Archive for July, 2009

Marital Fights Inform My Life

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

We bought our home with some cobbled together gifts, my wife’s stellar credit, and a sub-prime mortgage which she then wisely got us out of. We got the best house we could, which is to say, it’s largely a piece of crap. But it’s our piece of crap and we love it a lot. I have heard alcoholics use the phrase “I’m the piece of shit the world revolves around”, which is such a masterful use of English – I’d like to offer up “This is the piece of crap that I love” as perhaps a less beautiful, but, to me, more useful, turn of phrase.

In any case, I was having a drag-down with the missus a few years ago, and she was in the middle of gently pointing out that, despite my promises, and despite the four year time frame since we bought the place, I still haven’t finished remodeling a single room. I interrupted her and said, “So, you’re saying it really doesn’t matter how hard I try or how much I work, all that really matter is what I accomplish, right?”

Now, as I said it, two things simultaneously occurred to me. One, that isn’t at all what she was saying and two… YES. Welcome to being a grown-up. It actually *doesn’t* matter how hard you’re working, all that matters is what you accomplish.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, particularly for someone like me. I have very few unexpressed thoughts – hence the blog, the facebook, the twitter – and I need to get some credit for stuff long before it comes to fruition.

But nowhere is this more apparent than in the theater – particularly with actors. It seems that simply speaking loudly and pretending is totally insufficient to most MFA acting grads, they’ve got a whole system of things they need to do in order to generate a performance they’re happy with.

Oh man, I loved writing that paragraph, even though I know it’s unfair. I mean, acting, like any art form, does require an enormous amount of work, and all of that work is for naught if you don’t have any talent or if you’re in the wrong piece for your mindset – it’s a really scary set of circumstances, and an actor can hardly be blamed for doing everything he or she can to regain some control. But my problem with actors is similar to my problem with cops, it takes a certain kind of person to be drawn to that lifestyle. (And I should know, as much as I might claim to have retired, there’s no-one who exhibits that mindset more than I do.) But I realized a long time ago that if you keep a journal in character, if you lose or gain twenty pounds, if you plot your gestures or sleep in costume… you still might give a lousy performance.

And, sadly, the same is true of producing. We’re doing a play right now and, in the end, after the thousands of dollars and months of man-hours, after the writers have written and the directors have directed and the audiences have watched… after all of that, the overall consensus might simply be “I Just Don’t Get It”.

That is fair. It might not feel fair, but it’s totally fair. If they didn’t get it, then the work you put in it doesn’t matter. In a way, if they don’t get it, if your piece fails to instruct or reach an audience, it’s a success. Think of it this way – we all have strange thoughts, secret fetishes, bizarre streams of logic that appear like a fever dream. We all speak languages that only we understand, but every once in a while you speak that language and a handful of people get what you’re saying, and if it’s the right handful of people (or the *wrong* group)… then you end up making a play.

If nobody gets it, it’s just proof that you’ve told a very small, very specific story. Maybe it’s only you and five or six of your friends who would ever understand. But you have to tell these kinds of stories, you have to make it as small as possible because when you speak in that language an outsider hears it and understands it… *that* is when theater is at its most magical. *That’s* when you have a chance at something universal.

So, how can we deal with the knowledge that all of this money and all of this work may be for nothing? It’s a total cliche, and I hate writing it because it’s a total groaner, but in the end the work has to be for the sake of work. We try things, on both a micro and macro scale, because we love the art form. The journey, I shudder to admit, is in fact the destination. The time before the show opens, that’s *real time*, it has value. The work you do off stage, the marketing, the producing, the fundraising, it all has value, it is worth doing *in and of itself*.

I look to my friend Jonathan, who is a poet. He got his masters in writing poems, he’s been published, he runs a magazine that publishes people, he’s the real deal. He can’t worry about how many people will get his work, he can’t wonder about reviews. His world, hard to believe, is even smaller than ours. At least there are community theaters in most cities, doing Arsenic and Old Lace and Neil Simon. If Jonathan did four weeks of reading Torquato Tasso, he’d be doing three and a half weeks by himself.

For him, the act of writing is what the writing is. Putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, I suppose) is the thing he does. For us, it’s this, this fundraising and set-painting and script copying. I’m not saying one has to love it… but I do genuinely believe that if one doesn’t, if the only joy is in the play going up and being embraced by audiences and critics… then there is very little possibility for joy.

All of this that we have to do, the nonsense, these little crappy jobs… Not to get all Robert Fulghum, but when I look at my theater company, I have to say, “This is the piece of crap that I love.”

Blogs of Fury, Part Two

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Now, to address the hot button issue from David Cote’s Time Out New York Blog

5. Bloggers should flame –

That’s not what we’re here for. We aren’t here to talk about how much everyone else sucks, or how much we suck. We can’t grind axes on these pages, we just can’t, and the truth is, we absolutely shouldn’t.

That’s not to say we can’t begin to instruct each other on what works, but we have to establish a language to do that. It’s beginning to happen on various blogs, we’re starting to discuss not the *quality* of what has been produced, but the *effectiveness*, and that’s an entirely different thing.

I’ve mentioned on here before that there are a few things that turn me off in live theater, but these things are pet peeves. I don’t like stage violence very much because it either looks fake or it looks real, and the real stuff makes me worried for the actors. I don’t like nudity for the same reason.

But there’s no point to that in a blog, the point would be to discuss the effective *use* of stage combat or nudity, or whatever other tool the team is using. There is a red special focused upstage right… do I know why? Does it help with the story? The entire cast is twenty years younger than the roles call for… why? Is there a point being made?

I read a review of “Music Man” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where they talked about the non-traditional casting of Marian as a black woman. The fact that she was a black librarian in the middle of Iowa at the turn of the last century actually FEEDS the story, it expands it.

This is what blogs can do that reviewers (save the example above) tend not to. We can do long form conversations about what and why. I can tell you how much I loved Matt Freeman’s Glee Club, but better than that, I can keep talking about it, I can keep tearing apart the performances and the script cues, I can re-visit it and, even better, Matt can explain or defend or even say, “I didn’t plan that, it just worked, but now that I know that can happen, I’m gonna use it next time…” That’s because we can write on each other’s blogs, he can use HIS blog to tear apart and rebuild *my* play, and on and on.

A critic has a responsibility to his or her audience to let them know what they’re getting themselves in to. That includes, I believe, taking each production as its own entity, while not completely ignoring its context. Mr. Cote was incredibly kind to our Fringe show in 2007, but seemed continually shocked that it was in the festival. We’ve now had four shows in the festival, we *belong* here because we *are* here.

A theater blogger’s responsibility is to our work as a tiny lever in our community’s culture. We owe our criticism to one another, and, only to the extent that we are also one another’s audience, the audience. We won’t get anywhere tearing in to each other, getting our backs up and using our blogs to defend the work, which, in the final say, has to stand on its own regardless of what we say. We don’t owe each other our ire. We have a responsibility, instead, to further the conversation.

Blogs of Fury, Part One

Monday, July 27th, 2009

David Cote is a theater professional and a critic for Time Out New York. He also is, sorta, kinda, a blogger. He’s written a piece about his 10 ways to “fix” New York theater, and most of it is really smart and really grand.

Point by point…

1. The Public should expand – Totally.
2. Off-off Broadway should unionize – I’m down. I’m cool with unions.
3. Non-Profit Heads should retire – That’s fine, I don’t really care either way.

4. Fringe Festival should curate –

I have a lot of problems with the festival, the same ways I have a lot of problems with my family. I can describe the very ways that it works and doesn’t work, I could make you a bullet-point sheet of the strengths and weaknesses, but I’m doing that as a member of the community for the last five years. It’s an evolving process, the festival is different now than it was ten years ago, it’s even different now than it was *three* years ago.

Now, I’m all for having a more curated festival. You are running the risk of seeing some very rough stuff every year when you head downtown. You are also gonna see some strange and amazing plays, and it is worth while to check out *both*. When you have a load-in and load-out of 15 minutes, then every production company has to look at their show as if it’s being done in a children’s library, where all you have is actors, costumes, maybe a couple of set pieces, and a great script.

There aren’t gonna be blood spurts, there won’t be cool lighting and sets and costumes, these show are all in their rawest forms. And that’s good. It means you get to see, at its most basic level, what an actor, a writer and a director do, removed from all of the other tech elements. If you hate most of what you see, then you have to admit just how much of the rest of it is important to you.

Now that’s my only quibble. Cote calls the festival “trivial and craptastic”. 200+ shows a year, for 13 years, over 2000 productions, a lot of them moving into rep or off-Broadway, and he feels okay calling it “trivial”. This is one of the smartest critics in New York, it’s hard for me to believe that he didn’t choose these words carefully.

5. Bloggers should flame more – More on this later.

6. Subscribers Explore. Yes, after calling the Fringe Festival “Craptastic”, Cote goes on to berate the audiences for not allowing themselves to be captivated by difficult or strange works. It’s not that I disagree with him, but it’s strange to me that an audience member should shut up and try harder when they’re buying $180 tickets to the Met, but the $15 ticket to the nonsensical dance piece at the Flamboyan isn’t worth anyone’s time.

From our perspective, way down here in downtown (which is strange to write since a lot of us live in Astoria and Inwood now…) is that if you’re gonna have the balls to charge outrageous prices for tickets, it’s your responsibility to educate as you express, that you should spend the energy and time making the pieces work for your audiences. Shit, we’re charging nothing, and we don’t expect our audiences to get everything we do without a little help.

I mean… usually that help is “beer” more than “theatrical post-graduate classes”, but still…

7. Architects Build – Okay, I’m cool. I doubt this is gonna save theater, but I like cool buildings.

8. Signature- Hire Wallace Shawn – OH HELL YEAH! One of our greatest playwrights in America. Without him, we wouldn’t have Mac Rogers. And by “we”, I mean “Me and a couple hundred of our friends”.

9. Composers be more innovative – I agree with this entirely, as I’m sure my friends would be shocked to hear. I’ve written the music for four full musicals, as well as a bunch of other stuff, and I’m a hopeless Pop apologist… but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could do more, and do stranger. I’ve always written to a deadline, which is the life of the freelancer, and so I’ve never had the opportunity to do an expansive strange score.

More on the blog comment later today.

Another Piece of Marketing Advice

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Many of us are humiliated, on some level, to be the one who has to sell the thing. The thing itself has some value, and the person who gets to invent the thing has one value for it, the person who gets to create the thing has another, and the person being asked to buy the thing may have a vastly different idea. After all, Warhol’s Soup Cans were originally sold for $100 a piece, and that dollar amount was probably wrong in *everyone’s* mind at the time, one way or the other.

But to be the middle man is a little bit embarrassing. You have to say to the inventor and creators, “I’m gonna be asking for less than you want, and I’m gonna have to tell half-truths and generalizations to get people to buy it for even that much…” Then, you have to swallow your own passions and prejudices, and go to the market and stand on a box and say, “Well, you’ve got trouble! And that starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for … well, in this case, “Play”, and do I have a play for you!”

But it isn’t all crap. In fact most of it *isn’t* crap. I believe that if you’re doing it right, you never have to con or cajole, you simply have to reveal your enthusiasm. The only time you have to lie is if you don’t actually have enthusiasm for the thing you’re selling, if you don’t actually believe in it.

Two things have happened in the last 24 hours that illustrate this point. Our fundraiser last night went off like gangbusters, although we had a hard time actually raising a ton of funds since “anyone directly involved in the show” got to come in for free, and that’s, like, 50% of the people we know. But two representatives of Rabbit Hole Ensemble came to our party and I got to spend… I don’t know, about half an hour with them.

But we talked about theater. Now, we’ve been bouncing around cross-promoting our shows, but last night we were talking about being in love, and it turns out, we’re all in love with the same thing. We *do* want to sell our shows, we *have* to, we’re not idiots, but we weren’t talking about ways we can raise our profiles or get reviewed or listed or blogged… all we wanted to talk about was other people’s shows, stuff we loved, stuff we wanted to do. In the theater.

Now, our company cross-promotes with a lot of other companies, but this special relationship is one that we’ve developed with only a couple of others, where we recognize a love of the same sort of things. It’s an organic thing, we can’t really *make* that happen. And, of course, we still advertise, we still hold fundraisers, we write to our facebook groups… We pimp the shows, that’s the dirty truth. But given a couple of drinks and a cool night on a Brooklyn roof and we drift to how much we love each other’s work, and how much we love the theater.

The flip side of this is the facebook message that I got a few hours ago. Another person in the festival sent a message that I’ll paraphrase here.

“You should come see my show.

I know, a lot of people are telling you to come see their show, but this invitation is something you should separate from all the other shit you’re getting. This isn’t like every other show.

When you see me, off in the corner, thinking to myself, it’s this show that I’m thinking about. This is my heart.

Come see it. It will blow your mind.”

This is someone that I had pursued to do some cross-marketing because I liked the idea of his show. I no longer want to work with him at all. The lack of generosity here, the assumption that most of theater is shit, but he actually loves his play… it’s stunning.

Why do you think we do it? You see, your assumptions about what the rest of the world wants says a lot about your own motivations. You think your show is different because when you go see plays, you don’t care about what anyone is doing, and you have to assume that they don’t care either. So, you must think we do it because infamy and riches are right around the corner.

Let me make this completely clear for anyone who thinks this is a possibility – THERE ARE NO RICHES. THERE IS NO FAME.

And if you don’t respect live theater, then please, make the move to L.A. *earlier* rather than later. There are a giant stack of actors who are in New York, but secretly have no interest in doing live theater, they want to do TV and film. There’s WAY MORE of that in L.A., and your disrespect is a drain on our community.

When you’ve had a few drinks and you’re on the roof of a converted car repair shop in Brooklyn, do you want to stand by yourself and muse on your own greatness, or do you want to hang out with me and Emily from Rabbit Hole and talk about how much we love other people’s plays? Because the drinks and the conversation – that is as rich as you are gonna get here.

All the marketing is pimping, we know that. But we may as well pimp than do nothing. If it’s a difference between selling 40 seats a night and 140 seats a night, then the pimping is worth it. But if you think that we don’t value the work because we spend some energy boiling it down to a palatable message for the masses, then you’ve misunderstood the size of the masses and the importance of what we’re doing. The world barely notices what we do, but to us, it’s the world.

It’s a small group, with a lot of mutual admiration and respect. If you don’t have that, then there’s a whole wide world out there for you to explore your genius. Maybe you can make it on BroadWAY. But the off-off world, and The Fringe Festival in particular, is probably not gonna have what you’re looking for.

Viral Trailer

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009


Dark Brew

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

The subtitle of today’s post is “How we were almost nominated for an award, and then weren’t, and then, actually, we were…”

We’ve been making plays for pretty close to ten years now, and we’ve had some people who thought we were doing really good stuff. Not a *ton* of people, but some people. I’d say, we’ve had a “fair number” of people who were fans of our work. A boisterous and somewhat modest group who like our shows and who, truth be told, aren’t actually all that boisterous, and “modest” might be overstating it.

A handful.

I’m gonna go with “a handful” of people have really liked what we were doing.

The problem, of course, is that we’re the bastard step-cousin of the entertainment industry. Whereas other people are stunned that their TV show got picked up by SpikeTV, or that they managed to make a movie for under five million dollars, we begged for 30 grand from investors and parents and friends, and made plays for TEN YEARS on it. The first time we sold out a weekend of shows, we were beside ourselves, we thanked the audience during the curtain call.

There were, of course, 54 seats. And that weekend had two shows.

So, yeah, we’ve been toiling in basic obscurity for a decade, but the truth is, we’re all toiling in obscurity, so it doesn’t matter. The guys who are just knocking shit out of the park, the Vampire Cowboys, the Flux Theater Ensembles, the Theatresources, all of these guys mean a *TON* to the people I hang out with, but are actually unrecognizable to most of the people who live in New York and say they love theater. We’re all still excited to sell out 54 seat houses, as long as we get to tell our stories.

But the obscurity can get a little sad. When you introduce yourself as a theater producer, and then you have to explain what that means, it can get exhausting. When someone tells me they are a landscape architect, I don’t have to have the very idea of “gardens” explained to me, but I find myself having to explain what “off-off-Broadway” even *is* to people. It sometimes gets a little old.

But, we do try to honor one another’s work as best we can. Mostly, this is done over drinks, in person, but the beauty of the internet for us is that we can all publish and talk about each other’s work *here*, and almost in real time. We can even have a dialogue that exists above and beyond the actual show. I wrote about how much I loved Infectious Opportunity, and Gus Schulenburg actually took it a step further, finding a moment in the show and interviewing those involved to find out how they achieved it. Meanwhile, James, who wrote the play, was reviewing Fight Girl/Battle World. It’s a fantastic round robin we’ve got.

Now, in a scintillating rainbow of fresh air, the New York Innovative Theater awards came along to validate the whole thing. I think it took us a couple of years to even realize that these awards were talking about *us*… we are so completely unaccustomed to anyone celebrating the work that we’re all doing in shabby basement theaters and in converted store-rooms. We were like, “Best Choreography? You mean… You mean that amazing Japanese gymnastic routine where they knocked over part of the set and we all freaked out… they’re getting an award?” It’s just too amazing to put into words.

We co-produced “Universal Robots” at Manhattan Theatresource in February, and we were holding our breath to see if maybe Mac would get nominated for Best Playwright. We really thought it might, we just loved the script so much, and it seemed like everyone just loved the script and… well, it would mean the world for us to get some recognition for Mac after ten years of toting that barge and lifting that bail.

Most of it, I must admit, is that I love Mac deeply and I think he’s really coming in to his own. He’s written three plays in the last four years that deal with humanity and the wavering definition of a person’s soul… and although that sounds like heavy stuff, he’s done it with office comedies and high action sci-fi thrillers. My affection for him as a dude, as the best man in my wedding, is beyond measure, but my love for his work is in line with the obsessions that I’ve had with various writers through my life. For me, he’s in line with Kafka and Tolkien and Tom Robbins and Stoppard and Churchill. It’s a personal obsession, I don’t mean to say he’s as good as these writers, simply that he means as much to me.

And then we found out… we’d gotten FOUR NOMINATIONS. Including “Best Play”. I nearly shat myself.

Now, here’s the funny thing – how quickly a person can go from being gobsmacked at the honor of being nominated to being annoyed that he isn’t getting enough credit.

There was a mistake. Somewhere, in someone’s computer – a computer full of “auto-fill” and pull down menus and nonsense, a tiny clerical error was made. Mac called me on my way to the awards ceremony last night to tell me.

MAC: Hey dude, there’s some bad news.

ME: We weren’t nominated? Dude, I don’t even care, as long as you got nominated, that’s all that matters.

MAC: No… No, wait, listen, no. I was checking the list to make sure you were on it, and they were all “Oh, is he with Dark Brew?” And I was like, “What?”

ME: Who’s “Dark Brew”.

MAC: Right. I said, “Who’s Dark Brew”, and they pulled out the program. Apparently, all of Universal Robots nominations are listed as a co-production between Manhattan Theatresource and “Dark Brew Productions”.


MAC: They’re gonna fix it in all the literature, it’s just a typo or a weird mistake somewhere.


MAC: And I don’t get how this could have… I mean, everyone’s doing tons and tons of shit and…

ME: There’s NO WAY that Lanie fucked that up, she was on the phone with you when she wrote it.

MAC: No, I know. I’m sure Lanie got it right, I just… I have no idea what happened.



ME: Dark Brew, huh?

MAC: That’s what it looks like.

ME: Man, this is so *us*.

MAC: (laughing) Dude, we can just use this from now on. Like, when something awesome is about to happen, and then something weird happens right in the middle…

ME: We can be all “Ah man, we got DARK BREWed”

MAC: “Ah, shit, that is some DARK BREW you got there…”

ME: “Dude, taste this. Taste this brew – This brew tastes friggin’ DARK.”


So anyway, it became the joke of the night for the Robots crew, who were incredibly kind in letting me horn in on their celebration. When you’re a back-seat producer, it gets tough to stand around with the actors who slavishly created one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever witnessed and pretend that you were even 1/10th as involved. Pete Boisvert, the guy who made our VIRAL site, offered to build us a “DARK BREW PRODUCTIONS” website, with links to all our other shows.

And, really, it is *us*. Not “us”- Gideon, but “us” the off-off scene. Two years ago, one of the shows at Manhattan Theatresource, directed by Daryl Boling, had been nominated for an award, and Daryl’s company name (using his initials) was “Dark Brew”. The NYIT group is a MASSIVE undertaking with hundreds of man-hours put in, and I’m sure someone pulled down the menu and inserted what they had from their database. Have you seen the list of shows, how many they had to see, how many adjudicators they had running all over New York fo
r months and months, all in an effort to shine a little bit of light on what we’re doing?

The beauty of it for me is that it took the piss, a little bit. I had a vision of myself walking around with a pimp cane and a fedora, getting my ring kissed (yes, this was a vision from when I was 24 and had no idea what producing theater actually means) but once I got there…

Last night was just beautiful. The love that everyone in our community has for their embattled brothers is the kind of love that can only occur in this atmosphere. I found myself elated by all the success that SoloNova had last night, even though I’d only met the woman who runs the thing ONCE. I was so thrilled for shows like Lee/gendary and Stomp and Shout (an’ Work It All Out), even though I hadn’t seen them, the crowds with them were amazing and the production photos made me furious that I hadn’t gotten to the shows.

It can’t be like this when you could score a 20 million dollar deal if you win the Oscar. There’s very little on the line except for the respect and admiration of the rest of our dwindling but engaged community. I’ll be honest, I was proud to be executive producer of “Dark Brew” last night, as well as Gideon Productions. I could say I was all smiles just to be in the room, but the truth is, I was mostly just so grateful that there was a room for us all to be in. The awards matter, simply because they are one more step in the greater conversation.

My Accounts

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

My brother Steve is a brilliant, brilliant guy, who has very often had to carry around the label “curmudgeon”. Sometimes, he’s even been labeled a “misanthrope”. These are the kinds of labels that are tossed around pretty easily, and are almost always wrong. My other brother Ian wrote a great blog on the misuse of the word “narcissist”, and I think “misanthrope” should get a blog of its own as well.

(No, no… there wasn’t any sense of irony that he wrote a blog about the word “narcissist”. At this point, trying to argue that blogs are narcissistic is like arguing that email is making us less literate, or that TV is bad for you. It’s a boring, old canard, easily shot-down, celebrated by idiots who think easy thoughts and then pronounce them loudly.)

(Yeah… there probably should be some mention of irony when a guy like me gets mad at “idiots who think easy thoughts and then pronounce them loudly”…)

But anyway, Steve was talking about advertising. He’s one of those guys who rails against advertising and calls almost all mentions of things for sale “SPAM”. This makes me a little bit impatient because… to tell the truth, I’m selling something that I think people will like if they try it, but which people are extremely reticent to even try.

I have a fair number of friends who don’t even go to my shows. *Friends*, who have either been in plays in the past or who currently are working in the theater… and they just don’t come to the plays. It’s because they think they’re not gonna enjoy themselves. They think the seats will be small, the room will be hot, they don’t get to pause or fast forward, there won’t be any sports, they can’t eat snacks and they don’t get to talk shit during it.

I know this to be true because Fleet Week sold a lot of tickets, and it defeated most of the above arguments. The seats were good, the room was air-conditioned, they got to watch people running around dancing, (a sort of sport), and the show was so loud that people could actually talk shit during it. Still, it took more effort than sitting at home watching The Bachelor.

So, I have to sell something that people think they don’t want. The truth is, when they’re in the theater, they’re gonna like it, I believe that. Nobody walked out of Universal Robots wishing they had their time back, and that space was NOT comfortable. The story sustains, live theater has a quality that can’t be replicated.

So I asked Steve why he hates advertising so much. We’re a nation of consumers, and if there was no advertising, we wouldn’t know what to buy.

Steve’s point of view was really illuminating, especially as it concerns social media marketing. He sees it as a series of deposits and withdrawals. Every time you put up an update that makes people happy and laugh, you’re making a deposit. Every time you put up an update that gives people insight or information, you’re making a deposit. When you ask people to buy something, even just tickets to your show, you’re making a withdrawal.

His point is that you have to make deposits that are equal to the withdrawal, at the very least. Even better would be to make *more* deposits than you do withdrawals. And this works really well for Twitter and Facebook and stuff, where you can actually answer people’s questions and link to blogs and articles and stuff, long before you ask those people to take a leap of faith with you.

It’s interesting because the Lexus IS Convertible has a series of commercials called “Live a Little”. Now, a Lexus is basically a Toyota engine inside a shitty car, that designed to be pretty cute and very expensive.

Two Different Girls Lexus Ad

So, they’ve got nothing to sell you. This car is just like every other crappy expensive trashy car.

Running Lexus Ad

This one is hilarious, the guy is soaking wet and you have no idea why. At the end, he drives off and he’s being chased by about 50 guys who want to kill him. What did he do? Something awesome, that’s all we know. Lexus can’t make a deposit, so they made a bunch of really funny 30 second films that we’d enjoy watching.

And in the new media world, this is actually pretty easy. I have a lot of enthusiasm for the world that I live in, I genuinely love going to see other people’s show, and I genuinely would rather *everybody* produce really awesome shows than have to see shows that aren’t very good because people missed out on some easy tricks.

I spent my whole life as an actor wishing I was producing. I spent hours working with the TDs and the producers, asking them about marketing, asking them about the best ways to spend money, the best artistic choices. I still know about 10% of what I need to know to do a good job, but I LOVE IT when I see other people kick ass. If it’s possible for me to do anything to help, it feels like more than just a “deposit” on my brother Steve’s model. It feels like when you make your own dinner with your own ingredients – it’s a small thing that most people aren’t gonna even notice, but it feels like it’s improving the health of your world.

I hope that I can keep making withdrawals, which is what I feel like I’m mostly doing. All of the deposits I’m making feel like I’m making up for lost ground, like I’ve had some overdraft protection that I’m now paying back (if you don’t mind me extending the metaphor to the breaking point.) But I do feel better about making deposits into this particular world, as opposed to the pittance I put in as an actor. It’s enormously satisfying.

Why You Should See “Barefoot”.

Monday, July 13th, 2009

I wrote to my friend Seth and said, “Are you gonna be there on Saturday? I really want to see you guys (even though I don’t want to see the play) and I just wanted to see if you’d be there.” When he replied, “If you don’t want to see the play, then maybe you shouldn’t” I realized that what I wrote was a little bit shitty.

But look, if I lie to my friends, I’ve lost the only currency in which we deal. I tried to explain it to him, saying “If you were playing Jesus in Godspell in Des Moines, I would fly to Iowa to see that, but I don’t necessarily want to see Godspell in Des Moines”, and I think he got what I was saying. There are three or four people that I love deeply who are members of GroundUp Productions, and I felt compelled to see their show, no matter what show it is.

“Barefoot In The Park” isn’t even an old warhorse, it’s just Neil Simon’s somewhat innocuous and terrifically dated play. I saw it on stage when I was twelve, and then I saw it again when I was about seventeen. And again when I was about twenty seven. Also, I’ve seen the movie several times. And I saw the filmed version of the stage play on HBO. And I’m fairly familiar with Neil Simon’s work, having had it slipped into my artistic diet the way manufacturers of chewy snacks sneak palm oil into my belly.

I didn’t dread going. I’m a whore, I love the theater, it’s like church for me. Every time I walk in to a theater, I’m closer to what other people describe when they talk about God, so there’s no way I could dread it. But something happened. When I walked in and sat down in the theater… suddenly, I was actually pretty excited. And for several good reasons.

One) If you call Neil Simon a genius, I’m not gonna argue with you, but if you try to tell me that Travis Mchale is *NOT* a genius, then you’ll have a fight on your hands. Unless you’ve done what I’ve done (and many of you have) then you’ll have no way of understanding just how magnificent a job he does. He’s responsible for both the sets and the lights, and I can tell you what happened when I walked into the theater at Manhattan Theatresource… I felt like I was in the one bedroom apartment in a fifth floor walk-up. I could feel the sun coming through the skylight.

I just simply don’t know how he does it, how the company does it. I have designed and built many of the rooms in my own *house*, and I know how to look for seams… and there are none.

We’re in a whole different world here, with off-off theater. If you throw a bench on stage and tell us it’s a couch, we buy it, completely. We have NO DOUBT that it’s a couch. So… how do they get miter cuts on their ceiling molding? How do they have a functioning sink on stage, how do they MAKE IT SNOW THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT?

It’s an aesthetic vision that belies the actual motivation behind the company. They are building their company with the longest of longviews, re-creating well established scripts for the patrons that find that exciting, but they are managing to do the actual *work* with a microscope, with out a single nail out of place.

Two) There is a bell curve that happens for most artists. Most of us begin with great enthusiasm and very little skill, and end up with enormous skill and very little enthusiasm. An actor gets this in spades, unfortunately – it’s no wonder that Aldonza and Fantine are such compelling female characters, they may be the closest an actress gets to playing herself – and by the time a person has the maturity and skill to really perform, they’ve often exhausted their own patience.

In this play are two stunning performances by actors that we normally don’t get to see on our humble stages. Eric Purcell is wonderful as Victor Vellasco and Amelia White is pitch-perfect as Mrs. Banks. She comes in to see her daughter’s new apartment, and it is the most wonderful stretch of acting… we *know* she hates the apartment, but she genuinely tries to convince her daughter that she *loves* it. And White doesn’t give a hint of a knowing look, not one. She looks in her daughter’s eyes and tells her she loves the place without a single askance glance at the floor or ceiling (all of which would have been for our – the audience’s- benefit)

When finally, after a drunken night of nonsense, the two of them begin to actually talk about growing old… there might not be a more honest piece of theater going up right now. You need to see this, you won’t be more than twenty feet away when they do it, and it’s a small piece of depth and civility in a city who’s theaters are over-run by roller skaters and French revolutionaries.

Three) My friend was at the play, sitting in the other audience bank, and heard the man behind him say “OH! Right! You know what else we’ve seen by this guy? LOST IN YONKERS! That’s this same guy!”

If you don’t know Neil Simon’s work, this is the quintessence of what he does. “The Goodbye Girl” and “I Ought To Be In Pictures” get really heavy with the one-liners, far more so than this does, and the great stretch of plays based on his own growing up are perhaps his masterpieces, but this play will teach you why the man is a genius, why we should all spend a minute or two at his knee.

And you won’t find a better production. World class performances inside a brilliant theater space… and it’s even one step better than that. The show is set in the same neighborhood (roughly) as it’s being performed. Geographically speaking, it might actually be the closest production ever to the fictional brownstone it’s set in. To hear them complain about the skyrocketing rent and the utterly insane neighbors, when there are actually neighbors UPSTAIRS FROM THE THEATER who are probably complaining about their skyrocketing rent and the insane theater company downstairs putting on a Neil Simon play… that’s pretty fantastic.

Go see it. You’ll be glad you did.

Production Photos

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

The Fringe festival likes for you to have production stills early in May. For some people, the ones who are bringing previously produced work, this might be possible, but for us, we’ve *never* made the deadline. We’re generally still writing the thing, we’ve only get vague ideas about casting, and we aren’t even thinking about costumes or props or sets.

So, getting pictures is really hard.

(On all of these, you can click for larger)

Colin inspects Meredith

We’ve got a big community of people doing theater here, and we’re all trying to help one another, so it isn’t impossible to find someone willing to give you a hand when you’re kind of lost. I’ve read that ants can survive crossing great distances of water by creating a kind of ball that just spins, the ones on the underside hold their breath, while the ones on top hyperventilate, and then the ball rolls and everyone switches.

This is what our community of producers does. Right now, I’m hyperventilating, and, since the summer is a down time for a lot of other people, there are a big group of folks holding us above the water.

Meredith poses for the Viral video, being shot by Jarvis and Geena

Alex Roe at Metropolitan Playhouse totally came through for us, in a much bigger way than I could have imagined. I sent out a bat signal saying “does anyone know of a place we can take some pictures” and Alex set up the light grid and gave us his space for a whole night, way more than I had asked for.

Meredith and Colin square off, while Jarvis and Geena duck and cover

We’re fiercely protective of our actors. All of us are, but I’m pretty touchy about the whole thing, having spent too many years as an actor myself. There is a lot of discussion about the role of the production company, about the power of the written word in the script and about the deft maneuvering of the director… but once the lights go up, it’s an actor’s medium, plain and simple, and not nearly enough respect is given to the blue collar workers of our world. These are the mugs who are pulling the coal from the vein, and they gave up an evening of their time (one of countless things that actors do) just so we could take pictures of them at a theater.

Colin, Geena and Jarvis meet Meredith in an online chat

It’s hard because we know we can’t offer them much in return. There’s no money for anyone, although what we do have we give them. There’s no fame, there just isn’t. In this world, a handful of actors are celebrated, but it’s the playwrights who earn the reputation. There’s a lot of work, it’s emotionally harrowing, it costs you a couple of months of your life, auditions-through-closing, and then the show is gone, and you’re left with memories, another line on your resume and a long wait at the next EPA audition.

And although we know that nobody is ignorant of the set-up, and that they do it because they love it as much as we do, we still try to make sure to make it *good* for them, as good as we can. In the end, all we can really offer them is a script, and hope that it means as much to them as it does to us. We give them a story that is worth telling, and then, hopefully, when they’re in the line at Ripley Grier, they can at least think back on their time this summer as well spent.

This entire cast, all of them, have never done a show with Gideon before. Last night, the showed they were game, everyone there, working, in costume, trying to help us sell the show. It’s up to us to deserve the work they are putting in.

Write Her Name In The Sky

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Barnaby has moved, like clockwork, into his Cars phase. It isn’t cars, it’s Cars, the movie, more specifically the toys from the movie, that he loves. We can blame Aunt Deb for this. Both of his great vices, Lightning McQueen and the delicious taste of Ketchup, he owes to his doting Aunt Deb, who often tries to provide him with both when he’s having lunch at her house.

But the other day, he was playing with his Cars in his room, and he told me to play the guitar for him. I obliged, mostly because I’ve never turned down anyone who’s asked me to play, and because I love the idea of him loving music as much as I do, as much as my family does. I played songs that he knows and loves, the various “ABC” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” versions, “Rainbow Connection”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and so on, and then I was just noodling. As often happens, I stumbled on one of a thousand two-to-three chord songs that rattle around in my brain’s ether and I was singing “Free Fallin'” to him.

He stopped playing with his cars and looked over his shoulder at me. Then he came over and sat down on the floor next to me and listened. At the end of the song, he said, “That’s a boo-tiful song, daddy. That song is BOO-TIFUL”, and I agreed. Then, like he usually does, he started to deconstruct it, and he said, “I’m free falling, daddy. I’m free falling and you’re free falling and we are both free falling!” and I said, “Well, what about mommy? Where’s mommy?”

And Barnaby said, “You are gonna write her name in the sky!”

I want to tell you what it’s like, but the words fail me in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I don’t feel like I can’t explain it, I feel this deep ache of shame that I can’t explain it.

I just deleted eight paragraphs of this blog. I’ll never be able to write about him, I fear. I can tell you why I love theater, and I can tell you my secret desires for my life, my plans for immortality and the story of how my life was saved, but I just won’t ever be able to talk about him, I just know it.

He’s a funhouse mirror, one that looks like the best possible version of me layered into the best possible version of the girl I fell in love with, and then made pure and perfect. I can’t talk about him, I would have to pull my eyes out of my head, dragging my heart along by a tendril, and implant them into you to make you see him.

I’m sorry, kid. I tried. I’ve sat here for too long with too much else to do. I was waiting for a day that you were away, and it hasn’t helped, I just can’t do it.