Archive for March, 2015

Pursuing Failure

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Barnaby: Okay, I have to start my homework now, Daddy, and I’m *pretty sure* I’m not gonna get all of it done.

Me: Why’s that?

Barnaby: There’s way too much homework. I have a reading response and spelling and math and I have to finish my travel brochure for India.

Me: That does sound like a lot.

Barnaby: It does, right?

Me: Yeah.


Barnaby: So, do you think I’m gonna get it all done?

Me: I don’t know, what do you think?

Barnaby: Well, it’s a lot of homework. If I had to choose? If I had to say whether or not I could get it all done? I think I’d say there’s too much homework and I can’t get it all done.

Me: Well, kiddo, you know I don’t care if you do any of it.

Barnaby: You don’t?

Me: No, you don’t have to do any of it, as far as I’m concerned. The truth is, it isn’t really teaching you anything, you’ve already been at school for eight hours today, it really doesn’t matter to me if you do it.


Barnaby: Okay, well… I should probably start my homework, though.

Me: Okay.

(Cut to half an hour later. His spelling is done, his math is done.)

Barnaby: Okay, but Dad? I have two big writing projects to do, and I’m not sure I’ll get them both done.

Me: Well, if you don’t, you’ll have a really good excuse why you didn’t.

Barnaby: Yeah. (Beat) Wait, what do you mean?

Me: I mean, if you fail to get both pieces done, you’ll have a really good excuse, right? You had a lot of homework and it would have been really hard to do all of it.

Barnaby: (laughing) Daddy! You’re supposed to tell me to do all of this!

Me: I am?

Barnaby: Quit joking around!

Me: Barnaby, I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, I don’t actually care if you do any of this. If you tell me you want to watch a video, then we can sit and watch a video.

Barnaby: So you think I *shouldn’t* do this work?

Me: Oh no! Not at all, I think you *should*.

Barnaby: Then why did you say I had a good reason not to do it?

Me: I can’t *make* you do it, you decide what you’re gonna do. I don’t care. And if you go in tomorrow with your homework not done, your teachers probably won’t care either. You’ve got a good reason *not* to do it and if you *do* do it, it won’t really make that much of a difference.

Barnaby: So, why are you telling me that?

Me: Look, most people go into most things trying to figure out the reason they’re about to fail. Believe me, almost everyone I know has a stack of reasons *this high* for why they are gonna fail to do stuff – even the stuff they actually want to do.

Barnaby: Why do they do that?

Me: Well, first of all, it isn’t ‘they’, it’s me too. And I don’t know why we do it. I really don’t. But it isn’t everybody. I know a lot of people who are really successful at stuff, who don’t fail at stuff.

Barnaby: You don’t fail at stuff.

Me: (laughing) I don’t? I mean… honey, I fail at stuff all the time.

Barnaby: Like what?

Me: Dude, I might be failing *right now*. Maybe I’m supposed to get angry at you for obviously wasting time talking to me instead of doing your homework.

Barnaby: DAHAD!! I’m not wasting time, we’re *TALKING*!!!

Me: Right. This is what you do. You ask interesting questions to try to get people to talk so you don’t have to do your work.

Barnaby: (laughing) No! I ask interesting questions because people have interesting stuff to talk about!

Me: (laughing) The fact that you think people are interesting is actually one of the things about you that I’m most proud of.

Barnaby: Why?

Me: QUIT STALLING. Kid, if you want to do this, then do it. If not, then let’s go do something else.

Barnaby: Well, should I choose one of them to do? If I don’t do both of them, should I choose one?

Me: Whatever you want.

Barnaby: I’ll start with the reading response, and when I get that done, then I’ll see.

(Cut to half an hour later. His reading response is done. He’s rubbing his hand because it really hurts.)

Barnaby: Daddy, I think I’m going to do the travel brochure now.

Me: Okay. Do you want me to write some of it for you?

Barnaby: Don’t you think I should write it myself?

Me: Either way. But you know your hands get tired and I’m supposed to scribe for you if your hands hurt.

Barnaby: But other kids do all their homework on their own.

Me: Yeah, but they don’t have the same problems that you do. Their hand muscles are different.

Barnaby: That’s why it’s harder for me?

Me: It isn’t harder for you. It’s easier for you.

Barnaby: DAHAD! It’s *harder* for me! My hands don’t work like other kids!

Me: Look, dude, everything is hard for everyone. The difference between you and other kids is that we know what’s hard for you and we can help you. Most other kids? Their parents have to work really late and they have to do their homework at school. Or they only have one parent. Or they don’t speak English at home and so they’re the only one who understands the assignment. Or they have a whole bunch of brothers and sisters who are all running around yelling.

Barnaby: Or they don’t have pencils.

Me: (laughing) I mean… I suppose that’s possible, but probably not in our neighborhood.

Barnaby: What else?

Me: Well, what if they have an older brother who takes up all their parents’ time with his homework so they have to sit in the other room playing by themselves?

Barnaby: Like Marlena?

Me: Yeah. I mean, she’s got none of the same problems you have, but she’s got her own struggles. The reason stuff is *easier* for you is because we’ve had specialists and counselors from here to Timbuktu telling us all the different ways you’ve developed differently and how we can help. And most other kids have a ton of things that are hard but nobody has ever said, “it’s because of this or that”, so nobody is trying to help them.

Barnaby: That’s really terrible.

Me: Look, it all works out in the end. You’ve been given a hundred advantages. I mean – I might be doing all this wrong, but I am sitting here. Just the fact that I’m sitting here means you’ve got it easier than most kids. You might have been born with some delays and stuff, but every single step you’ve ever taken has been made easier for you.

Barnaby: So, I’m really lucky?

Me: I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that you’ve been helped every step you’ve taken. I know so many people who have a lot of money, but who talk about being poor, and I know a lot of people who say they deserve more than they’re getting when they have a ton of stuff. I know a lot of people who think their lives are really hard and awful when their lives are actually totally awesome. Most people decide they want to do something – like they want to have kids or start a company or get in shape or whatever – and then they talk about all the reasons that it’s *impossible* for them to do it right. They have *all these reasons* why it just won’t ever work… and that’s for the things they *chose* to do.

Barnaby: Why do they do that.

Me: Sweetie, it isn’t even ‘they’. It’s *me too*. I do this all the time, and it’s annoying and I don’t want you to do it. I mean… I’m just about the luckiest person that has ever lived ever. Every single day, I’m the luckiest person.

Barnaby: Because of me!

Me: (laughing) Yes. Totally. I got the perfect kids for me, I have, like, basically a perfect life. But I still get these horrible thoughts that I’m a failure, that I can’t do all the things I want to do, that I can’t be a success.

Barnaby: What do you want to do?

Me: DUDE!!! Listen, if you want to talk, I’ll talk. But I’m sick of sitting here. Let’s be done with your homework, I’ll just write your teachers a note and tell them I said you didn’t have to do this brochure.

Barnaby: No! No. (pause) I’ll do it.

Me: Well, if you’re gonna do it, then do it.

Barnaby: Can you write some of it for me?

Me: Of course. You’re gonna have to spell the words, though, if I ask and I’m gonna write them the way you tell me.

Barnaby: Okay.

Me: And if you want to write stuff yourself, just tell me.

Barnaby: Okay. Daddy? I think I’m gonna *start out* writing? And if my hand gets tired, I’ll have you write stuff.

Me: Totally. You do as much of it as you feel like you can do and as soon as you need my help, just ask me. That’s what I’m here for.

How I’d Do It.

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

There is a well-known proposal in place that would call for producers to pay all their artists a minimum wage in Los Angeles, for the 99-seat and under union contract. I’ve thought a lot about this.

Am I in favor of this proposal? I mean… I’ve never been the guy who considers these things very much. On this blog, I’m not speaking as a mouthpiece for Gideon, let me make that clear, but we basically look at the world and say, “here’s what *is*, here’s what we want, let’s make it work.” In our group, it never occurs to any of us that we can change that first thing, we just focus on the last.

Also? I hate Los Angeles. And I’ve earned it, I put in the years, man and boy. I know where all the Del Tacos are, I know how to get from Monrovia to The Beach on side streets… I’m allowed to hate it. So who the hell cares what I think?

But this proposal could very well affect how we do business in New York. It *won’t*, of course, because the union knows that would be a terrible idea. They understand the value of what the indie theater world is already doing and we’ve got a relatively useful agreement right now that both sides like. But I’ve been wondering how I would handle it if it *did*.

The first thing I’d do is cut rehearsal time *way* down and hold rehearsals during the day. We can get space for much less during the day and we would get scripts to the actors well before rehearsals start and let them know they have to show up off book.

Would we be under-rehearsed? I don’t know, honestly. I’ve been in shows where actors weren’t off-book after four weeks of rehearsal and we still survived opening night. Actors won’t let themselves look like assholes. Maybe we would be under-rehearsed, but actors sometimes don’t take care of stuff no matter how much time they’re given.

So, we cut rehearsal time down to 30 hours total. That’s $270 per actor.

I would also focus on doing only scripts with, say, less than six actors. I chose six because our show Viral has five and I totally, totally love Viral. So… yeah, totally arbitrary.

We wouldn’t have produced Universal Robots, Advance Man, Blast Radius or Sovereign. Now, those are probably four of our most beloved plays… but losing them doesn’t mean the world is ruined or whatever. I love all of those plays, but I DON’T love them more than Frankenstein Upstairs (four actors) Ligature Marks (two) or the afore-mentioned Viral. We would simply have had to prioritize differently.

I would cut the runs down to two weeks, probably, and fit as many shows in those two weeks as possible. So, we would cut the space rental budget by two thirds in rehearsal and a third in performance. We generally sell X number of tickets per show, regardless of the length of the run, so even if we sell .8X tickets, we’re paying .66Y for rental and it would still work out. And we might even work exclusively outside of Manhattan to save money.

We would produce shows that were 90 minutes or less. This gives the actors a half hour call, and the show would still be only two hours. That’s $18 a show. That’s another $250 per actor. Obviously, an actor is *allowed* to show up before half hour – and if they *want* to hang out afterwards and talk to people they can, but they’d be off the clock as employees.

So… what we’re looking at is $270 for rehearsal and $250 for the performances, which comes out to only $20 more for the production than we’re paying now.

Yes. The actors would have to do a great deal of the work on their own, outside of rehearsal. And if they wanted to do extra rehearsals and run lines with each other, they can find space to do that on their own. And yes, when the show closes fourteen days after it opens, it doesn’t really give you any time to actually grow into the performance.

And most importantly, YES, it sets up the sense that we’re not all in this together. That the producers/writers/directors are the owners of the show and the actors/designers are *literally* employees, not investors. It would be *extremely* difficult for groups of artists who are loosely defined to feel good about moving effortlessly from one artistic assignment to another and there might be a sense of resentment, should actors be asked to drum up audience or share stuff on social media.

But… maybe that’s why they won’t do it in New York.

I mean, the truth is that every producer I know would be much happier running our productions for five weeks rather than three. Every actor I know would be as well. The *reason* we run it for three weeks is because of the economic reality of New York and the agreement with the union. If we were, say, used to a $1000 credit from the city, a $30 ticket price and a five week run, we would COMPLETELY FREAK OUT, if we were given the showcase code. And a lot of us might bail. But then… a lot of us wouldn’t.

We’re creative people. We see what is and find a way around it.

Now, I know, this seems like I’m saying the union deal is bad for actors and it very well may be. I know that should they propose that here, it would be *hard* for the *artistic side* of being an actor, but I simply have no idea what “bad” even means, and I completely disagree that it would be “untenable”.

But my only thing is this… We’ve gotten creative with space here in New York. We’ve basically got an entire underground movement in NY with doing Site-Specific Theater. Our single biggest expense is real estate because New York real estate prices are insane, so we work around it.

Isn’t Los Angeles basically underwater when it comes to real estate? And I know – I KNOW, I lived there – there are some neighborhoods that are better than others. BUT… Here in New York? Why is there an amazing, incredible, award-winning theater in *Bushwick*? Remember when that was a terrible neighborhood? I did a show in Jamaica that sold out its entire run. If you look down your nose at a sketchy neighborhood, but you also can’t pay your artists… I don’t know…

If I could find a 40 seat theater for $175 a day… I would basically rent it out for about six months and then just fill it with shows. Because that’s $1225 a week. And look! I found one of those in Los Angles just now on the ol’ internet! I did a search for “Theater Rentals Los Angeles” on Google.

Maybe that space is shit. But there are *no* warehouses? There are *no* giant living rooms? Everyone drives, so don’t tell me you need to be close to a train… I don’t know…

But I know this – if the union pushes a contract on the independent producers of theater that seems unmanageable, they’ll find a way to manage it. And out of the groups that manage it, one or two of them will produce really, really good theater. If the union pushed that deal on us here, a bunch of us would stop producing, a bunch of us would go non-union… but a bunch of us would figure it out.

The basic theme of my entire blog over the years is this – we might not get what we thought we were promised. These agreements? These categories? This is all invention anyway. These were all negotiated with dated data by people no longer in the game. Shit’s gonna change.

Maybe this is a terrible deal for Los Angeles theater, and maybe the actors there know it and will fight it. I want them to fight for the best possible circumstances for them to be supported in their work. I’m not exactly sure what that means, of course, but I also know better than to think one way is *right* and the other way is *impossible*.

Just This Once

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

The man down the street said, “I’ve shoveled snow about 15 times already this winter and it was 40 degrees yesterday. Just this once, I’m not going to go out there and hack through the ice, I just can’t do it again.”

The man down the street, a different man, said, “Well at least *I’m* shoveling the snow in front of my house, unlike the guy with the sheet of ice. But shit, I’ve got a path that a person can walk down safely, just this once, I’m not going to dig out the entire sidewalk.”

The woman down the street says, “Oh Jesus. Why did the dog have to shit right here on the sidewalk? You know what? I’ve been picking up dogshit twice a day, every day, all winter. Just this once, people can walk around it. It’s one dog, one piece of shit, it’s not that big a deal.”

The mom from another neighborhood says, “I can’t even deal with the snowbanks any more. I’m gonna stop in the crosswalk and let my kid out. It’s too goddam cold, just this once I’m not gonna double park down the street and walk my kid in.”

Another mom says, “oh my GOD. That woman is parked *in the crosswalk!* What a fucking *bitch*. I know it’s cold, that’s why just this once I’m gonna double park in the bike lane in front of the ice-sheet covered sidewalk and walk my kid in. I’m going to let the car idle for the three minutes I do that because it’s cold and the inside of my car might drop a few degrees when I open the door.”

A man says, “I’ve waited through one green signal without making it through the intersection. I’ve already waited through a *whole cycle* of lights. Just this once, even though the light isn’t *yellow*, even though it’s *fully red*, and even though this is a crosswalk in front of a school, I bet I can make it through and nobody will do anything. I’ll get away with it, I won’t get a ticket.”

These people are special. The rules say you shovel your walk, you pick up your dog shit, you don’t let your car idle, you don’t park in a crosswalk, you don’t run a red light. And the reason none of us say, “there oughta be a law” is because there *is* a law. All of these things are illegal. The guy standing in front of his triple-parked, idling car, smoking a cigarette? That guy is breaking the law three ways.

I was in the park one day at noon with my two year old daughter and a man let his two dogs off the leash.  I asked him to grab his dogs, the ones that had already knocked my kid over and he said, “they’re fine”. I told him to put them on a leash and his response was, “call a cop, asshole”.

These people are special.

Now, I’m special too. Everyone told me a career in the arts would be impossible, and I said, “for *you* maybe! But I’m clearly *special*!” And I pursued a career in the arts. A career that has never once endangered anyone’s lives. A career that breaks no laws.

The fact that people have to have *a grownup* standing next to them *forcing* them to obey laws that we’ve taken the time to put through committee, voted on, created signs for and then posted them, is astonishing. “Call a cop”, they say, if you want common decency and the human instinct to protect our young. If you want your neighbors to live up to their civic duty, if you want a shared sense of responsibility, you can’t just pass laws and put up signs. YOU HAVE TO LITERALLY CALL THE POLICE.

This winter is hard on everyone. It’s hard on the people I’ve spoken about.

And then it’s hard on the woman with two children, walking slowly across the ice-floe covered sidewalks, walking in single file down the least-I-can-do shoveled sidewalk, pulling her kids around the dogshit, yanking her kids out of the way as two more cars blow through the red light, walking into traffic and slush to avoid the car parked in the crosswalk, avoiding the old men smoking in front of their idling car. It’s hard on her as well.

The difference is, she isn’t a lazy ass piece of shit with a moral compass that spins in whichever direction is “only as hard as I feel like working, and no harder, no matter who it fucks over.”