Archive for March, 2005

Sibling Rivalry

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

Here’s how you get good old fashioned sibling rivalry. You have far too many kids, you spread them out into essentially two teams, so that both teams can resent not only each other but also the other team, and then you mix into the kids some medical and emotional problems and you top it off by raising these kids with aggressive detachment.

Now, I’ve made my peace with both my parents, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be able to talk shit about them. They both read this thing, on and off, and over the years I’ve had it out with both of them. But the really unfortunate thing is that I haven’t ever had it out with my siblings.

We have reached a sort of peace over the years, the five of us. In the last five years, we have all gotten closer and closer to what we will be for the rest of our lives. All of our hulls were covered in barnacles years ago, and those barnacles are all that’s holding the ships together anymore, I don’t see any of us changing any time soon. But there is something about proximity that breeds contempt, and it concerns me.

Over the years, we have supported each other publicly while all the while mocking and celebrating one another’s failures within the family. Despite the fact that all the shit everyone has ever talked about me gets back to me, it took me years to realize that all my shit-talking was getting repeated. It’s a viscious circle, and it’s destructive.

But for years, the only way we could get attention paid to our problems was by stepping on the sibling closest to us. And it is a problem for parents. When one kid is in physical pain almost all the time, and the other kid is not doing well in school, it’s really hard to take the second kid’s problems all that seriously. It didn’t help matters that my mother has one of the most staggering and pronounced cases of ADD I’ve ever seen and my father was trying to negotiate the political waters of being an Important Man About Town. But in movies when the parents disappear and the kids rally around each other, that’s just crap. When there is five minutes total of possible attention, you just want your siblings to be dead.

And we’ve trained ourselves to be that way in our adult lives. When I think about my closest rivals, Ian and Michelle, all three of us have expansive personal and professional lives that receive plenty of attention. And yet, when we are locked in together over a long weekend or, y’know, for an entire dinner, at some point the old rivalries come out.

And here’s what is so wrong about that. Some years ago, during my first marriage, I used a term that I made up called “emotional ammunition”. My wife and I fought constantly, but my family also hated her desperately. I couldn’t talk to any of them about my unhappiness because there was a sense that my unhappiness was something they all wanted. It isn’t true, but it *is* true when you consider how much we have always torn each other down. I had no emotional ammunition to deal with either side. I not only lied to them about how happy I was, I lied to myself.

Which sounds like I’m blaming my family, but beleive me, I am firmly to blame for any and all mistakes I have made.

But there is a dynamic. Can Ian talk to me about fights he has with his wife? I hope he can, I would hope we both could. But how does he know that I’m not secretly revelling in the smallest problem he might have? We were joking about one time twenty five years ago when he was sitting on my chest punching me in the face, but we didn’t mention that he was doing that because I came home with a really good report card. It was spontaneous, the fight, and how can we know we’ve gotten past that?

My sister came to live with me for a few months, and I had really tried to set it up so that she could be happy, but I made her miserable. There were a hundred little things, long commutes, disagreements about her job, crap, really, but what it boiled down to was some sort of smothering feeling of being overwhelmed. There was a spontaneity to our fights, a source we couldn’t, either of us, figure out. She moved out, it got better, she moved to California and now we miss each other like crazy.

I think about these things because, right now, there is a crazy confluence of situations. Michelle just had a write up in the paper about her successes in turning around Napa Valley’s artistic community, and she has obviously come into her own in a way where she will finally be celebrated for the enormous talent that she is. She has finally succeeded on her own terms, she is not introduced as anyone’s sister, she is one of the most important people in a community full of wealthy important people. AND, Ian is about to become a father for the first time. His wife is set to pop any day now.

So, when I thin about Michelle running the artistic community in Napa, I picture her as she is now, but there is still the picture of the frustrated angry anal girl she was twenty years ago, furiously controlling every single aspect of her life. That picture, that little girl, that’s GONE. We’ve all grown, we’ve all matured and deepened and softened. Michelle has all the skills of that anal controlling girl, but she also has all the charm and beauty that has been the cornerstone of her personality for the last ten years. I’m talking to a woman who is 32, who is in charge of her life, who is admired and respected, and, in my pettiest moments, I still see the girl who, at 21, refused to go sledding because she had to finish her term paper a week early.

All I can do is start by promising that I won’t be that desperate child any more. I won’t be the foolish older brother, chain smoking and dirt bagging my way through life, mocking Michelle for not doing the same. Those are two different people. I feel my heart swell to 95% capacity when I think of Michelle, and that horrible child I was is stopping the other 5%. So, I kill off that terrible infant, and I can be free.

When I think about Ian becoming a father, I picture him now, but there is still that glimpse of him as the self absorbed slacker, the guy who is always trying to get something for nothing, desperately avoiding responsibility and maturity. But that guy is DEAD, he doesn’t exist anymore. All Ian has been for years now is a tender, responsible man, using those same skills he used to employ to make himself happy in order to make everyone else happy. This is a guy who has found a way to parlay his skills as social co-ordinator for the underclasses of UNC from ’85 to ’99, and to focus them instead on fostering an artistic community and leading a group of almost retarded actors to rally around the completion of a feature film.

I still picture that infantile jerk who hated rehearsal but loved performing, who loved road trips but never had any money, who wanted people to party at his house, but hid the expensive liquor. But he hasn’t been that guy in years and years. We still see each other the way we were in our early twenties, when our parents had divorced, when we were alone and broke and miserable.

The truth is, Ian will be a great father. Ian may be better equipped to be a father than most anyone else I know, because he will be *obsessed* with his daughter. She won’t ever want for attention, she won’t ever wonder if anyone’s listening, Ian will chronicle every second, every single second. And if she wants to learn how to build a snowmobile when she’s six, Ian will build it with her. If she wants to learn metalurgy at age ten, Ian will sit and learn it with her. It’s the younger brother in me, that lingering 5% of horrible child, that sees him in the bad light, as if suddenly a 17 year old Ian will be raising this girl instead of the twenty years of learning he has done since then.

As coincidence would have it, it turns out I’m buying a house. Tomorrow. Yeah. And this house needs a lot of work, most of it is work I’ve never done. But I’ve managed a property with 12 units now for almost a year, I’ve shepherded the space through a squi
rrel invasion and two bathroom face-lifts and plus, I’m a guy, now, who loves to work really really hard. I love to study and then apply what I’ve learned.

But that’s not who I’ve been. At age 8, I got a paper route and then quit it the first day. My dad said, “I knew you were going to quit it, Sean. You would never have been able to do it.” That’s not who I am now. If Michelle and Ian saw me as a self-obsessed drama queen, who was always claiming moral high-ground and suffering at 96 decibels, all the while doing exactly what I want whenever I want to and having a relatively easy path of it, I couldn’t argue. That’s who I was.

I have to start by being emotional ammunition for them. I have to start by saying what I believe, that buying a house is sort of a big deal but nowhere near as impressive as the changes Ian and Michelle are making to their fundamental being. That child, the 5% that lingers, he isn’t really here any more, but his memory is strong.

I am sort of proud of being able to buy a house. I am, not proud really, but really happy that I’m in a good marriage now. But I am just swolled up to the heavens with Ian and Tessa and Michelle. Ian and Tessa are bringing in a new life to our family, and Michelle is being the woman she has always been, and in a situation where she can finally be celebrated for it. I’m about ready to pop with pride for all of them. I don’t know why I’m unabashed, why that competitive angry child isn’t rearing his head, but when I think of them, I am humbled, I am amazed, I am excited, and I feeling nothing but celebration and celebration and celebration.

Of course, if Fleet Week becomes a hit, then they won’t have done *shit* compared to me.

You Can Tell Everybody, This Is Your Song

Monday, March 28th, 2005

Some months ago, right after the election results were rolling in, that horrible horrible Tuesday night, I made a decision. I had been dragged to Ohio to help Election Protection by my wife, after spending years being dragged to acting classes and auditions and away from the daily intake of alcohol and tobacco, and I decided I had had enough. I didn’t want to be dragged anymore.

There are really two options when you look at your life and you realize that you simply have not been living up to your mates hopes for you. You can end the relationship with that mate and stay true to who you always have been, or you can give in and try to change stuff about yourself. There is also the third option, which is to be dragged along to all the stuff you pretend to care about while secretly telling yourself a long story about how no-one really understands you, about how your secret rebellion is going to continue while you do *just enough* to keep your partner at bay while still maintaining your identity.

I had, for the first few years of our relationship, been doing this third option.

Yeah, I was trying to quit smoking, I cut *way down* for a long time.

I was trying to get a job, it was just really complicated, there is something fundamental about me that made it harder for me than for anyone else. But sure, I would give it a shot. I sent out some resumes, y’know, I went to some auditions.

I got up first thing in the morning, before she did, and made sure she had some breakfast before going to work. I wasn’t “sleeping in”, I was getting up! I was starting my day!

I hosted dinner parties and did all the cooking and cleaning, and my friends who came over had a ball. My wife surely would watch me doing this and understand that a large and impressive patriarch was beginning to emerge, how could she deny it?

Then, that horrible Tuesday night. More horrible, for me, than September 11th, because we knew it was coming and we tried to stop it. We organized, we put our best foot forward, we went to the polls and yet when the people spoke, they spoke out of fear and laziness. When asked, they basically said, “we sort of want things to change for the better… but actually we don’t want things to change at all. We want to be able to *say* we want a better life, but we really just want to continue in our lazy, unexamined ways”

So, I made a decision as I watched her sleep that night. She had been dragging me for years, never complaining, never pointing out my *obvious overwhelming bullshit*. She had been asking for years for me, simply, to be a man. And I spent all that time being a boy pretending to be a man. So, the next morning it all changed. I announced that, not only was I not going to be dragged, but for the forseeable future, I was gonna try to carry her. I decided I was going to be her hero.

I did a bunch of things that have changed the day to day of my life. Every day, I spend a few hours in the morning checking the breakdowns, checking the job listings, and every day that there are available jobs I send out resumes. I also do it for her. I am continuing to try to find her opportunities.

Every day, she goes to her job. Every day, she gets phone calls from old friends, seeking advice. Every day, she is the bedrock on which so many of us stand. She’s the voice of reason, the voice of maturity, and, above all else, a source for maternity for so many of our friends. She’s a kid, in so many ways, but she’s also the woman that we all know we can talk to about our happiness or our struggles, because she will rejoice to the heavens your happiness, and she will fight along side you in your struggles. Not just me, anyone. You.

And I pretend that I am being heroic.

By that fateful Tuesday, I had had enough being dragged, I was going to put on my snow shoes and try to blaze a trail. But I am years and years from becoming the man she deserves, and, to her credit, she doesn’t care. She loved me, genuinely, when I was being dragged, any changes I make just mean less work for her, but they don’t mean she loves me more. She carries the weight of her family, her girlfriends, her guy friends and me on those little tiny bird shoulders of hers. If her load is lighter, her smile will be broader, but she won’t love me anymore.

I keep moving forward, because I live for that big smile.

Yesterday, I watched her sleep for half an hour in the morning. Her big eyes sealed, her puffy mouth closed, her fist tucked under her chin and a piece of errant hair across her face. While asleep, her fist uncurled and her long spider fingers took thirty strokes at that piece of hair until it was teased into a ball that stayed off her face. Later that day, we were making cookies with filling, and Jordana stood next to me spooning jelly into dough, grinning from ear to ear. When I had another batch ready, I said “do you wanna put the jelly in” and she yelled “YES!” and came running into the kitchen. “We’re making cookies, isn’t this so *wonderful*?”

I don’t want her to ever carry me, although when I am sick she sort of has to. She has been the bedrock, a blessing every single day, every single conversation. I don’t know what marriages are supposed to be, my parents had a horrible one and my first one was basically both of us exercising the third option of being dragged and pretending to work hard. But I look at my life and I count each one of my friends as a blessing. I realize that if I had three less friends than I do, I would still be thrilled with the rest, if I had even less time for fun and fraternization, I would still feel like my life were full of joy.

And that is entirely because of her. She’s changed the colours of my life, she’s put a new lense in my snorkel mask that makes all the fish brighter orange. She pulls a sled with a sign that says “hop on!” and for years I felt fortunate to get to walk next to her, without ever realizing I should help her pull the sled.

Six years ago, today, I was sitting in my bedroom in Los Angeles, looking over the script to a short film and checking my email. She was on the email list, she had spoken to me, and I knew she was coming, but I had no idea how great it would be. She was coming and the six years that have followed, the best six years of my life, were about to start. Some of you went to college and then graduate school and then got a job, I spent the first 28 years of my life preparing for her arrival, preparing for her to come off the plane at LAX wearing that little red T-shirt with the Egyptian writing on it.

I’ve always said I never had a mentor, I never had anyone take me under their wing and help me. I’ve never had an older man look at my work and try to give me the life I thought I deserved. I just *love* describing my life as if there was some cosmic game set up where I was singled out and hated. Jesus, just look at my last post. But, while it’s true that I never had a mentor, I was given something a thousand times better. I was given an angel.

What About The Children

Friday, March 25th, 2005

It’s amazing that I have to ask, but please bear with me because I have a point today. I didn’t just sit down and decide to get all cranky.

I basically failed out of high school and then snuck into and failed my way out of four different colleges. School was never for me. I probably had a better chance of being a Catholic Priest than I did of doing well in school. *BUT*, the asshole shit-spewing teachers I had didn’t make it any easier.

I was the worst student imaginable. I was really quite smart, I generally knew what was being taught as fast as the fastest kids, but I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t concentrate, and I was wildly inappropriate and loud almost all the time. I have a hundred stories in my head, and not one of them would prove my point as well as all of them together. Each year, a different teacher, each year, they hated me.

(This is four paragraphs of stories editted out, including going a week without lunch, getting suspended for being beat up, being mocked in front of my third grade class, standing in front of the glass during a discussion of fat kids, having a special seat for me in the hall in fifth grade, having only my homework checked in front of the class, having a zero on a test added to my grade average because of attendance, etc… Trust me, it’s boring.)

My biology teacher refused to pass me my senior year despite the fact that I was getting an A in his class and despite the fact that I was tutoring kids in his class. He opted not to pass me because once I had missed twenty days, he could fail me regardless of my grade, and he did. To this day, I still don’t have my diploma.

Why did these teachers hate me?

I was a smart ass. I talked shit all the time. I wasn’t scared of anyone, the more authority someone tried to exercise over me, the more likely I was to challenge it. On top of that, I was born to perform, to create drama on stage, and I had no outlet for it. Our home was a POW lockdown, no noise, no missteps, under constant threats of hostility and violence, I didn’t dare misstep when I was in the house, and that’s why I wasn’t scared of anybody. There were mountains of people at my house willing to make my life hell, what do I care about some teacher.

So, I’m willing to take my part of the blame. But…

I had, year after year, some sorry ass broke down mother fucker, relegated to teaching public school because the fucking SS quit hiring people in the 40s. Sure, I was a hate-able kid, but who the fuck just lets a kid like me go without making a single attempt to find out why I was such a miserable pile of shit? What is a teacher there for? There were twenty kids in my class in grade school, I was in Iowa and Tidewater, Virginia. These weren’t inner-city schools. These were wealthy white-kid schools who wanted a thug nigga like me *OUT*. I was always treated like a spanner in the works for these fuckers.

Oh yeah, and how come the teachers in London and Nairobi took me under their wings for the very very short time I got to be with them? Why did I excel?

Everyone thanks one of their teachers at some point, there’s a teary couldn’ta-doneit-withoutcha bullshit moment where some public school teacher gets a call from the CEO’s office at AwesomeCorp, or a shout-out from the award stand. My teachers can rot in hell, all except for one.

By the time I moved to California at 16, I had already failed one and a half years of high school, I was already better at mixing drinks than studying, and this school, like every other one, gave up on me immediately. I was put in the learning disabled classes, writing one book report a semester, taking business math classes to get enough credits to graduate, and the only musical option for me, get this, was Show Choir.

The show choir teacher was a heavy drinking, chain smoking bum who was given the music department after being hired as a basic math teacher. He was given the department because he had done some jazz recordings in the fifties, and, although he could barely play piano, he was better than hiring another teacher. Roland Maxson took one look at me and decided I was a piece of shit just like him, and he taught me everything he knew about music. He was totaly Buttermaker from Bad News Bears and I was… I don’t know, take your pick, any of the kids.

When the school put me on probation and wouldn’t let me perform, Maxson went to the principal (the bishop at our church and good friends with my whole family who, it won’t shock you to learn, *ALL* hated me) and, with me in the room, explained that I was special. He said, “this is a kid who’s been overlooked his whole life, he’s been given up on every single time he could have been, but he’s special, he’s different. You have to let him perform, it’s what he’s gonna do for the rest of his life…”

I remember the part about being given up on every chance there was. I walked through the door and people thought “GOD, not this little FUCK. The *SECOND* I can, I’m kicking his ass out of here”, and I gave the reason within five minutes. Maxson saw this and wanted to change it, wanted to help me.

Of course, they still didn’t let me perform. But it’s the one and only time in my life I had someone bigger than me stand up for me. I was so used to being the principal’s office, it didn’t occur to me that I could walk out of there having gotten ahead, but Maxson walked me back to his office, pissed as all hell. Then we went to his apartment and had pina coladas and watched porn.

Maybe I should go back and edit this, because none of this is the point.

The point is that my friend Barry is losing his job as a chorus teacher. He teaches a rag-tag group of junior high students down by JFK, and the budget cuts imposed from on high mean there is only room for one music teacher at his junior high school. Barry is losing his job, and the woman who has been there *longer* than Barry is losing her job as well.

The choir and the parents of the kids in the choir went nuts. The school was covered in “Save the Music, Save Mr. Wyner” posters, to the point where the principal threatened to suspend anyone hanging posters. These kids are spastic, wide eyed, MTV freaks, barely able to concentrate for more than about ten seconds at a stretch. I’ve worked with them, and it’s like trying to herd thirty squirrels into a shoe box. But they rallied around Barry, going all the way to school board to fight his removal.

Of course, they’re removing him.

And in a way, he’s happy. The community is going to shit, there’s no re-investment, people are moving to better neighborhoods the second they can. This is a really nice neighborhood as well, every one of these kids is wealthy, but they are all running to a school district that isn’t throwing away their music department. Barry sent out some resumes and got a job from the very first one, plus job offers from the rest.

But these kids are screwed. They’re done. Junior high for them is gonna be the same hell it was for me, falling through the cracks, learning chorus from the same guy who teaches band and orchestra, one teacher with eight hundred students, what’s he care if someone drops out? These are good kids. I’ve worked with kids all over the country, at this point in my life I’ve recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 songs, and I’ve probably worked with 250 different kids, and these kids are really special.

That MTV distraction? That spastic disrespect? Hit the downbeat, and these kids are front and center. They learned from Barry that art means discipline, that without attention there is no music. God, I love these kids, they are really great, and I adore Barry, from his knotted brow to his tightly tied shoes. And there is no movie ending for these kids. Most of them are just gonna quit doing music, or they’re never gonna know they could have.

In junior high I played violin because there was no chorus. I’m a terrible violin player.
I wasn’t saved until I found my voice, I never knew music until I learned how to sing, and now music has saved me from a life that I can’t begin to imagine. Music has given to me every step of my life, always given to me, and has never let me down, has never proven false. Every dollar I’ve made is because of music, the hope for my future lies in my possibilities with music. And I wouldn’t know about my voice if Mr. Maxson hadn’t fought for me.

Would my life have been different if my teachers were all passionate about reaching kids like me? What if they all made half again as much money as they do, would a better quality person have been taking care of me at age 8 instead of some small minded woman who was dumber and knew less than me and was trapped into a life of teaching through desperation? I don’t know.

But I know that a lot of my friends didn’t make it as far as I have. A lot of my public school friends fell apart after Ju-Co, got restaurant jobs and mild drug habits just to make it. Barry, and people like Barry, could give possibility, and he will at a different school next year. But those poor spastic kids in his old school are gonna end up worse than me, and it’s an absolute tragedy.

Pulling the Plug

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

When I do shut down this blog, and it will happen sooner rather than later, I will put out an announcement and I will have an official shut down. This blog has been very little to very few, so stopping it won’t be terrible, and I think I am going to dedicate myself to an actual theater blog beginning in a month or so, which would make this redundant. But the title refers not to this blog, but to a woman I’ve never met on the other end of the U.S.

Of course I am going to land on the anti-conservative side of this one, because that’s where I land on everything, but this Terry Schiavo thing is pretty complicated. Her husband wants her to be dead, that’s for sure, and he has the right to ask for it, that again is legal. But he’s a creepy dude in a creepy set of circumstances, and, like all laws, if you have misgivings given a real-life circumstance, then you have to at least spend some time talking about it.

I won’t allow a gun in my house, and I believe that guns of a certain caliber should be restricted from the public, and this has led to some of the stupidest arguments I’ve ever had. “What if your mother was about to be raped at gunpoint? Won’t you wish you had a gun then?” Right. Somehow, a marrauding band of rapists is gonna find their way into some situation where it’s just me, just her and I am free to do anything I want in terms of defending myself while they are gonna go about with the raping. I mean, fine, you got me. If I was in a room, an excellent marksman and was allowed to spend a good deal of time aiming and the guy I was shooting at had signed an affadavit explaining that he *will*, beyond a shadow of a doubt, rape my mother unless I shoot him, then, sure, I guess I wish I had a gun.

But the Terry Schiavo thing is different. Here’s a woman who’s existence isn’t hurting anyone, but who also isn’t, y’know, cracking jokes or anything. Her husband’s got some kids with his girlfriend and he’s sick of her *still being there*. This isn’t a made-up stupid what-if, this is a situation where the laws on the book are serving to protect a pretty creepy thing.

She now has no use left except as a symbol, a symbol for people who want to rally around the protection of life on any level. Because allowing Schiavo to die means there are times when people can decide the *limits of possibility* on another person’s life, which sounds exactly like the abortion debate. Schiavo has as much self awareness as a zygote, it’s pretty easy to see why this is so important to people who believe abortion is murder.

Several asides really quickly. The people who are trying to keep Terry Schiavo alive are also supporters of the death penalty. They also are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths in Iraq. They also have thwarted every attempt at actual health care for Americans, to keep them out of this vegetative state. And Bush, when Governor of Texas, signed into law a bill that would allow the hospital to remove the feeding tubes *over the objection of the parents* of a person who was deemed impossible to resuscitate, and last weekend this law was put into action when an infant was allowed to starve to death in Texas.

But, that’s all just standard hypocrisy, I can think about this without worrying about motivation.

The fact is, as an adult, you enter into an agreement with the person you are marrying, and that person essentially becomes your equal in your life decisions. I know of couples where the husband doesn’t know what the wife makes in a year, where the wife doesn’t know exactly how the finances are put together, where they try to maintain as much separation legally and financially as possible, and that’s fine, y’know, whatever you do behind closed doors. But the fact is, legally, you are entitled to not just *know* what your wife is making, but you are entitled to all of her money. It’s yours as well. It’s both of yours. That’s marriage, legally, no matter how you define it.

Terry Schiavo got married, and when she did that, she changed her legal status. So, all of that standard hypocrisy aside, the worst is that these are the same people who support an ammendment to the constitution against same-sex marriage, and they call it “The Defense of Marriage Act”, yet, they want to take away this man’s legal right to make this decision. Gay people getting married does not affect my marriage, but if you take away my right to make decisions about my wife’s life when she is unconscious or unavailable, that *is* affecting my marriage.

If Jordana says to me, and her parents, “Shut it down, I want no part of it”, I don’t have to honor that. And I probably wouldn’t. This is a woman who, so far, has lived her life entirely in service to the people she loves, and maybe I’ll hold on for a few years. Maybe I won’t. But if her parents were saying “She said shut it down” I could just say, “I know, but she’s my wife. I get to decide.”

This is an issue where the legal responsibilities are being taken away from the person simply because the pro-life people don’t like his choice. Put simply, they hate his freedom, they hate that he is free to act on his rights. See, the whole “Anti-Abortion, Pro-Death Penalty” irony is a little laughable, it’s too obvious and rich to be much more than a guffaw, and it’s pretty easy to defend. Babies aint done nothin’ bad yet.

But the number of things that the religious right has attempted to do to curtail our freedom, while explaining away the terrorists as “haters of freedom” is a deeper kind of irony. These people hate Islam, but they actually *love* the idea behind Jihad. If there was a word in Christianity for “Holy War”, the right wing Christians would be waging it. And in my mind, it is a giant but not altogether unrecognizable jump from commercial jets hitting New York to military jets dropping bombs on Arabs. Irrational blood thirsty actions taken by men who hate opposition and the freedom to exercise that opposition.

And what is scary is that if any of these guys spent two hours having dinner with me and my friends, we’d be next on the list.


Monday, March 21st, 2005

I told you I might not post as much.

I’ll post more later.

Letting Go

Thursday, March 10th, 2005

As if it isn’t already obvious to you, I write these things from the seat of my pants. I’ve never really sat down and organized a blog in my head and then, like, edited it and checked spelling or anything. There is almost a preciousness with the way I don’t spend too much time on this blog, it’s got to be a rant or there’s no point.

There are two totally different ideas and both of them match the title I chose, so I’m trying to figure out which way to go.

On the one hand, despite the obvious degradation of our civil liberties and despite the all out attack on democracy that we are going through as a nation right now, I find that I can’t spend too much time being upset about it. I feel foolish arguing politics with people. When I talk about the facts of the Bush administration with right-leaning folks, I get a five hundred page treatise of double talk, of assumed motivations behind obvious lies, of justifications in the face of invented disaster, and I find I can’t move forward. I’m mired.

When I talk to left-leaning people, there is such vitriol for the man, such palpable hatred for a basically good guy. This is a dude, elevated to a level beyond his wildest dreams because of the reputation and successes of his father, who, through a combination of dull wits and fervor, has made terrible decisions. Unfortunately, that also describes me when I was twenty, (although getting a chance to direct an orchestra or choir without any skills is hardly the same disaster as directing the military industrial complex without any skills) and I find the spitting disgust among my lefty friends to be hard to deal with.

So, I have to let it go. Thus the title.

On a completely different topic, I find that some of the people I love most here in New York are starting to move away. A small group of my friends moved back to North Carolina, some of my best friends in the world are getting entrenched in Chicago, and last night one of our favorite couple friends came by the house on their way to flying out to Michigan, where another one of my dear friends moved last year.

I have spent the last year, really, huddled in my apartment. As of this time last year, we were planning the wedding, we were two months away, and that was really the start of the Year of the Project. When we were putting together Lucretia, it was just producing and rehearsing, which we’ve done a million times before. Fleet Week, and The Wedding before it, were emotional rollercoasters that kept us removed from our social world for great long stretches.

Now, I get bi-weekly phone calls from my dearest and closest friends. People I want to *see* at least once a week call me just to catch up, and I usually spend about ten minutes on the phone with them.

God, I miss my friends.

There is the cliche about the artist, alone in his or her little world, scribbling furiously while the world passes around him, and this cliche has a certain romance to it. In “Amadeus” the movie, Mozart writes music on his pool table while his father fights with his wife, and he’s totally oblivious to it. The music swells, he is in heaven, here in the world of his own creation.

The truth, for me, is that when I looked up from my computer and realized I had made dinner for my friends probably three times in the last nine months, I wasn’t thrilled to be in the world of my own creation. Mac and Jordana, separately yesterday, told me that the Fleet Week music is always running through their heads, and I had to admit that I never hear it. I write it down and empty the hard drive, when I play the music back I’m excited but I don’t recognize it as mine.

(Let me say that the biggest problem with my current project is that I am essentially a dilettante, or at least I began that way. I have had the great fortune of being paired with both a brilliant scriptsmith and a genius word-fitter when it came to creating the actual play, but the process of writing 24 pieces of music probably took me three months longer than it should have because I am untrained, unexercised and unexperienced. The next time we do this, it won’t be quite as tragic…)

And so, groups of my friends are leaving New York, and I’m not replacing them. I’m becoming what I never thought I would, but always wanted to be. I’m becoming a man with not too many friends who spends a lot of his time creating plays.

I always wanted to be seen as this guy, I never realized that I also wanted to *be* this guy.

The knock on me, from multiple sources, was always that I was frivolous, a man of no gravity. For years and years I was an amusing ass, someone that could be counted on to take things too lightly and to be great fun at a party. Now, I barely enjoy the little time I do have with my friends, and I totally missed the last year in New York for some of my favorites. Now, if I am at a party or away for a weekend, I’m on the edge of fury the entire time, desperate to come back to get something *done*, to finally *accomplish* something.

So, I have to just let it go. Maybe my twenties were my time for being frivolous, and maybe now is when I work. I have to let my friends go, and I have to not worry about disappointing those that are still here. I miss my friends, I miss the fun so much, but maybe I’m just not that guy anymore. It’s not a maturation, hopefully I will come back to being social and fun to have at dinner, but I need to just accept that, right now, that’s just not me.


Friday, March 4th, 2005

This is what we are trying to fight

A girl’s picture was pulled from her yearbook because she was wearing a tux. But actually, it was pulled because she’s a lesbian. At every single high school dance, girls in dresses or in jeans, are dancing together in big groups while their dates hang out together by the punch bowl, and there’s no problem with this. Unless one of these lesbians (because statistics not only bear out that one of them is a lesbian, but my own personal experience has proven to me that *way* more of us are gay than you know) has spoken the words to the world “I prefer to have sex with people in my own gender”, *THEN* she is regulated.

No, your community doesn’t have the right to set its own standards, if those standards impinge on the rights outlined in our constitution and our declaration of independence.

There is a song in Act Two where the Chaplain simply can’t stand the self hatred anymore, and he explains why everyone who wants to be gay should be, and I’ve done a bit of research in an effort to defeat the political and religious arguments. It’s interesting, everyone claims to read the bible, and everyone quotes Leviticus, the “abomination” verse, when it comes to being gay.

But look in Proverbs. (Look even a few sentences later in Leviticus, where the laws clearly state that divorce is an abomination.) In Proverbs, that which God hates most is outlined…

These six things doth the LORD hate:
yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations,
feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies,
and he that soweth discord amongĀ  brethren

Proverbs 6:16-19

He that soweth discord? A wicked imagination? Hands that shed innocent blood?

Does that sound like anyone, y’know, currently running the country?

These things all have the same root idea; lying. God doesn’t want us to lie. The idea that God wants you to just shut up about being gay…

Look I wrote all of this yesterday. I just wanted to include that link. It’s important that we all fight this, etc., and a musical is probably… well, it’s probably as effective as a blog.

Politics in Our World

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

I’ve mentioned before that we had a theater rented for October 2001, and we were in rehearsals for a play during the first few weeks of September, when the World Trade Center was attacked. Our play just happened to feature a terrorist attack on New York as a subplot, and we pulled the play.

We pulled the play because there was no way to accept the play as drama when the audience is that exposed. I personally have a problem with stage combat and stage nudity because I automatically become concerned for the actors involved, I’m not interested in things being completely “real” when I’m watching a live play, I want some assurance that I’m not going to have to run on stage and save the girl from being raped… So, a terrorist subplot would not have worked on October 3, 2001.

We did, for the record, produce a play that evening called “Booby Traps Everywhere”, which was the first lesbian performance piece in response to 9/11, no matter what Reno claims. As if that’s something to quibble about.

I learned a wonderful lesson that month, courtesy of my producing partners. I proposed we let the theater go fallow, give up the deposit, but Mac almost rolled his eyes at me. We produced a bunch of plays that month, because we produce plays, it’s what we do.

There was a terrorist attack on New York, we felt we had to say something about it, and we did it the only way we knew how. I’m not trying to make it seem as if we did a great thing, that producing a play is in some way comparable to the firefighters and policemen and volunteer workers, but it was what we knew how to do, so we did it. Firemen run into burning buildings, we produce plays. Y’know… we all have our calling or whatever.

I am really proud of one of the plays we produced that month, the one that Mac wrote and we acted in called “Second String”. It was a small story about a really small set of circumstances, but the humility in Mac’s writing and the global vision in how this tragedy can affect each of us in a small way was, to me, the best of what the theater can be. Again, I’m an actor, so don’t ask me.

(After talking with Jordana, speaking as an asshole actor, I realized just how much of what I wrote in yesterday’s post is *wrong*, and I will remedy it. I’ll make you this promise, blog readers, when I’m an ass, I’ll try to fix it.)

(Almost everything I wrote is *right*, but I’ll fix the wrong parts…)

Right now, our political world seems to be on the verge of extremely dangerous ground. Too many of us are willing to give up on parts of the bill of rights in order to feel more secure, and this is something that means more to me, and to my friends, than the terrorist attacks did. It means more because attacking us is simply that, an attack, but destroying our right to privacy, our right to our pursuit of happiness, that is a *defeat*. I’m attacked all the time, but I don’t intend on being defeated.

Simply put, the terrorists don’t hate our freedoms, they hate our apathy, ignorance and disrespect. Social conservatives hate our freedoms, and if they succeed in denying our rights based on our political views or sexual preferences then, and I’m not joking here, the terrorists will have won.

It is amazing that there are people in the world who want to make it illegal for gay people to be together, that the expression of love can be something for which a person is ostracized, beaten or even put in prison. As a person, as a voter, there is very little we can do about the ostracization, in fact we shouldn’t. People are entitled to hate homosexuals, and explain their beliefs in no uncertain terms. We already have laws about people being beaten, and as a voter I can support hate legislation that makes these crimes more punishable, but, again, it’s constitutionally fuzzy.

But the legal issues are ours. A person has inalienable rights, it says so in our declaration of independence, and we have to protect those rights. Gender and Race are currently (tenuously) protected, but sexual preference is the slippery slope down which we are all sliding. It is one of the four or five most important social issues facing us.

So. we’re writing a play. We’re producing a play. It’s the only thing we know how to do. A musical? About gay rights? In New York? Yeah, it isn’t very bold, it’s pretty run of the mill, we know. But there is no single issue that means more to us right now than this.

And we aren’t writing it for the theater community in New York. We’re writing it for our community. We’re writing this play for Iowa City and Greensboro and Hicksville, Long Island. I have as many gay friends right now as I’ve ever had, roughly one for every four straight friends. I’m not gay, I’m not in the community, and it could be that there is some concern that I am stealing thunder away from people for whom this issue is the most important thing in their lives.

But it’s the most important in mine as well, because I know it’s about more than just gay people. It’s the right to live my life the way I want it to, and the *desperate* need to end discrimination. If the Christians can make gay marriage illegal, what’s to stop them from making mine illegal? My wife is a Jew and we were married by a doctor with an online certificate, isn’t my marriage more of a mockery to traditional marriage than two women who’ve been together since the fifties?

If they come for you, they’ll come for me next. But more than that, they should never be allowed to come for you. Something is happening, and we’re producing a play. All the dinner conversations, all the letters to congressmen, all the wine and cheese discussions don’t feel productive to us. We’re making a play, ’cause it’s the only thing we know to do.

Director Vs. Playwright 2-4 style

Tuesday, March 1st, 2005

There are some conversations that seem very important while you are having them but in retrospect seem “quaint”. I remember learning about negative space in film (something I learned while hanging around people who like to talk about stuff they love, which is one of two ways I learn anything) (the other way is watching a wide variety of cooking and home improvement shows on TV) and realizing that in a play, really good playwrights use dialogue as negative space. A conversation occurs in a living room while someone is choking in the back bedroom, and the audience is *crippled* waiting for the asshole talking about shaving cream to notice someone dying just off stage.

There is a community of bloggers who have been talking about the playwright’s role and the director’s role in creating theater. I bring this up not because I believe this is a quaint conversation, but rather because there are circumstances where it could be, and the 24 hour plays is (are?) definitely one of those times.

For the uninitiated, the 24 Hour Plays is an event that begins at 10 PM on a given night and by 8 PM the following night, six to seven brand new ten minute plays are produced, with lights, sound, costumes and actors (off book). It is one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences you can have. There is such an immediate pay-off for the actors and the writer, mere hours pass between the beginning of an idea and it’s full production.

It’s not really the medium for directors. Oh, sure, you can try to delve into back story, you can try to control the tempo and the blocking and the spine… but you aren’t going to. Step one for any actor worth a damn: Get Off Book, and if you are very, very fast and very, very lucky, you get off book just as the show is starting. The writers know this, they know that you start with the words and then you go to the performance, and 8 hours (which is the full rehearsal time) is only enough for the words and for the truly inspired to make it to performance.

You see a lot of the worst of actors. It isn’t nearly as horrible as improv (which in my book is the worst thing that can happen to me in a theater), but you still see people rely on their tricks more than ever. If an actor comes out and they immediately scratch their balls, especially if it isn’t in the script, then you know they are nervous as hell and they’re doing that *one thing* they know they can do to crack you up.

(As a side note, the play I was in last night was written by a well known playwright, and the actors in my piece were phenomenal. We also had an extremely well known director who did all the directing he could in the few moments he had with us. He gave us a couple of really specific notes and then let us go. I’m sure when he saw the piece, he was surprised by a fair amount of it.)

Here’s the thing. I’ve been in two 24 hour plays that were balls out huge successes, (last night’s and a piece my brother wrote five years ago) and in both cases we didn’t just make the play work, we communicated something. Last night’s was a horror piece, the audience was terrified, my character got anal-raped half way through, and the first piece was a sweet comedy that ended with a perfect kiss. Both writers played to their strengths, both casts were amazing… and the director could barely do anything.

So what does the director do? I mean, besides get in the goddam way for the whole rehearsal period?

She’s got to keep her eye on the spine, on the actual story. The actors will run away with a thousand tiny choices, it’s up to the director to keep their eye on the entire piece. In a perfect world, the schedule would run like this.

1. Actors learn lines and discuss options for scenes with the director. Actors come up with small shit (“I think my character should wear brown shoes”) and the director makes sure no mistakes happen (“You’re wearing a tuxedo in the second act, and you’ve been walking since the first act, and you are supposed to blend in, so you need black shoes from the beginning”) and the actors obey the director.

2. The director blocks the scenes. This can be as loose as you want, but the director has to know what the set design and performance space is, and she has to keep in mind what the entrances and exits mean. The cop can’t leave the set through the same door that everyone else uses to go to the kitchen. That sort of thing.

3. The actors bring a thousand things to the rehearsal and the director lets them try stuff a lot of different ways while always steering the performances toward the script. (“You played this scene once as if you had a horrible head cold, and later, when the cat sneezes, it’s funny as hell. Play it with a cold, and when the cat sneezes, look long and hard at the cat”) (“okay, the cat thing isn’t working, go back to playing the scene as written”)

4. The actors get fully off-book and are moving about in the space but haven’t yet crystalized the characters. Although up to this point, the directors usually fail me, this is where I usually fail the director. If I am off-book, I am about 99% done creating the character, and that’s a *HUGE* mistake on my part. Once you get down all the lines, you should be able to still be *SUPER* flexible.

5. The director recognizes and fixes holes. *THIS* should be the *FIRST* time that a director gives an actor notes on new performance directions that the actor has yet to try. The biggest mistake a director makes is in assuming he is an acting teacher. You aren’t, directors. Actors have turned into these pathetic puppies, looking for a cult of personality to lead them into some kind of artistic nirvana. The actor and the director are equal to the writer in building a play. The only person who has any power over anyone? The stage manager.

6. After step five is the crystalization of the play. Before you get to tech., the play is done. Once you are in tech. week, the show belongs to the stage manager and the design staff, and the director is the inspiration and the consultant, not the overlord. The actors have had all the hours of rehearsal time they needed to make a complete play, now the technical staff has very few hours to pull off all the important shit that makes a play great and actors, this is not your time. If I fail at step 4, I pride myself on step 6. I have almost always been an obedient and respectful actor during cue-to-cue.

7. An actor’s responsibility to the stage is to create the same show night after night, the same level of intimacy, excitement and humor, and to forgive himself or herself when we don’t. Your job is to act, not to create a character. Just because you did something in rehearsal doesn’t mean it reads. Look at the cat when he sneezes, and get the laugh. That’s your job.

All of this is in a perfect world, it is assuming that your cast and crew are at the top of their game and are completely committed to the project. It’s hard to come by, and that’s the problem. Every director wants to be the leader of a movement, the cliched megalomaniac studying designs all night with a cup of coffee and yelling “I want you to LIVE this, LIVE THIS MOMENT” at the actors, and all of that is bullshit.

I’ve done two shows since the new year. It’s two months and I’ve done two shows. One was 55 minutes long, and that one had 92 hours of rehearsal over four weeks, Roughly two days of preparation for every minute on stage. The next was 15 minutes long and we had 7 hours of rehearsal or roughly thirty minutes prep for every minute on stage. But the real difference was a young director, wanting to be a control freak with a band of loyal followers, versus an old director, already famous, who barely cared.

There are three directors I will work with any time. Not surprisingly, all three of them already think I can act, and when I don’t, they ask me to. I wish that was all a director ever did.