THEATER | Letter from a young theater artist to Charles Mee, re: "erased bobrauschenbergamerica" at 1419

Photo courtesy 1419

Here's the thing about Charles Mee. He's a great playwright. He brilliantly draws from classic texts and popular culture to create plays that are provocative and profound and beautiful. And Mee has a noble mission. He started this thing called the (re)making project, where he gives permission to any theater company to steal is work royalty-free so long as they only use part of it.

Here's what Mee says on his website:

erased bobrauschenbergamerica, presented at 1419 through february 20. for information, see facebook.com.

Please feel free to take the plays from this website and use them freely as a resource for your own work: that is to say, don't just make some cuts or rewrite a few passages or re-arrange them or put in a few texts that you like better, but pillage the plays as I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet, and build your own, entirely new, piece—and then, please, put your own name to the work that results.

But, if you would like to perform the plays essentially or substantially as I have composed them, they are protected by copyright in the versions you read here, and you need to clear performance rights.

The problem is that most theater company's that try to partake in the Chuck Mee project aren't as brilliant as he is. Case in point is the current production of erased bobrauschenbergamerica currently playing at 1419. The production doesn't "pillage the plays" as Mee has "pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet."

Mee clearly says that if an artist does use his text from his website than they are supposed to put their own name on the work. The artists at 1419 don't do that. They say on their program "Adapted by the cast from bobrauschenbergamerica by Charles Mee." The result then, is not Charles Mee's play, and not a new play. Rather it's a kind of interpretation of Mee's play, using the same basic structure with a few re-written scenes. I don't believe that was the intention of the (re)working project.

Not that the production is bad. There are some genuinely wonderful moments. Anna Reichert is a fun performer to watch as Susan, the fickle lover who can't seem to figure out which man she wants to be with. Allison Witham gives a lovely performance as the artist character. Ross Orenstein plays his guitar and it's pretty much the best part of the show. There are chickens, slip-and-slides, rollerskates, lots of music, and Ann-Bogart-esque movements which are all interesting and visual, much like Charles Mee's aesthetic (the chicken and roller skates are called for in the script).

A beautiful scene in the play is the reading of a letter from Ben Gansky, the director, to Charles Mee, written when Gansky was a teenager. The letter is full of praise and yearning for advice. It's so cute, and anyone who has ever been an idealistic young artist wanting to change the world will see him- or herself in the letter. Allison Witham, who reads the letter, says that it was never sent. To me, it captures the spirit of the production: the whole show strikes me as a kind of love letter to Charles Mee. An emulation, a fan-fic, if you will.

The beauty of 1419 is that it's an alternative space where University of Minnesota students have been given an extra venue to explore and discover themselves as artists. When I look at this production, it's essentially student work. Gansky appears to be a talented young artist with great promise. Now it's time for him to take all he's learned and make something new.

1419 Washington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.