Big Ideas


I am writing these words a mere few hours after rocking my son to sleep. This was his second night in a row without my wife nursing him down. Last night, he fell asleep in the car during the ride home from my mom’s house in Baltimore, and we decided to just let him stay asleep and start the weaning process a few days earlier than we’d planned. Tonight I ended his traditional bedtime routine–a bath, followed by story time with Dad–by simply turning out the lights in the room, turning on his go-to-sleep music, and rocking him gently in the dark. He was bewildered. He asked for his mom, then he asked again more insistently, then he cried for her… and then he seemed to accept that she just wasn’t coming tonight. He didn’t like it, but he trusted that everything was going to be just fine: that I had more than enough love to give him and that he didn’t need any more nourishment. And he fell asleep. I held him for another minute–partially

Productions Made Quickly Are Generally Bad

I realize I’ve been a little bit obsessed lately with the whole play-in-a-day (or 24-hour play) phenomenon. I first wrote about it here on the blog, in advance of my participation in one such event, and then on TheatreFace I suggested that participating in speed-writing events could be good exercise. What I feel I need to say now is this: almost all of the play-in-a-day plays I’ve ever seen (including those I’ve been a part of) have been bad… some of them catastrophically so. Someone had to say it. Let me start with a description of one of my own experiences, so that we can all be clear that I’m not saying I’m exempt from this rule. The event in question was a few years ago: long enough in the past that I assume no one involved will recognize themselves in this story. When I pulled the prop, line of dialogue, and theme out of whatever hat they were in that night — I can’t remember how the details worked, exactly, but I know they were  fa

How to Reinvigorate Theater in America

We’ve all done it: fantasized about how we’d run things if we were in charge. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I’d do if I were responsible for reinvigorating theater in the United States. Here’s a list of just a few things, in no particular order. It’s only a start — I’m sure we could go much farther — but I think it’s pretty nifty. #1: Differentiate Theater from TV and Film In any crowded marketplace, a smart business owner asks: how can I differentiate my organization? Of late, it seems to me, we have been trying to make theater more and more like television and film: bigger special effects, more realistic sets, film actors given high-profile roles, and an increasing focus on spectacle. All those things are nice, sure… but I think they’re doing us harm. We can never do those things as well as the folks in Hollywood can, so why do we even try? I believe a renewed focus on the imaginative simpli

Theater and Free Will

Over the last thirty years or so, a growing body of experimentation by neuroscientists has begun to suggest that human beings might not actually have free will. The conclusions to date are still tentative, and the entire area warrants (and is attracting) extensive additional research, but the early indications are clear enough to suggest that we might not understand the nature of humanity quite as well as we think we do. Let’s just sit with the possibility for a second, okay? We do not actually have free will. We are, essentially, complex machines responding to sensory and informational inputs: so complex, in fact, that it actually looks like we do have free will. Hard to imagine, no? Well, it was hard to imagine, once upon a time, that the Earth revolved around the sun… that homo sapiens evolved from other species… that the universe was more than 14 billion years old… that we aren’t living at the center of it. You get the picture. The absolutely strange can, in

Theater of Empiricism

I’ve been thinking about the following quote from Peter Brook’s The Empty Space for a while now — can’t seem to shake it: Once, the theatre could begin as magic: magic at the sacred festival, or magic as the footlights came up. Today, it is the other way round. The theatre is hardly wanted and its workers are hardly trusted. So we cannot assume that the audience will assemble devoutly and attentively. It is up to us to capture its attention and compel its belief. To do so we must prove that there will be no trickery, nothing hidden. We must open our empty hands and show that really there is nothing up our sleeves. Only then can we begin. Now, I’m not going to make the mistake of claiming I fully understand Brook’s entire theatrical manifesto — and what else is it, really, but that? — but I do think I take his point correctly here. Theater was born in a very different world than the one in which it now lives. Magic has happily been reduced