Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blogging Demographics

Every now and then I think my blogging might be totally pointless. I only read a few other blogs myself with any consistency blog.amandapalmer.net, johnaugust.com and betsylerner.com. (I read John Adam's Hellmouth Blog as well, but he's pretty inconsistent.) Both are very specific in design. Amanda's is filled with the delightful rantings from the singer/songwriter. John's is a screenwriter's blog for useful information written by a successful and generous screenwriter. And Betsy's is by a book agent who's also a published author known for her candor and her slightly insane and filthy way of writing. Betsy's blog is always short and ends with a question to which she averages 50 responses. Often from the same people. A community has developed from that. John's blog seems to have a much bigger readership and while he doesn't end each blog with a question. Tons of people chime in, often to say thanks for him being such a great and open guy. John spotlights the up and comers whether or not they're successful yet. So people get what it's like in the trenches on your way up, not just from his successful vantage point. Betsy writes bi-polar screeds which  have such painful autobiographical truths you feel like she's stripping and showing you her scars. And the women who read her faithfully love her for it. LOVE HER.
But I didn't really know what else is out there, so I decided to try the "NEXT BLOG" feature on the top of my own blog to see what it sent me to - like a blogger's ChatRoulette. If it's representative of what's out there, here are my results: 70% of blogs are Christian in nature. 10% young people blasting every random thing about their lives. 10% person travel blogs and 10% about fantasty online gaming.
In 2008, Technorati found 112.8 million blogs. According to http://socialmediatoday.com/SMC/204370 as of 2010 it's almost 50/50 men and women blogging. 50% are 21-35. (So I'm in the minority there).

7 Religious Blogs

1 Girl Who Just Graduated

1 Travel Blog

1 Fantasy League Blog

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Homeless Conversation

Stealth Shot
Last week a homeless guy with a scraggly gray beard and unwashed hair past his shoulders, sat down next to me and plunked down a 12 year-old desktop PC in the Cow's End. He had an empty, high-end hanging bag under his table as well as what might have been a hot plate beneath that. He wore a track suit pants and old T-shirt. He had this conversation at full blast on a headset phone he used to call people through his computer. At first I was going to leave like the three other people who dashed as soon as he started talking/screaming into the phone. But instead I decided to consider it inspiration.  A gift from God. His conversation sounded so convoluted I assumed it was a scam, but over time his pleas sounded more real as he added clearer consistent specificity. I wanted to steal a pic of him, but he kept looking over at me as though I was intruding in the conversation he was broadcasting from literally 4 feet away. You decide if it was a scam: "Hello? Hi. Um. Yeah. So, last Sunday I was at the movie theatre and when I went to the bathroom I tried to put my wallet in my pocket and I think I missed. You know I had my swimsuit under my warmups. I missed my pocket and it fell down my pantleg. I think there was a guy who followed me in there. When I was leaving I looked back I saw a guy with a wallet in his hands.  I think I dropped it on the ground and they picked it up. [He's asked a question and he looks something up online.]  It looks like it might have been on Glencoe and Maxwell. [I know the theatre. He gets a number of the local police. He calls again and tells the same story. With this new addition] 
Here's my guy leaving with his computer in bag
"I saw this man holding it up. He had it in his hand, and I didn't realize he was trying to give it back to me. I'm not saying he stole it. But I think he took it. At the time I didn't realize it was my wallet, but now I realize it was. I didn't understand what he wanted. So I left. [listens] No, I didn't. [listens] Well, then I guess he stole it. I don't know. [listens] I'm 5'10" 180lbs. Date of birth? 9/29/60. Texas. I'm disabled....It was after The Smurfs in 3-D. 6:45pm. [listens] Yes. My ID, Social Security. My foodstamp card. $40 AmexGift Pre-paid Certificate. Dean Witter card. and my last card, Convenient Bank Texas ATM. Somewhere between 10 and $19 in cash. A ten and some ones. Maybe a 5. Any chance we can use the theatres cameras to look at that time? OK. Great. Thanks so much officer. Looking forward to seeing you out there."
I hope the dude finds his wallet. Until then, I hope he uses one of the public showers right on Venice beach. They're free you know.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Spotlight: Miranda July


Some people think she’s too precious. Some think she’s a poser. Some think she’s just insane. I think she’s the real thing. Now, she may be a bit crazy, but where’s the harm in that? Dictators and artists should both be a little nuts. It makes them unpredictable which is a real asset in both professions. (Dictating is a profession, right? What would you do if your kid said they wanted to be a dictator when they grew up? Or was that you who said that to your deeply befuddled Great Aunt?) If you haven’t heard of Miranda, you should check out her work:  website here . Make sure you use the right’ password.

I haven’t even seen it yet, but she’s just recently released her second feature film, The Future. And you should see it in the theatres ASAP if 1) You ever want to see it on the big screen and 2) If you want any other non-traditional feature films to ever be shown in theatres again. Because if Miranda can’t bring out an audience they won’t take a chance on anyone else like her in the future. (Get it?) It’s only made $333,997 in it’s first weekend and it needs to make $4,000,000 to break even and pay back it’s investors.* Is it any good? Well, it’s narrated by a dying cat (voiced by July) named “Paw Paw”. So how could that suck? Interestingly Box Office Mojo has an breakdown where 60% of audiences have given it and “A” “ and 30%  an “F”. Little in between. At least people feel strongly about her work.  
Here are the showtimes and locations for around the entire country.

I heard about Miranda back when she was doing solo performance art at 
PICA in Portland 11 years ago. (Go to their performance festival “TBA: Time Based Art” starting in two weeks if you live nearby.) Back then I was checking out places that might book me and as I followed  Rinde Eckert’s tour spots I came across this awkward, peculiar girl who made videos of her shoes talking to each other with voiceovers. To my amazement she’d been featured at the Whitney Biennial. I didn’t know how she’d gotten such attention, but I thought her work was fragile, quirky, consciously na├»ve and sweetly amusing. I didn’t quite understand why her work was in art galleries, but I guessed it was considered in the Laurie Anderson tradition who’d also done her early performances in galleries in the 70s. I couldn’t quite relate as I was a theatre cat myself even though people who’re at a loss for how to describe my work call it ‘performance art’.

And now a rant: My work is NOT PERFUCKINGFORMANCE ART. It’s theatre. Tying yourself to your lover with a rope for a year and not telling anyone why is performance art. Shooting yourself in the arm with a real bullet in front of an audience when you have HIV is performance art. I make shows. I tell stories. I sing songs. Just because it’s sometimes in a context you haven’t seen before or uses a new combination of tricks in an aesthetic you’re unfamiliar with doesn’t make it fucking performance art! I do New Performance. Usually Music Theatre. Sometimes Solo Performance. You can call it avant garde if you want to scare everyone off from going. Or you can just tell people “It’s So Fucking Cool, I can’t even describe it to you. Just go see it.” If you want to help a guy out. Assuming I do a show once again sometime in the future.

Anyway, I’ve performed a few times in Contemporary Art Institutes (actually just in Boston…twice. Go figure), but it always feels like I’m in the wrong place. Maybe smaller cities need the support from some place that has its own venue like a like a contemporary museum since small cities have so few venues who support alternative performance. 


Boston really only has Mobius and Portland I guess doesn’t even have that. Heck in LA we only really have Highways and more recently RedCat. And almost no one goes to those places. Heck most people have never even heard of RedCat even though it’s directly beneath Disney Hall and has almost a thousand Banners on light poles around the city.

Regardless, I wrote Miranda an email 10 years ago (when she had her personal email easily avail able on the net) saying I’d love to connect with her. She was cute and more successful than me, so I thought, who knows? She never wrote back.  A few years later, someone at
Sundance heard about her, invited her to the Writer’s Lab. She’d never really thought of making a feature film before then. But Sundance decided she was the thing, so they pushed her. After that lab, they invited her to the Director’s Lab, introduced her to young producer (Gina Kwon), gave her a mentor (whom she then had a serious relationship with), set them in front of investors with the Sundance imprimatur and next thing she knew, she was making a 500K HD feature Me and You and Everyone We Know.  (Watch instantly on Netflix).

That film made a shocking 8 million dollars at the box office (half domestic, half foreign). (Watch the trailer here) It was shocking not only because she was an unknown with an unknown cast starring in her first feature film as well as writing and directing it, but because the story, while not ‘avant garde’ in my mind, was untraditional enough to scare off most investors and distributors as well as baffle publicists in how best to characterize her work. Oh, she also won the Cannes Film Festival 2005 Camera d'Or. And she invented the filthy yet profound ‘emoticon’: ))<>((

Buy the shirt here
  to find out what it stands for, but you have to watch the movie to really get what it means.

The LA Weekly rightly described her as “A wide-eyed space child with a pale, pre-Raphaelite quality.” And while few people have seen her perform anything but her own screenplays or  read her poetry,
I had the pleasure of seeing her read from Spalding Gray’s published and unknown work, performed live in “Stories Left To Tell” when it came to UCLA in 2007. She mouthed Spalding’s words well. Jonathan Ames did too. I would have well if someone had asked me too, but it seems they lost my phone number with all that I’ve moved around. I spoke with her briefly after the show and she carried herself exactly as she does on screen: like a doe of a being confused to have to puppet master her twiggy human female frame.

Now  go read a lovely short story of hers right here.
And decide what you think of her for yourself.
* Why does it need to make 4million at the Box office? if you count its production budget (1 mil.) and P&A (Prints & Advertising) which I’m guessing is another 1 mil. You'd think they just need 2 million, but theatres will take on average 50% of ticket purchases. So they actually need 4 mil. Of course, they can make more money through ancillary rights like DVDs, OnDemand and IFC or HBO, but you won’t see this on too many airplanes or broadcast TV.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Free Live, Classical and New Music in California

Love classical and "New Music" but can't afford the tickets? You're in luck if you're in California. I just spent the last 4 days ushering for the inaugural Days and Nights Festival produced by Philip Glass. A new 3 week festival of New Music in Carmel Valley. Drop them a line and say you want to help out. They're still looking for some volunteers. And if you're in Los Angeles, did you know LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl has open and free rehearsals during the day? And parking is free! For instance tomorrow morning at 9:30AM I'm going to hear them do the dress rehearsal for the John Williams concert that's being performed that evening. I'm going with my girlfriend and a few other friends. Email me if you want to meet us there. And just call the box office for a list of times and dates for all the other rehearsals. (323) 850-2000. (It's usually every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30am next week and 10am the week after that, though there's also a rehearsal on the 9th & 12th) You won't find them listed online anywhere so call to make sure. It's a hidden secret so few in LA even know about. I mean, come on. Classical music has never sounded so free. Just bring a hat and some sunblock. And see you at rehearsal!

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Spotlight: The SITI Company

In 1992, the year I graduated from college, Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki started a theatre company called the Saratoga International Theatre Institute company - or as it has come to be known The SITI Co. It is one of the rare ensemble based theatres still found in the US. And the gel that keeps its company together is its training. Like a theatrical Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, Anne took The Viewpoints technique developed by modern dance choreographer Mary Overlie and combined it with theatre director Tadashi Suzuki's nearly martial arts form of theatre training. 
Suzuki (not to be confused with the musical training style) is a rigid set of exercises led by a sensei like figure in what feels like a karate class where every step you take is stomped into the ground with all the power you can muster. Viewpoints requires you enter an improvisational mode, open to receiving information from everyone and everything around you and reacting to all influences instantly. If someone sneezes, it must directly change the entire course of a Viewpoints exercise. Suzuki can be brutal, calling upon you to ignore pain in order to accomplish a routine. Sweat pours. Ankles are wrapped. People burst into tears. Viewpoints can be sensual, or spirited, calling upon you to be profoundly intimate with the people you practice with. Your mind opens and you become aware of the bolts sticking out of the wall in the back to the rehearsal space. Then by groupmind they become the focus of the entire piece. 
Suzuki is vertical - connecting you to the Earth and raising you to the heavens. Viewpoints is horizontal - connecting you with everything and everyone in this temporal plane. And the juxtaposition of the two make for a fascinating training which has nothing to with how to act. It just refines the tools you use when you act. And that's why I love training with SITI. 
I first heard about Anne in 1998 when someone who saw my show Virtual Motion asked when I'd studied with her. I had no idea what they were talking about. It seems my pursuits in choreographed new experimental opera aligned so strongly with Anne's it looked like I'd used her theatrical composition techniques to generate my show. In retrospect, my intuitive particular focus on The Viewpoints of Gesture, Repetition, Floor Plan, and Kinesthetic Response would seem like something SITI might come up with. That made me curious enough to seek out SITI and spend 2 weeks immersed with them in 1999. Then I went to NY and continued studying with them on and off through 2001. 
After all that, I believe the training, taught by all the members of the company, comprise an amazing gymnasium that trains you to be present and able. The acting part, they leave up to you and your director. And I think I was able to stay with it for so long because it didn't come with a dogmatic pedagogy. 
Anne is now the head of directing in the Theatre Department at Columbia University and she and SITI have become the premiere alternative form of theatrical study in the US. Anne has written two beautiful book about the artistic process that make me weep. And Anne writes some similarly themed blogs which are based on the premise that the arts are indispensable and for those who say you can't eat art, she would respond that actually you can - artists nourish the soul. And they do so in a world where few others besides the clergy have that awesome responsibility. She makes being an artist a noble calling. Reading her work can be simultaneously inspiring for what she believes artists mean to the world and depressing if I feel I haven't lived up to her expectations.
However, despite how much I've enjoyed her writing and training, when I've seen productions by her former students I've found the traces of Viewpoints and Suzuki so present in their work, they looked like they were constructed from elements that weren't authentic to the piece. In fact, dramaturgs had to catch up to SITI and give a name for what they and others were doing, and so the antiseptic and academic nomenclature of "Devised Theatre" was born. For a long time Anne said little on how to apply the training to one's actual projects. Recently she expressed her "frustration" about the trend of devising the staging of a piece by using The Viewpoints in rehearsal and declared "to apply this training directly to making a play is like applying a barre class to the making of a ballet." I think this is equally if not more applicable to Suzuki which is so specifically Japanese of origin, it looks particularly foreign object in any American production. 
And when the SITI Co. itself presents a work, you don't see the Suzuki onstage. Occasionally you do see The Viewpoints like in the climactic 15 minutes of Cabin Pressure (which I'd heard came directly out of a Viewpoints rehearsal and it looked like it). Not that that was a bad thing in the context. The theatre became a dance and as the piece was about not only the relationship between audience and actors, but also about the sacred space of 'Backstage', it seemed in keeping with the theme to have a rehearsal experiment become part of the finished work. My favorite moment in that particular show was with Barney O'Hanlan playing the role of a stage manager backstage. We could hear the "performance" being given off-stage while we watched Barney follow the script in near darkness. Calling off cues to his unseen board ops, he quietly paced the boards, whispering into his headset like a NASA flight controller in Houston romancing the telemetry of a mission, "...cue 35, ready... aaand... go." It was so intimate and beautiful and fragile. It felt like witnessing first love. Never have I felt anything so powerfully captured the sacred space of backstage.

And that's where SITI excels - in creating magical moments. Their weakness I'm afraid are the texts they choose to perform. Sometimes they're created by committee. Sometimes they bring in playwrights they love and work with them again and again. But too often there's a structural integrity missing to the text which is a profound imbalance when you see the extraordinary integrity in their performance. So in the end, I've only seen two shows I've seen of theirs that have dramatic integrity throughout the piece. One was bobraushenberamerica by Chuck Mee whose collage style fit the artist who inspired the piece perfectly. The other was Death and The Ploughman, a play from 1401 by Johannes Von Saaz Translated by Michael West. The bones of that old piece were so intact, SITI could weave their ornamental webs around it to profound effect.
And with that in mind, here's some really good news:
SITI is doing a rare show in Los Angeles. And it's based on an ancient Greek play The Trojan Woman adapted by Jocelyn Clark. A fine spine to that old show. Moreover it's being performed at the amphitheatre at The Getty Malibu starting September 1, 2011. I can't wait to see it. And with their growing reputation, the demand will be huge, so get your tickets now right here.


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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Slash Artist

When I was younger I was a proud slash artist. Specifically, I was a Writer/Composer/Singer/Actor/Producer/Director/Choreographer. And everyone told me I was spread thin and needed to focus. I refused. I said there was precedence for slash artists in my field. Just look at Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Rinde Eckert, Mikel Rouse and John Moron. But years later, after moving out to LA, I capitulated. I put all my energies into writing. Words. For the screen. That's it. Nothing else. I cut myself off from theatre and music and a part of me died. I considered it necessary. Part of growing up. Part of the compromise of life. And I expected that when all my resources were so finely trained in one direction, I'd make extraordinary progress quickly. Like taking a hose that branches in 5 directions and closing 4 of them. The pressure coming out of the remaining nozzle should be over-powering. Dazzling. Something to make note of. But what I've found is that I knew exactly who I was and what I was doing when I was a multi-hyphenate. And my voice was piercingly clear - to myself and to others. Now that I've winnowed down the variety of tasks before me, I feel like I've lost my identity. My style seems vague. Other people could write what I've written. Perhaps that's part of my choice to write things that I think are more commercial and will reach a wider audience than my avant garde operas of yore. But isn't it interesting that in focusing my identity I've lost my voice?
Did you ever follow what seemed to be everybody's advice and find it that it backfired?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Throwing the Monopoly Board

I'm not an inherently competitive person. I've almost always been OK if someone else wins at most all games. (Oddly, I often date surprisingly competitive women who hate losing.) Maybe my complacency toward winning started when I was recruited for the diving team when I was 9.  Even though I was terrible, they wanted me to dive. Why? I'd always get a ribbon because so few boys dove. But I never came in first. I just sucked at it. Despite that, my mere participation gave my team an extra point or two.  I was much better at tennis, but when friction began in my family, I'd choose to lose points and games because I thought it would make people happy. In addition, my dad rarely wanted to play games. The emphasis was always on technique - never on winning. I just absorbed that and when I played with one friend in particular, he always brought a new can and wanted to play as hard as possible to win every time. He became an extremely successful salesman. Go figure.
Also, when my dad coached a baseball or soccer game I was, if we were ahead by a lot, he'd put in the weak players to give the other team a chance to score. It was the decent and kind thing to do. But other coaches would strive for a shut out. Not my dad. And I absorbed that as well. It wasn't a battle to win like conquerers. It was a good-natured game. It was designed around play and having fun. And the other thing was, we weren't usually on the best teams. In truth, we only won our league once in the 7 years I played baseball. Winning was never the main goal. Good sportsmanship was. 
My high school drama coach was all about winning the state championships for drama which always seemed a little odd, but I enjoyed the competition and we actually won 2 out of 4 years. And honestly, I never cared about getting good grades in school. I aced all my math tests without trying until I got to Calculus (which handed me my ass). But when I was writing a paper for and English class I didn't care if I was given a B+ for turning in a 25 page paper when a 10 pager had been requested. I felt I needed 25, so that's what I wrote. I could care less that Hilary Locker got straight As. I considered her a deeply bland person.
And how do you define winning as an adult? Is it who has the most money or most prestigious position? My dad never bought a new car though surely he could afford it. He wasn't competitive with other men in any outwardly ostentatious ways. And when my mom ran for state representative when I was 12, she didn't win, but she didn't get upset and they appointed her to a commission afterwards for her efforts. 
But as I delve even further back, I remember having a temper tantrum when my brother beat me in Monopoly. I'm not sure if it's because I was losing or because I felt he wasn't being fair. I'd expect it was the latter which is more in my character today, but what if I was just upset that I lost? I wonder if I could get back that competitive spirit? I think it would be an effective motor to drive me at a time when I feel like I've lost most all of my ambition.
How competitive are you?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Spotlight: Maria Dizzia

My friend Maria isn’t a household name, but she’s a riveting actress who was nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). We met at the SITI Co. LA workshop in 1999 and I knew she was something special immediately. The last time I saw her onstage was as the title character in Sarah Ruhl’s reinterpretation of the classic Eurydice at 2nd Stage Theatre two years ago. In that role she was the embodiment of a poised, luminescent, curious presence. I felt more graceful and eloquent just watching her. And she breathed to life such a simultaneously fragile and formidable portrait of Eurydice that I will never look at the Orpheus myth the same again. (Ms. Ruhl, of course, helped with that too.) And while she hasn’t been in many films, that’s something I hope will be corrected very soon. Most recently she was the co-star in an episode of Louis on FX. If you haven’t seen the show it’s a profoundly dark, dangerous and real sort of 21st Century Seinfeld. Actually, it’s often not funny at all. It can be downright disturbing, as was the episode Maria was in. She plays directly across from Louis and she plays a part in such a raw way it's frankly a little terrifying. The arc she tears from unsuspecting to climax and back again reminds me of some of my less pretty dating stories. I think it's one of the more painfully awkwardly real and devastating moments I've seen on TV. You can watch her free on Hulu right now (for ONLY THE NEXT 3 DAYS then it becomes unavailable). Maria doesn’t come on until the second half (around 12:00, but you should watch the first half too. It’s pretty intense). Keep a look out for her if you’re in New York, she’s constantly in shows and readings. If you see her name, go.


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Friday, August 12, 2011

A Movie Moment

As I hurried out to the water’s edge to sing at the receding dusk tonight, I didn’t think to bring my phone. I so rarely go anywhere without my phone that it made me pause. I thought briefly that I should go get it. Then I remembered the last time something big happened before I had a cell phone where having that phone would have changed things. It was almost exactly eleven years ago. Eleven years. My God. My girlfriend and I had broken up. And my theatre company had three deaths in 3 months. One cancer, one AIDS and one suicide. Those deaths drove me to make a perverse way of choosing to seize the day. I went out and bought a used convertible. I wanted to put the top down and feel the wind through my hair. It was something I’d always wanted, but thought I didn’t deserve. But I really thought it would make me feel alive. And it did. Then I did the next thing that everyone does post-breakup… I ran away to the circus.

Specifically, I spent a month learning clowning at the ‘Dell Arte school in Blue Lake, CA - studying with Yuri Belov, former head clown of the Moscow Circus. While there, JFK Jr. died in a plane crash off of Martha’s Vineyard. And though I’ve never cared about The Kennedy’s it shook me. The first thing that I thought of was that my ex was on tour a lot, flying somewhere every week and that if she died in a plane crash I would be devastated. There was so much I hadn’t told her. So I ran to a pay phone. A full body glass phone booth. I dialed in my MCI calling card and got her at home. We talked for an hour. Me standing there cluthing the public phone to my ear. I told her I loved her and I wanted to see her as soon as I got back. She said she would absolutely not see me unless we got back together right then on the phone. I said I wanted to see her in person and look into her eyes. She said she wouldn’t see me until I made a commitment to get back together.

The next Sunday I had to get up at 6am for an 11-hour drive with nary a bathroom break. I drove with my top down which creates an effect where my head feel like it’s directly under a helicopter for a few hours after I stop driving. I had to rush back because I was starting the first day of my first training with Anne Bogart and the SITI Co. That first meeting was magical. And somehow between the drive and hearing Anne’s passionate speech, I knew what I needed to do. I raced to my ex’s house to win her back and declare my love. I ran to her door, knocked and knocked and… nothing. No response. Maybe she was hiding inside. Or at a friends. She had to come home some time, so I camped out on her doorstep. I waited. And I waited. Neither of us had cell phones. I had no way to reach her. So I waited some more, and I fell asleep sitting in front of her floor. A few hours later, my eyes fluttered open to see her standing above me. I stood, kissed her and told her I missed her. Then I told her I loved her and before I asked her where she’d been, she said she’d been waiting for me at my place. And we both burst out laughing and crying at the same time.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Porgy and Bess Redux

This past week there has been a shitstorm about the ART production of Porgy and Bess which opens soon. It began with a feature about the production in this Sunday's NYT - which includes interviews with a number of the artists involved who've decided with the Gershwin Estate's approval to make some changes to the book of the show written in 1935. That was followed by a scathing reprimand for having the gall to change a word in the sacrosanct Porgy by Stephen Sondheim himself in which he eviscerates the director Diane Paulus, skewers Suzan-Lori Parks who's writing the revised text and even goes after the bella donna of music theatre - the female star of the show Audra McDonald. I was furious I have to tell you. Mr. Sondheim hasn't seen the show. No one has. It hasn't opened yet. And then I became more furious when I saw all the comments on Mr. Sondheim's tirade. Everyone  agreed with him. Praised him. And thanked him for protecting American Musical Theatre. As though Diane Paulus was about to desecrate a national monument. So I wrote a comment last night in support of the artistic team's choice to do as they choose with this production - especially since they have the approval from the estate. And today I was going to post the comment I made to the NYT website, but this morning I saw my post had been removed.  Miffed, (as I hadn't made a copy of what I wrote), I decided I could just sum up the heart of the points I wanted to make - in particular that so many of the masterpieces have been toyed with over the years. There are a dozen different Magic Flutes, Candides and Giovannis out there. No one considers it disrespectful that there are versions that change the ending or cut major parts of the recit - despite their masterpiece status. It is a time honored tradition in the lyric theatre. And it won't kill the show. It might not work, but sometimes it's better. So let these sincere artists take a whack at it. 
I also wanted to talk about how times have changed and an updated book might make sense. Especially concerning race. And gender. And when I saw the Houston Grand tour a few years back was amazed that I'd forgotten a major plot point is that a hurricane sweeps through and destroys much of the black neighborhood. I was left speechless, seeing how relevant Porgy & Bess still is. And I was horrified that is was still so politically and socially relevant 75 years later. And despite that, the show still didn't reach me as powerfully as I thought it should and I could certainly point blame to the book which is the only thing this team is tampering with. But I've decided I would share just this one thing with you. I wrote the director. 
I found her email online very easily because she's the Artistic Director of A.R.T. (the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge). And then I composed a short note to her that was simply a Vote of Confidence and Letter of Support. I wrote that I saw the flack she'd been getting and I stood by her choice to try and revitalize the piece. I've never met Diane, though I've seen her shows. Some were great, some less so. But I so respect her sincere interest to create vital theatre - and especially music theatre. Last year she cast Amanda Palmer as the Emcee in Cabaret. I almost flew East just to see it. And I really want to see what she and Suzan-Lori come up with for the Porgy and Bess. She's up to great things. And the thing I'm most glad about is that I actually wrote Diane directly instead of just posting a comment on some website. While I'm interested in what you think about this little controversy, here's what I'm more interested in: 
Have you ever written a public figure you didn't know in support of them when you thought they were going through hard times?

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Friday Night Lights

For years people have been telling me Friday Night Lights was the best show on TV since The Wire went off the air. I didn't start watching because I knew it might well become an addiction. I know my weaknesses. Example: In less than a week I finished the first season. Of course I had to wait for the show to end before I could begin. And I have to say, it is pretty great. But I'm still just amazed how compelled I felt to finish the whole thing so quickly. It's sort of brilliant the way shows like that have designed their architecture to suck you in and bring you back. While the idea of a cliff hanger is a no brainer, that's been around for ages, to create that intense connection with more subtle dramatic devices is a mightier task to pull off. The effect is like listening to a symphony that stops mid movement - unresolved. You end up feeling a nearly physical urge to complete the story lines in the same way you NEED to hear the resolution of a suspended 4th. You will not be able to sleep until you return to the dominant chord. And a few days later, you just spent 17 hours of your life watching a slightly more mature version of my grandma's "Stories".
What keeps you coming back - desperate to see how it turns out?

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Monday, August 8, 2011

A Mansion of One’s Own

A week ago I was at an event with appetizers. Little gourmet appetizers. The moment I took a bite, I had a "Madeleine" moment and was transported back to when I was a student at Princeton and I sang with an a cappella group - The Tigertones. We sang at parties that always had these fine treats. Often alums would books us for gigs. We sang in their homes, country clubs, and embassies around the world. We mingled. We plucked their trays empty of food. We smiled at the old people. We sang well. We made people smile. We got free drinks. We smiled more. We sang encores. They remembered a fantasy of what it was like to be young. We lived it. They pushed their daughters on us. Life was sweet. Since my hosts went to Princeton and I was going there at the time, I figured, eventually I'd probably have houses like theirs and host students like me. You know, maybe in 20 years... 
19 years later I'm living in the least expensive apartment I've had in over a decade. And I'm grateful to have found it. I share it with my girlfriend and a roommate. It's rent controlled and I'm technically not supposed to be living there. If I got caught, I could get evicted. So when the landlords are around I have to hide. They're working on refurbishing some unoccupied apartments, so they're around a lot. Their hours are also very irregular. They'll come in the morning, stay for an hour or four and sometimes return in the afternoon. So when I see the landlords leave, I make a break for the door even if it means I'll be hours early for a meeting I have. Then I arrive at my destination and sit in my car, typing blog entries. Like this one.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Spotlight: Joe Hernandez Kolski

My friend Joe Kolski is one fly mofo. Because of him I can say I’m buddies with a guy who was on Def Poetry Jam (see below). And you know that makes the ladies swoon. When I met Joe he was an 18-year old Chicagoan with a mullet down to his shoulders who did not look comfortable in the ivied halls of Princeton. So he took a semester off from school, worked in D.C.,and returned the political activist/artist/intellect he is today. He also came back not just having discovered his Latino roots, but clearly identifying himself as a loud and proud Polish-Mexican. (Tell me you don’t know a bunch yourself). He’s taken his spoken word magic on the road the last ten years – often performing at colleges reaching out to the kids today trying to provide a little insight and enlightenment and levity. He talks in clear and real and poetic ways in a flow so smooth you don’t even realize how polished it is. He also introduced me to boxing. He was as sensitive as a guy can be – the counterweight to all of hip hop’s chauvinism – and finally he decided he needed more raw power. So he found it in the ring. And I have to admit, it’s a damn good rush. So if you want to go box with us, drop me a line, but in the meantime, check out Joe’s brand new solo show “AWAKE” at The Bootleg Theatre running until August 20.  

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Anger Management

Yesterday evening, I was really upset. It was a stupid thing about some money that I wasted. Gift certificate not used and all. While still steaming, I forced myself to go for a run. I was able to stay upset for about 15 minutes as I figured out other people to blame. Then I started fantasizing. About life going well. First about how I’d talk my way into a phone call with the president of a network. He wouldn’t be able to understand how someone smart and with good ideas had gone nowhere. Then I’d talk hardball and convince him to give me what they spend on one pilot in order to make 20 webisode pilots. I began imagining who I’d hire and the speech I’d give to the assembled artists. And all the upset had dissipated. Of course when I got home I didn’t called said president. And I haven’t called him today either.  

What do you do to vent off anger?

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Joy of Language

I was recently held hostage to some TV shows en route to JFK and that dull assault has convinced me that our entire nation has become inured to the joy of language. And I don’t say that just to use the word ‘inured’,  but you have to admit,  it is a pretty great word. Inured. When was the last time you had a chance to use that? It just feels good. Being able to use an uncommon word in just the right way,  without pretention and without forcing it,  is a singular joy. Saying what you mean in the most concise and powerful manner possible without showboating is an almost physically gratifying delight.
I did it in a conversation a few weeks ago with a word I can no longer remember. The word came to me without thinking in the same way it eludes me now as I’m no longer in the thick of the war of dialogue that demanded it into existence. And though it sprung forth organically,  it was one of those words you read in an SAT study guide,  but have never have once formed in your mouth. My compatriots paused in their conversation to note for the record their shock and awe at the use of the word in question. I felt that put the word in a zoo. But I did not want this exotic creature on display. I wanted it wild. When I uttered the syllables,  there was a physical feeling of relief that accompanies unpracticed perfection. Like hitting a baseball perfectly. Like fully popping a pimple on the first try. Or like delivering a perfect bowel movement. Language can be corporeally satisfying like that if only we happen on the right opportunity and channel our riposte with unfettered alacrity., Have you ever stopped a conversation with a word?
Do you remember the culprit in question?

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reverse Engineering

I was recently flattered when talking with someone who heard my talk on a Century of Jewish American Composers and they suggested I do more public speaking. I said I was considering making that 12-minute talk into an hour or longer presentation and trying to find Jewish groups who’d be willing to pay me to come and speak. She agreed that would be great,  but suggested I not limit myself. She said I could talk about anything. I was such a good speaker I didn’t even have to be an expert on the subject. I said I was game,  but what would I talk about and to whom? And would they pay? Then she wondered aloud,  would I perhaps be interested in giving a talk to a group she put together about public speaking? And I hesitated… 


Because I realized I know nothing about public speaking. Or I should say I know nothing about the pedagogy of public speaking. I’ve never taken or taught a class in it. I’ve just done it. Then I wondered,  why am I any good at it? I mean USA Today did a poll and found that American’s #1 fear was Public Speaking. Their #2 fear? DEATH. And for me it’s like a drug. It’s like what I imagine it feels like to “kill” doing a stand-up set. Incidentally,  I’ve never done stand up. I’ve made announcements after temple services a show. I’ve taken an hour to read off 99 rules people had to follow for a 2-week artistic experiment and I’ve kept their attention. I’ve sung an entire one-man opera 90 minutes with barely a chance to grab a breath. But I’ve never tried to analyze how I keep people’s attention. Now I have to peel back the layers of my unconscious training and map out my mechanism through reverse engineering… then I have to explain it clearly… and see if it works for anyone else.


Is there something you do extremely well that someone once asked to explain and you were left scratching your head? What was that thing you do?

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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Joy of Flight

I look around the plane I’m on and am deeply saddened. Most people have become inured to the joy of flight. They pull out their books, laptops, Gameboys and dreaded kindles and plug themselves in to be anywhere but where they are. They glue themselves to the tiny screen in the ceiling screaming the inanities of disposable television and I want to scream “Wake up, people! We’re flying in a tin can7 miles above the Earth, privileged to a sight humans from 100 years ago could not conceive of. A sight that transforms our very idea of heaven. And God herself. And they just sleep through it. I can’t sleep on a plane. I’m too revved up.


I am still enchanted every time I take off. I’m even still thrilled by the vertigous ascent which has become dizzying because of my experience with the horrors of skydiving. When I hit 12,000 ft. I actually have flashbacks to when my Brazilian playboy tandem guide, Lalo, thrust me into the empty yaw of the sky. But once we hit 36,000, I lean into the window and mark the Plexiglas with my oily nose (yeah, that was me) all the way to the coast. My favorite game is Peek-a-Boo Earth. I look out, memorize the view, close the shade for 2 minutes and then look out again to see how the landscape has changed. I love the grand juxtapositions. The hills of San Bernadino fall off precipitously into a desert-scape which spreads beneath me larger than I ever remember. Past Victorville, the desolate Arizona reds disappear into the July snow caps of Colorado. And today I saw a vision that was completely new to me. I’m not sure if we took a more southernly route, but I looked out and thought I saw us above a vast unmoving ocean. It was a peaty hue with frozen waves miles apart. There was nary a road in sight. But the treeless, but more than scrub laden rolls stood pristine. There was no farming, so it couldn’t have been Kansas or Nebraska. Was it the Texas panhandle? Eastern Oklahoma? Scotland?


And then I peek-a-boo a sheet of Cumulus and life is transformed. Switch back and the clouds have been yanked and the sun has descended with unnatural speed. And finally, through darkest night our little lives light up the land in clusters of community. A million extraordinary declarations of scientific achievement taken for granted rise to the heaves to greet me and convey a peaceful order and intelligence that belies the individual confusion, worry, hate and fear that drives most of humanity. Instead, it’s synthesized by the distance into a harmonic light, calming to the soul.


 If only I didn’t have to land.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Spotlight: Chris Wells and his Secret City

Chris Wells is an amazing performer, writer, actor, singer, sermonizer and gatherer of people. He created and hosts Secret City, a beautiful, monthly, hard-to-describe event that got a big write up in the New York Times last year. I call it Church for Artists minus God. Their monthly gatherings resemble a religious service, except it's fun. While Chris has issues with traditional religions, he has the belief that the ritual around church is part of the core human experience: coming together as a community, sharing our stories, trying to make sense of life, consoling and inspiring one another through hard times and offering up a joyful noise. And Chris is unequivocally the preacher. So yes: There is music. There is a sermon. And you will leave with a smile on your face. It's also better theatre than 90% of the shows I go to. And there was no reason it should have ever come into existence.

About a year ago Chris shared with me and a crowd at the Bootleg Theatre in LA a story about how he came to found Secret City. After many many years as an actor in LA Chris felt he'd done everything he could there and he wanted a bigger playground for theatre. So backwards from the traditional actor's migration, he moved from LA to NY. Living in The City was always a lifelong dream of his. But after 3 years acting in NYC (he was even in a film I produced through RIPFest), he didn't like the parts he was being considered for.  And like me seven years ago, he was tired of being poor and not making a big enough impact, so he chose to move on. Not sure what to do next, a friend reminded him that years ago he'd had that brainstorm that someone should start a Church of Art. And Boom. Chris had that Eureka moment. He had to start it. And the time was now.

So as Chris shares on his website: "In October 2007... I asked three friends to... bring anything they might like to share in the way of a poem or a quote or a picture. We sat in a circle on the floor and I explained that I wanted to start a sanctuary for artists, a regular gathering that would celebrate the creative spirit and those who keep it alive." By his description, it sounds humble, simple, almost uninteresting. Don't be fooled. Chris' charismatic generosity infuses each communion with an uplifting spirit the way I think church is supposed to make you feel. He brings in a host of guest artists every month to enliven things. And did I mention there's music? And you get to clap and sing? And there's much, much more laughter than there ever is in church? You have to go and experience it for yourself.
But here's the funny thing. Chris stopped acting in 2007. Then three years later, he's invited to the Obies (The Tonys for off-Broadway). He nearly didn't go because he wasn't in the theatre anymore, but at the last minute decided to attend. And then, near the end of the ceremony, they begin describing a "Special award" they were about to give. And production they're describing sounds oddly familiar. He turns to his boyfriend to ask if he's crazy or does it sound like they're talking about... when the presenter declares the award for "Chris Well and his Secret City". He was speechless. (For about 60 seconds. Chris always finds his words). But what a story. He had to quit acting to win an Obie
Here's the funnier thing - I remembered the story a bit differently. I checked in with Chris to see if I'd gotten the details right before posting this. I hadn't. I'm writing this 12 months after I heard him tell the story and I discovered I distilled his journey into a fabricated legend that went like this: Chris gave himself a deadline by which if he wasn't successful, he'd quit acting. That birthday came. He banished himself from the thing he loved because it just wasn't working. He was miserable. He commisserated with friends who reminded him of the Church idea to which he said, 'Stupid idea. I was probably drunk', but it stuck with him. So he got some people together. Everyone loved it. It grew almost on it's own and then he won an Obie... after having 'given up'. It's similar to what happened, but definitely different. What does that say about me for having misremembered the narrative in that way I wonder?
Regardless, if you're in NY, go see the "organization that serves the spiritual, social and human needs of artists. Over the past four years at their monthly gatherings, they have presented hundreds of performers, musicians, visual artists, chefs, jugglers, magicians, clowns, dancers, poets, and films." They also present "The Manhattan Wonderwalk every September -- it's a 14 hour walk of the island of Manhattan with performances throughout the city."
And if you live in LA (or anywhere else) tell Chris you need a Secret City in your town and maybe he'll come visit.
And help Chris raise money for their fifth season for the last week in their IndieGoGo campaign right here. Here's Chris below to tell you all about it.


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stalker Nation

Facebook is stalking. We've become a nation of stalkers. A world of stalkers. Sometimes it's a strange curiosity. Other times it's less healthy which twists our idea of reality. We look at vacation photographs of people we used to work with. We do the virtual drive-by of that ex, but instead of just parking across from her house for a moment to savor the memories banished to the past, now you silently invade her life and see her baby photos. The babies you could have made with her. It used to be, you had to see them in person to look at those pictures, now you peer in through the virtual nursery and steal a glance. Another potential paramour doesn't even know we look at every one of their status updates. And unconsciously we feel they must look at ours in the same way, but in fact, they may not care less. And so we click our way deeper into an illusion of closeness, daily, when in fact we're just ticky-ticky tapping some plastic alone in our room. Try this. Close your laptop and keep tapping on the case of your computer for 60 seconds. That's all we're really doing. Feel close now? I just did it and I feel very, very alone. Weird, huh?

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Major Score

Last week I ran over my power cord with my office chair. Though I was on soft carpet,  the wheels were able to pull the cord right apart. Didn't quite slice it,  didn't quite yank it in two,  but it's unfixable. I was quite dismayed about the prospect of buying a new cord. My old Powerbook with the old circular non-magnetic connector ate through a number of those cords (when did something as simple and often as tripping over the cable),  so I know they're not cheap. And they were never an improvement. As soon as I got the new one,  I had the potential to kill it within days. It happened so frequently I started going to the MacStore and complaining. They knew it was a huge problem and I talked my way into getting two for free. Not this time. $86 later,  I trudged home and powered up my old laptop. Amazingly though,  this power cable IS better. It attaches from the side instead of straight on (which I actually preferred). BUT it not only charges the battery so it lasts longer when it's not plugged in,  but it must charge at a lower intensity,  so the machine rarely ever heats up,  which turns on the fan,  which drains the battery (not to mention it makes it impossible to hold in my lap it's so hot). I'm amazed what I thought was just a replacement is actually an improvement.
When was the last time something you thought was an Epic Fail turned out to be a major score?

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