American leftists (or progressives, depending on where you align yourself on the liberal spectrum) have been in a quandary ever since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the seeming triumph of capitalism, the political history of the past 30 years has been largely the story of Republican ascendancy. Even the intervening Clinton years were marked more by a sense of compromising the liberal voices within the Democratic party to win over those in favor of a more conservative agenda. And then came George W. Bush…
The Bush presidency catalyzed nothing short of a collective, massive depression among liberal activists. Beginning with the wildly contentious decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the results of his first election, many on the left moved from outrage, to worry, to resignation—a cycle of emotions that would repeat itself many times during the ensuing eight years. It was a cycle that left many feeling dispirited, alone and exhausted.
But none of us wants to stay depressed. No matter how dire we think the circumstances, we all seek hope, yearn for a future that promises some degree of possibility, security and happiness. Perhaps it is in our cultural DNA as eternally optimistic Americans, or the fact that as a species, we seek to find meaning in everything. “Things happen for a reason,” we say to ourselves, and if we can simply get back to the essential goodness of life, all will be well.
Which is why Lisa Kron’s new play, In the Wake, is so poignant. Fighting conventional wisdom, she has dared to turn her critical lens onto the liberal left. Armed with a keen understanding of class entitlement and the danger of defining happiness as the fulfillment of one’s desire, Lisa dares not only to ask the question “how bad is it?” (pretty bad, we all know, is the answer), but also “how has the left been complicit?” Moreover, “how has the very nature of our desire to be happy blinded us to real issues?” Lisa’s answers are excruciatingly, thrillingly clear. And complicated. And liberating.
Very few writers have the courage to dissect their own communities. Even fewer can make the connection between our political life and our personal behavior. Lisa Kron has done both in this play. Together with her chief and closest collaborator, director Leigh Silverman, and a host of great designers and actors, she has invited us to take a long, hard look at who we are, who we have become. A play for Berkeley, to be sure. A play for every American. And a great way to end our season.
Thanks for all your support.
Rocco Landesman, the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) visited the Bay Area a few weeks ago, championing his theme of “Art Works.” Landesman wants to convince our governmental leaders that investment in the arts makes good economic as well as civic sense, and he argues that a robust dedication to art and culture paid dividends in 1935 when the government committed the extraordinary sum of $7 billion to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under Franklin Roosevelt. (That would be an astonishing $160 billion dollars today!) The WPA seeded the artistic careers of such giants as Saul Bellow, William deKooning, Zora Neale Hurston and Mark Rothko. The program also subsidized distinctive public art that graces post offices, schools and civic structures to this day and provided meaningful work for thousands of artists during a period of bleak economic opportunity.
You may wonder why I hearken back to a 1930s jobs program as we open this marvelous, 21st-century play. There is a connection. While In the Wake is the final play of our subscription season, it is certainly not the end of our programming for the 2009/10 season. Throughout June, our Thrust Stage will be host to the new Fireworks festival, a showcase of pieces by David Sedaris and two distinguished Bay Area artists. Fireworks began as a week of readings by David Sedaris, but through a small but mighty investment in art that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, we were able to expand the festival to include two local performers. Wes “Scoop” Nisker, the well-known radio personality, will command the stage in Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again, then Dan Hoyle will bring his already lauded production Tings Dey Happen to the East Bay for the first time as well as his fascinating new piece, The Real Americans, based on reflections from his travels across this country.
Last summer, tucked within the $787 million stimulus package, Congress authorized $50 million to be distributed by the NEA for projects that would expand employment in the arts. Berkeley Rep received one of a handful of local, $50,000 grants for this purpose. We put that grant to use, reinstating one of the staff positions that had been eliminated when we downsized, and extending employment for other staff members who would otherwise have been laid off immediately after we opened In the Wake.
That investment by the NEA made it possible for us to launch the Fireworks festival, extending the benefit of that initial NEA grant by hiring Scoop and Dan, and by providing additional work to concessionaires, box office, technical crew and maintenance staff. Now that the festival is established, we have the opportunity to accommodate other artists we are excited about bringing to Berkeley Rep.
The benefit of that money will soon extend beyond Berkeley Rep. When we keep our doors open throughout the summer, our audiences support nearby restaurants, while we support the bakeries and vineyards that supply our lobby concessions and the hardware stores and specialty shops that provide the raw materials for our productions. The impact of that $50,000 will pay dividends beyond the pleasure of seeing these talented artists on our stage.
When Landesman argues that Art Works, he means it—and we are the proof.
by Chad Jones
On the occasion of her 20th anniversary as Berkeley Rep’s managing director, we sat down with Susan Medak to talk about her career, her passions and why she considers herself one of the luckiest people around. Her journey into the world of nonprofit theatre took her from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis to Milwaukee Repertory Theater, followed by stints as the managing director of People’s Light and Theatre Company in Philadelphia and Northlight Theatre in Evanston, Ill. When she arrived at Berkeley Rep in 1990, she took over for Mitzi Sales, the only other managing director Berkeley Rep has ever had. Sharon Ott was artistic director, and after Sharon’s departure, Tony Taccone took over.
How did you get from your hometown (Lincolnwood, Ill.) to show business?
From the time I was little—maybe it was in my DNA—I wanted to be an actress. There was just something about the alchemy in the theatre. When you experience great theatre with a great audience, it’s so exhilarating, so charged. You can’t chart it, but you know it when you feel it. I really thought acting would be my way of making the world a better place. Luckily, I found out early on that there were other ways for me to do that. I discovered that I could be good at what I do, work in the theatre, contribute to the field and maybe make a wider impact.
Why do you think you and Berkeley Rep have worked so well together?
If we have been successful, it’s been in part because we produce what we care about, and what we care about turns out to be an aesthetic that is shared by our community. This formula wouldn’t work in every community. We’re in Berkeley, in the Bay Area, and that gives us a certain license to do the kind of work we do. We have taken responsibility for building an audience and bringing that audience along with us. We’ve taken a lot of responsibility for helping audiences enjoy the work as much as we do.
Context is all—and that’s my philosophy about everything. The more context we can provide, the richer the audience’s experience. Our audiences are intelligent and thoughtful, and we have a lot of respect for them.
How do you feel about celebrating your 20th anniversary?
I’m not big on markers like anniversaries. Every day it’s the same: I come into the Theatre and do my job. When I am done here, whenever that is, I would like to think our theatre is different, better, for my having been here. I’d like to think the same about the Bay Area theatre community and our community in general. I’d like to think the nonprofit theatre world is different because I spent time within it. My footprints are easy to identify, but I’m under no illusion that I did anything by myself.
How have you changed as a leader in two decades here?
I’m so much better as a leader now. I’m much more moderate now. I used to be more impatient. I think I’m a more willing listener. I’ve learned to be more curious. After years of experience, I’ve learned more about what’s worth worrying about, what’s not. I have a higher risk tolerance, and I trust my gut, my instincts, especially now that I’m working on 35 years’ worth of experience. I’ve come to realize in this business how important it is to protect the creative part of the process. I think I have more awe for real creative spirits, and again, that’s something I now feel in my bones in a way I didn’t used to. I know how lucky I am to live my life surrounded by people who care so intensely and who are so good at they work they do. They bring such a high level of creativity and skill to their work—that’s something I took for granted for a lot of years.
What made you stop taking that for granted?
I remember visiting caves in Northern Spain, and after hiking a quarter mile in the dark, I came into a cavern where there’s an exquisite painting on the wall that is 30,000 years old. To think about the work required to create this painting in silence, isolation and darkness was incredible. In a truly visceral way, this gave me a way of understanding the artistic impulse that I hadn’t integrated before. Here I was, 30,000 years later, in some kind of communion with an artist working so long ago, and that made me terribly respectful. In a job like mine, you have to participate creatively, not just show up. It’s all about helping create something that moves people to see things in a different way, opens them to another person’s point of view. I’m lucky because I get to participate in that process.
Why are you and Tony such a successful team?
We both see theatre as an activist pursuit, which doesn’t mean it’s always political. We want to move people to engage, to take action, to feel things that bring them to a wider world view. Tony does that with what’s on stage. I extend the impact of our Theatre within the community. One aspect of my job is to take what happens within our walls and translate that to the larger community.
What do you love most about Berkeley Rep?
This is a Theatre that other theatres aspire to be. Our work, at its best, is among the best in the country, and at its worst, it’s still better than most. The values of our organization are so clear and shared by anyone who works here. We’ve contributed to making this downtown and this city a better place. Those are things that make me proud. We’ve also built a staff that is skilled and committed—people I’m proud to work with.
One thing I love about this Theatre is that we have unrestrained ambition. We lean forward as opposed to digging in our heels and getting dragged along.
How has your job changed in 20 years?
When I got here, I did a lot more “producing” plays—contracts, agents, budgets. When we started building the Roda Theatre, it became clear that my job needed to shift, and I had to hand off a lot to Karen Racanelli, our general manager. That freed me up to think more strategically about the organization, to view it from thousands of feet above as opposed to a few feet.
What makes you so good at what you do?
I think I have the capacity to look at the big picture and see how it relates to the day to day. I think people think I’m fair and trustworthy. I try to stay ahead, to anticipate. Something I think is true is that people want to feel engaged with something bigger than themselves. I’ve drawn on that to help people do their best work.
Also, and this is an incontrovertible aspect of my leadership style: I love conflict. I’ve always thought of that as part of my job, to challenge orthodox thinking. I come from a loud family, and as one of the youngest kids, I had to fight to get a word in. There was always a lot of talking, a lot of arguing. I argue with people, and I tell them, “My people argued with God. Why wouldn’t I argue with you?”
Why is being a mentor important to you?
When I hit 40—I’m 56 now—I had a moment when I realized that I had been well mentored. People had taken an interest in me and made a commitment to me. I learned from some amazing managers before me and felt a real yearning to do that for other people, so I’ve mentored managers and artistic directors at other companies. It made me very motivated to develop our fellowship program. I’m also on the faculty at Yale, and about 10 Yale grad students have had a four-month fellowship with me. I take a real interest in the careers and development of all the members of our staff. If you don’t invest in people the way other people have invested in you, you’re not doing your part.
What has it been like working with Berkeley Rep’s board of directors through the years?
We’ve had really excellent board leadership, and I consider my work with them part of my continuing education. They are some of the best and brightest in their fields, and I have learned—continue to learn—so much, about law, real estate and life. I feel like I’ve had my graduate-school education just by working with people who are so good at what they do. Their involvement, their passion, has been so important for the Theatre, and many of them have become my dear friends.
You’ve said you’re one of the luckiest people alive. Why?
I have a great life—great husband, great kid, great theatre, great colleagues and friends. Life is good.
To see a list of some of Susan Medak’s favorite productions over the past 20 years, click here.
by Elana McKernan
The British Council is the UK’s international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations. The council works in more than 100 countries worldwide to build engagement and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. Visit britishcouncil.org.
Meet with Rachel Fink, the director of Berkeley Rep’s School of Theatre, to discuss the £10,000 grant she recently received from the British Council, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a woman who does not sit still. This is evident from the stream of people who breeze in and out of her office (many of whom spoke to her as though she were telepathic: “Did you—” “Yes.” “Did it—” “No.” “Good work.”) as well as from the fire that lights in her eyes when discussing her recent grant-funded world travels.
Rachel rocketed from being an intern at Berkeley Rep (a four-month program during her second year at Yale) to director of Berkeley Rep’s School of Theatre in just over three years and has been in her current position since 2001. Rachel built the School from the ground up, and in the past nine years she has expanded it to serve more than 22,000 students ranging in age from five to 105 annually in 13 counties throughout the Bay Area. One gets the sense that even when Rachel does sit still, she moves the world around her.
It was no surprise, back in March 2009, when Rachel was nominated to be the American delegate for the British Council’s prestigious Cultural Leadership International Programme (CLI). After a rigorous application process spanning months and including a series of essays, interviews, leadership trainings and a comprehensive development plan detailing the scope of what she would do with the funds, Rachel was chosen by the British Council as the Programme’s sole US delegate and awarded a £10,000 grant (about $15,000). Only 33 people were selected for CLI, and those 33 people represented 27 different countries from North America, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
“The guidelines for the grant were relatively broad,” Rachel says. “Your proposal had to have an international component to it, it had to stretch you in a way you hadn’t been stretched before, and it had to be something that you wouldn’t really have access to do on your own. I was interested in learning about cultural policy, which is basically the set of laws and customs within a country that support arts and culture.”
Once chosen in June, Rachel hardly had time to breathe before embarking on the first component of her plan: to work with National Arts Strategies (NAS), a Washington, DC–based nonprofit that, as she says, “provides high-level executive training for people working in the arts.” According to Rachel, NAS does “really interesting, in-depth training, even beyond the scope of what I did in grad school at Yale.” NAS partnered with arts organizations in six different cities—including Berkeley—to cosponsor a series of free one-day trainings for local arts leaders. Rachel was involved every step of the way, from planning to implementation.
For the second component of her plan, Rachel put together a four-week trip to London, Belfast, Amsterdam, the Hague and Paris. After a four-day leadership training in London earlier this year, Rachel was ready to embark on nearly a month of traveling through Europe to meet with theatre practitioners and policymakers.
During her travels, Rachel became intimately familiar with each government’s cultural policy structure and the degree to which and means by which each country funds the arts. England, for example, has one centralized unit—Arts Council England (ACE)—that has a £575 million (about $880 million) annual budget. (Compare this to the National Endowment of the Arts’ annual budget of $155 million.) ACE is Great Britain’s primary funding organization, and one grant from ACD could cover about half of a typical theatre company’s entire annual budget. The other half of the budget comes from ticket sales. In America, theatre companies generally use a similar budgetary model, with half of the general budget covered by ticket sales and half coming from donations from corporations, individuals and foundations. In the US, however, it is common for large theatre companies to have an entire development department devoted to raising money. In England, these funds could be secured by one grant application! Many other European countries use a similar model of funding, with the bulk of operating expenses covered by government grants and virtually no culture of corporate or individual giving.
Though inspired by the level of arts funding she encountered in Europe, Rachel soon realized the extent to which a country’s cultural policy is inextricable from its own values. “I went into this experience thinking I was going to learn how to convince politicians to give us money,” she explains, “and it took a while, but I realized that it’s much more complicated than that. The system of how things are funded in those specific countries is so tightly ingrained with the cultural values of that individual country that it would be really difficult to say, ‘Oh, that worked over here, so let’s apply that to the US.’ Overall I would say the whole trip made me reflect back on our national identity and how we operate and what our values are.”
Rachel leaves her CLI experience with a greater appreciation for international relations and a desire to continue to push the US to expand its cultural boundaries, both internationally and at home. “There’s no question that this experience has changed me forever. I think we have a lot of work to do,” she observes. “The issues facing the field are multi-faceted, and we waste too much time arguing about what ‘the solution’ is instead of attacking the problem from different angles.”
Sitting in Rachel’s office in the School of Theatre, watching the well-oiled machine that she has built from nothing in less than a decade, there’s clearly no better person to confront these issues head-on and challenge, strengthen and nurture the arts community in America.
by Madeleine Oldham
In a conversation with Lisa Kron, I asked her if she intended to write In the Wake with systems theory in mind. She smiled and said no, but that her father was very familiar with systems thinking, and that it probably infiltrated her brain from a young age. This came as no surprise to me, as she has written a play that embodies so many of the concepts and ideas behind this worldview that it belies a knowledge of the subject, whether conscious or not.
Systems theory is a relatively recent field that developed in opposition to the dominant 20th-century scientific position that celebrated a mechanistic approach: things could be better understood if they were taken apart and examined in isolation, stripped of relationship. Systems thinkers, on the other hand, believe that context is crucial, and that any whole proves greater than the mere sum of its parts.
Arising out of sciences like physics and biology, the principles quickly branched out into philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology, spirituality, environmentalism and the list goes on. The term “living systems” surfaced because things were always studied in relationship to their environments, no longer solely as the things themselves. A metaphor of the earth as a living, breathing entity replaced that of the world-as-machine.
Systems theory is heady stuff but can essentially be described as the study of interconnectedness. It examines the world from a holistic standpoint and suggests that interrelatedness is the key to understanding our experience. The seemingly insurmountable problems of our world all relate to each other, and if we can unlock how, we might be able to affect the change we so longingly strive to achieve.
The concept of the “butterfly” or “ripple” effect arose alongside this line of thinking in the 1960s. It came from an experiment conducted by a meteorologist who discovered that the tiniest changes in weather conditions could result in vastly different manifestations. This helped the world understand why it’s virtually impossible to predict the weather more than a day or two in advance with any kind of certainty. The idea of minuscule actions having great consequences caught on, and examples could be seen in everything from the “practice random acts of kindness” campaign to Rosa Parks’ legendary bus ride. Recent history saw the fate of a nation depending on a handful of votes in a Florida recount. In this way, the personal really does become political.
Which brings us to Lisa Kron’s play. Kron sets up her protagonist, Ellen, as an allegory for America. Dynamics at work in Ellen’s personal life mirror dynamics inherent in contemporary American society. There is a literal aspect to this, as Ellen is a political animal: she actively participates in the political process, cares about decisions her country makes and sees herself as a citizen with not only a responsibility but also a mandate due to her deep investment in American democracy to speak out against what she feels is wrong.
But Kron offers us a deeper metaphor with a systemic look at the relationship among some basic American principles: hard work will generate success, growth and expansion will yield prosperity, equal opportunity does exist, life can and should be fair, it is possible to have it all. As a society we tend to take these ideas for granted and accept them unconditionally. The play asks us to think twice about those assumptions, and the story weaves them together to illuminate how they work in cooperation with one another.
Living systems theory replaces hierarchy with networks. Where often human beings have adopted a position at the top of an evolutionary pyramid, systems thinkers see people as one part of a web of life that weights their participation equally with that of beetles or bears. (The term “web of life” comes from Fritjof Capra’s book The Web of Life, the systems bible of sorts.) American democracy represents this idea in action with its built-in system of checks and balances. The play has much to say on the subject of what happens when the web-like aspects of democracy are in danger of being supplanted by more hierarchical policies.
In her personal life, Ellen’s choices and values reflect a systemic way of moving through the world. She chooses a family for herself that doesn’t operate under the traditional hierarchical model with parents at the helm and children underneath. Instead, she seeks out a network of peers and friends that creates a different kind of family.
Ellen also invites chance into her world, in a heroically determined effort to accept change as an intrinsic part of life. This idea can also be found in systems thinking. Adapting to change forces a system to move forward and remain vital, instead of stagnating and fading. This is modeled everywhere in nature: the progression of seasons, weather, the tides, the cycles of the moon, the orbit of the earth, the life cycle of plants and animals, etc.
Systemic thought is closely aligned with some aspects of chaos theory such as the idea that the unexpected is unavoidable and randomness is an essential part of a healthy network. Remaining open to possibility and incorporating the random, as opposed to fending it off, is believed to create robust systems. (This, of course, is in direct competition with the human tendency to resist change and hold on to the present or the past. In other words, easier said than done.)
In addition, we see the effects of systemic thinking in the current global conversation about sustainability. The recent emergence of the word in common parlance indicates a move away from the desire to dominate and conquer—exhausting finite resources and the relentless pursuit of progress no matter the planetary costs—and toward a future of cooperation and relationship. We are finally beginning to understand that what we do as individuals, as families, as governments, as cities and as nations can be felt worldwide.
But the play offers us a cautionary pause, reminding us that human nature can never really be ignored, and that danger lies in even the best of intentions. It asks us to think about whether the particularly American value of unlimited expansion and unchecked growth can live in harmony with the rest of the world. It calls on us to reflect upon our beliefs, our politics, our principles, our truths, and think about them not in isolation, but in concert with those of others. It ultimately illuminates the difficult yet essential fact that our fates are entwined with the fates of our families and friends, our cities and countries, our land and our planet, and that we must ensure that our needs and desires don’t consume us at their expense.
Jane Jacobs is beloved by In the Wake’s Ellen and Amy, but also by systems thinkers. She dedicated her life to preserving and creating our nation’s urban neighborhoods, relentlessly asking whether we were building cities for people or for cars. She fought tirelessly against metropolitan highway construction and became famous for leading the opposition that eventually killed the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway in Manhattan.
Her seminal 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities did more than just criticize urban sprawl as it proceeded to offer practical alternative solutions. She applied these principles to an even larger context in her 2000 book The Nature of Economies, which is 150 pages long. She managed to address a topic so lofty in such a succinct manner because of her common sense and contextual approach. Her work remains influential in economic development and urban renewal today.
by Charlotte Stoudt
Elections. Breakups. Thanksgivings from hell. Lisa Kron’s new play, In the Wake, follows a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown: type-A journalist Ellen, whose certainty about politics and love gets blown out of the water. In the Wake promises to generate plenty of conversation—no matter whom you voted for in the last election. Kron’s comedy of deprecation and provocative social critique is part Sedaris, part Kushner, yet utterly her own. Her Obie-winning solo show, 2.5 Minute Ride, examined Holocaust survivor guilt by way of roller coasters. Well, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for lead actress, looked at racism via food allergies and her childhood in Lansing, Mich. Kron teaches playwriting at Yale University and is working on a musical with Jeanine Tesori (Shrek the Musical, Caroline, or Change). She took a break from rehearsals of In the Wake to dish about art, Obama, and her love-hate relationship with LA.
In the Wake takes us back to the contested election of 2000, Sept. 11, and the 2004 election. Are we going to have fun, or is this going be a post-traumatic stress experience for both Democrats and Republicans?
The play spans the Bush years, but it’s not about that time period. It’s about the bigger question of the American character: the assumption in this country that there’s only so far we can fall. That we will always revert to prosperity and stability. Why do we think that? What is that belief based on? It’s a kind of collective blind spot. The play is also about what happens when your personal ethics diverge with the people you’re closest to. You thought you felt the same way, but actually there’s something so different between you. And there’s a lot of humor in the play.
How do you see Ellen, your protagonist, as emblematic of America?
Ellen has an idea of herself as capable of infinite expansion. Her heart has never been broken. Even those of us on the left, who think we see things clearly, are very invested in believing that the way we live is ultimately sustainable. That our comfortable lives won’t go away and that we’re not hurting anybody. The right and the left are always filled with self-justification. Writing about politics and belief is difficult because those of us who want to criticize politics are caught up in the very thing we’re objecting to. We are that thing too.
Do you think politics ultimately boils down to emotion?
All emotions are beliefs. When you feel something, it either confirms or challenges something you believe. The writer Charles Baxter says every time we talk about another person, we’re defining ourselves. Whether we’re referring to our sister or George Bush, we’re basically saying: “That’s exactly right” or “I would never do that.” That extends to politics. We’re constantly aligning ourselves. It’s a process of individuation.
One of the play’s themes is how blind we are to our true desires. Ellen finds herself attracted to a woman, Amy.
But it’s not a coming-out play. The fact that Ellen’s transformation involves a woman is incidental. Ellen has a great life with her male partner—she didn’t know she was missing anything. Then suddenly Amy shows up. She offers Ellen an emotional permeability she’s never imagined.
The love scenes between Amy and Ellen are particularly intense. How are you approaching the staging?
It’s almost impossible to find women who can play sexuality that’s not coy, that’s not a mating call for men—you know, hair flipping. But these actresses have gotten on this ride in a big way. The seduction scene is pretty hot. They’re steaming it up.
You’re a founding member of the satirical Five Lesbian Brothers. How has being a lesbian informed expectations of your work?
I started out in the ‘80s at the Wow Café, a lesbian collective in New York. It changed my life. It was a place that was not invested in doctrinaire political correctness and therefore enormously alive. And because we were lesbians, no one was paying attention to us. If you’re only doing something for yourself, you can do incredible things. There’s no explaining. Being out became such a given. It was very interesting when I took my work out to regional theaters. One of my first solo shows was 101 Humiliating Stories. It wasn’t political at all. But about 10 minutes into the show, I would casually identify myself as a lesbian. I remember watching men in the audience recoil, like, “Nobody told me I signed up for this!” They just assumed it was OK to identify with my humor.
A female director won the best director Oscar for the first time in 82 years. Do you think women have become stronger advocates for themselves?
We’re all still working on that. It’s amazing. [Director Leigh Silverman] has to keep pushing the actresses in our show to come forward, literally. Not to shrink back, physically or vocally, when their characters argue about ideas. Ambition is complicated for everybody, including me. I’m not straight, but I am a Midwesterner! Don’t get too big for your britches and all that. But ambition is the fuel in your car. You just want to intersect with the world in a big way.
Who would you say does ambition well?
The lack of need to be deferential can allow other things to happen. Look at Rachel Maddow or Ellen DeGeneres.
In the Wake was commissioned by the Taper while Bush was still president. Has Obama’s presidency refracted any of your ideas?
In the worlds of money and power, you start to realize there are people who just thrive on chaos. That’s part of what’s happening to Obama right now, with the Republicans. He brings them into the room and listens. He believes a certain dynamic can be transformed. But what if it can’t? Now if I’m asking that question, he asked it a long time ago. Obama plays a long game like no politician I’ve seen in my lifetime. He doesn’t get caught in the talking heads like Clinton did. We’ll see if it works.
Where do you get your news?
Bill Moyers. Kevin Phillips. Even Eliot Spitzer’s saying if we think things are getting better, we’re deluded. States are literally seizing up—Californians know this very well.
You lived in Los Angeles for a time. Discuss.
LA has amazing things and amazingly talented people, but the layout encourages atomization. Living in a place where people’s garage doors face the street makes me apoplectic. I loved Griffith Park but I would always get lost. I’d find myself in some ravine as it was getting dark, realizing I was surrounded by coyotes and rattlesnakes. I was going to be that woman on the 6 o’clock news people would watch and say, “Why did we pay to airlift that crazy woman out the woods?”
If you could change something about yourself without too much pain, what would it be?
Answering my email. I’m appallingly bad at it. I can’t answer an email quickly. It takes hours. How do other people do it? I know, this is actually my answer to your question.
In the Internet age, what makes theatre still relevant?
Theatre’s operating principle is based on a universal human truth: all of us are completely innocent of the coming moment. No matter who you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. When we come up against that, it makes us feel alive. Accidents, sporting events, deathbeds, birth: that’s when we consciously feel the stuff of life. We like to watch characters because we get to see the way they define themselves, but also what they can’t see. Theater is always about the blind spot. That’s what makes it so compelling. None of us see the whole picture of ourselves.
Los Angeles Times, Copyright 2010. Reprinted with Permission.
by Rachel Viola
Lisa Kron is a writer and performer known both for her solo performance work, and her collaborations with The Five Lesbian Brothers. She has been the recipient of numerous honors for her work, including several OBIE Awards, the Cal Arts/Alpert Award, the Bessie Award and the GLAAD Media Award.
2.5 Minute Ride and 101 Humiliating Stories
Five Lesbian Brothers / Four Plays
The Five Lesbian Brothers’ Guide to Life
Jane Jacobs was an American activist and writer who spent much of her career in Canada. Famous for organizing grass-roots movements to protect neighborhoods from detrimental urban renewal projects, Jacobs was also a crucial voice in the cancellation of plans for the Lower Manhattan Expressway.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities
The Nature of Economies
Fritjof Capra is a Berkeley-based physicist and systems theorist, and is the founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy (www.ecoliteracy.org).
The Web of Life