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Big Ideas

Kill the Cliché

Several years ago, I used to teach creative writing to 10-12 year-old students during the summers to make ends meet (and, I should add, because I really enjoyed doing it). One of my favorite exercises went something like this: First, I gave the students three minutes of free-writing time: they had to keep their pens or pencils moving, without fail, for the entire time. I asked all the boys in the room to write about love, and I asked all the girls in the room to write about death. When the timer went off, my students read their work aloud, and as they read, I copied the clichés they’d used onto the blackboard. Once the last student was done… I had a very full blackboard. (Incidentally, my choice of subject matter — arrived at after years of experimentation — was geared toward generating the largest number of clichés.) I then asked my students if they knew what the phrases I’d written had in common. The most common response: they’re all things youR
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The Ideal Post-Show Discussion

The other day on Twitter, Theater J asked what I instantly thought was a great series of questions, which I will paraphrase here: What would your ideal post-show discussion look like? Where is it? Who is it with? What is it about? My ideal post-show discussion would not, first and foremost, be a talk-back. It wouldn’t be a chance for the audience to ask questions of the artists who created the show. That paradigm, I hope everyone will agree, is played. Instead, I’d make it a collective discussion, moderated not by anyone involved with the creation of the play, but by some member of the community who in some way speaks to or engages with whatever ideas or issues are raised by the story that’s being told: for a play about an arsonist, a firefighter; for a play about breast cancer, a breast cancer survivor. During my ideal post-show discussion, everyone would sit wherever they heck they wanted to sit. In the house, on the stage, wherever. There would be no distinction be
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My Father

For those who’ve been asking for it, here is the eulogy I delivered for my father, Stephen Alsop, who died in an automobile accident on Sunday night in Nashville, TN, while fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit the Grand Ole Opry: There is no one single true story about a person’s life. A life is made up of multiple stories, and sometimes those stories are conflicting and complicated and confusing. It’s only when you take them all together — when you consider a person from multiple perspectives — that you start to get something that maybe resembles the truth. And that’s really hard to do. For my father, it feels impossible. There were so many parts to him, and I may need the rest of my life to figure out how they all fit together and get to that complex truth. My father lived through what can only be described as an agonizing childhood. But it seems to have inspired him to devote a great deal of his life to making children everywhere feel happy and lo
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Toward a Digital Theater

Essays that begin “Toward a…” typically argue for whatever follows the ellipsis. In this case, I have no intention of trying to advocate for a Digital Theater. Not because I don’t want one, mind you, but because I believe one is coming whether I want one or not. That is to say, I believe that we are going to see fundamental changes in how we’re able to make and experience theater, all of them in one way or another digital. Advocacy not required. Those fundamental changes have already come to how we talk about theater, how we produce theater, and how we market and sell theater. Twitter chats about theatrical innovation, theater blogs, Tessitura, theater websites, Facebook event invitations for openings, Talkbacks, script submission via emailed PDF, Kickstarter campaigns, digital programs for shows: the list is too long to detail. Digital advancements are here already — it’s almost as if they snuck up on us — and they aren’t going any
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The Cost of Fringe Tickets

Right now in DC we find ourselves in the middle of the Capital Fringe Festival. I’m a proud Fringe veteran myself; I did a reading of my play ABSTRACT NUDE in the first festival, then produced it there the following year. I had a sold-out run, got lots of publicity, and (most importantly) made theater I was really proud of that lots of people seemed to enjoy. (I met my wife during the run of that show, too.) It was a terrific experience, and it was important in my development as an artist. I love the DC Fringe. I love that it gives young theater practitioners a chance to make a splash. I love that it gives veteran theater practitioners an opportunity to experiment. I love that it serves as a laboratory in which one can learn all the ins-and-outs of producing theater. I love the stripped-down aesthetic of a lot of the work that gets produced. I love how goofy and personal some of the shows seem to be (even though I typically don’t choose to see those shows). I love that it
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