Monthly Archives: August 2007

>Producing theater then and now

>The last time I produced something, a real something with collaborators and sets, casts casting about for motivation and the pressing need to raise funds to raise the curtain, was over ten years ago. I had a staff and the technological revolution had hit them, but not me.

Today I am in the throes of producing and writing an opera about the very personal effects of September 11, 2001. Any one of those things would be enough to induce blood boiling: scribbling, producing or revisiting 9/11, but taken together the troika could present a tipping point for a middle-aged mama. But I have been saved by the onslaught of technology. Yes, the emotional pitches and sways cannot be mediated, but the speed and efficiency of my work seems magically augmented especially when we three collaborators sit down together.

This past week we were lucky enough to have an entire day where the composer, Doug Geers, who normally lives in Minnesota and the designer/artist Christine Sciulli, who lives across the street but teaches, designs and has two baby children, well where we could all be together in the my loft. We make pots of coffee and scrambled eggs crammed full of sharp cheddar and farm-stand tomatoes and then we worked.

We each had our Apple laptops; we talked, we waved hands, we argued about sensibility, religion and tempo. We outlined the entire opera; we cut a quarter of an hour from the running time, just in theory. We agreed that there would be no iconoclastic tower tipping images but rather that we would focus on the “presence of absence” and the leitmotif of “harmony from dissonance.” These are not facile concepts and we agreed to push each other to remain true to them IF words, or music or images threaten to revert to mini-series heartstring tugging. Then we gave out tasks.

But unlike “back in the day,” when workers went away and came back weeks later, we accomplished many of the TO DO LIST right where we sat. Christine called to find a choir conductor. We emailed her. Doug had a friend who sets up web sites. We wrangled with the URL and came up with WWW.CALLINGTHEOPERA.COM and maybe also .ORG. We drank more coffee and wrote out three separate a best-case scenario budgets, we emailed them to each other and then created a single unified document. Now we edited that document down to a bare bones production. In other words Doug really wants “SIX CELLI” but can live with two playing against a recording. Christine wants rear screen projectors, very expensive but she could hang one in the front if the funds are scarce.

We all had been saving the names of funders who we thought might be interested in our project. Doug found his from listening to public radio, Christine gleaned her info from designing the lights for the new Mabou Mines piece and I revisited the backs of every theater program for the last year. We found a few that suited us, found the guidelines on line and began filling out the grants. We exchanged email biographies and compiled information for the web site we were constructing.

We drank more coffee and called to cancel the rest of our day and we worked. We looked at images; we reread passages in my book and fought about order and tone. We took time out to make calls on our cell phones, connecting to other clients who never knew we were in a frenzy of creativity, taking an interstitial moment to give them an edit or a drawing or a syllabus. Our discreet electronics allowed us to work together and separately all day.

When I was the executive director of La Mama back in the 80’s to early 90’s this level of output would have taken weeks. All the paper and Xeroxing, the collating of reviews and copying music tapes to send to funders. And now many of the RFPs (request for proposal) for grants require everything be sent only electronically. And this aspect means I have to send stuff to Doug so that he can oversee my Luddite slowness.

But even with my backward techniques and recalcitrance to modern life, this session, a veritable flurry of passionate producing bumped me up to a new level of appreciation for what the last decade of technology means.

Within three days all our information, bios, music, reviews and some aspirations had been uploaded, by Doug, to the new website. So check it out, because I am still amazed at what that one day wrought, albeit with much back-story and working already loaded into our electronic brains. And I also still have a great deal of faith in the positive effects of copious amounts of coffee.



>Morocco post 1

I haven’t written since I have been back.

It was a long and often arduous trip. We were given a guide who we thought was from the Moroccan government tourism office but it turns out had been subcontracted to a car rental place.


So here we had this idiot, Simo, who told us things like, “This says Coca-Cola in Arabic,” when it was written on the distinctly shaped bottle that Coke had spent billions on so that it would be instantly recognizable in any fucking language. Or, “That is a jet ski. That is a train.”

Simo had no real information. He was late most days and hung over–and all this in a Muslim country where at least you think you might we’d get a sober, if stupid, guide. He was nefarious and asked for gas money and took us, of course, to stores where we paid too much and he was paid a lot.

We also had an adorable driver named Omar who spoke maybe 20 words of French and then Arabic. Simo tried to keep him in line by buying him a prostitute the first night they went to a disco. But in the end, it was Omar who rose up against Simo and called the car rental boss, who we, in the dark, still thought was the Moroccan tourist bureau that had supposedly sponsored us. Omar told on Simo and we got a brilliant guide named Abbes who tried to fill us in on the history of Morocco in the week that was left.

In a moment of boredom and frustration, we taught Omar to say ASSHOLE when Simo got into the car.

We saw Morocco from shining sea to orange desert. We slept under the stars and rode camels; we hiked into gorges, saw Kasbahs made of sand, and the world’s largest mosque standing on the cliff side in Casablanca reflecting the words in the Koran, “And He shall build his castle by the sea,” or at least our wise guide, Abbes, told us this. Simo would have said that is where they built it, and that is all. Similar to his response when we asked about the significance of the Moroccan flag and Simo’s said, “Flags have no meaning.” Ahhhh, the future of tourism.

I hope not.

We went to the hammam, a traditional Moroccan bath. We wandered around Fez and Marrakech in 127 degree heat, finding the shade in every soak (market place). We came home laden with rugs, baskets, skewers for shi-ka-bab and wild bright shoes. We had amazing meals like a couscous of fruit in a Riad (small hotel) where we ate in front of a pool surrounded by palm trees. Or fish caught and cooked in the plaza off the sea in Essaouira. We ate at roadside stands, lamb beef, pumpkin and watermelon. I ate as much local yogurt as I could thinking that it would give me lots of local flora and fauna, in a good way and it seems to have inoculated me. We knew many folks who complained of stomach stuff, but luckily not us.

We climbed the steep stairs in every palace, museum and Medersa (an Islamic college). We were made nearly drunk with the beauty and complicated patterns that adorn everything from gates (Babs) to walls, gardens and schools. As Islam does not allow the depiction of human or animal forms the decoration is pattern, tiles, scroll like writings, carved wood ceilings and all combined in dizzying profusion covering the world’s largest mosque, the Hassan II in Casablanca to ancient 11th century walls in Fez.

More to come…