Horror on Stage
I have enjoyed many of the plays you have published in the magazine—they’ve been groundbreaking, fresh and artistic. But I was so bothered by Gidion’s Knot (Dec. ’12) that I must write you a few words. What Johnna Adams is putting out there is violent, graphic, shocking, horrifying and intellectually disturbing. When we have so many terrorist acts and school shootings, as we have seen on the news, we certainly don’t need any more of this horror treated as artistic expression in plays. Ms. Adams may find more success in horror films.
Old Bridge, N.J.
Forms of Nurture
Once more, let me commend American Theatre for continuing to publish cutting-edge new plays that are literary-based (persuasive in language and idea) and culturally inclusive. A recent example is Johnna Adams’s stunning Gidion’s Knot. The scene is a pedestrian classroom, where, as any of us who teach in public schools knows, we daily gaze upon the drift of those passing hours, looking upon the registry of young lives of amorphous beings yet to become. In Ms. Adams’s context, the room grows to epic proportions, where, in a unique connection between two women (both teachers and one who is also a grieving mother), an artful impersonation of what it means to be a human being is awakened to suit our souls.
The writer manages to say something amazingly important in a way that seems inevitable. When Corryn cries out that her son’s death meant she lost “my good mother moment…the only time I would have been the mother he needed and not just the one he got,” I feel her loss as a parent—that line stabs at my affection and makes me a little wiser. Is it possible that despite our good intentions, we may be working in forms of nurture that have failed? Our present period seems an ideal time to call for such an inquiry.
The Audience Decides
Re: Diep Tran’s “The Walls Come Tumbling Down” (July/Aug. ’13): Since the late ’90s at Oregon’s Sojourn Theatre, we have been deeply interested in work that builds the possibility of connection through participation. Following in the footsteps of (and sometimes working at the same time as) artists like John Malpede and LAPD, Bob Alexander and Living Stage, Kathy Randels and ArtSpot Productions, Anne Hamburger and many others, we have explored moments of deeper and durational engagement between artists and audiences. Process and event became linked for us in new ways. In that tradition, this past season we premiered How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes, inviting 200 audience members to collectively decide how to spend $1,000 of their box-office revenue to fight poverty.
The fact that participation (immersion) is enjoying so much attention in the arts community speaks of our awareness of the consumer as a co-creator, and to our fascination with audience as self-curator. We, as artists, have some interesting choices ahead: Can we bring the assets that allow us to create dynamic group experiences to bear on the many public and private sector systems around us that are in desperate need of imaginative practice to become more functional and healthy?
Michael Rohd, founding artistic director
I was ecstatic to read “The Walls Come Tumbling Down,” about the type of theatre my company, Zero Untitled, creates. We have nicknamed our immersive shows “Dark Tours,” as the audience moves through a darkened two-story building in groups of eight, armed with only five flashlights. Our first in 2010, an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno called Into Hell, was done in response to a lack of space, as we were not allowed to use traditional theatrical venues. We ended up using Sam Fore Hall at Texas A&M University–Kingsville. Our audiences were riveted, which meant we had to keep it coming! For our four productions so far, we have had audiences in the hundreds, the overwhelming majority under 23 years old. We have already plotted out the next three years’ worth of Dark Tours.
Michael Verderber, creative director
Zero Untitled Films/Productions