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DIY Web Hub Interview

May 06, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Infrastructure, productivity

Read you loud and clear. I got a little more mileage than usual after my post How to Get the Right Website for your Theatre Company and as a result I’ve been talking with several theater folks who are interested in increasing their web programming vocabulary. To be honest, I’m interested in teaching this stuff to theater folk interested in Doing It Themselves, and these first few meetings are a way of seeing if a reasonable curriculum can be developed with such a broad subject and if a training session ends up being how students best process such a large, expanding explosion of information.

We’ll see!

In a related note, I’m interviewed today on New Media Blues, a resource site for DIY webmasters in any field. It’s a web programmer’s almanac of sorts. Brian’s got a bunch of common gotchas and tools that make learning and exploring Web programming a more accessible venture (like some of my recent favorites, Firebug and IETester)

Part of the issue with theater is that no one has any time. We work long hours for little to no pay, so all our theatrical work is on borrowed time. As print media coverage has shrunk rapidly over the last five years, we’ve needed to devote more and more of that “no time” to maintaining our web presence as an alternate way of convincing audiences to come see our work.

… So I guess you could say that at each step of the way, I learned by doing, and while it took a while, that knowledge starts to snowball at a certain point.

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5 Comments to “DIY Web Hub Interview”


  1. What’s the possibility of you teaching workshops electronically? Like I’d be interested in web design, but also sound design. I’ve studied lighting, stage, and costume design (worked as a costume designer), but I’ve never taken a sound design class and I rely heavily on sound as a playwright.

    Just a thought.

    Cheers,
    Elizabeth

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  2. RE: Sound Design, I think we should just have a conversation. Are you interested in more technical questions, or (it sounds like) aesthetic questions?

    All I can teach in sound design is practical physics and then what I see as common assumptions – including my own common assumptions.

    I’m curious to break this conversation open… what do you mean by relying on sound as a playwright? I actually hear that from almost ALL contemporary playwrights. Do you mean you write in specific music or sound choices into your script? What happens when those choices are stripped away (like some directors & design teams do with stage directions)?

    I’ve had a couple nerve-wracking situations where I (or more accurately, the director’s concept) worked with the fundamental world of the play but disagreed with a playwright’s specific sound choice… and changed it… and then had to sit in the audience while the playwright watched the show. At no point was that situation not hand-wringing, but I’d be interested in getting a playwright’s perspective on that question… Is music just another stage direction? And are stage directions an indicator of intention, or are they an unalterable piece of the world of the play? For me, writing sound into a play feels constricting as a designer. (Note my comment about The Varsouviana in Streetcar)

    Other times, it’s liberating. I’m currently working on Piano Lesson at Court, and I find August Wilson’s sound directions utterly inspiring as a designer. “A rustle of wind blowing across two continents.” It gives me as an artist room to interpret and adapt the playwright’s sonic intentions for the audience that I know will be seeing the show, and to match the designs of the other artists in the room.

    So I can see it both ways.

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  3. I’m interested in both the aesthetic and the technical aspects. I produce/direct some of my own work and feel like it would be a huge advantage to know how to create a sound design. I can design lights, set, and costumes, so I feel like I’m kind of lacking the sound area.

    As a playwright, I may have particular music in mind when I’m writing, but I don’t put those choices in the script because usually that music was a source of inspiration or used as motivation to write the script. I don’t think that belongs in the script. More importantly: I ultimately don’t want to limit the emotional quality of a particular moment or scene by marrying it to a specific song. Music really tells an audience how to feel (ignoring all the possible reactions a person might have on their own) and I’m not a big fan of that. There are probably exceptions to that rule. The only one that comes to mind for me based on something I’ve written wasn’t about a specific song, but more of a reaction I wanted to achieve. A woman was trapped in a room and surrounded by the FBI and it’s a typical tactic for them to play some sort of insanely mind-numbing music. Like when GB1 rounded up Manuel Noriega, the army played “I fought the law” for days on end or like in Guantanamo they play head-slamming music in a prisoner’s cell for days on end, so I’d write a direction that goes something like: Head-slamming music plays relentlessly. It seems like there is a lot of choice there: it doesn’t necessarily have to be loud, just present somehow.

    Usually I aim for what you’re talking about in the Piano Lesson. That’s a fairly specific direction – it conjures a beautiful image, but it’s open to interpretation. When I’m writing a script, I try to convey a particular visual image (which may be very specific for me), but write it so there’s room for interpretation. I figure the designers are going to interpret those directions in ways I never imagined and their choices are usually better (just like when actors approach the text and movement) because you know, they know their art.

    That said, I don’t think I’d be opposed to stripping a script of stage directions. I think it all depends on how it’s done. If it were done without asking me, I might be a little upset and would at least ask about it. But if the director and design team talked to me about it, I’d be open to listening to their reasons. I think you’re talking about the former: stripping the script, no questions asked. So yeah, I’d be upset. I probably say something. But it would depend on the situation.

    My experience, so far, has been that directors and design teams have been pretty respectful of the stage directions especially concerning sound and light. I’ve worked with Jake Rodriquez who is an amazing sound designer (and I’ll admit, I’m a little spoiled by that relationship). He’s come to work-in-progress performances of my work and had great suggestions about sound choices that were made (when he wasn’t available to work with me), ways to improve the sound, add to it, and even made dramaturgical suggestions about the play. He’s not afraid to tell me, yeah, you should really cut that scene, it’s too much. So I guess that is my optimal working relationship with a designer.

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  4. Cool. Re: Stage Directions – stripping is a wrong word choice on my part. I’m thinking pretty specifically about ridiculous (yet beautiful) stage directions from American classics along the lines of Eugene O’Neill and Tennesee Williams (hope you saw Strange Interlude at Goodman for a delightful 5-hour send up of O’Neill’s stage directions). In the case of a new play or collaboration with a playwright in the room, changing the specifics of a stage direction should only be done to clarify and support the intention of those stage directions – since the play is still being explored. I think we’re on the same page there.

    I’ve had some odd experiences with playwrights who were not open to that kind of collaboration, even with directors in some cases – playwrights who have been burned by the development process and hunker down into an auteur – theory sort of rigidness of interpretation. Beckett’s relationship with his work is kind of along those lines, where he continues to manipulate interpretation from the grave. But without naming names, I’ve seen that kind of reaction from playwrights in the room as well, which is where my last comment came from.

    It sounds like we’re both on the same page. Collaboration is valuable, and a different set of eyes and ears and emotional reactions should be explored together, with respect.

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  5. I would have loved to have seen Strange Interlude, but I live near San Francisco.

    I used be a student of the strip out the stage directions school of thought, which can be a good thing for a young writer because it forces you to write strong dialog and stop qualifying everything with a stage direction. But then I heard Paula Vogel talk about Tennessee Williams’ stage directions, which are so lovely, and that sort of nudged me out of that tendency. It’s really challenging to write stage directions that leave enough room for people to create.

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