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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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Unravel and Reveal: Mental Illness in Season 10

Posted on August 12, 2014 in Season 10

Written by Natalie Piegari (@nataliepiegari), Assistant to the Artistic Director Intern. 

In Season 10, Forum brought to the foreground a series of plays dealing with suicide and mental illness. Steve Yockey’s Pluto, Steve Gurgis’ Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Aditi Kapil’s Agnes Under the Big Top and Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot -- all of these share stories of people who commit suicide - the outlier being Anu Yadav’s Meena’s Dream. 

This was by grim happenstance -- none of the plays held mental illness as a primary issue and none were picked specifically because of this shared topic. Other issues took the spotlight: immigration, gun control, healthcare. 

This tells us several things: there is growing interest in mental health and lack thereof. That there is an awareness of the steady and horrifying suicide rates in this country. There is a need to share questions with society at large, hoping for an answer. Artists of all disciplines have always been drawn to darkness, and these plays are no exception. 

Add to that Forum’s dedication to unraveling and revealing the heart of the human condition and it has been quite the season. 

The Season 10 plays are not the first plays in the theatrical canon to deal with this topic. Drama loves mental illness, loves insanity - to be colloquial -- loves “craziness.” It is an excuse to write characters who exist in a heightened sense of reality. But what we see onstage is so often not the case. Many people dealing with mental illness suffer quietly, struggling in stillness. Unsure of what they are even experiencing when they feel too sad to get out of bed. Or that terrible empty loneliness, or the rage that builds hot in the chest. There is a vicious stigma - self, structural, and social - against those with mental illness that runs deep in the veins of our society. As such, it is important to present these quieter stories and conversations onstage as well. Mental illness is challenging to talk about and so people often simply don’t. Not so with the plays of Season 10. 

In Gurgis’ Judas, there is a discussion of the issue with Dr. Sigmund Freud. In it, Freud concludes that one who commits suicide must necessarily have a proclivity for mental illness. The audience is thrown this question in regard to the titular Judas, who hung himself from an olive branch. The man lands in a purgatory of his own creation, for he cannot forgive himself for his crimes - against Jesus and himself. Pluto’s Bailey is silent until he is not. Agnes hides her children in her beautiful stories until she herself starts to believe them and ends her life before her cancer does.  Gidion of Gidion’s Knot is trapped in a mire of unknown origin. 

What is important about the Season 10 shows is that the characters are treated as individual cases, rather than speaking for an illness as a whole. These plays offer little windows into the hearts of these characters. These plays neither martyr them nor demonize them for their actions but simply offer up questions to the audience that they can answer for themselves. 

Or, perhaps for some of our audience members, they provide a reflection in that theatrical mirror: you’re not alone. You are not alone. 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
Washington, DC Suicide Hotline: (703) 527-4077

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

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Untying Gidion's Knot: Part 4

Posted on August 5, 2014 in Season 11
Throughout this week, Forum will be delving into the fascinating world of Gidion's Knot in a series of blog posts written by some of our Season 11 class of interns! #forumKNOT 

By Luis Zuluaga-Orzoco, Forum for All

Forum’s latest production, Gidion’s Knot, brings up a very interesting concept: a modern fifth grade Marquis de Sade. In the 1700s the French philosopher splashed into the scene with his erotic and controversial ideas. His works often featured violence and sexual imagery as a way to present his philosophical beliefs. During this historic period many people had different opinions about de Sade, some were fascinated, others were repelled. Playwright Johnna Adams uses de Sade as way to ask one of the plays most serious questions, how do we react to a young child with such a creative and extensive imagination? 
In the play Gidion has a very active imagination which, like de Sade, brings him praise and criticism. The two central characters of the play have conflicting opinions about a story that Gidion wrote. The character Coryn, Gidion’s mother, finds his story to be an excellent piece and the proceeds to comparing it to the Marquis de Sade. Heather, Gidion’s teacher, finds that comment (along with Gidion’s story) to be of poor taste and disturbing. Heather believes that it is her duty as a teacher to protect her students from dangerous ideas, but Coryn argues that children have the right to be able to express themselves. Coryn then proceeds to say that people like Gidion and de Sade will be remembered and cherished for centuries to come.
This raises the question of what constitutes as artistic expression and what is considered horrifying and harmful. Gidion’s imagination is a powerful tool he uses to express himself and in the play, there are two very different reactions from his mother and teacher. In de Sade’s time many people were also unsettled by his work, he was incarcerated and sent to an insane asylum on more than one occasion. However, many years have passed since de Sade’s time, and like Coryn says in the play, he is now studied in several important universities and libraries. Is the fact that Gidion is a child what makes his writing so alarming? Why is it that as human beings we punish what we don’t understand? In today’s educational system, creativity can be both encouraged and suppressed, and both actions will strongly impact a child’s life. Gidion is regarded as many things in this play: a bully, a victim, a protector. Is Gidion a suffering genius, a troubled youth, or is that one in the same? It is up to the audience to decide his character based on his story and the fragments of his life that are presented. 
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Untying Gidion's Knot: Part 3

Posted on July 31, 2014 in Season 11

Throughout this week, Forum will be delving into the fascinating world of Gidion's Knot in a series of blog posts written by some of our Season 11 class of interns! #forumKNOT 

By Amylia Johnson (@its_amylia), Marketing & Outreach Intern

Throughout history, stories have been instrumental in the progression of ancient cultures and their connection to the world around them. These myths spread across coasts and beyond borders, taking a life of their own that is then preserved in history. Mythology is the amalgamation of stories linked to a culture’s traditional beliefs, capturing the essence of their ideologies and values. Tales of gods, creation, and legends are each painted in vivid detail through words which are regarded as sacred to those who identify with that society. The purpose of myths is to present universal truths in the form of riveting dramas, heart stopping tragedies, and golden victories.
Myths are regarded as fiction because of the lack of evidence to support them, but still hold an important place in the formation of the societies that create them. Creation stories and characters of supernatural status are staples of traditional lore. Spirituality is explored and solidified through myths and yet are still discerned as fictitious. Looking at ancient Greek and Gaelic mythology, the concept of creation as grand imagination is easy to grasp; however, when you take a religion largely endorsed in modern times such as the Christian story of Adam and Eve, the concept of it as myth becomes harder for some to accept. 
 No matter the era or the society these myths originate from, they all have been cherished by those who choose to accept it as truth and pondered by those who don’t. In Gidion’s Knot, both truth and fiction are tangled and the two characters present their own interpretations of events. Both are trying to rationalize and support their beliefs in an attempt to bring closure after a devastating incident.
 The play takes place in Gidion’s 5th grade classroom which is dominated by the subject of mythology. Pictures of ancient Greek gods and Hindu deities line the walls. A large poster featuring the legend of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot is another visual point of discussion in the play. The imagery and discourse touches on legend and myth, which ties into the play’s theme of real life being combined with fantasy.
The play is a tangle of ideals, tragedy, and half answered questions which creates its own knot for the audience and characters to either solve or cut apart. All legends and myths are tied to a hint of truth, whether it be literal or intrinsic and in the case of Gidion’s Knot, all the elements combine to create a short, bitter tale full of revelations and regret. 
Gidion’s imagination serves as a catalyst for a series of events that have very real consequences and leaves the audience with a decision to make: Was Gidion a bully? A victim? A protector? Is there truth to his words or was his imagination simply too powerful?
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Untying Gidion's Knot: Part 2

Posted on July 23, 2014 in Season 11

Throughout this week, Forum will be delving into the fascinating world of Gidion's Knot in a series of blog posts written by some of our Season 11 class of interns! #forumKNOT 

By Madelyn Paquette, Artistic Intern 

On the evening of the 7th, Team Forum enjoyed a delicious dinner and facilitated an in-depth discussion and analysis of Forum’s upcoming production, Gidion’s Knot, with the Footlights Drama Discussion Group. Artistic Director Michael Dove, director Christina Alicea, actress Katy Carkuff, and assistant stage manager Brittany Truske answered questions from the attendees for an hour and a half. Below are some of our favorite quotes and anecdotes from the evening: 
Katy Carkuff, who portrays schoolteacher Heather Clark in the production, explained her own take on the show in the evening’s opening remarks: 

“It’s an exercise in putting all of these puzzle pieces together and seeing how they fit, if they fit” she said. “This is, at its core, a conversation between Gidion’s two caregivers…they have to find a way to come together in order to complete the picture. And then there’s a cat.” 
On the difference between the mythical Gordian Knot and the metaphorical knot that is Gidion:
“If the knot becomes a human being, you have to untie that very differently, or you risk destroying what it is.”

Early in the discussion, Michael Dove explained what initially drew him to Gidion’s Knot, explaining that after he found himself reading the play for a third time, he realized that he Forum had to produce it:

“One of the things that I find so fascinating and that I find so important in the shows that I’m drawn to are plays that don’t give you a lot of answers, and this play has two actors, so it’s two very distinct points of view, and I felt while reading it, that every other page I switched allegiances, and I felt I was on one side and I was like ‘I understand her point that’s what I’m going to get behind’ and the next page it would flip. And I think it comes down to the quality of the writing I obviously knew that that was, that’s the goal, that’s the challenge of putting this play on its feet, and I really wanted to see that happen.”
On what makes powerful theatre:
“Great drama is about people who make big decisions and then have to deal with these decisions.”
With the largely looming shadow of gun violence entwined throughout the plot of Gidion’s Knot, and also a shared theme with this season’s earlier production of Pluto, Artistic Director Michael Dove spoke to the unique perspective these two plays provide on the issue:

“I think that what you run into when you try to depict this issue or situation in art or storytelling or the media is that it has become such an issue that there are two sides and nothing in between, and I think the reason I really love these two plays and the way they approach it is that they actually don’t talk about gun control,” said Dove, to murmurs of agreement from the crowd, “Because in some ways that may be an issue that we haven’t found our way into yet…[These plays] are talking about this issue in a way that the news and media never do. We quickly jump to gun control before talking about humans. We quickly talk about legislation which isn’t going to go anywhere because of the divisiveness of our legislature before talking about the whys and the hows and not immediately vilifying the people who do this instead of trying to understand or trying to listen.”
On what Gidion’s Knot is really about:
“It wasn’t about bullying, it wasn’t about gun violence, it was about lack of communication between teachers and parents.”
The crowd was packed with current and former educators, many of whom had strong reactions to the events of the play. The debate about the extent of a teacher’s responsibility to her students resurfaced again and again throughout the night, with Footlights members exploring a tremendous variety of angles. Some delved into the chasm between a teacher’s obligation to the group versus a parent’s to the individual. Others analyzed the play through the lens of a confrontation between Gidion’s two parental figures. Still, others lamented the cookie-cutter nature of our education system, where children who are outside the norm are forced to fit the mold. Most of all though, the teachers in the audience lamented their inability to save children who fall through the cracks. As one audience member observed,
“We aren’t observant enough, nor are we sensitive enough, and we’re missing so much.”
A behind the scenes tidbit: to lighten the mood on breaks from rehearsing such a heavy show, the cast watches clips from SNL!
On the night as a whole:
“I can’t wait to see the play, this has been a really wonderful discussion!”
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Untying Gidion's Knot: Part 1

Posted on July 21, 2014 in Season 11

Throughout this week, Forum will be delving into the fascinating world of Gidion's Knot in a series of blog posts written by some of our Season 11 class of interns! #forumKNOT 

By Quill Nebeker (@quillnebeker, FYSD), Directing & Producing Intern 

In our upcoming production of Johnna Adams' Gidion's Knot, Gidion's mother and his teacher battle over the circumstances which led to his tragic and untimely death. As the story unravels, the "truth" becomes increasingly more complicated than either one had imagined. The play is, in part, an extraordinarily contemporary look at the way with think about teachers and teaching.

That being said, Gidion's Knot also resounds with echoes from antiquity. The title references the Hellenic myth of the Gordian Knot, widely associated with the one and only Alexander the Great
In kingless ancient Phrygia, the oracle declared that the next man entering the city with an ox-cart should be the new king. Lo, and behold, the next ox-cart that came through the town belonged to a peasant farmer, Gordias, to whom the God's sent a great eagle heralding his kingship. Gordias, in thanks to the Gods, tied up his ox-cart in the town square with a great and bundled knot - it was said, supposedly, that one who could reveal the ends of the knot was fit to rule.
Flash forward to 333 BC. Alexander the Great, on his campaign to conquer Asia, is wintering in a (once again) kingless Phrygia. Approaching the cart, clever Alex thinks he has a solution. He takes out his sword, slices the knot in two - bada bing, bada boom, his oracles declare him the rightful king of all of Asia.
Or did he? Reports differ. While some of Alexander's historians contest he solved the puzzle with his sword, a few argue that what he did was far less violent. Some argue that Alexander, after studying the cart for a time, removed the rope from the yoke of the cart and the post it was tied to, revealing the regal ends.
Regardless, the Gordian Knot still holds today as a symbol for a seemingly unsolvable problem requiring an outside-the-box solution. So, then, this raises the question ... What exactly is Gidion's knot?
What is the problem he poses to his mother and teacher, and is there an outside-the-box solution they aren't seeing? Are there, as was with Gordian's Knot, more than one answer?
You'll have to see it to find out!
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