Tuesday, January 29, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Unmitigated Bullshit Edition

Congress recognized the basic biological fact that only a man and a woman can beget a child together without advance planning, which means that opposite-sex couples have a unique tendency to produce unplanned and unintended offspring. 
In other words, the "defenders of marriage" are encouraging the fact that same-sex couples can have babies without planning.

Is that how much Republicans hate Planned Parenthood, that they're now against the very notion of family planning?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

LOCAL2013: Robert Jackson

This political season -- New York's 2013 city-wide election -- I'm going to be personally involved through the League of Independent Theaters. More details will come.

Today, however, I went to the kick-off for Robert Jackson's 2013 campaign for Manhattan Borough President. As a Brooklyn Resident, I was there mostly in capacity of representing the League, and for my own curiosity.

Because of the bitter cold (especially after the sun disappeared), the event moved rather quickly, and a series of incredibly passionate stump speakers touted Robert Jackson ("Action Jackson")'s credential as a vigorous defender of education. They touted his work for the lawsuit of Campaign for Fiscal Equality v. State of New York and his 2003 stunt of walking 150 miles to Albany to promote education.

And he does pretty well with kids:

Afterwards, he was interviewed by a few Chinese-representing media organizations, and spoke about his work after Hurricane Sandy walking through the projects and helping elderly seniors call their family, even in China. But they still had some tough questions for him about why there were few Asian Americans standing behind him when he made his announcement:

Day 1 of what I'm sure is going to be a long campaign. Welcome to the race.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

FILM: Instagram Films

It's finally happened -- cinematographers are just using Instagram filters.

ARTS POLICY: This I (Taylor Mac) Believe)

And just having hit "post" on the previous post, I came across this gem from Taylor Mac:

I believe you can make a living as a theater artist but in order to do so, without making work you don’t like, you might need to think about falling in love with verbs more than nouns.  I believe money is never really the reason but often the excuse.  So when you say you can’t do my play because it will cost too much, I know what you really mean is, “I’d rather spend the money that I have on something else”.  I believe that’s fair.   
I believe if you set a financial goal, you will reach it and if that financial goal is small, your budget will be small, artists will barely get paid, and everyone will be a little grumpy.   
I believe if NYC had no art and only Wall Street, nobody would want to live here.  And so I believe 10% of all Wall Street salaries should go to artists.
The whole thing should be read. So go read it.

ARTS POLICY: What Are Artists Even Complaining About?

Dave Malloy, in Culturebot:
There is a difference between what is nice and what is deserved. I don’t think that art deserves money. Again, I take it when it is offered to me, I’ll ask for a cut if it is being made by others, and if I’m working for someone else I’ll insist on it. But to make my own work is a private necessity and spiritual gift, and not something I feel entitled to payment for.
That's a very brief snippet of a very involved looked at the question of whether there really is a "problem" in the theater world, or if it's a bad set of expectations.

I'm wholly torn between the two sides; on the one hand, I went into theater having been told, time and time again, by many many people, that Theater is not a way to Make a Living. It's a Hard Road, and very few people make a living off of it. I also have always taken pride in my day jobs, and put real workmanship or effort into it.

On the other hand, I see people who work not necessarily harder or less hard, but for things I don't particularly agree with, who make 3x, 5x, 10x, 100x the money that people who I work with in theater make. We live in an age where every industry expects and receives some level of handouts. I mean, our government gives money to Oil companies, tax breaks to people who make solar panels, construct our foreign policy in favor of fruit companies. Some of the most successful theater people I know face evictions, work long hours, and can be cripplingly set back by a minor illness.

In the comments, Aaron Landsman makes a similar related point:
I think artists should be complaining a lot more about the lack of a social safety net for everyone in America – the lack of a dignified old age for those who aren’t rich, the lack of health care, the lack of great and accessible education for everyone. Because if I imagine myself living in an America where I don’t have to worry about those things so much, i imagine myself being an artist who takes bigger risks and makes better work. And I imagine myself finding solidarity with other working people, rather than feeling exceptional from them. So complaint, in and of itself, isn’t a problem for me. It’s complaining as if our own concerns and necessities were somehow separate from those of other people who need to make a living.
I think there's also a difference between the complaints about "we need more funding" (i.e. the government should create more grants), which are inefficient ways of asking for help, and "we need to improve the infrastructure of the arts." I agree that handing fists of cash to particular artists are not going to particularly remedy any of the issues -- the local/national issue (e.g. Gwydion's call for theatrical biodiversity), the social safety net issues, etc. But I do think that there are simple ways that the government can step in to help make it easier for all artists to do what they need to.

Friday, January 25, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Mind-Jarring Edition

"Dr. King would be proud to see our Global Strike team — comprised of Airmen, civilians and contractors from every race, creed, background and religion — standing side-by-side ensuring the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense…Our team must overlook our differences to ensure perfection as we maintain and operate our weapon systems…Maintaining our commitment to our Global Strike team, our families and our nation is a fitting tribute to Dr. King as we celebrate his legacy."

- US Air Force Global Strike Command, Department of Missing the Fucking Point

PRAGMATIC: "Independence"

John Clancy lays out what "Independent" really means when we talk about "independent theater":
I am an independent theater artist. 
I am constantly developing new work, my own and others’.  This development work is done in living rooms, diners and rehearsal studios and theaters which I rent or get free from friends.  I am independent of the development wing of the American commercial and nonprofit theater. 
The creation and production of my work is not dependent upon either Labor or Management, as those terms are generally understood.  I am myself both labor and management and neither at the same time.  This workplace division is meaningless to me.  I am something else, an “artrepreneur”:  an artist who creates the opportunities for my work and actively manages and produces the work.  I am an artist and a producer, often at the same moment.  I see no conflict or struggle with this dual reality. Because I work independently of the Management/Labor division of the American workplace and mindset, I am actively engaged in public and private discussion to change the operational models currently utilized by unions and guilds that operate in my territory. I am independent of the existing union definitions and decrees.

RTWT. John Clancy is a founding artistic director of the NY International Fringe Festival, but I know him now as the Executive Director of the League of Independent Theater, which I have had the pleasure of working with and am stepping up my involvement with this year.

I'm especially excited about the League this year because -- well, it's a big important year. The 2013 citywide elections here in New York are going to be the most open in years, since the incumbent mayor is on the way out, and ambitions are running high at every level of the city.

And the League of Independent Theater is the only 501(c)6 advocacy organization working for the creators/practitioners of Independent Theater in NY. 

We're putting together a platform, we're going to put together a political forum and endorse candidates, and then we're going to get those candidates elected -- and show that the 50,000 independent performing artists (86% of whom vote regularly) actually have a political voice in this city.

PRAGMATIC: Loooooooooooooooooooooong

Seems like the avant garde is in an arms race of running time. 

When I saw The Lily's Revenge, I thought Taylor Mac did a great job managing it's five hour running time by breaking it into five one-hour acts, each with different genres, direction, and performers. In other words,  it was basically a festival of five short episodes.

I missed Gatz when it came to town, much to my deep chagrin, but Elevator Repair Service got good reviews despite a posted 6 hour 45 minute running time -- in practice, actually eight hours.

Last night, I rounded up the reviews of Life and Times: Episodes 1-4 and saw that, despite the 10 hour running time, most critics seemed to smile on it as well. However, as the Episodes 1-4 part of the title says, the goal is actually 10 episodes for 24 straight hours of theater.

Still and all, everyone is going to have to work hard to compete with the turn of the century -- Erik Satie wrote Vexations, a short musical theme repeated 840 times, which took 18 hours to perform -- so long so that only one person was present through the entire work.

Or John Cage's piece Organ2/ASLSP (which stands for As Slow As Possible) which is going to be performed over the next 600 years.

And yet, to me, both Vexations and ASLSP differ from the first three, because the first three contain internal breaks (intermissions and meal breaks). Thus, those works of performance break themselves up into smaller, more digestible chunks, rather than challenge the human brain and human body's ability to engage with them. Whereas Vexations and Organ2/ASLSP are so long, it is (in practice) just about impossible for a human being to experience them from ened to end.

Monday, January 21, 2013

PLUG: Jobs at Fractured Atlas

Hey you -- yes, you. Fractured Atlas is one of the coolest places to work in America, and they do great work for the arts community. And they're also hiring two jobs, a program associate:

  • Front-line customer service for all of our core member programs.
  • Membership support: process dues payments, assist with membership changes and terminations, maintain member database, organize and maintain member files.
  • Fiscal sponsorship program support: educate members about fundraising in the arts, process donations and fund release checks, review solicitation materials, process member Materials for the Arts and Costume Collection applications.
  • Insurance program support: educate members about insurance in general and our plans specifically, assist members with applications and obtaining quotes, policies or certificates, process payments, renewals, terminations, and claims.
  • Professional Development program support: assist members with online courses and international artist visas.
  • Assist with outreach events in the NYC area for programs and advocacy efforts and carry out special projects as they arise.
  • Assist Program Directors with program development, expansion and technical enhancements.
As well as a developer:

  1. Strong command of Ruby and Ruby on Rails
  2. Experience with Rails Engines, Rspec, Cucumber, and Git
  3. Understanding of good usability and what makes users go crazy
  4. Ability to read a support ticket that makes no sense at all and translate that into a deployed bug fix and a satisfied user.
Apply. I have it on good authority that they have a Wii room! And also they do valuable work for the arts community. Apply!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Haw Haw Banking

MR. FISHER: The situation remains real, but we've gone beyond suspended reality. If you will forgive me, you might say we have gone  from the ridiculous to the subprime.
MR. LACKER: Let the transcript say "groan." [Laughter]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

PLUG: Lex Land

A friend of mine from a long time ago was in town performing, and it reminded me how much I love her and her music. Enjoy.

REVIEW: (in brief) Minsk 2011: A Reply To Kelly Acker

Belarus Free Theatre

Theatre is a local art, but Belarus Free Theatre is one of the few companies with a truly world-wide reach. The reason is because they hail from Belarus, commonly known as Europe's last dictatorship, performing in secret at home to avoid censorship, and touring abroad to try and attract attention to the country's plight.

I spent a semester in the Czech Republic a few years back, and I remember at least once a Czech person wondering if art is better under dictatorships, because people can only perform what they need -- the truly crucial, truly truthful work that simply can't be suppressed. (Regardless, given the choice, I think it's risking art for life...)

Whether or not that's true, Minsk 2011 gets at what's vital in understanding Minsk today. (Or yesterday; it's been a couple years since 2011, since the piece is on tour). The piece is a series of moments constructed about how the human body responds to physical oppression. From the moment the performers take the stage, they take on images of physical despondency and distress, and of power and abuse.

There's a moment in the performance where one of the ensemble screams, and it's not a scream you've ever heard before onstage. It's physically torn out of a human being going through a collapse. Meanwhile, the performers explore the scars of sexuality, and oppression. It's hard, sometimes, to know whether the oppression is coming from The State, or simply from other people -- from the neighbors dressed up in uniform, or the men you meet on the internet who you just want to dance with.

The press material says, "If scars are sexy, Minsk is the sexiest city in the world." But there's a big difference between "sexy" and "sexual." The ensemble is more than willing to strip down and dance, but it's not an experience of pleasure; it's an exploration of despair.

If you get a chance, see them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY (Four Days Ago)

In a particularly silly essay for the Wall Street Journal last week, critic Joseph Epstein wrote, “[Lyricist Yip] Harburg believed it was the political dimension ‘that Bernard Shaw added to all of his plays that makes him alive forever.’ Truth is, Shaw isn’t any longer much alive, nor are most of his plays. A more recent, even more political playwright, Bertolt Brecht, is even deader.
- George Hunka
Hah. What a great opening graf.

UPDATE: Actually, I may like this one better (added bonus, it's in a footnote):
It is not one of those “serious” American plays of which, like many, it could be said, “And of course it’s very funny” — a construction and concept which may be the “I was only following orders” of contemporary American drama.
George Hunka's blog is very serious, and of course, it's very funny.

REVIEW: Something's Got Ahold Of My Heart

Remaining performances:
January 10-19th

Looking back at my recent reviews (like Heart Like Fists), it's clear that the young people today want to talk about what love is -- but they're afraid you won't listen. Just as with Hearts Like Fists, Something's Got Ahold (sic) Of My Heart wins over that fear by hitting the right notes, really meaning it, and bringing something new to the table.

Before I get into the show, I think, Dear Reader, it would be useful to make a brief personal aside. I realize I haven't really gotten into much that is "personal" about myself on this blog; I try to keep the tone personal and invoke myself, but I don't talk about things like my love-life. I'm no Don Hall.

But I don't think I can disentangle my own love life from a show that is so tied to your relationship to relationships, and which asks so much of what's personal out of you. So. In brief: I have somehow avoided, in this brief early stretch of my life, to be in a relationship for longer than six months, and have not dated anyone since two dates I went on in college; otherwise, I haven't dated since high school.

The reason I bring this up and inject this, is because it led me to repeatedly "fail" to interact with the production, and definitely complicated my viewing. Hopefully it did not complicate my understanding.

To make this concrete: at the front door, after getting my ticket, I was told that I had the opportunity to "dedicate a song" to someone who I loved, or who I had once loved, on a post-it note placed on a poster. I tried to select the song Happy Together by the Turtles but couldn't remember the title -- because I couldn't remember the words "Happy Together" in the song. I think this was a pretty telling mental block.

With post-it note in hand, I put this on the board, only to realize that I was the only person who had written down the song, and everyone else had written the dedication. So one post-it note read something like "To Tony, because he was so dear to me at a time when I needed it," and my post-it note read "The Turtles -- Imagine Me And You (I Think?)". I hope the cast does not think that I used to love turtles.

The work divides itself (in some ways pretty abruptly) into three acts. The first, begins with a French lady philosophizing about love in what we're supposed to pretend is French (picture frenchysounds with a few key words in French or English with a French accent), related to us through a pair of translators.

On the one hand, Something's Got Ahold (sic) Of My Heart makes no bones about the fact that it's going to ask you the question "What is love?" sixty different ways; on the other hand, it distracts you (initially) from the fact through the humor, and engaging characters and moments, of the first sequences. Moments flit from one to another; a story of a beautiful romance in the 1930s, a gag with a skipping record player, and lots of goofy, energetic dancing.

Hand2Mouth uses the La Mama space very well; it's staged as an alley, allowing half of the audience to watch the other half, and as the moments swirl around the staging seems pretty natural. The intimacy -- where the separation between performer and audience blurs away -- lead the audience to (pretty immediately) answer questions directly from the performers, and to enjoy a personal, one-on-one relationship with the performers. Especially when the performers flirt with them.

For something as personal as a show about love, this is powerful. There was a moment when Maria from West Side Story played, and a young audience member sitting across from me, curled up on his seat, nearly burst into tears. A good reminder at how relative, and how powerful, musical experiences can be when tied to love. "Our song," and all that.

And music is a big part of this. Early on, the performers pose questions to each other about relationships (from "What is love?" to "What drew you to him?" to "How big is he?"), but never get answers. A few articulations of love are thrown out, in snatches of poetry. But the main way of communicating love, ironically, is song lyrics. For instance, one of the ensemble members leaps up on a couch and tells her loved one that she is, emphatically "never going to give [him] up, never going to let [him] down, never going to turn around and desert [him]." This is repeated with a few other songs, but the gesture is the same: "our song" gives us the ability to let a musician say the thing we want to say, as directly as we would never dare to say it ourselves.

Why would we never dare to say it ourselves? Well, because we just met this person. The first act deals with how two people are attracted, and isn't shy to realize how superficial that initial attraction is -- always is. I liked her because we were wearing the same skirt and I thought that meant we had something in common. I liked her because her breasts fill out her shirt.

But the production is aware that that initial attraction doesn't actually mean we know the person, or can trust their responses to our full genuine passion. So we play it soft at first; we hide it in goofiness, we smile and have fun, we dance, and we see if it gets serious.

And that is how Something's Got Ahold (sic) Of My Heart reels in its audience: the initial attraction is light, fun, goofy, but with a substantial offer on the subject of love. That's why the philosophizing on love is translated, or presented in small scenes -- to deflect the full impact of what Hand2Mouth wants to say. So that we don't reject it as kitsch and tack.

The light river turns into a waterfall, and plunge over the edge: we've crossed from the swimming happy days of the relationship to the drama. The lighting is now dark and moody; and the performers now begin to actually tell stories, from start to finish.

Once you move from telling moments of love to stories of relationships, you encounter drama. The details, the specifics of the story -- what brought them together, why they fought, what the hardships they overcame were, and how they didn't work out. (See also: Elaine Blair on how Romantic Comedies encapsulate the optimistic beginning of relationships, and Sit-Coms tell more of the story). And now we hear the stories.

But we're still not ready to tell them directly; performers dub in for each other. Whereas the top of the show translated, now the ensemble is speaking for each other -- the stories are being shared, but not owned personally.

The moments move slower through time, the stage pictures get sharper and more defined... and the thrust staging doesn't work quite as well. I felt like I picked the "correct" side of the theater, and the rest of the audience was on the "wrong" side.

And the music shifts strongly as well -- rather than invoking pop music and songs, now we're into the world of sound, and noise; full atmospheric representation of the world of the performers.

And with a final story -- finally told in the first person -- the theatrical frame dissolves, and a new frame holds the work together. It's a concert. The performers direct address the audience, dedicate songs and stories, enjoin the audience to imagine their loves, and then rock out the mic.

Here, a lot of the choreography that threads through the work suddenly makes sense. It's all the rhythmic, snappy choreography that accompanies concerts. And this truly is a concert; not least because the performers turn out to be as good musical performers as they are storytellers and performers.

Having lured us in with the goofy early days of love, and invested us with the depth of the drama and hardships of the middle part of the relationship, we can join in the ecstatic release of simply enjoying the moment.

My only wish is that this act was tightened up a little (although perhaps this is because of my own personal relationship to everything) -- it must be hard to select what goes into this section, but after a few catharses I was a little catharsesed out.

I think this, now and forever, will be my definition of Middlebrow: a work which appropriates "lowbrow" forms, uses them to touch on some deeper subjects in a sly way without overpowering or overtaxing  the average audience member.

I also think that, if you're going to produce a Jukebox Musical (ugh, shudder), you should throw away your hackneyed Elvis Presley references and go with this instead: a genuine, heart-felt work with something to say, which uses good (and familiar) music, and at the end feels like the best party in theater.

It really did have ahold on me.