The word “theme” hasn’t changed all that much in either meaning or spelling from its original Greek, thema, which meant “proposition.” Not every one of American Theatre’s 327 issues thus far has had an overarching theme or proposition, but many have, and this one certainly does: training for the theatre. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we revisit that topic from a different angle each January; last year we looked at theatre training for social change, while the previous January we surveyed the latest in technical theatre training, and so on (for archives of the last 10 years in training issues, go here). We have two other fixed special issues, for which we also vary the angle and approach: our October season preview, which most recently focused on the lack of gender parity in the theatre field, and our May/June international issue, the most recent iteration of which focused on Latin American theatre.
Outside of these annual special issues, we’ve done our share of themed issues before, just ’cause. My personal favorite was our food issue of April 2010, which proffered a banquet of stories about how food is employed in the theatre, and which included actual tear-out recipe cards compiled and kitchen-tested by AT staff (I personally tried out the Omnium Gatherum osso bucco and the Rabbit Hole lemon squares). I also well remember our February 2012 issue on global citizenship, in which I spoke over a shaky Skype connection to Waleed Shamil, a professor of theatre at Baghdad University, for a story about theatre artists in Iraq, and colleagues filed reports about theatre in Bangladesh, Uganda, Palestine, and Algeria, as well as a dispatch from the International Theatre Institute’s World Congress in Xiamen, China.
When I assumed the editor-in-chief post last July, I thought it made sense to do more of these themed issues—indeed, to use each of our 10 print editions a year to shine a light on one area or another. Sometimes these themes are suggested by a timely story; other times they’re simply areas we haven’t looked at in a while. (Keep your eyes peeled for a design and tech issue soon.) In choosing this month’s angle on training, we took our cue from Wilma Theater leader Blanka Zizka, whose company embraces both vigorous physical theatre and heady political drama. When I heard she would direct the U.S. premiere of Tom Stoppard’s new play The Hard Problem, which treats the mind/body divide that has long bedeviled neuroscientists and philosophers, it all came into focus: We would focus our stories on the ways that acting training must somehow hone both actors’ mental and emotional intellegence and their physical capacities—where the twain meet, and where they part ways. Though Janice Paran’s exquisite profile of Zizka and her theatre is not officially part of the training “package,” it both frames and fits the issue’s mind/body theme.
The training package proper includes Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s bracing memoir of her time studying physical theatre at Dell’Arte International, which captures the pain of stretching to learn as well as anything I’ve read; and a survey story by Stuart Miller about six variously trained master actors who demonstrate ways their training has helped them prepare their minds and bodies to do their best work.
For our part, we here at American Theatre think we can do our best work by training our focus on one meaty theme at a time. Sound like a proposition?