Thursday, June 16, 2011

Regarding cassandra

image: Max Klinger 1857-1920: Kassandra  Photo (c)
I am re-posting much of an entry from Inkwell Theatre's blog. This post was co-written with the inimitable Lee Liebeskind and Jenn Book Haselswerdt and gives insight into playmaking from a dramaturgical perspective. There's more where this came from, so if you're interested, check out the Inkwell site and blog!

The dramaturg's role in American Theatre has changed over the years and can be really different depending on the theater you work for.  We could probably spend a whole blog talking about this, but I digress.  For The Inkwell, the dramaturg is a key voice in championing the playwright. 

For The Inkwell, the dramaturg serves chiefly as a champion for the playwright.  While the director is thinking about the structure of the play, the actors are thinking about their characters, and the stage manager is just trying to keep the rehearsal running smoothly, the dramaturg keeps everyone focused on what the playwright needs and wants to learn from this experience.  They keep the conversations on track and they help the playwright sieve through the mountain of information and feedback they are receiving.

Below you will find Laura Esti Miller's thoughts not only on the process, but how she views the plays we worked on in March.


Jenn Book Haselswerdt and I (Laura Esti Miller) had the opportunity to dramaturg the three 20-minute excerpts presented at The Inkwell's Blood 'n Guts showcase reading this past March. Jenn dramaturged The Body and Twigs and Bone while I dramaturged cassandra.

Included here are reflections on my work during the process:

Since I came to the Inkwell during the open call for submissions this past year, I've had the chance to be part of the development process from an early stage, which has been an incredible joy. Watching and interacting with other artists as we make progress on our own artistic journeys will never cease to inspire me and I am thrilled that, as an Inkwell dramaturg, I get to be a part of so many fascinating adventures.

One part of the process I find especially illuminating and helpful is a phone call between the playwrights, director, dramaturgs, and an Inkwell staff member -- in this case, the remarkable Anne McCaw. Not only is it a way to introduce ourselves before spending a few hours together in a rehearsal room; it is a way to make sure the team members are working towards the same goals during the rehearsal and reading.

Anne encourages the playwrights to discuss what they are currently working on within the plays, what they might be stuck on, what areas they might want to focus on for the reading. This call gives each playwright the chance to speak candidly about their work, and it gives the team the opportunity to focus on a manageable chunk of the play for the 20-minute excerpt. 
Dramaturgs also get an unusual opportunity when working on these showcase readings for The Inkwell.  We get to introduce each play to the audience and gush about what we love about them.

Below are the notes I shared with the audience on March 5th about cassandra by Katharine Sherman.


Katharine Sherman's cassandra is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth from Cassandra's perspective. As a young, beautiful princess of Troy, Cassandra caught the eye of the god Apollo. They make an arrangement -- Apollo grants Cassandra the blessing of foresight in exchange for sex. When Cassandra breaks her promise, Apollo retaliates by poisoning the gift he has already bestowed upon her. She will be able to see the future, but no one will believe her prophecies.

Inkwell readers loved this fresh take on the story through Katharine's eyes.  We were fascinated by the way that others in the play relate to Cassandra and her perceived madness and mesmerized by just how far into the future Cassandra can see.  Cassandra has the unique ability to see her own current events and future tragic events in one moment, and though she knows the inevitable outcome, she still fights for even the tiniest difference -- she holds out for hope.

In this excerpt, we focus on key moments when things "get twisted," as our playwright says.  First, Apollo and Cassandra attempt a gift exchange that goes sour.  Cassandra then reveals, through perhaps the-not-so-familiar tale of Cinderella just how overwhelming and devastating seeing the future can be. Cassandra has another psychological test of wills with her would-be lover Apollo, and finally, on the brink of tragedy, she is able to enjoy a few moments of unlikely friendship with her sister-in-law, Helen, the only person she knows who has been treated as badly by the gods as herself.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Combining Bob and Chuck

My notes for Forum Theatre's production of bobrauschenbergamerica are up on Forum's blog. I am reposting here:

Bobrauschenbergamerica Production Dramaturg Laura Esti Miller’s note on the unique playwriting style of Charles L. Mee and how it matches Robert Rauschenberg’s visual art:

In bobrauschenbergamerica, playwright Charles L. Mee takes us on a road trip through a collaged landscape of found art and uniquely American experiences. Mee honors Robert Rauschenberg’s work and influence with a piece that spotlights elements of the master pop artist’s style – integrating aspects of painting and collage, creating sculpture with found elements, and breathing life into everyday objects.

Robert Rauschenberg next to his piece, SOR AQUA (VENETIAN)

In 1961, Rauschenberg was invited to deliver a piece for an exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, for which artists were asked to create portraits of owner Iris Clert. Before the exhibition, Rauschenberg sent a telegram to the gallery that read, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” Rauschenberg believed that art is what you make of it, and abstraction is exactly what you are looking at.

Mee refers to his own plays as assemblages and collages, so he is a natural, corresponding match for undertaking a work about Rauschenberg’s life and art. Mee delights in playwriting as a public form. He posts his scripts online and as part of “the (re)making project,” invites other playmakers to “pillage the plays” and create an “entirely new piece out of the ruins.”  He says on his website, “There is no such thing as an original play. …sometimes some of us write about our own innermost lives, believing that, then, we have written something truly original and unique. But, of course, the culture writes us first, and then we write our stories.”

Charles L. Mee

Though Mee speaks of his own plays here, this is an apt description of Rauschenberg’s work, as well. “[They are] jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns. That feels good to me. It feels like my life. It feels like the world.”

Taking a cue from Mee, the following is a quote from his own script:

Art is made in the freedom of the imagination
with no rules
it’s the only human activity like that
where it can do no one any harm
so it is possible to be completely free
and see what it may be that people think and feel
when they are completely free
in a way, what it is to be human when a human being is free
and so art lets us practice freedom
and helps us know what it is to be free
and so what it is to be human

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spinning Plates

image found here, original source unknown
The past few months have been full of working on productions, working on readings, writing, reading, season planning, project proposing, and diving headlong into the work. I have some posts in the wings at a few other sites, so I will be sure to link to them when they go live.

Below are my notes for David Myers' stunning work-in-progress, Muzungu. Working on this reading with Doorway Arts Ensemble was challenging in the best way. The play asks big questions and does not offer easy answers. David's writing is undeniably powerful, but he is able to interweave lightness and playfulness into the piece, as well. I can't wait to read the next draft of this play. Many thanks to all involved for allowing me to be a part of it!

Muzungu by David Myers
Dramaturg's Notes

A young American travels to Rwanda, eager to offer the country his physical exertion and good intentions. When he develops a complicated relationship with a Rwandan masseuse, they discover intense emotional baggage that ties them together.

Matthew visits Rwanda as a tourist -- a member of a mission team -- and is noticed everywhere he goes due to the color of his skin. He stands out as a muzungu -- a white person. Mattie is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She has worked as a masseuse for over a decade at the hotel where Matthew stays. Although Mattie may not seem as immediately identifiable as a displaced individual as Matthew, she too, is an outsider. The city is not where she was born and raised. It is not where she belongs.

As observers, Matthew and Mattie look at Rwanda through different lenses. Matthew sees a land full of promise and potential, while Mattie sees the country's brokenness and detritus.

In Muzungu, playwright David Myers traverses the complex landscape of motives of doing good, loyalty and betrayal, and what it means to be an outsider, whether as a tourist or in your own country.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Symbolism and Metaphor

I am currently rehearsing for a production of Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare and preparing for a reading series comprised of a few of her other plays. Reading so much of her work has brought into focus Ms. Wallace’s mastery of the form. I am particularly in awe of her use of both symbol and metaphor. 

In One Flea Spare, a character literally walks around in another’s shoes, and few scenes later, a character plunges his finger into an orange and evokes a raw sensuality that elicited gasps in the room even during a read-through. 

What are some of the strongest or most memorable symbols or metaphors from your favorite plays, books, films, or music? 
image found here

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Congratulations to Charles!

Charles McNulty, theatre critic for the LA Times, my critical touchstone (I have an internal WWCMD? bracelet), and one of my favorite professors, was just awarded the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Congratulations, Charlie! What a wonderful way to honor your immeasurable talent and contributions!

For more information, click here and/or here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Posting on Inkwell Theatre's site

Hello again! Please take a look at my guest post over at Inkwell Theatre's site and see some of the work I've been up to since my last post.  Click here! Enjoy, and feel free to comment here or on the Inkwell site.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Hi friends. I'm taking a break to revamp and redirect the blog. Stay tuned!