Thursday, April 29, 2010

What. The.....

You only need to know one thing about: the singer is Chiwetel Ejiofuor. That's right, the assassin from Serenity and Children of Men.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scott Walters: Here's Your Challenge

“If it created jobs, you’d have 435 members of Congress saying, ‘Let’s put in more money to the N.E.A.’...The only shovel-ready aspect of it is that they need a shovel to clean up some of the bull they believe in over there.”

-Jack Kingston, Republican Congressman from Georgia and Tea Party-panderer.
Rep Kingston (R-GA) appears to be in the knee-jerk art-is-worthless crowd (remember Cash for Clowns?). Maybe he's the enemy, and we arts advocates need to make sure we pressure him to change his mind, or ignore him and fight to support people who don't think like him.

Or you, Scott, can take this as an opportunity.

See, from Kingston's perspective, the NEA doesn't create jobs. On a national level, that argument isn't worth all that much. And to the extent that it is true, the reason it doesn't create many jobs is because we don't fund it much.

But you see, Kingston is from Georgia 1st District. I wish I could find the NEA breakdown on money by district, but I haves me a feeling that it doesn't have much for Georgia's 1st District. And Rocco doesn't seem inclined to take rural theater very seriously, after the whole Peoria shennanigans. Georgia's 1st is home to Okefenokee Swamp. (Oh, and his website also says "The First District is a literary haven." Is he anti National Endowment of the Humanities?)

Kingston's stance right now is, the NEA is useless to my district, so it is way easy for me to rag on it. After all, how many people in my district have any connection to or value of the NEA? Why not kick it around? What would I lose?

And if you look at the political math, if the NEA's money is going mostly to large metropolises, then it will be undersupported in the House. And probably the Senate too.

So my challenge to you, Scott, is can you use CRADLEArts model to the political advantages of the arts? Can you go to Kingston and say, "If the NEA uses the current model, most of its money is going to go to big historic theaters in big cities. If you help reform the NEA's approach, you can bring some of that support to locals in your district. Don't scrap us, fix us."

And maybe Republicans aren't ready for this message. Maybe it's the 54 Congressmen of the Blue Dog Democrats. After all, maybe this is a winning moderate issue for them -- they get to go toe-to-toe with the "urban liberals" of the party (Take that, Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich) and brandish some populist, pro-local tendencies while still investing in a Democratic principle of supporting the arts.

Basically, can we end this manichean game of either pro-the-current-model or anti-the-arts?

Circle Rules Federation - The Slow (James K.) Polks Game 1

One of the things I do outside of the realm of theater and politics is that I play Circle Rules Football, a game invented by my friend Greg Manley as his Independent Project at the Experimental Theater Wing. Yes, he invented a sport instead of doing a play. And we're all happy that he did. The rules are on the website, and there's also a great explanatory video of what CRF is that was done by Good Magazine

Today was the first game of the Spring League. The Slow (James K.) Polks versus Dynamic Shock and Awe.

First, the obligatory smack-talk: our team, The Slow (James K.) Polks, draws its inspiration from the dynamic one-term President who did not seek re-election because 4 years was enough for him to make a drastic mark on the history of the United States through the annexation of Texas and other key policy victories. Dynamic Shock and Awe draws its inspiration from the tactic of overwhelming force and domination best known for its limitations in the Iraq War, where it turned out that staying power was very difficult.

The game was an hour: four 15 minute quarters.

QUARTER 1 - The elements were not on our side; there was a strong wind blowing against our scoring direction that made even medium distance shots pretty difficult. On top of that, our team had seven of its usual players show today, and their team had twenty. That meant that they could substitute a lot more rapidly, lowering the overall fatigue of their players over the course of the game.

That being said, the first quarter was a pretty close one. They scored a couple coming straight out of the gate as we found our footing, but from that point forward we remained a couple points behind them. We kept possession on the offensive a lot, but because of the wind and some admittedly good defense on their end, we had trouble sealing the deal with goals. At the end of the game, the score was 2-4 in favor of Dynamic Shock and Awe.

QUARTER 2 - We tried to shake up our offensive strategy, and we got a couple amazing goals in -- one involved a fantastic passing game that had our three offensives passing constantly over the heads of their players. At one point, we pulled into a tie game of 4-4. But Shock and Awe kept their lead steady, and by the end of the quarter the score was 4-6 in favor of Shock and Awe.

QUARTER 3 - We came out of the gate hitting as hard as we could, but they were surging in strength too. We kept possession very much on their side of the field -- we had switched sides of the field, but the wind was dying so it didn't help us out as much as we wanted. Their goalie for this quarter also had 30 pounds on our goalie, which in Circle Rules Football normally wouldn't be allowed but we didn't have anyone in the goalie's weight class. Our goalie Billy was playing a brave game, but he was getting pretty clobbered. Also, we started to really hit the fatigue wall from not having enough spare players. The Shock and Awe's lead intensified, and the quarter ended 6-10.

QUARTER 4 - Not the game's finest hour by any stretch. We picked goalie, so we put our smallest and scrappiest player in the goal. By the half, the two of them were getting pretty intensely physical. There were some questionable moves being put in, and a friendly argument broke out on the benches as to what violates the "no holds" rule of goal-keeping -- whether it is submission holds, or holds in general. The scrappiness of the goalies turned into a fairly rough game on the field we started to get down to the wire -- their captain, Scott Riehs, was carried off the field after a leg cramp the size of a golf-ball. But the fatigue had set in, and The Slow Polks really were getting slow on the field. The game ended at a fairly unpleasant 7-15.

Afterwards, the handshakes cleared, and our team had opened its season with a loss. The Dynamic Shock and Awe had lived up to their name, with a huge reserve of energetic players who fought hard and, well, maybe had a bit of advantage of not having to play as long. The debate around the holds continued, especially amongst the veterans who crafted the rules to begin with. They are currently at the bar hashing the rules out over beers, the way most of the games' rules were hashed out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Legal Commentary II: Mexico and the Arts

Again, via the Art Law Blog, USA Today has the scoop on Mexico allowing artists to pay their income tax with works of art:

That's the deal Mexico has offered to artists since 1957, quietly amassing a modern art collection that would make most museum curators swoon. As the 2009 tax deadline approaches, tax collectors are getting ready to receive a whole new crop of masterworks.

"It's really an amazing concept," says José San Cristóbal Larrea, director of the program. "We're helping out artists while building a cultural inheritance for the country."

There's a sliding scale: If you sell five artworks in a year, you must give the government one. Sell 21 pieces, the government gets six. A 10-member jury of artists ensures that no one tries to unload junk.


Under the program, the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit now owns 4,248 paintings, sculptures, engravings and photographs by Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Leonora Carrington and other masters.

Incredible. Basically, the government of Mexico is saying "we value the arts enough to accept it as legal tender." That's what I call putting your money where your mouth is!

"There's no censorship here," says Julieta Ruiz, a curator at the museum.

If anything, the temptation to needle the taxman makes the art even edgier, she says.

Rafael Coronel's 1980 tax payment is a portrait called He Who Doesn't Pay Taxes. A painting that Fabian Ugalde contributed in 2002 declares in huge letters, "The authorities have still not determined whether it was an act of aggression or just another piece of art."

A 10-foot-high drawing by Demián Flores shows a man sexually assaulted by a rattlesnake, an apparent reference to the Mexican government because the rattlesnake appears on the Mexican flag.
The Mexican Government proves that if you have a sense of humor about yourselves, you can get along with artists much better. After all, if the Mexican government is unfazed by Coronel, Ugalde, or Flores' poking at their faces, the works lose all of their teeth instantly. If Mexico can smile and say "well at least they're paying their taxes," what are they going to do about it?

At any rate, I would like to pay my taxes in the form of a one-man show at the Kennedy Center, curated by Rocco Landesman. Any takers?

Legal Commentary: Pole Dancing is Not Art

Via the Art Law Blog comes news that NY State does not consider pole-dancing art:
The two-member Tax Appeals Tribunal held that the routines performed nude or nearly nude by dancers at the Nite Moves club near Albany were largely learned from other dancers or on YouTube and the Internet, and are not the kind of carefully arranged and practiced patterns of movement normally equated with the art of dance.

"We question how much planning goes into attempting a dance seen on YouTube," the tax appeals panel concluded in Matter of 677 New Loudon Corporation D/B/A Nite Moves, 821458. "The record also shows that some of the moves on the pole are very difficult, and one had best plan how to approach turning upside down on the pole to avoid injury. However, the degree of difficulty is as relevant to a ranking in gymnastics as it is dance."

I find this fascinating, because it shows what a bunch of lawyers and bureaucrats think about the arts. A few notes:
  • The legal frame of reference is rather muddled in the ruling. It says that pole dancing is not art because it is not "carefully planned and practiced." That implies that they are using the idea of art as a craft (a series of technical skills) as a lens for judgment. But then they also state that "the degree of difficulty is as relevant to a ranking in gymnastics as it is dance," implying that technical difficulty is not a qualification of art.

  • Also, check out this basic rejection of Postmodernism:
"The appeals tribunal held, however, that "[dance expert] Dr. Hanna's view of choreographed performance is so broad as to include almost any planned movements done while playing canned music."

"To accept Dr. Hanna's stunningly sweeping interpretation of what constitutes choreographed performance, all one needs to do is move in an aesthetically pleasing way to music, using unity, variety, repetition, contrast, transition," the panel concluded."
  • Luckily, it seems like the ruling is not, as the article makes it seem, a unilateral assessment that all pole-dancing is not art. We are used to pole-dancing in the stripper context, but having met plenty of people who now do pole-dancing as a fun workout, I wouldn't be surprised to see pole-dancing become its own sort of art form, in the way that flair bartending is, in my opinion, a performing art.

  • The ruling also makes it clear that there is a legal line between an arts organization and a "place of entertainment." I shudder to think what would happen if arts organization were legally barred from being entertaining...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Failure in Messaging

If you Google CFPA, you get a list of results like the one on the right. Blogger has decided to make any image I upload tiny, so you probably can't read it.

The results begin with a website called "Stop the CFPA" (after three sponsored links from anti-CFPA websites), and then go to either unrelated websites that have the same acronym, or negative op-eds like the Huffington Post one at the bottom there.

If you search for Consumer Finance Protection Act, you can actually get the information you need. That is to say, you can get a description of what the hell the bill actually is.

This is a win for StoptheCFPA's Search Engine Optimization (SEO) consultants, and a fail for the internet being a useful tool in democracy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Week of Seeing Shows

I had a jam-packed week full of seeing shows. A few words on each:
  • Darius Homayoun's a joyous shot at how things ought to be: a fourth-year independent project at New York University's Experimental Theater Wing. Darius, who comes from Dubai, is a good friend of mine from the four years we've studied together, and I was bursting with pride over this work. Conceptually, he begins with a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm (The Twelve Brothers), presented by himself and a group of actors who, between segments, make no bones about being a group of actors. Between scenes they use each other's real names, ask each other the real time, and comment on how they think it is going. Then they hop into the story-telling, beautiful and imaginative. Soon the two world blends, and the narrative caves in on itself as Darius realizes why the story is important to him. A fantastic work, and one which I'm hoping to remount with him, possibly in the fall.

  • Alex Johnson's Staging Staging: The Historiographical Consequences of Post-Revolutionary Russian Avant-Garde Performance Aesthetics: also a fourth-year independent project at NYU:ETW. As you can see, we have a thing for long titles this year. Alex's project was a non-play -- a play which fails to happen. He begins by trying to give a lecture on the Russian Avant-Garde, but is then interrupted by a group of protesters, some of which are audience members who have volunteered beforehand and been trained in what to do. Vaguely. Again, a war breaks out between Alex Johnson, ostensibly trying to give his thesis lecture, and the protesters, who simply want to make known their demands. It begins as somewhat of a satire on the dull-headed Kimmel occupation from last year, but soon takes a more sympathetic ear, as you realize that these young people may not have a purpose or direction to their aimless protesting, but they are driven by very tangible desires and hopes. Pretty soon, the audience had a pretty strong urge to join in (I'm not making this up) and we basically interrupted Alex's show to have a conversation with him about his show -- which is basically what his show was ready to accept. In today's talk-back, Alex said "I made the show fail-proof, which obviously made it success-proof."

  • Lope de Vega's Fuente Ovejuna, directed by Chilean director Carlos Diaz. Diaz used the space he was given in an incredible way -- it was long and wide, and actors spent the entirety of the show running in and out of it, and exerting massive amounts of energy. Unfortunately, that meant that when the show wasn't working, it was (as one of my friends put it), just a bunch of people running and shouting. Some of the scenes were in Spanish with no translation, which at first I was irritated by, but then I realized wasn't really a problem -- I just wasn't the primary audience, being monolingual. After all, almost none of the theater in New York treats the blind or the deaf as part of the audience -- I, as someone who didn't learn Spanish, have a whole range of theater which is open to me, so it isn't particularly a problem if just this one had scenes that were inaccessible. Sometimes the running and shouting and the acoustics of the space drowned out the words of the actors, and sometimes the athleticism drowned out what could have been a subtle and moving tale and instead made it a passionate and exhausting play, but overall it was a play well directed, and sometimes it even worked for me.

  • Pipeline Theatre's Psycho Beach Party: earlier in the week, I was performing with Pipeline in their Brave New Works evening of emerging theater companies; then I was seeing their fantastic play. I haven't laughed so hard in a while; John Early as Chicklet was a virtuouso of hysterical energy for the entire evening. It was just a wild, fun romp, but I -- not familiar with the play previously -- was rather taken by the play's fun but incisive investigations into sexual and gender identity, which I hadn't really been expecting to be so forward while still being fun. Pipeline definitely holds fun to be the key virtue, and with their over-sold audience it's clear that it's working out for them.

  • A reading of an original musical Who's George: my friend Sydney Matthews dug this little chestnut out of the attic, written by her grandmother, and we just informally read it in the back of Bar 82 (nice folks, by the way, who are building a little venue in a back room). The play is hysterical in its adorable genuine spirit and strange ways of saying things. I laughed even harder than I laughed at Psycho Beach Party. We may be bringing this production to the stage as well this summer.

  • The Stella Adler Studio's production of Show & Tell: I very much dislike this play. It reads as though a television writer was trying to write an episode of CSI and then realized he could make it into a play so that he could get it made. There's also a lot of unwarranted romantic hoopla that just distracts from the part of it that works: a genuine reflection on what grief looks like when the catastrophic incident (a bombing of a classroom) is so horrific that it can't allow normal grieving processes (because the childrens' bodies can't be recovered). On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, this had the potential to be particularly poignant. The technical aspects were also a huge failure. That being said, the actors did amazing work with what they were given, particularly my roommate and company-member Joel Fullerton. Who just found out I have a blog last night. Hi Joel!
I normally don't see this much theater, but I will keep trying to update you.

Ohio Theater Closing

In one week, the League of Independent Theaters is teaming up with NYIT to present a community forum on the closing of the Ohio Theater. Details here:

The League of Independent Theatre and the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation are teaming up to present a community forum at the Ohio on Monday, April 26, at 6:30pm that will deal with this topic in a constructive and positive way.


A list of speakers and more details will be posted at as they become available. The event will be streamed live at beginning at 6:30pm on April 26th.

My Mind 4/17 - 4/23

How I was keeping my mind clean this week:

How I was keeping my mind fit this week:
  • Wondering with Matt Freeman about raising children in the arts. If the 93% Childless rate amongst NY's Independent Theater as collected by the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation is any indication, the question is not being answered.
  • Weighing Tycho of Penny Arcade's response to Roger Ebert saying that video games aren't art. Shorter Tycho: Don't waste your time, Ebert can't take anything away from you.
Important facts:
Things to watch in the future:

Torpedoing Your Brand

I had a Professor, Jack Lechner, who put forward to us what he called Lechner's Law, which was this: At some point in a project's development, someone will propose getting rid of the thing that was most important to it. Usually it is the thing that is unique, the thing that makes it worthwhile. And what distinguishes a success from a failure is whether or not the producer/director/etc. accepts that poor advice.

Case in point. Animal Planet has a new tag-line: "Surprisingly Human." Their posters (you may have seen them on the Subway, New Yorkers) say things like, "It's not about Killer Fish. It's about one man's search for giant legends."

Excuse me while I lose my temper for a moment:


You're fucking called Animal Planet, for God's Sake. The reason people tune in is for animals.

But this isn't just Animal Planet. Cable is full of these sorts of self-sabotaging "Re-branding." Cartoon Network, for instance, is moving away from having its lineup be all cartoons. MTV no longer incorporates the words Music Television into their logo (in the same way that KFC was no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken for 16 years). Sci Fi Channel renamed itself "SyFy" just so they could own the trademark on its name.

Next up, I'm sure Comedy Central will start showing serious investigative journalism, and Cinemax will start to have feminist round-tables. C-SPAN will start covering the Oscars.

At any rate, these events are more extreme than "mission creep." It's a series of organizations basically deciding that they're not even going to treat their name as important. They dilute their own brand value and destroy their uniqueness without putting anything in its place.

So beware Lechner's Law, anyone. In order to avoid it, you have to be clear about what it is you offer (as all of the networks above really really should have been able to easily understand). That's what I loved about the Batman: Animated Series Writer's Bible that Isaac tossed up and I commented on. Those guys understood what it is that makes their work tick. If you forget it, you Jump the Shark.

Court Commentary: Nominee to the Court

As I've said before, the Supreme Court is one of the parts of government I get most excited by (even going so far as to daydream of serving on it), so I'm watching with rapt attention to see how the replacement of John Paul Stevens plays out.

Here's my hope for what the nominee encapsulates. I'll leave out the identity politics, because that basically turns into a game of "which underrepresented minority most deserves the next seat." Also, it is funny to me that Protestant is an underrepresented minority.

Here's my qualifications:
  • Trial Judge: I was shocked when I found out that Sonia Sotomayor is the only trial justice on the Supreme Court. Trial judges are often the ones dealing with trials that need the clearest and the fairest system of law. The Supreme Court has a hard time dealing with human rights -- after all, with the notable exception of Brown v. Board of Education, most advances in rights have come from the legislative (the Constitution and its amendments, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, etc.) and not from the courts; the courts merely defend the rights that Congress have established. But on the issue of fair trials and the rights of the accused, the Supreme Court is the first line of defense. When it comes to our national defense and war on drugs policies, it takes a trial judge to know how the legal system works in actual practice. Whereas policymakers and voters tend to believe that criminals should be treated as criminals, trial judges remember innocent who also have to go through the same legal system, and that a legal system that is abused can hurt the innocent.
  • Can't Have a Middle Name that Starts with G: Antonin G. Scalia, John G. Roberts, Stephen G. Breyer -- clearly people with the middle name G. are over-represented.
  • Strongly Anti-Executive: I'm not particularly anti-executive myself -- balance in all things -- but although I don't think the court is necessarily too conservative, but it is true that although the Court is moderate in many areas, it has been pushed more strongly in the direction of a strong executive branch with the inclusion of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Particularly in the wake of the Bush Administration,
  • Southern: Regionally, it would be helpful if the nominee came from the South. The only currently serving candidate from the south is Clarence Thomas, and we all know he doesn't count:
    Thomas had gone 2 years and 144 cases without speaking up during oral arguments. "It is a period of unbroken silence that contrasts with the rest of the court's unceasing inquiries," the AP wrote at the time.
    The First, Second, Third, Seventh, and Ninth Court of Appeals are all represented on the Court, as well as the D.C. Court of Appeals. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Tenth, or Eleventh all have a different sort of background from the ones represented on the Court, and it would be useful to have some sort of representation from them.

    Politically, by the way, this might be a helpful as well (secondary to the judicial gains of diversity).
  • Corporate-Skeptic: I don't want to say that I would select him/her to overturn a particular ruling (although I think we all know which one I would want overturned). But the general outlook should be that the Supreme Court should not simply be skeptical of the power that the federal government (and particularly the Executive Branch) can exert over individuals, but also the power that corporations have over people in realms where they are not over-ruled by the government. Net Neutrality, for instance, has a high likelyhood of sitting in front of the high court after an appeals court ruled that the FCC's net neutrality regulations are legally improper. There, the corporations show that they have a control over the information we receive, and can do so because of a difficulty in competition and a lack of transparency over the tactic.
I'm sure there are other important things to look for in a nominee, but those are the things that stick out to me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nick Clegg Won

I didn't realize it at the time, because honestly I'm not exactly excited by him, but Nick Clegg appears to have won in a landslide. He still ain't my favorite, but if I was British I'd probably vote for him too.

Now to figure out what he stands for...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

British Debate

I'm watching it right now. It's a clown act.

Update: Now I know who Nick Klegg is. Actually, no I still don't, I just know what he looks like.

My Mind 4/10/10 - 4/16/10

(I said I'm going to be testing out some

How I was keeping my mind clean this week:
How I was keeping my mind fit this week:
  • If you remember our old back-and-forth about quality (Guardian recap here), here's Mission Paradox on value. RTWT, obviously, but the take-away is that all those extras theater companies are looking to do beyond shows aren't just icing on the cake -- they may be what justifies your existence.
  • This awesome, if mind-blendering, series of graphs documenting how psychology lags behind the markets. And a Bonus Graph from the Frontal Cortex.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates lays out the three sides that fought in the Civil War.
Important facts:
Things to watch in the future:
  • Will we ban whaling?
  • Did HP bribe the Russian government in 2003, when CA-SEN candidate Carly Fiorina was CEO?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CREDO Mobile

I'm on a lot of mailing lists for assorted Democratic groups, and though I dislike most of the propaganda I get, I find it useful to see what Democrats want me to think. One of the groups is, which today sent me a mailing which was simply an advertisement for CREDO Mobile, billing itself as a mobile network alternative to AT&T, because AT&T donates to conservative candidates. Basically, it's the Move Your Money campaign for mobile phones... except it, itself, is the phone company you're supposed to move to.

Also, it says at the bottom, in tiny letters:

Sprint is the network provider only; your service is handled exclusively by CREDO Mobile, and all representations regarding issue advocacy, contributions and donations to nonprofits apply to CREDO Mobile only. Sprint is a trademark of Sprint Nextel.

Hrm. So basically you pay CREDO, and CREDO pays Sprint, who are your real carriers. They also make no guarantees about who the money they get from CREDO goes to. And a quick search shows that Sprint Nextel Corporation has donated to:
  • Roy Blunt (R,MO), a former Republican Party Leader (between DeLay and Boehner) and party whip;
  • Richard Burr (R,NC), who opposed Health Care after being #2 in recipients in the country from Health Insurance Companies;
  • Jim DeMint (R,SC) who wrote a book called Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism.
  • Joe Lieberman (I,CT) who is on the list of people CREDO Mobile accuses AT&T opposes.
  • Blanche Lincoln (D,LA) who we all remember from the shit list of Democratic Senators who nearly cost us Health Care.
  • John McCain (R,AZ) also on the list that CREDO Mobile calls out.
  • John Shadegg (R,AZ) who called the Public Option "full on Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag health care" before saying "I would support single-payer" until someone told him what that meant.
  • John Thune (R,SD) who defeated Tom Daschle in 2004, saying "You know, the Second Amendment, gun owners' rights, abortion – those are not wedge issues in South Dakota" and blasting Tom Daschle for opposing a Federal Amendment banning gay marriage.
By the way, I'm being unfair to Sprint -- they also donated to Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Bart Stupak, Ike Skelton, Barbara Boxer, Clyburn and John Conyers; it looks as though their donations are not so much ideological as they are pro-Incumbent.

I don't know if Sprint dreamed up CREDO Mobile as a way to get gullible progressives to give them money instead of AT&T, or if CREDO Mobile are gullible saps that thought that giving Sprint money would be cleaner than giving Verizon or AT&T money.

I compared with AT&T's donation history, which is admittedly seemingly more right-wing (the only company of the three to donate to Michelle Bachmann, for instance), and with Verizon's. The case against AT&T is compelling, but the case against Verizon is silly. Verizon apparently donates $161,000 across the country, to small candidates of a number of political stripes. AT&T is more in the $2,000,000 range, which is significant money. But still, Sprint (between the two in donation amount) isn't exactly a left-wing saint.

It turns out that if you patronize a major corporation, there's a 2:1 chance some slim part of that money will go to a conservative loon candidate. Even Google gives to Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, Lamar Smith, John Thune, and James DeMint. Basing a business model on avoiding that eventuality reeks to me of opportunism.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Blog Format



This is awkward.

I just drafted a post saying that I was going to resign from the internet because Isaac + J. Holtham in one blog is just too cool for me to handle.

And I wanted to reference my own post from two weeks ago about my own striving to face-lift my blog. The only problem? I never hit publish on that post!

So, I'm going to publish the post about my planned changes for this blog, knowing that in comparison with Isaac + J. Holtham in one blog this manifesto-let is probably going to look like the longest suicide note in history.

(Here was the original post.)

So, over the weekend [that was two weekends ago,-e.d.], my brother got married, and for some reason that gave me time to sit and think about where I'm headed in a lot of things. As a result, I'm going to try and restructure the way I go about this blog.

Here's what I think will change:
  • Aesthetics - reflecting on my blog currently, in the context of working on my Honors Thesis (which is basically a document on my personal aesthetics), I realize that I write a lot about the systems within which culture is being made (the form of culture; internships, diversity, the creative economy) rather than the culture itself, art and how to make it -- how I like making it. I'm spilling a lot of ink on how to make an ideal theater company, and not a lot of ink on how to make an ideal play. Granted, I want to make a great theater company, but the reason is to support my work and the work of others. My thesis advisor has called me on avoiding making categorical assertions and personal opinion-making, and she's done a lot to help me figure out how to approach talking about how to make work. Specifically, I have been lead over the last few years to slowly hash out a theory of art that is based on my heroes William James and Harry Frankfurt of the Pragmatism school of philosophy, and I want to use this blog to crystallize that thinking more. This leads to point two:
  • Structure - I'm going to be looking at ways to structure my posts a little bit more regularly, cleanly, and more interestingly -- in other words, pay attention to the aesthetics of the blog posts, not just the aesthetics of my work. I currently follow 202 blogs (I am not making that number up), and I read through them at a breeze. Blogs that work the best for me often have structure that make it clear before I even read a word what content there is going to be in the article. The example of a blog that leverages this excellently is Createquity: there's Around the Horn for a collection of small but important links, New Blogs for plugging links you should be reading, the new Bullet-Point Manifesto for laying out a point-by-point argument, and the Arts Policy Library to examine a key report or book at length.
  • Creative Works - I am going to put up more creative works of mine on this blog, in the spirit of others.
Things that will not be changing:
  • The RSS Feed - Seriously, how many times am I going to have to click subscribe to get Scott Walters' thoughts in my Google Reader?
I jest, I jest.


Two speeches you should be appraised of, via James Fallows.

Creative Children

Argh, go read The Frontal Cortex! Go read it! Today's RTWT is about how school teachers tend not to want creative students. He ends it with yet another plea for arts education for our children... which is nice to hear from a neurologist, rather than the vested interest of an arts educator.


Scott's reaction is pretty much on-the nose, but via Playgoer, the Criticism category almost went to theater.

I never get particularly enthused about Pulitzers. I think the last time I cared about a head-to-head was when Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) lost to Doubt, which pissed me off if only because the last line of Doubt ("I have such doubts!") irritated the shit out of me for a long time, and because Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) may have been the best play ever written.

(I say "best play ever written" in the sense of "The Mets are the best team in history" not in the sense of "It is my studied opinion that William Shakespeare's impact over the centuries earns him the title of 'best playwright in history.'" As in it's just some team-side trash-talk.)

Responding to Unreasonable Hopes

So, Tom over at TACT looks at a young student with a seemingly unreasonable and unshakable faith that one day, he will be famous. He says:

He is a victim of what I have come to call the “fame factor” in theatre education. It exists not only in theatre, of course, but across the culture. Created almost entirely by the pervasiveness of mass media, young people no longer pursue success; they pursue fame as well. The writer of this email simply believes he will be famous someday and win the Academy Award, and he needs nothing but the simple fact of his belief in that idea to make it come true for him (except maybe a little more help from me with his acting, as if I could make such a difference – another illusion).


The sad truth is that, for all their dreaming of fame, the statistics say that most of our students will not achieve their dreams. Perhaps for 15 minutes, maybe. If we want to be honest educators, we need to start telling students the truth, and build better options for them for their theatrical futures. It can be done if we have the will, and perhaps if we are willing to re-think our own dreams of fame.
99 Seats disagrees strongly, saying:
Let's think about it this way. A student in a history seminar takes a liking to the course work, even though she's not a major and writes the professor a message saying, "I know my last paper's haven't been great, but I'm really excited by this material and the coursework and I want to be the best student I can be. And, who knows, maybe I'll wind up as President and can invite you to the inauguration! I hope so!" Do you think the professor should respond with, "Well, since no women and only 43 people have ever been President of the US, it's not a very realistic or conceivable goal. You should think about your other options right now!"? Is that going to further this student's career? Their growth? Honestly, we wouldn't even expect a teacher to say that. And way more folks have won Academy Awards in acting (nearly 300) than have won the presidency.
When I first read the exchange, I was very solidly on the side of "Let-them-have-their-dreams." After all, we're living in the "Yes We Can" era when hope turns out to be a strategy, in some regards. And if you don't aim high, you won't have anything to lose out on. Either you settle now, or you settle later -- or, if you're one of the lucky few, you look out on Oscar night and say "And thank you to Professor Tom Loughlin for always believing in me."

But then I read a little further down my blogroll, and I saw Ian Moss' response to the Internship conversation:

Here are my thoughts, in brief. I think there are two separate issues going on here. First, we should make a distinction between internships and “working for free.” There is a name for working for free; it’s called volunteering. Volunteering is done with the understanding that the volunteer is doing it for the good of the cause; the volunteer’s reward is the good he or she is doing for the community or the world through his or her work. An internship, on the other hand, is explicitly supposed to be an educational experience. In this context, whether or not the internship is paid is of secondary importance; what really matters is the nature of the internship, and whether it really is educational or is just an excuse for the hiring organization to unload some undesirable tasks on an unwitting subject. ... As such, the real issue is truth in advertising...
Emphasis mine. But I think that concept of truth in advertising is the bridge between the internships and the advice conversations.

There's two possibilities of the mindset of the young student coming to Professor Loughlin for some words of advice:
  1. The student who looks ahead and sees a wasteland of terrible, strenuous years up until his hard work and talent pays off and he wins an Academy Award.
  2. The student who thinks that he's talented, will find an agent who appreciates him and opens the right doors, and will win an Academy Award.
In other words, does the student know what he's getting into? If he knows what he's getting into, then who cares if he dreams big? He's going to need a big dream to make long hours at poor pay worth it. He's going to need to have something real at the end of whatever bullshit internships and volunteer gigs and summer-stock in Atlanta in a bear suit sweating bullets or whatever other horror stories are waiting for him.

If the student knows what's coming in the near future, then I say yes -- full speed ahead, batten down the hatches, and we're all behind you. But if the student has no clue how hard the real world is, then as a Professor (or really a human being) you are honor bound to let him know. This is not an easy thing you are going to do.

Throughout all of my training, I have been read the riot act ten ways come Sunday about how hard this is. Long before Outrageous Fortune, I knew I was going into a shit field with shit pay and shit conditions. My father always counselled me to take a second major in something that it will be easier to support myself on an entry level job, and I followed his advice (sort-of) without ever giving up my personally megalomaniacal dreams.

In The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama talks about the state of race in America, and he says:
To think clearly about race, then, requires us to see the world on a split screen to maintain in our sights the kind of America that we want while looking squarely at America as it is, to acknowledge the sons of our past and the challenges of the present without becoming trapped in cynicism or despair.
Our mentors, teachers, and professors should be preparing us to enter this field with this split-screen vision: to see the world where we want it to be, and to know the world as it is.

I am here because I dream big.

My dream is that, like Bertold Brecht, I can offer new ways of tackling the theater, new tools for expanding its influence. So that people will use my writing to clarify their thinking and have some measure of debt to me in their own. Part of this dream is that when I write things, it will be published -- and not only that, but that I'll be on The Daily Show making the things I like relatable to the 17-35 market. I dream that I'll have my own little theater where I can make what I want and that it will find the audience that it resonates with, that I'll be considered part of the conversation, and that I'll while away my years in happiness.

But I also know that for the next few years I'm going to have to split my time between doing well at a job that isn't related to my personal life dreams, and working hard in evenings for little-to-no reward and likely at personal cost. Maybe I've accepted too much of the toil, and I should be holding out for better conditions, but the size of my dreams has not (hopefully) divorced me from reality. I hope I have the energy and the day job to be able to grind away at this however many years it takes to hit even a fraction of that dream.

This is not the only dream I've ever had.

When I was a child, I wanted to be President so very badly. Unfortunately, I can't:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President...
So instead, I dreamed about the Supreme Court. My hero is Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (although I'm jealous of Taft for being both President and Supreme Court Chief Justice), whose utterances became central pillars of judicial precedent. He could write a phrase like "clear and present danger" and not only would it be a central legal tenet, it would also be the catchy title of a best-seller.

Why didn't I go and pursue Constitutional Law? Why did I give up on a dream and a life-path that will, let's face it, probably be more likely to pay off in the end than some pipe dream about experimental theater?

Because I realized, watching my aunt struggle through positions as a law clerk, that I realized I wasn't so enthralled about everything that leads up to being a chief justice. I didn't like all of the small things that lawyers do; all of the paperwork drafting and the contract reading and everything. Sure, some bit of it appeals to me, but long before I'd get to face up to judicial philosophy I would probably burn out on the tiny things that I'd be forced to do.

And that's why theater is the only place I can really truly belong -- because (like in a relationship), I love it so heartily at its worst. And I know what its worst looks like.

So to sum up: if that students knows the worst, and is committed to the worst, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for all the days of his life -- then let him dream. But only if he knows the worst.

And only if he's read that stuff about internships. Seriously, they blow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Israel's Three State Solution

(I write this post with great trepidation, knowing the consequences that speaking aloud about this subject can bring. Hopefully all the blessings that my family got at my brother's weddings this weekend will protect this blog.)

Isaac posted along the subject very near and dear to my heart, Israel. He highlighted the New York Times article about non-violent resistance (which isn't the only example -- here's Palestinians dressed as the Na'vi), and asks the sage question:
I believe that violence against civilians is inexcusable and violence against the IDF is counterproductive if peace is what you're aiming for... but when the Palestinians lay down their weapons, what happens then? Is Israel really going to go "ah yes, here's the West Bank in its pre-1967 state, including all that water we use for our farms"? I hope so, but I doubt it.
The question is, is non-violence going to work for Palestinians? What's the end-game here?

This all is close to my heart because I am an Israeli-American. My family left Israel when I was a little baby, partially because my father was serving in the Israeli military at the time that the First Lebanon War was going on. With that in mind, my parents did not want my brother or myself serving in the Israeli military when we grew up; they also thought there might be better opportunities in the US, Australia, or Canada. The US was the place where my dad was first able to get a job and a visa, so that's where we went.

Isaac is right that Palestinians are increasingly seeking non-violent paths to protest. The Times and, of course, the Israeli government are downplaying the extent to which the violence has declined in the West Bank. Back at the height of the Second Intifada, when right-wing leaders Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat were facing off, car and bus bombings in Jerusalem would happen multiple times a year. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the number in the peak year (2002) was 55. This year it was 1. (The validity of the numbers isn't necessarily important; even Israel, whose bias would be to inflate the numbers, only count 1 this year).

The main thrust of this has to do with the little-commented on battle between Fatah and Hamas that, by the end of 2007, left Hamas with unilateral control over Gaza, and Fatah with almost unilateral control of the West Bank. Fatah, who may be corrupt up to their neck, have taken a fairly good-faith approach to negotiations; Hamas continues to call for the eradication of Israel.

However, you'll notice that the title of the New York Times article is "Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance." Not "West Bank Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance." Currently, Israeli and Western policy ties the future of the West Bank and Gaza together. In practice, what that means is that Israel can't reward the non-violence in the West Bank if rockets are still falling on Israel from Gaza (in December 2009, it had been over 500 rockets and 200 mortar shells since the Gaza operation, according to Israel's internal security)

Here's the thing, though: in Gaza, the problem is the Qassam rockets. Qassam are not much more sophisticated than fire-works: they're basically a tube full of gunpowder. Note that for all the rockets launched, the death toll (according to Wikipedia) has not been what you might call at war-levels. At the end of the day, Qassam rockets are just high-stress versions of knifings (or ax attacks). It takes one or two individuals sneaking to the Gaza border, shooting off a rocket, and scattering. Looking at the numbers, there is a clear difference between Hamas encouraging violence and Hamas deciding to lay low. But it's not a situation in which even Hamas could fully end the rocket attacks if they were trying.

But suppose that Hamas is fully responsible for the Qassam. The Palestinians in the West Bank certainly are not. At this point, the blockade has largely separated the populations of the two; they are administered separately, have different leadership structures that don't talk to each other -- by any measure you could think to choose, they are two separate regions. Except, of course, race and religion.

The right-wing fringe, which have undue influence on Israel (they control the Interior Ministry, who control the expansion of settlements, and the Foreign Ministry) and control Gaza, can create a cycle of violence that is mutually beneficial to both fringes; measurably, both Israel and Gaza continue their steady march to the right politically. Currently, Israel's major right wing, center left wing, and the largest third party all are led by people who used to be part of the right wing party (Likud). That would be as though the Republican, Democratic, and Green parties where all led by former Republican party members and operatives.

Because of this cycle, any time that the non-violent protesters in the West Bank might make any progress, Gaza increases the rockets a little, and then Israeli tanks move in, and we're back at square one. Never mind that the West Bank has created a stable and peaceful infrastructure that polices itself (after all, they drove out Hamas) and has created meaningful (if weak) economic growth. So long as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, there will be no peace.

So here's my solution. It's a three state solution. If Gaza and the West Bank are administered separately, then Israel should propose a good-faith peace negotiation with the Palestinian Authority that treats Gaza as a separate entity. That means a settlement freeze, withdrawal to 1967-borders-or-similar (in the West bank), tearing down the West Bank Barrier, and Jerusalem as a joint capital on the table. Unlike Isaac, I don't know if Israel needs to give up the right-of-return (although it can't keep the question completely closed before negotiations begin), but at the very least it needs to create some sort of compensation system.

As peace progresses, Hamas should regularly be given the option of laying down arms and conducting a referendum on whether or not to rejoin the West Bank as a unified state. If Gaza chooses to join the peace process as a separate entity from the West Bank, let them; so long as they are peaceful, there is no need to broker a unity government between them and Fatah. This removes the fear from Hamas that if they join the peace process, they will be forced to concede power to Fatah.

From the people of Gaza's perspective, they can watch the West Bank. If the West Bank achieves meaningful concessions from Israel, gets some level of autonomy, economic growth, territorial integrity, and even some of the big dreams like shared control of Jerusalem, than Hamas' argument that Israel is operating in bad faith will be seriously eroded, and Gazans may start to realize that they can join the process, and Hamas' support will be eroded as well. Gaza will turn the tide of extremism, and start to follow the path of non-violence.

This is all a pipe-dream, however. The problem right now is that Hamas' argument that Israel is operating in bad faith is true. And I fear that Israel's intentions will only worsen in the near future. They are not thinking strategically about how to approach security; they are only responding to threats in increasingly blunt and harmful ways. Humiliating diplomats, stealing passports to assassinate people in other countries, repeatedly timing announcements of settlement increases to humiliate our VP and our President -- it is clear that the Netenyahu government is not after peace. And the only major alternative is the group of people who brought you Operation Cast Lead.

Ah well. Dourness aside, there may come a time when the pendulum swings and Israel is up for the challenger. Or there may come a time when the international community has enough pressure and inclination to pressure Israel that it can bring even the hard-line right to the negotiating table. If so, the Three State Solution is, in my humble opinion, the only way to avoid a situation in which the same kind of thinking that brings us Terrorball and the 1% Doctrine reboots the peace process every ten days.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fed To Open Their Websites More

Do you know what I expected from an arts policy? Something on the level of the effectiveness of the Obama Administration's web policy. Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra is now 14 months into a campaign to redesign how the Federal Government will put information online. Details are complex and in flux, but it all looks good. Take a look.

Organized Labor Relations

Ian Moss lays out a simple analogy:

It's always worthwhile to sit and really understand power relationships (like I tried to in seven parts: I II III IV V VI VII). The question I'm left with at the end is, how can Grantees/Emerging Leaders exercise their power on Bosses/Funders responsibly? After all, what he's basically doing is laying out a Management/Labor relationship. Management has clear tools for dealing with labor, relating to pay and firing powers; but Labor these days also has clear tools for dealing with management, largely through collective bargaining (and also as a voting block, because labor tends to outnumber management when it comes to elections).

So, has anyone come up with models of collectively bargaining with funders? Philanthropy is not my field, so I don't know. Have emerging leaders found ways to get better treatment/to become more valued by their bosses?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Over at Drama, Daily, there's another defense of theater bloggers in the face of "traditional" critics and their backers. It brings me the same fatigue as Health Care Reform had in the last stretch -- there are some people who are set in their ways, and there are other people who are moving forward with the times. The snippet that's being responded to is:
“Contrary to appearances, there are no “I’s” in “critic,” there are only “eyes.” That is not as needle-pointy as it sounds. You don’t often see first person singular in professional copy. Its unbridled presence in Miss Ellis’ work is the surest indication that there is bloggery afoot.

A critic attends an event as a representative of the reader and keeps the hell out of sight. He’s on assignment, not an adventure. To interject oneself is to create competing lines of focus, one towards the stage and another back to the writer. There are several reasons someone might do this; none are legitimate.”
This view of the critic as disembodied voice reminds me of the debate around CNN's stance as the "objective" network, trying to remove their voice and instead winding up losing in the ratings among those who frequently watch the news.

Jon Stewart is not the most trusted name in news because he injects no personal narrative into his cultural criticism. He is the most trusted name in news because his bias is clear, and because his statements are easily compared to reality -- independently verifiable, and proves reliable.

People should not be trusting cultural critics because they don't use the word "I." They should trust them because they have a trustworthy history.

But anyways, this is a blog. My opinion on this subject clearly isn't a surprise, and few people reading this blog will disagree, since my readers are largely bloggers or blog afficionados.

Really, the reason I wanted to link to this post is because of the phrase "bloggery afoot." I think I'm going to use that, while stroking my moustache, whenever Scott, Isaac, Don, or 99 Seats lays a great post down. It'll be my equivalent of the bat signal.

Talking Points

ArtsBlog delivers us some talking points for explaining what we do.

Star Trek News II

Reasons why George Takei is a hero:
  1. This.
  2. This.
  3. This.
So to recap: when George Takei was a child, our government put him into a prison because of the way he looked. Then he became part of a TV series imagining a world where humanity had become equal, pushed to improve his local community by serving on its city council and designing its transportation infrastructure, and pushing quietly and with dignity for the equality of his own communities.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Next Work

My friends at the upstart Pipeline Theatre Company are hosting an evening of short works by emerging theater companies next Tuesday. The companies taking part are Pipeline Theatre, Built for Collapse, Fresh Ground Pepper, Shark Mother Arts Collective, and my company, Organs of State. For one evening, you can get your finger on the pulse of six brand-new companies. And it's free! Or, for a suggested donation of $10, you can also go out drinking with us afterwards at Bleecker Tavern and get $4.50 for 24 oz glass of Budweiser, Bud Lite, or Yeungling Lager.

Our contribution is a post-apocalyptic unrequited homosexual love story film noir. You'll love it!


Date: Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Time: 22:30 - 23:55
Location: 45 Bleecker St.

I'd love to see you there, and as usual, come and introduce yourselves!


Scott calls it a plutocracy here, Isaac calls it exploitative here, 99Seats has a "well yes, that's what an internship is" attitude and Isaac sticks by his guns here.

Here's my job experience. Paying day jobs in Southern California (one of the more affluent parts of America):
  • Register at a box store for a way-above-market $9.00/hour, because it was a brand new branch in a nice new neighborhood
  • Intern (as an Assistant Assistant Stage Manager) for a Repertory Theater, for $150/week, which I once calculated as being less than $1.50/hour on average, sometimes more or less depending on rehearsal. This is one of the only paid internships I have ever seen in the arts field that was paying.
  • Popcorn salesman at a movie theater chain for $8.50/hour, but only because I worked until 3 or 4AM. I also got a second degree burn off the popcorn machine, which taught me what skin looks like when it bubbles; and I realized what it must feel like to be universally hated.
  • Intern for a software company for $17/hour.
Now, you'll notice two things. You'll notice that, as an intern for theater, I made pittance. And yet that is considered a great internship because it was paid. You'll also notice that as an intern for a software company, I was raking in dough. And I am far, far less qualified to intern for a software company than I am at theater company, because Stage Management is something I've done a lot a lot.

I am one of Scott Walters' plutocrats, unfortunately, there's no way around it, so his point stands.

But I guess what's being left out of the discussion between Isaac and J. is that the NYTimes article was about internships in general, whereas your discussion has been about theater internships. Do you know why theater internships suck? Because working in the theater sucks. You're talking about an industry in which the successful barely make less than half their income through their jobs.

My software company job (which I currently inhabit) considers me a steal at $17.50 for the amount of work I do. They have lately planned to make me full time, which is going to be slightly more money, and include benefits. And I'll still be one of the lowest paid employees at the company, of a company of about 140 people. Think of what they'd pay if I was qualified!

That's literally the one thing that not-for-profit means: it means that if you work here, you will not personally profit. You will get to do what you want with your life. You may find it personally fulfilling despite the hardship. You may, if you get really good at it, eke out a living. Or you'll do what I do, which is get a day job in a field where even the people at the bottom rung get paid quite well -- if you can (which goes back to Scott's plutocracy argument).

Suppose the state decides its going to enforce those internship regulations. You know what's going to happen? They're going to rename "internships" as "volunteer" positions, and nothing will change for us. After all, how many of us have seen a show by ushering for free for an evening? And nobody is going to bat an eyelid at a non-profit theater company taking volunteers. Hell, many non-profit theater companies are run by volunteers! (Some of my friends run a company called Eleven Benevolent Elephants that's been around for 3 years, and one said to me, "You know how we can afford to pay our actors and writers and playwrights? Because we work for free!").

When the crackdown comes, it's going to be at NBC Universal, which can pay its interns if it wanted to. I bet if they took the head of Price Waterhouse Cooper's salary, 30% of what he makes could go to pay the interns in his building living wages. (Don't run the math on that). It's not going to be at the Roundabout, or at the Public. Maybe Broadway will have to pay their internships. But unless the industry that the internships are preparing students to enter starts paying a minimum wage, interns are not going to get their fair share.

Well, they are getting their fair share. Their fair share of a shit pie.

It isn't that I don't have sympathy for the shitty conditions they work in. I have sympathy for the shitty conditions we all work in. But wringing hands about internships is really going after a trailing indicator of the fact that the economics of theater doesn't really work. And we knew that.

(Update: Adam Thurman puts his lawyer on hat to give us a right talking to on the issue. I guess I just wish I had the strength and skill to create that "strong revenue stream" he's talking about, as though those of us who can't pay anybody are just not trying hard enough.)

Things You Can Learn from Canada

No, not Health Care, but dealing with audience response. It's kind of a long post, but it's a sustained examination of feedback -- even simple, knee-jerk responses -- to an evening of their theater. Now, I don't know these folks -- I just like their blog -- but I already get a sense of community and communication that most of us are striving for.


I just realized something.

Goodbyes are intrinsically designed to be an exponential (or maybe logarithmic?). It starts from a sentence length fitting to the warmth of the relationship, and then each statement is cut shorter and shorter until you reach the a-tom, the uncuttable unit, and then it the goodbye collapses to zero.

Allow me to demonstrate with a short scene:

Warm friend A: "Oh, gosh, look at the time? I really ought to be heading in the direction of work -- I've been late lately, so I should get going."

Warm friend B: "Oh yeah, it is late, isn't it. I hope you make it to work on time."

Warm friend A: "I hope so too. Good luck with your presentation tomorrow!"

Warm friend B: "Thanks! I'll see you soon!"

Warm friend A: "Okay, then -- bye!"

Warm friend B: "Bye!"

Conversation is now concluded.

If you don't observe this decay, it feels a little abrupt. Observe:

Warm friend A: "Oh, gosh, look at the time? I really ought to be heading in the direction of work -- I've been late lately, so I should get going."

Warm friend B: "Bye."

Conversation is now concluded.

I know some people who exploit this to make it impossible to get off the phone with them -- because if at any moment you reverse the decay, you are basically starting the goodbye over again.

My God I've cracked the code!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kalpen Modi on his Way Out

That's the news today, I guess (WaPo here). I'm interested to see who the replacement is, but not exactly edge-of-my-seat excited. After all, Kalpen Modi got us the 9/11 arts day of service, and... yeah. That's it.

Not that I'm complaining, since health care reform is the best thing artists have gotten for a while, but... I highly doubt that the next arts liason (if they bother to have one) is going to really shake the boat.

Also, I have him to thank for more flame mail than I've ever received in my life. So there's that.

And thinking about Kalpen Modi got me thinking about Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, who was going to be the Surgeon General. Remember that? God only knows why he backed out -- probably his cozy relationship at CNN with pharmaceutical advertisers -- but I watched CNN during the Health Care Vote (sorry, I was on Jet Blue, that's all I could do) and basically, all of the CNN team was largely deferring to Sanjay Gupta who was fielding all of the questions about the health care bill's content. In a way, he basically fulfilled his public-relations role, except without being paid, and only on CNN. Which is a good bet, because it turns out that when important things are going on, that's really where we're looking.

Webmaster Tools

Google Analytics always leads me to strange questions.

Namely... what is "Crystalfrost Jones" and how did a search on that term lead to me?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Devil and Thomas Briggs

(Disclosure: I was not given anything in return for this review -- I paid for my own ticket, and in fact have not informed the People's Theater Lab that I am writing this review. However, the playwright is a friend of mine who I lived with for a semester a year ago, and the two of us have briefly discussed the possibility of me publishing his script.)

Friday night, I went back to the Bleecker Theater to see the latest version of Nik Walker's The Devil and Thomas Briggs at the Bleecker Theater, with a skeptical eye and my arms crossed. A year ago, it had gotten staged reading, before which I had written a feature article on their company (The People's Theater Lab) for the Washington Square News. Back then, Nik Walker had said to me in a moment of triumph, "'What Shakespeare did for blank verse, I want to do for spoken word."

Sitting in the theater last night, I noticed that the same aim, which had also been expressed in the program for the staged reading, was not in the program this time around. But I still remembered that end goal, and that was the metric by which I was going to measure the company's performance.

What a relief that they achieved it!

The Devil and Thomas Briggs is a soulful, blues tragedy; it focuses in on a town named Babylon "where God and the Devil aren't just names," and where a singular man whose blues music and bad living is the city's heartbeat -- until the day he's shot dead at a bar one night. From that moment forward, the family he leaves behind is torn between moving forward, or struggling against the Devil herself to bring him back.

Thomas Briggs has found a sweet mixture between 2 parts blues, 1 part blank verse, and 1 part Shakespeare that hits the spot. The writing is surprisingly tight despite the languorous, silky tone and rhythm, which leads to some fantastic surprises when the plot turns on a dime, or a character whips out a one-liner that cracks the audience up. And, of course, there's one advantage this play has over Shakespeare -- I can honestly say that in almost every moment, I had no idea where it was going.

The play could have come off as pretentious -- the imagery, unlike the narrow, earth-bound imagery of a lot of contemporary writing, dances among the stars and leans on hyperbole like it was a walking stick. But the astral lyricism is mixed with a deep, heavy, grounded sense of soul that only this heartbreakingly genuine cast could sell.

Nik Walker, in addition to having written the play, plays two central characters; Cicero Briggs, the dead blues man who used to hold a city together, and Billy Bones, an earnest young deputy in the town. He plays both with a dangerous edge with a genuine heart that drives home the uncertainty of where the play is going. Thomas Briggs, the man who risks everything to bring Cicero back, is beautifully drawn into life by Sam Encarnacion, drawing us into the world of deep love and fear that was the Briggs family.

The rest of the cast were equally superb -- Bianca Rutigliano as the Devil herself, so dangerous and sexual that she makes the air crackle, Jesse Goldwater as Remy Gin Rummy, who bravely pulls a character that could be an insufferable ass into the realm of believability, and Chivonne Floyd, the glue that holds the Briggs together. And it would be remiss of me to write about this sultry blues opus without tipping my hat to the band, cheerfully dubbed Bad Ass Mother 4000 v2.0. The band, featuring Alex Goley, Travis Artz and Alex Kveton, holds up the world of the play through the music -- without the music, all those words would be about nothing.

There's one more opportunity to see this fantastic production live, so if you're free at 3:00, saunter over here to buy tickets, or make it to the Bleecker Theater (45 Bleecker St) and see what the fuss is about.