30 September 2013

Creative Dramatics

by Kirk Woodward

[My friend and frequent contributor to ROT, Kirk Woodward, is chiming again with a new consideration on an aspect of theater.  Drawing on his long experience as a teacher of theater and acting, both with children and adults, Kirk’s thinking about the popular field of “creative dramatics.”  You’ll read that he (and especially his late wife, Pat) had reservations about the name for the activity, but that doesn’t remove its value as an actor-training program, a resource for directors and actors in rehearsal, and people who aren’t necessarily performers who want a boost to their creative imaginations and self-confidence. 

[I, too, have had some experience with creative dramatics and theater games (and you’ll see that Kirk differentiates between these related fields that some people lump together), as a student, teacher, and director.  Kirk mentions, for instance, the Cultural Enrichment Program in Lexington, Virginia, which is also where I first tried to teach creative dramatics.  (Kirk and I were classmates at Washington and Lee University, which helped sponsor the program.)  My contact with the field isn’t nearly as extensive as Kirk’s has been, but I recognize most of the lessons he learned because I learned them, too.] 

One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of theater, in my experience, is the field known as “creative dramatics.” There’s a related term, “theater games,” and the two are often used interchangeably, for good reason – both creative dramatics and theater games are performance games, more like charades than they are like, say, Trivial Pursuit. Both involve performance-related exercises – basically, games of physical (and vocal) expression that encourage creativity. (I’ll give some examples as we go on).

Still, I haven’t yet found a definition I like for “creative dramatics,” because it would have to also include a good definition of “drama.”  But I see “creative dramatics” as the wider term, and “theater games” as a subset of it. In this piece I will use the terms as though they are two separate things, although obviously they are closely related.

“Theater games,” in the way I’m using the terms, then, as the name suggests, have some sort of performance in mind. The performance may come directly out of the games themselves – this is how the 1970 Broadway show Paul Sills’ Story Theatre was developed. Or the games may help in the production of some more formal play.

A director, for example, may use “theater games” to get particular results out of the actors in a play, or an acting class may use the same or different games to help develop more general acting skills. I have used theater games in productions, but much of my experience in creative dramatics has aimed at encouraging personal growth, not particularly at building actors.

On the other hand, creative dramatics work need never lead to a production at all; it may be devoted entirely to building the confidence and encouraging the creativity of the participants, and it may more specifically be used as psychological therapy. So we have, really, three strains running alongside each other, sometimes crossing, sometimes merging:

  • Creative dramatics for therapy
  • Creative dramatics for personal enrichment
  • Theater games for theatrical production

These are not hard and fast distinctions, and people use the terms differently. At the end of this piece, in fact, I’ll give an example of what I’d call creative dramatics that nevertheless morphs into a kind of performance. And is “personal enrichment” so different from therapy? “Therapy is growth,” a therapist once told me, and many beneficial activities can say the same – but are they all therapy? It’s easy but pointless to get too caught up in definitions, and if something is defined too broadly, it’s probably not defined at all. So I’ll continue to use the three terms as though they stand for different things.

Of the three, I’ve had the least to do – nothing, really – with creative dramatics for therapy, at least in the medical sense, and I’ll have the least to say about it here. Sally Baily, a drama therapist and a professor at Kansas State University, summarizes what is known of the history of the field, and along the way demonstrates the difficulty of fully documenting history, in an article called “Ancient and Modern Roots of Drama Therapy” (31 December 2009):


She may – or may not – stretch Aristotle’s point a bit in claiming that his theory of catharsis is a form of drama therapy. I was thrilled to read about “Soranus, a second century Roman, [who] believed that the way to cure mentally ill patients was to put them into peaceful surroundings and have them read, discuss, and participate in the production of plays in order to create order in their thinking and offset their depression.” I wonder if by any chance those plays she refers to were improvised. However, I haven’t been able to learn any more about him except that he was apparently from Ephesus, and a gynecologist.

I am convinced of at least one fact about creative dramatics as therapy: it’s no field for amateurs. This point may seem self-evident, but it not only isn’t, it may not even be the usual approach. I have been a member of many creative dramatics classes where the instructor seemed to feel that the participants had to be “broken apart and put back together.” One quoted the famous Polish director and theater leader Jerzy Grotowski to the effect that “Americans’ bodies are like haunted houses.”

Who is qualified to make that judgment? And who is qualified to do something about it? Perhaps in, say, the 1960s, some might have accepted the idea of a guru wise enough to be able to mold human beings into new creatures. It was always a bad idea; now it seems a dangerous one. The guy leading the acting class down the street is unlikely to be a good source of advice, much less a person one could trust with the control of one’s deepest nature.

On the other hand, the drama critic Eric Bentley, in his essay “Theatre and Therapy” in Thinking About The Playwright (1987), describes in detail the techniques of Dr. Jacob Levy Moreno, known as the founder of the field of psychodrama, and gives an idea of the possibilities of therapy in that area when applied by a properly trained and credentialed practitioner.

My own experience with creative dramatics is a little less, well, dramatic, but may provide some lessons. I got a rocky start. I began working with it at Washington and Lee University, where the teacher, Lee Kahn, used some “theater games” as part of the acting class. I enjoyed them, but found them difficult – I felt they were too abrupt somehow: they demanded results without making it clear how to get to them.

This feeling seems to have been shared by my wife Pat, who hated all theater work that wasn’t scripted anyway. She told me years after college that she’d taken a creative dramatics class, found to her horror “that it involved games,” and was disappointed that it didn’t seem to mean making your acting more creative.  “I thought all drama is supposed to be creative,” she said, and it’s hard to argue with that.

The first time I tried to teach creative dramatics was for the Cultural Enrichment Program of Rockbridge County, Virginia, in 1969. Lee’s wife, Betty, recruited me to do it, heaven knows why. I certainly had no idea what I was doing. Betty and her team wrote out the lesson plans, and I still have them. They begin with stretching and loosening up, move on to physical improvisations using the imagination (standing on sand that becomes hot, running through water, running through mud), sensory awareness (what do you hear? what do you smell?), toss an imaginary balloon . . . . These exercises are augmented by standards like the Mirror Exercise (one person “mirrors” the movements of another – a classic), the Freeze Game (sudden “freezes” of movement lead to new situations for improvisations). Eventually the classes move on to staging simple stories. These are perfectly sensible exercises; my problem with them, I think, was that their order seemed arbitrary – I didn’t see the principle behind it.

Then as part of the work of a children’s theater on the Army post at Fort Lee, Virginia, I taught some sessions with an Army wife named Jeanne Pollard, who was a first-rate theater person and really knew her stuff. I must have taught half a dozen or so classes. However, I was aware that I didn’t have the “first principles” of the approach in hand. My approach, as far as I can tell from the extant lesson plans, was scattershot – no framework or structure to it, just one exercise after another, whatever came to mind.

The same was true when I taught a creative dramatics session for the Recreation Activities class at Teachers College (Columbia University) in October 1975. I gave a sleepy Saturday-morning class a tour through how to use exercises for teaching, and I guess I got some points across, but I didn’t feel that I’d mastered the subject.

Somewhere around this time I became aware of the most famous book on the field, Improvisation for the Theatre (1963) by Viola Spolin (“Originator of THEATRE GAMES”). Spolin was greatly influenced by the work of Neva L. Boyd, with whom she studied in Chicago. Spolin writes in the introduction to her book:

I received from her an extraordinary training in the use of games, story-telling, folk dance, and dramatics as tools for stimulating creative expression in both children and adults, through self-discovery and personal experiencing.

Spolin’s book is extensive and methodical, and by the end of it the reader feels able to do practically anything in the field. The advice on “side-coaching,” in effect guiding the improvisation while it’s going on, is outstanding. Spolin groups the exercises according to purpose, and for each exercise describes its steps, presents ideas for class evaluation, and gives extensive notes.

I suspect that everyone who works in the field has Spolin in mind as a permanent reference point, even people who want to promote different approaches. For my part, I admired her book enormously, but I couldn’t really make it work for me as a technique, for reasons I’ll describe in a moment.

The next challenge for me as a creative dramatics instructor was the Senior Citizens Drama Project of 1975, which morphed into a job for the New York City Housing Authority, also doing creative dramatics for senior citizens, in 1975-76. It was a mixed success. In some locations I never got any drama activity started at all. If I had known what I was to learn in four to five years, the whole thing would have been completely different. But at least I brought some people together, and I didn’t do any harm.

I then taught a class in Harlem and one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn; I don’t remember if the funding ran out on the city work, or if I got tired of it, or if it got tired of me. In any case, something great was about to happen. In 1980 I auditioned as a substitute for Pushcart Players, a fine touring children’s theater company out of Verona, New Jersey. It was successfully run, and still is, by Ruth Fost, and working with the theater at that time on creative dramatics was a very competent professional named Gretchen Johnson.

I toured for a year for Pushcart as “swing” (substitute) actor and pianist – I did dozens of shows for them. That was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life, because it taught me consistency and self-reliance. After that I was never apprehensive about being cast for a show; I knew I had resources to draw on. The cast was fun, too, a lovely group of people. We traveled all over the state of New Jersey; it was a lot of work, including putting up and taking down the set, and at least once we did four shows in a day. But with an experience like that, you find out what you can do.

But best of all, the Pushcart people were enthusiastic about an approach to creative dramatics they’d learned from an Englishman named Brian Way, equal parts educator and theater worker, who founded Theatre Centre in London, an organization going strong to this day, which describes itself as 

a professional theatre company touring to children and young people. A registered charity, since 1953 Theatre Centre has been taking outstanding new writing to schools to benefit children’s education and aspirations, and to enhance their knowledge and imaginations. We work closely with artists, young people and teachers, to ensure we consistently create high-quality, life-enhancing theatre experiences for young audiences. 
Way wrote a book that has had an enormous influence on me and on many others. It’s called Development Through Drama, and its basic principle is: no “performing” – everyone works together.

That turned out to be the magic key for me. Viola Spolin’s famous exercises begin with people standing on stage and being stared at. Brian Way didn’t want anyone to be stared at. He wanted the participants to feel safe and free to work. He felt that the work should be its own critique – that the class process itself should produce the desired results.

Armed with some training from the Pushcart staff in Brian Way’s approach, I began teaching creative dramatics with them, and soon I was going out to schools by myself to lead full days of classes for Pushcart. I still use the material I learned then, with continuing modifications, of course, but the basic approach is so good that I consider it completely reliable. And the fundamental principle – that everyone works at the same time – is pure gold.

After Pushcart I taught some classes for my friend Mona Hennessey, who was teaching drama at a school in Jersey City at one time. I taught for a year at a theater school in Hackensack, New Jersey, then joined the staff of the Performers Theater Workshop, run by Howard and Esther Kravitz, in Livingston, New Jersey, and taught there on Saturdays for years. Howard was formerly a big band musician, and Esther a Las Vegas performer, but they both had a lot of respect for the creative dramatics program.

I also led creative dramatics sessions in Montclair, New Jersey, for birthday parties under the heading “Creative Birthdays.” And I’ve used creative dramatics techniques in many other situations, directing being not the least of them. It’s a wonderful field and I’m so glad I finally got a handle on how to do it.

So what’s the point of creative dramatics, really? The three goals that stand out for me are creativity, confidence, and competence, more or less in that order.

Creativity – the basis of creative dramatics work is the assurance that everyone has not just an imagination, but a good one; that while social pressures in particular may discourage us from using our imaginations, they are retrievable; that the imagination gets stronger with practice – a point that the work is designed to reinforce quickly; and that one person’s imagination is as good as another’s. We will certainly have different results when we use our imaginations, but there’s no rating system – each person’s is just fine.

How do you deal with participants who adamantly refuse to imagine anything at all? That’s the strength of everyone’s working together. On the one hand, the reluctant members of the class aren’t singled out. On the other hand, the fact that other people are picturing and saying increasingly wild things provides comfort and reassurance. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a situation where someone simply refused to do the imaginative work at all.

Needless to say, the leader’s response to everyone’s contributions is always strongly positive, since no idea can be “wrong,” and this strategy leads to . . .

Confidence – or at least it should. “Confidence” means “self-confidence,” of course, but it also means confidence in the process – the security that while the group is working, you will be respected and not put in a bad light or forced to do things you don’t want to do. The result ought to be, and very frequently is, an increase in positive feelings about one’s ability to function alongside other people, and to handle initially unfamiliar situations.

I’m sure there are scientific ways of measuring increases in creativity and confidence, but you don’t need metrics to tell when a group is growing, individually and collectively. In fact, most of the time the situation is as simple as this: if the instructor feels that the session is going well, it probably is, and the reverse is also true.

Competence – I have listed this goal third in the series for several reasons. One is that creativity and confidence are sufficient rewards in themselves. There doesn’t have to be any ulterior motive involved in the process. However, the fact is that people who enjoy and make progress in creative dramatics also may become increasingly capable of better work on stage – hence the more specialized field of theater games. In this sense I think my wife was wrong: creative dramatics can make one’s acting more creative, as one learns to listen more to the others in the scene, to respond freshly to new circumstances and events, to get a better idea of how a scene works from beginning to end, and so on.

So theatrical competence definitely can be a by-product of creative dramatics work. But – and here we come to one of the major benefits of the arts as a whole – the stage is not the only place where the competence one learns in creative dramatics can be applied. Theater, in its many forms, including creative dramatics, is a “portable skill” – it involves ancillary skills such as working with others, organization, punctuality, dealing with difficult people, giving and receiving instructions, training, finance and administration, calmness in the face of adversity . . .  a person who has a thorough background in performance has a “toolkit” that can be used in many aspects of life.

Creativity, confidence, competence – it’s an impressive list, and all three develop more or less spontaneously out of a good creative dramatics experience. Just what is a “good” creative dramatics experience, though? In a way, it can be defined circularly – it’s an experience that increases creativity, confidence, and competence. I’d also add, however, that it’s an experience that’s appropriate for the teacher, as my own story demonstrates.

I taught many approaches to creative dramatics that worked for other people but didn’t for me. That doesn’t mean that the other approaches were wrong; it means I didn’t respond to them, and so the groups I led couldn’t respond to them either, at least not as much as I felt they could. I suspect that almost any approach to creative dramatics can work, provided the leader believes in it and has sufficiently thought it through.

I have a pile of lesson plans for creative dramatics sessions over the years. Teachers would be appalled at my lesson plans: I scratched them out on any available paper, often in a sort of creative dramatics shorthand:

Move around and freeze
Yo-yo
Ad-ons
Relate an incident – other add detail
Freeze game
Improv – current events
Give me that ball
 
(I have no idea what that last one means.)

Some of my lesson plans are more extensive; some of them are filled with ideas from various books. Viola Spolin, I believe, advises keeping a good games book around, so you can turn to it when nothing else seems to be working. There are countless books on creative dramatics available these days. After a while they start to look the same, with the same kinds of exercises, but you can often find good ideas in them – my friend Mona Hennessy and I relied for years on a little pamphlet that looked like it was just a list of activities, but that turned out to be extremely useful.

Looking through my lesson plans – well, notes – I see a number of ideas that sounded good to me but that I was never able to make much progress with. Sock puppets, for example, sounded like a terrific approach, but I remember it as a bust for me and I only tried it once or twice. Especially after I started working at Performers Theatre Workshop, I tried working out plans for half-year sessions, and it was better to have the plans than not to, but I seldom if ever stuck to them through the entire series of classes, because some activities worked – and I tried to build on them – and some didn’t – and if neither the class nor I liked them, I dropped them.

While I was working with Pushcart Players, an excellent creative dramatics teacher named Karen Fredrickson led a workshop with us, and one of the things I remember best from it was her advice not to worry about repeating exercises. In fact, she said, children love repetition. Do what works over and over – just vary it and let it develop. I wish I had heard this very good advice years earlier. I was always afraid I’d bore the participants, and so I tried for constant novelty, which is not a realistic goal.

Pushcart worked out a general format for creative dramatics classes which I’ve used for years now, building on the parts of it in subsequent weeks if the class has multiple sessions. Derived from Brian Way’s practice, it has flexibility, and isn’t a recipe, but in part it goes something like this:

  1. Use strange objects to get the imaginations started – “What could this be?” Stress that no answer is wrong – everyone’s creativity is fine.
  2. Stretch and shake the various parts of the body.
  3. Build up to shaking everything on the body, and then freeze at a signal. From the freeze position, become different things as coached by the instructor (“something huge,” “something tiny,” “something beautiful”).
  4. In small groups, in short amounts of time, develop a story out of elements the leader provides (“your story must have a storm, an angry old person, and end with the words, ‘It just goes to show, you can’t mess around with magic’” – Brian Way’s idea)
  5. Have the groups, working together, form “photos,” still pictures, of moments in their stories, starting and ending at the signal. Repeat this several times, mix the groups up and create new stories, continue with “photos.”)
  6. Once the “photo” principle (“freeze – ready – put the story into action”) is mastered, move into more elaborate stories, based on the day’s school lesson, a social problem, something in the news, a book, poem, or commercial, or anything else. Or, in one-session classes, a narrated story can be used instead, with the group acting out the story as the narrator tells it.
So far we’ve talked about creative dramatics, but what about theater games? The preceding outline clearly could work as both. There’s no rigid line between the two, but as I’m using the term, theater games have a performance aim in sight.

Generally speaking, with creative dramatics classes, I begged the schools not to insist on showcases for parents. If the parents had to see the children at work, whenever possible I framed the session as a class, and told the parents that all they would see was the way we worked every week. Even this approach has its problems, though, because it still turns the class into performance, and there’s a temptation to show off, for better or worse, for the parents.

Once or twice I had to arrange a performance of a creative dramatics class as part of a year-end show. Those events ranked with the Titanic as disasters. I recall saying to someone, while one of those dire presentations was going on, “I swear, if we live through this, I’ll never, never teach again.” I did live through it, and did teach again, but the scars remain. Any performance by a creative dramatics class will by necessity dominate class time. The group simply has to get ready for the public. Creative dramatics, basically, goes out the window, replaced by half-hearted theater games. One or the other must be the focus – never both.

But a theater games series is easier to plan than a creative dramatics session, because it has a specific performance objective as a goal. In effect, planning creative dramatics means planning from the beginning and going forward, but planning theater games means planning backwards from the end result, for example:

GOAL: Build a group feeling in the cast.
ACTIVITIES: Warm the cast up by playing different ball games with imaginary balls. Do group sentence-building and story-building.

GOAL: Loosen up a scene that seems to be “stuck.”
ACTIVITIES: Do the scene paraphrasing the lines. Sing the scene, do it in slow-motion or very fast motion, do it in mime.

GOAL: Improve projection of voices.
ACTIVITIES: Improvise a scene related to the circumstances of the play, place the locations of the scene around the auditorium.

Some actors don’t like to do anything in rehearsal except work on the script – some loathe theater games or “exercises” – so the director must work sensitively.

Theater games can also be used to develop original theatrical material. In the Pushcart Players creative dramatics outline above, by step 6 the group is positioned to create new scenes or even plays if desired, over a period of time. Any subject matter will do for story-building – even science and mathematics.

This summer I led three one-class workshops as part of a church summer camp, with classes for (1) preschool and first grade, (2) second through fifth grades, (3) sixth grade and above. The children basically had inner-city backgrounds; some of them reported that they had acted in school plays (one said, “I’m an actor!”). The organizers and I decided that if we kept the event fairly informal, we could have the groups demonstrate some “still photos brought to life” of Bible scenes at the end of the event – in other words, in a compressed way we did creative dramatics that could be said to blend somewhat into theater games, not something I recommend, but we found a way to do it acceptably.

We followed the class procedure listed above, leading into easily staged Bible stories – Noah getting the animals onto the ark, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus calming the storm – with a different Noah, Moses, or Jesus each time. The groups became, in addition to the human characters, waves, animals, weather. I narrated – which removed the need for transition scenes – and “coached” the groups into forming the “still photos” that turned into various moments of the stories. We could fairly quickly have expanded the stories, but time was pressing.

I hadn’t led a creative dramatics session in some time, and had forgotten how much work it can be. In general I tend to think of my relation with creative dramatics groups, not as that of teacher to students, but as that of (nervous) party host to guests. My responsibility, I feel deep inside, is to have the participants leave in a good mood, nourished and entertained. This may not be the best attitude to have, but that’s what I bring to the table. However that may be, the satisfactions of the work are great. Helping to build creativity, confidence, and competence – not a bad day’s work.

[As I said at the top, I’ve had some small experience with theater games and creative dramatics.  For example, when I was rehearsing a stage adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s short story Ward 6, I wanted the actors, who were all playing either patients or staff in the psychiatric ward, to feel that the performance space was intimately familiar to them—where they literally spent all or most of their time.  I devised some exercises for the cast to explore the "stage" (a black box).  I had the actors do the exploration in character so that the link between the role and the space became indivisible.  Before that, when I was getting my MFA at Rutgers University, we grad students formed a children's theater one summer.  One of the performances we created was a scripted play (an Aurand Harris musical), but the other was a story-theater assemblage of tales all involving animals (like the Brementown Musicians and some James Thurber fables).  We developed the animal-story production by games and improvs, keeping what worked best and tossing out what didn't or didn't appeal to us. (We also made a group pilgrimage to the Bronx Zoo to observe some of the animals in our stories.) 

[Kirk’s last post on ROT was “Eugene Ionesco” on 2 July; he’s contemplating another contribution to the blog on what he says is “theater etiquette,” though I don’t know yet what that will turn out to mean!  (One of the really fun aspects of seeing submissions from Kirk is not just what he chooses to look at, his subject, but what approach he’ll take.  So far, he hasn’t failed to surprise me with his perspective and analysis.)]



25 September 2013

Acting: Testimony & Role vs. Character


[When I was shadowing Leonardo Shapiro, the late innovative and experimental theater director, while he was directing and teaching, and interviewing him about his work, I learned that among his company’s most important acting techniques were what he called “testimony” and the distinction of what he designated “role” versus “character.”  Along with the actor-audience relationship and “real-time” performance, these were the hallmarks of the art of the Shaliko Company, the troupe he founded and ran in New York City’s East Village.  (I’ve drawn on my research on Leo Shapiro for a number of ROT posts since the blog’s inception; see, for example, “Song in the Blood (Hiroshima/Los Alamos),” 5 August 2009; “Cheerleaders of the Revolution,” 31 October 2009; “Brother, You’re Next,” 26 January 2010; “New York Free Theater,” 4 April 2010; “War Carnival,” 13 May 2010; “‘As It Is In Heaven,’” 25 March 2011; and “‘Two Thousand Years of Stony Sleep,’” an early piece of writing by Shapiro himself, 7 May 2011.  Many other blog articles were derived from reading, experiences, or discussions that came out of my work with Leo.)]

Avant-garde stage director Leonardo Shapiro, founder and director of the Shaliko Company from 1971 to 1993, developed an idiosyncratic acting technique of which he said: “I set out to synthesize what I'd learned from Brecht and Grotowski—to combine the personal, confessional will of the actor with Brecht's idea of telling the useful truth to the audience and . . . structure content in such a way that it is activating to an audience.”  In concert with the impact of Brecht’s Epic-theater acting, Shapiro applied his interpretation of one element of Grotowskian theory: “the prophetic, personal, confessional function of the artist.”  Shapiro sought a “strong, personal commitment of the actor and that full use of the actor with the emphasis on the audience—with Brecht’s emphasis on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it to the audience. . . . .  That’s what the company was absolutely about—finding that synthesis.”  This gave birth to “testimony” and the director’s emphasis on “role” over “character.”

Shapiro’s idea of testimony was very much embodied in the notions of the real-time event and the direct communication between actor and spectator.  If the actors present themselves as people like the spectators, doing actual things in real time, then, the director hoped, the audience would become part of the event by making connections between actions that previously appeared unrelated.  (Shapiro defined the “real-time event” as simply what actually happens at a performance while the audience is in the room.  It was the fourth leg of the Shapiro-Shaliko artistic platform; “the primacy of the audience/actor relationship” was the third.)  In The Yellow House (1986), Shapiro explained, testimony was “using Van Gogh’s words without pretending to be him; to talk directly one-to-one, actor to audience” not simply to present a play, a fictional story, but to use the text as a way to communicate with the spectators, to concentrate “on the interaction between actor and audience.”  One of Shapiro’s most important theater principles, he related it to Bertolt Brecht, explaining that it regularly interrupted the fiction “to make all the people equally real and present; to keep applying the present situation in the room to the story being acted out.”  It’s certainly connected, too, to one of the basic lessons Jerzy Grotowski inculcated in his students at the New York University workshop in which Shapiro participated in 1967.  (See “‘The Stone in the Soup’ – Excerpts” by Tom Crawley, on ROT 14 and 17 April 2011.)  “The first principle,” the Polish director explained to the young actors, “is the use of the person, the use of yourself.  The actor should concentrate on what he, the actor, is personally revealing or displaying.  The first consideration is the personal experience, the life and energies of the actor himself.”

The Yellow House, Shapiro’s consideration of Vincent van Gogh, was Shaliko’s first deliberate experiment with testimony, though it figured in previous works such as The Measures Taken (1974), Brecht’s 1930 Lehrstück in which the debate with the audience actually took verbal form; Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck (1976); and, especially, Andrea Dunbar’s The Arbor (1983).  While testimony started in The Yellow House mostly as direct address to the audience, it appeared afterwards in subtler forms.  In Strangers (1990), for instance, there was little direct address in the literal sense, but the whole piece, nearly all of whose text was first-person, was testimony. 

Building on the established Shaliko technique of inquiry, and inspired by van Gogh’s own “testimony,” as Shapiro saw it in the painter’s work and letters, the director intended Yellow House to consider courage and the artist’s struggle to find a role in society.  Describing one moment in the performance, Shapiro explained: “[T]he actors address the audience directly as themselves—using Vincent’s words (about his struggle to discover an honest, effective, creative role in society) but speaking for themselves as actors, artists and citizens . . . .”  The technique, in simplistic terms, is akin to Stanislavskian acting except that instead of finding elements of the characters in themselves, the actors make personal connections to aspects of the role.  This technique is combined with the Brechtian practice of commentary and criticism, as illustrated in Brecht’s description of Charles Laughton’s acting in Galileo. 
 
This principle—that the actor appears on the stage in a double role, as Laughton and as Galileo; that the showman Laughton does not disappear in the Galileo whom he is showing . . .—comes to mean simply that the tangible, matter-of-fact process is no longer hidden behind a veil; that Laughton is actually there, standing on the stage and showing us what he imagines Galileo to have been.  Of course the audience would not forget Laughton if he attempted the full change of personality, in that they would admire him for it; but they would in that case miss his own opinions and sensations . . . .

Of course, since Shapiro didn’t give them character notes, the actors had to fill the outer frames themselves.  In notes for a pep talk intended for the cast of Karen Malpede’s Blue Heaven (1992), Shapiro explained how he expected his actors to fill the shapes he created with them: “cross document our lives with [the] characters’ lives, our props with theirs, our gestures with theirs, our voices with theirs,” so the actors would speak of themselves through the dialogue.  (In my mind, this is a delicate, highly complex and selective application of what Uta Hagen called “substitution.”)  In this way, testimony was accomplished without direct address to the audience.

For Shapiro, testimony wasn’t just sharing information—which, he acknowledged could also be seen as testimony—but something more “important” and “personal,” in the vein of poets Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, and Robert Lowell.  Shapiro, in fact, compared it to the testimony people give in church or court, “but with all the possible heightening, concentration, and economy that the theater traditionally uses for . . . fictional ends.”   Testimony “has to do with concentrating on the present tense and the interaction between the actors and the audience, and not concentrating on fiction,” Shapiro asserted, defining the technique as “simply the actor speaking directly to the audience about what matters to them both in that moment, in a way that can change that moment, change the world they live in.”

For his last production, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull with the Riverside Repertory Theatre Company of Albuquerque (1996), Shapiro described the rehearsal process for arriving at this kind of performance:

The touchstone is when you’re talking to the audience or me standing in for the audience, that level of communication is direct testimony.  When Shenoah [Allen, the actor who played Medvedyenko] says, “Tonight their souls [will mingle in art true to both of them],” he’s talking to us, he’s establishing the basic relationship of performances, human-human relationship, not character . . . .

Applying this principle to a role like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Grotowski taught that the actor’s “own creative work is not to reproduce” the persona devised by Shakespeare, “but to use this mythic creation for expressing himself, the actor’s own deeply-rooted self.”  All this is to be accomplished through the playwright’s text, of course. 

Actor Charlie Chaplin epitomized the kind of performative duality that Shapiro and Brecht (who both admired the film great) sought and which Joseph Chaikin, whom Shapiro directed in Woyzeck, described in The Presence of the Actor:

When we as actors are performing, we as persons are also present and the performance is a testimony of ourselves.  Each role, each work, each performance changes us as persons.  The actor doesn’t start out with answers about living—but with wordless questions about experience.

James Naremore, author of Acting in the Cinema, pointed out that Chaplin actually appeared habitually as three personae.  Aside from “himself,” a carefully constructed Charlie Chaplin persona that’s no more real than the roles he played, and the fictional character Chaplin played in the film (say, The Lone Prospector in 1925’s The Gold Rush), there was usually also a diegetic persona the film character assumed (in The Gold Rush again: explorer, waiter, valet, millionaire, dancer, and lover, among others).  In other words, Charles Spencer Chaplin played Charlie Chaplin (i.e., the Little Tramp), who played The Lone Prospector, who in turn played various roles as circumstances dictated.  These last three are simultaneously visible to the viewer of The Gold Rush.  While he didn’t portray a character with whom audiences could identify directly—no one was really like that Little Tramp, after all, as Vsevolod Meyerhold succinctly pointed out—he drew audiences into his world on both an emotional and intellectual level.  Indeed, Brecht wrote that were Chaplin to play Napoleon, he wouldn’t try to look like the emperor, but “would show objectively and critically how Napoleon would behave.”  The result is that in his films, Chaplin was clearly acting while at the same time “revealing the essence of his soul.”  Some Brechtian critics have called this “schizoid” acting—actors presenting simultaneously as both performers and persons.  In addition, Chaplin was able to address the audience directly in a way that further removed him from the realm of Realistic and Stanislavskian performance.

(The use of the word “schizoid” above to imply a split personality, in the sense of someone behaving like two different people, is clearly a misuse in terms of today’s understanding of schizophrenia.  Nonetheless, it’s the word used by certain Brechtian analysts to describe the presence of the actor as both a performer enacting a role and a person with opinions and responses.  The misuse of the term notwithstanding, the concept still applies.)

Because no “fourth wall” separated the actors and the audience at a Shaliko performance, testimony encouraged the spectators to enter into a debate about the character, the situation, and the actors’ takes on either or both.  In the Shaliko production of The Measures Taken, the company practiced this principle, showing the audience what they deemed the “most important point” and expecting the spectators to form opinions and even discuss it with one another outside the theater.  Indeed, The Measures Taken is, itself, a paradigm for Epic acting.  In the diegetic demonstration, the characters, functioning as actor-demonstrators, enact the events to which they were all witnesses or participants themselves.  They comment on the characters they depict—themselves, the Young Comrade, and all the other figures in the event—and their audience, both the diegetic one (the Control Council) and the spectators at Shaliko’s Measures Taken, judges and criticizes them instead of empathizing with them.  (Since the Shaliko actors in the production were also demonstrating their observations, there were, in fact, two levels of commentary for the theater audience to judge.)

Chaikin explained the technique with respect to Brecht: “In addition to [the actor’s] presence on the stage as the character in the given circumstances he is sharing with the audience a response to the character’s predicament.”  That response changes from moment to moment, shaping “the [inter]play between actor and audience” who are partners in the experience.   Both Grotowski, as noted, and Ryszard Cieślak, Grotowski’s leading actor, spoke of this, too.  “The subject of the performance,” declared Grotowski, “is this confession of the actor which occurs in the here and now,” while Cieślak stated that the actor must be stimulated “to reveal himself, to expose to everyone his inner being.”  Chaikin described Cieślak as the paradigm of this type of performance: “[T]here is no evidence of character in the former definition of motives and information.  His work is an articulation of a common human condition.  In every moment he seems aware that his ‘confession’ is something which applies to him but not only to him.”

In fact, Shapiro essentially eschewed “character” in the sense to which Chaikin referred.  He delineated the Shaliko approach to acting by describing the lessons he learned back at NYU’s School of the Arts:

First, make sense of the words; then find what your objective is and learn how to pursue it; and then find out who the character is and how to portray that.  From the beginning of our work as a company, I was never interested in that last part, character.  We just threw that out and made everything based on the other two, making sense and pursuing the objective.

Reflecting on Shaliko’s work on the Greek tragedies in Children of the Gods (1973), the director affirmed that he didn’t see Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Menelaus, Orestes, or Electra as characters, “but was fascinated by them as hereditary 3,000 year-old roles as fresh today as when their garments were first produced by exploited children laboring in Athenian sweat shops.”  For him, they were “[t]he greedy King, the unforgiving Queen, the sacrificed Virgin on the altar, the stormy Uncle, the wounded, disillusioned Young Hero, the Sister who has been unhinged by the thirst for revenge.”  Shapiro called this form of “role-play” “psychodrama.”

“Part of the conception of the actors’ job is role playing as opposed to character,” explained Shapiro, “playing the definition of their relationship with the audience and the story that is being told.”  By way of illustration, Shapiro said after the 1992 run of Mark Rozovsky’s Kafka: Father and Son that neither Franz nor Hermann, the writer’s father, were interesting to him.  For the director, both actors in the cast represented the same “character”: “The father is a voice inside the son” in a clash of creativity (“the son”) and repression (“the father”).  In The Yellow House, in which four actors played different aspects of one character, Vincent van Gogh (Young Vincent, the Painter, the Mirror, the Self-Portrait), Shapiro said that they each played a different role (the “blank page,” the artist, the self-image, the public image).  We can see in this technique a demonstration of fragmentary character that Shapiro used previously in The Measures Taken, with the way the Four Agitators each portrayed the Young Comrade, and again later in Strangers, in which actors played several characters while embodying the same role.  Brecht’s view of character in general is also discernible in Measures, as it is in his Man Is Man, a play that was very important to Shapiro, where Galy Gay abandons one character and adopts another when it becomes advantageous for him to do so—the same adjustment Shapiro and his collaborators depicted in Brother, You’re Next, a 1967 pre-Shaliko performance based on Man Is Man (described in an ROT post on 26 January 2010).  For Brecht, and therefore to Shapiro, character, on or off the stage, is a mutable, impermanent, and manipulable thing, not, as Stanislavsky taught, an inevitable consequence of psychological stimuli.

For the cast of The Seagull, Shapiro differentiated between “character” and “role”: “Character is something that’s fixed”—once the actor has chosen and set it.  “Role is something that opens.”  He told his Seagull cast, “I was never interested in these imaginary characters; they never existed.  I don’t care about them.  What I was interested in was YOU in these roles.”   He tied “character,” a fictional construct, to the psychological analysis Stanislavsky-trained actors use to delve into their parts, fixing their behavior through techniques such as affective (emotional) memory and sense memory that result in actors giving the same performance every time, ideally eliciting the same response from the audience at every performance.  The director saw this as a “screen between the actor and the audience, or the actor and another actor.”

Actors performing “roles,” in contrast, are in the “present tense,” performing their actions on stage, “open to what’s happening now” and “exploiting” the differences among audiences.  In this instance, the “characters” are determined by their actions, and the audience may draw conclusions about them.  This contrasts with actors who develop a character first, then present their actions as the unavoidable effects of that psychology, thus obviating spectator criticism.  Brecht posited that actions which are presented as the inevitable consequences of the characters’ mental make-ups cannot be criticized by the audience because the characters had no choice but to behave the way they did, but when the actors suggest all possible choices, as Shapiro wanted, the audience can criticize the actions that are selected. 

The kind of “character” work Shapiro was here disparaging is often filled with adjectives and descriptive, as opposed to active, language: Hamlet is “indecisive,” “confused,” “weak,” “unsure”; Lady Macbeth is “domineering,” “ambitious,” “ruthless,” and so on.  (Actors often call this “playing adjectives.”)  The kinds of actions (also called “objectives”) to which Shapiro was referring are expressed as transitive verbs, sometimes with direct objects but with a minimum of adverbs and adjectives, as in “to control” or “to find the murderer.”  The distinction’s not inconsequential: the former actor will be static and unchanging, the latter responsive and reactive.

In “On Acting and Not-Acting,” performance scholar Michael Kirby established a continuum of performative behavior that ranges from “not-acting” at one end to “acting” at the other.  Kirby, who defined acting as “to feign, to simulate, to represent, to impersonate,” also asserted that much contemporary performance was shifting toward not-acting, which he defined as “where the performer does nothing to feign, simulate, impersonate, and so forth.”  Shaliko’s acting was representative of a position closer to the acting end of the scale but without all the elements Kirby ascribed to “complex acting,” which would include, among other styles, Stanislavskian Realism and Method acting, where “more and more elements are incorporated into the pretense.”

Richard Kostelanetz, an artist, author, and critic who’s a passionate defender of the avant-garde, noted in The Theatre of Mixed Means about the kind of performance that’s paradigmatic of Shapiro’s type of theater:

In mixed-means theatre, the performers usually do not enact roles but carry out prescribed tasks.  Since these gestures and movements are, to varying degrees, less precisely programed than actors’ activities in theatrical drama, mixed-means performers, unlike actors, do not assume other personalities, but merely display their own.

What Kostelanetz, who used “role” in a sense closer to Shapiro’s “character” (as unfortunately many writers do), was describing fits roughly into Kirby’s performance continuum between “nonmatrixed representation” (“that condition in which the performer does not act and yet his costume [or other non-performance element] represents something or someone”) and “simple acting” (“in which only one element or dimension of acting is used”).  It most closely resembles a form of “received acting,” in which the performers behave as themselves while the performative aspects are projected by a very “strong, persistent” environment, especially masks, as Shapiro employed in Punch! (1987).  In the director’s application, however, there’s more manipulation on the parts of the actors.  This shouldn’t be confused, however, with what’s sometimes described as “transparent” acting, which may be seen as the ultimate Stanislavskian performance.  The transparent actor appears to be behaving naturally, as if in real life.  He or she is transparent because we don’t see the actor’s technique; we “see through” the actor to the character.  It’s the preferred type of acting of American film and found its culmination in the Method acting of Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio.  “Just being,” a description of transparent acting, wasn’t what Shapiro—or Brecht, for that matter—was aiming at.  Brecht named Charlie Chaplin as a paradigm of the Epic actor, but though Chaplin emulated everyday behavior on screen, he evinced a “theatrical eloquence, never using the transparent gestures of offstage communication.”  It’s this theatricality, or “ostensiveness,” that lets the audience know it’s watching a performance and generates the distance for it to observe and criticize the situation.  Ostensiveness, in James Naremore’s terms, “makes us more than usually aware that we are watching a performance.  . . . .  It is a deliberate ‘showing off’ rather than a transparent ‘being there’—a  toying with illusion that serves in part to heighten the viewer’s desire.”

“[A] lot of people are concerned with role as opposed to character in various ways,” Shapiro observed, though for him, the difference between playing a character and playing a role went further than merely pursuing actions on stage, whether transparently or ostensively.  “I think it’s . . . not making the fictional character of a plot the point of the theatrical event . . .,” he explained.  The director specified further: “Working my way, the basic elements of the scene might be the Boy, the Girl, the Moon, and the Audience, as opposed to another way of working which would be based on the specific characters Romeo and Juliet.”  In this, he wasn’t far from Aristotle, who relegated Character to a position inferior to Action.  Shapiro illustrated what he wanted by contrasting the 1986 British and 1988 American casts of Jim Cartwright’s Road, an environmental play set in the industrial north of England during the Thatcherite 1980s.  According to Shapiro, the American actors “very self-consciously had to work on the characters”—the fictive constructs—while their British counterparts “worked on the issues and the people”—their roles.  Shapiro felt of the British actors that “who they were shone through much larger, but without being self-conscious.”  He concluded that “all this work on self and character diminishes people, makes them smaller, makes them smaller than people are in extreme situations and moments.  People don’t make sense; people aren’t characters.”

In this oblique reference to Stanislavsky’s first acting text, An Actor Prepares, whose original Russian title translates as “The actor’s work on himself,” Shapiro was disparaging the technique by which actors develop characters by assembling aspects of themselves that fit, drawing on their pasts using remembered emotions and sensations—affective and sense memories—then ask themselves, ‘What would I do if I were in the character’s situation.’  (When I was taking acting classes from Stanislavsky-based teachers, I was admonished not to speak of the character as “he” and “him,” but always as “I” and “me” in order to reinforce the notion that I am the character.  Not only is this the opposite of the Brechtian actor’s approach, but as a playwright, Brecht often included the words “he said” or “she said” in his dialogue to reinforce this separation.)  This is known as the “Magic ‘If’” and Grotowski unequivocally instructed his 1967 workshop students not to employ it to identify with their characters, and Brecht insisted that this type of acting works by a kind of “hypnosis” whereby the actors “go into a trance and take the audience with them.”  This “bourgeois ‘psychologism,’” as Shapiro described it, does “more to stimulate illusions than to give experiences,” Brecht said, “more to intoxicate than to elevate, more to deceive than to illumine.”  The result is that “everybody feels” but “nobody learn[s] any lessons.”  “Brecht,” Shapiro maintained, “tried to depict everything with utmost clarity.  Every scene, every [bit of] dialogue comes out in sharp clearness.”

Playwright Mac Wellman, whose Whirligig Shapiro directed in 1989, insisted that the “meaningfulness” of a performance doesn’t depend on “a lot of antiquated rules” of Stanislavskian and Aristotelian drama and Shapiro wanted his actors to approach their work without such a psychological ruse.  Joseph Chaikin described this anti-Stanislavskian tactic: “I don’t start with myself saying ‘What would it be about for me?’ [but] ‘What is it about for this character?,’ which corresponds to something I can understand, which corresponds to something which is transmittable to the audience, which is part of the audience experience.”

In another illustration, Shapiro described the work Vanessa Redgrave did for her 1989 Broadway presentation of Tennessee Williams’s Orpheus Descending.  He’d taken some students to a performance and they met with Redgrave.  She explained to the students that because her character’s father was an immigrant from Sicily, she researched Sicilian peasants.  Shapiro recounted that “she took them through an hour and a half of class analysis.”  Spotlighting Redgrave’s ostensiveness, he declared, “[I]t’s why she was so good”: 

She was playing all Sicilian peasants, a whole lost nation, you know?  That’s how she blew every American actor off that stage.  Because they were all playing what they had for breakfast, that Stanislavsky thing where the actor’s reality is all internal.  Her method isn’t less personal.  It isn’t less real, it isn’t less honest.  It’s just bigger.

Shapiro attributed the bigness he admired in Redgrave’s performance to a combination of a Grotowskian/testimonial “nakedness” and bravery.  The actress, Shapiro reported, stood on stage “totally exposed” because she did “[a]ll the things that you are not allowed to do, that are stupid” (namely, turning away from the audience and using a “thick,” “preposterous” Italian accent).  He concluded: “[I]t’s an incredible performance.  I wish that more experimental theater artists were willing to take the kind of risk” Redgrave took.

One important difference between Grotowskian acting and the more Brechtian style for which Shapiro aimed lies in precisely what the actors reveal.  Grotowski prohibited his actors not only from identifying with their characters—that is, pretending that the actor and the character are the same person—but also from demonstrating or showing anything that doesn’t spring from immediate and organic impulses.  Shapiro and Brecht both wanted their actors to find intellectual connections and, as Brecht put it quite literally, demonstrate the actions of the character.  What Shapiro expected his actors to reveal, therefore, was less an aspect of their inner selves than a commentary, a personal take, on the situation of the play and, by extension, the actual world beyond the theater.  This precisely echoes Bertolt Brecht’s own description of Epic acting:  “The actor doesn’t have to be the man he portrays.  He has to describe his character just as it would be described in a book” and Chaikin explained : “I must depict Woyzeck, tell about him, not be him.”  

It must be noted, therefore, that a focal aspect of Grotowskian acting which Shapiro didn’t espouse is one for which Cieślak was most renowned: “secular holiness.”  Grotowskian actors are to become instruments for revealing “the innermost core of our personality—in order to sacrifice it, expose it.”  It’s a nearly mystical experience for both the actor and the spectator.  While the Stanislavskian actor’s goal is to merge with the character, to understand his or her motivations and goals, the Grotowskian actor’s goal is to reveal what’s “most personal and closely guarded” within him- or herself.  The relation among the three types of actor has its counterpart in the way the theoreticians approached their audiences.  While Stanislavsky wanted his audience to feel and respond to the emotional experience communicated by the actor and Grotowski saw the shared experience as “shamanistic,” Shapiro rejected both approaches in favor of the Brechtian dialectic.  

Shapiro’s early training was Stanislavskian Realism as interpreted in Strasberg’s Method: the actor was expected to examine the character’s circumstances and personalize the emotional experience.  Shapiro, however, became more interested in the technique of demonstrating or showing, an essential aspect of Brechtian theater.  “Acting,” Shapiro noted, “becomes actually demonstrating the most important point about a situation that is presented to an audience.”  Brecht’s actors, too, were to refrain from “going over wholly” into the characters they were demonstrating; they were to remain “detached,” imitating behavior but still commenting on their characters, inviting criticism from the spectators.  This approach is illustrated, as I mentioned earlier, in Brecht’s characterization of Charles Laughton’s 1947 performance in Galileo (in which we note, too, Brecht’s implied disparagement of transparency).  We wouldn’t learn much from this “schizoid” performance about Laughton’s “innermost core” in Grotowskian terms, but we’d learn something about what Laughton thought of the character and his circumstances. 

It’s significant, both to Shapiro and to Brecht, that the actor’s opinions regarding the character need not be in sympathy with the character.  The actor must take sides, but it may be either with or against the character, or it may vary depending on what the character says or does.  It may even change from performance to performance, as illustrated in comments by actor Christopher McCann about The Measures Taken.  “Our attitude towards the thesis of the play changes from night to night . . .,” McCann recalled.  “Thus, some nights we think the young comrade should not die.  Other nights, we think he is a fool and should have been killed much earlier.” 

Now, compare the description of Laughton’s acting—in terms Brecht also used to praise Charlie Chaplin—with the way Shapiro spoke of the work of Robbie McCauley in Strangers, the Shaliko performance based on the story of a massive nuclear contamination in Goiania, Brazil, Shapiro used to investigate child abuse, societal alienation, homelessness, the technological subordination of more traditional cultures, and other similar issues.  McCauley portrayed, among other figures, Hedda Nussbaum, the battered wife of Joel Steinberg who beat their illegally adopted daughter, Lisa, to death, but, the director explained:

I don’t want Robbie to think about Hedda at all.  I want her to talk about her own life, about her life in New York as a black woman, about her relationship to the audience as she’s talking to them.

Shapiro’s theater, which he labeled environmental because he conceived his productions with the whole space in which they were to take place in mind, was supported by the four pillars I’ve mentioned, including the two performing techniques I’ve been discussing, plus the idea of the real-time event and the audience-actor relationship.  The director explained that

the point of environmental theater is simply its concentration on the reality of the actual transactions going on during the theatrical event—the complicated three-way meeting between audience, actors, and text which happens, each time uniquely, during the performance: those two or three hours when they are locked together in spiritual combat in a dark room. . . . .  The play itself—in its text, thematic content, etc.—is the key element of the equation: it provides the purpose of the transaction, and therefor[e] determines its form.

Those transactions with the audience are, of course, the consequence of the real-time event and testimony, both of which can only transpire when the actors perform their roles as Shapiro conceived the process.

[The sources for the quotations in this article are varied, ranging from published articles and books, interviews, videotapes, private conversations, and just about every other possible resource you can imagine.  For figures like Joseph Chaikin, Jerzy Grotowski, and Bertolt Brecht, I drew on their well-known works (i.e., The Presence of the Actor, Towards a Poor Theatre, and Brecht on Theatre) as well as others less familiar (e.g.: Brecht’s The Messingkauf Dialogues) and sources such as Margaret Croyden’s 1969 interview “Jerzy Grotowski” on CBS-TV’s Camera Three and “The Stone in the Soup” Thomas F. Crawley’s contemporaneous journal of Jerzy Grotowski’s first American workshop in 1967.  As for Shapiro, I interviewed him nine times, once in 1986 and the rest between 1991 and 1993; I have almost every article he published (including drafts), scores of letters (published and unpublished—and sometimes both), several videotapes, pages of notes of observations, including rehearsals and classes, and conversations, typescripts of plays and poems he’d written, and dozens of pages of his unfinished memoirs.  In any case, I can document all the quotations and paraphrases above—although some of the documentation leads back to sources that are unavailable publicly (or just so obscure that finding them outside my files would be difficult).  The same might be true of sources for even the well-known figures like Brecht and Grotowski.  If any reader, however, wants to know the source of a quotation, I’ll gladly supply it on request.

[In the interest of brevity, I didn’t describe each of the Shaliko productions I mentioned above, but almost all of Shapiro’s shows were reviewed in the mainstream press, including the New York Times and the Village Voice, as well as papers in other cities where the company performed (e.g.: Baltimore, St. Louis, Albuquerque—even Moscow and Edinburgh).  A few, like Strangers, which was a workshop, weren’t reviewed but were covered in other publications, both popular and academic.  I probably have the largest collection of Shapiro/Shaliko clippings anywhere except possibly Shapiro’s own records, deposited now in the archives of the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts—and I may still have documents he didn’t—but I almost certainly have the most complete collection of reviews and production coverage in existence, including many I know Shapiro either never knew about or had long forgotten!

[I knew Leonardo Shapiro for 11 years, having met him in Baltimore when I covered the International Theatre Institute’s 1986 Theatre of Nations, where the Shaliko Company brought The Yellow House.  I started writing about him and the Shaliko Company when Richard Schechner, editor of The Drama Review, asked me to profile the director and his company for the journal.  That article, “Shapiro and Shaliko: Techniques of Testimony,” appeared in TDR in the winter of 1993.  I also worked with Shapiro briefly on his 1991 anti-Gulf war performance collage, Collateral Damage: The Private Life of the New World Order (Meditations on the Wars), and on a potential staging of Strangers (which never happened).  Shapiro retired from New York theater in 1993 and moved to New Mexico, pursuing a dream he’d had since he first lived near Taos between 1969 and 1971, but was diagnosed with inoperable bladder cancer and died in 1997, two weeks after his 51st birthday.  At the 1 April memorial service held that year at the LaMaMa Annex (now named the Ellen Stewart Theatre), I spoke about his career and professional accomplishments.]