Friday, November 13, 2009

Packing my bags pre-flight.

'S been a while, eh? Yeah, I've only got one excuse for that, but it's a BIG ONE.

You'll see that along with the site, The Nine has also launched a blog, Twitter feed and Facebook page. It's a large-scale assault on Web 2.0. Because of that, one of my biggest goals is to keep this from becoming one piece of information repeated ad nauseum to all of The Nine's followers, fans, visitors, etc. The Blog will function as the studied, more in depth exploration; Facebook as the page-turner, with all the news that's fit to share as well as links and videos of inspiration for us; Twitter is the mouthpiece of The Nine, offsetting the blog's verbosity with a what-you-about? casualization; and the website is, of course, home base.

That's a lot of stuff. And that's just the web side of things, much less the production itself. So I'm hanging up my heels on this here blog for a bit to focus on The Nine. (Oh lord, what will the world do without a once a month rambling on Chicago theatre??!) Does that mean this blog is done for good? I'm not gonna go that far -- if I ever make the claim that I'm done with this blog, I'm deleting the motherfucker for posterity that very same day.

I may be back from time to time. It probably won't be soon, though. So instead, transfer your attention to, or, or, or find The Nine on Facebook. Or all of the above. 'Cause that's where I'll be.


Monday, October 12, 2009

My Post On The Summit I Have No Firsthand Knowledge Of, As Inspired By An Evening With The Chicago Underground.

Let's get the gushing out of the way first -- I know I'm not ahead of the curve on this one, but Mickle Maher is a prince among playwrights. Tracy Letts and Keith Huff can enjoy their success, god love 'em, but Maher... Maher's got a good run on the Chicago playwright crown. There's something uberhuman about the way the man can take the broadest of abstract concepts and completely bend it to his whim, like a ventriloquist and his dummy. In An Apology For The Course & Outcome Of Certain Events Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening currently in remount by Theater Oobleck, the dummy concept is Meaning. And Meaning didn't stand a chance, didn't even know to put up a fight. Maher's Faustus whims on the glories of meaninglessness, of the world of pre-meaning; brings everyday nonsense taken for granted in contemporary society into light, then brisk-handedly slides it under the table; dwarfs the entire concept in the human scale beside that of the unknowable, the unimaginable, the silent actor right in front of our eyes; and metatheatrically disallows us any solution to the universal equation. That's just the basics. And all of this happens in round about an hour or so. Not once do we see Maher's lips moving. The man is a master, and you must see this show.

Straight after I shot up Milwaukee and landed myself at the Rough House's Great Trash Spectacle Of Aught Nine. This is the launchpad for my summit talk, but first a summation. Whereas Oobleck is the old guard of Chicago Underground Theatre, the Rough House is helping to usher in the new. The evening consisted of five pieces, ranging from two to fifteen minutes and from read poetry to dell'Arte, all built around trash. Trash found by the performers that served as a kickstart for their creative juices. The show was preceded by, followed by, and included two ten minute intermissions of party. A five dollar donation at the door got you into the show as well as plenty of booze. And it was a smash. The whole performance aspect lasted about the same as John Faustus and, at times, reached the same levels of untouched brilliance, from Jason Economus' equally meta one-man life breakdown to the entire crowd cheering in unison as a ballerina princess beats down her beercan + milk jug prince after he (cardboard) dicks her over when she saves him from a dragon. It was as wacky as it sounds and every bit as winning.

Now, Summit attendees, interested Summit nonattendees, and especially Summit organizers, here is my number one question for you. Was the Rough House asked to take part in the Summit? Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing not. And I'm guessing the reason is that no one was aware of the Rough House. And my real question, which that was all a set up for, is this: Why was no one aware of the Rough House? They had a jam-packed house full of art lovers and paying guests that night, so some people are obviously familiar. Why was no one aware of the Rough House? That one is an open question.

Of course, the Rough House in particular is not my point here, they are serving as the handiest example. But when you talk about unifying the theatre community and getting better communication and group action amongst storefronts, you fail to consider the idea of Chicago Storefront as a community with as wide a spectrum as the entirety of Chicago Theatre. Everyone loves to play the underdog, but your better bet is to acknowledge those operating even closer to the core than you. When you talk Storefront, you're talking independent art. So think like independent art. Keep the current guest list, sure, but add to it the Rough House, add to it Cupola Bobber, and, at the risk of vanity, add to it myself, not as a representative of Signal, not as a representative of WNEP, not as a blogger, but solely and specifically to speak from the perspective of The Nine. And add to it the dozens of people that I'm sure others can provide that I'm not yet aware of, either. And add these people not because they are fellow Chicago theatre artists who were overlooked last time, but because they are an integral part, a part that probably have better ideas than most. Because, while you are brainstorming on the best way to achieve your goals within the current system, they're already achieving theirs in whatever system they damn well please. (And they are achieving -- from what I've seen, Cupola Bobber and the Rough House are able to pull in a crowd just as well as most storefronts and, what's more, a more enthusiastic crowd than almost all storefronts.) Because, while you continue hoping that one day the city will kowtow and create spaces dedicated to theatre, they're finding and creating their own affordable space, zoning and licenses be damned. (You want to turn this into an issue the city cares about? Work on getting the the entirety of Chicago Storefront as a unified front creating theatre everywhere EXCEPT where the city wants it, rather than continually heading back to your PPAs with your tails between your legs.) Because, for god's sake, if you are going to invite a representative from the League, not only do you need people who are willing to question the League, you need people who couldn't give two shits about the existence of the League. Because whether you invite them or not, whether you inform them of your Code of Fucking Ethics or not, whether you know they exist or not, they're gonna keep doing what they're doing. And what they are doing is exactly what you all want to be doing -- it's just that most of you want it on a larger scale. So ask them to come to the table and share their insight. And then don't be surprised if they choose not to participate; don't take it as a rude gesture, don't take it as a dismissive gesture, and don't take it as a lack of opinion. Give it as much weight as you would have given anything they would have said had they come. If they're uninterested, maybe it's because you're forcing yourself to sift through a haystack of nonessential to find that needle of worthwhile.

You're all being very nice and studied about this. Which is great, if you want some good hypotheticals. To get shit done, you're gonna want the input of those who just go ahead and do, as well. And you're gonna wanna listen to it.


Sunday, October 4, 2009


It's the fish. The show's about the fish. Those fish in the tank in the middle of the room during all of boom? They, not Jules and Jo, are who survive the end of the world as we know it and evolve into the next evolution of the world.

That was a huge spoiler. When/if you head up to Next to see the show, it will have, in effect, been 'ruined' for you. Normally I would consider apologizing, but believe me, you're better off that way. The show, about two loners in their own way stuck together after an extinction level event, nibbles on the idea of both the futility and the struggle of making a true connection with other humans and the wonders of the simplicity that actually becomes that intimacy. And the show is ultimately a very conflicted (in a promising way) tragicomedy -- a silly 21st century romp in which two virgins are left to people the new world but are too incompatible to do so, yet when they finally fall into each other and decide to brave this new world together, they die within minutes -- still virgins. But Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has decided to mask the tragi- part of the tragicomedy as a half-telegraphed bullshit surprise twist that takes all semblance of actual substance out by the knees and replaces it with "Did you see that coming?" frivolity.

So, for your sake: Jules and Jo die. They die virgins. They do not populate the planet. Barbara, our future meta-guide throughout this show is descended from the fish in the room, who do survive and evolve. This knowledge won't connect you any further to Barbara's story, which is given thousands of pounds more weight than it earns, but it will give you a much deeper frame of reference to Jules and Jo, who quite funnily bicker when they could be humanizing, and who quite sorrowfully find each other just in time to lose each other. A little gravitas and humanity for you amongst the Theatre of the Self-Aware tricks...


So, I meant to make this announcement much earlier, but it got in the way of itself, it turns out: I've put out the official call for subUrbia auditions. They are going to be taking place from 10am - 5pm on Sunday, October 25th and from 7pm - 10pm on Monday, October 26th. Now, I say this having more or less completed filled up those slots already. Response has been fantastic and I'm really excited to get in there and check out the massive amount of talent coming in. I have been able to schedule some overflow on Saturday the 24th, so if you are interested in auditioning, by all means, e-mail for more information and to request a slot on the 24th.

Now, for those of you reading this and not necessarily interested in auditioning, I'm going to request a favor: share your people resources with me. I'm building a great team for this, but there are a few holes that still need to be filled. If you know any actors or actresses in their 20s-30s who are Pakistani or could play Pakistani, please let me know. If you know any set designers who are interested in low-budget (low-, not no-) work that would likely require little building but an ability to work with creative lo-fi solutions, please let me know. If you know anyone who would be interested in coming onboard in a propmaster sort of role, helping procure a well-stocked collection of relatively typical items, plus a couple of guns, please let me know. If you or someone you know would be interested in helping out in any other way that you care to provide or feel might be of assistance, please let me know. Thank you and you rock.

Also, the official website for The Nine is en route -- we're hoping for the big debut in late October. In the meantime, check back here for updates!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All horror, all the time

So it's been a while, but I'm back. Ballad has now officially closed up shop after a very successful run. Part of me feels neglectful for not having stopped back to check in here during the run, but alas and alack. The show was very well received, playing to sold out houses almost nightly. It also provided me with my first opportunity to be called out negatively in a review. On the one hand, I'm baffled, because Catey's description of my character and how I see my character don't match in the slightest. What she read in my performance is miles from what I felt I was portraying. Receiving criticism for something you are trying to do is one thing, but receiving criticism for something you aren't is an even harder beast to figure out. Of course, on the other hand, I'd be going back on everything I ever said about interpretation if I didn't take this in good spirits. Whether it was intended or not, what Catey came away with was a direct result of what I put on stage. There will always be miscommunication when you're talking to more than a handful of people at once; there's no reason to adjust your message to fix this -- you'll only create new miscommunication elsewhere -- but it's good to be aware.

The review's become a fun point of self-deprecation among friends, but it was a great little spontaneous study in the 'thin-skinned artist' idea; a number of friends and acquaintances seemed seemed instantly offended for me, even if they hadn't seen the show to be able to know just how much I did or did not suck it up. It was a little bit of a disappointing confirmation that negative criticism for many is simply not acceptable unless it's about someone we don't know personally. I'm not much of a keepsake guy, I have a few reviews packed away in a box somewhere, but I don't snatch up everything I can get. But you better believe Catey's review was tacked to my closet door within 48 hours of publication. I don't agree with it (hell, I don't even understand how she came to it), but I'm certain people have read far worse about themselves on this very blog. I ain't gonna stop, so I may as well take a little myself.


You know what really brought me back after my absence, though? The old standby: horror movies.

I saw Rob Zombie's Halloween II tonight, and, while not as satisfying as his first Halloween (which I'm not sure is entirely unintentional), it strikes me as a further step down the road we are starting to see in some of the cash-crop of horror remakes: the 2nd-gen horror film. Sitting amidst the 'anything for a buck' likes of The Last House On The Left, there are insertions like the ones Zombie has provided. These are films that reward familiarity. The tendency is to dote on them the ability to stand alone, but to gain a new depth with a knowledge of the original. But the more I watch, the less I even buy into that. I really don't know that Halloween II would be at all effective for anyone who is not at least familiar with the foundation of the Michael Myers mythos. (If anyone out there has not seen Carpenter's original film and has seen Zombie's second, please check in in the comments, I'd love to hear your thoughts.) It's a horror movie made by a horror fan -- Zombie is as steeped in the mythology as any of us, and as any successful remake/reimagining/retread is aware, the mythology of the slasher film is what really draws us in. People place themselves in a bipolar relationship with the slasher stars of these films until it reaches the point where you have to accept Jason taking Manhattan because after a certain point, you're simply passing down the next chapter as if you were an ancient storyteller gathered around the fire. Once you've spent 8+ films with a character, you get to know him pretty well. This is both a big reason the Scream series took such a quick nosedive after the genre-reviving first installment -- you can't actually kill your killer (and if you do, you better fix it Part VI: Jason Lives...) -- and a big reason why the Saw series is riding so high in defiance of that rule -- the Jigsaw killer isn't so much of a character as a means to a series of setpieces (although the Final Destination series is a good counterpoint, almost a meta-slasher in which the stalker is death itself, relying on far more considered setpieces).

But now we have a new strain -- the old is new again; sequels have become remakes and remakes have quickly shifted to 'reimaginings'. Michael Bay has proven to have quite a hand at putting his name to these bad boys (heh, movie pun), and he seems to be realizing that his brand better fits the teen slasher front; Marcus Nispel revived the slick, self-entertaining badassery in Jason Voorhees that he never should have tried to instill in Leatherface, and I have to blasphemously say that Jackie Earle Haley has me more excited about Freddy Krueger than Robert Englund ever did. But all the same, these are horror revivals. What makes Zombie's Halloween reimaginings different is that they truly are just so. Both films play off of a prerequisite audience knowledge of the characters, places, and events on the screen. Any horror fan worth his or her mettle is going to come into this with his or her own notions of who these people are and how this is going to go down. Zombie isn't out to reinforce that, but neither is he out to twist its neck. At times playing into and strengthening these notions, at times undermining them, and at times outright turning them aside, it feels as if he is making a new monster, a new franchise, out of pieces of the old stitched together with bits he dug up himself, a la Frankenstein (a film which Zombie also calls to mind in very ironic fashion at one point in H2).

The film would lend itself to another sequel, but at the same time, it feels like a finale, a two film full circle to exorcise Michael and the entire Myers clan once and for all. (Beside, Zombie's apparently already signed on to remake The Blob. Wrap your minds around that.) And while there's a second Friday the 13th remake in the works that I'm sure I'll attend, I much prefer the idea of these remakes providing return to original form closure for those of us who stuck around to suffer through The Dream Child, et al. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that we have six Saws and four Final Destinations; every generation needs a couple of horror franchises to call their own. But 'their own' is the key phrasing -- what Zombie's doing is paying the lifelong members their due.


Now that the show's closed I'm back to being crazy swamped with everyone else's shows. Over the next month I'm spending one weekend bachelor partying (the details of which will not be disclosed here, Ronan, so forget about it) and one weekend celebrating the loss of bachelorhood, all for this fella here, so congratulate him. In between, I'm squeezing every last second out of my schedule that I can. This weekend is Halcyon's Lorca In A Green Dress on Thursday, Bruised Orange's Village Of K___ on Friday, and Chicago dell'Arte's A Hampstead Hooligan In King Arthur's Court on Saturday, plus a viewing of Goodman's Animal Crackers next Wednesday.

And speaking of things to see, if there are any New Yorkers out there looking for something to do the following weekend, head on down to P.S. 122 to check out Cupola Bobber's one weekend stint performing their latest work, Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me. There's been a lot of brou-ha-ha lately about all the Chicago shows taking over New York, but if you want to witness real, street level Chicago performance, this is the show to see. These are the guys that everyone hoisting Chicago's east coast takeover haven't even heard of -- reclaim those bragging rights and go see the Chicagoans that even Chicagoans haven't gotten hip to yet.


I'm also shifting focus back to see some great live music again -- Monday night I'm heading to the Empty Bottle to check out The Smith Westerns. They were the latest edition of a weekly e-mail blast I've started called 'in volume'. It goes out every Sunday with one mp3 of my choosing and one very short piece of prose that I written in relation to it. It's sort of an mp3blog without the blog. If you'd be interested in receiving it, just let me know in the comments or via e-mail, and I'll put you on the list.


And finally, the biggest news of the week -- The Nine, Part One: SubUrbia is officially legit. Website, auditions, etc. to follow very shortly, but I am pleased to announce that SubUrbia will run from February 19th - March 6th, 2010 at Red Tape Theatre. Mark your calendars now, son; you're only gonna have nine chances to see this bad boy!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Exploit this.

Before I go any further, I need to make one thing clear that mayhaps was not in the last post. I dig exploitation films. I find nothing pejorative in that label. Awesome sauce -- carrying on.


I've spent a lot of brainwaves on the idea of 'exploitation' and fairy tale and nostalgia and fantasy and marketing/audience draw. There are layers upon layers of webs of tangential connections plotted throughout my brain and there's no way of making full sense of it to even myself, much less others. So what do I do? Dive in head first, of course.

There's little surprise in the popularity of stories about The Other (or rather, An Other). These types of stories have existed since, well, stories have existed. What does strike me as interesting, though is the evolution of the audience draw between the examples pulled in the last post: fairy tale and exploitation film. The fairy tale's mythical appeal, at times base and ugly and frightening, still maintained a sense of order, a yin and yang. While this area of fantasy has far from disappeared (I would argue that three of the biggest pop culture properties: Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, are all born of the stuff fairy tales are made of), it has gained a level of sophistication, a prerequisite universe of logic and definition. Gone, in contemporary society at least, are the heydays of loose fantasy, the unquestioning childview of The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal and the apathetic man-childview of Conan the Barbarian and Beastmaster.

But somewhere along the line (and maybe not, we can instantly trace as far back as de Sade, probably much farther with a little further thought) a strain of art more concerned with the dark and dastardly, without absolute need for a counterbalance, began to spring from pens and brushes. Somewhere along the line (or perhaps not) a path was tread on which the artist, despite whatever else the work accomplished (and many accomplished much), thrilled in the exploration of the darker and/or more taboo sides of the human existence: death, pain, sex, pleasure, the corporeal and the points at which some or all of those threads cross. And while I won't deny that there can be a higher level of sophistication and inquiry in the approach, I also won't deny that a large part of the appeal to both artist and audience is purely thrillist -- the joy of playing a forbidden game with unknown or cryptic rules. By the time the heyday of the exploitation film rolled around, a few more taboos had been thrown into the great melting pot: primarily race, but also to a lesser degree the nuclear threat and the Holocaust. But the Two-Headed Shadow of sex and death still loomed strong, driving the production of most of the (sub-)genre(s). And the fact remained that no matter the specificities, from the Mondo film's blunt object approach towards death to the Giallo's lyricism of the same to the intensely disconcerting (and thus massively controversial) inversion in the Rape/Revenge film's sex=pain & violence=pleasure structure, the entry point for the audience (and the artist) remained a sense of enjoyable perversion, of bubble-wrapped complicitness. This is illustrated no more clearly than in the accepted use of the very term 'exploitation film', the uber-genre that would accept the heading not only for the marketing terminology it sprung from, but also all of the connotations and denotations that come part and parcel.

To bring this exploration to a present day conclusion begs the question whether we have reached a point where we can, as with so many other genres, throw the infamous prefix into the picture. Are we Post-sploitation yet? Part of me feels the popularity of Quentin Tarantino has to signal the transition: his films are drenched with such nostalgia that the become portraits of exploitation films rather than the films themselves. But, contrapuntally, there also the success of Neo-Splatter, in which the likes of Eli Roth and James Wan have risen as so many Herschell Gordon Lewises and snatched gore back from the comedic hands of the 80's horror comedy (in which Peter Jackson, oddly enough, bookends this discussion), showing the straight-faced, straight-laced thrillism of the taboo alive and well.

All of this, I suppose, counters my original intent -- that the exploitation film is the natural descendant of the fairy tale. It turns out that Peter Jackson is the actual descendant; exploitation is the bastard son; the solution for those curious about heaven, but dying to find out about hell. There's a little too much safety in the fairy tale; in exploitation, odds are good that the person you are rooting for and the person who you hate are one in the same.

And this is the point where I realize I've spent too much time on this post without actually saying anything about the genre. (What did I tell you? I really like the dark and dastardly.) So hey, look for yet another post next week exploring the moral structures of fantasy and exploitation, perhaps a foray into Neo-Splatter vs. Torture Porn, and hopefully some more direct connection to Put My Finger In Your Mouth.

As to what I brought up today, there have been a few synapses fired regarding Finger as well. It strikes me that perhaps my initial Lifetime movie comparison has more to it that I thought. After not being able to reconcile fairy tale and exploitation in my mind, I'm a little more prone to fit Finger under the former heading, as the titillation factor very much plays second fiddle to the moral demarcation of hero vs. villain. And after all, Drugsploitation is a genre more often approached ironically, usually (I'm guessing) because it's not easy to find an artist of the exploitative bent who finds drug use tremendously taboo. Instead, the form emerges either from the overblown silliness of early cautionary films like Reefer Madness or the apronstrings semi-sploitation of the all too seriously toned Lifetime films. The tonal shift in Finger I expressed some trouble with seems to be less a change in genre and more a delayed sense of irony. We've got a sneaking suspicion that the grit and grime of the whole thing is rather ridiculous in the most joyous of fashions, but it's a lot easier to celebrate this when the production agrees with the designation, as it does when the second act finally breathes freely.


While on the topic of exploitation, take a look at the work of Pat Vamos (possibly NSFW, depending on how stiff-necked your workplace is). I want to go into a further discussion of his output as part of my mash-up exploration, but in the meantime, you may as well bask in his amazingness.


Also, Ballad is finally open, and myself along with everyone involved is tres proud. (And I mean that for real -- the sense of ownership from the ensemble and crew as a whole is astounding.) Lisa Buscani's a fan, and Kris Vire is what I believe we call somewhat recommending.

He also brings up an interesting question regarding the necessity for motivation and purpose in dramatic structure and character that I think is closely tied in to my search for a modernist playwright a while back. I don't agree with his assertion; obviously I can't speak as an audience member for this particular example (nor would I try), but I think that, with honest handling, the caprice of the human heart is more than enough to command the stage. Of course, after the raging back and forth everything else on this blog has created, I shouldn't expect much from this one either, especially as my hands are tied as to just how much I can rightly bust into the discussion. But the opening stands regardless.

Hey, I know, maybe you should come see the show! That might help! It might not answer this question, but it sure is good to have a point of reference, ain't it? Thought so.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Put My Finger In Your Mouth

The Right Brain Project's Put My Finger In Your Mouth is billed as a contemporary fairy tale. Collaboraction's Sketchbook '09 was themed the New American Fable. House's Rose and The Rime carried the subtitle "An Original Midwestern Fairy Tale". I missed out on both of the latter, which I'm starting to regret as I sit down to write this, as a little compare and contrast would be nice. The current day fascination with the fairy tale makes perfect sense; the generation of theatre makers just starting to hit full stride is the same that grew up in the Jim Henson era, the 80's children's fantasy smorgasboard that brought us Labyrinth, Legend, The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, etc., etc., etc. But, if it's not children's theatre (which I understand some might peg Rose & The Rime as), what does the adult extension of these tropes look like? With Put My Finger In Your Mouth, playwright Bob Fisher and director Nathan Robbel make a compelling case for the exploitation film as contemporary fairy tale...

Or rather, that's where they end up once they get comfortable with the idea. The show starts with a first act mother-daughter Lifetime drug drama (a term requiring two footnotes: a) I'm aware that this is actually a tale of two sisters, but fails to read as such, for better and worse, until the final few minutes, largely because of the combination underwritten and overdirected morality representative Turtle character, and b) and this may be the first and last time I ever say this: I'm evoking the Lifetime Channel as a compliment), beginning with a sexy plunge into clubkid culture, hanging over scenes of changing home life, and simmering into a picturesque downward spiral. As a whole it could use a little more energy -- the climactic club scene shows the full potential on tap here, peaking with a unexplainably beautiful spectral dance moment between Birdy and Snailman to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that calls up both the Lifetime movie first act, with its subtle, but not too, symbolism, and the more fairy tale-esque second act, with a surreal period feeling that parallels the ballroom sequence in Labyrinth -- and a LOT more volume, especially in the club scenes, but it's a satisfying bit of (ever so melo-)drama that had me curious and a little worried as to how it was going to reconcile itself.

What I wasn't expecting after the short intermission was full on over-the-top Drugsploitation. And I don't know that the show was necessarily expecting it, either, because the top of act two had me hit the ground stumbling. There are a couple of hard, hard tonal shifts here; the swing from addiction drama to save the day action is a big un', and the introduction of the villainous plot in a Soylent Green cum James Bond villain monologue is hampered both by Emily Mark's overuse of the Villain Voice (read: slow, booming, and without any real sense of purpose beyond "I'm the bad guy") and the fact that it leaves the Snailman standing out as the sole undeniably otherworldy factor in a show that is otherwise tremendously absurd, but abstractly so. But I'm wasting far too much space on the negative, because, once it gets past a few ground gears, the second act bursts with lifeblood -- the fight scenes are fast, furious and proudly sloppy; the dialogue is studded with one-liners each inducing a large groan or guffaw than the last; the emotions are ridiculously high and defiantly manipulative; and the humor is just plain silly. And I laughed my ass off and had a brilliant time.

As I mentioned, it's a very strong case for Exploitation film as the modern equivalent of the fairy tale, which I think I may take a second post to explore further with some Finger specifics next week. I want more time to play connect the dots with some thoughts. Until then, if the genre is of any interest of you I do suggest you check Finger out -- it's oddly stitched together, no doubt, but I know there are plenty of you out there that don't necessarily consider that a bad thing. Nor should you.


Hey, buy these tickets. Now.

I just had one of the easiest tech weekends of my life for The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Lights, music, props, and set are all mostly in place and costumes are coming tonight. And every bit of it looks and sounds amazing -- almost unnervingly so! For reals, yo, you're gonna wanna check this puppy out.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In the meantime, the mean time.

A) Whoever arrived at this blog by searching for 'art for art's fucking sake', you're welcome back any time.

B) TimeOut visitors, I know you're out there. I'll be expecting the New Indie roundtable shortly.


So, what do I write about when I'm not seeing shows? Well, first I pimp the reason I'm not seeing shows:

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe opens in the Chopin studio a week from Sunday, emmereffers! Get you some tickets!

Also, on a related note, you might not have checked the Signal EnsemBlog in recent months. Nor would I blame you, as it had been dormant for nigh on a year. But we went and figgered out just how this blogging thing is supposed to go down, so swing on by! There's for real content goin' on and has been for a while; you've got catching up to do! Dramaturg Aaron Snook has plenty to keep you busy through the opening of Ballad (much of it already up there for you, but more to come), and then be on the look out for some meet n' greet on the ensemble, updates and insight from and about each of the company members, and plenty of Brian Jones/Rolling Stones build-up for the world premiere of Ronan Marra's Aftermath, coming this spring.

The blog. Read it.


Also in the meantime, I may as well turn to some product(-ion)(-ive) writing as well. At least two big projects in the woodwork right now, with a third trying to weasel its way into something resembling rationality. The first is, of course, SubUrbia, Part One of The Nine, which I'll talk about in more detail in a week or two when I've got a couple of things finalized. The third is still too much of an inkling to discuss much further, so we'll let that gestate for a bit. But the second! Oh, the second!

I've spent the last few days (the few hours not at work or in rehearsal) buried in mash-up culture. As one of those digital age questions that has shaken up the ideas of intellectual property and art ownership, I've been interested in the mash-up for a while. But now that I'm taking on the task of translating it to the stage in the next year, year and some change, it's time to delve deep. (The project t'ain't a secret, I'm just building to it. Deal.)

I'm skipping the basics. Anyone not familiar with the mash-up, click here and read, then come back.

Today's focus is DJ Earworm. I stumbled across Earworm not too long ago, but he's grown to one of my favorites. He doesn't have the bombast of Girl Talk or the sheer output of The Hood Internet, but I get a greater sense of purpose in his work -- a level far deeper than novelty.

Earworm's biggest (and most novel) hits are his United State of Pop mixes, a mashup of Billboard's top 25 hits of the year. The 2007 mash-up is passable, but 2008 is way hot, and a good case study in mash-up structure. Every quality mash-up has a good base and a good top layer. Whether it's A vs. B or glitch pop, you gotta build your foundation first. Earworm builds with Natasha Bedingfield and Rihanna (who he returns to with great effect), but settles into his most expansive option in Coldplay. It's a great choice (rather than his more beat-heavy alternatives) to provide an open playing field for the myriad of artists he's got to layer in over top. Which is the most impressive part -- not just the number of artists but how well the variety mix: Sara Bareilles' girl next door, Lil' Wayne's complete lack of tone, P!nk's fauxhawk punk, Alicia Keys' full belt, Usher's light-headed velvet pop, OneRepublic's whiny soar, they all meld so well you might think someone managed to round everyone up in one studio for some fucked up benefit hits compilation. I'd be curious to hear what others think, but for me the only sore thumb is Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" snippet. Even worse, I can't tell exactly what the problem is; whether it's Perry's vox, a poorly chosen (or timed, coming directly off of P!nk's similar style) sample, or my general feelings towards the woman that's causing the problem, though I imagine it to be a mix of all three. Then, after setting a chopped vocal rhythm, Earworm allows a couple of artists to linger: T.I. plays into Chris Brown & T-Pain, and as this releases into Chris Brown solo (underlined by a Rihanna build, of all things!), Earworm releases with a taper rather than an explosion, recalling the earlier chopblock, albeit a much more scattered version.

From a technical standpoint, it's a brilliant mix, especially starting with no easy challenge (a given set of songs to be mashed). It shows tonal differences as something to be embraced (with timing) rather than avoided, and it gives a nice two-act structure with a prologue and a callback epilogue.

But it is essentially a novelty. For a glimpse of the meta-bilities of a well-considered mash-up, point yourself to Earworm's No More Gas. Read the description first, then listen to the song. With No More Gas, DJ Earworm has created a critique of the 'Gimme More' culture by exploiting the very (and literally) "Gimme More" pop commercialism that is helping to feed the hungry zeitgeist. And you can dance to it! Go ahead, shake your hips to Danity Kane's taunting "How you gonna fix it?" and The Pussycat Dolls downright frightening "Be careful what you wish for" laid over Britney simply asking us to give her, give her more. It's either disgustingly catchy or catchily disgusting. Go ahead, bob your noggin to Lupe's "Superstar" confidence being completely undermined by the realization of the false bravado therein. But most effective of all, is the framework of Estelle's "American Boy" -- a very direct pointed finger, but one with a wink and a nod, unable to shake the charm and desire of the original. Estelle is the reason you can dance to it; she lets Earworm keep the subtle meter high and the agitprop meter low. Bastard pop is recycled, but never really reformed.

Have a further look around, see what else you can uncover at DJ Earworm's place, and let me know what you like (I especially recommend the nervous energy of Just Dance To New Order and Reckoner Lockdown, in which a half beat shift on Kanye's original makes all the difference). And check the videos as well, although video mash-up is a topic for a whole 'nother day.


I recently placed a decent sized order on AbeBooks and have since had a steady flow of vanguard art books to the homestead. Paging through this one today, I had a random moment of clarity:

"You have to know the rules in order to break them." -- it's one of those commonalites that has always rung of bullshit to me. I've been applying my frustration to the wrong place, it's not the sentence that's bullshit, it's the implication. In order to explore the artistic structure and the various ways out of it, you do have to study up on it. But if the implication is that this study must be an internal process, I suggest an external. Rule-breaking artists, rather than beating your head against a wall until the plaster cracks and lets in the light, spend some personal time with the darling motherfuckers teetering on the ladders outside and shoving the structure in on itself. You can learn how to be normal and then learn how not to be, or you can learn how others have not been and find out how that applies to yourself.

Study up, but do it from an angle you'll appreciate. Piero Manzoni can teach you what the rules are just as well as anybody that follows them to the letter.


How art has destroyed science, part 3 (a follow-up to the forgotten but not lost part 1 & part 2):

Sleep research:


Sleep Research:

You tell me who's made more progress.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Conduct Of Life

Oh boy, all kindsa random tangents to talk about!

I was pointed to an "Indie culture roundtable" at TO:C last week, although eulogy might be a better word than roundtable. Indie culture is apparently on the skids and TimeOut rounded up the most morose bunch of motherfuckers they could to mourn it.

Far as I'm concerned, it's a pile of crap: as has been pointed out elsewhere, the mean age of this roundtable is 38. The representation of indie culture is an average of 38 and certainly no younger than 33. With that knowledge in hand, it's not as surprising that the roundtable sounds a bit weathered around the edges and entirely unexcited about the prospect of indie culture, but is this really what we're going to roll out as a feature on the subject, TO:C?

Let's break it down:

The panel starts out with both feet on the brakes by refusing to even fall under the heading 'indie'. Three of the five panelists flat out refuse to use the word in their organizations and a fourth makes a very strong distinction against it, all touting the horrors of 'indie' becoming a marketing term/genre/style as opposed to the politically engaged 'independent' (though I would argue against the idea of crowing about oneself as an "economically independent, noncorporate venture" as being tremendously political anymore, but that's an argument to be taken up in a few minutes). The point of the roundtable is set-up quite soundly in this first question: Indie is a dead, corporate-riddled corpse, let's bemoan the fact we are still associated with its name. It's a sad, tired argument that any minority cultural movement either dies by or slogs through at some point.

There's an underlying case of refusal to adapt in this discussion. J.C. Gabel, the youngest and thus most disappointing of the snarkers, in between quips about Urban Outfitters, makes a comment about the discussion really being 20th century vs. 21st century. I agree, but what we have here is a panel of 20th century representatives, with perhaps the exception of Shawn Campbell, who seems less jaded but doesn't get a substantial word in edgewise. When a question on whether it's possible to be 100% independent anymore gets raised to this group of people, I would expect a resounding yes and a discussion about the drastic drop in production and distribution costs in the internet age, that anyone can make their own music, film, etc. and provide it to a potential audience of millions at the drop of a hat. And that they can pull a Thom Yorke or a Trent Reznor and do it with what I'm convinced will be the starting point of a new 21st century business model: free at the baseline. Instead, what I got was hemming and hawing that boils down to one bitchy complaint: "People don't give away free money anymore." Are you fucking kidding me? This is our indie... excuse me, independent culture? We're so goddamn independent that we won't even use the word indie and our primary complaint is that corporations are no longer giving us free money? If that's the case, I'll welcome the death of indie culture and we can find something new to call what's happening now.

For real though, read the responses to the last question in the article -- can anyone make heads or tails of what exactly is going on? On the one hand we have ('s!) Scott Plagenhoef saying that there is no nationwide delivery system, one of which -- and it isn't drastically far from being an independent version of the dreaded Clear Channel -- many would argue he heads. Of course, I understand that he's more concerned that there's not a single delivery system that hits every household. What I don't understand is why he has a problem with this. The entire panel seems to be ruing the (possible) loss of a monoculture, sorrowful that there is an arrival of more diversity through more outlets, which I read as less of a solidified 'mainstream'. Is our indie culture really mourning the cracks in the walls of mainstream distribution, or are they attempting to speak towards the loss of some sort of independent monoculture? Has there ever been an independent monoculture? Did they just drop all pretenses by the last question, throw up their hands and admit that the darn internets provide too many options (most of them tres independent)? How does one justify saying that the world is no longer wired to have a shared reaction the likes of the one caused by Michael Jackson's death mere weeks after the world had that exact shared fucking reaction? What the hell does Michael Jackson have to do with indie culture anyway? It makes me really fucking upset, it does, because it's a wasted opportunity to explore the new independent on TO:C's part. If anyone from TimeOut happens across this, I sincerely ask you to do a follow-up comprised of twentysomethings. See if you don't get more conversation, more ideas, and more ingenuity. And a lot less pissing and moaning.


Of course, my follow-up to this is the fact that there was no theatre representation on the panel. For that, I don't blame TO:C, I blame us. Theatre doesn't really fit the indie culture bill. I don't know that theatre even has a subset that fits the indie culture bill. Which is ironic because there's a ton of 100% independent theatre work being done in the city, primarily because no corporation in their right mind is going to fund a venture with such little commercial potential. Some of the problem as I see it is we ain't moving much in either direction. We aren't finding ways to make ourselves prone to more commercial potential, but we also aren't saying 'fuck it, we're not a commercial venture' and letting that free our work up. It's this midpoint limbo that's killing us, this sense of following the right way of doing things to be financially successful without any actual promise or payoff of the financial success.

My unfortunate example is the last show I saw: Tooth & Nail's The Conduct Of Life. (The link is to a review; as far as I can tell, Tooth & Nail doesn't have a website.) It seems as though director Marti Lyons has plenty of ideas about this script: from the omnipresent live band to the accompaniment Butoh usage, Lyons is attacking this beast (and thematically, it is a beast) from a number of angles. But the whole thing still ends up as a very presentational, very just outta the gates, very we got the Viaduct now how do we use it, very serious play that our friends and family can still appreciate product. I don't think I particularly liked it. But I also don't know, because I don't get the sense that anyone bringing innovative ideas to the table ever really cut loose with them. In the long run, I'm not really sure what was a choice and why or what wasn't and why not.

There was some of the most stilted acting I've ever seen on the part of Elizabeth Olson that I like to think, for her sake, had to be intentional. Couldn't tell you for certain, or the reasoning behind it. There were some sections of stage combat that were so horrendously slapdash that I would love to hope might have been a choice, either in comment towards the violence of the script or as a counterpoint to the use of Butoh. I'm doubtful, but again couldn't tell you for sure. Even the obvious choices didn't seem fully fleshed. For me, a big part of the intrigue of the production was the use of Butoh, which ending up being a sidebar accompaniment to monologues rather than actually incorporated into the show -- honest work, it seemed, but tremendously limited and happily so.

And then there's always the 'why?', because I think Marti had one. It seems like there was a reason behind this show, an intended message. But I'm mixed on what it might have been. When the script and imagery were allowed to speak for themselves, it becomes an exploration of the power and appeal within violence. When onstage violence is used, it becomes an exploration on what begets violence. And the final song choice shifts it all into anti-violence gear. Maybe all of these were choices, maybe none of them. But as it is, all my messages got mixed.


A certain Mr. Ed Rutherford has brought up an interesting marketing quandary this week that I'd be curious to hear some further opinions on. Hubris Productions' Bent is running right now, and the show trailer they've created for it mixes production and backstage footage with actual Holocaust footage. (You can see it here, but be warned, it's not for kids... or work.) Where does the ethical line fall on this one?

I personally don't take a lot of umbrage with the use of the footage, but that the footage was used in such a trite manner. There are a number of ways to use this imagery in an effective marketing campaign. Hubris took it and inserted it into a paint-by-numbers "serious" trailer. They could have replaced the footage in question with happy bunny rabbits and still offended my sensibilities as an audience member. Instead they've both offended my sensibilities with an unimaginative campaign and tried to play the "how can you not respect this and therefore our work?" card. It's a guilt trip trailer and that is probably what I take issue with the most.


So, I found that elusive great modernist playwright I was looking for a few weeks back in Michel Vinaver. I just got done with the shortened version of his Overboard. Shortened is a very relative word, because this thing is still a monster, but what a monster it is. You'd still be looking at something nearing a 3 1/2 hour run time with this version, but the world Vinaver creates is so instantly solidified and manages this among such a varied set of characters and situations that it truly flies. He's one of my new favorites, especially in his use of interweaving scenes. I'm trying to hunt down a copy of the full 7 hour version; does anyone have any info? Could point me to someone with some info?

As much as I love you, Chicago Public Library System, I would appreciate a little more interest in my tastes...


There was more stuff. But it's late and my brain has forgotten it. It'll have to wait for the sequel. Or for you to remind me.


Thursday, July 9, 2009


How many posts in the last month have I left abandoned by my own little good intentions-paved garden path? I don't rightly know, but it's more than two, I'll tell you that much.

It's summer and I'm smack dab in the midst of rehearsals (as the infamous 'Crazy' Merlie Ryan) for The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe with Signal; it also happens to be my first production as an offical ensemble member over at Signal(!). So, y'know, busy times have struck. Appy-polly-logies, darlings.

But stay tuned for a shortly forthcoming annoucement about The Nine -- and by announcement I mean dates, location, and audition/collaborator call for Part One: SubUrbia. Here's a hint: at this time six months from now, we will be rehearsing this bad boy. Rawk.

And hey, maybe I'll write about the few things I'm managing to still see as well. Wouldn't that be novel?


Monday, June 15, 2009

Art Brut x3

Excuse me while I beat this dead horse:

Why is live music so regularly more engaging and more honest than live theatre? I understand that there's a level of pretend in theatre that doesn't exist to the same degree in most other performance arts, but we're supposed to be able to pretend better than everybody else. We're supposed to be able to pretend at a level that makes people want to pay to watch us do it.

Can you phsyically move someone with your theatre? Can you engage someone so fully that they instinctually mimic your onstage actions? Can you make people cheer while they applaud? Can you make people wish they could do what you are doing, trade places with you, be in your shoes for just one hour, despite the fact that the only true benefit is the release of the thing? Can you make people forget themselves?

Will you please do it, then?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Regarding last week's one night only ICE performance of Iannis Xenakis' work at the MCA:

"Well, hello there! I would like to, on behalf of the neighborhood association, welcome you to the World of Sound, subdivision The Farther Reaches. Here, have a complimentary map. Oops, that one is now outdated. Here, have the latest version. Oh crap, now THAT one is outdated. Here, have the... you know, it actually might be best to skip the map all together. You'll find your way around alright. Besides, there's nothing here you haven't seen before and nothing the likes of which you'll find anywhere else. What's that? It's looks a little like Wonderland? Well, yes, but without the pesky metaphors, of course. Wackyland? A little bit, but even the dodos don't stay dodos for long here. No, we're talking about some real Norman McLaren shit in this stretch. You see, this here is Sound. Every structure here is built upon waves. Every surface here is mutable. We here at the neighborhood association recommend standing still for as long as possible. Allow us to explore around you -- that's where the real tour is. Here, you see the big black 'X' on the ground? That's for you. You are here. We promise. Everything else? Well, that's the real question, isn't it? Hang on, here we go! And don't worry, you'll be here when we get back. We promise."


Best performance of the year thus far. Fucking A, ICE. Fucking A, Xenakis. Fucking A. MCA for the win yet again. That's the season announcement I'm waiting for. And, as a side note, we need more people to start marketing with free/cheap pins. Not only will I back that whole heartedly, but there's a startling overlap in shows I love and shows which I leave with pins in hand. And, following that line, shows which I end up losing the pins for in a few months. Speaking of which, anybody got a Pavement Group Lipstick Traces pin they wouldn't mind parting with? I used to wear the shit outta that thing!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hedwig And The Angry Inch, pt. 1

There's a post about Rock 'N' Roll brewin' and a brewin', but while I try and sort those thoughts out, a quick sidetrack on ATC's Hedwig And The Angry Inch (more thoughts on which will join Rock 'N' Roll).

ATC's production of Hedwig ends with Nick Garrison, who has been slowly self-destructing in the lead role all evening, stage-cutting his chest with a broken bottle. The effect isn't achieved terribly well, but even so, I couldn't help thinking how unusually distracting it was. Unless it plays a vital part in the show, poorly done stage violence usually gets little more than a shrug from me, but this couple of seconds continued to stand out long after the show was over.

It got to rolling around in my head and I came to realize that one difference between this and typical stage violence is that this is an act that is familiar purely because it is performative -- because other artists, musicians in this case, actually have mutilated their bodies on stage. Rather than a stage fight, in which performers attempt to provide a realistic representation of an act uncreatable on stage, what we have here is a performer, on stage, attempting to provide a realistic representation of an act that dozens of performers have actually created on stage.

And it's not that I want to say I felt cheated, or that I think the only way this moment could work is with actual self-mutilation, or that actual violence on stage is at any point in time necessary. And yet, those of you who know me quite well know that I firmly believe that actual violence on stage can be used to great effect, that it's not a taboo, that there is at certain times and in certain performers a level of necessity so driven that the corporeal bounds are no more off limit than any others. And that I am fascinated by these performers, from the theatrics of Marilyn Manson and the disregard of G.G. Allin to the more intellectually and spiritually driven work of the Vienna Aktionists and Marina Abramovic.

It's half a fascination in what drives these artists and how far they can be driven, but it's also half a recognition that there are certain synapses that I share with them. Anyone who has had a chance to meet DADA [g]nimbus has seen those synapses firing on a very innocent level. I was discussing acting technique with a friend the other day, very intently discussing actually, and every point I made either came back to instinct and physicality or saw me contorting my body in an attempt to get the proper words out. I'm an actor that is familiar with that fucked up state of performance where character and performer are indiscernable from the inside as well as the out. And so, to a degree, I do understand what drives these artists. Would I cut myself with a broken bottle on stage? Well, umm.... no. (After all, my mom reads this blog, and she has a hard enough time seeing me on the receiving end of stage violence.) But the knowledge that certain artists would and not think twice about it makes me cringe horrendously at an obviously false portrayal. You can argue art imitating life and life imitating art all you want, but I'll tell you one thing: when art imitates art, all you get is a second-hand copy.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Lots of things of less importance

The best laid plans tonight was a post on how much fun Red Noses was and why, and how Enemy Of The People reconfigures the idea of audience participation in both a positive and a negative way, and how Star Trek was amazing (even for a non-Trekkie), Terminator was passable (at best), and Wolverine was disappointing (especially for a man jonesing for some Gambit). Mice and men, y'all.

A few hours ago while at a Memorial Day party, I learned of Chicago character actor extraordinaire -- and I don't use that phrase lightly -- Will Schutz's death at the hands of pancreatic cancer. There was a long moment of silence, primarily because fuck, how else do you respond to news like that, and a cheers in Will's honor. There was sadness. Lots of sadness. There was also laughter. Laughter and memory.

As I'm getting ready to go to bed, I'm browsing Facebook and seeing update after update mourning the tremendous loss that hit the Chicago theatre community today. There is sadness. Lots of sadness. But I know the laughter and memory will follow. That was the side that Will brought out of people.

I never had the pleasure of working on a show with Will, but I did have the pleasure of befriending him, both through my work with the side project and his work with Signal. The loss of talent alone is reason enough for the city to mourn, but it is the loss of personality and humor and, above all, humanity that makes the theatre community bow its head en masse tonight. The man embodied kindness unparalleled. We miss him, and we know we will never meet another like him.

Yeah, Red Noses was fun. Yeah, Enemy Of The People is doing some interesting things. Yeah, I saw a bunch of fucking movies. That's all superfluous tonight. Tonight the core was shaken. Tonight we lost a friend.

Will Schutz is dead. Long live Will Schutz.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, ya feck.

Sure, I'll admit that I know very little about the logistics of blood effects. So tell me this: is it possible that the blood splatter that drenches Mairead after she shoots Padraic in Northlight's The Lieutenant Of Inishmore looking vaguely like a heart could be intentional? If so, special effect artist Steve Tolin is a freaking genius and I bow to him.

Alright, anyone familiar with the production (or even the play): is the grounding X factor I'm still looking for something that's missing from this particular production or is it a missing element in McDonagh's work? I quite enjoyed the entire show, but had one of those didn't know you what you had been missing moments towards the end. The ridiculousness of the IRA/INLA mentality and drive came through loud and clear, but there's a part of me that's picking apart the front end of the script in hindsight trying to find a humanizing factor, a glimpse of an idea that there is a very sensical entry point for us as to why these groups form and continue as well. But I can't quite figure if it's lurking uncovered in there or not. The moment it hit me was Mairead sorrowfully singing the rebel songs after shooting Padraic, creating a perfect balance on stage between the romanticism of The Cause (maintained in the nostalgia of the old songs and so strong that Mairead's list of victims -- starting with those who carelessly brain cats -- takes priority over even her future husband) and the stunning absurdity of the carnage that results in practice. This leads me to believe that the prior uses of the rebel songs may contain more layered discoveries than director BJ Jones and Kelly O'Sullivan as Mairead were able to bring out. What seems at Northlight to be a minor character nuance might just hold the key to our, as an audience, understanding of the appeal behind the violence in these characters. The happier medium of interplay between farcical and bloody short-sightedness and aching necessity in the IRA/INLA portrayal. Or might I be looking for something that McDonagh simply didn't write? Thoughts?


I just finished reading Living by Henry Green. It's a good read, and though it takes a chapter or three to get used to the style and voice, it's worth the effort come the end. It also got me thinking about my taste in the narrative arts. Such is my brain. And as a disclaimer for my brain, I feel the need to point out that I have no formal training in any sort of literary criticism or theory and that when I go off into pontifications about movements and trends in art history, as I am wont and about to do, it is a combination of snippets of info that my sponge of a mind picked up on some random street corner and heretofore crackpot ideas that sprang from my headpan. So grab a couple of grains of salt.

Green is touted as one of the early modernist masters in literature, and while Living is all about class difference, one of the most successful aspects of the book for me is the lack of a proper (i.e. traditional) narrative. A precursor to the jigsaw films so often crashing (pun partially intended) ashore these days, this is the type of modernist tale that springs unpredictably between a bookload of characters, each living their own day to day life in an environment that binds them all. Additionally in Green's novel, characters come and go as he pleases. There are naturally some that maintain prevalence, a semi-familial lower class quartet, for instance, but also some that are set up to be major players only to disappear rather suddenly (the young heir to the foundry setting) and some that simply pop in on and off for a couple of chapters mid-novel and that's it (the heir's love interest). The result is a world of depth and variety and primarily reality; we get to know certain people closely and dearly and only learn snippets -- sometimes only a passing glance -- of others.

The jigsaw film is a touch and go genre for me. I find Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia to be a magnum opus, one of my favorite films of all time, and yet have something more akin to disdain for Paul Haggis' Crash or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel (his work in general for that matter). I believe it has something to do with the purpose towards which the device is put. Because that's merely what it is: a device. The idea that, Hey, we're all connected! is not a revelation. In splintering a narrative and exploring the pieces, an artist can certainly put them back together again, but if that's the only goal, something has been lost. What point is there in the splintering if the main focus is not the individual pieces, but the overall picture? If that's the case, leave the picture the fuck alone and explore it as a whole. If you're going to create slices of individuality, make those slices of individuality the focus (or, if you are putting them back in the process, the places that those slices meet). And woe be to you if, as in Crash, the focus is putting the picture back together again to show us the magical lesson that was there the whole time before you, the artist, obfuscated it for us. Congratulations, convolution wasn't enough, you had to go for condescension as well!

No, I think it is a structure that works best when used entirely without comment, as in Living, or to bring another contemporary film example, Harmony Korine's Gummo. Gummo is not about the interconnectedness of the residents of Xenia, Ohio, and while they are interwined and interactive, they aren't so in a happy wrapping and bow manner. There is incidental and coincidental meeting and there is continuation beyond the meeting and sometimes there is no meeting at all. And the result is a simple snapshot of a lump of people. Observation without moral. For some reason, that outcome has always appealed to me. It's the sort of art that I have always referred to as 'humanistic', not because it reveals any particular human truths, but because it revels in a lack thereof. We watch humans for a while and then, at some perhaps not particularly important point, we are done watching humans. Korine is one of the best at this technique -- this celebration of life.

Any suggestions on playwrights that might fit this bill -- the side of the Venn diagram that includes realists but not moralists? I haven't put much thought in it since writing the above and I'm sure I'm blanking on a ton because my mind instantly wants to weave towards the absurdists. Franz Xaver Kroetz comes to mind, though his work is less a celebration than a meditation and without the splintering, I suppose. Anybody got anything else?

Edit: I just realized this morning that I completely neglected to mention Robert Altman, the master of the modernist film and the missing link in my comparison of Henry Green to the contemporary jigsaw film. PT Anderson gets a lot of flak for cribbing Altman, and the comparison is more than fair, but I think that Korine has more of Altman's spirit, if less of his technique; a traditionalist approach to the style, in which the interconnectedness of the characters functions as a frame more than a character itself.


Hey New Yorkers! I can't be a good friend and go see my once upon a roommate's show because I'm one of those halfway across the country types, but you can! Here's a quick plug for Wide Eyed Productions' One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, playing until May 24th at the Richmond Shepard Theater in NYC. I can't speak for the production, 'cause I haven't seen it, but I can tell you that the amount of talent in the roles of McMurphy and Cheswick is pretty extreme. So check it out and report back to me, 'cause I can't, boohiss.


The latest addition to the "I might have to cross it off the To Use Artistically list, because there's no way I can top this" file: The American Dollar's Anything You Synthesize. The video already wins. Over everything. Check it, and make it full screen:


Ohmigod, a five parter!

This weekend is all Brodie all the time. You know why? We're closing on Saturday! You know what that means? All you slackers better get your tickets now, because you've only got three more chances to see it before we tear this mother down! Go here. Get tickets. See the show. I'm working box on Thursday and will be there on Saturday, but I see that as no reason to discriminate against Friday, ya punks. See you there!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I made this.

Nuts and bolts first: It was Dog & Pony's God's Ear and The Factory's Mop Top Festival plus watching/working box at Brodie. This Thursday is Profiles' The Wonderful World Of Dissocia and Friday is New Leaf's The Long Count. Saturday morning I'm flying out to Iowa to hang out for a week and then play Co-Best Man for my little brother's wedding on May 9.

My. Little. Brother's. Wedding. I've been utterly single for over 2 1/2 of my 3 1/2 years in Chicago -- handing over the rings to my 21 year old brother is gonna be one of the weirdest feelings of my life. But I'm proud and very happy for him and excited to spend time at home -- so don't be surprised if this place is dead until I get back on May 11.


Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear is one of those plays that is written so well, so insightfully and incisively, so precise that it just makes you want to go home and write yourself. I've been neglecting those creative muscles recently in favor of the acting and directing sort, and while I will continue to flex the acting (I will be playing Merlie Ryan in Signal's The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe opening in August) and the directing (I hope to announce official dates in early 2010 for Part One of The Nine before the end of May -- as soon as the ink is dry on a space), I think it may be time to pick the writing back up.

I don't really write in draft form. While I may go back and change a few sentences or word order for the flow of the piece at any given time, once I write something down, the structure is pretty much set. There is the rare exception, but for the most part my first drafts are near indistinguishable from my final drafts. (I believe Jen wrote something long ago about having a similar technique.) This of course means I have a bajillion half finished projects sitting around at any given time. It also means I can easily pick up those projects at any given time if I remain pleased with them. And remaining pleased with your work months, even years, after you've written it is a great feeling.

I've been going over old projects the last couple days and have found a number that I need to decide between in terms of buckling down and plugging away. There's BlueGrass, an experiment in Boolean Theatre that will be a later part of The Nine; Quiet Ground, my entry for last year's NaPlWriMo that didn't get far within the given timeframe; Terron: A Protagonist, a 26-part semi-Oulipian novella; and Rapture, an I don't know what that lives within my obsession with, well, The Rapture. And I'm going see if I can't finish at least one of these by the time Ballad opens. Yay, goals!

In the meantime, here's a little something I wrote almost three years ago for a one-night ten minute play festival. I still think it holds water. It's called The Mystique.

1: There hasn't been a moon like this in ages.

2: You're crazy; the moon's always been there.


3: They say that it's even there during the day.


3: We just can't see it.


3: Because of the sun.


1: But it's never this bright. That's what I meant: The moon hasn't been this bright in ages.

3: Also because of the sun.

1: Has the sun changed?

2: No, the sun's always been there, too.

3: It is changing

2: (to 1) You're crazy.

3: But not quickly enough to notice.

1: Well I notice that the moon is brighter than it's ever been before. Why is that?

long pause

2: I like it.

1: Oh, I do, too.

2: Why ruin the--

3: Are you sure it's brighter?

2: --the mystique of it?

3: Because it looks very similar to me.

1: I do enjoy the mystique.

2: Yes, it's definitely brighter

long pause

2: The mystique is half the fun.

3: It's really not brighter at all.

1: But it is.

3: Because the moon doesn't actually shine

2: The mystique is half the fun.

3: In that no light emanates from the body that is the moon.

2: The mystique--

1: But--

3: The illusion of a glowing moon that we are currently viewing--

1: Is the mystique--

2: I don't really think we--

3: Is nothing more than the reflection of the sun's rays.

1 and 2: Ahhh....

1: The sun's rays.

2: That makes sense.

1: Because the moon is not in fact giving off light

3: You see?

2: I do.


1: Mmhmm.

long pause

4 (off-stage): Fuck!

pause, 4 enters

4: That is one gorgeous moon, my friends, one gorgeous god damn moon


4: I don't think I've ever seen the moon quite this bright before.

1: It's the sun.


4: No... that's the moon.

2: It's the reflection of the sun's rays. You aren't actually seeing the moon, because the moon is not luminary.

3: What you are seeing is the reflection of the sun's rays off of the surface of the moon.

2: So, in essence, what you are seeing is the sun.


1: Indirectly.

long pause

4: Ah.


4: But there is a moon.

3: Oh yes.

2: No doubt.

1: Can we be sure?

2: (to 1) You're crazy.

4: Yes, there is a moon. And because there is a moon, rays from the sun are able to hit the surface and reflect off, making their way to the Earth, including the very spot that I am standing, the very inches that my eyes are occupying. And because the rays are reflected from the surface of the moon to these very inches, I am able to see all else the rays are illuminating. As well as the interlocking shadows -- I am able to see where the rays cannot reach and the battles waging at the line that separates the two. And the shimmering lake -- the needle-glint of a rising wave that is quickly swallowed onto itself by the following needle-glint, each more fleeting than the last, each a mere reflection of a reflection of a ray but piercing just the same. And the stars -- I am able to pick from a million tiny specks, joining together to litter the sky in the short hours before the sun returns in it's arrogance, outshining all, oppressing the stars and the moon and the earth -- burning, simply burning. Because the moon does not shine, because the moon merely reflects, because the moon is merciful, I can see the stars. And the sliver of a passing glint as the lake breaks. And the shadows, the belligerent shadows, driven back by the sun, but free to play, to have their long-awaited reign. Because of the moon. And it's fucking beautiful. It's a fucking beautiful moon.

long pause

4 exits

long pause

1: Fuck.


This was one of my first exercises in cutting back. I initially had a bunch of stage directions in this piece as well, a whole lot of nature-driven quasi-absurdist action. It seemed really cool when I was writing it and read horribly afterwards; symbolism for the sake of symbolism. So I sliced it all out and left just the words, making it inadvertently one of my first exercises in encouraging directorial interpretation as well. This would soon become a running theme.


Since it's past midnight I suppose I can officially give some thoughts on the Jeff Nominations. May as well do so before I'm offline for a week. Intial reactions:

- What the hell happened to The Hypocrites' Our Town? No ensemble nod? No individual acting nods for Cromer and Grace? Was the committee watching the same show as me and everyone else that sold that fucker out and moved it to New York? It deserves the production and director awards, but it also deserves so much more than that.

- On the reverse, the fact that Boho's Jekyll And Hyde: The Musical was nominated for anything other than Waste Of Paul Rekk's Money is discouraging. Other nominated shows that would have made that category: Circle's Hay Fever and Steep's Greensboro: A Requiem.

- Things I see'd and liked a lot: Ryan Jarosch in Hubris' Torch Song Trilogy, Brenda Barrie in Lifeline's Mariette In Ecstasy -- except for the last five minutes; an exceptional group of Supporting Actors in a Play -- I only missed Nathaniel Swift, but the rest were all fantastic; Blindfaith's Woody Guthrie's American Song snagging an under the radar 5 nods.

- Stiffest competition: Sound Design. Nick Keenan for New Leaf's Touch and Stephen Ptacek for Dog & Pony's God's Ear are awesome, awesome, awesome but are just a notch below Tim Hill's subtly unsettling design for Lifeline's Mariette In Ecstasy. But any (or all) of the three would make my day.

But at the end of the day, congratulations to all and to all a good night!


This is what we call inspired casting.

I'll be back with a full post on relevant things tonight, but may I ask just how blasphemous it is for me to be more excited about the prospect of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger than I ever was about Robert Englund?

I've had the Jason vs. Freddy argument with a number of my (geekier) friends, and it would take a lot for me to give Freddy the respect most everyone else seems to have for him. I must say, this might be the lot I was looking for.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Horses At The Window/Orpheus And Eurydice/Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me, Part I

Working from the inevitability and universal nature of chaos and the acknowledgment that, as fun as chaos can be, there is none without order, there are two methods of creating sense from non. The first is a minimizing approach: collecting the chaos and placing it into a display case, towering above it, magnifying glass within arm's reach should the desire to revisit on rare occasion strike. This is an approach that allows for forgetfulness by means of a dusty closet. Chaos is something to be tucked away, an act perpetrated, the urge of which can be easily explained in behavioral terms. Chaos as incident(al).

The second approach maximizes. By delving into chaos, adopting a Fantastic Voyage approach and releasing oneself and one's world into the wilderness of disorder, a point is reached at which the chaos becomes too great to be visible. This approach encourages forgetfulness by means of high rise. Attempting to view something larger than your scope of vision has a similar effect as wearing blinders. One sees what is possible to see and writes off the rest. Chaos as ubiquity.

The first approach is delusional, the second escapist. We can no more contain disorder in some ill-fitted petri dish than we could unknot that which we are able to rein in. Yet it does us little more good to construct our maze of glass and continue to wander, content as long as we can see our intended destination. Somewhere between lie Wilder's saints and poets. Sitting outside of Ghirardelli with my banana split Saturday evening after seeing Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus And Eurydice, I had a saints and points moment.

It's no wonder the sky, especially the night sky, remains such an artistic anchor. There's a relief of refuge in constancy when wading in reality. As I watched the young Hispanic mother, the skater thugs, the Kansan family back to visit mom's alma mater, and the homeless man asleep on the curb; the man in the Caddy blasting '60s soul and the group of bikers blasting the Stones; the white hats in town for the Cubs game and the couple waiting for a horse and carriage to return on the first beautiful night of the season; these and hundreds of others and myself bouncing around as so many atoms, clinging to a sense of direction, hoping to do right by the world, and working to even maintain right by ourselves, it was a semi-regular moment of ease to look up. Because up looked the same. To all of us, all night long, up -- regardless of the reality of the situation -- looked the same.

And maybe that's part of the answer. I like chaos, I do. More than most, I've discovered. But it's good to know that I can immerse myself in the pinball world and at the same time, while knowing better, convince myself that the pockets of certainty I find can be so. And it's even better to know that, after that brief respite, I can face forward and step on, headfirst into not knowing and not needing to, confident grin splayed across my face.

What a lovely fucking nonsense we live.


It was a weekend of Think Theatre. (And all due respect to Remy Bumppo, but they've got a serious case of false advertising using that slogan in a city with this much of adventurous no-wires intelligence in the below radar scene.) Trap Door, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, and Cupola Bobber have tangled a mess of a web in my head that I will try to unweave this week with hopefully another couple of posts. I'm no longer able to discern which thoughts are coming from which show, so I'm throwing it all in one pot. The next post (more a reminder for my own future self) will mostly likely deal with the line between saying and wanting to say.

Marie Chouinard
has already skipped town, so you're out of luck on that one, but you have one more weekend to see both Trap Door's Horses At The Window and Cupola Bobber's Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me. If you can only make one, go for Horses. As I said to a friend afterwards, the love and war and love in war paradoxical conclusion is the happiest and the saddest I have ever been at the same time. But Cupola Bobber's got something akin to the new American realism up at Links Hall -- like (and entirely unlike) 500 Clown, these are real people really doing unreal things. Hyper-intelligent but grounded in simplicity, Way Out West also comes highly recommended. If you were looking for plans, you just found 'em.

Edit: Out of all the obscure and half-formed phrasing I use on this blog on a day to day basis, I rarely feel the need to elaborate for ease of use. But I just know that the words "new American realism" are going to be read differently than intended far too much. The key word in that grouping is 'new'. This is not your mother's realism, your kitchen sink realism; this is your Paul Rekk realism -- the kind that lives in the same lovely fucking nonsense as I, where real doesn't mean something I understand, it just means real.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another one down

Well, that's another opening survived and another opening night hangover put to bed. It's been a while since I've been in the position where my job is done on opening night, where all I have left to do is watch how people respond to what we have done.

The Brodie preview and opening night response seems to be very positive. (I realized this week that over the last few months I've started using number of friends who mention the show in their Facebook status as a serious barometer.) Critically, we've hit very good, very middling, and very non-Jeffworthy so far, with a bunch still to come in the following week or two. But I've seen this production more times than all but one or two people and I can -- and will -- honestly say that this was a great opening night for a phenomenal show and I'm excited to finally be able to share it with others. I discovered Monday night that I spend much of the show with a huge grin pasted on my face, and much of the rest with that shortened breath, welling behind the eyes feeling. And it takes me by surprise every time.

It's good to be back, Signal.


This week finds me back into the swing of things: Thursday is Trap Door's Horses At The Window, Friday night I'm saving myself for all kindsa late night bowling action at the WNEP Bowl-a-thon 2009 (there's still time to pledge!), Saturday is monthly movie extravanganza, most likely Monsters Vs. Aliens 3D (!), Adventureland, and Observe And Report, followed by Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus And Eurydice at the MCA, and Sunday I'm working box at Brodie (come visit!), followed by Cupola Bobber's Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me.

The swing of things, indeed.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Ahh, tech week.

I had initially thought that I was going to take my Easter afternoon to go see Circle's A Perfect Wedding before heading off to our second Brodie preview. Shortly and swiftly into tech I realized that was a foolish idea and it was quickly excised from my mind. I hope I can get out to see it after we open, but this weekend was dedicated to output, not intake.

And speaking of which! Signal's The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie opens downstairs at the Chopin tonight and runs through May 16. Come rock and roll with us Scottish school girl style and feast your eyes upon the finest assistant direction this side of Bonnie Kilmeny. For realsies, though, this has been a great experience and I'm going to come out of it feeling not only like I've been a part of a helluva production, but that I also had a part in making it a helluva production. This wasn't a "which one of you had the grande macchiato?" AD gig -- I can watch the show and know that I had a hand in helping to shape parts of it as well, which is immensely gratifying feeling for an assistant anything. Big shouts out not only to everyone involved in the show and the rest of the Signal gang, but especially to director Ronan Marra for rolling with me on this. He's been open, flexible and decisive through the whole process and a blast to work with on the other side of the fourth wall. So now that the process part of it is coming to a close, come see what we hath wrought! Not only am I proud of the show, but the audience response from the previews has been very good, so I feel quite comfortable saying you'll like it, methinks.

Ticket information is here, and every night is Industry Night at Signal Ensemble, so bring your proof of industry with you for a $10 ticket. It sounds like opening is already sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to come say hey -- may I suggest in particular the April 23rd charity night for the Chicago Academy for the Arts? Or the May 9th benefit performance from which all proceeds will go to Will Schutz (man of talent, friend of Signal, and Orgie winner extraordinaire) as he continues to battle pancreatic cancer? Or the matinees on April 19th and 26th, where you will have a chance to say hey to my smiling mug as I work box office? Or, you know, whenever you can -- we'll be glad to have you!