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IN COMES COMPANY
We are very proud that New Line regularly casts actors in leading roles who have never worked with our company before. In most New Line shows, about half the cast are actors who are new to the company. This constant flow of new talent is important to New Line’s work. In the casting process, the New Line staff cares far less about formal training and resumes, and far more about talent and a willingness to experiment, take risks, and break rules.
It is also important to us that our company looks like the community we serve, so we are continually working to increase diversity in our casts and our audiences. Some people think that color-blind casting is just about being "politically correct," but we believe that color-blind casting is about seeing the world as it should be instead of the way it is. We believe this may be one way we can help make the next generation better and smarter and happier than ours. If we're not working toward making our world a better place, then what real value does art have? We're very proud that only four of our shows in the last ten years have had all-white casts. But we know we can still do better...
SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROLL
In addition to our unique stylistic approach, New Line Theatre is also openly and proudly political in its work, addressing the most relevant contemporary issues in its shows. We believe in the theory of Popcorn, Politics, and Poetry – that our work should contain entertainment, political and social relevance, and a belief in the power of serious art to transform our world.
New Line Theater is America’s only alternative musical theatre company. What sets it apart from many mainstream companies, large and small, is its philosophy and its process. Like dozens and dozens of other small alternative companies across America and around the world, New Line takes philosophical and practical inspiration from the theatre models of the 1960s, including Caffé Cino, LaMaMa E.T.C., Judson Poets Theatre, Joan Littlewood's People’s Theatre Workshop in London, and to a lesser extent from the Living Theatre, the Open Theatre, and various theatre collectives in the US and Europe – theatres that emphasized poetic stylization, intellectual seriousness, social and political engagement, and the guiding principle of ensemble.
MYSTIC, CRYSTAL REVELATIONS
Like all those companies in the sixties, New Line questions many of the accepted rules of mainstream theatre. Must there be a separation between actors and audience? Must the playing space be restricted to a certain portion of the theatre? Are there alternatives to traditional linear plots? Can musicals be abstract? Can theatre have a purpose other than storytelling? Must each actor be associated with only one character during a performance? Must there be a distinction between “leads” and “chorus”? Can we directly address the audience? Can we interact with the audience? Can we require things of the audience? Must we pretend the action is “real”? Are nudity and four-letter words really all that shocking today? Can they be simply human expressions of emotion, outrage, activism, satire, social commentary?
► Check out this fascinatingarticle from The New Republic about obscenity. Designer Robert Edmond Jones wrote in his brilliant book, The Dramatic Imagination, "The only theatre worth saving, the only theatre worth having, is a theatre motion pictures cannot touch. When we succeed in eliminating from it every trace of the photographic attitude of mind, when we succeed in making a production that is the exact antithesis of a motion picture, a production that is everything a motion picture is not and nothing a motion picture is, the old lost magic will return once more. The realistic theatre, we may remember, is less than a hundred years old. But the theatre – great theatre, world theatre – is far older than that, so many centuries older that by comparison it makes our little candid-camera theatre seem like something that was thought up only the day before yesterday."
We believe there are two kinds of theatre: that which unleashes the imagination and that which closes it down and does the work for you. We choose that which unleashes. Legendary director Hal Prince once said, Don't sell audiences short. They are open to the adventurous, the challenging, even the dangerous.” With every show, New Line audiences prove he's right. The New Liners intend for their audiences not necessarily to feel happy walking out of the theatre, but to feel deeply. And to think about what they're seeing. As the legendary Del Close has said, "Treat your audiences like geniuses and poets and that's what they will become."
We agree with the great director Gregory Mosher, who says, "I have great faith in audiences. We only create problems when we treat them as customers instead of collaborators in an artistic process. . . We can let audiences down in all kinds of ways: by being dishonest with them, by betraying our own intentions and, therefore, betraying the audience's trust. All they ask the artists to do is what the artists want to do. Audiences say, 'I want to see what you want to show me.' "
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD
New Line Theatre takes its musicals seriously. The New Liners believe in what Broadway and film actor Laurence Luckinbill once wrote in a letter to artistic director Scott Miller: “Go broke if you must, but always over-estimate the public’s intelligence. They will thank you for it.” We think our job is to surprise you, to bring you a new adventure every time you walk into our theatre. We agree with the fictional artistic director on Slings and Arrows: "The theatre is an empty box and it is our job to fill it with fury and ecstasy and revolution."
We believe live theatre is one of the most powerful tools in the world for social and political change, and we believe we have an obligation to use that tool to make the world a better place, to engage the people of our region in a discussion about the issues of our times. Acting guru Stella Adler once said, "Unless you give the audience something that makes them bigger – better – do not act." Actor Ben Kingsley has said about actors, "The tribe has elected you to tell its story. You are the shaman/healer, that's what the storyteller is, and I think it's important for actors to appreciate that. Too often actors think it's all about them, when in reality it's all about the audience being able to recognize themselves in you."
In 1973, producer-director Joseph Papp wrote about The New York Shakespeare Festival in the New York Times, "Our artistic style is defined in every production on our stages: forthrightness, vigor, and the direct search for the meaning of man in his family and in society are the common characteristics. It is the social conscience of this theatre which distinguishes it from other theatres. We constantly reflect, and react to, the shifting societal scene and attempt to articulate this shift in terms of theatre workers, plays, and audiences. Our long-range artistic plans, therefore, evolve from a recognition of the need for humanity, intelligence, and feeling in a fast changing world. We will address ourselves to these needs in the year ahead and welcome the thrill of that challenge." He easily could have been writing about New Line in the 21st century.
Way back in 1962, Broadway composer Jerry Bock (Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me) predicted something which is only now finally happening: “Shortly it will happen. The American musical will shed its present polished state and become an untidy, adventurous something else. Shortly it will exchange its current neatness and professional grooming for a less manicured appearance, for a more peculiar profile. It will swell beyond or shrink from the finesse that regulates it now. It will poke around. It will hunt for. It will wander and wonder. It will try and trip. But at least it will be moving again, off the treadmill, out of the safety zone, crossing not at the green, but in between..."
Bock went on, “The new musical may not take place between 41st and 54th street east or west of Broadway. That is, not at first. It may start in San Francisco or Chicago or Minneapolis. Or Lincoln Center. It may come from London or Paris or Rome or Johannesburg. Or the Village. It will probably be viewed and noted with greater interest. We will be less provincial about protecting the American-Broadway-musical-image. We will eliminate the high tariff against vigorous ideas not coming from The Street. We will join the common market of the theatrical world. Our eyes will stray, our ears will sharpen. And what we see and hear from everywhere will prepare us, will help us make our own new statement. Broadway may become one of many alternatives. It may, along with the musical, change its spots. And we may desert it now and then in search of something else. It won’t mesmerize as much. Nor will it strangle. Its monopoly days are numbered. Nothing more exciting in the theatre will happen than this new musical.”
COME UP TO THE LAB
New Line’s rehearsal process is different too. Though most companies put together shows in two to four weeks, New Line has a much slower process. We rehearse only three days a week and spend from six to eight weeks rehearsing a show. This allows time for talk, for experimentation, for play, and for a complete change of course if that’s where the work leads us. It allows for Thinking Time, to really understand the piece on a deeper level, to find its unique voice and style, to explore it fully, to collectively research the time period, the context, the social issues, and more than anything else, time to think about how best to communicate the creators’ intentions.
Because of our process, our programming, our content, and the resulting lack of mainstream corporate or foundation support in our budget, New Line does not hire union actors. The union’s rules and restrictions about rehearsals, and the union’s prescribed pay rates just can’t work under New Line’s current model or mission statement. We are very proud that all New Line actors get paid equally, whether leads or ensemble. Though the actors’ union is an important organization, its regulations are not compatible with the goals or resources of an alternative theatre company.
HEART AND MUSIC
Unlike many other theatres, New Line has an extremely specific focus for its work – issue-oriented musical theatre. That’s all we do. We explore many styles at New Line, many periods, and many, many issues, but all within the musical theatre art form. And like the Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles, Joan Littlewood’s company in London, and the Steppenwolf in Chicago, New Line has developed its own style of performance, its own personality – very aggressive, very intimate, outrageous but serious-minded, and anchored by a phrase coined by the Actor’s Gang, “the height of expression, the depth of sincerity.” "S
"Stella insisted that characters must be multidimensional and grounded in oneself. They must be real human beings. But she does not shy away from painting characters in broad strokes. While she demands truth, she never shies away from size."
New Line follows in the footsteps of dozens of theatre companies in the past and dozens in the present, and the process we have developed over the years seems to us the best way to make the most exciting, most deeply emotional theatre. Though our audiences, our list of contributors, and our national profile all continue to grow, we will not change our company's founding principles of creating vigorous, muscular, politically and socially relevant musical theatre for our region. As Mother Jones magazine wrote in an anniversary issue, "Better to give us thanks for knowing the importance of being un-earnest, of taking undignified chances, for having the courage to risk all, risk being wrong, risk looking foolish. If there is in fact any secret at all to our amazing longevity, that's surely near the heart of it: knowing how to act the fool like the future depends on it."
CHAPTER AND VERSE
“Always over-estimate the public's intelligence. They will thank you for it.”
– Arthur Miller, playwright
to put onstage had the potential of changing people’s lives.”
– Sheldon Harnick, Broadway lyricist
"Rather than finding order through chaos, or offering the sense of resolution that even the more political Broadway musicals often give their audiences, some newer shows imply that emotional confusion is a reasonable response to the contemporary world. Just as social playwrights have been doing for years, today's musical writers choose to raise more questions than they answer, and to reflect the world around them rather than trying to interpret it through a simplistic lens."
– Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen,
"Directors and the New Musical Drama"
the challenging, even the dangerous.” – Hal Prince, Broadway producer/director
“Treat your audiences like geniuses and poets and that's what they will become.”
– Del Close, actor, teacher, writer, improv pioneer
“The adventure you're ready for is the one you get.” – Joseph Campbell
“Words are loaded pistols.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher
“I like to play with people's danger zones.” – George Carlin, comedian
HELP! by Ariane Mnouchkine, 2005 Theatre, come to my rescue! at least towards a candle
Theatre, come to my rescue!
at least towards a candle
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