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:

FILM: Red State

I'm more than a little uncomfortable with the premise of this new Kevin Smith film -- it seems to lazily put into a single video every deep, nascent fear of the "Red States." The title, Red State, refers to politics, not to religious conviction or necessarily extremism. Although the victims seem to me drawn in three dimensions, at least in the trailer it looks like the cult at the center of it is reduced to one dimension: crazy.

That being said, I've also found it strange that so little film response has been made of right-wing extremism -- not from a "we need to speak out on this political issue!" angle, but from a "we need to digest history" perspective. Things like the Waco Texas shooting, or the Oklahoma City bombing, haven't really been investigated in a three-dimensional, "who are these people and how does it happen?" way. It's easy to deal with history through simple documentary (say, how WTC deals with 9/11) or through exploitive action (say, how 24 deals with torture); it's hard to hit the nail on the head with an act of balanced inspection (say, the way Munich deals with counter-terrorism).

It's hard to tell from the trailer how Kevin Smith (who, by the way -- what a sudden and sharp change in tone!) is going to handle it. I worry that it's going to be an inaccurate set of cheap fearmongering with an unrealistic set of "crazy" characters, but -- it's a trailer. I wish I could find the This American Life where they interviewed a polygamist member of a San Diego church reacting to the news that his church founder had brutally murdered one of the women he was living with, but the way in which they strove to really get inside and three-dimensionalize the object of fear is what made it interesting.

(UPDATE: If I've missed some films that take a look at right-wing extremism in a complex way, please please please hook me up! That'd be worth queueing on Netflix!)

RESPONSE: Associate Artist Schemes

I was very interested to read this article about associate artist schemes, because I'm writing a large article (possibly for HowlRound) about our company's recent big changes regarding how we relate to artists we want to work with -- also an Associated Artist scheme. Suffice it to say that I will be weighing in soon, but in the mean time, I think that article raises all the right questions... questions which I hope to answer!

Monday, September 26, 2011

RHETORIC: Nothing At All

Senator John Pastore: “Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”
Physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson: “No sir, I don’t believe so.”
Pastore: “Nothing at all?”
Wilson: “Nothing at all.”
Pastore: “It has no value in that respect?”
Wilson: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of man, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”

The quote is making the rounds amongst those in the science community upset about the cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope (which was planned to replace the Hubble) and the end of our shuttle program.

But Wilson's argument is about culture; not just scientific culture but culture as large. I'd love to see that quote in the arsenal of arts advocates as well.

Figuring out how to make an effective argument for the arts is crucial. So is figuring out how to communicate the goals and hopes of government. That's why Elizabeth Warren is also making the rounds right now.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

RHETORIC: Chamberlain at Gettysburg

I'm a sucker for a pretty speech. And God damn if I didn't get sucked into this when I saw it in the "Related Videos" on YouTube:

He's the reason I bought a hat like that when I was a kid.

PLUG: James Monaco

It turns out, that if you missed There They Were, you have another chance -- the solo performance show Going Stag on October 3rd at the Connelly Theater!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

REVIEW: There They Were

James Monaco's

This is my fourth time seeing some iteration of James Monaco's work, and I feel absolutely no guilt in calling him one of the greatest storytellers in the world alive today, whose work you should track down. I don't know if I could be any more unequivocal than that.

(I know, I'm using up my superlatives this evening. I'm just excited by work I'm seeing!)

This is going to be a very simple review, because the work James Monaco does is incredibly simple. There They Were is a story told by a man in a chair (James Monaco) about a wedding in Long Island.

Right before the show, one of the audience members said of this work, "It's like a young Spalding Gray." I can't say I've had the honor of seeing Spalding Gray in the flesh -- something I've missed forever -- but I think it could be fairly apt.

It's seriously just James Monaco in a chair, and you will be sitting at the front of your seat the entire time. Each word is finely chosen, each gesture with his hand is finely choreographed. When he uses the palm of his hand to indicate one character, and a finger to indicate another, those body parts take on a life of their own. Each movement has an emotional depth and evocative-ness that makes even the simplest, most banal moment in the story take on a weight without James Monaco needing any amateur theatrics.

His tone is matter of fact, but the motions give the weight that lets you know that what you're listening to indicates a deep well of submerged emotion. In this sense, the setting is perfect -- the massive emotional tides that are stirred by a wedding that are shoe-horned into our most banal of rituals are perfectly encapsulated in this story.

It's music. Not metaphorically, literally. The voice is so finely choreographed, and he creates rhythm with the parts of his body -- sometimes incredibly energetic, sometimes subtly crafted. Sometimes it takes its inspiration from the music of life -- an incredible instructions dance called "Topple the Czar" -- and sometimes it takes its inspirations from the sounds that fill life -- a lonely woman's shuffling feet through an empty house.

What rituals do for us is they ground the mundane in a sense of eternity and weight. That's why we hold weddings: to remind us that this love is not just some squishy, temporary emotions: it's a moment being stretched out into eternity. So too does this story-telling: it powerfully evokes oral histories, a story that has been passed along so many times that it has become a structured, stratified ritual, that can be perfectly preserved... except that it can't.

The specificity also gives us the comfort and ability to look at the minute details. When James creates the slow sad shuffle of the woman through her house, or the sigh of men with cigars on a balcony looking up at the stars, we can believe so strongly in that moment that we can investigate each tiny detail. And yet, because it's not happening "for real" in front of us, we are really examining the details in our own imagination. How often do we get to put our own imagination up for such scrutiny?

Also, "Topple the Czar" is hysterical. Can't get enough.

I doubt that I've been able to do justice to the strength of the piece. If I could, I'd have James Monaco sharpen these words up for me.

Sorry, one thing else that I really love about James' work is the shift in protagonists. See, James Monaco creates an entire family line in this work, but amazingly he gives each of them equal space. Those characters who, at first, we only see as a joke or a background character (e.g. Gary, who had something terrible happen to him that nobody could quite remember) will, at some point, be given center stage, and suddenly those activities that we saw through mundate eyes before will be given the full emotional weight and complexity that was previously the purview of everyone else.

It's a method of story-telling that is warm with compassion, and creates a universe dense with emotions and weight.

(Dear FCC: got free tickets to this too. Thanks for asking.)

REVIEW: Queen of the May

Evan Watkins' and Andrew Farmer's

It's already closed -- twice now -- but because it was an excellent piece of work, I feel it's necessary to write my thoughts upon it, because it was a hysterical and well crafted piece of comedy.

Much like Felix + the Diligence (even though this play came first), The Queen of the May and Her Harvest Kings trades on a nostalgia for a time we don't really know. In this case, it's 1929, and the daughter of the Cole Family (famous for Cole Family Slaw...) is the Queen of the May (Valerie Graham), and she is choosing her Harvest King from between two identical twins (Andrew Farmer and Evan Watkins).

It's a simpler time, where two men got dressed up nice and put on a delightful show to woo a gentle lady. There's just one problem: it turns out that the 1920s were full of loathsome, terrible racism, sexism, and generally backwards thinking. As playwrights, Evan and Andrew don't write in a plot about race, or try to demonstrate how terrible the plight of Catholics was, they just make fun.

A lot of fun. A lot of terrible, cruel, heartless fun. It's all jokes and smarmy gags, but every other joke is a cruel knife. Of course the 1920s seemed fun -- nobody at the time had to pay attention to the implications of horrifying jokes. So when Andrew rattles of a witticism about the racial profile of Jazz musicians -- "It's not just the notes that are black" -- the jokes may be landing in the audience but the vicious cruelty behind every smile is on display.

Eventually, the jokes fall away and we realize that this terrible cruelty -- which "society" has on display -- is perfectly encapsulated by the foul, greedy hearts of the two Harvest Kings. They've done foul, terrible deeds to fit into this perfect picture they want to put on display, and it tears everything apart.

Of course, from the description apart, you're probably imagining some hybrid of a family-falling-apart story (a la August Osage County) and a Broadway musical. Nothing can be further from the truth. The entire play is just a series of gags and bits, sketches as these boys try -- through force -- to earn your love.

It's fun. It's hysterical. The entire play is tightly crafted with the kind of slapstick enthusiasm that most comedy performers could dream of. The first time I saw this play, I fell into a paroxysm of laughter that caused me actual physical pain and lasted fifteen minutes. And it was all because I had been attacked as being an incompetent Hebrew.

It's not surprising to me that, in talking with audience members after the show, I heard repeatedly that this play is "a really dumb play in a good way," and "a really smart play." The stupidity -- the bloody-minded, offensive, hilarity and the dumb punnery -- is so well crafted that it seems to turn Dumb Comedy into a Ph.D. It moves fast and furious, so all you're aware of is being very much entertained, but on looking back -- my god it's a fun ride.

Before I leave you, you should check out the audience response. I'm currently editing another round of audience response.

(Dear FCC: they gave me a ticket, twice.)

REVIEW: Felix + The Diligence

September 24th through October 8th

When actors come off the stage after a show, look me in the eye, and tell me they know exactly how much I was laughing, I really can't pretend I didn't like it. So much for professional distance, I guess.


While their previous production, the NYIT award winning Caucasian Chalk Circle (my review here and more thoughts here), was much grander in scale, there's one aspect of this production that stayed in the world of grandiosity: the set. You can tell how much so, because I'm talking about it first.

Andy Yanni, who once dropped an attic roof on my head, has constructed the entire top deck of the Diligence, a creaky galleon pressed into service during World War Two to fish cod, because all of the not-shitty boats are out doing real war things. A young man named Felix (Benj Mirman) asks to be taken aboard so he can find adventure, and a young woman by the name of Felix (Arielle SSiegel) asks to be taken aboard so she can escape from another young man (Nathaniel Katzman) -- whose name will be unveiled in a shocking twist.

Once at sea, hijinks occur, with sea monsters, nazis, man-on-mermaid romance, and gender-swapping romance. Blah blah blah.

Seriously. They built a whole freakin' boat...


With both this play, and another play I'm going to review later tonight called The Queen of the May, the real object of satire is nostalgia. Here, playwright Colby Day (here's the Ghost of Dracula he produced, very much in his style) is taking on the notion that sometimes we are nostalgic for those things we've never experienced, and only upon living them we realize that they are not at all what we thought we were getting.

Felix -- the first Felix -- comes aboard the Diligence dreaming of adventure, like those he dreamed about reading adventure stories. He quickly discovers that the high seas is basically swabbing the deck and getting crapped on by everyone who doesn't have that same wild-eyed sense of wonder and adventure. When he sees sea monsters and mermaids of the ship, nobody believes him -- he's just a dumb kid with stars in his eyes.

Even the show's central action storyline -- Nazis! -- skewers the notion of nostalgia. After all, what's more nostalgic than Americans whomping on evil Nazis, who are scurrying around on the deck trying (for suitably poor reasons) to steal our secrets? The "everybody lives happily ever after" doesn't apply to them, nor does the idea that human lives have value.

Although the characters start out with wild-eyed wonder, mooning off into the distance, they quickly realize that having emotions is a great way to have those emotions hurt, so they experiment with different approaches to guarding their hearts, usually by performing childishly masculine shows of bravado (and I'm talking about both genders here).

This is where the play gets to speak to us, today, in the lives we live now (as in, not at sea). Characters begin relationships with the wide-eyed wonder of love, nostalgic for the image of relationships that they've been sold. And within a blink of an eye, they hit walls, and fall into equally stupid "jaded" stances. The play mocks our naivete, but the real attack is on those who have closed their hearts.

No character shows this more -- or stands out more from the excellent cast -- than Captain Chapman. Of course, it's worth my pointing out that the evening I saw the production, Captain Chapman was played by the understudy, ASM Meagan Kensil, as opposed to the award-winning actor Alistair Falk who I had come to see. Never have I been so happy to be at a performance with an understudy.

Captain Morgan, who you can see in the photo above as the young lady in the too-big boots and the drawn-on moustache, is the typical man's man captain: hates music, swears, whips his crew, and stamps around. Unfortunately, rather than noted actor Alastair Falk, the petite Meagan Kensil seemed to undercut the role by being, well, a small woman. And yet, fortuitously, this seemed to play into the shrewd hands of Colby Day -- watching Meagan forcing herself to try and fulfill this impossible larger-than-life ship's captain image, plays into this notion that we can never truly capture the images we have in our head.

And of course, beyond all this thematic interest, there's a damn lot of great slapstick comedy. Watching the crew pretending to be thrown around in a storm, tossing buckets of water into each others faces, you'll be -- as the saying goes -- laughing out load.

Here, the ensemble acquits themselves well. Mike Steinmetz brings the house town simply by walking on stage as any of the sea monsters he portrays. Samuel Chapin as the musician will be your favorite character who never speaks a word. And, to cap it all, no one will make you feel like you've lost your brain like Nicole Spiezio (previously: Fat Kids on Fire), as the narrator, Henley. Here too, a character is cast against type -- a young effusive lady pretending to be an old blind man.

In a few moments -- especially at the beginning -- sharpness is wanting. But by the time the cast is reeling around in the storm, the slapstick reaches the tight level of choreography, making each move a delight.

And so, here you have it: hysterical, touching, ridiculous, and rewarding.

... OH I ALMOST FORGOT -- there's a lot of references to the vaginas of sea creatures! I guess I just thought I'd throw that out there.

(FCC Disclaimer: I'm supposed to tell you I got a ticket for free because that apparently sways my judgment. Never mind that I lived with the playwright, or have reviewed almost every show this company has done and still get a little thrill when I see them quote my name, or that I would give my kidney for any of them -- apparently they spared me $15, and that's what the law cares about.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

RESPONSE: Facepalm.

99Seats hits it right on the money:
Everything you want to know is contained in this right here, every single thing that's wrong with our theatre, the state of playwriting and why puppies die and why chocolate is fattening. Everything that's wrong with everything is right here for you. Read it and weep.
What it is, if you don't want to follow that link, is that Neil LaBute and Teresa Rebeck will be writing a play "live", on a series of possible prompts as stupid as you can imagine. The evil of banality:
  • Ann, the CEO of a large corporation, is interviewing Steve for a job, not realizing they had a one-night stand a few years ago. Will he let her know?
  • Former childhood sweethearts Jenn and Joe, now married to others, reunite at their 20th high school reunion.
  • Ted and Sue meet on the Internet but now they’re taking things to the next level -- meeting in person for a “real” date.
  • Surprise! Recently divorced Sandy and Ken are seated together on a six-hour flight across the country.
  • Robin and Rick fall in love, then discover they’re both the product of a sperm donor -- possibly the same one
  • Kristin enrolls in a figure studies class, then realizes that she knows the nude model, Ron, from church.
So, 99 hits the nail on the head when mocking how stupid the prompts are:
Sigh. So. These are the best, most interesting, most drama-filled scenarios they could think of. This stuff. You know, I get it; Rebeck and LaBute didn't come up with these themselves. But...tell me that these six scenarios aren't the plot lines you could expect to see at our institutional theatres next year? Something that would be hailed as insightful and piercing and telling the true story of our times?
What can I possibly add to that? Well, simply, as a playwright, I really hope that they are actually writing a full play, from start to finish. If their writing process is anything like mine, this will be the longest performance in history -- Neil LaBute and Teresa Rebeck, trapped in front of a webcam for the next two years, spending large amounts of time flipping pencils, tearing up paper, pacing, doodling in the margins, completely changing the premise of the work, yelling at each other, staring at the ceiling, writing entire plays that get thrown in the garbage bin, and then forgetting about it from six to eight months before starting over again.

If anything, it'll keep Neil LaBute from directing stupid movies.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ARTS POLICY: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Here's an interesting story (h/t Howard Sherman):
Mayor Rob Ford is planning a major overhaul of City Hall arts funding that would increase grants for cultural groups and slash art programs run by city staff.
Obviously, the detail matters. But it's also illuminating to demonstrate the difference between the two types of arts funding.

For newer readers of my blog, a long time ago I wrote about the Obama Administration's early overture towards the arts: including arts organizations in the 9/11 Day of Service. It led to a slew of abusive commenters piling on about the government take-over of the arts, which lead to a fairy in-depth look at how government can relate to the arts, by posing some hypothetical governments attempting to "control" the arts through the NEA:
Government A buys art organizations and appoints NEA officers to run them.
Government B gives the NEA powers to license performances: unlicensed performances are made illegal.
Government C passes rules saying that the NEA can only fund Pro-America productions. The NEA evaluates grants based on their content.
Government D creates a web listing of currently existing arts-charity programs, to help donors find them.
So, Toronto has shifted its policies to de-emphasize programs it runs, and emphasize external organizations. I'm curious to see how that shakes out in practice.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Eulogy Overload VI


My theater company discussed all the different ways we remember loss. "Eulogies" are typically the created responses; just as affecting are the memorials that are created by the loss.

In that vein, BoingBoing rounded up some of the physical artifacts from the destruction on 9/11.


The legacy of 9/11 continues in our legal system, as Guantanamo detainees continue to fight in the courts. One tid-bit:
An investigative journalism service, Pro Publica, has been closely following the Uthman case as it proceeded through lower courts, and has concluded that it was a seriously troubled case because, it found, the main evidence that Uthman was an al Qaeda fighter or at least sympathizer came from two Guantanamo detainees, one of whom committed suicide and the other had become “psychotic” and other evidence was at least problematic.

PRAGMATIC: Eulogy Overload V

Presented without comment, someone who deeply cared:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
September 11, 2001
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

There's more where that came from.

PRAGMATIC: Eulogy Overload IV

The day is here. I don't have very much to say personally about the day, but I would like to share this glimpse at what could have been.

When I came to New York shortly after 9-11. I found out about a design that was submitted to the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. As the big firms presented models in the Winter Garden one entry was absent from the competition. This architect was far better known and loved than any of the others. Why wasn’t his building on display?

For one thing, he’d been dead for 75 years. In 1908 the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi designed a skyscraper to be built on the site that is now Ground Zero. It was to be a grand hotel with trading floors for the seven continents of the world. It would be a true world trade center. Unfortunately, Gaudi was struck by a street car and died before he could further realize his idea.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Eulogy Overload III

The Onion gets in some bitter truth:

Nation Would Rather Think About 9/11 Than Anything From Subsequent 10 Years

PRAGMATIC: Eulogy Overload II

My previous post was about the over-abundance of eulogizing in the face of 9/11, and of course it continues day by day.

Eulogy for Architecture

The ones that work the best, for me, are the ones that cut through the clutter and spotlight just one specific aspect of the loss. In attempting to comprehend something on a mass scale, it's helpful to look at just a small part of the loss, and try to magnify it in ourselves to comprehend everything.

In that vein, the NPR show 99% Invisible created an Elegy for WTC -- as a design podcast, it focuses on the loss of the buildings themselves (understanding that the loss of the buildings is far, far smaller loss than the loss of the people. But it provides an opening to hear the architect of the World Trade Center struggle with his own personal responsibility, for not having made it stronger, more impregnable. And I promise you it's the only place you'll actually get to hear what the WTC sounded like.

A Disjointed List Of Artworks

More proof of this overload is the disjointed smattering of things that readers of Andrew Sullivan's blog have been sending in that are "works of art" responding to 9/11.

The Act As Performance

I recalled this morning that there was an essay in one of my textbooks that termed 9/11 a work of "performance art." I remember finding that notion deeply offensive to performance, although technically true -- it's a performance; the intended goals are far beyond the actual act of destruction.

There's been a lot of writing about how the worst part of 9/11 is what it did to America, and what America did in response. That's because performance changes the audience's behavior; it plants in them an idea that makes them act differently in the future. The idea that we had planted was fear; directionless, futile. And we responded.


I had no idea how controversial the people who jumped/fell out of the buildings during the disaster were. This Wikipedia article that I stumbled across, about just one of the photos, captures it pretty well:

Officially, all deaths in the attacks except those of the hijackers were ruled to be homicides (as opposed to suicides), and the New York City medical examiner's office stated that it does not classify the people who fell to their deaths on September 11 as "jumpers": "A 'jumper' is somebody who goes to the office in the morning knowing that they will commit suicide... These people were forced out by the smoke and flames or blown out."

Educational Memory

Wikipedia is now our cultural memory, and where we turn to learn the things we don't know, so maybe the true "final" eulogy will be there: what comes up when a new generation of youngsters don't understand September 11th, and google it for the first time.

This is what they''ll get.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

POLITICS: Alan Grayson Is A Singularity Of Dickishness

Man, I have to say, there's something I love about this level of dickishness, from Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-ASS):

She introduced me to Newt.

I said to him, “you look like you’ve gained a lot of weight.”

Newt stared at me.

I said, “I remember you being much slimmer back in the 1990’s. When you were relevant.”

Newt scowled at me, and walked away.

Grayson was one of the few Democrats I was really happy to see get culled -- he dubbed his opponent 'Taliban Dan' and a draft dodger. But now that he's a former Congressman, I can basically just enjoy the grade A douchery.

PRAGMATIC: Eulogy Overload

My theater company is studying eulogies through our current season: how we commemorate loss, why we tell stories of loss, and what purpose they serve in our society.

So it's pretty hard to avoid the oncoming commemorations surrounding 9/11. And there's a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot.

I'm having a hard time understanding what much of this is accomplishing. For instance -- Colin Powell is going to be an honorary Redskins captain for the NFL. Is that how a segment of our society is going to internalize the loss of thousands of their fellow man?

Governor Cuomo just unveiled the 9/11 remembrance flag. Are there other historical disasters that were commemorated as flags?

(A quick point about the 9/11 flag, btw; the Washington Post had an editorial asking whether 9/11 had become all about New York, and the flag includes the Pentagon, but only subtly -- a nod and a frame, but not with equal weight. Which maybe is appropriate, or maybe is not).

There's a lot of emotion to go through. And we express it in different ways. Sometimes it's suing to prevent the 9/11 Cross from being in the memorial. Sometimes it's building a new office tower. Sometimes it's literally turning the wreckage into a new weapon.

The best remembrances of 9/11, for me, are the ones that acknowledge the overwhelming mass of images, statements, and events. Take a look at NY Magazine's 9/11 Encyclopedia. Or the excellent blog Iconic Images' two part series on the famous photos from 9/11. (The first part was aptly named "The Day Of 1000 Iconic Photos").

To me, the best remembrances were the actual artifacts of the devastation. On the NRW downtown, passing by Cortlandt St. Station, where you could see a subway station no longer in service, still broken from the destruction that day. Fritz Koenig's The Sphere, a golden globe meant to symbolize how globalization brings the world together, and instead had massive holes kicked into it by the falling rubble.

Ten years later, and there's still more being said, more being created. 9/11 play festivals, the movies United 93 and World Trade Center, Steve Reich's new compositions, George W. Bush's National Geographic interview...

At the very least, on the actual day of the 10th anniversary, there will be no speeches:
Speaking on his weekly radio show Friday on WOR-AM, Bloomberg said the lawmakers will read short poems or quotes. No speeches will be given.

"This cannot be political," he said. "So that's why there's a poem or a quote or something that each of the readers will read. No speeches whatsoever. That's not an appropriate thing."
All of this frantic straining towards closure makes me wonder whether it will ever be possible for anyone to give that definitive statement or overarching memorial, or whether one will emerge out of this mass of response. Maybe Lincoln was right:
[W]e can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

Monday, September 5, 2011

ARTS POLICY: Brownback Plays Both Sides... Like An Ass

What a dick. It's like a guy who beats his wife, and then goes around town telling everyone how much he loves her.

I sincerely hope that the art community not "show restraint," but make it very clear that words are very empty. Very, very empty.

Hey everyone, remember when we were asking about when it's acceptable to boo? I would put "Statement by a Governor who tried to eradicate the arts about how much he appreciates the arts" on the list.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Star Trek and Theater

I have been rewatching all of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Sometimes, I feel like I'm watching it just so I can understand who I am today.

I remember no television show or cultural event from my childhood nearly so clearly as Star Trek TNG: I remember tuning in to UPN to watch it weekly, I remember setting up furniture in my parent's room to mimic the shape of the Enterprise bridge, and I remember being absolutely freakin' terrified by the episode Conspiracy.

Star Trek: TNG is most fascinating to me because, much as I like to do with my work today, it uses its plots to shine a spotlight over particular ideas, played out as tangible dramas. Along the journey, Captain Picard and company get to play the philosopher-kings, and muse aloud over how the reality they're facing connects to ideas or philosophies. And all of this introspection is important because it's driven by characters seeking to understand themselves -- Data, struggling to be human; Worf, struggling to understand his Klingon heritage and his Starfleet present; Picard, struggling for moral clarity in a complex world.

So, it's been pretty interesting to see that theater is actually important to Star Trek. Characters turn to it to understand themselves. In fact, pretty explicitly, Picard and Data discuss theater as a road to self-understanding, which is pretty gratifying to see on a pretty popular television show.

The first time that theater is discussed in a non-amateur context (there's some joke theater gags with Crusher directing a show, and some pretending to be actors in the distant past), Data is attempting to portray a role (Henry V), and his first idea is to access "the great performances." He has all of the great historical performances on file, and can recreate them note-for-note.

Picard rebuffs him, and tells him that the true creativity is in creating a role for ones-self. This same dialog comes up a lot in Data's musical life, where he also begins by imitating the "perfect" pitches.

Finally, in one musical performance, he creates a performance that seems unique. Picard asks him how he did this, and he says that he was not truly original -- he had basically sampled different approaches at different points. Here he was imitating one performance, there another. It was, in essence, a "remixed" performance.

But Picard points out to him that this is where creativity begins, because he makes choices between different performances, and thus has to display personal preferences.

The next time we see Data performing, playing Ebeneezer Scrooge, he has applied this lesson to acting. Again, this earns him positive reinforcement from Picard, who asks him how he has approached creating a "unique" performance this time.

Although Data frames his response in terms of "The Method," and the Acting Studio "of the early part of the 20th Century," Data's approach is actually strictly speaking a Grotowski approach. He talks about imitating the physical externality of fear and anxiety, and exploring those physical forms to try and understand the mindset behind the person who would display those forms. This is learning the emotion from the outside in.

It's subtly different from what Grotowski was getting at. Grotowski believed that the muscle memory would spark the emotional memory, but of course for Data that crucial link is missing (he has no emotions, and his "muscles" don't exhibit memory). This is why he invokes some of the language of "The Method," specifically in terms of imagining what it would be like in those circumstances (which is more Stella Adler than Stanislavsky).

But it's basically the same. Since he can't simply recall memory, he takes a physical form, and tries to understand the reality based on that physical form. And again, it's the beginning of entering into the character.

And of course, there's the excellent episode Frame of Mind, where Riker is rehearsing for a play about insanity prompted by torture, but realizes that he is actually trapped inside his own mind, prompted by torture. The repetition of the theatrical events is part of the madness. I wouldn't necessarily say it sheds a lot on theater or how it should be done, but it's a damn compelling episode.

Speaking of which, the Original Star Trek had an equally excellent episode, Conscience of the King, where Kirk discovers that a mass murderer has been hiding in a new life as a Shakespearean actor, but can't wash the blood off his hands from his deeds. On the one hand, theater allows him to transfer his guilt and pride into epic characters; on the other hand, his daughter can't separate the theater from life:

Looking back, I can't think of any fictional shows that treated theater with as much respect as the Star Trek series.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

ECONOMICS: They're Lying To Us, Goddamnit!

"Everybody has been led to believe over the years that AAA means AAA means AAA across the board," Gregory W. Smith, the general counsel for the Public Employees' Retirement Association of Colorado, told Bloomberg. "Anybody that didn't learn in the 2008 crisis that doesn't apply should find another line of work."
How do you not read that and feel even the coolest blood boiling over?

It reminds me of when Jon Stewart finally got Jim Cramer on his show, and showed the clips of Jim Cramer advocating price manipulation to hedge fund managers, and basically saying that the core problem with CNBC and its ilk is that it has a secret handshake, a "Well, knowing people will know how seriously to take our advice," while also generating a deep air of confidence ("In Cramer We Trust") to those who are not initiated.

Like this. AAA. It's supposed to be clear. That's the whole damn point.

Right now, there's a labeling scheme in New York that assigns letter grades for restaurants. A, B, C, D (and the most common, "Grade Pending...").

Do you know how fucking incensed I would be if it turned out that "A" grades don't really mean the same thing for Mexican restaurants as it means for Italian restaurants? If it turned out that the chance of, say, vomiting at an A grade Mexican Restaurant is 80%?

Damn, and I promised that 2011 would be the year I didn't engage in fist-waving anti-Wall Street populism. Maybe 2012...