We Can't Reach You, Hartford
An investigative history of the Hartford Circus Fire of July 6th, 1944. Nominated for a Fringe First at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In the twilight of his life, famed photographer Matthew Brady must choose between the life he has built and the legacy he wants to leave behind.
Tone Clusters
Renowned prose author Joyce Carol Oates explores honesty, perspective, and denial through one couple's harrowing attempt to save the person they love
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
A Quick Note
We are in tech-week. And we are tech-week machines. But tech-week machines don't blog that often. Forgive us.

p.s. Dangling cables and broken drill bits aside, the theater already looks really beautiful. You really should see it. Hint, hint.
posted by stephen @ 12:20 AM   0 comments
Friday, July 27, 2007
Something Else You Should See

poster courtesy of Mr. Michael Baltus, to whom we are forever grateful.
posted by stephen @ 12:35 AM   0 comments
Thursday, July 26, 2007
In Case You Haven't Seen These Yet
On Saturday, The American Story Project joined up with our favorite photographer, Toby Shaw, headed to Grant's tomb, sweet-talked a security guard, dressed up the actors, and made them make silly faces all morning. These are our (best) results:

A little known fact: Edward is 1/4 owl on his mother's side.

If you're on Facebook, you can see the rest of the photos here

This just in: Picture #3 will appear in next week's Time Out New York in the Theater Listings section. Pick up a copy and come see the show!
posted by stephen @ 9:48 AM   1 comments
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
Hi everybody! I suppose it's time to introduce myself. I'm Tori and I'm the Stage Manager for the Story Project. This is my first time SMing for the company, but my second production (I played Little Miss 1565 in the most recent production of We Can't Reach You, Hartford). This entry deals with some thoughts I've been sitting on for a while, hoping to come to a logical conclusion. Seems I can'tI suppose it's a good thing that I'm planning on writing about it in my honors thesis this coming year.

So during our rehearsals, part of our warm up typically includes singing time-appropriate songs. For Hartford, we sang songs from the 40s, and we were interested in finding some civil war era songs for the Daguerreotype warm up. At one of last week's rehearsals we started to sing, and since I had completely forgotten to research songs, we just started with a few patriotic songs we knew-- America the Beautiful, My country 'Tis of Thee, and the Star Spangled Banner. As we sung, I was struck by the fact that despite the beautiful language, we were singing the songs in a way that made them seem very lackluster. I suppose it is because we are so accustomed to hearing and singing the songs when it is time appropriate (i.e. at Commencement, on the 4th, etc.) that we fail to notice the song writer's intent. When we sing patriotic songs because it is required of us, it really takes all the fun out of it, and it becomes a monotonous chore which is in turn reflected in the way that we sing the song. For all we care, we could be singing about how much we hate the country rather than how beautiful it is or how lucky we are to have it, as the lyrics proclaim.

This got me thinking a lot about writer's intent performer's intent and song meaning, and whether or not they are really the same thing. I tend to think that a person can develop hir own personal meaning to a song, but I do think that taking the author's intent into account is important (this is especially important when dealing with songs that have a very specific place in history). And I think it would be silly to ignore the thought of young 19th century boys marching to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" when it is sung in another context (I know that every time we sing it when warming up, I imagine huge groups of young men marching off to battle).

So, what is it that makes a song special in terms of performance? Why do songs that begin as special tributes becomes so ordinary? And what type of meaning, if any, should we assign to songs that do have a specific kind of history? I don't know. Ask me in a year and maybe I can give you an eloquent, concise answer. For now, I'd love to read thoughts...
posted by .:t.o.r.i:. @ 11:26 PM   0 comments
"We Named the Dog Indiana," or: Zeitgeist A-Go-Go
Hi all. It's Jon, the Story Project's publicity guy.

The powers of the publicist can be used for both good and evil; back up, let me explain.

I have a wee love affair with the phenomenon known as "google alerts;" basically, you set up terms via google, and when they show up in websites or on various news sources, you get a piping-hot email notice delivered fresh to your inbox. I've set up about fifteen of these for the Story Project; mostly, they're "Mathew Brady," "Daguerreotype," "American Story Project," "Wesleyan theatre," "New York Photography," etc.

Just in case, I've also set up alerts for each company member's name. I now know more about people I barely know than you'd ever know.

The tense on that last sentence gave me a headache. Anyway, long story short (TOO LATE!) last week, the Mathew Brady alert pinged and sent me this obit from the Washington Post.
John Szarkowski spent most of his career launching the careers of others; it's a cogent, well-written and poignant obit, But I found myself asking--"Where's the Brady connection?"


"He liked to describe himself as a "dumb hick," but he played clarinet in an orchestra as a young man and graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in art history. He began taking pictures when he was 11 and named his dog after Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady."

I'm a big fan of pop-culture pet naming (hell, I wrote a play about it). A news story that name-checks Mathew Brady as a dog? Last thing I expected to receive. It kind of makes me want to get a really mean-spirited cat named Edward Albee, for similar reasons.

It's a strange world out there; let's keep it that way.
posted by Jono @ 2:20 PM   0 comments
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Dramaturgical Remainders IV
The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation

(ht to David Byrne, sort of)
posted by stephen @ 9:33 PM   2 comments
The Mathew Brady Project
It seems that Brady's ghost is the muse for some ambitious World War II scholars. Read more about the electronic archive being created a la Brady-esque preservation philosophy...

"Matthew Brady was a photographer and historian of the American Civil War. His work was vital in preserving the faces and memories of the men who fought the Civil War. But imagine if there were not one, but thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Matthew Bradys who will undertake the mission of preserving the faces, stories and memories of the men and women who fought and won World War II, history's greatest conflict.

This web site will serve as a free clearinghouse for digitized information about the war. Veterans or their families can send in paper documents which the project staff will scan and store on CDs. The paper documentation will then be sent back to the families. This will provide secure long-term storage of fragile documents which can be damaged by the weather or even thrown away by un-interested parties after the veteran dies."
posted by hayley @ 2:38 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
We are the Zeitgeist (Again...)
If you needed any more proof of just how edgy and relevant a play about 19th century photography can be, take a look at what's being published by the University of California Press:

On Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War

The book itself doesn't come out until November, but then, one of the perks of toiling in the vineyards of Catholic journalism all day while other members of the remain blissfully(?) unemployed is all the advanced review copies of new books I get on a daily basis. So I'm expecting a copy of the book sometime next week. Expect to hear from me soon.
posted by stephen @ 12:24 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
the big leap begins!
First of all, check out the full photo album from our benefit on Sunday night. If you were there, odds are you'll find yourself in at least one of the photos, and if you're a Facebook member, tag yourself! We'd like to give everyone credit-- in facebook form, at least-- for supporting us.

Lucky Dylan Marron won TWO raffle prizes, including a poster signed by the entire cast of In the Heights. Special thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda for the donation!

Now that the fundraiser is over, the real publicity challenge begins, and that's what's been on my mind the last few days. Getting our friends to come out on a Sunday night, with the promise of raffle prizes and free food, wasn't really all that hard. Attracting the interest of total strangers to come see a play set in the 19th century in which everyone dies at the end-- a bit tougher.

Promoting Hartford in Edinburgh last summer, we were among literally thousands of people all trying to get their shows seen-- which almost made it easier. Handing out postcards to people on the street, getting shops to put up your posters-- being a theater promoter was the norm, so everyone expected you to hand them a postcard and shout "Play about a circus fire!"

Here in New York, even with so much theater, getting a stranger's attention, much less a stranger interested in theater, is much harder. Good luck handing anyone a postcard, or hanging a poster somewhere it won't get taken down by overzealous street cleaners. Even street theater or other guerilla tactics can be ignored; in the end, it takes a lot to get a New York pedestrian to remove her earbuds and listen to you.

So, what do we do? We know how to target our friends and fellow theater companies and even some communities of theatergoers, but how about someone on the street who might like our play, even if they don't know it yet? This is what I can't figure out. I'm open to suggestions, though. And also totally willing to humiliate myself or anyone else in the company in order to get attention for the show.
posted by Katey @ 12:51 PM   4 comments
Monday, July 16, 2007
Lunchbox critics quotes

this just in: a compilation of blurbs about Lunch Box Sketch Comedy:

“Lunchbox is a revelation. They actually live up to the hype surrounding them unlike me and every single book I’ve written since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”

-Michael Chabon, novelist

“They used the word ‘poop!’”

-Tyler Eckeldorf, 5 year old

“I make a point of laughing and/or evincing human emotion at least twice a week and, boy, did Lunchbox exceed my quota!”

-Hillary Clinton, Senator and Presidential Candidate

“Lunchbox is similar to me in that they grow on you and provide relaxation and comfort on a hot day.”

- A tree

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about [Lunchbox], some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if [they] were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“I think I would have enjoyed the show more if I spoke English.”

- Raul Calleblancas (translated)

for tickets:

posted by Elissa @ 3:06 PM   2 comments
this is the most important part of the benefit to share right now

Erin will be photoshopped in the photo later.

And for anyone reading this who came last night, THANK YOU SO MUCH. I'm sure there will be better and fuller reports of the evening later, but we all had a wonderful time, and it was truly thrilling to see how many people came out on a Sunday night at 10 p.m. to support us.
posted by Katey @ 10:20 AM   0 comments
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Dramaturgical Remainders (Part III)
  • There was actually another speaker at Gettysburg Cemetery the day that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln spoke for 2 minutes; the other man spoke for 2 hours.
  • Sockdolager" - (def.) one who strikes a heavy blow
  • Walt Whitman believed baseball could relieve nervousness and dyspepsia.
  • During the Civil War, gonorrhea was treated with ink.
  • "Green apple quickstep" was a 1860s slang term for diarrhea.
  • The word "deadline" is said to have originated in the line that marked the perimeter of the POW camp in Andersonville. Any prisoner crossing that line would risk being shot. The usage was then adapted to mean the time limit to complete a job at the risk of being shot if that limit was crossed.
  • Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was wounded 10 separate times during the Civil War
  • General George Pickett became an insurance salesman after the war.
  • Gallaudet University began the tradition of the football huddle in the 1890s, in order to conceal their signed plays from the opposing team.
Dramaturgical Remainders (Part I)
Dramaturgical Remainders (Part II)
posted by stephen @ 1:30 AM   0 comments
Friday, July 13, 2007
Lunchbox Sketch Comedy

we're on sale! TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Buy tickets to an hour of all original sketches performed by all members of lunchbox, past and present.

posted by Elissa @ 11:06 AM   1 comments
Thursday, July 12, 2007
reunited and it feels so good...
It seemed worth posting before I go to bed that (almost) the entire company was in one place tonight! Amid all of our fancy rehearsal spaces, benefit spaces, donations from restaurants who trust us, we're still hilariously meeting in Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and any other places that won't suspect us sitting there for hours at a time while getting worked up over naming a cocktail after Civil War generals (seriously, get on the name game!)

In any case, everyone seemed very excited about Sunday's benefit, and with our amazing roster of items to be raffled, promises of baked goods from various company members, and the promise of free pizza, why shouldn't they be? And in case you're reading this and have somehow forgotten the details of the benefit (is that possible?), all the information you could need-- including names of our wonderful sponsors!-- is here.

Tomorrow I'll be going around doing more of the surprisingly magical gift certificate pick-ups for raffle items-- why yes, I will take your offer of a free meal!-- and getting beneficial things in order throughout the weekend. I'm sure there's a point at which this will all feel stressful, but right now--exciting!
posted by Katey @ 11:17 PM   0 comments
Yankee Go Home
I'm not particularly good at introductions.

My name is Edward, and I'm a resident actor with the Story Project. I've been with the company since February of '06, when we started preliminary work on the story of the Hartford circus fire. I spent over a year with the project, most of the time as the inimitable P.T. Barnum (although I also spent a relatively brief but wonderful stint as sad clown Emmett Kelly, as you can see here). At the moment I'm rehearsing for playing the man himself, Mr. Mathew B. Brady. In addition, I'm a member of Lunchbox sketch comedy, the sugary, flaky cheese danish to Daguerreotype's slightly bitter but ultimately delicious and fulfilling turnip dish.

Aside from that I'm not entirely sure what to say. Ironic that one so hesitant to throw himself into the public eye should be, of all people, an actor, but there it is. The key difference, I think, is that when you - yes, my friend, you - come to view me in performance, we both understand the other's purpose clearly. The audience has made a choice in attending, and in doing so has given itself over entirely to the actors and their purpose. Logically there is little difference between this act and the act of reading a blog, but nevertheless it is clearly not the same. I think that the distinction lies in the fact that there is something potent and sacred about the relationship between actor and audience, a reciprocation that simply eludes the internet in most of its manifestations (perhaps a brief thesis on video-chatting later; perhaps not). A mutual relinquishing of inhibitions and preconceptions wherein each party implores the other, "Please, change me. I must not leave here as I entered." And both are changed. Ideally, at least. The fact that it sometimes fails, however, makes its successes that much more thrilling.

Well! Enough of that, for the moment. I certainly hope that anyone reading this will manage to make it out to the play, because it's going to be one hell of a good time.

And no, the title of my post has nothing to do with the body of it, although upon further consideration it can apply at least tangentially to Mr. Brady. Bereft of inspiration I simply named it after what happened to be playing on my iTunes at that moment. Name the band and you will win, I suppose, a prize?
posted by Edward @ 11:44 AM   0 comments
the accountant's truth
I had a whole post ready to go about Werner Herzog and his connections to our views on history and what insights he has to offer us, when I realized--damn!-- Steve beat me to it. That's what I get for not reading my own blog carefully enough.

Still, I want to post a excerpt from an interview I heard with him this morning (I'm that nerd who listens to NPR podcasts on the subway), on "Fresh Air." It's a 10-year old interview, from when he released Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a documentary about a German-American pilot who escaped a war prison during the Vietnam War. It's the basis for his new feature, Rescue Dawn, which is a fictionalized version of Dieter's story. As Steve discussed earlier and Herzog himself says here, though, the line between documentary and fiction isn't necessarily clear.

"When you read Robert Frost and you have some very deep feeling about it, and all of a sudden you have this sensation there is this deep, inexplicable, mysterious truth in it. The same thing happens in movies, and it does not happen, strangely enough in most of the documentaries you would see on television. You do not see it in the so-called cinema verite, which can only scratch the surface of what is truth; it's an accountant's truth, it's a bookkeeper's truth. I have been for years after the questions of how you can dig into a very deep stratum of truth, into something inexplicable, something mysterious. You can reach it and you can find it, but normally through invention, through imagination, through fabrication. Sometimes even contorting and stylizing events right out there and then all of a sudden you will find something strange, deep and elusive...Much of [Little Dieter Needs to Fly] has been invented. There's a scene where he tries to explain how death looks for him, and he's standig in front of a tank with jellyfish. He simply treid to explain it to me what death was looking like for him, and he had no image. He described it in a way that i immediately figured it was jellyfish. He couldn't express it, but I had the image for it."

What I like so much about that quote is how it reaches out to me as an audience member, in a way that's different from how Steve was dealing with "ecstatic truth" as a writer. In plays like We Can't Reach You, Hartford and Daguerretoype, the "truth," the actual historical record, comes at you from so many angles, mixed in with other things that are extrapolations or outright fiction. Hearing the story of Little Miss 1565, maybe it was the detail about the detective who stayed with her in the morgue that broke your heart, or maybe it was her own-- in the Edinburgh version of the play, at least-- assertion that she has forgotten who she used to be. One of those details is true, and one is fiction, but the line between them no longer matters; they're part of the same truth, the same uniting emotion.

At the end of Daguerreotype (spoiler alert!) there are two deaths, one meticulously steeped in fact and one entirely imagined. For me, at least, it's the fictionalized death that always hits me hardest, makes me realize the play's ideas about legacy and death and holding on to the past, in a way that learning about Abraham Lincoln's head wound in 11th grade history never did. And isn't that the way history has always worked? What matters more, whether or not the famous photo at Iwo Jima was actually staged or the impact it had on the people who saw it? Who cares whether or not George Washington cut down the cherry tree? The fact that we trust the story tells us far more about who he was and who we are than the "accountant's truth" of his great battles and victories.

So, then, history and historical theater aren't so different after all. We pick out what we want to remember, we embellish the details we like and gloss over the others that don't fit our plans. We tell history the way we choose. History is a long series of "ecstatic truths," and its the artists, the playwrights and the filmmakers, who get to tell it with props, with dream sequences and ghosts and hyper-kinetic Civil War re-enactments. Or, in Herzog's case, jellyfish.

posted by Katey @ 11:23 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
intro later, excitement now
Okay. My name is Elissa, and I'm the managing director/cofounder of The Story Project (how's that for a new abbreviated version of our slightly long name? I think I prefer it to TASP which, our publicity manager pointed out is difficult to say sans lisp). I'm also putting together & performing in Lunchbox Sketch Comedy, our late night sketch group. But I want to save my formal introduction and bio for a later date because right now I just really want to share exiting news and then shower.

After several sweltering hours in the heat and humidity of downtown NYC, several Story Project members, including myself, assembled a damned good raffle for sunday night. The lower east side community was unbelievably generous, and we have procured several gift certificates to restaurants and shops as well as awesome merchandise from a variety of places. Our raffle is now stacked with prizes ranging from ground level mets & yankees tickets to an In the Heights cast-signed poster & tee shirt, delivered by Lin Manuel Miranda himself, to a gift certificate to an AWESOME downtown vintage shop.l If you all play your cards right, you could walk away with hundreds, perhaps even thousands of dollars worth of prizes (assuming you win each and every prize).

Our party is going to be rocking, so submit your suggestions for drink ideas (see Steve's post) and come out and party with The Story Project!

PS - We'd love to know who's reading this, so respond with comments! I dare you...
posted by Elissa @ 6:25 PM   0 comments
Not alone in our fascination
Hello, my name is Hayley. I'm one of the actors in the upcoming production of Daguerrotype. In case anyone wants to do more online probing, check out the Daguerreian Society...

"The Daguerreian Society brings together people from all over the world who are united by a common interest in the history of photography. Our members include students and teachers… museum curators and scientists... collectors and dealers... historians, photographers and artists. We formed in 1988 as a group "dedicated to the history, science, and art of the daguerreotype." Daguerreotypes -- the glittering, mirror-like images made by the world's first practical system of photography -- are only one part of what brings us together. Over the years, we've learned to appreciate the skills and knowledge of our fellow members, and their dedication to increasing the world's understanding of early photography and its role in history."
posted by hayley @ 12:18 PM   0 comments
inside the director's studio
My favorite color is blue.

Now then, as a director, I seem to be facing a series of questions that spiral outwards infinitely and then end me back where I started. Productive? perhaps not. Interesting? definitely.

They all start with one:

In classes, in productions, in books, I have been warned not to use music "cinematically." In my estimation, this seems to mean that I should not use music simply to enhance mood or manipulate the audience into feeling feelings. It is so tempting to nod enthusiastically when you receive the advice that the music should be at odds with, in conversation with, the action. However, faced with the prospect of creating a play with a live piano score, how can I avoid music that acts in accordance with the play? Is this wrong? Should the music never coincide, come out of nowhere but the emotional heart of the action? Company member and fellow director Mike James said yesterday that the fact that I am struggling with this question and questioning the use of "cinematic" music means that I probably am less susceptible to the trap of letting emotional music cover for flat acting. This I know to be true. Any accompanied scene is first rigorously rehearsed without music first. Directors, theatregoers, friends, what do you think about this?

How this question spirals outwards:

When should language and physicality be at odds with one another? When should they function together? Isn't congruity between design elements and production elements proof of a unified vision? Or is that too simple?

I suppose this navigation is my job. Oh well.

A final note: please comment on the blog. That way, we can start a conversation and get to know you. And we want to know you.
posted by Jess @ 12:39 AM   4 comments
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
We are the Zeitgeist
In anticipation of Daguerreotype (yeah, right...), U.S. News & World Report published two articles on Mathew Brady last week:

No Fortune for the War's Famous Photographer

But Did He Really Take the Pictures?

The articles don't really reveal anything we didn't already know (probably because they talked to the same scholars whose books I used in my research), but it's a relief to read something that completely affirms the importance of everything our play is about: the struggle between history and celebrity, the differing sensibilities of Brady and Gardner, the sorrow of Brady's final days. These articles also mean that some of our audience (assuming here that some of our audience reads U.S. News & World Report) will now have a passing familiarity with dear old Mathew. But really, it's just fun to say that we got there first.
Eat it, mainstream print media.

(thanks to Dr. Linda Ellen Hillman Chayes, official mother of the American Story Project, for finding the articles)
posted by stephen @ 11:53 PM   1 comments
Monday, July 09, 2007
I am so happy to announce the schedule for our 2007 summer reading series, part of the festival with TASTE:

Saturday August 4th at 5pm: The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Anna Moench
Sunday August 5th at 5pm: Bury My Heart by Bob McClure
Tuesday August 7th at 7pm: The Architect Ages by David Henry Haan
Tuesday August 7th at 9pm: L'Elue by Kevin Anthony Kautzman
Saturday August 11th at 5pm: Percy and Shell by Chris Kaminstein

All of the readings will be at the Abingdon Theater Complex for FREE!! (with a suggested donation of a few dollars, but ultimatley, FREE!). There will be an accompanying talkback session after each reading for any audience members who would like to participate, the director, actors, and perhaps even the playwright.

Come see one, come see all.

More information and details to follow soon.

We hope to see you there!
posted by Rachel @ 12:21 AM   0 comments
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Invent a Drink!
So as you all hopefully know by now, The American Story Project is going to be throwing a "Summer Fundraising Extravaganza" at the Bowery Poetry Club next Sunday, the 15th. There will be music, raffel prizes and a 50/50 chance of seeing me in a 3 piece suit. It promises to be a metric shit-ton of fun. Especially considering that the fine folks at the Bowery Poetry Club have offered to serve our trademark drink. But here's the problem: there is no official American Story Project drink.
This is where you come in, dear Reader. By Sunday, we need to invent a new drink with a funny name to serve all of the fine people who come to our party. We are willing to take any and all suggestions. So please leave us a comment that includes a recipe and a funny name for this drink that has to do with 19th photography. The winner will receive my gratitude and the joy of knowing that they just got a lot of people in trouble with their boss come Monday morning.
posted by stephen @ 11:35 PM   7 comments
First, an announcement: we finally have a MySpace! Somehow, even though every member of this company is part of the so-called "MySpace generation," not a one of us actually knew how to put together one of these pages. But we persevered and asked several friends for advice, and here it is! For anyone not willing to click on those links, the address is Be our friends!

And now, to introduce myself, since I have never posted on this blog before and figured it was high time to give Steve a break.

My name is Katey, and I'm an associate producer with the American Story Project. When you come to see "Daguerretoype" in August, I'll be the person meeting you at the front, and possibly running around insanely getting everything and everyone in one place. I joined the Story Project last year as we were beginning the production on "We Can't Reach You, Hartford," and I took over whatever production duties our Managing Director Elissa couldn't do when she was, y'know, acting onstage in the production. The two weeks I spent with the rest of the company in Edinburgh were unbelievable, and I actually made my decision to move to New York after graduation partially because I would be able to work on this production. So, here I am! When not working with the Story Project I'm a movie critic/editorial assistant for Film Journal International, which will be fascinating reading for you if you are a movie theater owner, which I know many of you are.

More members of the company will be introducing themselves to you in this fashion over the next few days-- I promise I'm not just hijacking the blog for the sake of self-promotion. So come back to see which of the sexy, brilliant company members will be introducing themselves next!
posted by Katey @ 11:57 AM   0 comments
Friday, July 06, 2007
Ecstatic Truth
On Slate today is an interesting article about how Werner Herzog handles the truth. As a maker of both feature films and documentaries (as well as being one crazy motherfucker), Herzog says he believes is something called “ecstatic truth,” a truth which goes beyond the factual—what Herzog calls "a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants"—and into a realm where a film can illuminate an entire inner world rather than merely reproduce external realities. Re place the word “film” with “theater” and you must just be talking about what we do here at The American Story Project. Granted, in our search for ecstatic truth we’re nowhere near as ruthless as dear old Herzog (who treats his documentary subjects almost as if they’re actors—feeding them lines, creating fictitious childhood memories for them, staging moments and scenes that are made to look spontaneous), but I think our mentalities aren’t all that different.
Something I have always struggled with as a dramaturge, writer, and amateur historian is the nature of historical truth. It would make my beloved historiography professor cringe to hear (Ethan, if you’re reading this, close the window now) but I’ve always found historical truth so static and boring. Its always seemed incomplete in how self-contained and comprehensive it But it wasn’t until I was introduced to subalternity, the idea that for every historical voice we hear there is another voice being silenced, that there are some histories that we won’t find in any source material, that there are some histories that cannot be referenced, cited or documented, that I began to realize certain correlatives to historical truth: namely, fiction and imagination. And that’s what The American Story Project has been doing ever since.
I don’t know what Abraham Lincoln would have ever said to Mathew Brady. I know they were acquaintances who met on several occasions. I know that Lincoln was forever grateful for how Brady made the tall, gangly senator look “presidential.” But the historical record stops there. I’m the one who imagined two melancholic men, both deeply troubled in their own ways, talking about their wives. But that’s not to say it never happened, just that there’s no record of it happening. For all I know, I may have imagined the conversation exactly how it happened, word for word (unlikely, but these are the sorts of things I tell myself to keep going). But even if I didn’t, even if I got everything about their relationship wrong, it still feels right, it still feels true. I’m grasping at some ecstatic truth here, some truth about love, responsibility, and the anxieties of a Civil War America. I have imagined what could never be otherwise; I have completed a history of Mathew Brady that feels true to me because it is not bound by what we know to be true. I try to be honest, but I am not afraid to devise, exaggerate, and invent those things I cannot know. Even though I'm still a stickler for historical accuracy (just ask Jess) I have broken every rule I was taught to follow as a historian. And yet, I'm still writing histories. Ecstatic histories.
posted by stephen @ 12:31 AM   0 comments
Thursday, July 05, 2007
State of the Union
I know its a day late for any topical entries about the state of the American democracy, but if you haven't already, take the time to read the Washington Post's epic four-part story on the dark heart of Dick Cheney. The picture alone is terrifying.

And when you're done with that, look at this story by a New Republic correspondent who took a ride on the National Review cruise. I never thought I would actually feel sorry for William F. Buckley, but lo and behold! He's actually the (quasi) good guy for once. Granted, the fulmination that Buckley directed at liberals, New Dealers, civil rights marchers, and other "Communist sympathizers" in the 1950s and 1960s was the rhetorical dress rehearsal for today's neo-conservative fuckheads, but you'd never catch Buckley claiming that "there was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld."

What is the world coming to?
posted by stephen @ 12:07 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Dramaturgucal Remainders (Part II)

Rehearshals for Daguerreotype started tonight, tomorrow night I give my full-company dramaturgical presentation, what better time to revisit some of the strange bits that didn't make the play?

  • a 1849 fued between New York actor Edwin Forrest and his British rival, William Macready, ignited a riot in Astor Place that raged for 20 days and killed 30 people
  • the first pornographic pictures were dageurreotypes
  • Abraham Lincoln died in a bed once occupied by John Wilkes Booth
  • The last words of Gen. Sedgwick: "Those boys can't hit an elephant from this distance..."
  • The term "Great Scott" is a direct reference to the nickname of Gen. Winfield Scott
  • After he graduated from West Point, Ulysses S. Grant applied to teach mathematics at a girls' school in Ohio.
  • Grant's name was really Hiram Grant, but he was called "Lyss" as a child. His West Point sponsor, knowing only the nickname, made a mistake and wrote "Ulysses'" on the application.
  • Samuel Morse (yes, that Morse) taught Mathew Brady the art of daguerreotypy
  • The "B" in Mathew B. Brady stands for nothing.

earlier: Dramaturgical Remainders

posted by stephen @ 12:02 AM   1 comments
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