. Read more »
“Everything we do, it’s like it’s not us doing it, like we’re trapped in this grand narrative. And it’s like, maybe we’re trying to defy that narrative, or reinvent it, and I can’t…”
Jason Grote’s 1001 sometimes speaks for itself, and that isn’t always a good thing.
This relatively new piece by the MSU alum [sort of] chronicles the relationship between Alan, a Jewish New Yorker, and Dahna, a young Arab woman, through the legendary story of King Shahriyar and his wife, Scheherezade. It sounds like a fantastic idea, and it is. However, through arguably little fault of this particular production, cast, or direction, 1001’s multiple nonlinear narratives end up much like dance choreography: spinning in circles, dancing completely around what I’m sure was supposed to be a point. It is obvious that Grote had much ambition in penning this layered, sometimes moving, cross-cultural, post-9/11 dramatic comedy. He toys with convention, which is almost always a good thing. He creates vivid worlds, so different in texture and aesthetics that it is almost impossible to see them all interconnect, and when they do, it’s wonderful. Read more »
At the beginning of Vincent Dance Theatre’s North American Premiere of If We Go On, presented at the Alexander Kasser Theater April 15, 17, and 18th, Vincent Dance Theatre referenced Yvonne Rainer’s “No Manifesto.” Rainer’s “No Manifesto” calls upon negating or stripping things down, just doing in a very minimalist fashion. Yvonne Rainer’s iconic TRIO A is one example of this minimal approach to choreography.
Rainer utilized everyday movements in her choreography. In the “No Manifesto,” she writes: “NO to spectacle, no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make believe.” The dancing in “TRIO A” comes across less like Swan Lake, and more along the lines of a task, as though Rainer could turn at any moment to operate an article of heavy machinery, or change a tire. As a result, Rainer’s choreography suggests that art-making itself could be like any other everyday activity, as opposed to a behavior of the supernatural.
If We Go On contains this element of the everyday, too. The performer’s dialogue is plain-spoken, leading to odd pauses, complete silence. The actors’ onstage personas seemed very much like everyday people who question things, take things to far, make mistakes, learn to do things together. It was as though everyone from VDT had gotten together to tell us something. In fact, the first impulse of If We Go On seems to spring from the moment in which Charlotte Vincent had perhaps already given up, and decided NOT to go on. Read more »
The name Jason Grote is on the mind of every current theater student at Montclair State University. Not only is his play, 1001, being mounted by the graduating class of theater studies students, but Grote is also bringing a new musical adaptation of the same play to campus as well as teaching a class about theater for social change. Grote is no stranger to the Montclair campus, as he graduated in 1993 with a BFA in Acting and Directing. Over the last month I kept an online dialogue with Grote to ask him questions about theater for social change. Read more »
It’s difficult to think of many films more ingrained into American culture than The Sound of Music. It’s the third highest-grossing film of all time (adjusting for inflation), ranked at number 40 on the AFI’s top 100 films and has been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry: so, praising the movie is more than a cliché. It’s like stating that you’re a fan of The Beatles, or saying that Babe Ruth was one heck of a ball player.
“Really, Mozart was a good musician? You don’t say?”
Sure, it’s a very good film, but it’s also a film with image after image that has been saturated into pop culture through showings of the film, clips in Oscar montages explaining what this foreign idea called “moo-vies” are, and parody after parody after parody. Just like most people who haven’t seen Star Wars rightfully feel like they have, I’d felt like I’d seen The Sound of Music well before my first viewing.
I suppose what I’m saying is that it’s old hat. And so, going into yet another rendering of The Sound of Music, I was justifiably skeptical. And very early on in choreographer Doug Elkins’ Fräulein Maria, my skepticism faded away. And then returned. And then faded again.
Fräulein Maria does away with most of that pesky plot and dialogue of its source material. That’s just fine by me, since the book was, by far, the weakest element in the musical. Instead, it uses the movie’s soundtrack, played over dances, to represent a new way of viewing the source material. This format, by design, leads to a fragmented performance: more a series of vignettes than a straight retelling of a story we all know so well. Read more »
Noted New York-based choreographer, Doug Elkins, has been working with students from Montclair State University’s dance program throughout the academic year. In the fall, Elkins choreographed a new work specifically for dance students at MSU: “She could never remember which was better…safe…or sorry…” The choreography, which included music by Björk and The Cornelius Brothers, featured a rollicking sense of humor and “fresh” social dance moves. A video excerpt is available to view on Insite. Students performed “She could never remember…” at the dance program’s annual showcase, Works-a-Foot, last December.
Well I couldn’t either—after seeing his choreography for ENTITY here at the Alexander Kasser Theater last month!
If you’re begging for more samples of Wayne McGregor’s choreography like I sure am, take a look at the following clips that I’ve compiled from the YouTube archives.
When I was first hired to direct The Laramie Project I admittedly knew very little about the piece. Apart from a brief historical description, the one thing I did know was that this was more than just a play. It was a potential catalyst for a discussion on hate. The play was created from interviews with people from a Wyoming town where a young man, Matthew Shepard, was brutally murdered for being gay. Anyone I knew that had seen it recounted an incredible emotional response from being witness to the play. I wanted to achieve more than an emotional response; I wanted to incite discussion. Read more »
Hello Readers! Student Forum’s back with critiques of the Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of Molière, courtesy of Neil Baldwin’s Play Script Interpretation Class. Here’s one from Ally Blumenfeld, with two more in tow by Gillian Holmes and Hillery Brotschol: read on!
“It’s only theater,” proclaims young Armande, the lover of infamous playwright Molière, moments before he steps forward into the white spotlights and passionate applause.
How incredible it is that a play should toy with the very nature of theater and reality, and at the same time leave me thinking in the moment that the lights went up and the actors ended their enthusiastic curtain call, “This is why I love theater.” How incredible indeed — that a play better classified as a workshop, that made use of no elaborate sets or costumes, that consisted mostly of fervent, fiery, masterfully-delivered dialogue and chilling moments of silence heavy with the weight of significance — that a play such as Molière could be performed by actors-in-training at Montclair State University with such powerfulness and profundity that it left me so inspired I might have floated back to my residence hall.
To critique a theater piece as a member of the performing ensemble requires something completely different than the average critical audience member. As an audience member, one is an observer, experiencing a product given to them after a process; the actor, on the other hand, labors through the designated working period in order to present. In the case of Sabina Berman’s Molière, presented at Montclair State and directed by Debbie Saivetz, I find myself in the latter group: a member of an ensemble tirelessly working toward the ultimate goal of breathing life into the piece. It is difficult, on the one hand, to be able to have an unbiased opinion coming from inside of the production. However, I feel as though I am equipped with the knowledge of the intricacies that helped the show come together, in the fashion and form that it did.
A poignant theme that I noticed throughout the duration of Molière is the clear distinction between what is reality and fiction (or, theater.)
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Montclair State University’s February workshop of Sabina Berman’s Moliére illustrated the resourcefulness of both director Debbie Saivetz and the actors as they staged a large show on a small budget. The show’s visual simplicity challenged the audience to use their imaginations to re-create the world of Moliére. As a workshop, the text of the play was the main focus, thus the audience was engulfed in Moliére’s story of self-sacrifice for the sake of art.
Moliére’s semi-historically accurate plot follows famed 17th century French comedic playwright Moliére and his theatrical company through a 15 year period, from 1664 through 1679. It is during this time Moliére is introduced to the tragedian Racine, who at first admires Moliére and later betrays him. Berman does her best to illustrate the influence of Moliére’s personal life on his creations as she interweaves bits of Moliére’s plays into the script. Yet, as this play was originally written in Spanish, one cannot help wondering if something was lost in translation. The script seems confused. Is the play about rivalry, life, art, or self-sacrifice?
Read more »
As a choreographer, my primary aspiration has been in the communication of ideas through the medium of the body. Attempting to make sense of the world in which we live and commenting upon it, through choreographed language and form. Choreographic communication is dependent on placing the body as the central interface for the assimilation of experience and understanding. We understand the world through the body, our senses working in collaboration to generate emotion and create informed meaning.
This has naturally led me to an ongoing fascination with the “technology of the body,” not only from a physiological perspective, probing the organism to test what a 21st-century body is actually physically and psychologically capable of, but as importantly being actively curious about its evolutionary path. This open and thirsty curiosity parallels contemporary scientific investigation. With the developments in molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics, there have been major advancements in sports science, nutrition, dancer training, injury prevention, and rehabilitation making dancers stronger, more flexible, healthier, and better able to perform physically demanding and challenging work. The capacity of the dancers instrument—the body—has been radically enhanced, improved, and evolved. The opportunity I have to utilize these augmentations in choreography provides a new dynamic stimulus.
At the same time, the revolutionary influence of biologist Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection continue to pervade our contemporary culture. From Richard Dawkin’s concept of the “meme,” through the development of self-replicating mutating systems for viral marketing, to state-of-the-art genetic classification, Darwin’s unique vision has been and continues to make a provocative impact. In its most basic form, this approach to evolutionary research—collecting, systemizing, classifying, and labelling information for it to be interrogated, to accumulate a body of knowledge that then bears insight, through translation and interpretation, is very close to the creative process.
During the first weekend of February, the Alexander Kasser Theater was testing ground for two acts of musical fusion. On Saturday, February 6th and Sunday, February 7th, both Miguel Zenón’s band and Kronos Quartet brought similar recipes to the table—mixing established forms with fresh musical styles. Or, for Kronos, a diversity of styles—and the perils of amplifying a bastion of acoustic beauty, but we’ll get to that.
Miguel Zenón’s path as an instrumentalist runs deep, with stints in the Mingus Big Band and with bass maven Charlie Haden. He’s an alto player possessed with astounding technique and quicksilver inventiveness. Breathtaking runs were limber at Saturday night’s performance, not agitated. Then in a late solo he briefly burnished his line with a bending Arabian tonality—intriguing, not obtrusive, like a deft, magical tweak.
…hold me, neighbor, in this storm… (2007)
By Aleksandra Vrebalov (b. 1970)
Aleksandra Vrebalov, a native of the former Yugoslavia, left Serbia in 1995 and continued her education in the United States. About “…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…,” she writes:
“The Balkans, with its multitude of cultural and religious identities, has had a troubled history of ethnic intolerance. For my generation of Tito’s pioneers and children of Communists, growing up in the former Yugoslavia meant learning about and carrying in our minds the battles and numberless ethnic and religious conflicts dating back half a millennium, and honoring ancestors who died in them. By then, that distant history had merged with the nearer past, so those we remember from World War II are our grandparents. Their stories we heard firsthand. After several devastating ethnic wars in the 1990s, we entered a new century, this time each of us knowing in person someone who perished. As I write this in November 2007, on YouTube a new generation of Albanians and Serbs post their war songs, bracing for another conflict, claiming their separate entitlements to the land and history, rather than a different kind of future, together.
“Strangely, the cultural and religious differences that led to enmity in everyday life produced—after centuries of turbulently living together—most incredible fusions in music. It is almost as if what we weren’t able to achieve through words and deeds—to fuse, and mix, and become something better and richer together—our music so famously accomplished instead.
By Café Tacuba
Arranged by Osvaldo Golijov (b.1960)
Recorded performance by Alejandro Flores and Café Tacuba
December 12 is celebrated throughout Mexico as the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country’s patron saint. In 1531, just a decade after the Spanish Conquest, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous Mexican named Juan Diego on the hill of Tepayac, outside Mexico City. Associated with her appearance was a series of miracles, including the sudden curing of a dying man, unnaturally fragrant flowers that appeared to be painted but then became real, and finally the imprint on Juan Diego’s cloak of the Virgin Mary. This piece, written by Café Tacuba in collaboration with composer Osvaldo Golijov, was conceived as a collection of different moments and environments experienced during the course of the Day of the Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The five-part sonic portrait of contemporary Mexico weaves together not only the sounds of a rock band and a string quartet, but also traditional Mexican instruments and street sounds. The scenes range from the mariachi bands of Plaza Garibaldi, to the loud whistle from the cart of a camote (yam) vendor, to the amazing Voladores de Papantla, a Veracruz ritual where four men, accompanied by flutes and drums, leap from a pole while attached to ropes that slowly unwind. The piece ends with the fire works and bells of Mexico City’s Zócalo on Independence Day.
Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis de Sade) (1988)
By John Zorn (b. 1953)
Turning a self-described short attention span into a creative asset, the ever-daring composer, saxophonist, MacArthur Fellow, and New York “downtown” music czar John Zorn developed a unique approach to composition in the 1980s and early ’90s. Starting with discrete musical ideas—or “moments”—jotted down on file cards whenever inspiration struck, Zorn would create a new work by assembling the cards in a specific order. The resulting music is both endlessly surprising and relentlessly pulse quickening—an experience often compared to rapidly pushing the pre-set buttons on a car radio, or to the constantly shifting, “jump cut” imagery of modern films and music videos.
“Cat O’ Nine Tails” is a perfect example of the form. In under 15 minutes, the piece brings together 51 distinct moments, from gently plucked tones to razor-sharp dissonance, and from stately classicism to country hoedown to cartoon zaniness—with few passages daring to challenge the 10-second barrier.
Kronos Quartet comes to the Alexander Kasser Theater on Sunday afternoon as part of an exciting weekend of music. Kronos will play selections from their new recording, Floodplain, in a program that’s exclusive to New Jersey. We’re looking forward to their visit! In preparation, over the next several days, we’ll be posting notes (courtesy of Kronos management) corresponding to the pieces they’ll be playing this Sunday.
One of the pieces that I’m most excited about is “Tashweesh,” which according to its program note (more below), was written by a collective known as Ramallah Underground, specifically for Kronos, after David Harrington noticed their music on Myspace and got in touch with them. The members of Ramallah Underground identify primarily as MCs and producers, but this work for Kronos is a fervently contemporary pairing of string instrument and recorded sound. Check it out on Kronos’ Web site.
Then join us for what promises to be an extraordinary weekend!
One of the most remarkable things about theatre is that it affords you the opportunity to escape reality while simultaneously forcing you to recognize the reality from which you are escaping. This is not always the case, and in a modern theatrical climate that is more focused on ticket sales than cultural relevance, most audiences walk away without recognizing much of anything. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at times captivated by the glorious world of theatrical entertainment for the sake of entertainment, in fact that’s what got me into theatre in the first place. I was that theatre geek that walked around brandishing Little Shop of Horror t-shirts, while belting out show tunes in my room, much to the joy (or annoyance) of my parents.
But midway through my training at Montclair, I became more in tune to the world around me. Perhaps it was that brief moment in time where it was considered cool to be politically and culturally aware that began the reshaping of my thoughts on life and theatre. Barack Obama was in the running for President, and suddenly everyone, including myself decided maybe they should put down People Magazine and pick up The New York Times. Suddenly I realized how much was going on in the world that I had allowed myself to ignore.
With this realization came a self analysis of my life’s future direction. Was theatre really something that was worthwhile? Why am I trying to spend my life entertaining when I could be using my energy and skills to help others? In the midst of this examination of my career goals, I was asked to direct Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. The producers of the show initially booked a female director, but at the last minute she backed out, and I was the only one they knew available to take on the production. When I first agreed to take on the role of director, I merely viewed it as an opportunity to advance my skills as a director; however, as I plunged myself into the production I began to realize that this was a piece of art that could really help other people. Suddenly it clicked. This is what I can do with theatre, with art, to make a difference in the world.
It was a dark and stormy night. No, no… that’s not right. In fact in Los Angeles, it was probably a bright and sunny day when James Cameron called choreographer Lula Washington about his movie, then still in the works, called AVATAR. Now in theaters, AVATAR tells the post-post-post-colonial story of a band of scientists and space travelers interested in taking over a new, cool planet called “Pandora.”
So what was he doing calling Lula Washington?
In fact, fair friends, Lula Washington and members of her company choreographed the body language and ritual movements of the Na’vi people in AVATAR. Which is funny because, among other things noted in this handy and certainly timely NYTimes ArtsBeat interview, Lula didn’t use email until recently and had some doubts about characters with tails. Her collaboration with James Cameron, however, was completely instrumental to the style and tone of the film, bringing a dimension of humanity to the film’s digitally rendered characters.
Lula Washington, and Lula Washington Dance Theatre join us at the Alexander Kasser Theater this weekend for an amazing celebration of thirty years of totally radical dance theater. We are so excited to have her here at the theater this weekend.
As you may already know, dear readers, Insite is always here to answer your most difficult questions. So consider it no sweat off our brow when we say that we’ve got some juicy goodies just for you. Yes sir or madam, we’ve pulled dramaturgical insights, for Insite! And it was no small feat. Specifically, dramaturgical materials for our recent, barn-stormin’ production of Shlemiel the First.
Aren’t you excited? I know, I know, admit it, you can’t wait.
Read more »
What happens when a cast aims for your funny bone, takes up a tale teasing the preservation instinct’s strange ways, and does onstage gender changes—er, costume changes—to a brash klezmer score? Shlemiel the First, if you can get to the Kasser Theater by January 24 for this rambunctious revival by Peak Performances and the National Yiddish Theatre–Folksbiene.
Shlemiel sports an evening’s worth of pleasures and a lively raft of theatrical wiles. The brainchild of Robert Brustein, the theater Hall-of-Famer who founded Yale Rep and American Repertory Theater, the piece has an astonishing pedigree: adaptation by Brustein from a play by Isaac Bashevis Singer; music by Hankus Netsky, who’s done klezmer with Itzhak Perlman and runs the New England Conservatory’s improv department; lyrics by Arnold Weinstein, librettist for operas including William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge; and music direction by Zalmen Mlotek, Folksbiene’s artistic director. And with director/choreographer David Gordon at the helm, Shlemiel brims with chutzpah and every other effusive tagline in the book.