Bring Your Own Eggs: Critical Theatre Panel

Hey y’all. Thanks for joining |the claque|, your favorite arts and performance conglomerate, for our Bring Your Own Eggs podcast series.

The Bring Your Own Eggs or the BYOEs are a series of panel discussions, masterclasses and salons bringing those in the arts together to talk about relevant issues of the time. All our sessions take place on Sunday afternoons at The Tank. |the claque| will provide the coffee, you supply your own brunch to munch.

In today’s session, we’re joined by Jamie Bennett, Chief of Staff of the National Endowment for the Arts, David Cote, Lead Theatre Critic for TimeOut N.Y. and Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, Director of Theatre Studies at N.Y.U.. Woah, those are some heavy hitters. The conversation is moderated by claque Founder and man about town Nick Leavens.

Now sit back and be edified.

the state of the arts

On February 22, 2011 the claque hosted a launch event at 3LD in lower Manhattan. Fifty of the of our favorite artists and friends came out to support us and learn more about what we are planning to do. To contextualize our next steps, I began the evening with a speech on the State of the Arts. Below is that speech.

video of the state of the arts address here.

text of the state of the arts address:

Thank you all for coming out this evening and moreover, thank you for supporting us in this new adventure.

Tonight we will talk to you about the claque, what that is, our values, goals, what we plan to do and why. But before we go into that, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the current state of the arts and what that means for those of us in this room and for the claque.

So, this is what I hear.

I hear for sometime now that our country has been moving into another stage of culture wars. Over the last few months and years we’ve seen politicians, pundits and interest groups whipped into frenzies, while politicizing artistic expression. Institutions and artists have been making some tough decisions in reaction, as ideals from politics and religion seep into our realm of influence, which they often do.

I hear that even as the economic crisis winds down we will continue to feel a new type of pain. Funding has slowed or dried. Consumers tightening their belts are choosing with more discretion where they will be buying tickets or donating money. Endowments and foundations got hit hard in the market, state governments slashed funding with decreases in tax revenue and corporations focused on their bottom lines. These problems will not disappear any time soon. In some cases, foundations will take years to recoup and roll-off their losses and the corporate landscape has seen so much change that we can only expect this to be the new norm.

Even more daunting is our government’s response to the arts.   As corporations are meant to be the engine of our society, government, in turn, is meant to be the protector.  But, with 44 states facing budget deficits and a growing populist rejection of tax increases, state governments are slashing arts funding. Most state arts commissions make up less than a percent of a states’ budget, but they are highly visible, occasionally controversial programs that win points with some when cut. There are at least five states that have proposed completely eliminating their arts funding, Texas, Washington, Arizona, South Carolina, with Kansas already making the cut. And when the state cuts their funding it makes itself ineligible for NEA support.

I also hear in the last few weeks that cuts have been proposed for the NEA, PBS and NPR, as they often are, forcing a debate on the value of the arts and media which nearly always paints these organizations as solely catering to and expressing the views of liberals and elites.

Getting even closer to home, as I’m sure all of you know, during a panel at Arena Stage a few weeks ago, I hear that Rocco Landesman, head of the NEA said of theatre there was too much supply and not enough demand.  To quote: “you can either increase demand or decrease supply.”  Some took this as a call for the dismantlement of smaller companies, while others agreed that there needs to be some kind of change, acknowledging a broken system.

But one thing is certain: the last few weeks have seen this discussion explode very publically in our industry. No matter your opinion: it is extremely rare for our community to have such a vibrant passionate public discourse. Unfortunately for theatre, most of the media are more interested in reporting on the trials and tribulations of Spider Man rather than the web of troubles entangling the greater art form.

And if we take a moment and step back, to look at the world I hear we inherited, the world we are helping to shape and create, we get a broader picture of a bigger problem. We can see a culture that has everything at its fingertips and expects it all to be available at any given moment. We live in a reactionary culture of now, glued to our computers and phones, without the patience to keep the television on one channel or finish a book. There are generations graduating from college unable to find decent paying jobs, going back to grad school, getting out and still unable to find decent paying jobs. Every year you’ll read countless articles with the ominous headline Theatre is Dead, Publishing is Dead, Recording is Dead, Reading is Dead, Theatre is Dead, Theatre is Dead.

The world is changing, the rest are adapting. What about us?

That’s what I hear.

And why. Why are we coming to you now saying that we are going to start a company in this climate?

Because, this is what I know.

A room full of people. Lucky enough to have the inexplicable ability to understand and interpret the human experience. This ability to create art. What a wonderful thing. What a simple thing. To be an artist.

I know that in every conversation I have with artists old and young, experienced or not, there is a hunger and a drive to push harder and be better. We all want what is  being discussed more and more. A better world in the arts. A better world because of the arts.

I know that in every blog I read and in every conversation I have, the common theme is not self advancement. It is “how can I help” or “what I can do to make this happen” or “how can we do it better”. We are all looking forward in advancing our art form and second on advancing ourselves..

Another thing I know. Theatre is not dead. Let me say that again. Theatre is not dead. This thing that we do, like how we like to live, is in the moment. An art that takes all of us to work together to create, and an audience to engage. Telling a story is the oldest art form, no matter if it is an emotional arc or a complex narrative. We ache when it’s done poorly because we know how wonderful it is when it’s done well. And when it is done well, we have a vibrant transformative experience. Something that only happens once, can only happen once and maybe, just maybe you were lucky enough to experience it.

And I know who else knows that, even if they don’t know why. Every year there is an onslaught of new faces to New York, LA, Chicago and every other metropolitan area in this country of recent undergrads who want to be involved in what we do. They are curious, willing, full of energy and wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves. They may not know what it is or how to articulate it, but they are here.

I know the hunger we see coming out of the new generation is shared with our peers in other cities. New York has a problem communicating with the rest of the country and the rest of the country has a problem communicating with New York. We need each other more now than ever to share ideas and hold each other up in the spotlight. Although a limited conversation is already happening, everyone is hungry for more access.

I know that we are – generationally – in an extremely exciting place. With the difficulties that we face, we have all found multiple ways of supporting ourselves, becoming skilled in different areas of our field. We came here to be writers, actors, designers, directors and we’ve learned to survive. We’ve learned to write grants, administrate the arts, design websites and produce. We have become the generation of the multi-versed. Transcending medium. The multi-versed, skilled in many areas, with our expertise overlapping when we sit at a table together, a collective force of skill and networks, able and willing, equally excited to learn from the past and try something new.

That is what I hear and that is what I know.

What do we do with that?

This room represents a sustained glow of hope in a rather grimly painted picture. We have inherited a changing world, and those Challenges of Change have been chipping away at our artistic infrastructure, and as we face the tangible threats of further economic difficulties and impending culture wars, it is time for a tactical change: that we engage rather than maintain business as usual.

What we need now is a call to action.

Not to react to the politicized culture, but to represent our art with more vigor and passion. Not only to be able to justify why we deserve funding by citing numbers and statistics and making emotional appeals to how the arts make the world better. We need to make a concentrated effort to strengthen the networks of the arts, spanning generations, geographical locations, levels of experience and education. It’s time that we not only say we are worth funding but show people why we are worth funding

We start here, with our peers. The conversation already exists. It is happening every day in Universities, rehearsal rooms, on the web. What we talk about excites us, it motivates us and pushes us to be better at what we do. In our industry which is often siloed, sometimes competitive, and always difficult to break into, it is time to open the conversation. Taking time with each other is that first small important step, with a constant reflection on what we are doing while we are doing it and post-mortems on how to do it better. And while we get caught up in the exciting pace of production and the drama of the moment, now it is more important to hold ourselves and each other to the highest possible standards.

With the wealth of excitement rippling through the emerging artists and new comers to our industry, the active conversation needs to begin to involve this generation in a more tangible way, giving a voice, a means to teach and learn generationally through public discourse. Engage this group, and you’ll create your demand.  Create demand, and you’ll justify your supply.

We need to stop excusing what we do as a dead art form and embrace its vibrancy, becoming advocates and custodians of the form as those who have done so in the past. Each of us a representative, with differing opinions, of course, but daring to push the discussion.

As a class of artist who are multi-talented, multi-versed, continuing and expanding the discussion on the national stage, finding ways using new technology to share those ideas is paramount. With this increase in discourse, we can do what artists are good at, pushing innovation and pushing it in more creative ways. Sharing our ideas will not only help in new ways of doing things, but also improve in that which we’ve been doing for centuries as we discuss, share and teach, across generations and through-out different regions. Most of us come from places other than here. Bring the conversations home, take them with you when you travel. Be a diplomat of you profession.

And while we begin to share more, pushing ourselves and each other to be arbiters of the arts, it is time for us to show the world something else. Something fun. It’s time for us to show the world how sexy it is to do what we do. Our actors are hot, our writers are dangerous our designers are savvy and we all dress well.  Well, some of us, anyway.  We have the smarts of academics, the looks of movie stars, can talk like television writers (but with depth) while living every moment like we’re rock stars. And why not? We reflect our art form in everyway. Hot, dangerous and savvy. We need to be rock stars of our form. Better than rock stars.  Rock stars with something to prove.  Rock stars with a cause.  (Let’s all be Bono.)

And although this push for advocacy is already happening, by those in this room and beyond, we, as a cultural community, need to push it more and push it harder and do it better and publically. Push against the perception that art is purely the pursuit of entertainment.

In our own small way, the claque would like to help.

Starting in our small corner of the world, the first step is building a strong network, You, consisting of some of the best emerging, established, new artists and companies we know. Those who want to do it better and build it stronger.

And as we build this stellar network of people, we will mirror that in our programming. Not only will the claque focus on producing works with the best ingredients, which is everyone’s hope and dream, but we will supplement the striving for excellence by providing continued learning in workshops, active discussion through an insiders’ interview series, retreats throughout the year to improve what we do as a company and foster new works, adaptive approaches to play development, an apprentice program to capture and develop the next generation, while establishing partnerships with other companies to push innovation and collaboration and much more.

And these are just a few steps, this year, in moving the claque forward in what will take us years to achieve. Every year we will update you on how we are doing and what we will be doing next. This will only be a small part of what we all need to change in order to influence how our art form is perceived and received in the future. It starts with you, with your peers. We will encourage, excite and engage. We’ll be creating an environment to foster excellence and innovation under a pretense of non-competitive openness while adapting to the situation at hand. In other words, we are here to push you to do your best, we are creating a network to do the same. Personally I will push you harder than anyone else, ask more from you and expect the world from you. I will ask you to do the same of me. Holding each other to the highest of standards. And while we exist in the world of working three jobs in order to be an artist, we’ll all have trouble making good on these expectations, but we’ll do our best to realize a better world for our art form and for ourselves. What we are doing has been done before and will be done again. We are here to support you, to realize a common dream. I’d like to work with you. Thank you.


I learned alot and met some wonderful people in the process of working on this play. I am looking foward to see what Mark writes and what Nick produces with The Claque in the future. We spent weeks in the rehearsal process, its still a bit strange to of had only one show with all that preperation and working with new drafts of the play. I did learn a lot about my own work ethic, flexibility and concentration as an actor. Some patrons actually thought I was a teen, gave me a laugh.

I thought going into the day of the  festival that it would be hectic but it was a fairly easy day of tech and everyone working at the Sam French festival were friendly, efficient and made it a good experience.  I hope as far as mood, point of view, direction everything came together for Nick, I felt and heard there were some new aproaches in this performance but kept true to what we had been doing in rehearsal.

I was happy with our final,single performance. It was my first time in a festival and I appreciate being asked to be apart of it.

Don’t sugar coat/the Director who taught me how to kiss

Every rehearsal has been dramaticaly different from the previous one, this past rehearsal is no exception. During a run through of the lines with blocking changes, our director intervened and gave me a top of the head kiss to show me how it should be done, with all parties present. It did put more meaning into the kiss with less of the sweet goodbye sense it had prior. Jessika elbowed me during one of the fight runs but I’m finding more fluidity in the struggle moments/contact moments because we have been being specific about it that it has just become muscle memory. I am definitly finding that Travis is there to let every detail of the truth be known while Gina is still in the dark about their life out here in this house. Though there are different levels of truth at the beginning simply stories, the middle the rules with the climax of what she is in the dark about. However letting it unravle truthfully as an actor is the struggle because I know all the information, none of it is new to me however everytime I tell Jessika (gina) the new information somthing dramatically shifts, and the bravery shines through when you don’t apaologize for what your telling her and not sugar coating it.  

The rehearsal before Mark came in and pointed out the break up part that goes into this and asked if we had any questions, but I for the most part answered alot for myself.

Sitting on my fingers, whistling “Dixieland” …

Greetings from Heatwave 2010: July Edition:

WIPE AWAY is, a single line change aside, frozen.  My work as the playwright is pretty much complete.  It is an odd feeling – living and breathing these characters for weeks and months (and in this case, YEARS), and now becoming much more of an observer in the process.  But Jessica and Thomas are creating a Gina and Travis all their own at this point, and it’s exciting to swoop in every other day or so and see how the play is growing in their performances.  What I am most surprised by is how much I’ve discovered about the two shadow characters in the play, Dustin and Ray.  Each set of actors must create these unseen characters in their interactions with each other onstage, and I’ve learned some surprising new twists about them by watching these actors.

Re our director, Nick – I marvel at how artfully he is able to communicate with the actors.  It’s a tricky business, directing plays.  You can’t give away all the secrets you’ve discovered in the script, yet you must be open to what the actors bring to the table and flexible to allow change.  It’s all about change, and Nick is able to roll with those much more gracefully than I.  Thank God I have the pages of my script to clutch!

Heading into more rehearsals/run-throughs and no more rewrites!  I can’t wait to see the mailboxes – rusted or otherwise.

Reading new script lagoon

I had to stop and write about the new draft I’m reading, there are new lines that have me in stitches.  I’m seeing some changes in the script that are making me think of Blue Lagoon for some reason. I know its strange reference but it is making me think alot more into the isolation. I really love this new addition of the worldbeing the size of a picnic table. I’m actually getting an infinite amount of information with all the new stories cut and added. I’m looking foward to saturdays rehearsal.

On our feet..

Today was was our first rehearsal on our feet with script and  backpack in hand.  My first thought after our first run on our feet was that Ray became more of a character and focus than just Gina for obvious reasons of him driving a car and waiting for him to come but also it brought the urgency of him being there in the end. Things did become a bit messy because of it being our first time with the ability to move from one point in the room to another but soem nice moments happened. We found some natural blocking moments that worked well with the progrssion of the play and not just moving for movement sake.

          Mark said he is hearing lines said that were never heard in rehearsals, which is always good to hear. I think because the two have never been acclimated to real teenager that the child like tactics/fidgety qualities do come out more and I found that today, being on the floor and standing witht he backpack.

             At the end of reharsal we got a taste of the fight choreography today, its hard to make not actually hurt someone when your suppose to make it look like you are but your not.

Table working..

The first reading of Wipe Away I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous, I’m enjoy having the writer be present but not direct it is a new experience for me. What was nice about Mark is he was able to articulate the reason for evrything we spoke about because of the history with the play and living with it for years. The first meeting with Mark he asked me if I thought Travis was gay or not with an smile on his face.  He said, “I know, but I’m not saying.” I said that Ithink as an actor I will make a concrete decision, but if you have read the play and understand that phycologicaly he may not even understand what being gay is or even comprehend   There were moments when talking about the patrons and the house that I saw how much Mark and Nick have already thought about the complexities of the play/situation/Gina/Travis/Dustin/Ray . I am having a lot of “ew” moments during the readings when I’m understand why Gina says this about Dustin or when Travis talks about the men. I’m find its best to say to myself, “Okay, pedophelia:gross, but I need to actually think about the situation in order to analyze the play and be able to do justice to the intentions of the playwright.” 

                                  Gina and Travis understand that they have been “taken by Dustin” and from my point of view because I have never been abducted; howvever don’t even think of it as a nice moment in my life where as I’m seeing that Gina absiloutley does or rather has been brainwashed to think that and when Travis was younger the moments with Dustin before Gina had glimmers of hope and promise .

                             The process of having Mark add/cut/create things in the play has been helpful in understanding the play; however what is in the final script for performance will not be seen, so my job here is to high light what needs to be understood for the audience in the specific script we are working on and not the previous. It is a challenge, but the good kind of challenge where you feel like you have done something. I think the readings have been my favorite part so far, the script will continue to evolve and we’ll have to move with it.

Nick is asking some thought provoking questions during rehearsals, which has helped me to find the parts of Travis that aren’t so earnest but more thoughtful. Mark asked if there were any parts we miss that have been cut in different drafts for our insight to help him which I think is an interesting aproach to editing your own work asking your actors. There are parts I miss from the original script and the second draft, though it will get to be the first person t o say these new words. I’m having a wonderful time working with Nick and Mark, as I expected.

Jessica and I are both Atlantic Theater students and she is just as excited to be working on this project as I am, she has brought alot to the rehearsals and shocked me with moments of real sweet mixed with determined. We have actually had discussions in rehearsal with Mark about being young actors in todays world.. which actually helped in the readings strangley.

I am very anxious to see whats to come next in working on this play.

It has begun!

Hi Everyone!
So today we were rehearsing at my favorite place in NYC–The Atlantic Theater Company’s rehearsal studios. Rehearsal was great. We got up on our feet a little bit today, and it was so cool to have those first moments of realizing that this character had a way of standing and moving that was beginning to manifest. It took me by surprise, but a GREAT surprise–it’s reassuring to know that something’s happening. It may not be right just yet, but it’s a start. And considering that I’m terrified (I always am!) it’s good to know that things are taking shape–as they always do!

On another note, WIPE AWAY is my very first play where the playwright is involved! It’s been so cool working with Mark and seeing his brain go to work. It’s exciting to see the play morph and change and shorten and tighten. It sure keeps me on my toes! I feel like it’s pretty rare to get to work with a playwright so I’m soaking it in and am along for the crazy and fun ride!

I guess that’s all for now! Wanted to try this blogging thing out to see what it’s all about.

WIPE AWAY, the Samuel French Draft(s)

Hello friends,

So last night was our first* rehearsal with the new trimmed version of the script; WIPE AWAY has morphed into all sorts of lengths and configurations over the years (along with a barrage of titles) and this new version is a good 9-10 pages shorter than the one submitted to Samuel French. My concerns when rewriting are always about maintaining texture and character while getting to the point faster and more clearly than before. For this draft, I feel like I have about four spots in the play that still need a deeper emotional dive; thank goodness I have these actors and this director to help guide me towards them.

I LOVE hearing work read aloud, and Jessica and Thomas are already bringing the characters to life in a way that’s compelling and real; further rewrites will involve their voices and cadences and inflections: the way Thomas’ vowel sounds are stronger that most, for example. And the way Jessica’s laugh is already morphing into a dark siren call.

First week of rehearsal is always nerve-wracking and tense; I found today to be an awfully steep hill to climb. But we made some changes last night, the changes have been implemented and pdf-ed, and now off they go into the wilds of rehearsal. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with “on their feet.”