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Embedded thoughts, including some origin stories …

So I’m crossing my fingers in a big way that Fay blows through quickly and without incident, and doesn’t just end up killing all of our momentum going into the second weekend.

We only drew one big complaint this weekend, and it was from a patron who felt the music to be irresponsibly loud and who left before the show began. Be forewarned I guess. As bast I can tell I think most everyone else enjoyed it, or at least didn’t hate it enough to go storming out of the theater.

We only had two couples leave (one each on two different nights) – both about a third of the way through the show who were polite about it, but cited the material was too close – which is very fair. We’ve tried to be as up front as possible about that in order to not mislead anyone.

And now that we have the season ticket holders in and out, I’m very curious what regular folks attracted by the title or the author or the material might react to it. It’s important to me in so many ways that people see this show. All people, but particularly a younger audience – who I think will appreciate it in ways perhaps some more elderly audiences may not be able to.

In the end though, I won’t be picky. I just want the theater full every night. This play is important.

There was a lot of conversation about the show after all shows this weekend – which I think is a beautiful thing. It got me thinking a lot about theatrical forms, about some -isms and conventions and some of the history that surely not only influenced Tim Robbins writing of the play, but on how we ended up producing it.

Here’s a loose collection of thoughts and quotes on some of that. To be fair, Shawn nor I sat around and openly talked about any of these things with the cast and crew going into it. They surely were in my mind at one point or another though. If you’ve read the story in the St. Pete Times, you’re caught up on the significance of the mask work in the show

In the history of theatre, there is long tradition of performances addressing issues of current events and central to society itself, encouraging consciousness and social change. The political satire performed by the comic poets at the theatres, had considerable influence on public opinion in (ancient) Athenian democracy. Those earlier Western dramas, arising out of the polis, or democratic city-state of Greek society, were performed in amphitheatres, central arenas used for theatrical performances, religious ceremonies and political gatherings; these dramas had a ritualistic and social significance that enhanced the relevance of the political issues being examined. And one must marvel at the open-minded examination of controversial and critical topics that took place right in the political heart of Athenian society, allowing a courageous self-examination of the first democracy trying to develop and refine itself further.

Shakespeare is an author of political theatre according to some academic scholars, who observe that his history plays examine the machinations of personal drives and passions determining political activity and that many of the tragedies such as King Lear and Macbeth dramatize political leadership and complexity subterfuges of human beings driven by the lust for power; for example, they observe that class struggle in the Roman Republic is central to Coriolanus.

The left-wing political theatre is commonly called agitprop theatre or simply agitprop, after the Soviet term agitprop.

The term agitprop wasn’t even used in a derogatory fashion until much later. I guess how some have turned a word like “liberal” into a 4-letter word.

Peter Weiss, Arthur Miller, Eve Ensler – all “political” playwrights. Jobsite has been no stranger to political writing: Dario Fo, Paula Vogel, Howard Brenton, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill have all found their way onto our stage over the years.

John McGrath, founder of the Scottish popular theatre company 7:84, argued that “the theatre can never ’cause’ a social change. It can articulate pressure towards one, help people celebrate their strengths and maybe build their self-confidence … Above all, it can be the way people find their voice, their solidarity and their collective determination”.

And then of course there is Bertolt Brecht and the notion of ‘epic theatre.’ Embedded was even directly tied to Brecht by The New York Times, who called Embedded a series of Brechtian sketches.

Epic theatre assumes that the purpose of a play, more than entertainment or the imitation of reality, is to present ideas and invites the audience to make judgments on them. Characters are not intended to mimic real people, but to represent opposing sides of an argument, archetypes, or stereotypes. The audience should always be aware that it is watching a play, and should remain at an emotional distance from the action; Brecht described this ideal as the Verfremdungseffekt — variously translated as “alienation effect”, “Defamiliarization effect”, or “estrangement effect”. It is the opposite of the suspension of disbelief.”

Common production techniques in epic theatre include simplified, non-realistic set designs and announcements or visual captions that interrupt and summarize the action. Brecht used comedy to distance his audiences from emotional or serious events.

I think those who have seen the show can plainly identify these corollaries. At the same time though it is in no way necessary to know a thing about any of these conventions to enjoy, understand and be effected by the presentation.

The convention we’re using of having all the curtains removed from the stage so you can see backstage and into the wings and all the changes that come with it is part of that presentation that is very Brechtian. I was in a show once that used the convention – another play about war and death at that – Joshua Sobol’s Ghetto. It was a very effective bit of staging. When Shawn and I independently watched Embedded Live, we both commented on how much we liked the use of the IR/nightvision camera backstage at points to show quick-changes. We thought that would be a great way to present the show, so we did.

We got a telegram from Tim Robbins on Thu., but it must have come after I left for the weekend, so I just got it this morning. It says:

BREAK A LEG TONIGHT AND THANKS FOR DOING EMBEDDED – WRITTEN WITH A FIST NOT A HEAVY HAND

TIM ROBBINS

I hope the fist/heavy hand comment wasn’t a pimp-slap at me and Shawn for saying we chose to do some things/approach some things differently than the way he did them in the film. We did say it was a little heavy-handed in places. To be more clear, we felt the script Tim wrote was strong enough on his own, and there were just a few places we chose to tone down the presentation so as to stand a better chance at getting the message contained in the play heard. There are several other places though we’re making stronger statements than what’s given to us in the script, particularly in the case of some of the slides and video. I think our production is well-balanced, strong and wholly on-message.

Now we just get to sit and sweat it out to see if people will come while coverage of the storm coming through tomorrow night dominates every square inch of media in town …

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2 thoughts on “Embedded thoughts, including some origin stories …

  1. First of all, I loved the play. I thought it was smart and exciting and hilarious at times, sad at others, excellent job all around.
    The masks were fantastic.
    And I might qualify as one of your older audience members but the music sounded great to me.
    Two things would have helped — I wasn’t sure who everyone was in the masks. Clearly Cheney, Rice, Rove, Rumsfeld. But I wish there was a little info, in the program maybe, to help me with the others.
    Also I’d love to see a list of songs, again, the music was great.
    Finally, how cool is it that you heard from Tim Robbins! Makes me proud!

  2. The other two were Pearly White (Richard Perle) and Woof (Paul Wolfowitz).

    Glad you enjoyed the show, Susan. I’ll get a full list of music up here soon …

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