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MICHA: The Future of Theater

What Stories To Tell

Laura Standley - 8 July 2014

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Laura started by sharing a story of going to see Animal Crackers, the Marx Brothers show at Williamstown Theatre Festival. It had been marketed as a “family show” and was getting good reviews. She was excited because as a child she had loved the Marx Brothers. They were her father's favorite comedians and she had fond memories of growing up with their slapstick humor. In the director's notes he said his intention had been to, “pay tribute to the Marx Brother's humor.” Watching the show, she experienced a feeling of increasing discomfort. She hadn't remembered that Marx Brothers stories are about a group of guys who come to a new community and play mean spirited, sometimes violent tricks on women, who flee in terror. The various brothers chase the women, with Harpo honking and grabbing at their rear ends or breasts. With many young children in the audience, Laura couldn't help but be extremely uncomfortable with the message these young minds were receiving from the theatre before them. She almost left at intermission, but decided to stay. As suspected, things only got worse. At one point, an older woman was tied up with a rope, dragged around the stage, whipped with a riding crop, and then thrown offstage in triumph. Somewhat stunned, Laura walked away from the play with an uncomfortable feeling in her heart.. And couldn't stop asking the question: why are we choosing these plays?

Laura then read from Anne Bogart's new book, What's the Story: Essays About Art, Theater and Storytelling.

-“It is not enough to tell stories. There must be someone there to listen.”

“We are telling stories all the time. Our body tells a story. Our posture, our smile, our liveliness or fatigue, our stomach, our blank stare, our fitness, all speak, all tell a story. How we walk into a room tells a story. Our actions relate to multiple stories. We invest our own energies into stories. Deprived of energy, stories die.”

-It is natural to adopt other people's stories to help create our identities and to fill the gaps in our own experience or intelligence. This can be helpful up to a point, but it is easy to get stuck in other people's narrative structures. Stories become easily cemented and rendered inflexible, developing into assumptions upon which a life is lived. Without vigilance, stories simply become documented history and form, and their origins are forgotten.“

-”Can we begin to think of ourselves, rather than stagers of plays, as orchestrators of social interactions in which performance is a part?“

-”Jean Paul Sarte wrote that there are two ways to go into the gas chamber: free or not free. We choose. The stories that we tell determine nothing less than our personal destiny… We write the histories… We are the inheritors of a myriad of stories. We are marked by the stories that we receive. They impress upon us their lessons structures that in turn change the neutral structures of our brains.“

-Don't we have a responsibility to the stories we tell? What is the dialogue we want to have with our audience? What kind of social interactions do we want to have with them? How do we increase the quality of the conversation?”



DHARMA ART LETTER, written by Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche

In talking about Dharma Art here, we do not mean art, which necessarily depicts Buddhist symbols or ideas, but rather art which springs from a certain state of mind on the part of the artists. We can call this the meditative state: an attitude of directness and unselfconsciousness in one’s creative work.

The basic problem of artistic endeavor is the tendency to split the artists from the ‘audience,’ trying to send a message from one to the other. When this happens, art becomes exhibitionism: the person who gets some tremendous flash of inspiration, them rushes to ‘put it down on paper’ to impress or excite others; or the very deliberate artist who strategizes each step of his work to produce certain effects on his viewers. No matter how well intentioned or how technically accomplished, these approaches inevitably become clumsy and aggressive, towards others and toward oneself.

In ‘meditative’ art, the artist embodies the viewer as well as the creator as he works. Vision is not separate from operation, and there is no fear of being clumsy or failing to achieve his aspiration: he simply makes his painting, poem, piece of music, whatever.

In this sense, a complete novice could pick up a brush and, with the right state of mind, produce a masterpiece. This is possible. But it is a very hit-and-miss approach. In art, as in life generally, we need to study our craft, develop our skills, and absorb the knowledge and insight passed down by tradition.

But whether we have the attitude of a student, who could still become more proficient in handling his materials, or the attitude of an accomplished master, when we are actually creating a work of art there is a sense of total confidence; our message is simply appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts and fears. We give up aggression, either toward ourselves – that we have to make a special effort to impress people; or toward others – that we can put something over them. Genuine art – Dharma Art- is simply the activity of non-aggression.

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