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Theatrical Essays – Ensemble Member Tina Landau Talks About Her Creation
2003-2004, Volume 4
Essay (n.) 1. An exertion of body or mind, for the performance of anything. 2. A composition treating of any particular subject; — usually shorter and less methodical than a formal, finished treatise. 3. To exert one's power or faculties upon.
Those are dictionary definitions of "Essay," but what are Theatrical Essays, appearing this spring in Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre? We asked ensemble member and creator Tina Landau to give her own definitions. For years, I've been walking around with a stack of index cards, each one representing a project I'd like to "one day" do. They range from full pieces or titles of works, to a person with whom I'd like to collaborate, to a single image that has stayed with me, to a particular topic of interest. I think a lot changed for me – and these index cards – with a series of coinciding events: September 11, 2001, and the whole of its aftermath. Turning 40 years old. The collapse of a long term project of which I cared for deeply. Learning from the philosophy of William Saroyan when I directed The Time of Your Life.
I looked at the index cards and decided to no longer increase their number without doing anything about it. That's part of how Theatrical Essays was born. I asked, "Why does every project have to take years and be perfect and full–length and cost a certain amount of money and energy to do? What ever happened to lab work and experimentation and is there a way for us as artists to return to creative play that is not bound by expectation? What form do we have that is the equivalent of a sketch or a model?"
And then there was the most important question of all that came up for me during this period – and one that seems to be floating increasingly manifest in the zeitgeist – "What matters to me and why? And how am I living that and standing by it? " Theatrical Essays was born equally out of these questions. A quest to locate and work from passion over detachment. To define and sharpen a personal point of view – on subjects political, moral, spiritual – which for most of my life I've been too unconscious or lazy or embarrassed to do. And which, as an artist, I've often been taught is not appropriate.
But Sept. 11 happened, and I turned forty, and Mr. Saroyan demanded of me, "In the time of your life, live."
And lastly, there was this: there is a language in the theater, an actual vocabulary and syntax and construction of thought and meaning that I use and write with every time I do something in the theater. It is the form of writing with which I am most comfortable and, at this point, most expressive. This writing occurs for me on my feet, in a theatrical space, with bodies and light and sound. This is the language I'm interested in writing in and exploring for Theatrical Essays.
Committed to the principle of ensemble performance through the collaboration of a company of actors, directors and playwrights, Steppenwolf Theater Company's mission is to advance the vitality and diversity of American theater by nurturing artists, encouraging repeatable creative relationships, and contributing new works to the national canon. The company, formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, is dedicated to perpetuating an ethic of mutual respect and the development of artists through on–going group work. Steppenwolf has grown into an internationally renowned company of thirty–four artists whose talents include acting, directing, playwriting, filmmaking, and textual adaptation.
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