16 March 2009

A New Venture

Hello. This is a new venture for me. I've never written a blog--or really ever read one! For the past several years, though, I've been sending long e-mails to a few friends who asked me to keep them apprised of what I see in the theater back here in New York. (They all used to live here and now live far away, including abroad.) Some of them keep telling me I should try to publish my opinions, but since I only write when I see something and I write about only what strikes my interest, it's not likely anyone would pay me to do what I do. The idea of a blog came up, so here's the result so far. I have no idea where this will go.

Two things need to be clear for anyone who happens on this blog. First, as I suggested, I only write about what interests me. This is a decidedly first-person account of my private experience at the theater. It's not a review and I make no pretense at universality or omniscience, or comprehensiveness. It's not unlikely that someone who reads my entries will disagree, even strongly, with what I say. So be it. As I have often told my writing students, your perceptions are always true--because you had them. No one can tell you that what you felt didn't happen. Of course it did. My experience might be diametrically different from yours, but we both experienced what we experienced. That doesn't mean I didn't miss something, misunderstand something (though I try to acknowledge my own ignorance if I'm aware of it), or overlook a connection someone else spotted.

This approach also means that I don't always cover everything about a show that a reviewer would make a point of describing. I'll write only about what caught my eye, so to speak. Sometimes that means focusing almost entirely on the script, sometimes on the acting and directing; sometimes, though, I touch a little on many aspects of the production. I may also throw in some history (theater or general), commentary, or even personal asides. Some of this may seem irrelevant or frivolous--but that's the way it'll be. You'll get an idea of how my mind works--or fails to (depending on your point of view). In other words, this will be a very personal take on stuff.

The second thing you should understand here is that I don't write my reports with any regularity. Sometimes weeks or even months go by between productions that warrant a write-up. Sometimes I see two or three shows in a row, and I save them all for one report. Occasionally, after seeing two shows in a short period, I decide one is more interesting than the other, and spend most of the report discussing that one and giving short shrift to the other. That's the luck of the draw (even if someone else might disagree with my appraisal). I get to decide what's interesting to me.

Though the initial impulse to start my theater reports was to tell my friends about New York shows I've seen, I expanded that charter to include theater I attended out of town as well. I go to Washington often and usually see something while I'm there--the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, the Studio Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre, the Round House, and others. Other reports I've composed in the past have included the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, W. Va. I also spent a long weekend in Staunton, Va., to see the Shenandoah Shakespeare Theatre, which had then just opened its new home, a reproduction of Shakespeare's winter theater, the Blackfriars. As I indicated, things strike my fancy.

You might also like to know that I sometimes don't confine myself to theater. I've always enjoyed going to art museums and galleries, and when I see an exhibit that intrigues me, for good or bad, I sometimes include it in one of my reports. My training and experience is in theater, and I have no academic background in art--but I sound off on it anyway. I have had some little experience, as an amateur, since I began this interest as a small child when my parents invested in a private gallery in Washington, where I grew up. (My mother still counts among her acquaintances several local artists. Most people don't know, I think, that Washington has a fairly well established and renowned art community of its own. There was even a "Washington Color School" back in the mid-20th century.) That makes about a half century of seeing art all over the world, and I seldom miss an opportunity to check out the art of some place I'm visiting. Like trying the food and drink, it's a way of learning more about a place and a people than looking only at their monuments and relics. Besides, it's fun! Since New York is not only the theater capital of the U.S. but one of the world's great art centers, I see some really marvelous exhibits here. I also go to Washington often to visit family, and the Nation's Capital is a pretty hefty art museum town; the National Gallery and the Smithsonian alone account for a good half dozen galleries. (After his retirement, my father served as development director of the Museum of African Art in Washington--the predecessor to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art on the Mall.) So don't be surprised if you stumble on a report of a show at an art museum sandwiched between theater reports. It happens.

It's also possible, as I see how things develop here, that I will fill in the time between shows with other commentary, such as trips I've taken (I did a lengthy e-mail a few years ago describing my 17-day visit to Alaska to see the fjords and glaciers) or personal history (I wrote a friend a multi-part message recalling the 2½ years I spent as an intelligence officer in West Berlin). I may also share some of my research if I think it's especially interesting. Who knows.

It also happens that I may describe something else entirely--like a strange little house my mother insisted on showing me when I was visiting Washington one time. I think of it as the Hobbit House, but it's commonly known locally as the Mushroom House. It's so odd, I had to share the experience with my friends, so it found its way into the next theater report. I get to do that if I want, self-indulgent though it may be.

So, if you all are going to share my thoughts on theater and check in from time to time, you should know what to expect. Well, what to expect most of the time. Since no one's editing me, I get to meander wherever the notion takes me. In the Southwest, the Chicanos call this "going paseando" (and, if you know about the Situationists, you might recognize this as what they called the dérive--going off the plat). Since I've never done this on a blog before, I have no idea where it may lead. So, I guess we'll find out together.

To get things started, I'm thinking of posting my last e-mail report, or maybe parts of it, until I have a fresh play to write about. (In the middle of next month I'll be seeing one, but I don't want to spoil the surprise so I won't preview it now. Besides, I may decide not to write about it--though that's not very likely.) Then we'll see how things work out.

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