Thursday, September 27, 2007


Once again, if you haven't read Scott Walters and Tom Loughlin's excellent five-part series on the state of theatre education (nicely organized by the folks at Praxis Theatre here), do it now. This post was originally going to be a reaction, with my thoughts on their thoughts, and it still will to some extent, but I don't really have a wide knowledge of the theatre education system, at least not in the sort of programs that Walters and Loughlin are speaking of/working in. Instead, this will be a reflection on my experiences in hopes that I will discover something or two in the process. Coincidentally, I just directed the chair of my old theatre department to my blog a few days ago. Let's see how I juggle that knowledge with this post.

Basic info on my education: I graduated from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. The current incarnation of the theatre department is extremely young, now sneaking up on just under a decade or so. (If I remember correctly, there was a program at one point in time that was dropped long ago and needed to be restarted from scratch.) I was one of the first few graduating classes to come out of the program with a major, which is actually a Communication Studies major with a Theatre emphasis. I was one of three majors who graduated in 2005. Small school + new program = tiny numbers.

Basic info on my specific experience: I didn't have an inch of a clue what I wanted to do coming into school, but theatre wasn't on the list of interests despite a lot of involvement in high school. I ended up focusing on Radio and Television Production, but got bored after mastering the basics. I took an acting class spring of my sophomore year and ended up coming back that fall as a theatre major. I hit the ground running and did quite well for myself in the last two years, but the fact remains that I didn't even set an eye on the theatre department for almost half of my education.

There was a decent period of time not long after I moved to Chicago that I felt very unsatisfied with the education I had received. I was discovering all of these other techniques and movements and styles and endless possibilites that hadn't even crossed my ears in college and I was frustrated, because it seemed as though my education had been on a much more elementary level than that of the people I was encountering. And to a certain degree, it was. But I no longer blame the program for that nearly as much, for a number of reasons.

First of all, it was a relatively elementary program. Not only was the curriculum in its infancy when I arrived, it was also a BA (without the 'F') program at a small Midwestern Lutheran liberal arts-oriented school. The basics are exactly what we should have been learning. Plus, it certainly didn't help matters that I tore through the program in two years. What I got was the basics of the basics, taking in 100% of the information in 50% of the time, never a good learning environment. The discoveries I have made my first two years in Chicago are discoveries I should have been making my junior and senior years of college. And probably would have been, with a little foresight and/or patience.

Preparing to graduate, I was in a total lurch in the 'what next?' department. I did the whole grad school search, paid out for the URTAs, went completely unnoticed, and got really down on myself. I knew a few people who were in grad school, a few who were on their way to, and a few who were doing intern stints in places like Milwaukee and Louisville, but I didn't really know that many who had gone out and done their own damn thing. Not only was it frightening, it felt like the leftovers, the island of misfit theatre practitioners.

First pause for topical enlightenment: this is exactly the sort of status quo mentality that Scott and Tom are talking about: "Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Now I'm a real artist!" It seems ridiculous in hindsight, but not going for my MFA seemed to be a very real concern at the time. This was not something I was taught, either. I should be clear that my education did not actively instill these steps in me. It just seemed to be the way things work. And someone like myself, who very rarely buys into the "way things work" excuse and often fought it even at that point, still felt utterly inadequate for falling outside of the system. This says to me that it's not enough to passively skim over the Goliath effect of the system; educators must actively encourage students to take the David role and find unique ways around the big problems.

Regularly scheduled blog: I do lament the lack of, shall we say, variety presented to us. But this comes with a program whose chair is also the department's only dedicated faculty member. (Hi, William! Welcome to my blog!) When the same man who is teaching Acting is also teaching Stagecraft, Directing, Survey of Drama, etc., his opinions are bound to seem a little universal. He wasn't tyrannical in his views at all and I'm certain that he would have encouraged a little dissonance every now and again. But theses are 18-22 year olds we're talking about, an age with a great capacity to get uppity countered with an intense need to not be seen as foolish. We could've provided the dissonance, but some poking and prodding would have been necessary. And as a result of me not questioning as much as I otherwise would have, I had to come to certain realizations long after I should have. A specific example: I didn't gain an appreciation of Beckett until way late in the game. While Beckett wasn't ignored, nor was an anti-Beckett regime taught, it was obvious that our chair was not a fan. Which isn't a bad thing in itself -- in fact, in a traditional theatrical department, that would be the dissonance -- but without any other views to take into account, we generally paid little mind to Beckett, which is a shame.

Second pause for enlightenment: Students, especially in undergrad, are bound to adopt the views of their professors. Countering this must come from more than one direction. Yes, our chair could, and probably should, have more actively encouraged us to challenge him (or read more Beckett). However, I think that more essential (through leading by example) is a theatre department whose members hold a variety of opposing artistic beliefs and who are visibly productive both as individuals and as a community despite (and hopefully because of) that variety. Having professors who enjoyed Beckett as well as those who didn't would have been far more helpful than one who didn't or many who did (as I'm sure is the case in many departments). It's much in line with the anti-gated community that Scott talks about in his most recent post. More important than students being told to think for themselves is being able to closely observe experienced artists thinking for themselves and using that to further each other's (and their collaborative) work. Leading by example and all that.

Regulary scheduled summation: So this ended up being closer to a love letter to my education that I would have ever guessed. While I am coming to appreciate my earlier formative years (because they're still happening, of course) more by the day, there were definitely some problems, both major and minor, with Wartburg's program. But I'll save those, and maybe suggestions for possible solutions, for the next post.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pizza! Pizza!

A Little Caesar's just opened three blocks from my house. I had brief consumer relations with the Caesar while living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for a summer, but it was nowhere near the stone's throw away this one is. I predict much one dollar Crazy Bread in my future; this is either a very good or verrrrrry bad development.

Marisa and David have tagged me [edit: Ack! Rob got me, too!] with a 'lameness' blog that was actually started by Marisa. That's right, people, I'm important enough to be included in the first wave of a meme. Boo-yah.

Here's the meme:

List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be "totally lame," but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of. Own it. Tag 5 others:

I'm actually having a bit of trouble with this one, not because I'm not lame but because I'm gleefully unaware of just how lame I can really be. Here goes nuttin':

1. I was a spelling bee kid. A fair chunk of my junior high years were spent spelling. According to the Knights of Columbus, I was third best speller in the state of Iowa in 7th grade. (And I still hold a grudge against the moderator/judge: if you pronounce "accessible" like "assessable", my 7th grade self is going to spell "assessable") My shining moment was winning the South Dakota regional Scripps Howard spelling bee -- that's the one whose national competition is broadcast on ESPN. Unfortunately, because I was an Iowa resident, I wasn't allowed to move on to the state competition and the runner-up took my place. I did get to keep the three-foot-tall trophy, though.

2. I have a history of blood-related fainting. It used to be horribly embarrassing, but I'm coming around to it slowly. Seeing blood doesn't really bother me, but my imagination is what you might call active, so when I hear stories or only get snippets, I can visualize the rest and often much worse than the reality of the situation. (It is probably also a big contributing factor to my extreme phobia of accidentally slitting my wrists.) Among the inconvenient places I have (or have almost) passed out: my college cafeteria, a movie theatre (two, almost three, times!), the Red Line (almost), my childhood pastor's home, and Konak.

3. I spent a summer (that same one in Sioux Falls) as a door to door meat salesman. It was for a small company similar to Omaha Steaks, and every morning we'd toss cases of frozen meat into the back of our delivery trucks with a big chunk of dry ice and set out to random small towns in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and occasionally Nebraska and peddle our wares from one house to the next. Meat peddling can be surprisingly fruitful if you can make it past the first few weeks (working on 100% commission leads to a very high turnover rate), and I can also now say that I have been ticketed and fined for "soliciting" my meat.

4. I grew up in one of those small towns. Small like you can't understand type small. My high school graduating class was a whopping 37 people. I could still name everyone in my senior yearbook, first name and last -- the entire high school. And my hometown of George (Yes, George, which is right down the road from Edna. They were brother and sister. I shit you not.) is actually relatively normal in size for the area. As opposed to Ritter, about 20 miles away, with its entire population of six people last I had heard.

5. I use three different names. This baffles people, and I think it's probably the sort of baffle that swings towards the 'lame' side. Depending on when, where, and in what capacity you met me, you might think of me as Adam Van Briesen, Bries Vannon, or Paul Rekk. I really don't have a preference, nor am I concerned with the 'real' one. They're all real in my mind. Although, I'm quite certain that three is the limit.

Alright, who wants to play? I pick Tony, Joe, Adam, Rebecca, and the Devil Vet himself. Go!


Friday, September 21, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It's here! The full schedule has been released, which means we can officially announce the arrival of the: (insert town crier voice)


Pardon me as a geek out for a second. Unfortunately, as I was last year, I will be in tech during the festival, proving that the gods of theatre and film jointly have it out for me. And, as last year, I am promising that next year I am going to completely blacken my calender for the first half of October, buy a full pass and have my very own two week filmic vacation. Swear to god, it's gonna happen this time. I will still have four days and two weekend evenings to fill this year, so's I'm picking up a ten film pass. And I will be doing it today, because I have an irrational fear that everyone will suddenly discover how freaking amazing the film festival is and shit's gonna sell out instantaneously. Hey, it keeps me on my toes.

Here's the probable Paul Rekk Viewing Experience so far -- much of the lunch hour will be spent in a daze over the film schedule and my planner.

Noise (Matthew Seville, Australia)
Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)
4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, France/USA)
One Hundred Nails (Ermanno Olmi, Italy)
Scream of the Ants (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iran/France)
The Walker (Paul Schrader, USA/UK)
A Walk Into The Sea (Esther Robinson, USA)

and one of the following:

The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy)
The Man From London (Bela Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany)

It's going to be a tough choice.

I know this request will be met with the same unblinking response it is every year, but if anyone has any recommendations or disrecommendations, these ears are open for biz-nass.


Also, I probably shouldn't completely go without plugging Signal Ensemble Theatre's foray into S-LP's 365 Days/365 Plays project. It's going on tomorrah night at the Signal rehearsal space (the same place as Per Diem's slam bang) at 8 pm. Deets are to the right. What's my connection? Who knows? Maybe I'll be directing! Maybe Bries'll be acting! Maybe I'll be directing and Bries'll be acting!! But I will be there -- first sign of a good time -- and so will Signal -- second sign of a good time -- so make yourselves the third sign. Or the sign of the cross. It might be necessary.


I have also been tagged for the Five Strengths meme by scholar and gentleman extraordinaire, David Alan Moore. I'm in a much less conceited mood today, so I'll let the previous five resound rather than coming up with another five backpats.


Theatre lessons learned and reinforced in the past two weeks (without going into too much dirty laundry):

  • You can learn a lot surrounded by artists better than you. You can also learn a lot surrounded by artists worse than you. The latter is far less enjoyable.

  • If a director has a character-related question for an actor but only sees one answer as acceptable, it's best to forego the whole question process and just give the only answer that will be acceptable.

  • Organization is not everything. Planning ahead is not everything. But god damn it if they aren't a lot of it.

  • Paul's Priorities: Character, then stage picture.

  • Paul's Priorities: Blocking, then off-book.

  • Shit don't have to make sense in regards to the real world, but shit gotta make sense within the created world.

  • Lesson still in progress: the effects of zero marketing (I have a hunch I know the outcome.)

  • If you can't remember worth a good god damn, Write. It. Down.

  • Rehearsals involve actors. If you're going to turn one into a glorified production meeting, call it a production meeting and release the actors.

Needless to say, I'm in a frustrating situation artistically. I'm almost a bit hesitant to post this, as it'd be easy enough for it to make it's way back around to the wrong parties. However, I'm baring much less teeth than I would like to and if I don't get it out I might just explode.


And, I'm sure you've seen them by now, but be sure to check out Scott Walters and Tom Loughlin's series on the state of theatre education. It's wrapping up and is an enlightening read. I'll put some of my thoughts (and experience) up next week.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

*kick, kick, shuffle, shuffle*

I attended The Nod With Don Hall And Joe Janes (henceforth: TNWDHAJJ, phonetically: TEHN-wuhd-hahzh) last night. There was much Noddage to be had, because all of these people kick ass (sorry, I planned that link-tence poorly). There was also much snacks to be had. There were no puppets to be had, but I place no blame. I had a great time menos puppetos, so all is forgiven.

Other discoveries:

- Pringles: highly appealing. Pringles with words printed on them: unappealing. Pringles with movie trivia printed on them: Better, but only slightly; might be read, will not be eaten.

- Joe Janes and Don Hall stumbled across a Dutch-esque cookie sampler pack that was not only edible but tasty. I stand in awe, but I imagine that Dutch people everywhere are recoiling as their culinary trickery is overthrown.

- I pay an inordinate amount of attention to free snacks. Funny that.

- Don Hall is real.

- The list of people who might possibly be a figment of my imagination is rapidly approaching extinction. Still remaining: Tony Blair, Picabo Street, Rob Lowe, the ticket lady at the Landmark Century Cinema with the really funny-ass accent, Chef Boyardee, and Gregory the 5'8" Invisible Lemur.

- Poop is funny. (Alright, this wasn't a discovery. More of a reinforced fact.)

- Most funny, personable bloggers translate into funny, personable persons.

- Except me.

I kinda sorta had that lingering back of the brain dread that I get in any situation in which I will be all by myself meeting all sorts of new people in a social environment. It's the junior high dance mindset: "Boy, it sure would be great to talk to those people on the other side of the gym. Girls, I believe they're called. I've heard the stories; sugar, spice, other nice things. But how, oh how, am I to begin a conversation with these maidens? Do we even speak the same language? I will have been to France by the time I reach college, and my awesome pubescent powers of foresight tell me that situation will prove that language barriers will be hard to cross. It might be best if I just stay over here in the comforting shade of this brick wall. And after another Fresca, weh-heh-ell, who knows what kind of shenanigans I'll get into? I may even walk over, stand a few feet outside of an already established conversation, smile awkwardly and occasionally nod! Paul Rekk's going nuts tonight! Woohoo!"

God, junior high is a weird place.

And yet, this is how I still act around new groups of people. But it's not just girls anymore. Oh, there were plenty of disarmingly attractive/witty/lots of other good qualities lady bloggers (is bloggerettes un-PC?) at The Nod, to be sure. (ed. note: You see, what I just did there is called the Post-Compliment. Ideally, Charming Lady Blogger will stumble across the Reve by association or linkage and be taken in by the endearing qualities that I am unable to imbue myself with in social settings. Then the Post-Compliment strikes, smiting [in the hearts-in-eyes manner, not the plague-of-boils manner] Charming Lady Blogger and increasing potential for further interaction. [ed. note within note: And what I just accomplished here was a sense of Self-Referential Ease. In the off-chance that the Post-Compliment is seen by Charming Lady Blogger as, for lack of a better word, creepy, a ridiculously lengthy, layered parenthetical will be sufficiently unexpected so as to diffuse the online awkwardness.]) However, in the years since J-High, I have discovered that I am not, it turns out, made of snakes, snails, or dog tails -- puppy or otherwise -- and that there is a slight possibility that other boys, who I've been told are made of such things, may speak in tongues as well. So, really, why chance it?

So congratulations Nodders, on a great event. And don't mind the tall, skinny, blonde kid in the corner. He's just looking for the Fresca.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Heartbreak in (not quite) ten frames.

I went bowling on Sunday.

Of course, whenever anyone announces that they went bowling, the next thing out of their mouth is how much they suck at bowling. Sorry to be predictable, but I do too. Suck at bowling. Oh, I'm not the most hideous of hideous, as my downstairs housemate proved with her valiant attempt at staying in the single digits. But the last time she bowled was over a decade ago. In Bali. And who knows what kind of bowling rules they kept in Bali at the turn of the '90s. Me? I was last bowling three or four years ago. In Iowa. Where the rules are the same. Except for this automatic foul bullshit if you accidentally slide the teeniest fraction of a centimeter past the line. (I fouled three times my first game. No fukkin' mercy, I tell ya.)

Maybe I don't suck hard. But I am on the low end of mediocre. My all-time high score is somewhere in the 160s. But that was high school; I was at my athletic peak. Now I'm ecstatic to break three digits. Which I promptly did not do on Sunday. I missed the first game because I'm the sort of asshole that shows up late to birthday parties. That counts as a zero. The second game started with a spare and it was all denouement from there, though I managed to sneak in at the mid-50s, a marked improvement.

And as Olivia Newton-John crooned "Xanadu" [note: The video screen for the Rock n' Cosmic Crazy Times Look At The Pretty Colors Bowl was directly above our lane. Not only did I have the toothy maw at the end of the lane to contend with, but also the likes of Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna traipsing two feet above the straight line I was trying to telekinese my ball onto. No, Ricky, neither me nor my fourteen pound friend are in the proper headspace to live la vida loca. And put those hips away.], I burst into the final game balls a-blazin'. It was an erratic battle, but I started to pull it together towards the last. And as I got up to bowl my tenth frame, a mere three pins from the mythical 100, I was informed by the bowling computer gods (I think En Vogue had a hand in it as well) that our pre-paid allotted time had expired. Everything shut down: the scorekeeper, the ball return, the pin sweeper, my soul...

And here I am, stuck at 85 going into a ninth frame strike.

Thank god for Don Hall. He graced me with a Five Strengths meme today. It's a feel good meme, and Madonna's not allowed. Here's the scoop:

"Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It's not really bragging, it's an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you'd like to see share their strengths."

1. I don't often 'fess up to it, but I'm really fucking intelligent. The way I am able to analyze and process on my feet is almost abnormal.

2. I have a knack for seeing a different way to do things. I also have the bullheadedness to insist on doing it.

3. I am Fonz-cool and relaxed when in the early discovery stages of a production and single-track focused and decisive when crunch time hits and shit needs get done. It's a good balance.

4. I am able to recognize talents greater than mine (and that they are legion), and learn from them without defaulting to them.

5. I have a fuse like no other. You have to be actively going out of your way to destroy my being in order to get me to fly off the handle. And even then your chances are only 50-50.

Your turn! I pick Bil, Dan, Rob, and Mac. Go!


Monday, September 17, 2007

Just another Paul Rekk Monday. Oh-Ooo-Oh.

Hello friendly online friends! And welcome to Monday!

Well, Friday went off without a hitch. Per Diem's Hitchless Event, one might call it. Or HiTCHLeSS, in big red rubberstamp letters. Why? What a dumb question. Of course I don't know.

Pardon Paul, he's a punchy little bugger today.

Yes, yes, without a hitch indeed. We had a great turnout -- in the whereabouts of 30 or so -- and everyone was willing to play, whether that meant getting on their feet and jumping into a ten-minute play they had never seen hide nor hair of before or just kicking back and enjoying watching others put their neurons in overdrive. There was a surprising (in a very good way) mix of comic and dramatic performances and a lot of surprisingly (in a very amazing way) great performances, considering the zero hour prep time. It was a credit to the level of talent we have to work with in the city. People milled a little afterwards and a few of the more familiar faces hopped down to Goldie's for some cheap PBR and loose post mortem. I had a great time, and it sounds like everyone else did as well, which is all I can really ask for.

Plus, we now have a few interested candidates for that exclusive third ensemble spot. Hopefully we'll be able to meet up with them and have an official ensemble within a matter of weeks. I'll keep you posted, Interweb.

I also caught Sunday's industry matinee of the highly acclaimed Soiree DADA -- and I know you've all been hanging onto the edges of your seats for Senor Rekk to give his thoughts on the show, right? Alrighty then. I don't think you can really spoil the experience of the show by simply talking about it (Don, Joe, Bob, anyone else involved, would you (dis)agree?), but if you are especially adverse to spoilers, you may want to turn away, as I will be going into detail.

It was like nothing I have seen before. Which is a good chunk of the point. After hurting DADA Flutter's feelings and falling prey to DADA Rusty Cluster's misleading ways, I found my stride, impressing DADA DomDeluise with a card trick and eventually being brought into the DADA Brova fold with my keen eyesight, soft hands and ID card declaring my post-21ness. I kicked back at the Brova bistro tables and had a glass of wine. He slid a handwritten Non-Aggression Pact my way, which I happily signed. The guy to my left signed away his Power Of Attorney to Brova, also on a handwritten note. I question that decision.

Then the whirlwind began. And Don was right -- I was never bored. I was challenged at every bend, but always in different ways. Physically, as we were encouraged to (and did) fondle another audience member's ass in order to bring him to a proper level of offense or as DADA Boxcar began to profess her feelings for me before being interrupted by Rusty. Morally, watching the another audience member mercilessly shoot the freak and watching yet another audience member -- this one a friend of mine -- refuse to stop DADA Dabo's burning of an innocent tissue. I urgently wanted to stride across the room and take the tissue away from Dabo's sadistic flame. And had I fully allowed myself to get into the spirit of the show, I probably should have. I suck. And emotionally -- which was the least expected -- inexplicably from DADA Nip's paen to her half-devoured baby and from Dabo's ultra-climactic "One Of Me" a moment of catharsis that hung heavy on an audience aware but unable to meet it.

The show ran about an hour and 15 minutes, felt like 45 minutes, and left me as exhausted as if it were three hours. And magically, after it was all over, Joe Janes was there. I hadn't seen him come in, but I could've been too distracted to notice. Either way it was good to finally meet him and affirm that he is an actual person. There was no Don Hall. The alibi was Work(shop) in Progess, but my suspicion, as from the start, is that he's a figment of my imagination. However, I'm going again on Friday (consider the gauntlet dropped, Don!), determined to honor my heritage by being accepted by the Germans (consider the gauntlet dropped, DADA Mondo Yippeeeeeeeee!), and with a friend in tow. A friend who knows nothing of Dada and who I have instructed to learn nothing of Dada in the coming week. And that's a big gauntlet. Excitement abounds!

By the way, Don -- not only was I not bored, I absolutely liked it and had a great time. Sincere thanks. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a project to work on: "Make a mobile: Influence: Ch-" The DADA box has spoken.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Halloween a la Zombie

Of course there's spoilers.

I finally made it to Rob Zombie's Halloween 'reimagining' this week, and I'm going to have to be that guy: I loved it. This is a great horror film. It beats most any of the recent horror remake class with a big, ugly stick. To be honest, it's one of the better horror films of any variety that I've seen in a good few years. Is it better than the original? Of course not. But as has been said by every other horror fan and critic with a sense of the rational -- Zombie never intended to chase that impossible task. What he has done, however, is create a film that owes its lifeblood to its namesake, but isn't afraid to forge its own way.

Much has been made of the two-part structure of the film, but in case you're still unfamiliar, the film has a two-part structure. Part One: Little Mikey. Part Two: Halloween Redux

Part One: Little Mikey

The first part is a vast expansion of the opening scene of the original and lays a little groundwork for the Michael Myers to come. Young Michael (played by an intense little fucker in Daeg Faerch) lives smack in the middle of dysfunction central -- hell, William Forsythe is his live-in father figure; that's enough to mess a kid up right there. Bullied at school, life in hell at home, Michael is one disturbed little fella, already slicing up pets and collecting roadkill at age 10. Of course, as the story goes, slicing up pets is only a gateway to slicing up William Forsythe (among others), and Michael gets sent away to be psychiatrically observed and reobserved for life or until he breaks out in 15 years, whichever comes first.

Zombie's taking a lot of flack for Part One for giving an explanation as to why Michael is as Michael does and thus taking away a lot of what makes him so frightening. Michael has been humanized in a manner that the original never attempts or concerns itself with. But to say that Michael becomes a cold-blooded killer because of his dysfunctional upbringing alone is to say that Zombie is ascribing this sort of psycho/sociopathic behavior to nurture rather than nature. I don't buy it. Dr. Loomis, the psychiatrist who studies Michael for 15 years has a line towards the end of the first half where he says that Michael was the perfect combination of interior and exterior forces required to create this sort of behavior. It seems to me this line is the key to the entire first half of the film.

Zombie has humanized Michael only in the manner of taking away the supernatural element of the original film. None of the killing in the first half is done in a quick, bloodless manner, making it really hard to continue the sympathy intially set up for this kid once he snaps. The violence has an insistent and graphic nature that goes beyond revenge and straight through to instinct. (The gore is a fascinating part of the film -- Zombie doesn't shy away from it, but at the same time, he is very careful as to when it is used. The level of bloodshed and the moment and style in which it is shown has a very specific emotional effect. Zombie seems to have a keen understanding of this -- this may be an entire discussion for another day... or the comments section.) This Michael isn't the shadowed enigma of the original; we know why he kills, even as we don't understand it. Does that make him more or less frightening? No, not necessarily. But it does root him further in reality, and that's a very different kind of frightening.

Part Two: Halloween Redux

And.... gear shift! If there is a 'remake' hiding in this film, it's part two, which is (more or less) the events of the original played out. And it's good! It's good because it's a no-nonsense return to form slasher film. Tension and surprise, jump scares and atmosphere and a (somewhat) omnipotent audience: it's all here and in a good blend. As a horror film standing alone from the original, it works and works well. The meager Tuesday night crowd I saw it with were definitely audible from time to time, and most of it was reaction that had little to do with the original.

The thing that really impressed me, though, was Zombie's ability to make an entertaining and suspenseful experience for those who are familiar with the original. This came from a fearlessness of playing with the source material. Very early on in the second half, the film closely mimics a few shots from the original, settling the horror hounds in for a comfortable ride. And then all hell breaks loose, as Zombie starts to stray farther and farther from the context of the original while still playing from a very visible guideline. We know what's supposed to happen next, but we start to realize that we might not necessarily get it.

The first shift (which seems minor at the time) is the ghost costume scene. We see a figure walking down the hall in a ghost costume with glasses and anyone remotely familiar with the original makes the mental leap to Michael under the sheet. Just as we're hunkering down for a little teenage death and destruction, the ghost is attacked... by Michael Myers! It's ten seconds more information than we were expecting, but it sets the attitude for the rest of the film: "Yes, you might know where this is headed, but don't think for a second you're ahead of the game." This continues to grow until it culminates in the revisionist version of the infamous closet scene -- which now takes place within a stone's throw of Dr. Loomis' dead body. One repetition, to allow that to sink in -- Dr. Loomis' dead freaking body! By this point newcomers and old fans alike are on a level playing field. Zombie is still playing within the basic structure of the original, but by this point we not only expect him to stray, he's made it blatantly impossible to do anything but stray. And, which I'm sure Zombie was acutely aware, the fear an audience feels when thrown from what they assumed was a safe place is much more terrifying that that of an audience who is wary from the start.

But all in all this is Zombie's film and as a director (in general, I'm even going to traverse the horror qualifier), he's a very promising face on the horizon. Zombie's exploitation influence perfectly rides that line where cheesy becomes deadly serious. Using "Love Hurts" as a featured music cue should have left me groaning -- it was perfect. The Zombie perfected nudge-and-a-wink casting: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Brad Dourif, Forsythe, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, the list goes on and on -- is great fun played straight as an arrow, effectively avoiding derailing the tone of the film. And to stay specific to the horror genre -- in an age of "how disgusting can we get?" horror, Zombie maintains a balance. Blood, guts, and violence as is necessary (because sometimes it is, but rarely is it always.)

The post-caveat is that, despite the glowing, glowing review, it wasn't a perfect film by any means and Zombie did lose my interest from time to time, especially right towards the end (albeit gaining it right back in the last minute or so). But nevertheless, it was a great film that is being unfairly treated by both sides; the anti-horrror regulars and the purists. Were this film made without the original having ever existed, the reaction would be more positive by tenfold. And to a certain degree that's how it should be viewed -- alongside the original, not against it.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Touchy, touchy

Or: How visceral is too visceral?
Or: What happened to immediacy?
Or: How many titles can he give one post?

Over on AWG, Don to the Hall relates some frustration with an audience member refusing to play along with the anti-rules set in Soiree DADA. It's interesting, but I basically agree with Don: the audience member can certainly choose not to play along, but on the same basis, Don can certainly choose to escort him out. I don't know that I would -- it does seem to provide a challenging obstacle for the DADAs -- but that's Don's prerogative.

But the part of the whole thing that struck me with the need to return to thoughtful blogging after the recent dearth thanks to shameless self-promotion is in Don's instruction to his DADAs for future (non-?)troublemakers:

If he refuses to move from your section, make him (don't
touch him, though - that might get ugly).

The emphasis is mine. Later, in the comments section, Regan touches on this point (pun only slightly intended):

On a similar note, the "no-touching" point that Don makes is very, very important. I recently saw a show in which the cast screamed at us to get into the theatre (which didn't really set a good tone to enjoy any of the pieces anyway) and one of the cast members actually shoved me through the doorway, nearly tripping over my girlfriend and the other audience members in front of me. Sometimes we try so hard to break down the fourth wall entirely that we don't realize that sometimes it's not just there to protect us, it's there to protect the audience as well.

That's an unfortunate occurrence, and, while I'm curious as to what show it was (and thus the reasoning), it sounds like the cast were entirely unprofessional about the audience contact. Which is no different than being unprofessional about stage combat. At the same time, are we really to a point where audience touching is disallowed from the perspective of the theatre artists as well? And if so, isn't that a signal that it's time for that stigma to be broken back down?

I was recently discussing the problems and possibilities of staging Fernando Arrabal's ...and They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers in today's environment. For those unfamiliar, the script calls for a completely dark room separating the lobby and the theatre. At the door to the room, the stage manager hands off each audience member (separately, splitting up any groups) to a cast member of the opposite sex who leads them into the theatre in a brusque hands-on manner. Arrabal goes so far as to suggest some audience members be carried over the cast member's shoulder. He also notes that if any audience members get nervous or upset that the cast member should be a calming force as well -- it's not all violence and scary; it's about getting the audience into a mindset without causing them to completely disassociate. Regan, Don -- are you saying in essence that this play is no longer feasibly produceable, albeit for different reasons?

As to Regan, protection of the audience is a tricky line to ride. There's a difference between being in harm's way and losing a line of defense by not being in control. An audience member who just got shoved with no warning is in harm's way. An audience member slung over a cast member's shoulder (a cast member who is intimately familiar with the space and has walked it with someone over his shoulder before) has little control and is probably uncomfortable and to a certain degree unprotected. If the latter is a place we're no longer willing to take our audience from time to time, there's a problem. I don't see "protection of the audience" (or "protection of ourselves", for that matter) as primary or even secondary goal of theatre. I know I'm distilling a different meaning than Regan intended, and I do understand the sentiment, but it's a word choice I can't pass up. Little risk results in little discovery.

Don's reasoning is harder to argue. Touching people who are unprepared to be touched can on occasion get ugly, and in today's court-saturated society things getting ugly often equals things getting expensive. My Arrabal-discussing friend mentioned having the audience sign a waiver, which is not a bad idea, but I hate the possibility that we've come to that. It's bad enough that nudity and foul language require a warning -- do we really have to say "Hey everybody, we might touch you during this performance, so don't freak out or anything!" Is physical contact now as taboo as the word 'fuck'? Or as simulated fucking? But I can't argue that to certain people the answer is yes, and physical contact in the theatre is opening a door to a potential (even if ludicrous) lawsuit.

But as an artist, I can't just roll over and say uncle. And I'm in a similar bind myself; I have a play I have written called Consent that I couldn't get produced to save my life. The second act revolves around an interaction with an audience member that most would consider violating. It is in response to the first act, in which an actor is put in a position most would consider violating at the hands of the audience. I don't give details because the Webbernets is a big place and these are details that work best if not known ahead of time -- an impossible task after a while, but no need for me to make it any more impossible. If you're interested, e-mail me for a copy -- it's a very short read. My big challenge in figuring out exactly how (or if) to produce this myself has revolved around this aspect of avoiding legal worries.

From time to time, Don sends a call out on his blog asking where the revolutionaries are. I echo the sentiment. And it seems to fit here. If we make concessions because we might run across idiots and fearmongers, we run risk of playing to idiots and fearmongers. Sometimes we have to have hope in humanity, wish for the best, and just say fuck all and do it.



Also: Who searched for "erotic stories Fran Drescher" this weekend? It's too perfect to be random, but whoever it was, you made me smile...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Click for bigger!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hey New Yorkers!

To the recent wave of New Yorkers (and Brooklynites in 'ticular) who've stumbled cross The Reve:

Welcome! If it hasn't already been made plain, I do not regularly discuss George Hunka on my blog. I'm terribly sorry to disappoint those searching for the intricate details on the matter, but Google has lead you astray. It's a tacit agreement we've come to: on only rare occasion do I impart my two cents on whatever hot bloggy mess is surrounding him at the time and, in return, he continues to be unaware of my existence.

Self-deprecation. Heh.

For reals, kids, my piece on the subject is down there below Zigs for your perusal and that's about the last of it as far as I'm concerned. But I do hope you'll come back and play. From time to time I'm actually relevant. And the rest of the time I like to at least pretend to have wit. That and my sense of self-importance is hard to sate and web hits are but the latest on a long line of inconsequential things to make me puff out my chest.

Do it for my chest. I'd do it for yours.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Who wanna meet Per Diem?

Ev'rybody wanna meet Per Diem!

Well, ev'rybody, here's your chance... The first ever Per Diem sanctioned event (Yeah, I used sanction -- it makes us sound important. Per Diem is bigger than Jesus!) is a-rollin' your way.

On Friday, September 14th, Per Diem will be hosting an evening of unrehearsed, undirected, book in hand instinct-driven performances of short work (some very potentially brand new) to be decided that e'en. Sound a little chaotic? A little anarchical? What are you whining about, it can't be much wackier than the theatrosphere!

No really, it'll be fun. And you can meet me and Bil and who knows, maybe even that mystical third member we're still looking for! And it's a no stakes chance to play with us if you want to play! And it's a no stakes chance to watch others play with us if you want to watch others play! And there's probably plenty of other permutations by which you can get play from Per Diem! And permutation is not a good word to use when trying to get play! And it's free! That's a lot of 'ands' -- and(!) of course we all know that each 'and' increases your odds of enjoying the evening exponentially. (Which equals a lot of pleasure -- it's simple algebra, you slackers.)

In fact, the event is so rockstar that we have yet to put an official name to it. Go it well and we hope to make it a recurring event -- perhaps the eventual name will come from a particularly inspired bit of universe-aligning wit that happens on the 14th. Perhaps it will come from your mouth! Perhaps we're just lazy -- but I doubt it!

So Chicagolanders (or any other landers that will be in Chicago on the 14th or are really fucking dedicated to securing my happiness): Come on down on Friday the 14th to the Signal Ensemble Theatre rehearsal space (the old Breadline Theatre for you veterans) at 1802 W. Berenice Ave. For the unfamiliar, that's just south of Irving Park and Ravenswood -- easily navigated from the Irving Park bus or Brown Line stop. The shindig starteth at 8 o' the pm on (say it with me now) Friday, September 14th. And how much does it cost? Good question, albeit already answered. Free, of course!

Ok, I think my enthusiasm quota for the day has been spent. I hope it got the message across. Got questions? Do the comment or e-mail thing; I don't bite. And we look forward to seeing you on the 14th!