Category Archives: Oedipus el Rey

What Our Audience Had to Say: Mini-Survey Results

For the past two productions this year, Woolly’s engaged in some evaluative dialogue with its community as part of two separate but linked processes. The first, and more intensive, is the Intrinsic Impact project commissioned from WolfBrown by Theatre Bay Area. Woolly is one of 18 theatres across the country participating in this study, seeking to measure and understand the impact or effect of live performance on the people who watch it (the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and social impacts). Results will be available come summer.

The second, more compact, is through Woolly’s work in the EMCArts Innovation Lab evolving our thinking of the new area “Connectivity.” This “Audience Mini-Survey” correlates with its bigger sibling, the Intrinsic Impact Survey, but is being used to explore the impact of the performance depending on the composition of the audience. (See we are experimenting with “audience design”—an approach to cultivating new audiences linked to the artistic design of the show that acknowledges that who is in the house is equally important to the success of the production in performance as the lights or sound.)

Woolly invited six audiences for both Oedipus el Rey and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs to complete the survey. The questions were identical save an addition we made with Steve Jobs: we learned after Oedipus el Rey that we wanted to know if the responder was a single ticket buyer (STB) or subscriber (SUBS) and how long they had been a part of the Woolly community.

We asked to rate on a sale of 1 – 5:

1. Overall how strong was your emotional response to the performance?

2. How much did you feel a sense of connection to others in the audience?

3. Are any of the scenes or lines from the performance still bouncing around in your head?

4. Was the audience filled with a cross-section of different people?

Then we asked:

5. Circle the phrase that most closely describes the relationship between the audience and the art and artists at this performance: distanced investigation; explosive engagement; passive observation; direct confrontation; standard interaction.

6. After answering the above, if there is an additional word or phrase that even more accurately describes your perception of this relationship, please write it here:…..

We are still sifting through the Audience Mini-Survey responses in house and will be comparing these first two shows’ surveys with the ones we receive from Bootycandy. But we wanted to share a few findings with you.

  • 453 people completed the Oedipus el Rey mini-survey (42% response rate); 564 for Steve Jobs (38% response rate). Steve Jobs responses came 67% from STB and 23% from SUBS. Something to note: we surveyed Saturday matinees which are lightly subscribed shows, but where we are experimenting with designed audiences, so we believe this explains the lower SUBS percentage. 40% of STB responders identified as having been with the Woolly community for 0 years (!) while over 50% of SUBS have been with Woolly 1 – 4 years.
  • Respondents gave overall a slightly higher rating of their emotional response to Steve Jobs than Oedipus (4.5 and 4 respectively on a 1 – 5 scale) and about the same for lines bouncing around in the head after the show.
  • For Oedipus, in which our audience design efforts yielded more observable racially diverse audience composition, respondents overall gave a higher rating (3.5 for Oedipus, and 2.9 for Steve Jobs).
  • How would audiences describe Oedipus el Rey? They were torn. 27% noted “explosive engagement” was how they would describe the relationship between the audience and the art and artists and 26% noted “direct confrontation.”  For Steve Jobs: 51% said “explosive engagement.”
  • Additional words to describe audience relationship prompted many responses.  A nibble from both shows:
    • Oedipus el Rey included: cautious engagement; magnetic engagement; fascinated engagement; immersion; I think people were very interested and paying attention, absorbed in the play; so close, uncomfortable in a good way; penetrating; that shit was powerful; been there; culture conflict and religious threat.
    • Steve Jobs included: Mind-blowing, powerful, direct; Induced shame; a new form of journalism/anthropology in theatre form; passionately familial; pulled in with comedy; “What’s with all the screaming?”; empathetic agreement; art = revolution; insidious humor (and that is a compliment)

And this is just a taste. You can find the result of the Oedipus surveys here and the Steve Jobs surveys here. We will be posting files of all the collected survey data after the close of Bootycandy and asking you to draw conclusions with us. (Internally, we are already wrestling with potential lessons to learn from this about everything from show selection to seating configurations.) If you want to learn or talk more about this, please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone or email.

Lest I close without saying so: THANK YOU! Your investment in Woolly and willingness to speak your truth about your experience at the theatre is humbling. I know I am personally thankful to be a part of such an exciting, connected community.

~ Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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Filed under Connectivity, Oedipus el Rey, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

More on our Mammoth Forums

One of the guest speakers at the final Mammoth Forum for Oedipus el Rey was Wilbert Avila, a former program participant with the Free Minds Bookclub & Writing Workshop. Mr. Avila reflected openly at the start of the Forum about his experience in prison and how the production, and the character of Oedipus, connected with him. Then at the end of his remarks, Mr. Avila referenced a poem he wrote that  incorporated eye-imagery, which Oedipus reminded him of.  He was kind enough to share the poem with us, and we wanted to share it with you as a coda to the production.

My Eyes

By Wilbert Avila

Mis ojos have suffered!
Each have seen the death of a brother
They saw anguish in his last breath
Mis ojos shed a tear, they didn’t pass the test.

Mis ojos have seen rejection!
Family turning there shoulders no exception
Society considered me a lost cause
My reaction to rejection, find a new family, new love, was that my fault.

Mis ojos have seen hate.
A young soul lost in hells gates
Hate is looking in the mirror
No mercy for me, no mercy for them, my hearts love and affection cut
to peices by Gods scissors

Mis ojos have seen a new therapeutic god
But he deceived me, his name was alcohol
He eased my mind but only for a instant
Under his influence I couldnt make the right decision

Mis ojos tells you a story
Deep down inside I want to say I’m sorry
But not to show fear, not even to blink
My emotions I bear hug and let them sink

Mis ojos have smears of yellow
Insomnia and suicide all because of sorrow
In chains one behind the other
Walking with silence death we follow

Mis ojos want to go blind
They don’t want to see me waisting time
I don’t want to see pity
I don’t want to see the false preacher preach

Mis ojos I shut
I see my dreams dissolve like dust
I see my future if I didnt get a second chance

~ Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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Oedipus Connectivity Wrap Up

While not as widely broadcast as it once was, remember the saying “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach?” The implication of course is that teachers can’t cut it in the real world or workforce. I recently read an article that flipped this: “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, do.” This implication was that applying knowledge, skills, and experience in practice is easy—what’s truly challenging is educating and empowering others to be able to do so.

Why bring this up? The tension residing in the dated piece of conventional wisdom resonated with me, and its remix captures the way Oedipus el Rey and the sweep of programming my fellow Mammoths and I shaped around it.

Connectivity programming around Oedipus el Rey intended to interrogate the personal and local resonance of the social issues embedded in the play by highlighting the work of organizations and individuals in our city. Essentially we expanded the Woolly community to include on-the-ground experts in fields of, among others: recidivism, re-entry, prison reform, juvenile justice, literacy, job readiness, mentoring, and homelessness in order to generate meaningful conversation inspired by the production. In the end the theatre made new friends, the dialogue created was rich and evocative, and audience members developed their understanding of the play within the context of themselves and their city.

Ok, but what about me and this “do vs. teach” tension?

For 11 years I worked through various theatres and arts organizations in the metro area in education and community programming: designing, administering, and facilitating or teaching. I also spent a year as a classroom teacher in the PG County school system. I worked to varying degrees of closeness with a significant number of DC and Maryland youth ensnared in a tangle of negative societal and social cycles. These young people seemed, like Oedipus, to be cursed; their fates driven by outside forces constantly thwarting their desire for self-determination and change. Among a handful of reasons I no longer work in education was the recognition that while I was good at direct delivery (teaching, mentoring) I was better at being an “enabler.” To enable – to provide resources, authority or opportunity to do something; to make something possible or feasible. My realization started within the arts-education context and my first step was to leave classroom teaching and become Director of Education & Outreach at Round House Theatre. There I was predominantly a theatre-arts-educator enabler. But eventually I realized I wanted to become a theatre-audience enabler, working directly with and between the people in the seats and the people on the stage. Working with Woolly last season on the early stages of what has become the Connectivity pillar of the organization and my position, I realized I wanted to be a theatre-community enabler in which the relationship was two-way: giving and receiving from one another. In other words, the relationship would be a constant dialogue or possess a high rate of connectivity.

However: as I met with Woolly’s various community collaborators for Oedipus el Rey, I questioned the value of my newfound enabler position. You can witness, assess, and measure the impact of direct service to youth and community. You know you are doing “the good work” and serving humanity on a very real, very immediate, and tangible level. You can metaphorically hack your way against the negative cycles that drive people’s fates.

After our final Mammoth Forum, which was particularly focused on youth development and programs in the juvenile justice system, I shared this tension with one of Woolly’s Claque members. She too holds an enabler position in her workplace (immigration and human rights law) and wrestles with the value this role. She told me she had been recently reminded that working for and in service to those on the ground and in the field was just as valuable. To support and enable made the direct-service possible and so was integral to its success. (And, yes, she gave me the word “enable.”) She looped the message back to me: in order for Woolly’s shows to land with its audiences, in order for Woolly to grow its community and stay connected to its city, the theatre needs you. Oh yeah, right.

I looked back through the connectivity work of the theatre (dialogues, blogs, playbills, podcasts, videos). I began processing data collected through our participation in the Intrinsic Impact Study, and I realized Oedipus el Rey was a turning point for me and Woolly Mammoth.

What drives my fate? The desire to change the world through art, through theatre.

Because: Those who can, do. Those who can also connect, encourage, and hopefully inspire change.

~ Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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“Snap, System – I’m coming home.”

Woolly Mammoth Forum guests on Saturday February 26th, 2011: Ashley McSwain, Executive Director, Our Place DC; LaJuan Brooks, The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless; Tyrone C. Parker, Executive Director, Alliance of Concerned Men; Joyce Void, Jurisdictional Prisoner Reentry Coordinator.

A Woolly Mammoth Subscriber in reaction to an audience member’s comments at the forum:

Snap.  I could hear the edge of the race card hitting the wooden stage as the rest of the forum attendees listened on.  She had played that card – firmly, unapologetically.  It was out there. “Whites,” she said, “have more opportunities than blacks or Latinos.”  “When I was growing up,” she continued, “I was taught that if someone hits you, you should hit them back.”

“Ok,” I thought, “But that’s not simply an issue of opportunity, is it?  And it’s not a race thing, is it?  That sounds like a ‘your parents taught you wrong’ thing.”  Many parents teach you to run.  That’s not a race thing.  Some might teach you to turn the other cheek.  Again, that’s not a race thing.

Can we really equate opportunity with race across the board?  “She hasn’t seen Winter’s Bone,” I thought.  It’s been recognized, though not all that widely, that poor white folk don’t have someone out championing their cause.  There’s no NAACP equivalent, no version of MALDEF. If you’re white and you don’t have opportunities, that is firmly your problem.  And yet, look at statistics – who is populating our nation’s prisons?  Disproportionally, it’s blacks and Latinos.

So ultimately, I agreed with this speaker; there is something wrong.  There is still an unfair impact on minority communities, but what are all of the sources and how do we change them?

And who is trying to affect that change?  I looked around at our guest speakers – people providing legal services for the homeless, counseling for men and women recently out of prison, shelter for those who were down on their luck and needed a hand.  And two things they all had in common:  all were black and all had been involved in one way or another in the justice system in the past.

I don’t see the need to linger on this first commonality.  This was a small sample and there are white social service workers out there.  But just noticing this made me wonder – is the racial make-up of social service workers proportional to the racial make-up “in the system?”  Or is there something to this perception that white people have more opportunities, and if you’re white and you don’t, well, somehow that’s your problem and ain’t nobody going to try to do anything about it.  (Though Shirley Sherrod tried – and look at the trouble it got her.)  Your skin gave you opportunities, right?  Why didn’t you take advantage?  Perhaps being “in the system” is the more powerful commonality?

I was in the system.  I understand.

I was in the system.  But I’m not anymore.

I was in the system. I recognize this beast – this cycle – this machine that sucks men in, tears them up, and spits them out.  And I don’t want to see that happen to others.

So what prompts some to turn around and lend a hand?  Must there be a “turning around” to that problem from when you came to be able to see a problem at all?  Or to actually take the time to try to change it?  Do others who haven’t “been there” just not care?  Are we leaving the care of those stuck “in the system” solely to those who managed to escape it?

Whatever the answer to that – it seems like many who choose to help are doing a damn good job of it.  And this is the final thing that struck me at the forum. People who have been “in the system” can speak the language and they understand the power of words. One guest speaker spoke of “coming home” – and with those two words, the transition from life behind bars to the realities on the outside felt safer, kinder, more peaceful.  Now this depends, of course, on your image of “home,” but, if you’re lucky, this means a transition from a difficult place to one where you are accepted, where you can rest, where you don’t-have-to-talk-about-nothing-you-don’t-want-to, until you want to and where you can try to find your way again.

~Anonymous Claque Member

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Theatre as a Shared Experience

When I hear the word storytelling, I get this sort of primal vision of a group of people around a fire, concentrating on being immersed in a narrative. I think this is what theatre still represents for me: being with others in a room, focusing on whatever tale is being told. The only thing is, where our ancestors probably used stories mostly as escapism, denying their surroundings, I think that the best theatre ultimately leaves us thinking even more about our lives. Hopefully these thoughts come after an enjoyable performance, a complete night of theatre that transports you – but I think it’s really important that we have evolved a deeper purpose to telling stories.

However, I’m not going to talk about the issues Oedipus el Rey leaves me thinking about, or the relevance patrons have told me they see in Luis Alfaro’s modern day adaptation. I think the audience’s impressions and the lessons in this play have been well-documented already. What I’m fascinated by is that, out of all the plays I’ve seen, I think the core of this retelling of the age-old story of Oedipus is to highlight that feeling of people in a room together, sharing an experience.

And the key to that core is reality. Well-chosen, startling moments of reality that link each audience members together in awe, discomfort, sympathy, or fear. The actors are really doing prison exercises onstage; the lovers are really nude; the bibles are really getting torn apart. The first time I saw the actors doing series of sit-ups and pull-ups while still delivering their lines, I was mesmerized. I could see the sweat on the actors’ faces and hear the exertion in their voices, to the point where the prison was in my personal space. Viewers of the play constantly describe Oedipus and Jocasta’s love scene as raw and passionate in this startlingly beautiful way. It’s important to Luis’s tale that we’re all in the same space, seeing two nude people entwined right in front of us, because it is an experience we can’t deny sharing. Something private made public, something often euphemistic made immediate. I’ve had more than one patron tell me they checked to see if we have real bibles as props at the end of the show, and when they realize that we aren’t faking it, the play’s impact is solidified.

Of course, it goes without saying that making textual moments literal is not always the way to go. Nobody is actually having sex onstage, getting doped up, or having their eyes gouged out. I really don’t want to see any of those in a theatre, actually. The Production Dramaturg for Oedipus, John Baker, wrote a blog entry last week about walking the right line of authenticity, and he points out that one doesn’t have to have firsthand experience about the topic or characters or a play to make a contribution. Having respect for the reality and referencing the truth is important, but I’m all for creative license. The production design did not give us faithful representations of a barrio, gang tattoos, or prison cells, but their imagistic beauty is what ties Luis’s play into the mythic values of the Greek original. Oedipus el Rey is still a fiction and leaves its audience open to imagination, but the heart of it taps into not only a classic play, but an ancient sense of gathering.

At one point, Jocasta responds to Oedipus with “Real is hot when you’re young. Then you get older and you say that word to yourself – ‘real’ – and it’s never a good word again.” I’m going to have to beg to differ on that one. Judicious reality, mixed with situations and characters we won’t experience in our own lives, is pretty damn hot. And not just sexy (although this Oedipus sure is) but powerful, and strong: the fire that we continue to tell stories around.

~ Maura Krause, Literary Assistant

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Brandon Gryde on OEDIPUS, Los Angeles, and the Importance of Storytelling

Upon seeing Oedipus el Rey, I was excited by the fact that it was based in Los Angeles, my hometown. While my life was far removed from the world of those in prison, the dialogue, the references, and even the rhythm of the language reminded me of my community. Hearing Jocasta speak about her sister in Forest Lawn, a cemetery whose shining cross on the hill can be seen from the hill my parents live on, or hearing Oedipus call Creon “King Taco”, a local restaurant chain whose food I ate WAY too much of in high school, made me smile.

 And yet, while the location and even the streets were so specific, there was universality to the story. The fact that a contemporary setting and characters are woven seamlessly into the narrative and structure of classical theatre is pretty amazing. I recognized the chorus but on stage but also recognized the guys hanging out on the street corner. I was also struck with the important role tattoos played. Even having read the script several times, it wasn’t until I saw the play that I made connections with aboriginal cultures that mark their bodies and even the stories in Amy Tan’s Woman Warrior that depicts the body as a canvas for storytelling. And yet Oedipus didn’t know his story – he wasn’t marked until the end…and then he learned the truth.

 Seeing the play on stage, even more than reading it, I saw an emphasis on the importance of storytelling, whether they’re found in religion, family, or the library. We pattern our lives after them and we use them as references for decision making.

 ~ Brandon Gryde, Claque Member and Oedipus el Rey Working Group Member

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It Takes a Village…

It Takes a Village is the title of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s 1996 bestseller about the impact individuals and groups have, for better or worse, on a child’s growth. In Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, a child is abandoned by his father and raised within the community. His fate leaves us with a troubling question: what happens to the child if the village is sick?

This was one of many provocative topics discussed during the “Mammoth Forum” this past Saturday. The spirited post-performance discussion, moderated by Woolly’s Connectivity Director Rachel Grossman, featured audience members and three guest speakers: Madye Henson, President and CEO, Greater DC Cares; Rebecca Renard, Teens of Distinction Program Coordinator, DC Public Library; and Bill Chandler, Jail Case Management, Visitors’ Services Center (VSC).

These speakers made clear that Washington, DC, as a village, offers many services to help raise individuals. For disaffected youth like Oedipus, the DC Public Library is an example of a “safe space” which provides staff and computers to help individuals learn and find jobs. For people like Oedipus who are in or newly released from jail, the VSC offers counseling and resources to help them transition back into society. And for individuals who have the ability to help others, Greater DC Cares connects volunteers with community service groups.

Yet the forum’s speakers and audience also made clear that Washington, DC, like any village, does not provide all of the answers. Why are we not devoting more resources to nonprofits like the VSC, when roughly two-thirds of people released from jail are returning to crime (like Oedipus), going back to jail, and costing us even more? Why do millionaires in our community accept thousands of dollars in tax breaks, but simply watch as funding is eliminated for mentoring programs that serve prisoners and children of prisoners (like Oedipus)? Does jail reform and improving prisoners’ lives give them the freedom to change course? What does?

Alfaro’s Oedipus el Rey is a call to action about the power of a community to shape an individual and build a better society. But again – what happens if that community is misinformed? What happens if you are raised without the love of a mother? What happens if the strongest community you know is your fellow inmates? What happens if you have free will, but you don’t know it? Are you to blame for your actions? Are you blameless?

Join Woolly for a performance of Oedipus (now through March 5th, with Mammoth Forums like this after every Saturday matinee), and strip your subconscious thoughts about right and wrong. Think about Oedipus’ life journey, and think about the responsibilities of his parents, his community, and Oedipus himself. Think about whether Oedipus truly was fated, or whether the cycles that controlled his life could have been broken. Because este hombre, Oedipus, might be a man whom you can help.

~Eric Colchamiro, Claque Member and Oedipus el Rey Connectivity Working Group Member

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