Today’s the day: THE GREAT SOCIETY by Robert Schenkkan opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Is America poised for an uptick in epic historical theatre? The form is big in theatre meccas like the UK, but seems to go in and out of favor here in the US.

Given the recent Tony (and other) Awards bestowed on Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY (not to mention its record-setting box office hauls in New York), maybe theatre producers will realize that big historical stories can bring in big audiences. And having film and TV stars involved doesn’t hurt.

But it all starts with the writing. Nothing happens without good writing. Schenkkan is delivering a powerful reminder that important stories about the national experience (when done as well as these two plays are) deserve to be up on the big stage.

And that’s where visionary programs like Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle (AmRev) come in. Because of its size, abilities, and focus, OSF can do things (like birth ALL THE WAY and THE GREAT SOCIETY) that almost no one else in the US theatre ecosystem can do. And by golly, they’re doing it. From Ashland to Broadway. And beyond.

With 37 new play commissions planned, AmRev is just getting started. And there are so many more stories to tell. Ashland has everything in place locally to tell them. Except one thing – the writers. Those need to be found, encouraged, coaxed, enticed, courted, brought in. All OSF needs is one more thing – a writer – and ANY story can be told. But the writer just happens to be both the single most important element in the theatre universe – and the hardest one to find.

But if you were king or queen, and you had a good writer, what are the stories you would commission? Here’s one on my list.

Richard Holbrooke and the story of the Bosnian war

Holbrooke died young(ish) and recently, but he is such a key figure to late 20th century American diplomacy and fascinating on many levels. Pick up his book TO END A WAR to get a flavor for the man – but only if you have a big block of open time availabe. Because you’ll get pulled right in from word one.

The intersection of Holbrooke’s force of personality and character with the key event of the post Soviet order has all the drama you could ever want. Plus it’s the early 90’s so all sorts of other stuff was going on domestically.

Here’s a scene from a future play that I’d like to see. A sparsely furnished conference room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s the 11th hour for negotiations to end the war, and nothing seems to be working. So the four principals gather: Holbrooke, Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic. What was said in that room?

Wanted: the writer who can tell this story.

The main event in Ashland today

Meanwhile, back at the sun-soaked ranch in southern Oregon…

Today at 1PM the second part of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ epic, THE GREAT SOCIETY, opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Check back soon for a full review.

If you’re hoping to see this first incarnation of the show in Ashland, tickets for the remaining run through November 1 are moving briskly. Don’t miss out.

And if you’re one of those types who like to plan way, way ahead? Next year’s offering from AmRev, SWEAT by Lynn Nottage, is coming.

Oh yes.

President Johnson (Jack Willis) dictates a letter to the parents of a soldier lost in the fighting in Vietnam. Photo by Jenny Graham.
President Johnson (Jack Willis) dictates a letter to the parents of a soldier lost in the fighting in Vietnam. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley), Vice President Hubert Humphrey (Peter Frechette) and President Johnson (Jack Willis) confer. (Ensemble, gallery, Richard Elmore, Wayne T. Carr, Jonathan Haugen) Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley), Vice President Hubert Humphrey (Peter Frechette) and President Johnson (Jack Willis) confer. (Ensemble, gallery, Richard Elmore, Wayne T. Carr, Jonathan Haugen) Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley) considers the cost of the movement. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley) considers the cost of the movement. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Society for the Preservation of Tragedy: Epidemic misuse of terms ‘tragedy’ and ‘tragic’ in everyday discourse undermines meaning of ancient dramatic form

ATHENS – At a boisterous press conference held yesterday in the world birth place of western theater’s two main dramatic forms, the Society for the Preservation of Tragedy (SPT), a little known advocacy group, addressed what they believe is the widespread and flagrant misuse of the terms “tragedy” and “tragic” in everyday discourse.

According to the society, applying these terms to events and situations that are not tragic undermines the ancient theatrical form by desensitizing people to the real thing. True tragedy, then, goes under appreciated.

“Look, ” said Dr. Dion Tragos, Director of Tragedy at the SPT, “if a school bus full of kids goes flying off a cliff into the Aegean Sea, that is not a tragedy.”

“Unless – unless, ” interrupted Dr. Helen Thespis, Assistant Director of Tragedy, “the owner of the bus company, in an attempt to save money, replaced the unionized drivers with less skilled, lower paid drivers. And then owing to a scheduling mistake the company owner’s son, who is usually driven to school by his mother, happened to be on that bus the first morning the new drivers took over.”

“Well, yes,” Tragos agreed. “That would be tragic. Though I would need to know more about the exact plot details that led to the son being on the bus. For example, did his mother maybe decide he should take the bus against the father’s wishes – perhaps so she could save time because she was going to be late to meet a lover in town?”

“What if the lover was actually a mechanic at the bus company, and he skipped the morning maintenance on the brakes that day,” Thespis offered.

“Now that’s good – I mean tragic,” Tragos said, almost smiling. “But just any random so-called bad thing that happens that you don’t like in life – your house burns down, your dog goes missing, a ferry sinks, your team loses the game – that is not tragedy! That’s just life. Tragedy is something more. You do not call these things tragic. Or if you do, you are being funny perhaps. But this is not funny. Tragedy is not funny. That is comedy.”

“And they have their own preservation society,” Thespis added.

“Not that they need it,” Tragos frowned. “I think comedy is doing just fine.”

Asked to clarify exactly what makes something tragic, Tragos swept back his long dark hair and gazed intently at the questioner.

“The point is, did you (or someone) play some part in the unfortunate outcome? Was there human intent? Did you get into a situation where you were forced to act – to do something – and the results of your actions, usually contrary to your intentions, brought about a bad, a terrible, outcome you would never have wanted but could not avoid? If so, that we could call tragic.”

“But what about Greece losing to Costa Rica in penalty kicks in the World Cup,” the same questioner persisted. “Surely this was a tragedy, no?”

“No,” said Tragos. “That was just some unfortunate thing that happened that no one really cares about. And why do we devote so much time to football anyway?”

At this point security was called on to restore some order to the room.

“Look. Calling everything tragic is a kind of verbal inflation. It doesn’t only happen with this word, you know. I was just in America giving a seminar, and my students keep saying “awesome” every other word. Everything is awesome. This is awesome. That is awesome. The homework was awesome. If I say yes, I will meet them for a coffee later, that is awesome. And I wonder if they have lost the ability to truly feel something that is awesome – to feel AWE. If so that would be – well, not tragic, but extremely unfortunate. We do not want the same thing to happen with tragedy.”

“That would be tragic,” Thespis observed.

“Technically no – but yes.”

Dr. Tragos concluded the event with a short tick list reminder for the press.

“So, remember: A meteor hits the earth, a mountain falls on a city, an ocean floods your wheat field, you forget your girl friend’s birthday. Are these things tragic? No.”

“Unless, as the Dr. described, there’s a backstory – some human aspect that helped cause the events. And the person most affected has to play a role in the event happening,” Thespis said.

“So the next time you are at a press conference,” Tragos concluded, “and someone says this is tragic or that is a tragedy, I encourage you to prod them – ask them to explain exactly HOW is it tragic? How is this a tragedy? And if they don’t know what tragedy is or have questions, tell them to contact us. We offer three week courses in tragedy appreciation every summer.”

Shortly following the press conference, an afternoon edition of the Athens Courier screamed in two inch letters:

“Dr. Tragos: Greek loss in World Cup NOT a tragedy – just some thing that happened”

Dr. Dion Tragos, Director of Tragedy at the Society for the Preservation of Tragedy in Athens, Greece, makes a point.
Dr. Dion Tragos, Director of Tragedy at the Society for the Preservation of Tragedy in Athens, Greece, makes a point.

Right now the internet wants to know one thing: Where can I see Richard Linklater’s new film BOYHOOD in Portland?

It’s always interesting to see what posts are the most popular, and how people find your web site. You can also get a sense of the depth of interest in a subject by the different variations of search terms people are using. If lots and lots of slightly different combinations of terms that all get at the same issue are used, that tells you many, many people are searching for something.

Ever since I published this rather ordinary plug for Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD a month ago, it has been the most frequently viewed post on this blog nearly every day, sometimes getting nearly 100 views. Search terms that resulted in a visit reveal every combination you can think of that get at this question: “Where can I see BOYHOOD in Portland?”

Richard Linklater, for years one of the most interesting American filmmakers around, appears to have hit the jackpot with his latest offering. Will the mega success (assuming it happens) of this small independent film change Linklater in any way? Let’s hope not. But how great that instead of the usual violence, filth, and corporate content that is the row most filmmakers hoe, Linklater is able to do something different (and much more influential) and enjoy big time success. Even though he doesn’t sound that interested in box office numbers.

Check out this excellent Arts Watch interview with the Texan wonder.

And then get ye to the magisterial Cinema 21 in Northwest, where BOYHOOD is playing all day every day. Could there be a better place to see this new Linklater film – anywhere on earth?

No.

Any questions?  This guy works hard to create masterpieces of contemporary film just for you.  Looks like a man who has found his calling.
Any questions? This guy works hard to create masterpieces of contemporary film just for you. Looks like a man who has found his calling.

Hey guys, let's make a movie.
Hey guys, let’s make a movie.

Looking for somewhere cool to go this August? Try THE THREE SISTERS. As in the Chekhov play – not the wilderness area

While Portlanders may initially think of a stunning Central Oregon wilderness area when they hear the handle “Three Sisters”, there is also a certain Chekhov play by the same name. And it’s coming to town. According to a completely apocryphal but exciting legend, the wilderness area was actually named after the play. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Point being: There’s an all new translation of THE THREE SISTERS (the play) hitting the stage at Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble August 2-17. So load up the back pack, get out the compass, and find your way to this backcountry wilderness of words (and those pregnant Chekhovian pauses, of course) over at Reed College.

Info

First three photos: Owen Carey

Three Sisters Pics 2

Three Sisters Pics 3

Three Sisters Pics

Two of the “other” three sisters – Middle and North. They have plenty of their own drama.