Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Suzuki & Viewpoints Workshop with Cia dos Atores, Brazil

Viewpoints & Suzuki Method Workshop
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nov. 3, 4, 5, 6

2:00pm - 7:00pm (14h - 19h)
Tel 22424176

This extensive workshop in both the Suzuki Method and the Viewpoints will be led by American actor Donnie Mather. This workshop is presented by Cia dos Atores, one of the most exciting Brazilian theatre companies working today. For more info, visit

Viewpoints & Suzuki in Brazil

On October 29 - 31, Donnie Mather will present an introductory workshop in both the Viewpoints and the Suzuki Method for Actors in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This international conference on theatre training is sponsored by UNIRIO and also includes a special presentation by the originator of the SIX VIEWPOINTS by American choreographer and teacher Mary Overlie.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review of KADDISH (or The Key in the Window)

"Mather conveys masterfully in his notes-free presentation. Frankly, he's mesmerizing to watch, and director Kim Weild, sensing that a young, plaintive Ginsberg is more powerful than the bearded guru as which most remember him, keeps the focus on Mather at all times. Beat fans will sit still and wonder, but those unfamiliar with Ginsberg's work will find in its melodic strains the ring of the universal." - Ellen Wernecke, EDGE (Boston)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hope College Tour

Touring this week
Hope College
Holland, Michigan
For more info:

Revisiting A SHOW OF FORCE

In his play SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, John Guare asked "How do we fit what happened to us into life without turning it into an anecdote with no was an experience. How do we keep the experience?"

That question echoed in my head on the day of September 11, 2001. It especially resonated for me on the following day when the media quickly assisgned a name to the tragic events: "9/11". When I first heard "9/11" uttered on the news, it gave me the shivers. It felt insulting to attempt to summarize the myriad of emotions and experiences with what only sounded like middle school chat room talk. Its self-aware cleverness seemed entirely inappropriate. Again, I thought of Guare's description of "an anecdote with no teeth and a punch line you'll mouth over and over for years to come...And we become these human juke boxes spilling out these anecdotes."

Of course, Guare was talking about an entirely different set of circumstances, and yet the words of that play haunted me while living in a city whose breath had just been knocked out. It was clear to me that someone else could call it "9/11", but not those of us who lived here and experienced it or saw it with our own eyes. How could we refer to it merely as a soundbite? It was an experience. How do we keep the experience?

The twenty-four hour news cycle's job is to reduce the complicated events of the world for easy consumption, but this was an event very hard to swallow. An artist's job, it seems, is to do the opposite and to open up and dismantle even the most mundane events of human existence in an effort to uncover meaning. I felt a profound need to respond as an artist as well as a citizen to find expression in my chosen medium. Yet, the impulse frightened me. I did not wish to diminish the complicated feelings of that unimaginable tragedy with the artistic equivalent of an anecdote "with no teeth". And so I postponed my work for at least 2 years. In that time, I found my way into a project that as my mentor Anne Bogart often says "looks a little left of the sun" in order to find the light of truth. My focus shifted away from the singularity of that day's tragedy and towards the moral crisis that our society found itself in afterwards as we were running up to war.

It is almost impossible now to remember properly what that following year was like in terms of the lack of dialogue about how to mourn, how to act, how to react. It became increasingly personal for me as I had family members enlisted who would eventually be put in harm's way. The question at hand seemed to be when is the time to put our loved one's in harm's way? Is there ever a time to take up arms and go to war? I dared to ask the question when is the ideal time to go to war?

This shift and clarity of focus led me to two years of collecting text that sought to answer one of the largest of our society's moral questions. My research included interviewing a variety of citizens, assigning essays to high school students, spending hours plowing through books, and reading numerous entries on the Internet. It was a wonderfully enlightening experience. Personally, I was most interested in uncovering viewpoints that were not my own. I desired to understand and to discover. I followed only one rule in this search: do not use any text that used the words 9/11, World Trade Center, Iraq, Bush, or Al Qaeda. While nearly impossible to do when interviewing people, it was clear that these references were so loaded with emotions and politics that it would distract from the central focus which was to look at war on the macro level, to pull back the lens in a broader sense.

The historian and WWII veteran Howard Zinn wrote "It is important to remember that wars look good to many people in the beginning because something terrible has been done, and people feel that something must be done in retaliation. Only later does the thinking and questioning begin." It is tempting to argue over specific conflicts and individual wars as to which was worthwhile or "just". In doing so, we escape the larger question at hand. Almost immediately in my research, a new question reared its head and that was do we learn from the past? Great thinkers and great spiritual leaders of our times have offered their varied wisdom. We claim their wisdom as our own but have an uncanny ability to ignore it when in crisis. That fascinated me. I asked myself how much of what we learn affects our actions or our choices when we are faced with the emotional reality of sending citizens to die for a greater good?

And so A SHOW OF FORCE was created--a play that truthfully was born from the terrible events of September 11, but ultimately is not about the events of "9/11".

Walt Whitman wrote "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am Large. I contain Multitudes". This notion seemed aptly true for this project. The questions provoked contradictory truths and this revelation led to the structure of the play which would become a solo performance. Up to that point in time, I had been working with a number of strong ensemble theatre companies. My training and experience was largely based on that type of collaboration. However,I began to envision a play with a single character who would embody the very crisis of these contradictory notions, philosophies, and politics. To contain this in one person, to realize that all of this exists in us is quite disturbing. The character reminded me of how I thought of America: ever-evolving and changing. America is after all an idea and one that is constantly tested. At times in our country's history, these tests have been violent or have been welcomed. The challenge was to use the words that make up our collective unconscious and to find a physical environment for which they could live and breathe. I owe a great debt to director Leon Ingulsrud and my designers Darron West, Brian Scott, and Emily Wright for shaping the final structure of A SHOW OF FORCE. This one person show was anything but a single person's effort.

Now, it has been 3 years since our premiere. In that time, our life and the context of our world has drastically changed. As we prepare for our upcoming tour, I am mindful of how differently the play resonates. It is both exciting and disturbing. This question of do we learn from the past seems more vital than ever. How do we "keep the experience" of our recent past and allow it to shape our choices for the future?

To be in the room together with an audience and allow these large questions to loom, is thrilling and daunting. As my director Leon Ingulsrud wrote, we hope that "in the ecumenical space of theatre, A SHOW OF FORCE provides a context in which to meditate on war".

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Discount on Advance Tickets


$10 for Advance Orders thru Labor Day (30% Discount)

ONLY 6 Performances
Sept. 23 - 27, 2009

Hudson Guild Theatre
441 West 26th Street New York, NY

"Utterly captivating...The piece combines text and movement so creatively that I couldn't take my eyes or ears off it even for a second." -

Directed by Leon Ingulsrud
Scenic & Lighting Design by Brian H Scott
Sound Design by Darron L West & Emily Wright

Is there such a thing as a just war? Do we learn from the past? These questions are wrestled by performer Donnie Mather and Director Leon Ingulsrud. Based on found text including Wilfred Owen, Howard Zinn, Shakespeare, Chris Hedges, Mister Rogers, Malcolm X, Mark Twain, Sun Tzu, and the song and dance of the 1940's. The play is one man's moral crisis as well as a trip through our collective unconscious. An Everyman examines all he has learned in search of uneasy answers. The character is a lot like America: young, passionate, divided and full of contradictions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reviews for "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)"

KADDISH (or The Key in the Window)
"Vibrates with invocatory power" - Village Voice

"Mather clearly relates to the material. He speaks with a clear voice that conveys the understanding of a man suffering the loss of a loved one. He also created effective images to support the emotional nuances of those words . . . I found Mather and director Kim Weilds cautious approach an honest one." -

"[Mather's] representation of Naomi (Ginsberg's mother) in the later, calmer years of her insanity--when paranoic visions of anti-Communist spies gave way to tales of cooking lentil soup for God--is simple and touching." --Village Voice
"Mather's precise, contained performance allows the words to be heard in their beauty, fervor and acerbic tone. His performance as Ginsberg's mother is the most memorable-behind a suitcase of pills, her voice coming from a stockinged hand puppet...Sophisticated images are timed to project on a window upstage, allowing a lovely counterbalance to the text."
- Curtainup (Zapol)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Working on Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish"

"Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg is an unrelenting expression of grief in poetic narrative written mostly in a marathon 36 hour session fueled by uppers and coffee. In adapting this monolithic text, many humbling questions spring to mind.
How does one capture the original energy behind this seminal exertion of poetry?
How does one bring himself to such specific personal experience?
What is the theatrical equivalent to the non-linear recollection of thoughts, memories, and nightmares that search for peace and grace?
The poem is largely the story of Naomi Ginsberg, Allen's mother. Naomi's journey began with her immigration as a child from Russia to make a new life in New Jersey where she battled mental illness in adulthood--and ended with a stroke while committed to a mental institution on Long Island. Allen signed for her eventual lobotomy that most likely led to her untimely stroke. Previously, Allen had written notes for years in his journals including false starts of poems about his relationship with Naomi. But, it was the finality of her death that was the catalyst for "Kaddish".
The beauty of the poem is in the words. I love poetry. I love poetic theatre. I first read "Kaddish" a dozen years ago. As I did, the words began to leap off the page for me begging to be given physical form. Later, I learned through my years of research that I was not alone in this instinct to adapt "Kaddish". In the early 1960's, photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank asked Ginsberg to adapt his poem into a screenplay which he did. Although never produced, the Chelsea Theater Center in 1971 adapted the screenplay into a multi-media, multi-character play which was produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and directed by Robert Kalfin. Another production was translated into Hebrew and produced by the National Theatre of Israel in the 1970's. In 1988, the Eye & Ear Theatre Company in New York also adapted the poem incorporating many elements from the screenplay as well.
It is after all a dramatic story, but not an easy one to tell. It is a challenge for any artist to relish and one that must be met directly. "Kaddish" is raw and vulnerable and stands in stark contrast to that other seminal Ginsberg poem "Howl". When Naomi passed, Ginsberg was a rising star. "Howl" was published the year before Naomi's death and the ensuing censorship controversies put Ginsberg into the national spotlight as a new and important face of the Beat Generation. The authority in that captivating literary voice contrasted the voice heard in "Kaddish" which was fueled by Ginsberg's own personal demons--his conflicting thoughts about his sexuality at the time, the horrific childhood memories caring for his mother effectively reversing the mother and child relationship, his ambivalence towards his cultural and religious background, and a hint at a new direction for his own spiritual journey.
The title of course comes from the Jewish prayer for the dead. It is an exaltation of God that one speaks at a time of loss particularly that of a parent. It is also an ancient prayer and is written not in Hebrew but in the older Aramaic. When one says Kaddish, one is speaking the words of every person that has ever lost a loved one since the time that prayer was first uttered. It is full of history and conjures the spirits of ancestors inviting them into a communal and public experience. For me, these are basic ingredients of theatre. It is a place that is ancient in tradition, that is both public and private, that is cathartic in experience.
The Kaddish prayer was never said for Naomi. Not because the Ginsberg's were not practicing Jews, but because as a fluke a minyan of 10 men were not present to speak it which is required at a funeral. Allen was not a practicing Jew and was only beginning to investigate the Eastern philosophies. However at this time of familial loss, it is interesting that Allen looked towards his own culture and history. Indeed, it is a conflicted relationship which is why the poem is so terribly compelling and dramatic.
We are presenting the first two sections of Ginsberg's poem (the Proem and the Narrative). Both of which were written under "all day attention" as Allen called it. This was a device that he frequently employed stemming from his belief in "first thought, best thought". Ginsberg is certainly not without structure and he knew how to set up circumstances that would allow him to create lasting works of art. In other words, to get out of his own way.
My theatrical background comes from a strong training in the Viewpoints and the Suzuki Method of Actor Training. These techniques provide a structure for an artist to train basic issues for all performers. A great deal of improvisation is involved particularly in the Viewpoints, that strive to get actors out of their own way as well. This gives artists the ability to create work quickly without sacrificing specificity. For me, this connected to Ginsberg's own unofficial methodology of writing which is less random and anarchic as it might sound at first to the ear. Ginsberg's rapid fire production of language does not come without years of meditation. On the contrary, it includes years of history and preparation that finally allow the inspiration to flow freely. It has a lot to do with timing and circumstances. A delicate balance, to be sure.
Twelve years ago when I first read "Kaddish", I was not ready to make this piece. The idea needed to gestate and I needed to grow. I needed to experience my own loss as we all do in our life. I needed something of my own to bring to the table.

In truth, "Kaddish" was not written as a play. However, it is my belief that theatre is a journey and often a poetic one at that. Allen's father Louis who was also a poet in his own right once said to Allen "there are many mansions in the House of Poetry". I believe there are many mansions in the House of Theatre as well. I believe in Theatre as a space to take an audience on a journey. Sometimes the journey is entirely about a great plot, or of a theme, or of characters in conflict, or of an emotion. But whatever the focus, the experience is that of a journey nevertheless.

In our current adaptation entitled "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)", we have had a truncated process. While not as brief as the 36 hours Ginsberg took to compose the original text, our process is extremely limited in the world of theatre. Working with a talented team that includes director Kim Weild, sound designer Darron L West, scenic designer Nick Vaughan, lighting designer Brian H Scott, projection designer C. Andrew Bauer, and costume designer Terese Wadden--we have been inspired by what Allen remarked as "years of preparation but only seconds to execute". In only 14 rehearsals, we have had to work fast on our feet. Trusting our hearts. Listening to the room. Allowing all the gestating ideas to unfold freely.
Unlike the previous theatrical adaptations, ours puts "Kaddish" back into the heart and mind of a solo character. It is after all one man's story from one man's point of view--a dark night of the soul and an exorcism of memory. I have decided also to stay true to the original text devoid of major edits allowing Ginsberg's words to stand on their own. They are vivid, dense, and powerful. My collaborators and I hope to create a physical environment that can stand up to it.
For me, it is a dream collaboration.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Check out this brief interview on NYTHEATRE.COM.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New York Fringe Festival

(or The Key in the Window)
Created & Performed by Donnie Mather
Text by Allen Ginsberg
Directed by Kim Weild
Coming this August!
For details visit

Monday, March 2, 2009

2009 Upcoming Works

an ensemble dance/theatre piece
Conceived & Directed by Donnie Mather
Based on the music from the album "Rising" by Yoko Ono/IMA

a multi-media solo performance
Based on the poem "Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg

Stay tuned for the New York return of