Saturday, December 10, 2011

ARTS POLICY: Really? We're Important?

So sayeth Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
A few months after his May inauguration, Emanuel said, he decided that he would work out of the mayor's so-called ceremonial office — and not the relatively plain office in the back that he has turned into "kids study hall" for his children after school — and he would make it a showcase for Chicago art and furniture. He said he especially liked the idea of promoting Chicago artists, given the dignitaries who pass through his doors regularly, including foreign leaders such as President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, China Investment Corp. Chairman Lou Jiwei and various ambassadors and mayors.
Oh, so, you think the local arts are important?
So Emanuel talked to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and local furniture designers about contributing works, and now the room boasts a series of conversation pieces that reflect the city. "The goal was, A, we could showcase things about Chicago that people don't expect, and, B, it had to be free," he said. "People had to donate them."
But, uh, not important enough to pay for?

PRAGMATIC: Dark Humor and Rape

Not a subject I'd ever know how to tackle, but there's an incredible personal essay on the subject here. Read the whole thing.

PRAGMATIC: Importance

A must-read from Rob Weinert-Kendt on the need for importance in theater:
But why do I feel the need to go further than to say it's entertaining and leave it at that? I agree with one of the more astute critics I read, David Barbour, that the play does have more to say than may meet the eye—for one, there's that extraordinary monologue, delivered by Alan Rickman, at maybe the two-thirds-point, which anatomizes a writer's dissipation in terms at once hilarious, acrid, and finally existential. But how much does a play that entertains us this well in the moment need to also satisfy our sense that it's also deeply valuable on some world-historical level, and/or that it will "survive" and somehow measure up beyond this production, i.e., without the first-rate cast and director it has now? (It's not unlike the dilemma I outlined in my thoughts about Jerusalem.)  
 It has a lot to do with what we mean when we say we're entertained—with what parts of us a play tickles, flatters, stimulates. We feel cheap if it's just pumping us for laughs, flattered if we're allowed space to think for ourselves about what we're watching, stimulated if we're surprised or teased into thinking about something more than what we're watching (other than the grocery list). But are a tickle, a tease, and a release of laughter enough?
Isaac tags on: 
I wonder if this has to do with two other currents within the theater: its irrelevance to the culture at large and the price of its tickets. Do we do this because we're shelling out a lot of money and thus we either want a Big Epic Production OMG!!!1! or we want to know that we've seen something capital-i-Important? Do we also do this because we have anxiety over the art form we love-- whether as audiences, artists or both-- and that the heyday of it as a cultural force in America has been over for some time? Thus, if we're going to go play in our little sandbox, do we need the validation that what we're doing is vital, damnit, even if nobody's looking?
Isaac's got two of the ingredients for our need for theater, but hey, let me throw out a third: the alternatives are getting cheaper, and you can have them delivered to your home!

If you want to have something that is playful, tickles, stimulates, and is funny, there's the biggest repository of easily digestible clips. Here it is. It's got some of our best stand-up comedians, men who dress up and do funny raps, great slapstick duos, and amusing political satire. If you want something that's over ten minutes, you can head over to Netflix, and have great films or hilarious sitcoms streamed to you.

Suppose history had been reversed, and these things had been invented before theater. Now a theater person comes along and says, "Hey, instead of sitting at home on your couch and watching this entertainment, why don't you get in a car, drive for fifteen to forty minutes to a theater, pay fifteen to fifteen hundred dollars, sit in a foreign and probably uncomfortable environment."

You had better do something better, or at least make me feel like it's better.

So, one way is simply to do something of higher quality. But, hey, everyone says that their thing is of higher quality. That's hard to communicate. So many be a nice shorthand would be to tell them, "Our thing is more important."

LOCAL: BFG Collective

Our powers combine to form...:
Three of New York City’s top indie theatre companies, Boomerang Theatre Company, Flux Theatre Ensemble, and Gideon Productions, have joined forces to form the BFG Collective, which will hold a six-month-long residency at Long Island City’s The Secret Theatre. Productions will include Mac Rogers’ sci-fi epic The Honeycomb Trilogy, Boomerang Theatre Company’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the New York premiere of Melissa Gawlowski’s Spring Tides, and Flux Theatre Ensemble’s world premiere of August Schulenburg’s new play, Deinde.
Consolidating theaters is an idea that's been thrown around since the financial crisis. Three years into my theater company, I have a hard time imagining that level of commitment, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out.

(h/t Matt Freeman)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

SCIENCE?: The Joy of Theater

I wish I could believe this, but this shit sounds bananas:
According to a new UK study involving Apple and the London School of Economics — reported by Hannah Thomas at Marie Claire — people are happiest when they are having sex, exercising, and visiting the theatre. Sure, the having sex part is a no brainer. The exercise part is a bit surprising; people are often pretty happy when they've finished exercising — your feel-good hormones are coursing through your body and you have a great sense of accomplishment — but the during part can be quite a struggle. And the theatre? Hey, I like theatre — but I only get there a few times a year, and I imagine only very few people make it part of their regular routine.
I put the question mark after "science" because the data-set is self-reported (there's an app where people mark how content they are), there's no control, it includes only a select group (users of the app), etc. ... at best, it's about as reliable as OK Trends.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

LOCAL: Fractured Atlas Event with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer

Fractured Atlas held a meet and greet last Wednesday evening at Topaz Arts featuring NY City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of the Council  on Culture. (Official Press Release here).

Before I get into the notes of what Van Bremer said to the group, and the issues which were discussed, I want to spare a moment to say that if you're not already hip to what Fractured Atlas does, hurry the fuck up. They do more for independent arts in the United States than any major funding body, in my opinion, and the times that they have personally saved my skin are numerous. I literally can't imagine practicing art in New York without them. I'd probably just sell software for a living.

They're also really nice and approachable people, and it was great to meet them in person.


So, Van Bramer worked at the Public Library before getting a seat on the local community board (Queens CB2) and then winning a seat in the City Council. He's engaged now to be married, thanks to the legalization of same sex marriage (he fiddled with his wedding ring the entire time -- it was adorable).

Because I was livetweeting, my note-taking was a little broken up, but here are the important points that Van Bramer hit while he was talking:
  • Van Bramer, because of his position on the Committee of Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, sees himself as a "defender of the arts."
  • If you want to see what they do, here's a link to all of their meetings, along with agendas and minutes. Van Bramer acknowledges that city websites are not as transparent as they could be, and sometimes it's difficult figuring out when committee hearings and information are. He suggests signing up to Councilperson mailing lists, like his own.
  • He acknowledge that the economic times are such that it's "astounding" that we got "no cuts in the 2011 budget." A moment later he qualified that as "almost no cuts in the 2011 budget." Still, he acknowledged how unenviable it is that the best we can do right now is stop further cuts and bleeding.
  • On a question around Speaker Quinn cutting the arts out of her discretionary funds, he declined to comment on her decision-making. Spoke about her with respect, and said that each councilperson is responsible for their own discretionary funds. (I guess that's why they're "discretionary")
  • On the key question of the night, how do we arts advocates cause change, he says: "Politicians (for the most part) are human beings." Show up at meetings. If you keep coming and cropping up, we will remember you. You have to be present.
  • On getting money, he says, The money is at the city level, far more than the state or federal level. "But you have to ask for it." If you need $5,000, or $10,000, or finding a way to get a piece of legislation changed. If you don't ask, you can't get it.
  • On how arts advocates cause change: artists need to force questions on cultural policy during debates. There's no better time to put pressure on a politician then when they're running for office.
  • Also on that subject: community boards are critical, and people can actually get their voices heard on a number of important subjects. Councilmen have a certain amount of seats on community boards they can appoint, and they like to appoint people who are passionate about issues that they're passionate about (he appointed someone from Transportation for America to Queens CB2, because he's passionate about bike lanes).
  • One of the artists in the audience (a visual artist) asked about live/work spaces. It's hard enough to find affordable living spaces, but even when the city requires affordable housing, they don't focus on live/work spaces. Van Bramer acknowledged the need for more. He also mentioned that he and the director of MoMA have been talking about artists going and living in Far Rockaway. (The assembled artists did not seem warm to that idea.)
  • Another artist asked about doing work in public spaces, and how to negotiate that with the police if, for some reason, they decide its easiest to ask for forgiveness than permission. Van Bramer said that his office is always willing to serve as a go between artists and any city office (including Police Commissioner Kelly), to help them... and the earlier they're involved, the better.
  • Van Bramer spoke about his mission to make the city administration remember that the city includes Queens, not just Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. His example was the planned unveiling of bike-share to include just Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn -- he said "I'm confident that when bike-share is unveiled this summer, it will include Queens."
  • On a question about whether there will ever be a top-down arts policy, Van Bramer shook his head. The City has the best top-down, but when it comes to the state and federal governments, there isn't much. "If we have a country that refuses to ask the wealthy to pay more to support the arts, we will always have trouble."
  • Van Bramer paralleled our struggle for more visibility in the arts to his activism for LGBT rights. If more artists run for office, the arts will have more champions, and political training schools run by advocacy groups are invaluable.
  • On a question about the push for one percent of the city's funding to go to the arts, similar to the one percent of arts education that the Department of Education is recommended to spend, Van Bramer was pragmatic. Not under Bloomberg, who hates to ever have his hands tied on the budget. (He also raised concerns about unevenness in practice of the DoE's 1% for arts) Maybe if a Democrat wins the next election.
Overall, Van Bramer was enthusiastic (he says he was running pretty late to his next meeting), but also practical -- some things he was optimistic about, but he acknowledge that fighting for the arts in this economic crisis is a defensive game.

LOCAL: Not Funny. Don't Laugh.

"Student Maces Class at Academy for Social Action."

Don't laugh. It's not funny. Kids got hurt.

Really, don't think about the irony of a bunch of kids studying social action getting the full UC Davis protestor treatment. Because it was an accident, and people got hurt, so it's not funny.

It's not funny.

Why are you giggling?

It's not funny!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

HUMOR: The 99%

Very Philip K. Dick.

Quote of the Day II: Dumb as a Bag full of Newts

I try not to indulge in schadenfreude, but Newt Gingrich completely fails to evoke even the barest of sympathies. So I enjoyed this immensely:
"Language is supposed to be a package that carries substance, but Gingrich is sometimes so pleased with his uninterrupted stream of words, that he mistakes it for an actual flow of ideas…"

My Mind Lately

This race is HEATING UP:

Open more doors in life:
Because you'll find good things outside:
And because some are closing:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Channelling Abbie Hoffman

This beautifully designed compendium contains all manner of whimsical scribblings, photographs and cartoons, together with some rock and roll music and vaudevillian ballads. 
Unfortunately, we at find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire. All our attempts to have this number revised have been fruitless but rather than detain you with tedious arguments about morality, panache and book-keeping - when there are really bigger fish to filet these days - we are taking the following unusual step. 
If you should really want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we can whole-heartedly recommend, “Ambassador Of Jazz” - a cute little imitation suitcase, covered in travel stickers and embossed with the name “Satchmo” but more importantly containing TEN re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong. 
The box should be available for under one hundred and fifty American dollars and includes a number of other tricks and treats. Frankly, the music is vastly superior. If on the other hand you should still want to hear and view the component parts of the above mentioned elaborate hoax, then those items will be available separately at a more affordable price in the New Year, assuming that you have not already obtained them by more unconventional means.


Previous installments: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, an update, and VII
The NYPD Disorder Control Memo leaked on Gothamist contains this point as point #1:
"A strong military appearance, with sharp and precise movements, is a force multiplier and a psychological advantage to us."
I wrote a long series of posts in the past about how rules of engagement are actually key to our culture, because:
Rules of Engagement are an under-examined but crucial aspect of a civilization. Every human being has the capacity for violence and destruction, but as societies we have slowly crafted a series of rules as to when we consider it acceptable to use that violence. A man beating another man to take his cell phone is banned by law; a man fighting off an attacker is presented. 
Usually, if you ask the question "Am I allowed to use force?" the answer is usually no. For the average civillian, questions of force and violence are simple, because we have removed most of the need for force and vested it in a number of uniformed force officials: police, agents, and soldiers. But having vested broader powers of force into police, agents, and soldiers means that those classes of individuals have a more complex relationship to force.
In terms of how we live out our beliefs as a country from day to day, these rules of engagement are more important than even the death penalty, because they are tested and tried every single day, and can be the difference between a brutal, detached dictatorship and a tolerant democracy.

Reading that memo recalled strongly to me a conversation I had with my father, which I recorded in an earlier installment:
[I]n the last story from the last segment, border agents used deadly force on a young boy because he was throwing stones. That's not an unfamiliar story, although the usual background is in Israel. It brought to mind (obviously) the recent shootings of protesters on the aid boat
I mentioned this to my father, after hearing the story, and he mentioned that Israel didn't used to shoot people with bullets. He said, "At some point in the last ten years, they simply stopped. They just started using bullets. Nobody talks about it, I don't know exactly when the decision was made."
I don't know much about the behind-the-scenes of the NYPD, but underlying the calculus of creating a "military" appearance and thinking in terms of force multipliers/psychological antagonism is the assumption that Occupy Wall Street is the enemy. 

Shorter Newt on Cain

"There but for the grace of God go I."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

CHANGE: Lessons in Effective Protest

Lesson #1:
The remaining students, who far outnumber the contingent of police, slowly start to encircle the officers while chanting "Shame on you!" The chants get louder and more menacing as the crowd gets closer, herding the police into a defensive huddle. Officers raise their weapons toward the crowd, warning them to back off, but at this distance and in these numbers, their riot gear would offer them little protection should the crowd suddenly charge. Sensing their advantage, the students change their chant to the more defiant "Whose university? Our university!" Tensions rise. One twitchy trigger finger and anything could happen. Then a lone voice initiates the familiar call and response of the human mic: 
Voice: "Mic check!" 
Crowd: "Mic check!" 
Voice: "We are willing..." 
Crowd: "We are willing..." 
Voice: "To give you a brief moment..." 
Crowd: "To give you a brief moment..." 
Voice: "Of peace..." 
Crowd: "Of peace..." 
Voice: "In order to take your weapons..." 
Crowd: "In order to take your weapons..." 
Voice: "And your friends..." 
Crowd: "And your friends..." 
Voice: "And go." 
Crowd: "And go." 
Voice: "Please do not return..." 
Crowd: "Please do not return..." 
Voice: "We are giving you a moment of peace." 
Crowd: "We are giving you a moment of peace." 
The crowd then starts chanting "You can go! You can go!", and after a few moments the police turn their backs to the crowd and do exactly that, wisely taking advantage of the offered truce, and eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd. 
(h/t Mike Daisey)
Lesson #2:
UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi – the school official who OK’d the violent assault on students for peacefully protesting – was greeted by three city blocks of students on the way to her car, all of whom gave her the silent treatment. Click to watch. It’s an eerie yet powerful protest. 
A pretty remarkable thing just happened. A press conference, scheduled for 2:00pm between the UC Davis Chancellor and police on campus, did not end at 2:30. Instead, a mass of Occupy Davis students and sympathizers mobilized outside, demanding to have their voice heard. After some initial confusion, UC Chancellor Linda Katehi refused to leave the building, attempting to give the media the impression that the students were somehow holding her hostage. A group of highly organized students formed large gap for the chancellor to leave. They chanted “we are peaceful” and “just walk home,” but nothing changed for several hours. Eventually student representatives convinced the chancellor to leave after telling their fellow students to sit down and lock arms.
ME: Chancellor, do you still feel threatened by the students? 
One of the students pepper sprayed yesterday, a young man wearing a brown down coat over a tie-dye shirt, said he met with Kotehi and personally showed her a video of pepper spraying attack. Speaking to about a thousand students with the “human mic,” the young man said he personally asked for her resignation.
This protest, unlike the fuzzy, on-going protest at Occupy Wall Street, managed to throw its opposition to stark relief while still taking the high road. Part of it is luck - I don't know if you can plan for pepper spray. But from that moment forward, the students of UC Davis took the same approach my mother took in all her fights in life: calm, rational, straight to the point.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

POLICY: The "Internet Censorship" Bill

The current law (DMCA - which is already not a great bill), at least gives websites like YouTube or Facebook the ability to be legally safe so long as they respond to copyright take-down notices in a timely manner. For instance, if someone posts a movie that includes copyrighted content, the copyright holder can send a notice to YouTube, and YouTube can exercise discretion and either take it down, or respond to the request.

Now, if someone posts a movie to YouTube that has copyrighted content, the copyright holder can take the complaint to the domain registrants and demand that YouTube be taken off the internet.

This is worse than simply censorship. This is vigilante censorship -- censorship done outside of the courts, by self-appointed warriors.

If it passes, we go from all being criminals to all being felons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


From Jeremy at CultureBot:
Don’t be suckered. The idea of the critic that Kaiser laments isn’t the idealized public intellectual he tries to paint a picture of. This “serious” critic of “serious” art is, in the end, providing just another consumer report. This is a deeply important task in the world Kaiser imagines we live in–without a member of the cultural elite defining the value of a cultural good, how are the plebs supposed to know whether the ticket’s worth the cost?  
That’s why the thing Kaiser finds truly “scary” is the idea that audiences can now voice their own thoughts via the Internet. Because the audience, of course, isn’t supposed to have its own thoughts. It’s supposed to accept the value of what it’s consuming and, should it find itself out of step with elite opinion, worry about its ignorance, about why it’s so wrong.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

MUSIC: The True Story of Abner Jay

h/t George Lazenby, who says:
This guy is unreal. Everything people got wet about with Neutral Milk Hotel, is already here, in 1970.
Perfect for this gray morning.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

RESPONSE: Self Expression v. Communication

Isaac's briefest manifesto ever:
The ultimate purpose of art-- particularly writing-- is not self-expression. Self-expression is, in general, what art is made out of, it's base materials. But like how a wooden table's purpose is not to be made of wood, art's ultimate goal cannot be to be self-expression. It's already that. That's where it begins (most of the time, broadly speaking). It must do something else, something more. One of those things, preferably, is to give something to the reader. If that something is the experience of what is going on in the writer's head at that moment, the question becomes why this gift is worthwhile. If you are only writing for self-expression, just get a fucking blog.
Thumbs up to that. Since art is not self expression, what it is is communication. That's why self-expression is the raw material: what you want to get across, the idea or experience (whether it's a concept or a feeling) you want to transmit comes from you, but is aimed at someone else. If you ignore the other person, you're not communicating, you're pontificating.

SOLUTIONS?: Money and Power

I guess Occupy Wall St. is on our minds, because people are tossing out all sorts of solutions, lately! Ways we can solve our problem in the arts, that is. Here is a round-up of some interesting ones lately, and you'll notice they all have an interesting Money-and-Power theme!


The problem Joe Patti is looking to solve is this:
[N]on profits should be pros at identifying and leveraging undiscovered skills. With all the volunteers we use to assist us with our programs and to serve on our boards, we should be championing seemingly unorthodox hiring decisions. But if Andrew Taylor is correct, the hiring practices in the arts are actually more orthodox than in the for profit sector.

And the idea:
Ever since the movie Moneyball came out, I have been thinking about whether similar system can be applied to the arts. I mean a system by which baseball teams with small budgets were able to compete on par with the most well-funded teams by assembling a team of under utilized misfits?
Joe Patti's article seemed to be more about arts administrators, but I was thinking about it in terms of curating or funding the artists themselves.

Here's the key issue: Moneyball is not just a story about leveraging undiscovered players. It's about leveraging undiscovered players through math. Baseball statistics.

The quantification of arts impact is something I've written of before at length (and am hard at work writing another response to this week), but the revolution in baseball statistics is something that distinguishes it from the art world. 

Right now, there's only two external (but by no means objective) metrics for your success:

  • Ticket sales
  • Reviews
Beyond that, it's all taste and subjectivity. If you wanted to find an arts organization that's good that isn't getting enough attention, you're basically going and finding things you like that don't have those two metrics.

(By the way, Joe Patti's actual point still stands, even though it's not about quantification -- arts organizations need to look outside their arts community for talent as well as inside. Our latest production's media design came from someone who studied advertising and VJ's for a living.)


Margy Waller, writing in Createquity, has this idea:
Advocates for the arts might be better off doing their work under the radar than trying so hard to get a lot of media and public attention when fighting for public funding of the arts. 
Hey, if it works for the Koch brothers, I'm sure it could work for the arts.

What's the model?
This past year, I watched closely as our state arts advocates at Ohio Citizens for the Arts carefully managed what seemed to be a stealth campaign to retain funding for arts and culture through the Ohio Arts Council. Despite an initial proposed cut by the newly elected Governor, the final outcome was an increase in funding over $4 million more than the previous budget.  Each step of the process brought an increase in the proposed funding level — the House vote, the Senate vote, and the reconciled proposal sent to the Governor, resulting in $6.6 million more than the proposed executive budget. And it went forward without fanfare or comment when signed into law.
Here's where it could work: getting money out of legislatures. But if this is true:
Unfortunately, facts and research we’ve accumulated to prove the value of the arts as a public matter of concern, and then worked hard to get reporters to cover, are too often dismissed or ignored when seen through the lens of an idea that’s not new and about which people have already made up their minds.
Does the funding really matter? If we're saying "Oh, the public doesn't think the arts are important and there's little we can do to change their minds," then... does it matter if we get the money? As a short term strategy, in this atmosphere, it's probably the right play -- avoiding a bruising fight that this atmosphere may not be able to tolerate.

But what I liked was this thought:
Instead of reviving an old debate, we sought a new way to start the conversation – based on something we can all be for, instead of something we’re defending against an attack. And importantly, we aren’t trying to change people’s minds, but present the arts in a way that changes perspective.
That was the thinking behind changing the focus from supporting individual artists and individuals to providing infrastructure that any art or community organization can pull from equally, so that we don't have to be in the business of supporting arts unevenly and subjectively.

Still, as an arts advocacy tactic in the short term, it's certainly appealing.


Tom Loughlin:

Frank Bruni has this column in today’s New York Times, and in it he chastises those Hollywood stars who have come out in support of the Occupy Wall Street participants in Zucotti Park. But he doesn’t go far enough – he merely suggests those stars named should just avoid being seen down on Wall Street lest they appear to be merely looking for a good photo or publicity op. So I will go further – if they want to do some good then they should get out in front of an “Occupy Broadway/Hollywood” movement that protests the incredible concentration of money, power and profits in the hands of a few and robs all Americans of their chance to enjoy and participate in the arts.
You know how much these entertainment moguls give back to the community? Relatively speaking, zilch. Nada. Zero. Nothing. When was the last time you ever heard of a private entertainment corporation giving to some struggling theatre enough money that they wouldn’t have to worry about rent or utilities for five years?
Other demands:
  • Every actor that walks on a stage over 99 seats, or works on a film/TV/Web project with a budget over $100,000 in this country should automatically be a union actor. It should be no harder in this country to join an actors’ union than it is to join a plumbers’ union, a teachers’ union, or an auto workers’ union. Good health benefits should be included in a union package, as well as wages equalling at least the minimum wage for a 40-hour work week in this country. This is easily financed through the massive profits generated by Hollywood and Broadway. Entertainment corporations such as SONY, Jujamcyn and Disney should be the ones paying into this system to make it work.
  • A corporate entertainment tax to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. Any corporation that makes a television commercial to sell its product using human talent should pay a 10% tax on their total budget for that commercial to be used specifically to fund the endowment. Residuals for talent that run over $10,000 annually should be subject to a 2% tax for the NEA. If actors can pay agents and managers (and sometimes both) 10-15% of their earnings to get these gigs, they can pay 2% to the NEA as a “thank you” for their good fortune. It should be illegal to pass this cost on to the consumer.
  • If such a tax were implemented, then there would be a requirement for the NEA to spend 70% of that money in areas of the country outside the NYLACHI metropolitan areas. There are many good arts organizations in NYLACHI that deserve some of that money, but as has been demonstrated time and again in analyzing where NEA money goes, it is still concentrated in propping up already powerful urban institutions. This money should go to serve the grossly underfunded areas of the country where they arts suffer due to underfunding or no funding at all.
  • If the money generated from this concept is sufficient, then the NEA should open at least one branch office in every state in the union for reasonable access to artists across the country. If the states can’t fund an arts agency, then the federal government should use this money to step in and take the state’s place.
  • A requirement that 50% of all legitimate Broadway houses be running a non-musical drama, and that at least 15% of that 50% be dedicated to presenting new plays.
Some of this would be difficult to demand (after all, who would go about forcing private companies to change their practices, and what leverage would they have?), but the corporate entertainment tax? The requirements on the NEA to spend money outside of NY/LA/CHI? Low-hanging fruit.

Here's the thing (and this hearkens back to the "change the perspective" listed above) -- if we want to ask for money, we need to be cleaning our own house. It's true that we will have a hard battle interesting people in the NEA of yesterday, but if we can show them a vision of the NEA of tomorrow... maybe that changes their perspective.

UPDATE: Let me just add one more quick one:


From Barry Hessenius, via Createquity:
It occurred to me that an interesting pilot project would be for the arts in a given area to open an Apple like store for the two months before the Christmas shopping season – with simple, clean lines in the design, with high tech monitors on tables, and a cadre of Arts Sales People available to answer questions and move the shopper through the experience of looking at all the available performing and visual arts options in the local area — videos of the best of the operas, symphonies, museums, dance companies, theater offerings, and the other arts – and the shopper could instantly buy tickets to a single performance or season tickets  or memberships in museums etc. for themselves or as holiday gifts for others.  There would also be offerings of local classes in various arts disciplines for all ages and , opportunities to join boards of directors or otherwise volunteer at local arts organizations.  If you packaged it right you might be able to recreate some of the same kind of excitement an Apple store generates.  Bottom line:  we have wonderful products, and perfect gifts alternatives to the same old boring stuff people give to each other every year.

My Mind Lately

Catching up from the closing of Fighter this week...

Things which I find to be awesome:
  • The phrase "death by misadventure," which apparently applies to Amy Winehouse but not to, say, Moammar Qaddaffi.
  • The fact that the much talked about Joss Whedon Much Ado About Nothing includes one of my favorite double acts in the world, BriTANick. Seriously, check them out.
  • This star-studded trailer of madness for John Hodgman's newest book:

Things get better:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

POLITICS: The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy

From FiveThirtyEight:

Below are the Republican and Democrat’s endorsements as a percentage of the total endorsements given out that cycle:

Oh, I see... the "left wing media bias" is "Republicans not being endorsed by 93% of newspapers."

Monday, October 17, 2011


One more week of Fighter. For once, we've got people talking about it!

What is Fighter?
"Fighter," a play created, directed and choreographed by Tisch graduate Jose Perez, is no ordinary theatrical performance. Instead, it is a collision of ancient tales, anime and modern satire.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

What's that, NPR Host Jesse Thorn?

 FIGHTER on Jordan, Jesse, Go! Episode 195

That's awfully kind of you!

You can get tickets for this weekend or watch the awesome trailer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


If you'd have told me this morning that my biggest laugh today would be a tumblr that combines Charles Isherwood and yogurt, I would have just been confused.

(h/t Matthew Freeman)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Mind Lately

Too sporadic to make this feature dated, but here it is.

Thinking about values:
The stalking-horse of failure:
  • A Park Slope playwright is giving away all of his books and quitting writing, as part of the run of his final show. It attracts attention.
  • The National Slavery Museum, which was supposed to open in 2004, has filed for bankruptcy, despite never having opened. Clearly that project was misled or mismanaged, but we really should build a national slavery museum.
  • On a related note, Rick Perry literally tried to white-wash a disgusting bit of racial history on his property. Literally white-wash.
Also, you should check out the Lanford Wilson issue of Parabasis, if you haven't already.

PRAGMATIC: Firefly And All Her Parts!

So, I finally finished Star Trek: the Next Generation, and I've moved on to Firefly. It's interesting getting into yet another old memory, half a decade later. Whereas Star Trek was my obsession in my childhood, Firefly was my early college love. And in a lot of ways, it's not surprising I reached them in that order -- not just because of when they were made, but in the maturity of the form.

On the surface, Star Trek was a lot more philosophical than Firefly, but in a lot of ways Firefly was a lot more complex. You can see it not just in the content, but also on the shooting: more intelligent, poetic shots; a more fully realized, deeper art design. Hell, just the costumes show a richness and intelligence that sometimes Star Trek missed. Quick comparison: Star Trek TNG included one-piece jump-suits that looked iconic, but were also a great source of discomfort for the actors -- you can see them all tugging down at the belt-line constantly, trying to protect their sensitive parts.

In the seven seasons of Star Trek I just watched, I don't know if I saw one point where a camera angle told a story in the same way an episode of Firefly does. They captured a poetry of movement in space that Battlestar Galactica later took inspiration from. And there's other complexity at work.


When I was still studying acting according to old methods, we worked a lot with beats -- and we were told, for better or for worse, that the easiest way to communicate was to break up the text into distinct, clear moments -- each line encapsulating one tactic or response (depending on the nuance of your training).

In theater, there's a good reason for this -- when you're trying to fill a big house, people may be at a distance, and you want to be clear. It's the same school of thought that led the original theater theoreticians to favor bold, pre-defined, ritualized gestures.

In film, however, the intimacy afforded by the screen can give the performer the opportunity to be less defined, more complex. To mix the emotional palate a bit and be a bit more messy.

As a for instance, there's one moment that's going to stick with me for a while. There's a complicated set up, but suffice it to say that Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Filion) kissed a girl with poisonous lip-stick, passed out, and Inara (Morena Baccarin) thought he was dead, and was so distraught, she kissed him, and passed out. When she comes to, she pretends that she was hit on the head so that nobody will know that she kissed Captain Reynolds.

Right? Slapstick humor. Not a core theme of the show or anything, just a silly little moment.

Here's what stuck out to me. The last scene in the episode, Captain Reynolds confronts Inara. "You and me both know you weren't hit on the head." Inara looks up at Captain Reynolds, thinking that he knows she kissed him, and says, "You're right." He grins, and says, "I knew you kissed her!" and walks away.

I counted four separate competing emotions on Inara's face on the next moment, all simultaneous: "What an idiot," "Thank God he didn't guess," "I wish he knew," "I'm hurt that he didn't figure it out."

What this affords Mr. Whedon is the ability to return to moments, but frame them differently so that the context around the moments changes the interpretation. For example, in this episode I just got to, a character tapes a goodbye request, which is revisited three times. But each time we return to the request, it's framed in different ways; it's difficult to know which emotions are real or faked each time.

It's a framing device Whedon likes to use. A phrase recurs, and it's rewarding to see how it reflects the situation each time. One statement haunts an episode, full with meaning and weight, and at the end of the episode it turns out that it was completely meaningless, except for the meaning we thought it had. In another episode, a toss-out joke recurs as a terrifying threat.


I'm also trying to figure out whether this show is the libertarian science fiction show, or a deep criticism of libertarian. Thank God I can't figure it out, because that's what's keeping me hooked in this time around.

Star Trek was a socialist dream: racism defeated, Earth united, capitalism ended, and mankind following the path of science into the Stars. A unified government that stands for ideals, provides all needs (through the wonders of industry!). Stalin couldn't have thought it up better than himself, except that everyone has free agency, can dissent and perform intelligently in their roles.

Firefly is basically as far from that as it can get. The "Unified Government" is the Alliance, a group of thugs and bullies that took over the galaxy through force and terror. Because they're only interested in protecting the interests of the extremely wealthy, the rest of the universe has become a new wild west. Everyone's armed to the teeth, and there's no end to the illegal work to be had: slavery, prostitution (legal and illegal), thievery, and murder.

Here's the thing: on the one hand, there's a certain panache to defying the law, and everyone creating their own morality. (This current episode I'm watching features: "My husband makes a distinction between legality and morality." "Bending one unjust law is a small thing when it comes to protecting one's family." But from the so-called Bad Guy) It's appealing, especially in a universe where the government is unequivocally Evil. So you'd think that whatever isn't on the side of unequivocally Evil is the right side.

But the gray world is full of the worst of the worst as well. There are some absolutely insane characters (the old sadist Niska, the one-eyed wild madman Stitch, the con artist Yolanda), some loathesomely cowardly characters, and generally everyone runs around without a moral compass. Those with moral compasses are constantly being taken advantage of and beaten up, unless they fall in with people who have the moral compass.

In the end, this is the battle raging inside of Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Is he a good person? Or not? He certainly tries to be. And yet as people keep pointing out to him, he's a criminal who leaves a trail of bodies behind him. He has an incredibly complicated matrix of morals that are sometimes impenetrable. He'll leave them to die but he'll avoid putting a bullet in them, except, for instance, when he shoots one of his old war friends twice because his friend won't listen to him explain his plan and goes berserk.

It's certainly not my intention to say that the government is a moral compass. In Star Trek, for instance, the moral purity of the government is not beyond reproach (the Prime Directive is often a source of let them die morality). But because of the order, the stability, and the ability to make sound decisions, characters are rarely penalized for making the right or honorable decision.

In Firefly, the chaos with which these characters live often makes it clear that morality will get you killed. Doing the "right thing" is a pretty good way to have their heads sawed off. And that makes morality much trickier. And sometimes the characters pull through, and sometimes they don't.

Even the flatter characters show that dynamism: Jayne, for instance, is shown to be dumb as hell and greedy as sin. He'll sell anyone out for a dollar and he doesn't feel like going out of his way for anything. Except when a town full of Mud-workers raise him up as a hero because of something he did on accident, and he discovers a deep affection for them.

If there was one message about government and its relation to the people, it's this: "Even if the government was completely at its worst, that doesn't make none of it any better." Or: "Government fails when it's full of greedy, careless people. But so does the rest of society."

PRAGMATIC: Horror and Spectacle

Honestly, not only do I agree with everything in this post about horror on stage, but it's also written in a very similar process to how I like to approach those kinds of questions. The question is distilled at the beginning, and the different elements of the solution are laid out -- including one that specifically addresses the medium of theater.

Here's all I'd add: whenever the question "How do we handle _____ in the theater?" is raised, I start my answer with the human body.


For instance, on Twitter the other day, HowlRound started a conversation about "spectacle" on the stage. Now, Bob Wilson aside, the "spectacle" on stage that I am most drawn to are spectacles of the human body. For instance, the show we are working on right now is a spectacle of human bodies:

The play has a story about two boys who are trying to discover an "epic story of heroism," so the scale of the heroic fights -- 25 people in a small theater, all participating in one massive sharply-choreographed fight -- creates the sense of "WOW HOW IS THE HUMAN BODY DOING THAT!"

It works on stage because there's a real respect that the fight choreographer can get from doing his job well. On screen, we're so used to it being faked, that the fight scenes can be as incredible as you like -- say, 300 -- but still fail to impress because you know that it's not hard.

On screen, what works is when they manage to show something real which you couldn't even imagine. That's what I liked about Sin City (but not about 300), the moments where the depravity literally exceeded my imagination.


So, how does the human body accomplish horror? Simple: by having a human being be incredibly horrifying, up close and personal.

The most horrified I've ever been at a theatrical production was not by something gruesome or bloody, but just be someone being horrified. It was a scene from William Mastrosimone's Extremities, early in the play, when an unidentified man tries to rape a woman at home alone. The rape itself was brutal and physical, but really what was horrifying was how Mastrosimone wrote the dialogue; the way the rapist spoke and stood in the room that made your flesh crawl, and having a real body in close proximity to me in the audience underlined that.


What's truly horrifying or awesome in theater is what people can do. The evil they can perpetrate, the feats of agility, the brutality and the passion; these are tools which the theatermaker can use to harness spectacle or horror on stage. When an effect's impact is the fact that real human bodies are doing it, you're on the right track.

ARTS: Canadian Playwrights! Interesting Funding Models!

Hey Americans, ever heard of any of these:

  • Robert Chafe, the St. John's-based winner of the 2010 Governor General's Award for drama (for Afterimage) and artistic associate and playwright for Newfoundland troupe Artistic Fraud.
  • Joan MacLeod, the award-winning playwright and associate professor at the University of Victoria.
  • Larry Tremblay, the Montreal playwright, actor and director.
  • Jasmine Dubé, the writer, actress and director who co-founded and serves as artistic director of Montreal's Théâtre Bouche Décousues.
  • Greg MacArthur, the playwright-in-residence at the University of Alberta and the Toronto writer behind The Decameron: things we leave behindTyland: The Toxic Bus IncidentBeggar Boy andgirls!girls!girls!
  • Mansel Robinson, the Chapleau, Ont.-based playwright (formerly of Saskatoon) and past president of the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre.

I'll admit that I haven't. But I'm interested to see or read something by them now that they're on the short-list for a $100,000 prize!

Also, interesting side-note:
Each year, the winner is presented $75,000 and is asked to name a protégé to receive the remaining $25,000.
That's a fantastic way to promote the Ian Thal method of diversity! I really, really wish I knew who Tony Kushner or Martin McDonough would choose as their "protégé." You give a big chunk of change to one playwright, who's probably doing well in their career, and then ask them to pass along another chunk of change to a playwright -- hopefully they'll use that money well and pass that along to a playwright much earlier in their career.

If any Canadians or anyone familiar with these folks' work would like to chime in and let us know if these are well-deserved people, I'd love to hear about them.

PERSONAL: 1,001...

So, last week, it was Post #1,000. A post about the past.

Today: Post #1,001. A post about the future.

After all, this is a blog about the future. The future of culture.

So the question is, what am I going to do better in the next 1,000 that I didn't do in the last 1,000? What's next for this blog?

I had some grandiose plans, and I've been whittling away the useless or bullshit ones, but I know there's one thing that's important to me.

1,000 posts means I'm here to stay, and it means that I'm not just futzing around anymore. And that means, the 1,000 posts I've written are important to me, as should the next posts. Up until now, I've been treating CultureFuture like a long-form twitter: writing my posts, hitting post, and moving on with my life.

How many of those 1,000 posts are posts that stick? That stay? And what made them different?

Often, it was when I hovered around a certain topic or issue, revisited it in multiple posts, got the chance to refine my thoughts. Multi-part posts (Eulogy Overload I, II, III, IV, V, VI; Grassroots and Power I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII; Making the Case I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and a round-up) allow me time to refine my argument, play with different ideas, and create something else.

But if I'm going to put in that time, then I'd better make sure it's not just vapor into the air. So I'm going to be looking at ways to compile past and future multi-part posts into page on this site, so that if someone comes to this blog for the first time, they can find the stuff that's really worth it, rather than waiting to see when it comes up.

Here are the areas I know I am going to be tracking:

  • PRAGMATICS - You may not know this, but I wrote a thesis on the subject of A Pragmatic Guide to Theater. (I introduced it here it here). There's a lot of material to go through, and slowly release on this blog and recompile. Basically, it's the collection of my opinions on how to approach the arts in a practical, choice-and-effects-based way from the artistic perspective.
  • SOLUTIONS - One of the things that can happen on this blogosphere is that it becomes a place to air frustrations. For good reason -- here are people who can think of solutions, and sometimes people have come up with interesting thought-experiment proposals on how to solve them. But if we just air those solutions and move on, then we wasted time. I want to break down the problems we've already talked about (diversity issues, funding issues, etc.) and the solutions that have been proposed (with proper attributions, I promise). If someone is putting them into practice, I will update people on their progress.
  • MAKING THE CASE FOR THE ARTS - One of my favorite areas I've addressed is how we make the case for the arts. I want to keep holding onto those arguments, and deepening them with more citations and more information.
This is all talk. You'll start seeing it soon (I hope).

Also, I hope to improve my proofreading over the next 1,00 posts... no promises.

(yes I left that typo in on purpose.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

PERSONAL: 1,000.

If Blogger is not steering me wrong, this is my 1,000th post.

On Valentine's Day, 2008, I did what I'm sure what every person was doing on Valentine's Day: sitting facing a computer, alone, contemplating what to write. I had just turned down a date, because I was on my way to my one true love: an idea. (I didn't realize I was turning down a date, but you notice things when you look back.)

The missive I wrote was a statement of purpose for this blog, and oddly enough it seems to have been the only stable thing about this blog:
This blog is about the future of culture. It cannot be about the future of all culture, only the future of culture from one perspective. The things I am interested will influence what, in culture, I am focusing on: theater, politics, and satire are among the elements that awaken my own critical focus. Because the first step in changing culture is observing it, understanding it, and seeing how the cogs turn. Then the discussion begins as to whether the culture needs the change, and how to effect it. These changes should not have to be radical, but they can happen, and they can happen for good.
(It's painful to have to copy paste a three year old grammar error...)

It was February 2008. A month earlier, on New Years Day, I remember a young Senator named Barack Obama being mentioned as a possible contender against the juggernaut that is Hillary Clinton, who we all knew would be our next president. At the time, Obama was about to go from roughly 10% to 25%, but all I knew was that I looked up his 2004 DNC Keynote, and I was strongly impressed. More impressed than I was by anyone else, John Kerry included (2004 was a rough year, guys).

As a sophomore in college studying experimental theater, I knew that the big question ahead of me was going to be, "What the fuck is this for?" Theater, politics, any of it -- what was my purpose inside of this whole big thing.

That first post was my first stab at an answer.

In that last year of the Bush Administration, I understood that the next few years were going to be years of change. That's about all I knew. And I wanted to know whether there was any way that people like me, people like us, could be involved.

I was, and continue to be, a devoted student of the Cold War. The fascination for me was that, as I studied the Cold War, I noticed that certain historians could explain historical events plausibly as caused by historical, mass forces; other historians could explain historical events plausibly as choices made by influential individuals. Was the fall of the Berlin Wall an inevitable collapse of a difficult-to-maintain social system, or was it cannibalized by Gorbachev?

The question is relevant because I wanted to know whether I could participate in the progress of history. I am someone who firmly believes that the arc of history bends towards justice, but that we have to bend it with our own hands. The question is, how?

If I ever have that answer, it will be my last post -- a nice book-end to a long and fruitful career of blogging.

What has happened, if not me having an epiphany?
  • The force of history had its way with America, in the form of a massive financial crisis.
  • Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, and gave a nation's hopeful optimism a nice crash-course in the limitations of change in a center-right country.
  • Osama Bin Laden stopped being a person and started being past-tense noun.
  • Moammar Qaddafi stopped being a "valuable trade partner," and several of his companion dictators found themselves deposed -- while others showed that with a functioning, brutal army can keep you safe.
  • My home country began an unstoppable slide into close-minded neoconservatism. (And the US made some noises in that direction too.)
  • I founded a theater company.
Obviously, the last point is what made everything happened. Well...

It's been a bizarre three years. For the first year at least, I was typing into a vacuum. If anyone ever came to read these words, it's probably due to Ian Moss, who I first became acquainted with via Twitter, and who eventually invited me to write some work for him. And I stuck to it thanks to some fun cross-blog discussion with people like Isaac Butler and J. Holtham (who was still anonymous at the time!), and RVCBard, and Ian Thal. Rob Weinert-Kendt invited me to write for And more.

The theater company produced 9 plays (we're approaching our tenth). I went from being just a student, to being employed on the sales team of a software company. Went from living with three other dudes to living on my own in a place I'm proud to call my home.

And I just finished watching the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I still have no clue if any of it matters. But if it's any small token that I might actually be doing more than spitting noise into the wind, as I was writing this, Travis Bedard tweeted a couple links of things I wrote.

Sometime soon, I'll write post 1,001, about the future.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

HUMOR: What I Love About Sports

What article do you think opens with this sentence?
These days, there's no boatman in a dark cowl to take you over to the other side where the souls who wail for eternity are found.
If you answered "The Washington Post's article about the Red Sox losing," you're right... and fucking insane.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Through The Eyes Of A Stranger

The other videos by this man are equally insightful.

RESPONSE: Don Draper Presents Facebook

1) I've never seen Mad Men, despite -- and possibly because of -- all of the glowing raves everyone I know gives the show, but damn I can't ignore how compelling this scene is set up -- even in a parody!

2) It's pretty telling how spot-on the Mad Men commentary is here, that they can take it off one product ("Kodak Carosel") and put it on another product ("Facebook Timeline") and it hits the mark perfectly.

3) Also, in terms of smartly constructing a parody, kudos to the man who put this together in such a way that it preserves the emotional power of Don Draper's back-story.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PLUG: Organs of State's Fighter

Sorry guys... it's me plugging the work I do again. I think you should come, so you'll understand what I do and why I'm passionate about theater and stuff.

A Fighting Epic

Written and Directed by José Perez IV

The story of two boys who delve into the past to try and find the perfect tale of heroism, only to discover they don't have to go as far back as they think - and along the way, deliver all the ass-kicking and massive stage fights you have been asking us for: live, gritty humans, fighting onstage.

FIGHTER is a multidisciplinary fight experience that has audiences coming for the abs and staying for the journey.

Praise from the workshop production presented by NYU's Experimental Theater Wing:

“Some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a live performance, hands down” The Orange Hats (audience response video),

FIGHTER is presented by Organs of State will be performed at The Shell Theater, located in the Times Square Arts Building at 300 W 43rd, 4th Floor between 8th and 9th Aves. (Subway: ACE at 42nd St-Port Authority, NQRW/123/7/S at 42nd St-Times Square, BDFM at 42nd- Bryant Park).

Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Performance Schedule:
October 13-16, 19-22 at 8pm
October 15, 16, 22, 23 at 2pm

Tickets are $15 ($10 for Organs of State Citizens) and can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets at  or by calling 347.450.5131.

For more information visit: