Theater Artists as Theatergoers 

James Comtois 
4/20/2009 


If you make theater, chances are, you see theater, and a theater artist’s work influences his or her theater-going habits while, likewise, the shows one sees often affect one’s work. I recently spoke with four Off-Off-Broadway artists about their theater-going trends and how the shows they see inspire or influence them.

Daniel Talbott, the Artistic Director of Rising Phoenix Repertory and recipient of the 2007 IT Award for Outstanding Director for his company’s production of Rules of the Universe, said he’s influenced by every show he sees in some way. “Even when I’m not really into something, I always leave thinking and wanting to dive into a play.”

He pointed out Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s staging of Sheila Callaghan’s That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play and the Production Company’s production of Patricia Cornelius’ Love as plays he’d seen recently that showed “a lot of guts, imagination and heart.”

Saviana Stanescu, a Romanian-born playwright who received the 2007 IT Award for Outstanding Full-Length Script for her play, Waxing West, staged by East Coast Artists, shares Talbott’s sentiment that innovative and inspiring plays are often found in New York’s downtown indie scene.

“I feel there’s a lot more diversity in aesthetic approaches going on in Europe and downtown New York,” said Stanescu. “I see plays Off-Broadway and downtown that challenge the audiences. I like plays that provide questions but not necessarily answers; that make the audience think about its role in society. But you don’t often see them in on Broadway. On Broadway, there’s [a preference for] the very traditional story-driven narrative play.”

She cited the recent production of Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations as an example of a show she enjoyed. “It was a different kind of construct: more Brechtian.” She also found Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Lynn Nottage’s Ruined “very powerful.”

Just as Stanescu prefers non-traditional plays, director Edward Elefterion admitted, “I like going to things I think are going to be alternative. I shy away from things that are naturalistic.”

Elefterion, who took home the 2008 IT Award for directing Rabbit Hole Ensemble’s production of The Night of Nosferatu, often enjoys genre work, such as science fiction and horror pieces, because, not only is he a fan of these genres, he’s curious to see how a theater production tackles them, since, “they’re very difficult to do well” for the stage.

He recently saw Taoube and found it particularly inspiring. “Taoube was done with very simple staging. I liked that they were doing things in an empty space. It also used multimedia, and I liked how this show used it in a very simple and theatrical way.” He added that in addition to regular theater-going, his teaching job has been a huge influence on his own work. “I teach at Hofstra University, so I see many one-acts a week. I’m probably more influenced by the work of my students, since I’m spending so much time with them and their work.”

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter, who wrote You May Go Now (2008 IT Award for Full-Length Script, staged by the Babel Theater Project), said that she’s drawn to plays “that have a strong, simple story, and plays that are slightly whimsical or weird or language based.” Brunstetter has also noticed that she’s been seeing more shows of that ilk, saying “I think writers are returning to simpler stories; tackling more isolated moments rather than larger landscapes." Citing Ars Nova, the Production Company and New Georges as companies she’s particularly drawn to,

Brunstetter added that, like Talbott, she’s influenced by almost every play she sees, though not necessarily stylistically. “Every time I see one, I can't help but compare the work to my own. So if the play stinks, it's a small boost of confidence. Subsequently, if the play is amazing, I feel challenged and inspired to do better work myself.”

Creating theater goes hand-in-hand with seeing theater. Although the artists I spoke to create different kinds of theater, they’re all influenced by the work they see in their community. As Elefterion mentioned: “If you’re in the theater scene, you’re going to end up going to theater.”

Talbott added, “I always learn so much from watching other people’s work and am indebted to all of them for making me question things.”

“The more people you work with, the more you find people you like, and you want to support them, so you go see their shows,” said Brunstetter.

“Being a playwright means you’re part of a community, so you have to see as much as possible,” said Stanescu. “You have to be in dialogue with other artists. Maybe I have this romantic idea that, as artists, we’re all part of something bigger.”




 

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