Thursday, August 25, 2011

Catching Up on My Mind

Some fun to take your mind off hurricanes:
Strange tactics in intelligence:
The law and inventions collide:
Possibly effective ways of doing things?:
Things that surprise:
Things that suck:
  • Jack Kirby doesn't own his own work. Unfortunately, Disney has a good legal grounding here, and it's not even at the crazy end of copyright law, but it still blows.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


When we talk about aesthetics in this industry, I feel like we spend so much time and energy on the trapping of style and presentation and never talk about content, about the work. We define our terms, especially for more contemporary work, not by what the work is saying or even by the intent of the artists, but by the technology and the somewhat superficial details of language and presentation. I don't think this is serving our field very well.

I don't know if I can improve on that sentiment in any way. I've got to think to mull that one over.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Why Did I Write A Play About Premature Ejaculation

(the post which is about to follow acknowledges the existence of sex, and of premature ejaculation. If you haven't been through a sixth grade sex ed course yet, you should go read that before this post. Otherwise, I'm sure it won't be offensive.)

It wasn’t just a play about premature ejaculation, obviously, in the same way that Waiting for Godot isn’t just a play about standing around.

In 2008, while I was in the Czech Republic, I had a wonderfully miserable experience where, in a journalism class, I was pulled out of the audience at random and told to improvise a scene about sex with a fellow classmate I barely knew. The tension in the room, the discomfort and horror, was palpable – not just between me and my impromptu scene partner, but even among the people watching on our behalf.

The scene that we mumbled out looked something like this:

It’s Tuesday.

… yes.

Long pause.

Should we have sex?

Long pause.

… no.

Long pause.

We could do a… sixty nine?

Long pause.

…I don’t think so.

And at that point, the guest lecturer realized that we weren’t going to get into third-wave feminism or the dynamics of gender politics, and released us from our misery.

Once I was liberated from that dangerous space, and had returned to a safe spot where I can explore ideas, I realized that I was actually curious about that deeply palpable feeling of horror. After all, there was absolutely nothing dangerous about what we were doing. And what about the actual scene that was created? Who were these people who looked on sex with such deep probing horror, and what would their relationship be like?

So I spent the next six months writing, then exploring as an actor, this piece, which eventually became Performance Anxiety! (or: this has never happened to me before). The blunt, cheap title and the sexual comedy (Harry Potter Role Play! A man in a cage! Rick Astley impressions!) were really a cover, a way to entice people to examine this horror without themselves being shut down and horrified themselves.

Enter the married couple who are the protagonists, and who are not given names because I don’t think they need them (do you need names for three characters, all of whom are onstage almost the entire show?). Their marriage has reached its fifth year, and they haven’t borne any children yet. In fact, they haven’t had sex yet.

Although the conflict of the play is an attempt to move forward into the future, the issue at the center of the play is in the past: what happened on their wedding night that ended their sex life?

A moment of premature ejaculation.

It shouldn’t be that important. Sex is a notoriously complicated thing and people have problems with it all the time – many of which are more complex than premature ejaculation.

Even once I knew that this was the root of the problem, I still kept sitting and wondering – why does this not get better? Why is this one moment such a trauma for him?

The limitations of sex are sometimes limitations of the human body. This is why hopeless love can be so compelling – the knowledge that something can’t be changed is a truly heart-breaking and impossible to escape idea. When a man’s penis fails him, doubt sets in: is this what I am? Is this all I can be? Is there no way I can fix this?

As a point of comparison, take my previous play, The End. The comedy in that play springs from the fact that after an apocalypse that destroys everything except a detective and his assistant, the assistant can only think of one thing: how much he loves the detective. But there’s one cruel joke the universe has played on them: the assistant may be a gay man, but the detective isn’t.

Your sexual orientations and attractions are, just as much as the biology with which you enact them, not your choice. And in a way, that leaves you helpless to them. You can act or react according to them, but you cannot define them (not without an insane strength of will to suppress your deepest self). And without surgeries or medications, your body is the only body you’ll ever know. It can be tweaked – pounds added or removed – but where you are in conflict with your biology, you will probably not win.

This fear is linked to a deep neurosis I have: how much of the rest of us is unchangeable? Those parts of me that I resent – my fears, my dependencies, my inabilities – how many of them are unchangeable? To what extent will I be saddled with the worst parts of myself for the rest of my life?

Obviously, the point is not to encourage or excuse helplessness. Some people who proclaim helplessness are proven wrong by others who can accomplish. But then, there’s no way to prove that just because one person can do something it means all other people can do that. Certainly Youssain Bolt disproves that theory.

That’s the question. I don’t have an answer. It’s a deep problem rooted with deep fears. Every play I write seems to touch deep into that vein: I wrote one where an ex-boyfriend uses the twelve steps of Chinese re-education to work his way back into his girlfriend’s life; my next play is based on a Greek myth where a man is willing to trade everything – even his love – to escape death.

If you have any thoughts of your own, I’d love to hear them.

PERSONA: Ha, ha, Just Kidding!

Okay, I really did think I was going to go on hiatus. But something about not "needing" to blog anymore made me really want to blog. I can't tear myself away -- I'm just going to have to plan the new blog while I keep blogging the old blog.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

PERSONAL: Temporary Hiatus

Hi all,

I'm going on a temporary hiatus right now from blogging. Not because I'm too busy to post, or because I've got something more important than you. Not at all! I am, in fact, finally getting off my ass and porting this blog to a more professional, more delightful platform: I'm moving to WordPress, and building an actual arts policy website around it.

My goal is to have, within the next two to three weeks, a nicer, polished site to integrate this blog into the rest of my work. After which, I'm going to be improving the way I actually do my blogging. Professionalism is on its way!

See you then,

Guy Yedwab

Friday, August 12, 2011

POLICY: Who Are People?

Compare this:

With this:

Both Hillary and Romney are defending their point with half-truths.

In Hillary's case, it's a lack of distinction between different kinds of lobbyists -- she's right that, for instance, a union represents its union members, but the real problem with lobbyists is that they tend to represent only some real Americans, typically disproportionally, and typically in proportion to the power of their members. Thus, Americans for the Arts is not influential because artists are not influential, but the Oil lobby is powerful because oil companies are powerful.

In Romney's case, the thought that money that goes to corporations eventually go to individuals is also a half-truth: the point is that it goes to individuals typically disproportionally; a small number of key investors and executives, many of whom are already wealthy and don't really need government help.

Now, if we lived in a society where it was really hard for business-owners to get heard (and there are countries like that) or where people didn't have the ability to band together and lobby their congresspeople (and there are countries like that), those points would be valid. But we are currently in a society where those types of organizations have too much voice, and therefore protesting on their behalf is at best tone-deaf and at worst displays an addiction to the forms of corruption that our current system breeds.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

RESPONSE: Goodbye, Chris Wilkinson

This is apparently Chris Wilkinson's last blog post at the Guardian Online's theatre blog, and I'd like to wave him goodbye and wish him luck in future endeavors (endeavours!). His voice has always added to the conversations we've had back and forth across the blogosphere, and it has been enjoyable. I hope this won't really be the last we hear -- and I doubt it would be.

And thank you for your kind words, Mr. Wilkinson!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Is It Okay to Boo, Ctd.?

Well, someone found some way of tackling that question that never would have dawned on me. Here's Matt Freeman comparing it to torture, overturning Roe v. Wade, and slapping actors while they eat. Goodness, I had no idea people felt so strongly about being booed.

I would prefer if we could just treat them like hecklers:

Occupational hazards, part of the spice of life.

Monday, August 8, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Why Programs?

Seriously, why do we hand programs to the audience? Okay, so we want them to know who is in the show. And have something to look at during that awkward ten minutes while waiting for things.

But when I'm sitting reading the bios I wonder how many theater companies are writing their programs to agents and industry folks, rather than to audience members. It feels like you're talking past me.

Programs: remember why you give them out, and who is reading them.

PRAGMATIC: Is It Okay To Boo?

All I can say is that honestly, I wish I had ever felt strongly enough in a show to boo. I recently saw a show at Lincoln Center Festival that ranked among the worse productions I've seen in my life, and really all it provoked in myself and the students I had taken with me was sleep.

I'm reaching my mind back and trying to remember some time being actually angry or upset at a poor performance.

Oh yeah, Karen Finley. I wish I'd booed her.

New standard: I think booing is rude when someone is simply doing a bad job. However, if you're confronted with an artist who is being deliberately hostile, insulting, or rude towards the audience, boo away! Remind them who is in charge.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

LEGAL COMMENTARY: The First Torture Trial

A torture suit against a member of the Bush administration (Donald Rumsfeld) has been allowed to proceed for the first time. This is very, very important.
The Supreme Court sets a high bar for suing high-ranking officials, requiring that they be tied directly to a violation of constitutional rights and must have clearly understood their actions crossed that line.
I'm not aware of any previous precedent on this scale. Here's what the suit is over:
[The Plaintiff] says he refused to answer questions because of concern about confidentiality, and the agents handcuffed and blindfolded him, kicked him in the back and threatened to shoot him if he tried to escape. He was then transferred to an unidentified location for three days before being flown to Camp Cropper.

For his first three months at Camp Cropper he says he was held incommunicado in solitary confinement with a hole in the ground for a toilet. He says he was then moved to cells holding terrorist suspects hostile to the United States who were told about his work for the military, leading to physical attacks by his cellmates that left him in constant fear for his life.

He claims guards tortured him by repeatedly choking him, exposing him to extreme cold and continuous artificial light, blindfolding and hooding him, waking him by banging on a door or slamming a window when he tried to sleep and blasting music into his cell at "intolerably loud volumes."

He says he always denied any wrongdoing and truthfully answered questions but interrogators continued to threaten him. Both sides say a detainee status board in December 2005 determined he was a threat to the multinational forces in Iraq and authorized his continued detention, but he says he was not allowed to see most of the evidence against him. Documents the government filed with the court only say he is suspected of a crime, without providing details.

ARTS POLICY: Unions Worldwide pt. 2

Thanks to everyone who answered my questions about actor's unions worldwide, and their relationship to Fringe Theater. If you recall, my original question was driven because Chris Wilkinson wrote a post that seemed based on the premise that independent theater in the UK coexists well with the British Equity.

Now, I don't have much practical experience, so I'm relying on the British to tell me what it's like. But an anonymous commenter three articles on some recent news. Here's The Stage:

Fringe theatre companies have warned that the sector will be “destroyed” if proposals by Equity seeking to enforce the National Minimum Wage for all actors become law.

Two motions are due to be discussed by the union’s ruling council next week, which, if passed, would represent a significant tightening of its position on actors’ pay.

They have been submitted by Equity councillor Clive Hurst, who is calling for clarification on how profit-share and low-paying fringe theatres fit into NMW guidelines and on the definition of amateur and professional performers.

Again, I don't know what exactly life is like in the UK, but I know that if someone announced passing minimum wage laws here in the United States, it would absolutely kill everyone producing independent work. (Unless we just called them all interns...)

Profit-sharing is an interesting angle -- I don't know if there's much profit-sharing going on in the US independent theater scene -- largely because of the absence of profit.

Further experience is shed by Michael Simkins in the Guardian Online:

In the last production I was involved in, nearly 70% of the cast hadn't bothered to join the union, preferring to save their subscriptions in the hope that the legislation so hard won by previous generations would continue to protect them for free.

Interesting to note that a lot of actors I know aren't in Equity because they simply can't get into it, or because they want to work with independent theater. Those who do join Equity do so in order to get Equity work, or to get Equity health insurance. In England, it seems that the latter of those is not as important because of the NHS.

The union perspective, from Martin Brown for the Guardian Online:

The legislation as it stands gives rights to any individual to make a claim if they think they should have been paid the national minimum wage and were not. Unions do not have the same rights – we can support a claim made by a member, but we cannot initiate one. Any member of Equity who has worked on the fringe and believes they are entitled to make a claim should come and talk to us; if we think the claim is winnable, we will take it on.

But we are doing more than that. For several years now, Equity has been campaigning to encourage fringe producers to up their game and use Equity members in their shows. We can offer them a specially designed fringe contract that is based on the national minimum wage but also recognises the uncertain, cash-strapped and risky nature of fringe theatre.

We think that in the eyes of performers, fringe producers will appear to be more professional if they use proper contracts approved by Equity. In essence, we absolutely support the fringe and want it to thrive, but no one can ignore the implications of the national minimum wage.

I wonder if "if the claim is winnable" has anything to do with the financial status of the fringe producer... anyways, all I get from that column is "We support the Fringe and want it to survive, but the law says that it shouldn't."

I agree that fringe producers appear more professional if they use contracts approved by Equity. No, wait, sorry, they just look more wealthy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

PRAGMATIC: On "On 'Excellence'"

Scott Walters has a great post up about the NEA's focus on "excellence" and how it perpetuates certain biases in the granting process:

When I consulted the NEA as to why my own "Our Town" grant was not funded, the notes from the review committee focused on excellence: WHO is going to be providing the art, and what are their credentials? Notice that my proposal was for a participatory arts program, and so the artists would be members of the community, not imported "professionals" from outside the community. Participatory arts, as the NEA knows from having recently published it own studies on the subject, is about enhancing the creativity of the citizenry. Credentials and press coverage are irrelevant.

Scott reaches the conclusion:

No, I think this demands direct action. Over the past 45 years, "excellence" has gotten the lion's share of commitment from the NEA; now, it is time to shift the emphasis. Not simply back to equality among the three legs of the mission, but to go even further and give greater emphasis to geographic diversity and to arts education.

I think it's not about being "pro-" or "anti-" excellence, I think it's more a problem with how "excellence" is defined. It seems as though the idea of excellence that the NEA is espousing in the first section is excellence in comparison with a global arts community of connoisseurs.

Suppose, though, you have a community of 3,000 people. There's an arts organization that manages to involve 2,000 people either as audiences or participants. This arts organization is the pride of the community, and it's been running for ten or fifteen years. It gets one review a year, which is a nice article from the local paper. Maybe they do a lot of big participatory musicals with big ensembles -- not exactly with great resources, or great performers, etc. Is that excellent? Would the NEA think it's excellent?

Excellence has to be from the perspective of the community that the art is working in.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

FUN: Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, Amen

If you ain't seen the new Auto-tune the News, here it is:

It may be Christian, but I couldn't help thinking how Greek that prayer is -- appealing on the Lord for thanks for these possessions that win us earthly glory...

Monday, August 1, 2011

PLUG: New Website, and a New Season

As usual, my advice to you blog readers is that you should check out the things that I work on -- not just because I selfishly want your attention, but because you'll have a better understanding of this blog and who I am.

Therefore, please direct your attention to my company's new website, lovingly put together by myself and my companions. It includes an announcement of my company's new season, for Fall 2011-Spring 2012.

PRAGMATIC: Stephen Knocks it Out of the Park

This incredible debate between Stephen Fry and Anne Wyddecomb is fantastic. Anne puts up good arguments on behalf of the institution of the Church, but at Stephen Fry's last punch is a real knock-out.