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Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

John sent me a good New Yorker story about “the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group, an all-female theatre group, based in rural Turkey, which is writing and performing plays.

“Ümmiye Koçak, who is now in her mid-fifties, was a forty-four-year-old farmworker with a primary-school education when she caught the theatre bug from a school play that a local school principal, Hüseyin Arslanköylü, had staged the previous year,” writes Elif Batuman.

“Ümmiye had never seen a play before, and it seeped into her thoughts. For a long time, she had been puzzling over the situation of village women and the many roles they had to play. In the fields, they worked like men; in villas, they became housekeepers; at home, they were wives and mothers.

“In 2000, with other women from her village, Arslanköy, she formed the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group. The group met every night at the school, after the women had worked ten- or twelve-hour days on farms. Their first production, a contemporary Turkish play called ‘Stone Almonds,’ sold out a theatre in the provincial capital of Mersin, and was written up in the national press.” Continued here.

Still more at the New Yorker blog, here.

I’m wondering about the mysterious figure at the left here. Hamlet’s father? But he doesn’t show up after people die, or does he? It was always a somewhat confusing play. As my father used to say, quoting I know not who: “The king dies, the queen dies, Ham dies — I calls it a helluva play!”

Photograph: New Yorker magazine
“Hamlet” performed in a mountain location near Arslanköy at dawn.

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At the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, a group of children are learning the joy of theater.

Tammy La Gorce writes in the NY Times that the playhouse now has a class for children with disabilities.

“The class is a logical next step for Paper Mill, which last year began offering a series of sensory-friendly presentations for children with autism in its ‘Theater for Everyone’ programming. Sensory-friendly shows are scripted to be more literal, with innuendo kept to a minimum, and the theater’s lighting and volume are adjusted to help audience members feel more comfortable.

“This year, in a partnership with VSA New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that provides arts programming for children and adults with disabilities, Paper Mill joined the ranks of theaters welcoming such children who have an interest in learning to perform.

“Parents of children with developmental disabilities ‘are seeing the benefits of arts education,’ said Lisa Cooney, 46, director of education for Paper Mill. ‘And they’re a lot more proactive than they used to be.’

“Those who run the programs find them rewarding as well. The children ‘give so much to us,’ said Mickey McNany, the director of Paper Mill’s Theater School, after the recent class. In it, her 10-year-old granddaughter, Mary McNany, who has Down syndrome, identified Mozart as the composer of ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik,’ performed an improvised roller-skating scene and used sign language, as well as her voice, to sing a song.” Read more.

Below, Marnie McNany takes part with her children Finn and Mary.
Photograph: Aaron Houston for the New York Times

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I wrote before about a program using the arts to help people in prisons get beyond the prisoner mindset. Here’s a similar story.

Michelle “Bankston, who has short, blond hair and a muscular build, has spent almost 20 years behind bars. She was incarcerated first at a medium-security facility here in Alabama, and then at a private prison in Louisiana (to relieve overcrowding, Alabama sends some inmates out of state), and finally here, at the Montgomery Women’s Facility, a sun-soused cluster of buildings on the outskirts of the capital city.

” ‘A while back I decided that I could either spend decades in the bunks, watching TV or playing cards,’ Bankston says, ‘or I could get out here and take the opportunity to write poetry and draw.’

“That she’s been given this opportunity to do her art is testament to the work of Kyes Stevens, an avuncular and outspoken educator, poet, and Alabama native. Since 2002, Ms. Stevens has headed The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP), which offers literature and art classes in a range of prisons across the state. The program is funded by Auburn University and an array of grants. The teaching staff consists of five Auburn-based instructors and a rotating cast of teaching fellows from the graduate creative-writing program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Classes run for 14 weeks and are rigorously structured, like college courses, demanding a full commitment from students.”

Read the article in the Christian Science Monitor.

On a related note, I met a woman in my playwriting class who founded a nonprofit called On With Living and Learning, Inc. Mary Driscoll lives in the Fort Point Channel area of Boston and works with people who have been through the prison system. She uses theater to generate the catharsis that can result from their telling their stories and also to help them develop “job skills for the 21st century.” Read about her here. A script that Mary was working on in my playwriting class is now going to be made into an opera, with all sorts of helpers, like the Harvard-trained opera composer, the cabaret singer, and the reggae performer.

I can’t help thinking that when these creative people use their talents to help others, they are getting something special in return.

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Today’s NY Times has an article on the cutbacks in prison arts programs and on the many ways they help convicts prepare to lead a better life outside. Tim Robbins and the Actors Gang is trying to raise funds to keep this theater program in a California prison alive.

“Two years ago, arts in corrections programs were a mainstay of prisons across the country, embraced by administrators as a way to channel aggression, break down racial barriers, teach social skills and prepare inmates for the outside world. There was an arts coordinator in each of the 33 California state prisons, overseeing a rich variety of theater, painting and dance. But these programs have become a fading memory, casualties of the budget crises.”

Read more here.

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I am taking a playwriting class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education with Peter Littlefield, who also does a lot of directing. Here is an opera (Handel’s “Partenope”) he co-directed at the English National Opera. I wish I had a real video, but this is what I could find on YouTube.

I just had one class so far, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. The students are an interesting mix of ages and backgrounds, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone. One woman, as it happens, teaches in a Boston elementary school where I volunteer.

I really like Peter’s sort of associative approach to playwriting, in which you mess around with images and ideas that interest you, then set them aside while you play with different images and ideas, and ultimately see how they converge. To me the attraction is that you’re less likely to get bored with what you are doing than if you were trying to force an idea into a structure. (I really am sick of writing coaches who harp on “structure.” I believe a structure will emerge.) We did a really funny exercise for openers.

Although I have often tried to write plays, the only actual class I ever had was in writing for TV, which I took while getting a master’s in communications at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. It was all about the formula: one, two three, gag (joke); one, two three, gag; one, two three, gag. Spirit crushing.

For fun, watch the first few minutes of opening-night comments on my teacher’s production of Partenope.

Comments may be sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com. I will post them.

Asakiyume comments: I’m so excited about this playwriting class. You must have such a great sense of theater from *watching* so many plays, and you’ve definitely got stories to tell. I hope you’ll share any scripts that you do write.  (Your thing about television screenplays, with the “one, two, three, gag” made me laugh because of the alternative meaning of gag–which is what, of course, someone with an artistic vision and free spirit must surely do if trapped with such a formula.)

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