Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The weekend in parentheticals

The family was in town this weekend, so I've been out and about and and generally absent from the online community. However, I return having completed a few long overdue Chicago firsts: first Shedd visit (verdict -- penguins are overrated, sea lions make me laugh, lizards need to stop being so fucking lazy) and first Cubs game (also: first Cubs loss).

We also took in 500 Clown Frankenstein (every bit as meta-rrific as MacB) and I came out of the weekend with two new tattoos (inspired by Magritte and Duchamp because I'm a dadgum nerd).

Sadly, we've also lost two of the masters of cinema (Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni) in a matter of days. Both are directors I 'appreciate' more than 'enjoy' (although Antonioni's Zabriskie Point is a slice of brilliance), but the world will revolve a little emptier without these two souls.

Jean-Luc Godard had better be taking his vitamins -- I don't know how quickly I could recover from that loss.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Look at the big brain on Junior!

Don Hall has deemed me worthy of the Thinking Blogger Award. What does this mean? Mainly that Don Hall is unaware of the already oversized ego I hide through witty self-deprecation. (See? Do I really mean that? Am I joking? The mind reels!) It also means that Don Hall is generous as hell, because my inconsistent ramblings often seem to me to be nothing more than me trying to make the world make sense and only finding further questions, falling farther and farther behind the pack -- and then hitting upon occasional revelations that most people would look at and say, "And? Did that really take you 24 years to realize, kid?" So thanks, Don (and everyone else who comes to visit this e-tourist trap), it's heartening to know that I'm not quite as lost and drowning as this thing makes me feel sometimes. Or at the very least that we're all clinging to seat cushion flotation devices together.

This is the important stuff that Thinking Blogger etiquette deems proper to display:

The origin of this award is The Thinking Blog.

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (you have a choice of a silver version or a gold one).

(I picked the silver one!!)

Ah, but here's the tricky part: my nominees for the Thinking Blogger Award. I'm a little torn, because a lot of my initial choices have already received the award (and rightly so). I want to stay true to the spirit of the award, but I also want to point out others who should have received this praise long ago. So I'm going to compromise -- 2 old and 3 new:

Theatre Ideas by Scott Walters.

  • Scott is utterly unafraid of new ideas and, even moreso, speaking his mind on new ideas in relation to the old. He gets a lot of flack for falling on the side of down and dirty argument rather than polite disagreement, but I think it's a fine quality. Unleashing a little asshole now and then keeps the world revolving, and Scott never seems spiteful in the long run. I can't fault passion.

An Angry White Guy In Chicago by Don Hall.

  • "But he's the one who gave you the award! That doesn't count!" Yes, he is the one who gave me the award. He was also the first theatrical blog I read all of two months ago, and the reason I started one of my own. I don't always see eye to eye with the guy, but on the days I do, it's like he's driven a shaft of clarity straight down my spine. Cuts through the shit like white on rice. Don't question my metaphors.

Parabasis by Isaac Butler.

  • I know he's been nominated already, but Isaac hasn't officially accepted the award yet, so's I'm calling him a 'new'. Whereas Scott digs in deep on topics of great interest to him, Isaac is one of the greatest theatrical bloggers in terms of facilitating discussion. He gives snippets (and plenty of them on plenty of topics) and then waits for community to emerge. And emerge it does -- Parabasis provides genuine warmth and invitation for all reading.

Mink Tails by Ming-Zhu Hii.

  • Passion, passion, passion! This girl means it; every word. Ming-Zhu is remarkably open -- reading her blog is like a secret passage into her desires, hopes, dreams, and fears. It's a fantastic quality and I'm envious as hell.
David Alan Moore Is A... by David Alan Moore, of course.
  • David Alan Moore is many things, among them intelligent, grounded, frank, and extremely supportive. I haven't had a chance to talk a whole lot of theatre with him thus far (I blame whitewater rafting), but based on the little we have discussed, I look forward to much more.

The Art Of Fucking It Up

A comment by Don Hall in reference to a discussion on entertainment v. art:

All art is populist - without an audience it is spanking it in a closet. To get and to keep an audience, the artist must entertain first and foremost, keeping in mind that the only reaction that is antithesis to "entertaining" is "bored."

Thus, something that shocks, offends, amuses, enlightens, frustrates or panders can be considered entertainment. All great theater entertains or it isn't great - it is forgotten.
I can't disagree with Don, nor would I want to, but it begs the question: if the options to entertain are so vast, how can an artist possibly fuck it up?


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Life and Times (but mainly just last week) of Paul Rekk, Idealist...Fool; Part Two

When we last left our tenacious hero, he was anxiously awaiting his entry to the world of the Chicago theatrical director. Did the evening meet with success? What of the rapturous applause? Will he be able to show his face again? Tenacious? Seriously?

Welp, it's said and done. The show went off relatively hitchless. My one music cue, trying to help button a scene searching hard for a button, proved to be one music cue too many and went AWOL, which made for some awkward silence. But all things considered (all things being one week between casting and curtain), I was proud to be there and to be partly responsible. I was also proud to have worked with a cast who were the acme of professionalism. It takes a lot of commitment and a lot of flexibility to do this sorta thing, and they were game (and excellent) the whole way.

I also ended up acting for one of the other pieces. This was a development I was made aware of about 24 hours before curtain. I really have to learn to say 'no' to these happy accidents. It turned out fine, though, as I (the tallest guy on stage, as per usual) was able to stand towards the back of a crowd of actors and use them to hide my (hush, hush!) script. Yeah, maybe I was yet again playing the semi-timid, awkwardly comedic role. And maybe impotence jokes were made at my expense ... again. But I didn't have to memorize shit, beetches. So there.

Like I started to mention last time, my Per Diem planning had been in the holding bin -- is that a real phrase? -- for a while last week, and as it was there the rest of me decided to go ahead and rediscover basic principles. Now, as I'm getting the blueprints out of hock, I'm discovering that there is some minor tweaking to be done in what I want and need to do artistically and what I had gotten all up in my head about a couple of weeks ago. Last week did a good job of grounding me. We'll see how long I can hold on to that.

Right now my brain is compartmentalizing what I want to get out here into two catagories: what I've learned and what concerns me at the moment. Just this once, I'll let the brain lead the blog.

What I've Learned

(Entirely extrinisic caveat: reading back over this section, it seems far too simplistic. Fully realizing that it's unjustified, I still can't help but feel that it reads like it was written from the kid's table. Then again, the best advice always seems to be the simplest. And besides, this is for me first and foremost. You come second, ya jerk. There, I feel better.)

For a week's worth of rehearsals on a 10-minute script, I took a lot out of last week. I was a little baffled on what to do with the piece when I first received it, and I started by looking at it conceptually, quickly getting some low-budget design ideas and broadened character strokes to bring out hints of the essential archetypes I was seeing. Then I got a cast and I watched them work shit out the first few times through the script ('Note to self' director rule 1: At least one full readthrough, another if feasible, before I indulge any of my own vision).

The best part about working with good actors is that they, consciously or not, are aware of the importance of a balance between what they are experiencing and what the director is soliciting. I had a good actors. They took my direction and they processed it and when they spat it out again, I could see what I had given them, but it had morphed into this new creature with a few more suppressed emotions than I had expected; or a tilt of the head or glimmer in the eye that betrayed a second line of thought; or a jumped line not out of unfamiliarity or discomfort or anything self-conscious but out of genuine urgency to make the other person aware of these thoughts boiling over. We avoided all of those (and I say this as an actor and out of love) painstaking actorly discussions about motivation and what their character would or would not do.say.think.feel. Instead, they showed me how the character was doing.saying.thinking.feeling what I had asked for. It was rarely exactly what I had envisioned, and that kicked ass, because, while I knew I could steer them to a different path if choices came about that didn't sit well, everything else created that sense of unpredictability that blurs the line between stage and life.

('Note to self' director rule 2: John Cassavetes knew his shit.) I also discovered that I can't do blocking. I don't know if it's an inability, a disinterest, or both, but I suspect the latter. I just can't sit down and give marks and create good stage pictures and place the actors into a transparent maze and let them bounce around like lab rats. I didn't give a lick of blocking to start out with. We had a very basic set, and I let the actors loose and watched them figure shit out on their own. They felt horribly out of place, they got trapped behind the sofa, they sat at awkward moments and seemed afraid to stand again, they avoided each other, but before long they also started to forget about the concept of stage movement. By the third time through, they had already started to form patterns of movement, places where they felt comfortable moving into or away from each other, times when they were completely self-involved or other times when they were invested with and moving in relation to the other. Once they got to this point we had a framework to work from. And we definitely did tweak, but the greater idea was always that the movement was based from and built upon what had been created by them instinctually. And because it was based in their natural choices, it seemed that much easier to deviate and still feel comfortable.

Para ejemple, there was a point in the script where one of my actors would consistently turn and retreat behind the sofa, only to get stuck in some upstage vortex not long after. It was during an strong point of conflict in a play all about (or that we made all about) a power struggle and she hadn't been in control at all at up to that point. I told her try stepping up to the other actor at that point rather than retreating. That's all the direction I gave, nothing to do afterward, nothing for the other actor, no 'motivation' crap. We did the scene again, she stepped into him and it was straight dominos: he (who had been in complete control seconds prior) immediately backed up, she kept moving into him, and suddenly the power status had 180'd until it hit a breaking point and she turned and walked away, leaving him out to hang. It looked brilliant. And it looked brilliant because it was real.

('Note to self' director rule 3: Characters first, concept second.) Like I mentioned, before I had a cast I was primarily looking at the play conceptually. I had pre- and post-show music inspiration. (Although those choices did stay -- the effective use of contemporary music in film, TV, and theatre has always been a big interest of mine.) I was also envisioning grand opposing character archetypes of a farcical nature. Basically, I was unable to initially connect to the script that had been handed to me and so I was forcing another angle upon it. Then I heard the first readthrough, and real people jumped out of these words. I didn't immediately drop my conceptualizations, but the week started to take a 'give some, get some' form between what I had seen in my head and what I was seeing with my eyes. And when it came down to it, more often than not I was paring down extraneous ideas in favor of relationship time.

I partially chalk this up to not initially lining up with the piece I was directing, but it does carry a parallel to some potential Per Diem work. A lot of my ideas deal with sweeping formal experimentation, which will draw a large amount of focus from the audience. As a result, I had started to give the formal aspects a lot of my focus as well. This is counter-productive. To truly get rid of an audience's addiction to the next moment, the rehearsal work will have to focus on the theatre that is happening in between the experimentation. What is there must be so compelling that it outweighs the shock of the unexpected. To gain that balance, in which truly anything could happen next and the audience is so engaged in the now that they don't care, that is the ultimate goal.

I'm sure I could go on and on about more little elementary tidbits I picked up, but I'll spare you this time. Maybe if I'm feeling frisky in the near future. Although, it looks like there will in fact be a Life and Times trilogy, so's I can share the what concerns me at the moment part of my brain as well.

Thrilling conclusion and all that jazz...


Monday, July 23, 2007

The Life and Times (but mainly just last week) of Paul Rekk, Idealist...Fool; Part One

I've spent a good deal of time in the last few days consulting friends, mentors, the library, and the webbernets about Per Diem and starting a company. Current mindset: With a lot of persuasion and a little bribery, I should be able to universally wipe that decision from recent memory.

I'm mostly kidding, but mein Gott -- I've definitely managed to find good use for the 'be patient' bullet in Anne Bogart's list o' handy tips that recently made the blog-o-rounds. There's been an amazing outpouring of good advice and moral support from every which way but loose. That kicks ass. On the other hand, I'm still the only person who has shown an interest in actually being a part of Per Diem. This feeds my inner punk ass adolescent quite well (which is a pretty significant part of my inner), but in the long run it far from kicks ass. But I have a couple of friends I still need to meet over coffee (or drinks, which might be more effective), who most definitely have a desire to hear more.


That was written one week ago today. I started the post towards the end of the workday, got distracted and told myself I would finish it the next day. I didn't finish it the next day: that night kicked off a whirlwind of a week, at which not only my blog, but also any Per Diem planning got sidelined.

Now, coming back to the draft, I can distinctly recall what I was feeling when writing those words, but I'll be damned if that sentiment hasn't dissipated. I still don't have anyone else on board as a member of Per Diem (but I also haven't had a chance to meet up with any of those friends, or anyone else, in the interim), and that still needs to change tout suite, but the pre-defeated self-deprecating tone, which I use to great lengths, really isn't all that prevalent in my mindset right now.

Lots has happened in the past week to help this along:

  • Lookingglass Alice completely steered me back on track right as I was getting too stuck in my head about missions and concepts, etc. about Per Diem -- my weepfest in the lobby was not just a celebration of life, but a re-realization of what I wanted (needed) to create: work that was "the moment after what just happened and before what was to come." (Sorry for the horrid misquote, I reserve the right to edit after I revisit Lookingglass in a couple weeks.)
  • Around the same time, in an e-mail from the recently reconnected friend I mentioned last week, she wrote that she felt inferior hearing about what I was doing in Chicago because she was still in college, and didn't really have an idea how the theatrical world actually worked outside of academia. I was extra quick to correct her on the inferior part, especially considering I still don't know shit about shit, but it did get me to stop for a second and acknowledge what I have accomplished in only two years (come September) in Chicago. I was a tried and true starry-eyed small town actor boy at the time, and ironically, every one of those qualifiers still fits me, but not all together like that. On the other hand, the things that I have taken on (and in) in that time have been no less than revelatory.
  • The biggest introspection came from the directing project (again, look for the Bries Vannon side of Paul Rekk) that has taken all of my focus for the last week. It's my Chicago directorial debut and, actually, the first time I've directed since college (which, granted, isn't that long ago). Since I went to such a small school, it's also the first time I've directed a cast who I wasn't at least acquainted with before hand, which made putting on the director hat a tad different. And while we're tossing on firsts, it's also the first time I directed since all of the revelatory changes of the last two years (see above), which meant the director hat had taken on a whole new style anyway. But the show is tonight (double link for emphasis) and I'm really proud of what it has evolved into (enough so to warrant a triple link...), and the lessons I've taken out it.

Next time, in the thrilling conclusion, "Part 2": the lessons learned and the decisions made. And how the show went.


Friday, July 20, 2007

I wanna be a book, too!

The book quiz... it's everywhere!

You're Prufrock and Other Observations!

by T.S. Eliot

Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic
and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying
to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really
heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Yeah, I can deal with that.


"One Can't Perhaps, But Two Surely Can."

I saw Lookingglass Alice on Tuesday night. After the show, I walked into the lobby with my roommate, put my head on his shoulder and wept. Now, I don't pretend to be the manliest of manly men or even that I don't tend to tear up from time to time at the movies or the theatre, because I do. But I am the typical emotionally crippled masculine persona that tends to hide his feelings (especially the sad ones) from the public. And I openly sobbed in the lobby of Lookingglass' Water Tower space, because what I had just seen had so perfectly encompassed everything that I had once felt about life but had forgotten, everything I tried to strive towards with my work but tended to get sidetracked from, everything I want to see in mankind but so often dismiss (or get dismissed) as starry-eyed idealism. It was my 'fairies are real' moment, and it came exactly when I needed it.

One of my mentors through high school and college (still a good friend) idolized the story of Peter Pan. She sees herself as a grown version of Peter (and honestly, she's got somewhat of a solid claim there). I tried to follow suit. Everytime she made a reference to what would be my eventual turn as Wendy, I protested and protested that there was no way. Growing old? What a waste of time! But I did change, and am still doing so. I may not have 'grown up' in the traditional become an accountant with a wife and 2.5 kids manner, but I've lost some of the naivete that ran rampant through my high school self. I now know why. I've been trying to conform myself to someone else's life for years now. I'm not Peter Pan. I can't stay the same while others around me grow old and discover new diversions -- I want to change, I want to evolve, but at the same time, I want to hold on to that child-like vision of the world.

No, I am Alice. My eyes are on the prize, sometimes to the point of foolishness. I can become so obsessed with where I am going that I forget where I am. And I'm stubborn to be sure, but not so much so that I can't wean a moral from the chaos of life from time to time. I am growing old. I'm not very far on the path yet, but it is happening whether I like it or not. But that's ok, because I do like it, and because I am constantly bowled over by the profundities of life and of love and of death and of myself. But I am lucky enough to live in a world (be it America, Chicago, the theatre world, or my own head) that I can constantly be reminded of how thin the barrier is between complexity and simplicity and how whimsical and delightful life is if I only allow myself to break that barrier. To enjoy what is happening at this moment for the mere fact that it is happening at this moment. To worry less and less about whys and hows. To believe impossible things -- as many as six before breakfast.

Even at this moment, I'm hesitating posting this. My constant struggle with blogging is my need to impress. It feels like everything I post here should be utterly original or at least a profound take on something old. Not this time: a good, old-fashioned sappy-ass gush over the world and how much it kicks ass. That's it.

That's what I'm feeling at this moment.


The Blogosphere Forges On

Has it really only been four days? Seems like I've got a lot of catching up to do for such a short time. Expect multiple posts in quick progression.

It's been a hella week: if Per Diem planning weren't overwhelming enough (and it were), I'm also in the middle of rehearsal for a one-week play festival. (Look for the 'other' identity: Bries Vannon.) Plus, after about a year and a half of not a cent of communication -- on either end -- I've reconnected with an very dear ex-girlfriend: we broke up because I was moving to Chicago from the other end of Iowa, and our contact fell into disarray pretty quickly because of the major life events each of us was going through. That friendship was the one bridge I had been afraid Chicago had burned for good, and finding out otherwise has been tapping a lot of heart and mind power (in all the best ways, of course). That's not to mention major (MAJOR) personal epiphanies at the hands of Lookingglass Alice (that'll get a post to itself), a beautiful (and rainy) Decemberists concert in Millennium Park, and a lot of sleep -- at least 18 of the last 36 hours. Apparently I was deprived.

So, aside from Lookingglass Alice, I've also got a half-finished Per Diem/tribalism draft saved from Tuesday, and now Kerry Reid is wreaking havoc in comment sections web-wide with some marvelous thoughts on artists and acknowledging the idea of fallacy in them as well as their work. I best get crackin'.

Other things I may not find time to touch on, but require a gander: Harry Potter fallout, hours o' fun thanks to Rob Kozlowski, and funny cats.

I heart funny cats.


Monday, July 16, 2007

If you look to your left...

Lots o' neat things going on:

I have tribalism thoughts as well, especially as Per Diem approaches actuality. All soon to come.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Speaking Of Horror Movies

I received the following today from a friend via a small group e-mail:

The past month, as I've waited at my usual bus stop to catch the 147 to work (and believe me, I usually wait much longer than I would like), I've been affronted by a giant face of a woman whose make-up is smeared due to her tears. She is confined by what seems to be a chain-link fence. I would guess that most of you have seen this poster around the city lately, or at least as a banner/ad on many web-sites. It is for the film CAPTIVITY - yet another mainstream film of the "torture porn" variety.

Now, I'm writing this to perhaps get a dialogue going, because I am no proponent of censorship, and I believe that violence (and even brutal violence) can be used very effectively in almost all genres of art. I also believe that utilizing shocking images can also be a useful tool in film, visual art, and theatre, if done properly and in moderation. In fact, one of my favorite plays seems to spend a good portion of the script subjecting its audience to horrific and shocking images solely for the sake of unnerving them and bringing them to a distressful emotional state in the hopes that they will empathise with political prisoners who are treated mercilessly in prisons and by the governmental theocrasy. It's brutal, to say the least, but at the heart is a beautiful statement about the stamina and persistance of the spirit of humanity and goodness.

However, this wave of films disturbs the hell out of me. The SAW films, CAPTIVITY, HOSTEL (and pretty much anything by the media whore and masogonyst Eli Roth), etc. Now here's the horrible part - I've never really seen any of these films. This makes me a hypocrite, because I HATE it when people make a judgement about a film they haven't seen (The Christian Right and their protests of films like Scorsese's LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST comes to mind). However, I know I don't really want to subject myself to these types of films. I have seen a couple from
Japan, and that was enough for me. So, perhaps I have no business whatsoever even talking about this topic, but I really can't help but feel that this trend points to something very wrong in my opinion.

So, due to the nature of disgust and outrage, the flip-side is my fascination with the topic, so as CAPTIVITY opened today, I went seeking out reviews for the film today, and I came across this link to Joss Whedon's web site and an article he wrote about the film:

While I love Firefly/Serenity, and I love what he's written for X-Men, I don't drool of Joss Whedon like many do, but I think he's really got something significant to say in this article.

Have any of you seen any of these films? What do you think? Do they desensitize the populace to images of violence and torture? Does violence of this kind become more acceptable to our psyches when we are subjected to fictional depictions of it? If so, what are the implications? What do you think of these films being rated R instead of NC-17? How much violence do we need on the screen before the MPAA says it's too much? Even so, do these films have a place even outside of the mainstream? Thoughts?

Sorry if this whole thing is a little scatter-brained - I'm at work and kind of outraged at the whole thing... Check out the article and let me know what you think!

Here's my (limited) response:

As both a cinephile and a horror junkie (two hats which are often hard to align), this is a subject that has interested me for a while now. That and I'm actually a little sad I won't get to play 'spot the release date' on the Captivity posters anymore.

Some quick set-up on my knowledge base: I'm a huge horror fan, and while I agree that there are some despicable horror films out there, I don't know that I can condemn any entire genre of horror, such as "torture porn" or Ebert's favorite classifier, the "Dead Teenager Movie". As far as the current wave goes, I haven't seen many either, also to my dismay (but for different reasons). I recently watched the first Saw, and while I wasn't all that impressed, it had enough potential for me to be interested in watching II and III to see if they were able to build on it. I haven't seen either Hostel, but while I very much disliked Cabin Fever, I have heard enough interesting and thoughtful responses to Hostel (both on the positive and negative side) to give it a shot. I really didn't have any interest in Captivity, but did notice that it does have an good pedigree, being written by famed cult director Larry Cohen and helmed by double Oscar-nominee Roland Joffe. Then again, I'm still not very interested. I've also seen a decent amount of underground foreign horror, though, and if the comparison between, say, Saw and Japan's Evil Dead Trap or Guinea Pig series (the latter of which I haven't seen) or even Italy's Zombie, is any indication, America's got an inflated sense of the word 'graphic'. Not that Saw wasn't violent or that I feel more gore should have been added, but the horrific parts of the film were not the blood and guts, but the inconceivable situations that the writers managed to think up.

So no, I guess I don't object in theory to these violent films. In fact, I more object to the label 'torture porn' and its automatic assumption that pornography is a necessarily evil thing -- which is a whole different discussion. The important part of America's sudden obsession with graphic violence is not the what but the why. Why do these films sell? What exactly is going on in the human psyche during these images? What is going on in my psyche during these images? In a simplified manner -- why do we enjoy the feelings of fear and disgust? That's not only another discussion, there's an entire thesis in those questions.

As far as the Whedon aspect goes, I think there's a dangerous assumption being drawn (and he's not the first by any means) between desensitization to violence and misogyny, which are two entirely different topics. A film that potrays graphic violence against a woman is not by default misogynistic, just as a misogynistic film does not necessarily need to portray graphic violence against a woman. Are there misogynistic horror films? Absolutely. The entire Sexploitation genre (which contains many a horror film) is constantly up in debate over its gender politics. But for Whedon to say that he is giving the film a chance based on the creative minds behind it and then to jump on the misogynist bandwagon after seeing only the trailer? C'mon -- Whedon's a filmmaker, he should know perfectly well that the creative team and the marketing team on a studio film have the rarest of interaction. Captivity might by misogynistic, but you can't confidently call it that having only seeing the trailer any more than having seen the poster. (It's also worth noting that Whedon's input on the subject was initially urged by a friend of his -- an executive producer of Buffy -- who is part of a Hollywood feminist group actively campaigning against Captivity. Not that I don't think Whedon's words are heartfelt, just an interesting aside.)

And Whedon's evocation of the murder of Dua Khalil in order to further his point does a disservice to the tragedy of the poor girl and her family. To take a culturally, politically, religiously disparate situation and apply it unquestioningly to not only the rules of the American viewpoint, but the American media viewpoint (*shudder*) is beyond ethnocentric. It has to stem from either ignorance or inhumanity, neither of which I had initially pegged Whedon for.

I'm a lot more hesitant to talk about the feminist/misogynist aspect of these films, because I just don't know how I feel yet. The sentiment of Whedon's (and his commenters') arguments seems all together too off-putting and at times antagonistic to be effective (and yes, I realize that speaking from the male perspective in a male-dominated society I should just shut up and take it -- but where does that get us?). The solution cannot lie in the further singling out of any gender. All that's going to result in is the same kind of partisanship that currently divides America politically. And while it's true that in that case the power is more or less equal, or at least shifts equally, that's not a sort of friction that we can afford as a species to have between the genders. But I don't have any answers, which is the problem. All I can do is point to the Buckminster Fuller quote a few posts back (which Ming-Zhu coincidentally referenced recently in terms of gender politics). The answer is not to create a matriarchal society that apes our current patriarchal one, the answer has to be based in completely new ideas, ideas that work for society as a whole

And to think, I was going to write about the ongoing tribalism discussion some more. That'll have to wait 'til next time


It's Friday the 13th...

...do you know where your Voorhees is?


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Into The Fire

I'm starting a theatre company. There. Too late to turn back now. I feel a little like Indiana Jones at the moment, staring down the Holy Grail, but from across a seemingly bottomless chasm. A seemingly bottomless chasm that I'm about to willfully step into. And Sean Connery's my dad. Actually, that part's pretty cool.

It's been an off-and-on lingering thought for close to a year now, but thanks to a recent resurgance along with inspiration a la blogosphere and some choice words of encouragement from Anne Bogart via Slay and Tony, I've convinced myself that this is a good idea for a long enough period of time to actually act on it. I'm channeling my zen side (which is no easy feat) as best I can and walking into the abyss with arms open (also as best I can). 'Tis a bit scary, though.

Here's the scoop as best I've been able to whittle it down after a few days of heavy thinking and long conversations with close friends:

The company stems from the theories I've been rambling about on this blog the last few weeks. I've taken to referring to it as Anti-Anticipation, because it's a more broadly suited term. The approach is two-pronged: first, and most obviously, to create work that diverts and subverts our (and thus the audience's) expectations of theatre as an artform. To provide a theatrical experience where anything, everything, or nothing could happen at any time. The second, but more essential reading of Anti-Anticipation concerns not the counteraction of Anticipation, but the removal of it. In an environment where anything can happen, what is happening must be so passionate, so at hand as to make the next second irrelevant, to stop the artists and the audience from jumping to conclusions, from trying to guess the ending, from having expectations or anticipations of any sort. When anything is possible, the only thing that matters is the actual. The company will strive to create this actuality through a willing sacrifice to the next moment.

I'm calling it Per Diem.

An important part to all of this is that Per Diem's output will be a sum of it's parts. Each piece will stand alone, but no piece will be a stand-alone. Rather than a string of unrelated work, as most companies produce each season (that's not a judgment), Per Diem's work will continually build upon this theory of Anti-Anticipation, always a further step towards that goal. Each piece must be informed by every piece that has come before in order to avoid undesired patterns or assumptions.

Whew... that was a brainful. This is the part where I worry some more.

I'm truly excited about these ideas, but we all know how far that alone will get me. Please, please, please, I am leaping right out of the frying pan on this one -- I need all the advice I can get. E-mail (or comment, your choice) with any thoughts, questions, warnings, support, tips, Nigerian spam scams that you might possibly have. My mind is a whirlwind right now.

This may be the scariest thing I've done in my (granted, short) life. I think that's a good sign. Right?


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Do your part!

A reminder: do your part to fight EOS -- it hasn't become an epidemic in Chicago yet, but I have been privy to a few isolated instances. Keep your eyes peeled, EOS usually strikes when you least expect it!


"This is, like, a hundred times better than Armageddon!"

I saw 500 Clown Macbeth this weekend while doing a bit of research. My parents and two high school/college age brothers are coming to town in a couple of weeks and none of them are really "theatre people", so it's a neverending quest to convince them that there are shows that are just as entertaining and spectacular as Wicked, but cheaper, more Chicago-centric, and in places that I won't have to deal with as many tourists. (I'm already joining them for a Cubs game... if I'm dealing with Wrigleyville, I get to call a shot or two myself.) Micky B passed with flying colors, so's we're all heading down to 500 Clown Frankenstein on closing weekend. If it's anything like the other show, it'll be perfect for the family. Macbeth was a prime example of not talking down to an audience while providing something for every level of viewer -- from the three (?) people who laughed at the "Burnham Lumber Co." sight gag to the guy who seemed flabbergasted that one of the clowns had come out into the audience and was actually talking directly to him, and expecting a reply, no less!

I'm also getting two new tattoos with my middle brother and his girlfriend (both of their first) while they're here. There's a whole different sort of exciting.

I followed up 500 Clown with Transformers, in true everyman fashion, and while I'm no Bay apologist, and the film doesn't even near my top 10 of 2007 so far (yes, I'm a film geek and I keep track of these things -- don't mock, I wear that badge proudly), it was a good time. The most striking part for me seemed to be that Bay's actually starting to be funny. The joke:laugh ratio still ain't nothing outstanding, but c'mon: the Autobots 'hiding' as a bunch of souped up cars and trucks right smack dab in the middle of a residential backyard? That was damn funny.

The big complaint I keep hearing about the film is that it's impossible to tell what's going on during the fights. I didn't really have too much of a problem with it, and I can't help but wonder if this is the positive flip side of the MTV generation -- sure, today's youth ain't got patience for shit, but ain't it also likely that we are able to process these flash and dash images more effectively than, say, Roger Ebert? Someone has to have done a study on this; direct me to results!

Also, big big recommendation for Mary-Arrchie's Sam Shepard two-fer going on right now. More specifically for Cowboy Mouth. Even more specifically for Hans Fleischmann's knock-down drag-out Slim and Richard Cotovsky's seamless direction. I can't tell where one stops and the other begins, and the result is one of the best shows I've seen in the city.

"He sleeps on my belly 'cause my belly is Today!"


Friday, July 6, 2007

A Tribe Called...

Assignment: Go read Scott Walters' recent blog on theatrical tribalism. Then come back.


So, how was that for you?

I am deeply in love with the ideas Daniel Quinn (and Walters) entertain. I raised some questions in his comments about the birth of the tribe primarily from a selfish standpoint, as the Anti-Anticipation that I've been bandying about recently is not only a creative launching pad near and dear to me, but one that I would love to see, and ultimately picture, as a tribal atmosphere. In attempting to subvert expectation, there is the realization that I, too, have lines that I am not even aware could be crossed, and to truly be a creative force in which every production plays by its own (and a different) set of rules, other voices, willing to challenge and be challenged in return, are necessary.

The Buckminster Fuller quote bears repeating:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
It seems to me that this statement encourages an even greater expanse of (quasi-)tribalism than Quinn is bringing into light. For my money, the greatest artistic formulations of modern times have all sprung from tribes or groups with one foot in tribalism, but not only because they worked together as a group of like-minded artists of equal footing, but also because they were willing to work apart, while still maintaining the same rapport and the same artistic ideology. Rather than the introspective tribe of Quinn's description, in which a circle of individuals moves inward to form a unified creative cauldron, I prefer the idea of the artists banding together looking outward, flinging themselves (at times in multiplicity, at times solo) out at the world, leaving their common mark on everyone who comes into contact with them. It is less communistic than Quinn's idea, but it has been extremely prodigious, in my opinion:
  • The Surrealists, despite the attempted tyranny of Andre Breton, were influential enough to spawn one of the most misused adjectives of modern times (their namesake)
  • Dada, which managed to spring forth numerous successful tribes internationally all in one go
  • The Nouvelle Vague, one of the rare instances of critics putting their money where their mouth is -- and to great effect
  • The Factory, the greatest example of artistic tribalism, as well as the idea of a 'boss' vs. a 'leader'
  • And dozens of other smaller, but equally revolutionary tribes: the Vienna Aktionists, the Panic Movement, Oulipo, and on and on

These are my artistic heroes. These are the individuals of the last century who have encouraged thought and progression in their respective forms. This is where I draw my inspiration and what drives me to create work that I hope can inspire in the future. And, thanks to Scott's post, I just put two and two together that these are all examples of (liberally defined, sure) tribalism.

I need to find me some other tribe members


EDIT: And, in true serendipity, I finished this post just in time to see Rebecca's encouraging comment on my last post. The times, as they say, are a-changin', and there's a big ol' grin spread across my face.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Expect the Unexpected

I very briefly touched on some upcoming projects in my last post, and while the pile on my desk here at work is no less massive, I'm going to elaborate anyway.

About this time last year, I started to take an interest in the very building blocks of the theatrical experience and how assumptive both the audience and the artists had become about what was and was not and what could or could not happen in theatre. I started keeping a list of aspects and forms and structures within theatre that were taken as fact and ways they could be subverted, and came up with quite a few. All of this was done with the goal of capturing that moment of utter vulnerability and surprise when an audience encounters an action onstage (or off) that they in no way saw coming. But not a plot twist or a character choice or any other event within the work that they weren't expecting; rather, a moment in which the audience is momentarily thrust into self-awareness as they come to terms with the new rules of the evening. This can take the form of certain types of audience interaction, but more often it is an attack on a (or multiple) basic tenet of the form. Anti-classicism, perhaps: in which the only boundaries are the boundaries we apply to ourselves and the boundaries for each show widely differ. The greater goal, then, is to marry the experience of being enrapt by a well-produced play to the avoidance of complacency by refusing to feed all of the basic expectations of audience.

And so, after a year of turning this idea around in my head, I decided that if it was going to get done, I was going to have to do it. This is the point where I thrust it all up on my blog. Then, in some exciting conversation yesterday, a couple of friends of my expressed possible interest in their company producing the work if I was willing to take up much of the manpower (which I would have been doing anyway had I self-produced). Nothing is, of course, certain at this time, hence part of my vagueness, but if all goes smoothly, we could be looking at the first production maybe as soon as early 2008.

I say first production (and am also maintaining part of the vagueness) because of how I envision the project. While all of the pieces I am germinating on the page must be able to stand and have A Point on their own, the whole in my mind is greater than the sum of its parts. The purpose of this experiment is to create a dialogue about the infinite possibilities of the stage and how to use those possibilities to force an audience to come prepared for anything -- an audience who is forced to invest themselves into the evening much like the performers, rather than an audience who is catered to by the performers. With this project (which it now occurs to me I really need to put a name to...), the goal is to remove audience expectation and allow them to experience things for the 'first time', just as we strive to perform them for the 'first time'.

Because of the nature of the beast, these will most likely be one weekend, three show events. I first balked at this and tried to figure a way to extend them while maintaining some sense of surprise, but it hit me that theatre is a temporal art anyway and that three to five week runs are just another basic expectation the form is molded into thanks to outside factors (performance spaces, a procrastinating audience, worries about Jeff eligibility), and that a long run, while always a possibility for certain shows in the project less reliant on an audience coming in blind, is not a requirement of good theatre -- just another block to tumble and stand astride.

It all sounds grandiose and I realize that at this point much doubt will be raised as to how long this sort of thing can last before it is completely run into the ground, but the blogosphere is consistent in releasing giant sighs of "get off your ass and do it" to persistent bitchers. This persistent bitcher is getting off his ass and doing it. I'll continue to post information here as it is solidified (not to mention marketing, which will be key, and yet another aspect to subvert at times), and hopefully the blogosphere that was so eager to get new idea-makers on the scene will support some new ideas.

I'm pretty faithful in this bunch...


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A little less talk...

Don't worry, this ain't gonna be one of those "why doesn't everyone stop bitching and do something" posts -- it's a bit more self-centered (imagine that!).

My roommate and I, since I moved in back in April, have been having regular spontaneous late night talks about what we want to achieve and what we aren't getting artistically. It's been more or less our own little Rogers Park blogosphere between the two of us, except in person. And, of course, it's always ended with one of us telling the other to stop talking and actually get out and do something.

This weekend we may have finally breached that wall. My roommate, an actor/artist/photographer, brought his camera along to Iowa and we stopped along the way and took two rolls of film all themed around myself, an American flag, and miles and miles of cornfields, breaking a three-year lapse in his photography efforts. And they turned out fuckin' great. With the prints in hand, we got in to another of the same discussions last night as he expressed some dissatisfaction with another project he was working on. Except this time we ended with some basic plans on what to do, rather than a generic "do something". And it came around to me as well, and my desire to create theatre that flips expectation on its head. I'm sure it will take some mutual continuous urging between the two of us (and others, p.s.), but he's got kernels of exhibition ideas and I'm most definitely in the (early) planning stages of putting up theatre that I've been whining about not seeing for months now.

I'm a little reticent about going into too much detail about my plans, because of the nature of the work (it's hard to flip expectation on its head when everyone already knows what to expect), but it's an embrace of a new direction of theatre, which like it or not, is a topic that has been bandied about online a lot recently. I'll go into the greater ideas (the mission, Dan?) behind my ideas sometime when I don't have a pile of paperwork in front of me at my day job -- tonight or tomorrow, maybe -- but at the very core, we're talking about one weekend Event Theatre, a trust exercise in the avant-garde, as word of mouth will have to be immediate or between productions; and placing faith in society's willingness to be exposed to new ideas of theatre and theatre's ability to consistently reinvent those ideas.