Combining Bob and Chuck

Bobrauschenbergamerica Production Dramaturg Laura Esti Miller’s note on the unique playwrighting style of Charles L. Mee and how it matches Robert Rauschenberg’s visual art:

In bobrauschenbergamerica, playwright Charles L. Mee takes us on a road trip through a collaged landscape of found art and uniquely American experiences. Mee honors Robert Rauschenberg’s work and influence with a piece that spotlights elements of the master pop artist’s style – integrating aspects of painting and collage, creating sculpture with found elements, and breathing life into everyday objects.

Robert Rauschenberg next to his piece, SOR AQUA (VENETIAN)

In 1961, Rauschenberg was invited to deliver a piece for an exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, for which artists were asked to create portraits of owner Iris Clert. Before the exhibition, Rauschenberg sent a telegram to the gallery that read, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” Rauschenberg believed that art is what you make of it, and abstraction is exactly what you are looking at.

Mee refers to his own plays as assemblages and collages, so he is a natural, corresponding match for undertaking a work about Rauschenberg’s life and art. Mee delights in playwriting as a public form. He posts his scripts online and as part of “the (re)making project,” invites other playmakers to “pillage the plays” and create an “entirely new piece out of the ruins.”  He says on his website, “There is no such thing as an original play. …sometimes some of us write about our own innermost lives, believing that, then, we have written something truly original and unique. But, of course, the culture writes us first, and then we write our stories.”

Charles L. Mee

Though Mee speaks of his own plays here, this is an apt description of Rauschenberg’s work, as well. “[They are] jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns. That feels good to me. It feels like my life. It feels like the world.”

Taking a cue from Mee, the following is a quote from his own script:

Art is made in the freedom of the imagination
with no rules
it’s the only human activity like that
where it can do no one any harm
so it is possible to be completely free
and see what it may be that people think and feel
when they are completely free
in a way, what it is to be human when a human being is free
and so art lets us practice freedom
and helps us know what it is to be free
and so what it is to be human

-Laura Esti Miller, Dramaturg


Acting is Weird

So, since it’s been over 5 years since I’ve last performed, (and my first full production as an actor for Forum), I thought I’d write a bit about the experience. I’m currently rehearsing for bobrauschenbergamerica and playing the role of Wilson, the hapless, confused, romantic who pines for Susan and a greater understanding of love. It’s a super fun role and has me really excited about being onstage again.

That said:

Acting is weird.

And kinda hard.

Has it only been 5 years? It feels like 25. We had our initial “on feet” rehearsal a few days ago and it was not disimilar to using my legs for the first time. I felt like my lower body was attempting to speaking Chinese and my upper body was in a straightjacket.

Now, as a director, I can rock out some table work. I can intellectualize the hell out a script—it’s my way in. So, for those rehearsals, I felt great. In fact, I really enjoyed the process of delving into a single character and doing all the work I wish I could as a director.

Working out the through line for my character (Wilson) in such a non-linear play is teaching me a great deal about how to work with an actor in such a process when I direct, next. Derek Goldman is hands-on, thoughtful, and questioning in all the ways you’d ask for in a process like this. I’m sure his background in devising and writing plays a factor in this and it’s been a great learning experience, already.

But then came time to get “up on feet.” Full-time actors: you truly have a great gift and amount of skill. I have always respected the ability of my fellow collaborators, but having been out of the game of acting for so long, I’m in awe of the level of focus you bring to a show.

Trust me–these early parts of the rehearsal process are delicate, frustrating, self-conscious, and confusing. It’s a lesson in patience and awkwardness and failure. I can hear my own director voice reminding me to “make big choices! Throw any idea onto the wall!” and my new actor voice responding with various versions of “I FEEL LIKE AN IDIOT MOVING THIS WAY AND SAYING THAT LIKE THIS!”

Add to this the fact that bob contains a great deal of dancing. Now, old friends of mine will remember that I did show choir in high school. These same acquaintances will also be aware of how unsuccessful my efforts at graceful movement were. Kelly Mayfield, our amazing choreographer (who somehow has more energy than any of us, despite being mere weeks away from giving birth) has encouraged us to find how we move naturally and embrace our mistakes. Let’s just say dance step failure has become a “character quirk” for me.

We still have a few weeks to sculpt and play. Tonight is the dreaded “off-book” night….another big event in my other-side-of-the-room adventure. Hopefully, I’ll put up another post closer to opening. Make sure you get your tickets—there are some amazing folks involved with this project and a really fun script that I think you will all enjoy.

….and if that’s not enough, there’s the curiosity factor of seeing me onstage. Probability level of me tripping and falling during a dance number is very high 🙂


Life As Art: Annie Houston

As we jump into rehearsals for BOBRAUSCHENBERGAMERICA, we’ve asked the members of the cast and creative team to tell us a bit about themselves! The play centers around a backyard cook-out setting and we’ve been talking a lot about what it is to be an American, what is the American experience, and looking at how we live our lives as an artistic process.

Our first Life As Art profile is on the extraordinary Annie Houston!

(note: the “Art and Life” title is inspired by the great Robert Rauschenberg book, “Rauschenberg: Art and Life” by Mary Lynn Kotz. Check it out!)


Name: Annie Houston

Hometown:  Mandeville, Jamaica

Current town:  Washington, DC

Character: BOB’S MOM

What has been your “Quintessential American Experience”?  Seeing the Statue of Liberty at age 12 arriving on a boat from England

What has surprised you during the rehearsal process for BOB?  The stories of each member of the cast; the dancing numbers

INSPIRATION  Who inspires you?  Ellen Barkin, Helen Mirren, Yo Yo Ma, the beauty of Jamaica and Big Sur

Inspires your Character?  Dora Matson Rauschenberg, Ann Richards, Nell Bell

FAVORITES  Favorite Chicken Joke?  Chicken soup is good for you.  Unless you’re a chicken!

Favorite Childhood Memory?  Taking walks with my family over land that looked 7 miles down to the Caribbean

Favorite American Artist/Writer/Singer?  Georgia O’Keefe, Tennessee Williams, Nina Simone

5 Favorite States?  California, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Maine

5 Favorite BBQ Foods?  Roasted Corn, Mixed Grilled Veggies, Grilled Wild Salmon, Grilled Organic Chicken,  Potato Salad

Why do you think people should come see BOBRAUSCHENBERGAMERICA?  The play is a mirror into ourselves as a culture and we always need to look into the mirror; the play will turn people onto or deepen their understanding of Bob Rauschenberg, an amazing artist.


Up next at Forum is Zehra Fazal’s Headscarf and the Angry Bitch — a semi-musical, fully-comic exploration of the American Muslim experience.  This beef ain’t halal!

We’re psyched to be launching Zehra’s 2011 Summer Unveiled Fringe Festival tour to Cincinnati, Hollywood, Toronto and Indianapolis. Headscarf will be at Round House Silver Spring (8641 Colesville Road) May 17-May 20 at 8PM. And you can buy tickets … HERE!

Choosing a Season: A Diary (part 2)

Now that One Flea Spare has closed, the focus of the company has returned to what we’ll do next season. We continue with our series of posts on choosing a season that started with part 1. Again, Artistic Director, Michael Dove:

OK. So, first an apology for going a few months in-between these posts. I did the last one on December 7th, and here it is mid-March, and not only have we not announced our season (after hoping to do so a few weeks ago), but I haven’t even been checking in and reporting on the process. The Forum Transparency Police have given me a swift slap on the wrist and we are moving on.

What we have been doing over these past few weeks and months is reading. Reading. Reading. Then discussing. Then cutting down the “shortlist” and reading and discussing again. What started as a list of about 50 plays made its way down to 7-8.

Now, in certain years, we’ve had two solid choices and then some time where it didn’t look like we’d find a third only to have an 11th hour surprise that excited us all and made the season complete–both numerically and spiritually.

This year, we really love more than three. Some have returned to the list after not quite making it, for one reason or another, in seasons’ past. They include those “dream projects” that didn’t fit in previous line-ups, plays that have literally been developing over the years and keep getting better and better, and a few completely new ones that just came onto our radars and have us seriously jazzed about the prospects of producing them.

This past Sunday, we gathered to talk about the list and discuss what excited us most about each project. What themes seem to be surfacing, what the stories say about us, in this present moment, and what questions these plays pose to our audience. Many came with some fears, too: “Can we really afford that? Will this story speak to audiences in the way we think the playwright intended? Are we the right group to tell it?”

We then take all of these factors and see how they stack up against one another. It’s not quite alchemy, an I still don’t exactly understand how it all comes together, but it’s a beautiful and challenging experience.

So why haven’t we just come up with a season and told you all about it? Well, for many reasons. In essence, we’ve confirmed some choices, but we are throwing a few unconventional ideas into how we produce, next season, and that takes a bit more planning. Some possible collaborations to confirm, a few different scheduling ideas. So, at the risk of going on and on in this uber-cryptic manner, I’ll just say that we are playing with a few really exciting plans that go beyond our typical three-show/four week run way of producing and that takes a bit more time than usual. (tease! tease!)

Stay tuned….I promise you’ll hear from me sooner than later…..



(Re)Action to FLEA: “Contagion and Quarantine”

As part of our Naomi Wallace (Re)Acts event on February 28, Company Member Jesse Terrill composed this piece, as a reaction to One Flea Spare. For the performance, we asked writers and composers to create work that was in reaction to Wallace’s poetry and theatre.

Jesse described the composition as “a piece influenced by One Flea Spare, musicalizing a shift from one’s once vibrant, cultivated lifestyle in mid-17th Century London to a lonely, uncertain quarantine from the Bubonic Plague.”

Check out what Jesse composed, plus images from the production, all by Melissa Blackall:

Open Thread: your responses to ONE FLEA SPARE

As we move into our final three (wow, already???) performances of One Flea Spare, we wanted to share some of the responses we’ve received about the story.

Gathered from twitter (some sent from our lobby twitter-box!) and facebook, we’ve been asking what moments, images, and words have stood out and stuck with you all, after seeing the show. If you’ve been able to catch a performance, let us know what things you are left with and what questions have been turning over in your brain since leaving the theatre! Leave your comments in this post or post them via twitter and include @forumtheatre or #OneFleaSpare.

@estone22 Mrs. Snelgrave’s hand, Morse cooly sitcking her leg out for Kabe… Have to see this again to answer all my questions!
@nevieb definitely morse checking with her hand for her “leaks” – didn’t even need to see the leak to experience her mortification
“and then he vomited up his stomach” is SOME kind of pillow talk
@sadcypress A bathroom break during the interval at One Flea Spare is a lot more self-conscious an act than anticipated. Just sayin. @forumtheatre
@futureworld84 I feel awkward and dirty. #onefleaspare
thegrimripa One Flea Spare is a wonderful show. Act one done so far and I am excited for act two. Great concept and sensual experience!