A report on the nature of reportage, and the problems contained therein.

The habit of beginning to count everything you do–as if you were always writing a formal report on your activities–is instructive, but stifling.

Since I last posted on January 15, I’ve spent twelve days traveling (more time out of Warsaw than in), conducted four interviews, seen four shows and a lecture, participated in one translation session and one theatrical collaboration, and attended services at three different synagogues in three different cities, one of which was Kraków (my first time there!).

All of this is very exciting, especially the feeling that I’m beginning to make the transition from observer to participant. However, the increased activity, especially the increased theatrical activity, has made it harder, not easier, to blog, for these reasons:

1) I am doing so much that it seems impossible to summarize it. I am caught up in a whirl of activity, which is the sort of state in which I function best. One of my graduate school professors realized this, early on, and told me that I was the sort of person who was always going to be doing thirty different things, and that that was just the way it was. I was grateful for this realization. It was, I think, one of the few times in my life when someone has not said “You’re doing too much,” but instead, has said, “You are the kind of person who *likes* to do too much.” So, here I am in Poland, again–doing too much, and at a loss about how to blog about it coherently.

2) I’ve been doing more arts journalism. As a result, much of what I am doing and seeing here in Poland is material being gathered for publication in other contexts, such as articles. If I post about it here, that material is no longer “new,” and I can no longer send it to editors for publication with the understanding that it’s never been “published” before. This is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem in the context of this blog.

3) Many of the people with whom I am speaking are speaking to me with the understanding of speaking (speaking, speaking, speaking) in confidence or “off the record.” In fact, as I have begun to publish more arts journalism, and to record interviews more formally, more and more people have begun to explicitly tell me that certain things are not for public disclosure.

4) Even when such explicit disclaimers are not made, much of what I am seeing is necessarily of a private or intimate or even quasi-sacred-to-the-participants (I know, but really!) nature. (In fact, one could argue (ONE! One, I say!) that the existence of point #3 is in itself a problem–that people thinking of me as a journalist means I am becoming a less effective observer.)

But that aside, point #4 has always been a problem for this blog. Theater is something that is often done or rehearsed behind closed doors, barriers of entrance–barriers of whom you know and who you are, barriers of casting, barriers of cost. I spend weeks, months, even years trying to get through the gatekeepers. Once I’m through, once I am permitted to be “in the room,” I want to share what I see with the world, of course. This is my nature. I like to share information. I believe in more doors being opened. It plagues me that theater exists in such a closed space. It drives me out of my mind that so many interesting rehearsal processes go undocumented. And yet, by beginning to share this information, I betray the trust upon which I have been permitted to enter the closed spaces, and jeopardize my ability to enter such spaces again in the future.

Some variety of this situation has plagued the blog throughout its existence. I started Style Over Substance (then housed at https://weinberg.wordpress.com, which this site still has as one of its component redirects…) in July 2007, as I was in the early states of my year of freelance assistant directing. In those early entries, I explicitly said what was happening in rehearsals, quoted people by name (not only initials) and mentioned particular theaters and productions. That state of affairs didn’t last long. Just a few months later, I was deservedly chastised by one of the people at one of the theaters I worked with for breaking the unbroken code of theatrical secrecy. She said that I had put things online that were private and personal, and implied that I deserved to be fired.

I had to choose between keeping the blog interesting and remaining in the rehearsal room. I chose the rehearsal room, of course. But the blog I had imagined–a democratic blog that would break down barriers of elitist, exclusive, isolationist communication between theater people across the United States, a blog that would let everyone know what was going on (I am nothing if not self-aggrandizingly and excessively and adverbially ambitious!) was defunct almost from the time of its founding.

Okay. I think you get the idea about point #4. It still bugs me, though, even five years later, that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do–write rehearsal reports, open up the rehearsals I was seeing to the world. I get why I couldn’t. Really, I do. But I wish I could have.

5) As I begin (praise Dionysos!) to become less of an observer, or less of an “only” an observer, and more of a participant in the theatrical culture of Poland, I also begin to engage in the sorts of activities familiar to me from my years in LA–asking for things and trying to make things happen that are not definite, not assured. I am engaging in activities like “requests” and “proposals” and “meetings.” I am asking for things that I may or may not get. I can’t blog about them before they are definite, because to do so would jeopardize their happening in the first place. This goes without saying, too, but it puts yet another weight upon the great babbling tongue of the blog.

And so, in summary, I am having one of the most interesting times of my life, and seeing and experiencing things on a daily basis that I know will be of tremendous interest to my friends, family, former students, former actors, etc., etc. (in fact, I receive emails almost weekly from people asking for more information on what I’m doing in Poland) but I am prevented from blogging about it.

Oh, that’s not all. Also:

6) In the years since 2007, I have had to abandon my reluctance to use social networking services. It would have been shooting myself in the social and theatrical feet to do otherwise. I now exist on almost all of them, and use them on a semi-regular basis. I understand now, using them as I do, that posting things like occasional quotes and articles is much better on those platforms, or on a Tumblr, than it is on a blog. My friends who blog (and there seem to be more and more of them) tend to write longer posts. I, too, feel that I ought to be writing longer posts. That seems to distinguish the blog medium. But how can I write longer posts when there are so many restrictions on the material? And what is the point of posting individual quotes and articles here, when they are so much more easily read and followed on Facebook?

7) I could solve all this by having an anonymous blog. But I don’t want an anonymous blog. I, like all theater people, need publicity more than I need bone marrow. I enjoy blogging, but I do not do it primarily to release tension or to snipe about boyfriends and bosses: I do it in the spirit of having some central platform (yes, platform) where people who are interested in me and my work and my life can come and find out more about these things. It needs to be public. There are other contexts in which I would be interested in anonymous reporting, but a blog about my theatrical activities is not one of them.

So what can I still put up here?

– Pictures.
– SOScomix. (I am happy that 2011 finally saw the launch of that glorious initiative.)
– Bland summaries of activity containing no interesting detail whatsoever (like the first paragraph of this entry, which sounds like a grant activities report) which could not possibly be construed as being indiscreet or as having made the material contained therein unsuitable for publication in other venues.
– Quotes from books I’m reading and stuff. Although even those seem better suited to Google+. But maybe I can still keep doing that here.
– Self-blogerential maunderings about the NATURE OF BLOGGING. Like this post.
– Discussions of a literary nature, like “Hey, everyone! Poet X did Thing Y!” (By the way, Szymborska…yes. I have to write a different post about that.)
– Longer once weekly posts about what I’m up to that, by virtue of waiting longer to accumulate material, tend to seem more substantive.

I think that’s what I’m going to do from here on out. Or try to. That seems to be the more successful model of many of my blogging friends. A longer post less often.

So a longer post, once weekly or biweekly, which will give me time to have something more to summarize. Those one-day summaries from a single day are awfully uninteresting. They can read something like: “Friday. Went to cafe. Did interview–can’t say with whom. Saw show–can’t say what, or what I thought about it. Ate dinner–can’t say where. Came home. May or may not have gone to sleep.” But after a week, it begins to seem more interesting.

I would assign myself a date on which I was going to post these longer posts, but as I was informed by someone (can’t say who) I met in a hostel (can’t say where) recently (can’t say when), “Talent doesn’t need a schedule: only inspiration.” He said, as he told me and my friend C. and the other assembled hostellers this, that it was his original idea, his philosophy of life, and if I was to use it, I needed to give him credit. Very well. I suspect that he doesn’t really want his full name here popping up in Google searches (another problem with attribution), so I will spread it out: first name Graeme, INSERT WORDS TO SPREAD THINGS OUT, last name Pollard. Not my idea. His. He’s a chef, in London. So, on Mr. Pollard’s advice, I will not schedule when these longer posts are going to happen–they will just, like this one, happen. And they will also, just like this one, end.