Friday, September 13, 2013

Fulbright Alumna at Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab--From Page to Stage

In our continued series profiling +Fulbright Program alumni, today we feature a post by Aiste Ptakauske who traveled this summer to the New York City to spend a month at the +Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. Here is her essay about the experience.


The summer of 2013 was the nineteenth summer in a row when the Lincoln Center Theater (LCT) gathered directors from all over the world into an LCT Directors Lab. For three weeks the LCT Directors Lab provided its participants with a truly lab-like environment where theater-makers experimented with their processes and ideas in hope to discover newer, better, fresher, and more exciting ways to create theater. All experiments were geared in one direction: from Page to Stage. 
How do we direct contemporary plays for contemporary audiences?
What should be the relationship between the playwright and the director in the room?
What are the processes of developing new plays? 
Coming to the Lab, we all thought we’d find answers to these questions. But these questions appeared to be just the tip of a much larger and harder iceberg…


‘Is it true that three basic human instincts are food, sex, and the urge to re-write somebody else’s play?’, asked +Anne Cattaneo, the Director of the LCT Directors Lab, in her welcome address to the Lab participants. ‘Isn’t it funny that so many people know how to re-write a play and so few know how to write one?’, echoed her John Guare, the acclaimed author of Six Degrees of Separation, in a round-table discussion with Edward Albee. John Guare and Edward Albee created a unique phenomenon in the American theater. When Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ hit the Broadway stage, critics called it ‘a play for dirty-minded women’. 

‘Which actually was a good thing!’, Edward Albee childishly chuckled remembering this review. That play (maybe, indeed, with a little bit of help from the review in question) made a lot of money that Edward Albee invested in a theater. ‘I just wanted to put on plays that I wanted to see and thought other people should see’,  he explained. That theater became a stepping-stone for an entire new generation of American playwrights (including the aforementioned John Guare). 

‘Can we imagine anyone doing the same thing now: investing their money in a theater, in their professional community?’, wondered Anne Cattaneo. There were as many answers to this question as there were directors in the Lab: 72 opinions from 27 countries, to be exact. And every answer was met with a dozen of new questions. That turned out to be a rule of the Lab: the number of questions asked always exceeded the number of answers given. Which actually was a good thing! In the contemporary society theater makers (and artists in general) are pressured too much by the demand to give answers. Theaters want to know how much the production will cost. Financiers want to know how fast they are getting their investment back. Grant giving bodies want to know how many people will see the play and how deeply they will be affected. Everyone wants to know what’s the most efficient process to achieve the best results. In our result-oriented times we’re so busy giving answers that we forget to ask ourselves a very important question: ‘Why am I doing this?’ 

By the end of the LCT Directors Lab I came to realize that this was the only question that ever mattered. To me, the answer to it was fairly obvious: we do what we do because we care. Whether it’s a war in Syria, genocide in Rwanda, racial discrimination in the States or brain drain in Lithuania, we cannot just sit back and watch. We want to know why, how, what the hell… It was so refreshing to have a space such as the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab where these questions could be asked without any pressure to give answers, with a premeditated understanding that answers to such questions may never be found. 

‘Clarity is overrated’, Sarah Ruhl explained her policy of giving answers. ‘Creativity is magic. Don’t examine it too closely’ was Edward Albee’s advice on a completely different occasion and to a completely different audience. This magic idiosyncracy of two great minds of contemporary American theater made me think: in Lithuania we seem to be obsessed with looking for the best recipes (maybe that explains the inconceivable popularity of cook books) in all spheres of our lives (How to write a perfect play? How to make a perfect movie? How to define a perfect family? How to elect a perfect Parliament? How to create a perfect state?) while in reality no matter what we do – direct a play, raise a family, run a state – to do it well, we only need each other. So that was my big discovery at the LCT Directors Lab: nothing I do in theater or in life will ever work or matter unless I always bear in mind who I’m doing it with and whom I’m doing it for.