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Tina Ann Brock

AEA, SAG-E


"It's Not the Answer that Enlightens, but the Question. " - Eugene Ionesco

Barrymore Award Best Supporting Performer 2017

Barrymore Award
Best Supporting Performer 2018
Theatre Philadelphia

The Catwoman

By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr

Irish Heritage Theatre

 
 
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Reviews


 

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale

by Tennessee Williams (2018)

Cameron Kelsall, The Broad Street Review

"I have come to expect reinvention from the scrappy, gloriously named Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, which specializes in absurdist theater... nothing prepared me for the revelation of director/actor Tina Brock’s The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, presented as part of the Fringe Festival at the Bethany Mission Gallery, a private temple to outsider art...as an actor, Brock made a wonderful impression as Alma Winemiller..." 

The Eccentricities of  Nightingale

by Tennessee Williams

David Fox, Reclining Standards

"The moment Tina Brock arrives on stage in The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, the world—to quote another play by Tennessee Williams—is lit by lightning. Brock plays Miss Alma Winemiller, one of Williams’ most elliptical heroines...Brock, blonded and marcelled with a doll-like prettiness that is simultaneously exquisite and hard-edged, does something even bolder. She channels the essence of Williams’ women on a grander scale. The effect is disquieting and thrilling." 


Seen here, she isn’t just Miss Alma. She’s Blanche Dubois, Alexandra Del Lago, Amanda Wingfield. Brock profoundly understands these Southern women—their pride and vulnerability, their humor, desperation, and anger. And she knows how to bring it to the stage in a brilliant performance, vibrating with energy and richly nuanced." 

Betty's Summer Vacation 

by Christopher Durang (2019) 

Toby Zinman, The Philadelphia Inquirer 

"No doubt this wild show will offend or shock some audience members. No doubt others will try to chastise the show for insensitivity to the psychosexual moment. But anybody trying to hashtag IRC or Durang will be left standing on the dock with their mouths hanging open, having missed the boat. Tina Brock directs with gusto and glee.


Trying to summarize the plot is an exercise in absurdity, but that, of course, is what IRC is dedicated to. As the company, under Brock’s savvy artistic direction, has moved on from the European theater of the absurd (playwrights like Ionesco) to the American absurdists (playwrights like Durang), the direction of travel is away from the metaphorical and philosophical and toward the riotously outrageous. IRC’s last production, the very American Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams, was a far more melancholy work than this current show, but it launched a similar attack on society’s mores and values. Ultimately that means us.

The “us” in Betty’s Summer Vacation is a group of three (Josh Hitchens, Carlos Forbes, and Kassy Brandford); we hear them before we see them, as their raucous laughter seems to come from the ceiling. Then they talk to the people onstage. Then they appear, looking like Creatures from the Black Lagoon, begging for another scene: “Entertain us.” They are the audience, the lappers-up of celebrity gossip, the droolers over bizarre rumors of perversions, the lovers of tabloid scandal sheets and trash-talk Court TV. “Us” have been schooled. Completing the party is the owner of the house, Mrs. Seizmagraff (Tina Brock, amazing, a human earthquake), Trudy’s mother. 

The Chairs

by Eugene Ionesco (2016, 2009)

Debra Miller, DC Metro Arts 

"Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s razor-sharp production of Eugène Ionesco’s The Chairs presents a wildly sardonic view of life’s futility in hysterically funny, deeply disquieting, award-worthy performances by company Co-Founders Bob Schmidt and Tina Brock as the protagonists, and long-time IRC member Tomas Dura as The Orator. Under Brock’s expert direction, every intonation, facial expression, gesture, and pose is spot-on and flawlessly delivered with a perfectly constructed rhythm, high-decibel urgency, and rapid-fire pace that makes the thoroughly engaging 75-minute performance fly by, as quickly as life.

As promised, Brock and her IRC team “bring good nothingness to life” as they tackle Ionesco’s message head-on, with full-throttle force and an unmatched comprehension of the absurd that will make you laugh till you cry, then haunt you long after you leave the theater. But please exit this trenchant production of The Chairs by way of the door, not through the window." 

The Chairs 

by Eugene Ionesco (2009) 

Toby Zinman 

The Philadelphia Inquirer

"People laughed.  People Cried.  Mostly we just sat wide-eyed and amazed...Eugene Ionesco's one-act, The Chairs, is an extremely difficult work, and The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, under Tina Brock's brilliant direction, nails it. The bizarre plot involves and Old Man and Old Woman (the breathtakingly brave Tina Brock )...

Come Back Little Sheba 

by William Inge (2019) 

Richard Lord

The Philadelphia Free Press

"Tina Brock’s Lola is a stellar performance in its own right, a marvelous creation. This Lola is such a warm and fragile figure that we just want to rush over and give her a reassuring hug. The corrosive strains of living in an emotionally desiccated middle-class home are expressed vividly by Brock. Lola, once quite pretty, still likes to half-flirt with the milkman, the mailman and probably other male visitors to the home. One moment in this production that utterly captures Lola’s sad existence comes when she tells one of these men, “That’s what we’re here for: to keep each other comp …any.” Just the way Brock delivers that line, with the break in the last word, reveals so much about Lola and her repressed life." 

The Bald Soprano 

by Neal Zoren (2020) 

NealsPaper.com

Tina Brock constantly sophisticates and updates her act as she breezes, ambles?, through a canon few are brave enough to touch to accentuate the logic in the absurd in pieces of that ilk and the pain of being different or unfulfilled in a naturalistic world. Brock is tops as both as actress and a director. This latest rendition of Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” is a masterpiece of wit and a jaunty jaundiced look at polite society and all of its banality and inanity. Luckily Brock illuminates banality and inanity without practicing it. Aimless conversation, the mores of hosting, fascination with the uninteresting unusual, and the whole realm of thoughtless inertia passing for life is visible in a snappy, fun-filled 90 minutes on the IRC stage. Brock creates a party atmosphere, leading the way as a chatty wife and an ebulliently excited hostess to guest she did not expect. Or did expect until they were too late arriving when they arrived. IRC’s gift is presenting the topsy-turvy as the mundane. The bright but obvious ordinariness of situations and talk is what makes it amusing and what comments on how much of our lives we invest in trivia. The Bethany Mission Galley becomes a character, as Brock deftly uses its loopily arcane pieces as props and charts. The furniture on the Brock-designed set and Erica Hoelscher’s marvelous ’60s chic suburban costumes add to the fun and the commentary. Especially amusing is when the host couple excuses themselves to change clothes, and the husband comes back wearing the exact outfit he left in. Diction and crisp, pointed line reading in an IRC gift, and Brock, Bob Schmidt, Sonja Robson, and John Zak practice it to a rousing tee. Always reliable Tomas Dura is marvelous as the maid. Carlos Forbes has the bravura to overcome the lack of substance in the fire chief’s appearance. Spirited and funny, this is a “Bald Soprano” for the doubting and fearful. Brock will convert them to Absurdist fans!

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale 

by Tennessee Williams

Toby Zinman, Phindie 

"ECCENTRICITIES is lush, loquacious and very typical Williams: lonely, sex-starved women, men struggling against overbearing mothers, desperation everywhere. We’re in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, and Miss Alma (the superb Tina Brock in a knockout performance) is the town’s oddball old maid; she feeds the birds, she makes extravagant gestures, she teaches singing: as she puts it she is “guilty of gilding the lily.” 

Betty's Summer Vacation 

by Christopher Durang (2019) 

David Fox, Reclining Standards

"Oh, and then there’s Trudy’s overbearing mother, Mrs. Seizmagraff (the great Tina Brock) who seems like a cross between Lucy Ricardo and Norma Desmond), and insists on reminding her daughter what a constant disappointment she is. And Buck (Chris Fluck), an aging surfer with (as he imagines it) an irresistible allure for the ladies—the kind of guy who thinks a good come-on line is: “I have pictures of my penis; do you want to see them?”

Theater

Eccentric Characters I've Known and Loved

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams (2018)
Leocadia by Jean Giraudoux (2017)
Ivona, Princess of Burgundia by Witold Gombrowicz (2014)
The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco (2016)
Paradise Park by Charles Lee
The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco (2019)
The Marriage by Nikolai Gogol
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Ondine by Jean Giraudoux
Betty's Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang
The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco
Paradise Park by Charles Lee
Leocadia (Time Remembered) by Jean Anouilh
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Existential Enthusiast

Growing up in rural Indiana, alongside my grade school neighbors, I produced an annual summer variety show.


These theatrical seeds produced fruit decades later, when I co-founded an absurdist theater company, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium in Philadelphia. 


For the past 16 years, I've had the joy of exploring on stage the hilarity and confusion that arises when we attempt to face life's pressing questions and absurdities.

 

The Dramatic Aspects

 - Samuel Beckett's Endgame 

“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that…

Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world.


And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning.

But it's always the same thing.


Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more."

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Tina Ann Brock

AEA, SAG-E

Producing Artistic Director, Co-Founder 
The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium

The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium's mission is to produce and present the classics of absurdist theatre to an international audience within the Philadelphia region; rarely-produced, renowned plays from around the world that explore and illuminate human purpose - the tragedy and comedy of human experience through philosophical inquiry.

Absurdist authors create a mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision aligned to the world of dreams. The focus is man's bewilderment and confusion, stemming from his anxiety in searching for answers to why we live, why we die, why injustice and suffering. An equally important theme in absurdist writing is man's attempts to communicate: through fruitless behaviors, characters seek to restore myth, ritual and security to their world.

Host and Executive Producer 

Into the Absurd: A Virtually Existential Dinner Conversation

Weekly arts and entertainment conversation designed to illuminate the thinking and aspiration of artists from the Philadelphia region and around the world

Theatre

The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco

Mrs. Smith (2020/2017)

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium 

Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge

Lola Delaney (2019)

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium 

Betty's Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang 

Mrs. Seizmagraff (2019) 

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium 

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams 

Alma Winemiller

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (2018) 

By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr 

The Catwoman

Irish Heritage Theatre (2017) 

The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco 

The Old Woman 

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (2016/2009)

Television

Sisters In Freedom (Emmy Award, Best Documentary) 

History Making Productions 

Sarah Grimke, Featured Role 

Ghost Stories 

New Dominion Pictures

Cynthia Tyrell, Female Lead

PBS Fundraising Host 

Guest Interviewer

Unscripted, Teleprompter 

QVC Product Specialist 

Film

Philadelphia

Johnathan Demme

Aids Activist 


Up Close and Personal  

Jon Avnet 

Fox Television Reporter

Commerical/Voiceover

Over 50 national and regional. Conflicts available on request.

Training/Education

Monologue/Scene Study - William Roudebush
Directing Three-Day Intensive - Bartlett Sher, NYC 
On Camera Auditioning (8 week) -  Mel Mack Studios, NYC 
Scene Study (6 years) - George DiCenzo, NYC 
Meisner Technique (6 years) - Gordon Phillips, Wilma Theatre Studios 
Presence in Performance (6 week intensive) - Pig Iron Theater Company, Emmanuelle Delpeche
Improvisation + Creation (8 week intensive)  - Pig Iron Theater Company, Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, Dan Rothenberg
Lecoq Study (2 month intensive)  -       Giovanni Fusetti, Helikos, Italy 
Scene Study (7 years) -  Irene Baird, Villanova University, U Arts
Founder/Artistic Director (16 years)  - The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (Philadelphia)

Special Skills

Arts and Culture Podcast/Interview Host, Theater Company Founder/Artistic Director (16 years), Licensed driver, Passport, Golf, Tennis, Social Dance, Piano, Baton Twirler (Fire), Mother, Ballet, Comedy, Director, Producer, Medical Background/Terminology, Former Competitive Gymnast, Snow and Water Skier, Bowling, Clowning, Extemporaneous Speaking, Improvisation, Crafter, Coffee Lover.

 

Making Sense of it All

Interviews and Conversations

A Necessary Luxury

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium (PASC) - www.pasc-arts.org

by Tina Brock

September 2016


In the 1961 book The Theatre of the Absurd, Hungarian dramatist and scholar Martin Esslin coined the eponymous term as a device to begin discussion about an important development in the contemporary theater. A development so important that he felt it necessary to define a group of work by authors whose plays shared similar characteristics and were making significant contributions to the discussion about the present situation of Western man. The Theatre of the Absurd was his elucidation on this new movement, which he felt had the potential to provide new ideas, new approaches, and a new vitalized philosophy to transform the modes of thought and the feeling of the public at large. He posited that theatre is the point at which deeper trends of changing thought first intersect with a larger public. Fifty years after Esslin’s book was published, the question is still routinely posed as to whether, and how, the works in this loosely defined group are weathering, and how they are providing modern audiences with an exciting and meaningful theatrical experience. The father of absurdism, Eugene Ionesco, best explains why, after all these years, the work still matters: “Theatre is simply what cannot be expressed by any other means; a complexity of movements and gestures that convey a vision of the world inexpressible in any other way.”

As Producing Artistic Director of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC), Philadelphia’s Absurdist Theater Company, my charge is to select which existential anxieties—and by that I mean which plays—our audience and our company will wrestle with during the artistic season. And while existentialist plays share a general theme of characters confronting the purpose of being head on, it’s exciting to see how these plays also resonate with time-specific flavor and relevance, given current world events and politics. Our heroes in the IRC’s current production of The Chairs contend with issues of aging, the boredom that comes from telling the same stories again and again, the sadness and loss that results from not having pursued the dreams commensurate with one’s talent, and the inability to share one’s special purpose with the world in a meaningful way. Add to that the universal fear of inordinate memory loss, the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations within ourselves and others, and the unalterable fact that we can’t define and control the life to come. What makes it all theatrical (and entertaining) is that we behave as though we can.

In considering what stories the IRC will tell, an important question I ask is how a particular work will ignite the audience’s imagination to think and feel more deeply about where they are now; and how the day to day banalities of their lives can be informed; and, if you will, how the chop wood, carry water can be more meaningful, particularly in our over-stimulated world. Unlike topical plays that rise and fade with the day’s events, absurdist works will resonate as long as existential anxiety remains. Given anxiety-related disorders are at an all-time high, and we struggle to answer what we are doing as a nation and a civilization in this political year, perhaps there is wisdom in asking the basic question of what is the purpose of our time here on earth.  Samuel Beckett challenges: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” As an artistic director, I take Beckett’s charge to contemplate which plays will provide a beacon of meaningful light in a stormy social climate. And I don’t think the light is necessarily only defined by the conversation it sparks. Perhaps the silence it provokes is as meaningful. I would suggest that the authors of works from the Theatre of the Absurd provide a safe haven of contemplation and entertainment. Beckett explored on stage the manifestation of the essence of the experience of being. As a performer, the way you tell the story is to be it, even if that story is simply about contemplation. This experience then transcends to the audience, much in the same way a dance or music performance can be infectious, resulting in an experience more powerful than the event itself.

Unlike modern theatrical events in large venues where the audience is distanced from the action and the event, and in which the story follows a clear plot trajectory, and the actions and psychology follow a definable path, works from the Theatre of the Absurd often defy logic and behavior. So the question is: can we ask the audience to simply exist in the same space with the characters who also grapple with existential anxiety themselves and then, does the experience become part of the production, a part of the total experience for the audience, and a space for self-examination for the performers? What transformations for all might result when we ask the audience to sit in contemplation for 1 hour, 2 hours with no plot development as distraction? What happens when the character’s experience of existential anxiety is the catalyst for the audience’s contemplation? Does the audience members, by proxy, become the tramps in Beckett’s Godot, waiting for the tidy ending that will never come?

Sharing the same space with the audience these questions become interesting: why do we suffer anxiety when an empty space (in text, conversation) presents itself? Why must we have the answers to everything, plot included? Why is it not widely acceptable in our culture to plead not knowing? The characters in most absurdist plays, despite their attempts to make meaning of their circumstances, will end up at the end of their journeys with no answers, no tidy endings, no resolutions. What’s worth exploring as a director and as an audience member is the discomfort (which can be a gateway to comfort) that comes from simply sitting with the pure form: the feelings attached to the searching without the need to hide in our heads, or find a box for the anxiety, or find meaning to the play. It’s the experience of sitting in meditation. There’s a comfort in that experience, which may well not be what Esslin was experiencing in his day. This is how the work of absurdist authors is resonating with our company and with the audience members we speak to. So perhaps that’s the response to the question about how this work has weathered. Perhaps what appears under absurdism’s weathered exterior is a newly polished gem of wisdom in a non-traditional delivery form. As we struggle to find coherence in the incomprehensible, the plays from the Theater of the Absurd provide observations and a good measure of laughs. In Beckett’s Endgame, Nell observes, while banished to a trash can for her remaining days: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.” There’s a cathartic release when we accept the parameters of unknowing, the magnitude of freedom that exists when we release control about finding an answer to all the problems and attend to the daily struggles. The simple act of two people waiting for an unknown event and the silence between is so richly filled by many beautiful moments, and when strung together creates a beautiful work of art that may simply provide no easy answers, but the solace of greater connection and the respite from our constantly agitated minds. Absurd is the new normal: tumultuous times compel us to ask what qualities define us as individuals, as communities, as a country, and what is the mark we are making and leaving on the world? These questions resonate as clearly and powerfully as they did in 1953 when Beckett’s famous tramps waited in a barren land under a fruitless tree for the mysterious benefactor that would never come. We’re running for cover from our over-stimulated, over-communicated, hyper-analyzed world. There’s something liberating in knowing that Godot is never going to come, and that providing a happy ending doesn’t bring meaning. There’s an interesting, important story for the audience and the performers within the silence. The time to sit in communion with others is a necessary luxury, allowing the anxieties that arise when the plot isn’t the main point, when we feel that experience wash over us, there is a powerful connection that grows out of the unspoken event that is created in tandem with the audience.

As the IRC continues rehearsals for Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs for FringeArts 2016, the process of directing and performing in this show is as ritualistic for the performer as for the character I’m portraying. The Old Woman, 94 years, has lived with her spouse for 75 years in a lighthouse surrounded by sea. Every evening they engage in games to keep themselves connected. When the Old Woman chides the Old Man for not becoming famous in life, “You could have been head president, head king, or even head doctor, or head general, if you had wanted to, if only you’d had a little ambition in life,” he responds, “What good would that have done us? We’d not have lived any better.” Each time the other actors and I meet to consider this question in rehearsal, it occurs to us that we cannot consider our characters without that process impressing and informing ourselves—the choices we make as the characters and the choices I make as a director and performer inform the ways we move through the days between our rehearsals. The hope is when this play takes the stage on September 6 at The Walnut Street Theatre’s Studio 5, that the small audience of 53 each evening will be infused with the metaphysical musings and ponderings of the characters. We hope the performance of this classic work of absurdist theatre will prompt the audience to question and wonder like the characters and as the performers portraying them. Our hope is that the story the audience leaves with is not necessarily a story you can retell over coffee, more a series of moments that resonate in an affective experience that cannot be reproduced. Ionesco wrote: “Explanation separates us from astonishment, which is the only gateway to the incomprehensible.”

There is a hearty, enthusiastic audience for the work the IRC presents: curious minds who have been moved by the plays of Eugene Ionesco and the beauty of solitude illustrated in the works of Samuel Beckett. We have reached the outer limits of man’s ability to surprise and shock us; we are now searching for the safe place in contemplation of what we can do to have an impact and feel some level of control in a world faced with complicated moral and ethical dilemmas with no easy answers, no quick fixes. Perhaps the intention when these plays were authored was to awaken people from their numbness, from the sameness of the structure of the traditional theatrical forms of the day. What if the place this genre holds in 2016, ironically, is the power of communion through a form that we fill in with our own silence? The IRC believes the place of contemplation begins with the ritual of waiting in communion with others. From Samuel Beckett’s 1953 novel ​The Unnamable: “​ You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.”

Absurd is “The New Normal” in 2017

Interview with Tina Brock, Producing Artistic Director of IRC
Philadelphia’s Only Surreal Theatre
by Henrik Eger 
February 2, 2017

Given the recent absurdities of America’s most surreal presidential election, I asked Tina Brock, Artistic Director of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC), Philadelphia, PA’s only surreal theatre company, to talk about the role of contemporary events on the production of surreal theatre in 2017 and the years to come.

Henrik Eger: Recent events have shaken the US and the world. How do you see the role of your Theatre of the Absurd in the past and going forward?

Tina Brock: Much of our work in the last decade—with the exception of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros—focused on the existential crisis of the individual. The election created a new crisis. As result, our artistic responses need to adapt. What’s called for is a different tool in the absurdist arsenal. We need to draw attention to the seriousness of the existential challenge we all face. It’s now a group effort.

Henrik: I vividly remember your Rhinoceros stampeding across the stage. This drama has often been associated with the rise of demagogues. Your production hit the nail on its historical head—even before things changed last November.

Tina: We presented Rhinoceros in a somewhat different time, but Ionesco’s play remains a chilling commentary on conformity in the midst of chaos and the struggle. Our current daily life is very similar to that of the play—people not knowing what to believe, whom to trust, or who is on their team.

Henrik: Much of the world of the surreal presents harsh realities in form of dreams and nightmares.

Tina: In planning the IRC productions, I try to provide a space where people can feel a reflection of their own experiences. When I saw Ionesco’s The Chairs for the first time, decades ago, I felt comforted knowing there was a playwright who felt the same anxieties of existence.

Henrik: Given the dramatic changes in the US, what do you want to do next? 

Tina: We’re running for cover from a world we cannot make sense of on so many levels. In a post-truth world, what is the baseline? In a country that now seems to be dismissing the historically smooth transition of power, what do we use to ground our anxieties? In the past, I veered away from the works of Fernando Arrabal, specifically Picnic on the Battlefield, which is set in wartime. The stage is covered with barbed wire and sandbags, which I felt created an overly violent tone for the experience I hoped the audience would have.

However, we are now considering far more overtly political works from absurdist playwrights along the trajectory of Arrabal, including Vaclav Havel and Slawomir Mrozek.

Henrik: Before the election on November 8, 2016, you and your IRC actors were working on a number of hilarious satires from The Onion—and then something happened.

Tina: The pieces chosen for our Raw Onion fundraiser (from the Commentary section of The Onion, with permission) were published well before the election. However, we faced an enormous challenge in putting together an evening of post-2016 election humor in just a few days. What we had to rethink for the show post-election was the content of the pieces—some opinions and commentaries that registered as funny pre-election were suddenly tragic post-election, so we dropped those commentaries and substituted others. Consequently, our annual Onion evening morphed into a totally different show.

Henrik: How did you handle this unexpected situation, given that your show had to go on?

Tina: After election night, our program had to be significantly altered. Many of The Onion pieces in the show were either dropped or switched out as they had the opposite of the desired effect. They killed the forward momentum of the comedy. The jokes were simply not the right ones at that time. They were tragically unfunny as they now had become reality.

Henrik: During the turmoil that followed the election, it seems as if all conversations in America centered on the most absurd of all characters in US presidential history. Particularly at a satirical show, one might expect a strong reference to that shocking event—yet, you seemed to have avoided the obvious interpretations.

Tina: There were several reasons for my decision to avoid those automatic responses. Our nation made a statement loudly and clearly on Election Day. The sense of loss and astonishment was overwhelming. All discussions, jokes, and conversations circled back to Trump. As a producer, my job was to respond by way of comedy. My choice to cut or drop certain sections of the text was a decision to respect the rawness of our audience. People were still reeling from the outcome. If the producer isn’t responding to the overall gestalt of the evening, then that producer is tone-deaf, asleep at the wheel, and driving off a cliff with a very small company in tow.

Henrik: Entertaining the audience and generating urgently needed funds for a small theatre company while the country is grieving must have been a difficult task.

Tina: We have been performing a new version of The Raw Onion annually for seven years. This time, it was the timing of the content, rather than the content itself that made it difficult. After the election, the show needed to be a place where people could come together and regroup—not endure more of the same depressing tone we were already experiencing. It was too soon for a political rally. Rather than screaming at the audience about the obvious pain, we staged a wake cloaked as a comedy show.

The election created a new crisis. As result, our artistic responses need to adapt. What’s called for is a different tool in the absurdist arsenal. We need to draw attention to the seriousness of the existential challenge we all face.

Henrik: Given the pain you spoke to, how do you see Absurdist Theatre as a way of creating some relief, perhaps even some tikkun olam, or healing of the world?

Tina: We need tools for surviving when daily developments are unexplained, absurd, or even threatening. One response is to fight the machine through parody or satire. Another response is to look inward and ask how we can create a space that will allow people to contemplate the anxieties of daily life and laugh at the same time.

Henrik: Tough choices, but at least you’ll have a devoted audience who value humor in the absurd.

Tina: Absolutely. Laughter is important. We appreciate having a supportive and sophisticated audience who value the humor and who understand that it allows some distance from the uncanny. In Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Nell observes: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.” Sitting in communion with others is important, especially in absurdist plays, which often allow a unique connection between the stage and the audience. We come together for two hours a night and are comforted that the extreme anxiety we are feeling is real and important.

Henrik: Could you give an example?

Tina: Take Ionesco’s The Chairs, just before the Orator enters. The Old Woman and the Old Man actually expect that the visitor will be the one to explain the unexplainable. The absurdity of the image opens so many possibilities as to how you interpret the Orator. The hopes of a lifetime depend on the man behind the door, much like our current political leaders. That moment is priceless.


Henrik: With a new Trump administration, you may come up against this wall: “Wouldn’t entertainment make more money? You don’t need grants. Just present programs that pay for themselves!”

Tina: The last lines of Rhinoceros speaks to the importance of resistance: "I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating.”

Henrik: Is there anything else you’d like to share?


Tina: Ionesco said, “Fear separates us. Dreams and ideologies bring us together.”  Samuel Beckett left us this challenge: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” I take his charge to mean, “Find a play, a setting, and an environment that illustrates the deep anxieties and fears people have. Invite them to share that experience.”

Phindie.com

“Casting call” for the chairs in Ionesco’s THE CHAIRS: Interview with IRC Artistic Director Tina Brock

by Henrik Eger 

September 11, 2016

The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium brings Eugene Ionesco’s hilarious, controversial, absurdist classic THE CHAIRS to the 2016 Fringe Festival.


We talk to director Tina Brock about the show.

Henrik Eger: What draws you to Ionesco in general and to his CHAIRS in particular?

Tina Brock: It’s great fun to direct and perform his work, as he is asking for total commitment to the emotional choice, pushed to paroxysm. He takes situations to the extreme to illustrate a point. His sense of comedy and tragedy in grappling with the existential dilemma is wonderfully balanced. Ionesco finds hilarity in human foibles, the games we play to bring meaning to our short time on this earth and our tendency to defend our day-to-day decisions with great ferocity. Dismantling the ego can be hilarious—a recurring theme in Ionesco’s work.

Eger: Ionesco’s masterpiece premiered in Paris in 1952, where it saw more productions in the years to come. The English-speaking world did not take to his work enthusiastically until decades later. What do you think accounts for that initial resistance?

Brock: Participation in an Ionesco event is more like a sport. There is great stimulation, so much coming at you—sound, lights, emotion, language. It requires letting the experience hit you without trying to analyze each moment, which can be frustrating. At the same time, in a small venue, The Chairs is akin to watching a World Wide Wresting match. Ionesco doesn’t write the well-made play with a tidy ending and characters that immediately make sense to us. There is work involved in being an Ionesco audience member, which may be more than people want to sign up for when paying admission. For me, Ionesco serves it all up on a pretty nice platter. It’s active, emotional, funny, tragic—and all very relevant.

Eger: THE CHAIRS could be seen as an attempt to bring hope to a post-WWII society. Tell us about the things you did to convince the audience that the guests, symbols of life and survival, have arrived—even though we never see them.

Brock: Making each of the imaginary people real to us was useful. At times we had performers stand in so we could play the scenes with real people, and then imagine them in that position. When I was a kid, I’d line up all the dolls on the bed and deliver an overblown lecture about some meaningless thing I was interested in. It felt very much like those days.

Eger: I heard that IRC went so far that your designer actually had a casting call for the chairs. Is that true, or only a piece of surreal theater rumor?

Brock: Yes, it’s true. Set designer Lisi Stoessel actually had a casting call for the chairs in the show. We selected the ones that conjured types of people, and then attached an imaginary person to the chair. Since the audience members only see the chairs on stage, it’s important they leave an indelible mark—that they become the people. Ionesco wrote that the proliferation of objects was a powerful theatrical tool. This concept works to maximum effect in THE CHAIRS.

Eger: Ionesco introduces a living orator on stage, but, unbeknownst to the audience, makes him deaf and mute. How did you handle this complex situation?

Brock: It’s important that the Orator understands what he is trying to say and communicate that with all his will. He doesn’t anticipate that he will not be understood, so Tomas Dura must play the importance of delivering the Old Man’s message with as much clarity and stakes as he can.

Eger: What do you see as the overall theme in Ionesco’s plays, and in THE CHAIRS in particular?

Brock: Ionesco’s ongoing theme in his works—about how language, both written and spoken, can be a faulty tool for communicating real meaning—is evidenced in this play in many ways. The meaning between two people in a conversation is largely shared through the emotional content in the conversation—the nonverbal responses and the tone of the conversation. Ironically, the emotional communication in the play is easier to latch onto as a through line, since there is fairly universal understanding of what those emotions are.

Eger: Tell us more about the use of emotion versus the analytical in this play?

Brock: As long as we are clear in our delivery, the audience will be able to follow what we are feeling about the moments—one reason you can see this play performed in any language and understand what is transpiring. These characters don’t spend a lot of time analyzing their thoughts or situations—they simply feel a certain way and they act on that feeling. Ionesco uses some fun examples in THE CHAIRS of the potential banality of cocktail party conversations, the breaking down of communication, which seems particularly appropriate in this time.

Eger: Sexuality is no longer as big a taboo in the US as death and suicide, especially in a society that constantly pushes permanent “improvement and growth”—not allowing anyone to leave this life of their own volition, including aging couples in their suicide attempts. How do you interpret this complex situation in THE CHAIRS?

Brock: There is a lovely story in the play of the woman convincing the man that his message is important, and that “he has no right to keep his message from the universe.” I love this aspect of the play—that we have a duty to use our talents, to share them with the world, to teach others, and to live as a clean burning engine if you will—that we have

gifts that want to be revealed to the world, and that it’s our own egos getting in the way of stopping ourselves from following the path.

Eger: Could you give an example?

Brock: Sure. It’s a hilarious turn that once the Old Man decides he will share his message that he then doesn’t have the confidence to tell his own story and hires a surrogate. The Old Woman then becomes very afraid of the thing she set into motion—that what she wished for complicated their very simple humble existence.

The old couple reach this conclusion in the play—that their stories have been told, that they have achieved their goals, and that they can now depart in good conscience. What’s disturbing is that Ionesco entrusted this important message to a character who wasn’t able to articulate it well.

Eger: Ionesco wrote how all-important the ending of his play was, even though it’s the exact opposite of a tangible conclusion, when he wrote, “The last decisive moment of the play should be the expression of . . . absence.”

Brock: Ionesco gives clear instruction on the final sound cue, aided in large part by a set filled with empty chairs and haze—breeze blowing.

Eger: Could you share some hilarious moments with us that occurred during your rehearsals?

Brock: Hardly hilarious, but appropriately ridiculous. I developed shingles early in rehearsal. Imagine trying to cart around 50 chairs on stage in two and a half minutes with crazy nerve-ending pain. It’s not a situation that clears itself quickly. We’re laughing now, though it wasn’t too funny at the time.

And every night there’s the show going on backstage—a very small space, which stores all the chairs: our chair wrangler, Sam Eli, and the Orator, Tomas Dura, and I, all tripping over one another to get every single chair on stage in a very short time.  A classic Three Stooges Routine every night. Seriously, we are going to tape it, it’s so ridiculous.

Eger: What have you planned for IRC, Philadelphia’s surreal theater, for the 2016 fall and winter season?

Brock: David Ives’ Lives of the Saints at L’Etage in November, and Jean Giraudoux’s The Enchanted at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5 in February 2017.

Eger: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Brock: It’s frustrating that Ionesco gets characterized as “silly” by some people. His dramas are anything but—particularly in this day and age. Thank you for your thoughtful interview—you’re a toughie. I appreciate your probing questions as THE CHAIRS is not only a hilarious, but a thought-provoking play.

Eger: Tina, the real toughie is the artistic director with shingles who, after auditioning chairs as if they were actors, then, with the help of cast members, schlepped around all 50 chairs—in rehearsal after rehearsal.

[Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street] September 6 –25, 2016; fringearts.com/eugene-ionesco-chairs.

Phindie.com: 

Inspecting the Circus Sideshow of Government: IRC director Tina Brock talks Gogol

February 8, 2016
by Henrik Eger

The characters in Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector lack love and sympathy for others. It’s this absence of empathy among members of the ruling class and their irresponsibility, corruption, and unwillingness to take positive action which led to protests by Russian conservatives in the reactionary press when it was first produced.

Gogol had become famous through his short stories. He abandoned his first few plays, fearing censorship of the ruling class. In 1835, he asked his friend Pushkin to send him an idea of something very Russian that Gogol wanted to turn into a satirical play. “My hand is itching to write a comedy. . . . Give me a subject and I’ll knock off a comedy in five acts — I promise, funnier than hell. For God’s sake, do it. My mind and stomach are both famished.”

In this two-part interview, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC) director Tina Brock shares facts and her insights on Gogol’s unique showcase of despicable government officials.


Henrik Eger: Tell us a bit about the philosophy of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium [IRC], Philadelphia’s popular theater of the surreal, and how it relates to The Government Inspector by Gogol.


Tina Brock: The IRC mission statement reads, “producing and presenting plays that explore and illuminate the human purpose . . .”—with an emphasis on examining our spiritual connection to the world, and those we have relationships with, and how our philosophies, beliefs, and ideals influence the decisions we make. Particularly in Inspector, the ways in which we jump to conclusions about people, make assumptions without the benefit of enough information, and how those judgements may have disastrous consequences, spreading like a wildfire into the community.

Eger: As the IRC director, what intrigued you about Gogol’s The Government Inspector?

Brock: These questions prompted me to tackle this play: Why do we fail to ask enough questions of people in lieu of or in addition to accepting the stories they tell of themselves? It seems it takes much longer to come to know a person’s character given social media. Inspector was written nearly 200 years ago, when the delivery of a letter bearing crucial news took days to arrive. Perhaps people were so excited to receive news, the idea of questioning the messenger was secondary to the event of receiving. Today, information is exchanged so rapidly, it seems the task of stopping to think about the message, the messenger, and the context has been lost by the wayside. With ever more paths of information with many messengers in the mix, taking time to raise pointed questions when necessary is a necessity in order to try and make sense of it all.

The investment of time in getting to know people long enough to see their behaviors over the course of time, to experience and watch the decisions that shape their character, and to allow the chance to evaluate content in addition to presentation is a task that takes time. When fear enters into the equation, when people in positions of power become afraid of losing their interests, then anxiety fuels the proceedings and the act of questioning, contemplating, and verifying before passing along the fear baton is lost. Farce ensues and we’re off and running in an absurd situation. We see it every day.

The Inspector plot centers on two town gossips, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, who spend all of their time traveling from the Inn to the Market where they sell the meat pies and French Brandy Kegs, excited about the latest piece of information they can pass along to the townspeople. They make it an art to be the first to have the information and squabble over who is the first to deliver, who can get the details right when telling the story. They push each other to be first to share the news. It is based on Bobchinsky’s observations that the new young man in town, Khlestakov, is indeed the government inspector, based on some shaky observations. The townspeople buy his gossip, don’t ask a single question, and the wildfire has been ignited.

Eger: Given IRC’s philosophy, how easy or difficult is it to find plays that are truly surreal and yet speak to us in our own time?

Brock: It’s easy to find works that speak to the existential dilemma of reconciling man’s desire to be omnipotent, with the fact that we have limited time to find our purpose and to create meaning in what we do. Playwrights Ionesco and Beckett address the existential crisis head on, allowing the audience to rest in the crisis through feeling, requiring you to submerge in the angst and also, hopefully, the humor.

Eger: You have consistently featured international playwrights, this time Gogol, a Russian Ukrainian. What made his work stand out for you?

Brock: His writing is hilarious. He has a beautiful understanding of human behavior and how our fears drive us to extreme circumstances and how chaos results. Gogol asks that we jump on the locomotive, hold on tight, and go along for the ride, realizing the preposterous chain of events that a simple set of assumptions can ignite. The difference in Gogol’s work from the later absurdist authors is that we don’t light on that existential feeling during the course of the play as we do in Beckett or Ionesco; rather, we expose the folly and the ridiculous situations that create the farce.

The existential questions raised in plays by absurdist authors are particularly potent and resonating with audiences, they are timeless. Perhaps because world events are so hard to fathom, atrocities so great, audiences seem keenly interested in looking inside, celebrating and examining those questions: how can I bring more meaning to what I do? How do my choices affect those around me? So there’s the personal aspect, the looking inside and asking how we can contribute in a more meaningful way, and there’s the system outside ourselves and how we affect that process. The political system has become a circus side show. How do our differences in politics and beliefs lead to such disastrous consequences, and how much healing might happen if people were to take the time to have a conversation and listen with the intent of understanding, not judging, and hold each other and our leaders accountable without being branded troublemakers. As Ionesco said, “It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

Eger: We are going into the presidential election this year with a lot of angry people: Republicans who believe that it’s all the fault of “the government,” while Democrats tend to blame the greed and corruption of the corporate world. How do you connect your production of The Government Inspector to these deeply seated fears in the US?

Brock: People are angry because their voices aren’t being heard. They are tired of being marginalized, tired of being told they don’t know what they are talking about, and they don’t have the intelligence or understanding to propose solutions to simple and complex problems. We are all people. We live, work, eat, play, have ideas how to solve life’s dilemmas—and try to solve problems. You don’t have to be a specialist in any discipline to propose a solution or be in charge of change. People need to ask questions and leaders need to provide answers or admit they don’t know the answer. And we need to get over the social stigma that can go along with demanding straight clear answers and accountability. It’s the accountability piece that’s very distressing. Certain people in society, because of rank, privilege, and order, have an automatic hall pass to do whatever they please in the name of advancing their particular agenda.

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For the Love of Drama!

Love adventures of the mind, spirit and body.  Always game for conversation about the plays and philosophies of Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Tennessee Williams, William Inge -- all, really.  Even better when they happen during a round of golf or a skiing expedition.

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Making Sense of it All

Interviews and Conversations

A Necessary Luxury

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium (PASC) - www.pasc-arts.org

by Tina Brock

September 2016


In the 1961 book The Theatre of the Absurd, Hungarian dramatist and scholar Martin Esslin coined the eponymous term as a device to begin discussion about an important development in the contemporary theater. A development so important that he felt it necessary to define a group of work by authors whose plays shared similar characteristics and were making significant contributions to the discussion about the present situation of Western man. The Theatre of the Absurd was his elucidation on this new movement, which he felt had the potential to provide new ideas, new approaches, and a new vitalized philosophy to transform the modes of thought and the feeling of the public at large. He posited that theatre is the point at which deeper trends of changing thought first intersect with a larger public. Fifty years after Esslin’s book was published, the question is still routinely posed as to whether, and how, the works in this loosely defined group are weathering, and how they are providing modern audiences with an exciting and meaningful theatrical experience. The father of absurdism, Eugene Ionesco, best explains why, after all these years, the work still matters: “Theatre is simply what cannot be expressed by any other means; a complexity of movements and gestures that convey a vision of the world inexpressible in any other way.”

As Producing Artistic Director of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC), Philadelphia’s Absurdist Theater Company, my charge is to select which existential anxieties—and by that I mean which plays—our audience and our company will wrestle with during the artistic season. And while existentialist plays share a general theme of characters confronting the purpose of being head on, it’s exciting to see how these plays also resonate with time-specific flavor and relevance, given current world events and politics. Our heroes in the IRC’s current production of The Chairs contend with issues of aging, the boredom that comes from telling the same stories again and again, the sadness and loss that results from not having pursued the dreams commensurate with one’s talent, and the inability to share one’s special purpose with the world in a meaningful way. Add to that the universal fear of inordinate memory loss, the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations within ourselves and others, and the unalterable fact that we can’t define and control the life to come. What makes it all theatrical (and entertaining) is that we behave as though we can.

In considering what stories the IRC will tell, an important question I ask is how a particular work will ignite the audience’s imagination to think and feel more deeply about where they are now; and how the day to day banalities of their lives can be informed; and, if you will, how the chop wood, carry water can be more meaningful, particularly in our over-stimulated world. Unlike topical plays that rise and fade with the day’s events, absurdist works will resonate as long as existential anxiety remains. Given anxiety-related disorders are at an all-time high, and we struggle to answer what we are doing as a nation and a civilization in this political year, perhaps there is wisdom in asking the basic question of what is the purpose of our time here on earth.  Samuel Beckett challenges: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” As an artistic director, I take Beckett’s charge to contemplate which plays will provide a beacon of meaningful light in a stormy social climate. And I don’t think the light is necessarily only defined by the conversation it sparks. Perhaps the silence it provokes is as meaningful. I would suggest that the authors of works from the Theatre of the Absurd provide a safe haven of contemplation and entertainment. Beckett explored on stage the manifestation of the essence of the experience of being. As a performer, the way you tell the story is to be it, even if that story is simply about contemplation. This experience then transcends to the audience, much in the same way a dance or music performance can be infectious, resulting in an experience more powerful than the event itself.

Unlike modern theatrical events in large venues where the audience is distanced from the action and the event, and in which the story follows a clear plot trajectory, and the actions and psychology follow a definable path, works from the Theatre of the Absurd often defy logic and behavior. So the question is: can we ask the audience to simply exist in the same space with the characters who also grapple with existential anxiety themselves and then, does the experience become part of the production, a part of the total experience for the audience, and a space for self-examination for the performers? What transformations for all might result when we ask the audience to sit in contemplation for 1 hour, 2 hours with no plot development as distraction? What happens when the character’s experience of existential anxiety is the catalyst for the audience’s contemplation? Does the audience members, by proxy, become the tramps in Beckett’s Godot, waiting for the tidy ending that will never come?

Sharing the same space with the audience these questions become interesting: why do we suffer anxiety when an empty space (in text, conversation) presents itself? Why must we have the answers to everything, plot included? Why is it not widely acceptable in our culture to plead not knowing? The characters in most absurdist plays, despite their attempts to make meaning of their circumstances, will end up at the end of their journeys with no answers, no tidy endings, no resolutions. What’s worth exploring as a director and as an audience member is the discomfort (which can be a gateway to comfort) that comes from simply sitting with the pure form: the feelings attached to the searching without the need to hide in our heads, or find a box for the anxiety, or find meaning to the play. It’s the experience of sitting in meditation. There’s a comfort in that experience, which may well not be what Esslin was experiencing in his day. This is how the work of absurdist authors is resonating with our company and with the audience members we speak to. So perhaps that’s the response to the question about how this work has weathered. Perhaps what appears under absurdism’s weathered exterior is a newly polished gem of wisdom in a non-traditional delivery form. As we struggle to find coherence in the incomprehensible, the plays from the Theater of the Absurd provide observations and a good measure of laughs. In Beckett’s Endgame, Nell observes, while banished to a trash can for her remaining days: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.” There’s a cathartic release when we accept the parameters of unknowing, the magnitude of freedom that exists when we release control about finding an answer to all the problems and attend to the daily struggles. The simple act of two people waiting for an unknown event and the silence between is so richly filled by many beautiful moments, and when strung together creates a beautiful work of art that may simply provide no easy answers, but the solace of greater connection and the respite from our constantly agitated minds. Absurd is the new normal: tumultuous times compel us to ask what qualities define us as individuals, as communities, as a country, and what is the mark we are making and leaving on the world? These questions resonate as clearly and powerfully as they did in 1953 when Beckett’s famous tramps waited in a barren land under a fruitless tree for the mysterious benefactor that would never come. We’re running for cover from our over-stimulated, over-communicated, hyper-analyzed world. There’s something liberating in knowing that Godot is never going to come, and that providing a happy ending doesn’t bring meaning. There’s an interesting, important story for the audience and the performers within the silence. The time to sit in communion with others is a necessary luxury, allowing the anxieties that arise when the plot isn’t the main point, when we feel that experience wash over us, there is a powerful connection that grows out of the unspoken event that is created in tandem with the audience.

As the IRC continues rehearsals for Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs for FringeArts 2016, the process of directing and performing in this show is as ritualistic for the performer as for the character I’m portraying. The Old Woman, 94 years, has lived with her spouse for 75 years in a lighthouse surrounded by sea. Every evening they engage in games to keep themselves connected. When the Old Woman chides the Old Man for not becoming famous in life, “You could have been head president, head king, or even head doctor, or head general, if you had wanted to, if only you’d had a little ambition in life,” he responds, “What good would that have done us? We’d not have lived any better.” Each time the other actors and I meet to consider this question in rehearsal, it occurs to us that we cannot consider our characters without that process impressing and informing ourselves—the choices we make as the characters and the choices I make as a director and performer inform the ways we move through the days between our rehearsals. The hope is when this play takes the stage on September 6 at The Walnut Street Theatre’s Studio 5, that the small audience of 53 each evening will be infused with the metaphysical musings and ponderings of the characters. We hope the performance of this classic work of absurdist theatre will prompt the audience to question and wonder like the characters and as the performers portraying them. Our hope is that the story the audience leaves with is not necessarily a story you can retell over coffee, more a series of moments that resonate in an affective experience that cannot be reproduced. Ionesco wrote: “Explanation separates us from astonishment, which is the only gateway to the incomprehensible.”

There is a hearty, enthusiastic audience for the work the IRC presents: curious minds who have been moved by the plays of Eugene Ionesco and the beauty of solitude illustrated in the works of Samuel Beckett. We have reached the outer limits of man’s ability to surprise and shock us; we are now searching for the safe place in contemplation of what we can do to have an impact and feel some level of control in a world faced with complicated moral and ethical dilemmas with no easy answers, no quick fixes. Perhaps the intention when these plays were authored was to awaken people from their numbness, from the sameness of the structure of the traditional theatrical forms of the day. What if the place this genre holds in 2016, ironically, is the power of communion through a form that we fill in with our own silence? The IRC believes the place of contemplation begins with the ritual of waiting in communion with others. From Samuel Beckett’s 1953 novel ​The Unnamable: “​ You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.”

Absurd is “The New Normal” in 2017

Interview with Tina Brock, Producing Artistic Director of IRC
Philadelphia’s Only Surreal Theatre
by Henrik Eger 
February 2, 2017

Given the recent absurdities of America’s most surreal presidential election, I asked Tina Brock, Artistic Director of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC), Philadelphia, PA’s only surreal theatre company, to talk about the role of contemporary events on the production of surreal theatre in 2017 and the years to come.

Henrik Eger: Recent events have shaken the US and the world. How do you see the role of your Theatre of the Absurd in the past and going forward?

Tina Brock: Much of our work in the last decade—with the exception of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros—focused on the existential crisis of the individual. The election created a new crisis. As result, our artistic responses need to adapt. What’s called for is a different tool in the absurdist arsenal. We need to draw attention to the seriousness of the existential challenge we all face. It’s now a group effort.

Henrik: I vividly remember your Rhinoceros stampeding across the stage. This drama has often been associated with the rise of demagogues. Your production hit the nail on its historical head—even before things changed last November.

Tina: We presented Rhinoceros in a somewhat different time, but Ionesco’s play remains a chilling commentary on conformity in the midst of chaos and the struggle. Our current daily life is very similar to that of the play—people not knowing what to believe, whom to trust, or who is on their team.

Henrik: Much of the world of the surreal presents harsh realities in form of dreams and nightmares.

Tina: In planning the IRC productions, I try to provide a space where people can feel a reflection of their own experiences. When I saw Ionesco’s The Chairs for the first time, decades ago, I felt comforted knowing there was a playwright who felt the same anxieties of existence.

Henrik: Given the dramatic changes in the US, what do you want to do next? 

Tina: We’re running for cover from a world we cannot make sense of on so many levels. In a post-truth world, what is the baseline? In a country that now seems to be dismissing the historically smooth transition of power, what do we use to ground our anxieties? In the past, I veered away from the works of Fernando Arrabal, specifically Picnic on the Battlefield, which is set in wartime. The stage is covered with barbed wire and sandbags, which I felt created an overly violent tone for the experience I hoped the audience would have.

However, we are now considering far more overtly political works from absurdist playwrights along the trajectory of Arrabal, including Vaclav Havel and Slawomir Mrozek.

Henrik: Before the election on November 8, 2016, you and your IRC actors were working on a number of hilarious satires from The Onion—and then something happened.

Tina: The pieces chosen for our Raw Onion fundraiser (from the Commentary section of The Onion, with permission) were published well before the election. However, we faced an enormous challenge in putting together an evening of post-2016 election humor in just a few days. What we had to rethink for the show post-election was the content of the pieces—some opinions and commentaries that registered as funny pre-election were suddenly tragic post-election, so we dropped those commentaries and substituted others. Consequently, our annual Onion evening morphed into a totally different show.

Henrik: How did you handle this unexpected situation, given that your show had to go on?

Tina: After election night, our program had to be significantly altered. Many of The Onion pieces in the show were either dropped or switched out as they had the opposite of the desired effect. They killed the forward momentum of the comedy. The jokes were simply not the right ones at that time. They were tragically unfunny as they now had become reality.

Henrik: During the turmoil that followed the election, it seems as if all conversations in America centered on the most absurd of all characters in US presidential history. Particularly at a satirical show, one might expect a strong reference to that shocking event—yet, you seemed to have avoided the obvious interpretations.

Tina: There were several reasons for my decision to avoid those automatic responses. Our nation made a statement loudly and clearly on Election Day. The sense of loss and astonishment was overwhelming. All discussions, jokes, and conversations circled back to Trump. As a producer, my job was to respond by way of comedy. My choice to cut or drop certain sections of the text was a decision to respect the rawness of our audience. People were still reeling from the outcome. If the producer isn’t responding to the overall gestalt of the evening, then that producer is tone-deaf, asleep at the wheel, and driving off a cliff with a very small company in tow.

Henrik: Entertaining the audience and generating urgently needed funds for a small theatre company while the country is grieving must have been a difficult task.

Tina: We have been performing a new version of The Raw Onion annually for seven years. This time, it was the timing of the content, rather than the content itself that made it difficult. After the election, the show needed to be a place where people could come together and regroup—not endure more of the same depressing tone we were already experiencing. It was too soon for a political rally. Rather than screaming at the audience about the obvious pain, we staged a wake cloaked as a comedy show.

The election created a new crisis. As result, our artistic responses need to adapt. What’s called for is a different tool in the absurdist arsenal. We need to draw attention to the seriousness of the existential challenge we all face.

Henrik: Given the pain you spoke to, how do you see Absurdist Theatre as a way of creating some relief, perhaps even some tikkun olam, or healing of the world?

Tina: We need tools for surviving when daily developments are unexplained, absurd, or even threatening. One response is to fight the machine through parody or satire. Another response is to look inward and ask how we can create a space that will allow people to contemplate the anxieties of daily life and laugh at the same time.

Henrik: Tough choices, but at least you’ll have a devoted audience who value humor in the absurd.

Tina: Absolutely. Laughter is important. We appreciate having a supportive and sophisticated audience who value the humor and who understand that it allows some distance from the uncanny. In Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Nell observes: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.” Sitting in communion with others is important, especially in absurdist plays, which often allow a unique connection between the stage and the audience. We come together for two hours a night and are comforted that the extreme anxiety we are feeling is real and important.

Henrik: Could you give an example?

Tina: Take Ionesco’s The Chairs, just before the Orator enters. The Old Woman and the Old Man actually expect that the visitor will be the one to explain the unexplainable. The absurdity of the image opens so many possibilities as to how you interpret the Orator. The hopes of a lifetime depend on the man behind the door, much like our current political leaders. That moment is priceless.


Henrik: With a new Trump administration, you may come up against this wall: “Wouldn’t entertainment make more money? You don’t need grants. Just present programs that pay for themselves!”

Tina: The last lines of Rhinoceros speaks to the importance of resistance: "I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating.”

Henrik: Is there anything else you’d like to share?


Tina: Ionesco said, “Fear separates us. Dreams and ideologies bring us together.”  Samuel Beckett left us this challenge: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” I take his charge to mean, “Find a play, a setting, and an environment that illustrates the deep anxieties and fears people have. Invite them to share that experience.”

Phindie.com

“Casting call” for the chairs in Ionesco’s THE CHAIRS: Interview with IRC Artistic Director Tina Brock

by Henrik Eger 

September 11, 2016

The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium brings Eugene Ionesco’s hilarious, controversial, absurdist classic THE CHAIRS to the 2016 Fringe Festival.


We talk to director Tina Brock about the show.

Henrik Eger: What draws you to Ionesco in general and to his CHAIRS in particular?

Tina Brock: It’s great fun to direct and perform his work, as he is asking for total commitment to the emotional choice, pushed to paroxysm. He takes situations to the extreme to illustrate a point. His sense of comedy and tragedy in grappling with the existential dilemma is wonderfully balanced. Ionesco finds hilarity in human foibles, the games we play to bring meaning to our short time on this earth and our tendency to defend our day-to-day decisions with great ferocity. Dismantling the ego can be hilarious—a recurring theme in Ionesco’s work.

Eger: Ionesco’s masterpiece premiered in Paris in 1952, where it saw more productions in the years to come. The English-speaking world did not take to his work enthusiastically until decades later. What do you think accounts for that initial resistance?

Brock: Participation in an Ionesco event is more like a sport. There is great stimulation, so much coming at you—sound, lights, emotion, language. It requires letting the experience hit you without trying to analyze each moment, which can be frustrating. At the same time, in a small venue, The Chairs is akin to watching a World Wide Wresting match. Ionesco doesn’t write the well-made play with a tidy ending and characters that immediately make sense to us. There is work involved in being an Ionesco audience member, which may be more than people want to sign up for when paying admission. For me, Ionesco serves it all up on a pretty nice platter. It’s active, emotional, funny, tragic—and all very relevant.

Eger: THE CHAIRS could be seen as an attempt to bring hope to a post-WWII society. Tell us about the things you did to convince the audience that the guests, symbols of life and survival, have arrived—even though we never see them.

Brock: Making each of the imaginary people real to us was useful. At times we had performers stand in so we could play the scenes with real people, and then imagine them in that position. When I was a kid, I’d line up all the dolls on the bed and deliver an overblown lecture about some meaningless thing I was interested in. It felt very much like those days.

Eger: I heard that IRC went so far that your designer actually had a casting call for the chairs. Is that true, or only a piece of surreal theater rumor?

Brock: Yes, it’s true. Set designer Lisi Stoessel actually had a casting call for the chairs in the show. We selected the ones that conjured types of people, and then attached an imaginary person to the chair. Since the audience members only see the chairs on stage, it’s important they leave an indelible mark—that they become the people. Ionesco wrote that the proliferation of objects was a powerful theatrical tool. This concept works to maximum effect in THE CHAIRS.

Eger: Ionesco introduces a living orator on stage, but, unbeknownst to the audience, makes him deaf and mute. How did you handle this complex situation?

Brock: It’s important that the Orator understands what he is trying to say and communicate that with all his will. He doesn’t anticipate that he will not be understood, so Tomas Dura must play the importance of delivering the Old Man’s message with as much clarity and stakes as he can.

Eger: What do you see as the overall theme in Ionesco’s plays, and in THE CHAIRS in particular?

Brock: Ionesco’s ongoing theme in his works—about how language, both written and spoken, can be a faulty tool for communicating real meaning—is evidenced in this play in many ways. The meaning between two people in a conversation is largely shared through the emotional content in the conversation—the nonverbal responses and the tone of the conversation. Ironically, the emotional communication in the play is easier to latch onto as a through line, since there is fairly universal understanding of what those emotions are.

Eger: Tell us more about the use of emotion versus the analytical in this play?

Brock: As long as we are clear in our delivery, the audience will be able to follow what we are feeling about the moments—one reason you can see this play performed in any language and understand what is transpiring. These characters don’t spend a lot of time analyzing their thoughts or situations—they simply feel a certain way and they act on that feeling. Ionesco uses some fun examples in THE CHAIRS of the potential banality of cocktail party conversations, the breaking down of communication, which seems particularly appropriate in this time.

Eger: Sexuality is no longer as big a taboo in the US as death and suicide, especially in a society that constantly pushes permanent “improvement and growth”—not allowing anyone to leave this life of their own volition, including aging couples in their suicide attempts. How do you interpret this complex situation in THE CHAIRS?

Brock: There is a lovely story in the play of the woman convincing the man that his message is important, and that “he has no right to keep his message from the universe.” I love this aspect of the play—that we have a duty to use our talents, to share them with the world, to teach others, and to live as a clean burning engine if you will—that we have

gifts that want to be revealed to the world, and that it’s our own egos getting in the way of stopping ourselves from following the path.

Eger: Could you give an example?

Brock: Sure. It’s a hilarious turn that once the Old Man decides he will share his message that he then doesn’t have the confidence to tell his own story and hires a surrogate. The Old Woman then becomes very afraid of the thing she set into motion—that what she wished for complicated their very simple humble existence.

The old couple reach this conclusion in the play—that their stories have been told, that they have achieved their goals, and that they can now depart in good conscience. What’s disturbing is that Ionesco entrusted this important message to a character who wasn’t able to articulate it well.

Eger: Ionesco wrote how all-important the ending of his play was, even though it’s the exact opposite of a tangible conclusion, when he wrote, “The last decisive moment of the play should be the expression of . . . absence.”

Brock: Ionesco gives clear instruction on the final sound cue, aided in large part by a set filled with empty chairs and haze—breeze blowing.

Eger: Could you share some hilarious moments with us that occurred during your rehearsals?

Brock: Hardly hilarious, but appropriately ridiculous. I developed shingles early in rehearsal. Imagine trying to cart around 50 chairs on stage in two and a half minutes with crazy nerve-ending pain. It’s not a situation that clears itself quickly. We’re laughing now, though it wasn’t too funny at the time.

And every night there’s the show going on backstage—a very small space, which stores all the chairs: our chair wrangler, Sam Eli, and the Orator, Tomas Dura, and I, all tripping over one another to get every single chair on stage in a very short time.  A classic Three Stooges Routine every night. Seriously, we are going to tape it, it’s so ridiculous.

Eger: What have you planned for IRC, Philadelphia’s surreal theater, for the 2016 fall and winter season?

Brock: David Ives’ Lives of the Saints at L’Etage in November, and Jean Giraudoux’s The Enchanted at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5 in February 2017.

Eger: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Brock: It’s frustrating that Ionesco gets characterized as “silly” by some people. His dramas are anything but—particularly in this day and age. Thank you for your thoughtful interview—you’re a toughie. I appreciate your probing questions as THE CHAIRS is not only a hilarious, but a thought-provoking play.

Eger: Tina, the real toughie is the artistic director with shingles who, after auditioning chairs as if they were actors, then, with the help of cast members, schlepped around all 50 chairs—in rehearsal after rehearsal.

[Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street] September 6 –25, 2016; fringearts.com/eugene-ionesco-chairs.

Phindie.com: 

Inspecting the Circus Sideshow of Government: IRC director Tina Brock talks Gogol

February 8, 2016
by Henrik Eger

The characters in Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector lack love and sympathy for others. It’s this absence of empathy among members of the ruling class and their irresponsibility, corruption, and unwillingness to take positive action which led to protests by Russian conservatives in the reactionary press when it was first produced.

Gogol had become famous through his short stories. He abandoned his first few plays, fearing censorship of the ruling class. In 1835, he asked his friend Pushkin to send him an idea of something very Russian that Gogol wanted to turn into a satirical play. “My hand is itching to write a comedy. . . . Give me a subject and I’ll knock off a comedy in five acts — I promise, funnier than hell. For God’s sake, do it. My mind and stomach are both famished.”

In this two-part interview, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC) director Tina Brock shares facts and her insights on Gogol’s unique showcase of despicable government officials.


Henrik Eger: Tell us a bit about the philosophy of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium [IRC], Philadelphia’s popular theater of the surreal, and how it relates to The Government Inspector by Gogol.


Tina Brock: The IRC mission statement reads, “producing and presenting plays that explore and illuminate the human purpose . . .”—with an emphasis on examining our spiritual connection to the world, and those we have relationships with, and how our philosophies, beliefs, and ideals influence the decisions we make. Particularly in Inspector, the ways in which we jump to conclusions about people, make assumptions without the benefit of enough information, and how those judgements may have disastrous consequences, spreading like a wildfire into the community.

Eger: As the IRC director, what intrigued you about Gogol’s The Government Inspector?

Brock: These questions prompted me to tackle this play: Why do we fail to ask enough questions of people in lieu of or in addition to accepting the stories they tell of themselves? It seems it takes much longer to come to know a person’s character given social media. Inspector was written nearly 200 years ago, when the delivery of a letter bearing crucial news took days to arrive. Perhaps people were so excited to receive news, the idea of questioning the messenger was secondary to the event of receiving. Today, information is exchanged so rapidly, it seems the task of stopping to think about the message, the messenger, and the context has been lost by the wayside. With ever more paths of information with many messengers in the mix, taking time to raise pointed questions when necessary is a necessity in order to try and make sense of it all.

The investment of time in getting to know people long enough to see their behaviors over the course of time, to experience and watch the decisions that shape their character, and to allow the chance to evaluate content in addition to presentation is a task that takes time. When fear enters into the equation, when people in positions of power become afraid of losing their interests, then anxiety fuels the proceedings and the act of questioning, contemplating, and verifying before passing along the fear baton is lost. Farce ensues and we’re off and running in an absurd situation. We see it every day.

The Inspector plot centers on two town gossips, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, who spend all of their time traveling from the Inn to the Market where they sell the meat pies and French Brandy Kegs, excited about the latest piece of information they can pass along to the townspeople. They make it an art to be the first to have the information and squabble over who is the first to deliver, who can get the details right when telling the story. They push each other to be first to share the news. It is based on Bobchinsky’s observations that the new young man in town, Khlestakov, is indeed the government inspector, based on some shaky observations. The townspeople buy his gossip, don’t ask a single question, and the wildfire has been ignited.

Eger: Given IRC’s philosophy, how easy or difficult is it to find plays that are truly surreal and yet speak to us in our own time?

Brock: It’s easy to find works that speak to the existential dilemma of reconciling man’s desire to be omnipotent, with the fact that we have limited time to find our purpose and to create meaning in what we do. Playwrights Ionesco and Beckett address the existential crisis head on, allowing the audience to rest in the crisis through feeling, requiring you to submerge in the angst and also, hopefully, the humor.

Eger: You have consistently featured international playwrights, this time Gogol, a Russian Ukrainian. What made his work stand out for you?

Brock: His writing is hilarious. He has a beautiful understanding of human behavior and how our fears drive us to extreme circumstances and how chaos results. Gogol asks that we jump on the locomotive, hold on tight, and go along for the ride, realizing the preposterous chain of events that a simple set of assumptions can ignite. The difference in Gogol’s work from the later absurdist authors is that we don’t light on that existential feeling during the course of the play as we do in Beckett or Ionesco; rather, we expose the folly and the ridiculous situations that create the farce.

The existential questions raised in plays by absurdist authors are particularly potent and resonating with audiences, they are timeless. Perhaps because world events are so hard to fathom, atrocities so great, audiences seem keenly interested in looking inside, celebrating and examining those questions: how can I bring more meaning to what I do? How do my choices affect those around me? So there’s the personal aspect, the looking inside and asking how we can contribute in a more meaningful way, and there’s the system outside ourselves and how we affect that process. The political system has become a circus side show. How do our differences in politics and beliefs lead to such disastrous consequences, and how much healing might happen if people were to take the time to have a conversation and listen with the intent of understanding, not judging, and hold each other and our leaders accountable without being branded troublemakers. As Ionesco said, “It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

Eger: We are going into the presidential election this year with a lot of angry people: Republicans who believe that it’s all the fault of “the government,” while Democrats tend to blame the greed and corruption of the corporate world. How do you connect your production of The Government Inspector to these deeply seated fears in the US?

Brock: People are angry because their voices aren’t being heard. They are tired of being marginalized, tired of being told they don’t know what they are talking about, and they don’t have the intelligence or understanding to propose solutions to simple and complex problems. We are all people. We live, work, eat, play, have ideas how to solve life’s dilemmas—and try to solve problems. You don’t have to be a specialist in any discipline to propose a solution or be in charge of change. People need to ask questions and leaders need to provide answers or admit they don’t know the answer. And we need to get over the social stigma that can go along with demanding straight clear answers and accountability. It’s the accountability piece that’s very distressing. Certain people in society, because of rank, privilege, and order, have an automatic hall pass to do whatever they please in the name of advancing their particular agenda.

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