Declaring Ourselves

For a long time at Whistler, we have had a very strong tradition of collaborative, ensemble-driven discovery in the rehearsal hall. And since our inception we have been of the belief that this work must continue through opening and to the end of the run of a show – because theatre’s alchemy is activated by the presence of an audience, and the discoveries pile up once we are working not just with ourselves by with our audience as well.

Recently, we decided that it was time declare ourselves – to find a way to articulate both what we believe and how we want to work. We have come up with the following. These are both descriptions of our current process and also what we aspire to.


“An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.”

“Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” ~ Adrienne Rich
(from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978)

We believe in an honorable theatre.

We believe that theatre is necessary to the soul.

We believe that collaboration is hard, uncomfortable and vital. We believe that the discomfort generates friction which can generate pearls.

We believe that the act of sharing a play enriches both the actors and the audience. But we believe that act must not be too easy – it is through the act of wrestling with a play that we come to understand it best.

We believe when we create theatre, we must start from a place of love. We believe that love is a state of anarchy, where ideas and beliefs can ricochet through the space and be met by “yes.” We believe that “yes” cannot always be the answer, but that to assume that it will not be shuts down the collaborative art.

We believe that our audience is smarter than we think they are – and hungry for us to ask them to use their minds as well as their hearts. We believe it is, as Howard Barker writes, both an honor and an obligation to challenge the audience.

We believe that it is also an honor and an obligation to challenge ourselves – we are capable of more than we would think.

We believe that theatre can go after the heart and the brain through the whole body – that finding the most beautiful stage picture for a moment, whether it makes coherent intellectual sense or not can be as satisfying to an audience as the most beautifully delivered soliloquy. We believe that finding those moments that make emotional rather than rational sense is critical to the creation of a moving piece of theatre.

We believe that there will never be enough money and that no matter how much time we allow, we will always feel that we could have used more. We believe that the very feeling of scarcity created by those truths leads up to more ingenious creations. Therefore, we believe that we should never excuse our work by saying “if only we’d had more time, more money, more ___”.

We believe that our work can continue to grow after it has seen its first, tenth, hundredth audience – we believe if we are not constantly trying to explore and explode the work, we should not be involved in live performance. we believe in the alchemy between the audience and the performers and we believe that this alchemy can transform a play.

“… all law is bad because every law acknowledges that there is a breakdown of love…. The ideal state is anarchy with love, but as we do not live in a complete state of love … we introduce laws….

“What I have learnt in that theatre is that … when it’s going very well [it] needs very few laws. You don’t need to tell them where to stand, you need to make sure that they know what’s happening in the scene, and then wonderful things will happen out of that scene because none of us have overburdened it with laws. If there’s a good atmosphere of love between them, and by love I don’t mean anything that’s romantic, I mean a professional love that’s based on respect, then you need to impose very few laws on it.”

Declan Donnellan, Cheek by Jowl

Delgado, Maria M, and Paul Heritage. In Contact with the Gods?: Directors Talk Theatre. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996. Print.


  • We agree that we respect each other as artists and as people. We agree to show that respect in word and action.
  • We agree to respect the safety of the artists and the audience. We agree to take care of each other.
  • We agree to create a unique theatrical experience for each show we produce – in doing so, we will push our own limits to keep exploring the unknown.
  • We agree that the work begins once we can free ourselves from the page. To that end, we agree to enter each rehearsal process as off-book as possible.
  • We agree not to say “no”. Or, to put it another way, we agree to consider anything. Not only do we agree to consider anything, we agree to fully invest in the choices we consider.
  • We agree that the exploration of each project continues through and beyond closing night. To that end, we agree to continue working collaboratively on each project throughout the performance run.
  • We agree to honor the audience by asking them to work along with us.
  • We agree to discuss our differences directly with each other in private. To that end, we agree to speak up when something is wrong.
  • We agree that we cannot do it alone. We agree that we need each other.
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A love letter to Caryl Churchill

A running meme in Whistler rehearsals has been the “Letters to the Playwright” section of our evenings: whenever we hit a particularly tricky section of a play, or a scene that we wrestle with more than usual or a piece of blocking business that none of us can figure out, one of us will stop, look to the heavens, and dictate our letter to the playwright:

whistler1“Dear Tom,” we will say, “could you perhaps have provided a diagram of what you wanted the set for Dogg’s Hamlet to look like that you required 4 planks, 12 blocks, 7 slabs and 14 cubes? Kisses, the Whistlers.”

Over the past few years, we’ve written these letters to Tom Stoppard, Howard Barker, Snoo Wilson, Wallace Shawn, Naomi Wallace and Biljana Srbljanovic, to name a few. Sometimes, these letters are courteous. Sometimes they are…well…let’s just say “aggressive”.

Since I wasn’t in the rehearsal hall every day for our rehearsals for Vinegar Tom, I didn’t get a chance to be part of whatever letters the company happened to write to her. So, here is a little letter of my own.

Dear Caryl,

Thank you for the lovely day – you might not be aware of it, but we’ve been together all day. I started my morning with a four-hour rehearsal for our staged reading of Mad Forest, followed by the performance of the same. And now I’m house managing for our evening production of Vinegar Tom.

First: Mad Forest. It’s a play I’ve loved for a long time (it was actually the first production I saw at Middlebury College, when I was a freshman in 1997) but my love for it has always been mixed with a kind of terror of how hard it is. I mean, for Pete’s sake, Act III, scene 8 requires five pages of diagrams just to understand how the over-lapping works. Five pages.

But we started this tradition 3 years ago here at Whistler: at some point in our season, we take a show that we love, that we can’t imagine not diving into and exploring, but that we are absolutely terrified of, and we stage a reading of it the year before we actually produce it so that the director can learn more about it, and can grow with the play through the help of an amazingly brave cast. First it was Vampire, then The Europeans, then last year it was Vinegar Tom – and this year it was Mad Forest, a play about Romania.

(I think it is telling that for the past two years, it has been scripts of yours that we both love and fear in equal parts.)

I value so much how much you demand of participants in your plays – not just the actors (5 pages of diagrams of overlapping scenes) but also your audience (5 pages of diagrams of overlapping scenes followed by 5 minutes of un-translated Romanian dialog). During today’s reading, I enjoyed watching our audience (veterans all of Tom Stoppard and Snoo Wilson and Howard Barker) pull themselves as far forward in their chairs as they could to anchor themselves in the play. I think this might be the hardest thing we’ve ever asked of them. Harder even than Fen

It’s always been part of our mission to ask a lot of our audiences – in fact, there’s a line from Howard Barker’s The Europeans that sums up our view on this pretty well. Starhemberg, when questioned about the kind of art he wants to exist replies:

“What I need. And what there will be. I need an art which will recall pain. The art that will be will be all flourishes and celebration. I need an art that will plummet through the floor of consciousness and free the unborn self. The art that will be will be extravagant and dazzling. I need an art that will shatter the mirrors in which we pose. … I ask a lot. The new art will ask nothing.” (Barker 100).

I ask a lot. And Whistler asks a lot. We’ve never been disappointed in our audiences, who always rise to the challenge of the plays we produce – and who always push right back at those plays. But working on your plays is a whole different kind of work-out. Brain, heart and soul – all of them get pushed to their limits.

So this is a thank-you. For Mad Forest, which broke my heart today, and for Vinegar Tom, which is challenging our audiences every night, and for Fen. And for teaching me to be a better director. And my actors to be better actors.

Thank you.



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Ovid and Astrology

Emerson senior Dan Robert has been working with us as a Creative Producer in Training, and has been watching a lot of our rehearsals. Triggered by the elemental nature of the myths, he became interested in the astrological connections…

Renee_20I immediately noticed the text to be deeply imagistic, bursting from start to finish with sharp language describing the fundamental qualities of Air, Earth, Fire and Water. Constellations form in mid-air; actors dangle from icy-blue silks in the playing space. … An astro-hobbyist myself, I immediately saw an opportunity to call upon the help of a dear mentor and friend of mine, the fabulous Lisa Rowe-Beddoe: a local actress, educator and fellow mythology/astrology enthusiast. Asking for their birth dates, times and locations, Lisa and I took a look at how the company’s astrological compositions might inform and parallel their work on Ovid.

Read the full article here.

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Interview with Aimee Rose Ranger

Over on the ArtsEmerson blog, Emerson senior Dan Robert interviews Aimee Rose Ranger (Emerson alum) about her work with Whistler, and what it’s like to be working in Boston.

AimeeRoseRangerDR: Post-Emerson you began working in the Boston fringe theatre. How would you describe that scene?

ARR: It mirrors Boston itself – it feels really small and then all of the sudden it feels really big. There are a lot of theatre companies doing different kinds of work, but then aside from the Fringe community that’s connected to StageSource there’s this whole other world of devised work and that’s weirdly separate from the ‘plays’ theater scene. I’m an artist interested in seeing where those intersect. … It’s crazy to me that there’s the slam poetry world, the music world, and the theatre world that’s plays, and then the theatre world that’s experimental—Burlesque, gender exploration, devised—and it’s all rather divided.

Read the full blog here.

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Interview with Meg Taintor

Over on the ArtsEmerson blog, Emerson senior Alex Ates has interviewed Meg about directing with Whistler. His article also talks about our residency at Emerson College from a student’s point of view:

photo-2-300x238“Meg Taintor, director of Whistler in the Dark’s Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid, is a different kind of artistic leader. Having had the privilege of observing the rehearsal process (a privilege that Taintor made available to all Emerson College students), it was exhilarating to witness different style of rehearsal process for a different style of show.  As director of the Whistler ensemble, she must encourage creativity, keep lines of communication open, and lead a collaborative process in which actors perform dangerous silk-stunts. All of this in addition to managing the production’s transition from the world of fringe theatre to ArtsEmerson.”

Read the full article here.

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Interview with Mac Young

Check out this great interview with Mac Young over on the ArtsEmerson blog!

photo-1-224x300“Dan Robert, Emerson College BA Theatre Studies: Acting ’13 and Creative Producer in Training for ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage, sat down for a chat with Mac Young, a spunky-sweet Whistler in the Dark ensemble member and local fringe actor, director, scenic designer and technician. Check out a slice of their nearly two hour-long conversation on local theatre,  post-college work and the desire to collaborate in this interview profile.”

Read the full interview here.

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Listen to the TALES FROM OVID podcast!

We’d like to direct your attention to some of the great blogging going on at ArtsEmerson about Tales from Ovid and our residency. In the next few weeks, blogs will be appearing with interviews by students with the Whistlers, as well as supplemental research about the myths that make up the production.

Start this week by listening the Tales from Ovid podcast: David Dower, ArtsEmerson’s Director of Artistic Programs, chats with Whistler in the Dark’s Artistic Director Meg Taintor and Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid’s aerial silks consultant Jill Maio.

Check it out here.

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