'S been a while, eh? Yeah, I've only got one excuse for that, but it's a BIG ONE.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Posted by Paul Rekk at 2:33 PM
Monday, October 12, 2009
My Post On The Summit I Have No Firsthand Knowledge Of, As Inspired By An Evening With The Chicago Underground.
Let's get the gushing out of the way first -- I know I'm not ahead of the curve on this one, but Mickle Maher is a prince among playwrights. Tracy Letts and Keith Huff can enjoy their success, god love 'em, but Maher... Maher's got a good run on the Chicago playwright crown. There's something uberhuman about the way the man can take the broadest of abstract concepts and completely bend it to his whim, like a ventriloquist and his dummy. In An Apology For The Course & Outcome Of Certain Events Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening currently in remount by Theater Oobleck, the dummy concept is Meaning. And Meaning didn't stand a chance, didn't even know to put up a fight. Maher's Faustus whims on the glories of meaninglessness, of the world of pre-meaning; brings everyday nonsense taken for granted in contemporary society into light, then brisk-handedly slides it under the table; dwarfs the entire concept in the human scale beside that of the unknowable, the unimaginable, the silent actor right in front of our eyes; and metatheatrically disallows us any solution to the universal equation. That's just the basics. And all of this happens in round about an hour or so. Not once do we see Maher's lips moving. The man is a master, and you must see this show.
Straight after I shot up Milwaukee and landed myself at the Rough House's Great Trash Spectacle Of Aught Nine. This is the launchpad for my summit talk, but first a summation. Whereas Oobleck is the old guard of Chicago Underground Theatre, the Rough House is helping to usher in the new. The evening consisted of five pieces, ranging from two to fifteen minutes and from read poetry to dell'Arte, all built around trash. Trash found by the performers that served as a kickstart for their creative juices. The show was preceded by, followed by, and included two ten minute intermissions of party. A five dollar donation at the door got you into the show as well as plenty of booze. And it was a smash. The whole performance aspect lasted about the same as John Faustus and, at times, reached the same levels of untouched brilliance, from Jason Economus' equally meta one-man life breakdown to the entire crowd cheering in unison as a ballerina princess beats down her beercan + milk jug prince after he (cardboard) dicks her over when she saves him from a dragon. It was as wacky as it sounds and every bit as winning.
Now, Summit attendees, interested Summit nonattendees, and especially Summit organizers, here is my number one question for you. Was the Rough House asked to take part in the Summit? Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing not. And I'm guessing the reason is that no one was aware of the Rough House. And my real question, which that was all a set up for, is this: Why was no one aware of the Rough House? They had a jam-packed house full of art lovers and paying guests that night, so some people are obviously familiar. Why was no one aware of the Rough House? That one is an open question.
Of course, the Rough House in particular is not my point here, they are serving as the handiest example. But when you talk about unifying the theatre community and getting better communication and group action amongst storefronts, you fail to consider the idea of Chicago Storefront as a community with as wide a spectrum as the entirety of Chicago Theatre. Everyone loves to play the underdog, but your better bet is to acknowledge those operating even closer to the core than you. When you talk Storefront, you're talking independent art. So think like independent art. Keep the current guest list, sure, but add to it the Rough House, add to it Cupola Bobber, and, at the risk of vanity, add to it myself, not as a representative of Signal, not as a representative of WNEP, not as a blogger, but solely and specifically to speak from the perspective of The Nine. And add to it the dozens of people that I'm sure others can provide that I'm not yet aware of, either. And add these people not because they are fellow Chicago theatre artists who were overlooked last time, but because they are an integral part, a part that probably have better ideas than most. Because, while you are brainstorming on the best way to achieve your goals within the current system, they're already achieving theirs in whatever system they damn well please. (And they are achieving -- from what I've seen, Cupola Bobber and the Rough House are able to pull in a crowd just as well as most storefronts and, what's more, a more enthusiastic crowd than almost all storefronts.) Because, while you continue hoping that one day the city will kowtow and create spaces dedicated to theatre, they're finding and creating their own affordable space, zoning and licenses be damned. (You want to turn this into an issue the city cares about? Work on getting the the entirety of Chicago Storefront as a unified front creating theatre everywhere EXCEPT where the city wants it, rather than continually heading back to your PPAs with your tails between your legs.) Because, for god's sake, if you are going to invite a representative from the League, not only do you need people who are willing to question the League, you need people who couldn't give two shits about the existence of the League. Because whether you invite them or not, whether you inform them of your Code of Fucking Ethics or not, whether you know they exist or not, they're gonna keep doing what they're doing. And what they are doing is exactly what you all want to be doing -- it's just that most of you want it on a larger scale. So ask them to come to the table and share their insight. And then don't be surprised if they choose not to participate; don't take it as a rude gesture, don't take it as a dismissive gesture, and don't take it as a lack of opinion. Give it as much weight as you would have given anything they would have said had they come. If they're uninterested, maybe it's because you're forcing yourself to sift through a haystack of nonessential to find that needle of worthwhile.
You're all being very nice and studied about this. Which is great, if you want some good hypotheticals. To get shit done, you're gonna want the input of those who just go ahead and do, as well. And you're gonna wanna listen to it.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 8:12 PM
Sunday, October 4, 2009
It's the fish. The show's about the fish. Those fish in the tank in the middle of the room during all of boom? They, not Jules and Jo, are who survive the end of the world as we know it and evolve into the next evolution of the world.
That was a huge spoiler. When/if you head up to Next to see the show, it will have, in effect, been 'ruined' for you. Normally I would consider apologizing, but believe me, you're better off that way. The show, about two loners in their own way stuck together after an extinction level event, nibbles on the idea of both the futility and the struggle of making a true connection with other humans and the wonders of the simplicity that actually becomes that intimacy. And the show is ultimately a very conflicted (in a promising way) tragicomedy -- a silly 21st century romp in which two virgins are left to people the new world but are too incompatible to do so, yet when they finally fall into each other and decide to brave this new world together, they die within minutes -- still virgins. But Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has decided to mask the tragi- part of the tragicomedy as a half-telegraphed bullshit surprise twist that takes all semblance of actual substance out by the knees and replaces it with "Did you see that coming?" frivolity.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 11:29 PM
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
So it's been a while, but I'm back. Ballad has now officially closed up shop after a very successful run. Part of me feels neglectful for not having stopped back to check in here during the run, but alas and alack. The show was very well received, playing to sold out houses almost nightly. It also provided me with my first opportunity to be called out negatively in a review. On the one hand, I'm baffled, because Catey's description of my character and how I see my character don't match in the slightest. What she read in my performance is miles from what I felt I was portraying. Receiving criticism for something you are trying to do is one thing, but receiving criticism for something you aren't is an even harder beast to figure out. Of course, on the other hand, I'd be going back on everything I ever said about interpretation if I didn't take this in good spirits. Whether it was intended or not, what Catey came away with was a direct result of what I put on stage. There will always be miscommunication when you're talking to more than a handful of people at once; there's no reason to adjust your message to fix this -- you'll only create new miscommunication elsewhere -- but it's good to be aware.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 8:28 PM
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Before I go any further, I need to make one thing clear that mayhaps was not in the last post. I dig exploitation films. I find nothing pejorative in that label. Awesome sauce -- carrying on.
I've spent a lot of brainwaves on the idea of 'exploitation' and fairy tale and nostalgia and fantasy and marketing/audience draw. There are layers upon layers of webs of tangential connections plotted throughout my brain and there's no way of making full sense of it to even myself, much less others. So what do I do? Dive in head first, of course.
There's little surprise in the popularity of stories about The Other (or rather, An Other). These types of stories have existed since, well, stories have existed. What does strike me as interesting, though is the evolution of the audience draw between the examples pulled in the last post: fairy tale and exploitation film. The fairy tale's mythical appeal, at times base and ugly and frightening, still maintained a sense of order, a yin and yang. While this area of fantasy has far from disappeared (I would argue that three of the biggest pop culture properties: Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, are all born of the stuff fairy tales are made of), it has gained a level of sophistication, a prerequisite universe of logic and definition. Gone, in contemporary society at least, are the heydays of loose fantasy, the unquestioning childview of The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal and the apathetic man-childview of Conan the Barbarian and Beastmaster.
But somewhere along the line (and maybe not, we can instantly trace as far back as de Sade, probably much farther with a little further thought) a strain of art more concerned with the dark and dastardly, without absolute need for a counterbalance, began to spring from pens and brushes. Somewhere along the line (or perhaps not) a path was tread on which the artist, despite whatever else the work accomplished (and many accomplished much), thrilled in the exploration of the darker and/or more taboo sides of the human existence: death, pain, sex, pleasure, the corporeal and the points at which some or all of those threads cross. And while I won't deny that there can be a higher level of sophistication and inquiry in the approach, I also won't deny that a large part of the appeal to both artist and audience is purely thrillist -- the joy of playing a forbidden game with unknown or cryptic rules. By the time the heyday of the exploitation film rolled around, a few more taboos had been thrown into the great melting pot: primarily race, but also to a lesser degree the nuclear threat and the Holocaust. But the Two-Headed Shadow of sex and death still loomed strong, driving the production of most of the (sub-)genre(s). And the fact remained that no matter the specificities, from the Mondo film's blunt object approach towards death to the Giallo's lyricism of the same to the intensely disconcerting (and thus massively controversial) inversion in the Rape/Revenge film's sex=pain & violence=pleasure structure, the entry point for the audience (and the artist) remained a sense of enjoyable perversion, of bubble-wrapped complicitness. This is illustrated no more clearly than in the accepted use of the very term 'exploitation film', the uber-genre that would accept the heading not only for the marketing terminology it sprung from, but also all of the connotations and denotations that come part and parcel.
To bring this exploration to a present day conclusion begs the question whether we have reached a point where we can, as with so many other genres, throw the infamous prefix into the picture. Are we Post-sploitation yet? Part of me feels the popularity of Quentin Tarantino has to signal the transition: his films are drenched with such nostalgia that the become portraits of exploitation films rather than the films themselves. But, contrapuntally, there also the success of Neo-Splatter, in which the likes of Eli Roth and James Wan have risen as so many Herschell Gordon Lewises and snatched gore back from the comedic hands of the 80's horror comedy (in which Peter Jackson, oddly enough, bookends this discussion), showing the straight-faced, straight-laced thrillism of the taboo alive and well.
All of this, I suppose, counters my original intent -- that the exploitation film is the natural descendant of the fairy tale. It turns out that Peter Jackson is the actual descendant; exploitation is the bastard son; the solution for those curious about heaven, but dying to find out about hell. There's a little too much safety in the fairy tale; in exploitation, odds are good that the person you are rooting for and the person who you hate are one in the same.
And this is the point where I realize I've spent too much time on this post without actually saying anything about the genre. (What did I tell you? I really like the dark and dastardly.) So hey, look for yet another post next week exploring the moral structures of fantasy and exploitation, perhaps a foray into Neo-Splatter vs. Torture Porn, and hopefully some more direct connection to Put My Finger In Your Mouth.
As to what I brought up today, there have been a few synapses fired regarding Finger as well. It strikes me that perhaps my initial Lifetime movie comparison has more to it that I thought. After not being able to reconcile fairy tale and exploitation in my mind, I'm a little more prone to fit Finger under the former heading, as the titillation factor very much plays second fiddle to the moral demarcation of hero vs. villain. And after all, Drugsploitation is a genre more often approached ironically, usually (I'm guessing) because it's not easy to find an artist of the exploitative bent who finds drug use tremendously taboo. Instead, the form emerges either from the overblown silliness of early cautionary films like Reefer Madness or the apronstrings semi-sploitation of the all too seriously toned Lifetime films. The tonal shift in Finger I expressed some trouble with seems to be less a change in genre and more a delayed sense of irony. We've got a sneaking suspicion that the grit and grime of the whole thing is rather ridiculous in the most joyous of fashions, but it's a lot easier to celebrate this when the production agrees with the designation, as it does when the second act finally breathes freely.
While on the topic of exploitation, take a look at the work of Pat Vamos (possibly NSFW, depending on how stiff-necked your workplace is). I want to go into a further discussion of his output as part of my mash-up exploration, but in the meantime, you may as well bask in his amazingness.
Also, Ballad is finally open, and myself along with everyone involved is tres proud. (And I mean that for real -- the sense of ownership from the ensemble and crew as a whole is astounding.) Lisa Buscani's a fan, and Kris Vire is what I believe we call somewhat recommending.
He also brings up an interesting question regarding the necessity for motivation and purpose in dramatic structure and character that I think is closely tied in to my search for a modernist playwright a while back. I don't agree with his assertion; obviously I can't speak as an audience member for this particular example (nor would I try), but I think that, with honest handling, the caprice of the human heart is more than enough to command the stage. Of course, after the raging back and forth everything else on this blog has created, I shouldn't expect much from this one either, especially as my hands are tied as to just how much I can rightly bust into the discussion. But the opening stands regardless.
Hey, I know, maybe you should come see the show! That might help! It might not answer this question, but it sure is good to have a point of reference, ain't it? Thought so.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 6:48 PM
Monday, August 3, 2009
The Right Brain Project's Put My Finger In Your Mouth is billed as a contemporary fairy tale. Collaboraction's Sketchbook '09 was themed the New American Fable. House's Rose and The Rime carried the subtitle "An Original Midwestern Fairy Tale". I missed out on both of the latter, which I'm starting to regret as I sit down to write this, as a little compare and contrast would be nice. The current day fascination with the fairy tale makes perfect sense; the generation of theatre makers just starting to hit full stride is the same that grew up in the Jim Henson era, the 80's children's fantasy smorgasboard that brought us Labyrinth, Legend, The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, etc., etc., etc. But, if it's not children's theatre (which I understand some might peg Rose & The Rime as), what does the adult extension of these tropes look like? With Put My Finger In Your Mouth, playwright Bob Fisher and director Nathan Robbel make a compelling case for the exploitation film as contemporary fairy tale...
Or rather, that's where they end up once they get comfortable with the idea. The show starts with a first act mother-daughter Lifetime drug drama (a term requiring two footnotes: a) I'm aware that this is actually a tale of two sisters, but fails to read as such, for better and worse, until the final few minutes, largely because of the combination underwritten and overdirected morality representative Turtle character, and b) and this may be the first and last time I ever say this: I'm evoking the Lifetime Channel as a compliment), beginning with a sexy plunge into clubkid culture, hanging over scenes of changing home life, and simmering into a picturesque downward spiral. As a whole it could use a little more energy -- the climactic club scene shows the full potential on tap here, peaking with a unexplainably beautiful spectral dance moment between Birdy and Snailman to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that calls up both the Lifetime movie first act, with its subtle, but not too, symbolism, and the more fairy tale-esque second act, with a surreal period feeling that parallels the ballroom sequence in Labyrinth -- and a LOT more volume, especially in the club scenes, but it's a satisfying bit of (ever so melo-)drama that had me curious and a little worried as to how it was going to reconcile itself.
What I wasn't expecting after the short intermission was full on over-the-top Drugsploitation. And I don't know that the show was necessarily expecting it, either, because the top of act two had me hit the ground stumbling. There are a couple of hard, hard tonal shifts here; the swing from addiction drama to save the day action is a big un', and the introduction of the villainous plot in a Soylent Green cum James Bond villain monologue is hampered both by Emily Mark's overuse of the Villain Voice (read: slow, booming, and without any real sense of purpose beyond "I'm the bad guy") and the fact that it leaves the Snailman standing out as the sole undeniably otherworldy factor in a show that is otherwise tremendously absurd, but abstractly so. But I'm wasting far too much space on the negative, because, once it gets past a few ground gears, the second act bursts with lifeblood -- the fight scenes are fast, furious and proudly sloppy; the dialogue is studded with one-liners each inducing a large groan or guffaw than the last; the emotions are ridiculously high and defiantly manipulative; and the humor is just plain silly. And I laughed my ass off and had a brilliant time.
As I mentioned, it's a very strong case for Exploitation film as the modern equivalent of the fairy tale, which I think I may take a second post to explore further with some Finger specifics next week. I want more time to play connect the dots with some thoughts. Until then, if the genre is of any interest of you I do suggest you check Finger out -- it's oddly stitched together, no doubt, but I know there are plenty of you out there that don't necessarily consider that a bad thing. Nor should you.
Hey, buy these tickets. Now.
I just had one of the easiest tech weekends of my life for The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Lights, music, props, and set are all mostly in place and costumes are coming tonight. And every bit of it looks and sounds amazing -- almost unnervingly so! For reals, yo, you're gonna wanna check this puppy out.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 6:35 PM
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
A) Whoever arrived at this blog by searching for 'art for art's fucking sake', you're welcome back any time.
B) TimeOut visitors, I know you're out there. I'll be expecting the New Indie roundtable shortly.
So, what do I write about when I'm not seeing shows? Well, first I pimp the reason I'm not seeing shows:
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe opens in the Chopin studio a week from Sunday, emmereffers! Get you some tickets!
Also, on a related note, you might not have checked the Signal EnsemBlog in recent months. Nor would I blame you, as it had been dormant for nigh on a year. But we went and figgered out just how this blogging thing is supposed to go down, so swing on by! There's for real content goin' on and has been for a while; you've got catching up to do! Dramaturg Aaron Snook has plenty to keep you busy through the opening of Ballad (much of it already up there for you, but more to come), and then be on the look out for some meet n' greet on the ensemble, updates and insight from and about each of the company members, and plenty of Brian Jones/Rolling Stones build-up for the world premiere of Ronan Marra's Aftermath, coming this spring.
The blog. Read it.
Also in the meantime, I may as well turn to some product(-ion)(-ive) writing as well. At least two big projects in the woodwork right now, with a third trying to weasel its way into something resembling rationality. The first is, of course, SubUrbia, Part One of The Nine, which I'll talk about in more detail in a week or two when I've got a couple of things finalized. The third is still too much of an inkling to discuss much further, so we'll let that gestate for a bit. But the second! Oh, the second!
I've spent the last few days (the few hours not at work or in rehearsal) buried in mash-up culture. As one of those digital age questions that has shaken up the ideas of intellectual property and art ownership, I've been interested in the mash-up for a while. But now that I'm taking on the task of translating it to the stage in the next year, year and some change, it's time to delve deep. (The project t'ain't a secret, I'm just building to it. Deal.)
I'm skipping the basics. Anyone not familiar with the mash-up, click here and read, then come back.
Today's focus is DJ Earworm. I stumbled across Earworm not too long ago, but he's grown to one of my favorites. He doesn't have the bombast of Girl Talk or the sheer output of The Hood Internet, but I get a greater sense of purpose in his work -- a level far deeper than novelty.
Earworm's biggest (and most novel) hits are his United State of Pop mixes, a mashup of Billboard's top 25 hits of the year. The 2007 mash-up is passable, but 2008 is way hot, and a good case study in mash-up structure. Every quality mash-up has a good base and a good top layer. Whether it's A vs. B or glitch pop, you gotta build your foundation first. Earworm builds with Natasha Bedingfield and Rihanna (who he returns to with great effect), but settles into his most expansive option in Coldplay. It's a great choice (rather than his more beat-heavy alternatives) to provide an open playing field for the myriad of artists he's got to layer in over top. Which is the most impressive part -- not just the number of artists but how well the variety mix: Sara Bareilles' girl next door, Lil' Wayne's complete lack of tone, P!nk's fauxhawk punk, Alicia Keys' full belt, Usher's light-headed velvet pop, OneRepublic's whiny soar, they all meld so well you might think someone managed to round everyone up in one studio for some fucked up benefit hits compilation. I'd be curious to hear what others think, but for me the only sore thumb is Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" snippet. Even worse, I can't tell exactly what the problem is; whether it's Perry's vox, a poorly chosen (or timed, coming directly off of P!nk's similar style) sample, or my general feelings towards the woman that's causing the problem, though I imagine it to be a mix of all three. Then, after setting a chopped vocal rhythm, Earworm allows a couple of artists to linger: T.I. plays into Chris Brown & T-Pain, and as this releases into Chris Brown solo (underlined by a Rihanna build, of all things!), Earworm releases with a taper rather than an explosion, recalling the earlier chopblock, albeit a much more scattered version.
From a technical standpoint, it's a brilliant mix, especially starting with no easy challenge (a given set of songs to be mashed). It shows tonal differences as something to be embraced (with timing) rather than avoided, and it gives a nice two-act structure with a prologue and a callback epilogue.
But it is essentially a novelty. For a glimpse of the meta-bilities of a well-considered mash-up, point yourself to Earworm's No More Gas. Read the description first, then listen to the song. With No More Gas, DJ Earworm has created a critique of the 'Gimme More' culture by exploiting the very (and literally) "Gimme More" pop commercialism that is helping to feed the hungry zeitgeist. And you can dance to it! Go ahead, shake your hips to Danity Kane's taunting "How you gonna fix it?" and The Pussycat Dolls downright frightening "Be careful what you wish for" laid over Britney simply asking us to give her, give her more. It's either disgustingly catchy or catchily disgusting. Go ahead, bob your noggin to Lupe's "Superstar" confidence being completely undermined by the realization of the false bravado therein. But most effective of all, is the framework of Estelle's "American Boy" -- a very direct pointed finger, but one with a wink and a nod, unable to shake the charm and desire of the original. Estelle is the reason you can dance to it; she lets Earworm keep the subtle meter high and the agitprop meter low. Bastard pop is recycled, but never really reformed.
Have a further look around, see what else you can uncover at DJ Earworm's place, and let me know what you like (I especially recommend the nervous energy of Just Dance To New Order and Reckoner Lockdown, in which a half beat shift on Kanye's original makes all the difference). And check the videos as well, although video mash-up is a topic for a whole 'nother day.
I recently placed a decent sized order on AbeBooks and have since had a steady flow of vanguard art books to the homestead. Paging through this one today, I had a random moment of clarity:
"You have to know the rules in order to break them." -- it's one of those commonalites that has always rung of bullshit to me. I've been applying my frustration to the wrong place, it's not the sentence that's bullshit, it's the implication. In order to explore the artistic structure and the various ways out of it, you do have to study up on it. But if the implication is that this study must be an internal process, I suggest an external. Rule-breaking artists, rather than beating your head against a wall until the plaster cracks and lets in the light, spend some personal time with the darling motherfuckers teetering on the ladders outside and shoving the structure in on itself. You can learn how to be normal and then learn how not to be, or you can learn how others have not been and find out how that applies to yourself.
Study up, but do it from an angle you'll appreciate. Piero Manzoni can teach you what the rules are just as well as anybody that follows them to the letter.
How art has destroyed science, part 3 (a follow-up to the forgotten but not lost part 1 & part 2):
Posted by Paul Rekk at 7:18 PM