Monday, December 29, 2008

Turning Childhood Memories into Art

Over this past weekend we watched the indie film from the U.K. called Son of Rambow (made by writer/director Garth Jennings who also did the film of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

You can check out clips and get info on the movie at their website.

This sweet little film hit me right in the cockles of my heart for various reasons. First, the main characters are 10 year old boys in 1982. That same year I was a ten year old boy in Reno. So I remember the 80s music, the hairstyles, the clothes, the cold war, all that. And second, these kids run around and do various stunts in the forest playing Rambo and then film it with a VHS camera. Similarly, I fell out of a tree and swung on a tree rope several times ala Indiana Jones while my friend used his behemoth video camera—in fact, I wrote my first screenplay in 4th grade, SUPER SLEUTHES, a comedy with a lot of jokes about farts and pimples.

We intended to shoot the script in the summer of '83 but ran out of funding.

Son of Rambow is more complex and has more depth than Super Sleuthes, and far less fart jokes. It’s a story about friendship and family but trust me, this is not really a kid’s film. It will appeal probably more to adults, definitely more Stand By Me than The Sandlot.

What is particularly relevant to writers is that the story is based on the writer/directors’ own childhood experience. He really did watch a pirated video of Rambo: First Blood and then picked up a video camera and filmed himself and his friends. It’s how he got started making movies, actually. But in an interview he said he was first draft of the script was “rubbish” because he literally put down on paper “what really happened”.

This issue comes up a lot when dealing with material that is historically or personally factual.

“But it really happened that way!” is a phrase I’ve heard from playwrights young and old, alike, and it’s usually in defense of something that is not working in the script. Sometimes “what really happened” really works, but usually only in extreme circumstances like Apollo 13 or Blackhawk Down. Not so much in childhood memories. They seem extreme at the time but usually they’re pretty freaking boring.

As soon as you put a real event or person in your story then that material becomes fiction. This is a beautiful concept because it literally gives you permission as the writer to change anything you want. When you’re filing a police report, you’re talking about real people and the cops don’t really want you to lie or exaggerate. But when you’re telling a story, you don’t have to deal with facts. These are fictional characters. The “it really happened” police aren’t going to arrest you for falsifying your testimony.

In Son of Rambow, Will, the young protagonist, is in an extremely religious family, members of the Plymouth Brethren. He’s not allowed to listen to secular music or watch TV. There’s even a scene where he has to step out of the classroom when they watch a documentary (which is also how he meets up with the other miscreant character, Lee). But through the chain of events we call plot, he ends up watching a pirated copy of Rambo. The movie blows his mind and he runs home pretending to rescue his father from an army prison.

Now, did the writer/director grow up in a religious family?


In interviews, he says he had a happy childhood, a great family, and was allowed to play and do whatever he wanted. But he knows a happy childhood on screen is a bad movie. He remembered he knew a neighbor kid, though, whose family was part of the brethren. He discovered that all he had to do was move his story next door and suddenly he had a major conflict. He could still use the same events and ideas, but now there was more at stake.

Of course, he made that discovery from rewriting.

Yes, I know, again with the rewriting! But that’s where the real writing happens. First drafts are usually rubbish. You have to keep plodding on through and keep reworking the story until it works. It’s the difference between a lazy writer and a professional.

Which reminds me…I gotta take a look at that TYA tour script again. Time to do some rewrites on that.

For now during the holidays, I’m reading a few books for pleasure (instead of scholarly or work-related materials). On my bedstand is Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, a book of short stories by Miranda July and then I might dip into The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore and Northline by Willy Vlautin.

Sometimes I feel starved to sit down and absorb some brilliant writing, whether it’s a script or fiction or nonfiction. There’s real pleasure in enjoying someone else’s ability to put a brilliant sentence together or tell a great story.

I have other hidden agendas for reading, too. I’ve wanted to adapt something for a solo show but the book I had looked at for this purpose just disappointed me. I really would like to try my hand at an adaptation some day but need to find something I really want to devote my time and energy to. So sometimes I read a book and think, how would this translate to a film or play?

Meanwhile, in the next month or so I’ll do some more work on 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT as we gear up to head off to the KCACTF festival in February. I’m so looking forward to diving back into that multi-layered piece, as well as working with my fabulous and talented cast.

Oh, right, and then I have a short puppet play to write for a friend of mine in Chicago.

Man, it’s already a busy year and it ain’t even started yet…

Friday, December 19, 2008

The War on Cliches Continues...

Snowed again today (or rather iced in) so have some free time.

Here's a fun link that talks about all those really really bad movie lines that you hear over and over again...

You know like...

"It's quiet...too quiet" which is usually followed up by some extreme action which is most relatively unquiet.

or my favorite:

"Did I just say that out loud?"

And if you see one of these lines in your script, do yourself a favor and rewrite it.

Don't be lazy. Be a hero. Wipe out Cliches.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter is here!

It is snowing like crazy out there.

(okay, not crazy like Buffalo crazy, but crazy like Seattle people who don't know how to drive on snow that freezes over crazy)

I walked the dog this morning and this is what I saw at the intersection over by the North Seattle College. Seems a bus couldn’t quite get up a hill and slid sideways, jackknifing and blocking the entire street.

So I’m working from home today and thinking, y’know, I haven’t posted in a long, long time on this site.

Maybe you noticed?

Or not.

(Only one avid reader—aka The Mom—has actually mentioned the lack of writing)

The show 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT was a rousing success in various ways. The ensemble really came together and brought all their focus, energy, and enthusiasm into developing this new piece of theater. The performance of the show had sold out houses (sure its only a 50 seat house, but still…).

The actors were a bit surprised that they even got so much laughter during the show—especially during the badminton showdown between the countries with the bomb. We had a thought-provoking post-play discussion about the realities of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, life during the cold war, life under the shadow of the nuclear bomb, etc, with the cast, a philosophy teacher, ethics teacher, and with a BCC member of Unicef and Japanese foreign exchange student. The audiences were generally receptive to the collage and nonlinear narratives that were thrust upon them.

And the songs really kicked butt. Especially the rap.

(It was the first time I’ve ever actually had rap in one of my shows and I gotta say, I felt pretty hip.)

As many people know, the show was entered into the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. We just found out a week ago or so that the script is a regional winner and finalist for a Kennedy Center national award, the David Mark Cohen Award. Due to this wonderful and well-earned surprise, we will be taking the show in a bare bones presentation to the regional festival in February. In fact, the whole cast was going anyway as most of them were Irene Ryan scholarship nominees (for our show or another show). And since I’m good at producing shows that could literally fit into a trunk, we’re taking all our props with us (badminton rackets, shuttlecocks, tambourines, sheets, paper cranes and yes, we’re even taking the chairs).

The most successful part of this show, for me, was that I really wanted to use the time and energy to discover new personal methods of creating theater in a more collaborative way, ie devising. I have worked on devised work and various types of new play development as an actor, director, dramaturg and playwright. Each new work can be created in its own unique way--even if you're a traditional playwright who loves him his Aristotle, you know that every time you write a play you're learning how to write THAT particular play, even if you do follow a typical three-act traditional structure.

And for devising, things get more nebuluous in definition depending on the theatre company, director, or writer. In fact, I got into a discussion about devising because this person thinks that if there is a playwright or any source material then you are not devising (to which I think Theatre de Complicite, Wooster Group and a whole slew of devising theater folks would whole-heartedly disagree...).

But I digress...

I feel I’m still learning how to be a playwright/director. In some ways I really like passing the responsibility along to another director to help shape something. Especially with all the tricky bits. This production and experience was more about collaboration, and much of the writing and directing (ie storytelling) was done in direct collaboration from the ensemble—and I use the word to include not just the performers but the assistant director, designer, and stage manager. Even though I wrote a lot, or decided where to insert particular quotes from research, dialogue or poetry, or just choreographed movement--much of the work was from trimming down a lot of the work we did in the rehearsal room.

There’s many lessons that I’m still processing and much about the creation of the show that worked well. The biggest drawback, really, was the lack of time involved. The show went from an idea to a fully-fledged production in less than a year, changing shape and storylines many, many times based on research, workshops, improvisations and conversations.

In short, I feel more proud of this show than any other play I’ve written or directed.

There have been other productions that have been magical in their own right (in particular a production of Love & Death in the Time of Crayola), but 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT has proven to me that I can write and direct and wonderful things can happen. I may not always want to work this way, but right now, I’m thinking it’s a pretty good way to do things for now.

The main reason is that I don't feel like I'm imitating anyone. A lot of times, I hear other playwrights' voices in my head (why do writers always sound insane?). But this time, I really asked myself, what kind of theater do I like? What kind of theater do I want to see and make? And I made that....mostly.

Anyway, this director/writer thing works for folks like Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Moises Kaufman, Richard Maxwell and Richard Foreman and Young Jean Lee, so why not for me?

Speaking of which, Young Jean Lee is about to open her play THE SHIPMENT in New York City next month. If you’re going to be in that area, you should check it out.

Here’s a clip of her talking about her work, her process, and writing about race (as interviewed by downtown theatre impresario Richard Maxwell).

Monday, November 10, 2008

We have survived tech

I am falling in love with my show all over again.


The technical rehearsals this past weekend were astonishingly smooth, thanks in no part to my multi-talented and on the ball Lighting & Set designer and crew. Thank you so much!

And the show is starting to look sooooo sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

So get your tickets...Only five shows and only 60 seats (it's a small house).

Info below.

Bellevue College Theatre Arts/Drama

7 Minutes to Midnight

World Premiere

Conceived and directed by Dennis Schebetta developed with the actors

Stop Gap Theatre
Nov. 14, 15, 21, 22 - 8:00 pm
Nov. 20 - 7:00 pm
$10 Students, $12 General

Buy Tickets early at Brown Paper Tickets

Please join a panel of BCC scientists, and the artists for a discussion following the Thurs. Nov. 20 performance.

Are you ready for that great atomic power? On July 16, 1945, the Trinity test in New Mexico awakens the Greek God Kronos (otherwise known as Saturn). After killing his father and devouring his own children, he was banished to the underworld by his son Zeus and is just waiting for the end of the world which will set him free. The dawning of the atomic age means the time draws nigh. Using text, movement and music, this ensemble-based play weaves together several stories from 1945 to now, showing Oppenheimer and other members of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as they try to warn the military and others about the impending cold war and the arms race. It examines the "nuclear" family of the 1950s, the fear of the 1980s, and how millions grew up under the shadow of a mushroom cloud. The clock is ticking for us all. Kronos is waiting, certain of mankind's destruction. What are you waiting for?

For more information about The Bulletin and The Doomsday Clock, check out the website:

Bellevue College is located at:

3000 Landerholm Circle SE
Bellevue, WA 98007

Friday, November 7, 2008

This is interesting

I think this map is interesting, given the most recent election...

Note to self: DO NOT move to any of these areas of the country.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wrong Turns

We are in the home stretch here of the show 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT (opening November 14th, next Friday, get your tickets now by going here--okay, here endeth the plug).

The most important thing of any show is the beginning.

This is true for writing a play, screenplay, novel, what have you. Its especially true if you're a director. That first ten minutes--heck, the first minute--is crucial. Either you grab your audience's attention right away or you spend a long, long time trying to bring them into it...the former is more effective. This doesn't mean you have to open with some huge TV serial killer moment or shock the audience or placate them or hit them at the lowest common denominator. It means that first image, sound, text is going to be crucial. So you gotta get it right.

For the past month, we hadn't gotten it right.

It's not the actors fault--they were actually doing quite well with what we had been working with in the aspects of the opening. But it just didn't fit with the show we were creating. It was too long, too tangential, and not quite as meaningful. It didn't set up the tone for the rest of the show.

We struggled to work with the opening a lot these past few weeks.

I'm proud to say that on Monday night, we found it. Or it found us. Whatever.

It is a simple, beautiful, and appropriate way to start our show...

Yeah for us!

(And man, am I ever relieved as Tech is this weekend...phew!)

But as I said to one actor, "Some times you have to take a lot of wrong turns before you finally figure out which road is the right one."

Just part of the process.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Can a Vote be Rocked? And how would you rock it?

Did you vote?

I'm not going to say who I voted for (Obama), or tell you which candidate I think is best (Obama), but I do think (Obama) that it is time for change (Obama) and that no matter which candidate (Obama) you vote for (Obama), you need to have your voice heard (Obama).

Get out the vote.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More fun with random poetry

From Walt Whitman:

Now for the last--let me look back a moment,
The slower, fainter ticking of the clock is in me;
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Something in the Zeitgeist

[These are not pictures from my show. Photos are of Mike Daisey from his performance of How Theater Failed America and from the recent NYC production at the Met of "Dr. Atomic".]

It seems everyone is doing a show about the atomic bomb these days.

I already knew that the Met in NYC was opening “Dr. Atomic”, a new opera by John Adams with libretto by Peter Sellars, taking excerpts from government files and other research. That show, which got a really interesting write up in the NYTimes is more about the creation of the bomb and Oppenheimer’s work on The Manhattan Project (taking a very Faustian approach).

But then I just read that Mike Daisey opened his latest monologue show at Joe’s Pub in NYC called “If You See Something Say Something”. The title is taken from a host of public service ads on the NY subways. I remember seeing them all over the place, sometimes accompanied by a photo of a lone briefcase on a platform (because there might be a bomb in it, get it?).

Here’s an excerpt from the review today by Charles Isherwood:

Mr. Daisey’s ambitious new show traces the philosophical roots of our metastasizing contemporary security apparatus back to the early days of the cold war, when the newly energized war machine was kept in a state of tense alert, the better to rout the Commies should they suddenly spring into action and swamp American shores.

It’s a smart, provocative thesis. Mr. Daisey argues persuasively that the heightened security measures enacted by the current administration echo the Red Scare tactics of the 1950s, when the fear of Communism caused some serious erosion of the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. It has certainly been suggested — and Mr. Daisey adds his voice to the chorus — that the “war on terror” is having side effects similarly toxic to the moral health of the nation.

You can read the entire review here. .

What I find fascinating is that unlike the opera “Dr. Atomic” which focuses on the story of the bomb’s creation, Daisey is, like me, more interested in the current echoes of the cold war with the present day. He seems to compare the heightened security measures of those two eras, especially those in major U.S. cities post-9/11.

From the review he seems to work from an honest place of fascination with the test site in Los Alamos, NM. The Trinity test site is where 7 Minutes to Midnight starts as this is the event which awakens Kronos, signaling him that it’s the end of the world and freedom awaits. In similar fashion, we move forward in time, examining how the atomic bomb affected us in the 1950s, the 1980s, and even now in the present day. And we’re using the myth of Kronos as a lens in which to see these differing times, taking a more abstract approach to the stories.

I admire Daisey for taking on the bomb and I know that his raconteur-ing (that is a word I think I just made up) will add interesting personal commentary to a subject much in need of talking about.

I feel like perhaps we are only now coming to grips with what the legacy of the atomic age means to us now. What does the future hold for us in this world of nuclear weapons and mass destruction. It’s been sixty three years since that first test in Alamogordo on July 16, 1945.

It’s like the world has PTSD and is only now starting to sit down with the therapist and say, “Holy crap, what did we just invent?”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Move Over Shakespeare, Now There's Something Meatier...or is there?

I just saw Seattle Shakespeare Company’s new production of Henry IV parts I & II, adapted by the esteemed Dakin Matthews and directed by the talented and charming Stephanie Shine.

I’ve actually seen three variations of this adaptation from John Goodman playing Falstaff at the Old Globe in San Diego to Kevin Kline wearing a fat suit at Lincoln Center. All I can say is this production easily holds its own with both of those. The directing is fast-paced, the performers talented and energetic and the over-all production is quite thrilling, especially the big battle.

Whenever I see a great production of Shakespeare, I always wonder why anyone would bother writing new plays. Hasn’t the Bard of Avon captured everything about humanity in his 36 plays? What new visions can be offered by a modern playwright that can’t be found in Richard III or Othello (Which seems to be particularly popular given this year’s election)?

And here’s my answer…

Shakespeare lived in a different age. He wrote for a different time.

He didn’t live in a world with technology like the atomic bomb or the computer. The dude couldn’t even type—he wrote his play with a quill (which in a lot of ways is much more reliable than MS Office). In the world he lived in, the main method of communication was talking and listening. He didn’t live in an age of world wars and mass genocide (okay, well, there was that thing called The Crusades, but I'm talking Holocaust here, 9/11, Kosovo, etc). His economy was not global. He wasn’t able to attain any information he wanted via Google. He wasn’t able to read any newspaper from any part of the world on his computer, or see any image of atrocity from Sudan, poverty in India, or see YouTube clips of events happening in London or New York or Paris.

Shakespeare wrote about humanity and basic human drives like greed, love, fear, ambition don’t change even over the centuries. Which means his work is still relevant and I wouldn’t want to do without it.

I love me my Shakespeare.

But his work alone does not hold all the answers nor does he ask all the questions that are relevant to us in our age.

That’s why we need new plays.

David Hare’s Stuff Happens does a better job of examining our own political and military actions in current events much better than just dressing up Julius Caesar in business suits.

We need plays like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. We need Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. We need Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

And just as important, we also need plays from a female point of view with good parts for women (because let’s face it, if you’re a woman in a Shakespeare play, you’re probably one of these four: young lover, queen, bawdy wench or the nurse. I like to believe that in today's world, a woman has more options than that. I like to believe that a woman can be the protagonist (and no, I don't think its as easy as just casting a woman as Hamlet). We need playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, Naomi Iizuka, Marsha Norman, Rebecca Gilman, Caryl Churchill, Tina Howe, Melanie Marnich, Sarah Ruhl, Julie Jensen, Sheila Callahan, Neena Beber, and on and on and on.

Not to mention plays from other viewpoints outside of the privileged class of white male centric society—plays from August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Suzan Lori-Parks David Henry Hwang, Maria Irene Fornes, Octavio Solis, Nilo Cruz, Diana Son, Young Jean Lee, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Kwame Kwei-Armah, Yussef El Guindi, and on and on and on…

Like I said, I love me my Shakespeare. But as I was watching Henry IV yesterday, I kept thinking…this is great English history, but where are the histories of the U.S.? Who is examining our own political legacy over the ages? Why aren’t we thinking about what leadership means today with language and events from today?

We've spent a lot of time and energy honoring and supporting a dead playwright from another country. Isn't it time we start looking for our own Shakespeare of our time? Does he/she even exist?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Boy and Girl on the Ridge, Pt. I

This is one of the other scenes I'm in love with...there are two parts. This is part one. It actually involves all eight of the actors, as all the men speak the BOY lines and all the women speak the GIRL lines and they moved about in the space, each staring off into different directions, each mirroring and echoing eachother.

The effect is a little haunting, to say the least, but very cool.

Imagine out in the desert. A boy. A girl. They are sixty-five miles from Vegas. It is almost midnight and another day at the office for the scientists working on the test site. Another day. Another explosion.

SOUND of the wind, which has died down to a low whistling. GIRL and BOY looking out to the desert, boy sitting in chair, girl standing.

What are we waiting for?

Look over there.

They stare out. Time passes for what seems like ages.

Let’s go.

It’s almost time.

A far off SIREN wails. They both look off to the desert.

What’s that noise?

Hold on.


Oh my...



That was...

It was...


Yeah, something.

Pause. She gasps. Something seems physically wrong with her. BOY doesn't look at her, keeps staring straight ahead.

You all right?

I think I’m gonna be sick.

What’s the matter?

It’s like the Garden of Eden...Tasting from the tree of knowledge, knowing that...knowing the world is different...being cast from paradise.

Paradise is the desert.

Aren’t you afraid?

He looks at his watch.

Aren’t you afraid?
(he looks at his watch)
Aren’t you afraid?
(he looks at his watch)
Aren’t you afraid?


I thought maybe I should post some dialogue from the show for reference to the post I just created...This is The Nightmare section...The entire ensemble of chorus members will be saying this, in various stages, as they move around the stage.

The nightmare always starts the same way. It’s the end of summer and my mom is taking me shopping for school clothes. It ‘s a really sunny day but the sun is going down over the mountains in the west. We walk into Macy’s at Meadowwood Mall, by the shoe section. I’m walking down the aisle when all of a sudden there are these panicky screams. All these mothers and children screaming and yelling and running around like the end of the world is coming. And I think, maybe this is it, y’know, maybe this is the end of the world, who knows...I turn around to look out the glass doors of Macy’s and suddenly there is this bright light. I mean, it’s like when you are a stupid little kid and your sister dares you to stare into the sun too long and you want to keep staring but the sun is like jabbing needles into your corneas. Y’know? For a second I remember that stupid black and white public service cartoon about the turtle, “Duck & Cover” but I don’t want to duck. I want to see what’s going to happen. I see the mannequins in the store against the light from the windows and they are like silhouettes, but then I think maybe those aren’t mannequins, but maybe they are people, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. They’re not moving. It’s like time has stopped. I feel this intense heat all over my face, like I’ve been lying on the beach far too long. A horrible noise rumbles and creaks. I think its the building around me. I feel my breathe get sucked up by something. And this is the craziest thing but I feel my heart mind is body dematerializes and there is nothing. It isn’t like I die and suddenly see St. Peter at the pearly gates...I mean nothing. Darkness. A void. Then I wake up and go to school. Yeah, I’m usually late to first period. But my teacher doesn’t care. I sometimes forget I even had the dream until I’m getting my chocolate milk at the 7/11 and it occurs to me as I’m passing over a couple of bucks to the zit-faced clerk that I like totally died the night before. I like to think that if the shit really does come down, y’know, like if the U.S. and the Soviets actually nuke each other, I like to think I’m mentally prepared. I got practice for that kind of thing.

Banging my head and the beat goes on...

I was talking to my really smart wife yesterday at dinner before rehearsal, whining and moaning about how hard my process for this show has been…

She listens to me whine and moan a lot, so she’s used to it. In fact, she adds her support and help by sending emails of encouragement (and sometimes she sees more value in my work than I do..)

Rest assured, the show is going to be good and like nothing that's been seen before in some ways, that's for sure. The performers are great and the script is good, if a bit raw, and the design will be pretty interesting.

What has been difficult and challenging for me specifically is that the purpose of this show was to really try to do work differently, writing and directing a show and re-making things in rehearsal. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo but I have a personality flaw of a big ego and like everything to revolve around me and my ideas. This does not serve devising and alternative theater all that well (though it works for Richard Foreman, I think).

And I don't want this show to be like other traditional plays. Which makes things difficult, because you narrow the kinds of plays you can compare it to.

Then I wonder if devising theater is really my calling, or if I should just write and direct like some modern-day Brecht (also a megalomaniac who liked to play guitar—and actually thought he could teach Kurt Weill a thing or two…Which would be like me trying to tell Bono how to write a song.)

I’ve usually had a much more developed script and dialogue/character/actions are much more dictated by my original idea. This process has been me letting go of a lot of that to create space to play in the rehearsal room and work directly with the ensemble. It requires me to listen to the ensemble in a much more active way and then figure out how to rewrite (either on the spot or back home at the keyboard).

And I like this more open-ended process, but man, its like banging my head up against a wall, over and over. I’m much better at thinking through things on paper, writing them out. This process has tapped into my instinctual choices much more than I’m used to and it’s a little unnerving.

It's good, but everything still feels a bit raw.

Traditional theater is so much easier…Write a play, give it to a producer or director, hand it off and let them deal with it. Make it a single unit-set in a realistic setting (like an apartment in Ballard, say) with characters we all know and have seen on the street. Rewrite as necessary and at your leisure to make it all smooth, polished and safe. Easy. Comfortable and palatable.

I have GODS and SCIENTISTS and ATOMIC BOMBS and characters play badminton and then break into song FOR NO APPARENT REASON, because it’s not really a musical, but there is music…There are different theatrical styles, various locations, spanning over a time period from creation until now.

When I describe the show to people they usually say, "Wow, you have a lot going on in that."

Yes. Probably too much. Like always.

But my smart wife asked me, “What are the parts of the show that you really like and why?”

I say my favorite parts right now are all the parts that don’t have anything to do with the Doomsday Clock, which was the premise of the show and hence the title. My favorite scenes right now are the various versions of the myth of Kronos. I like all that examination of family as seen through that prism. It’s not that I don’t like the Doomsday Clock stuff, but when I’m looking at the atomic bomb stuff I’m more fascinated by the Boy/Girl scenes or the Nightmare monologue than the historical representation of what the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists do. The facts and figures don’t mean anything to me. The truth of perpetuation of violence feels real, and that resonates on a political and personal level.

Also, those scenes really feel like they’ve been created with and for the ensemble. So they shine in a unique way where the other stuff just seems like pieces of text I cobbled together from research (which basically it is).

I guess I’m trying to hone in on what excites me in this show and get rid of all the rest.

This is why I’d really like more time…

The thing is that I think the show works well when it juxtaposes the myth of Kronos with the story of the atomic age, like two ideas bashing against each other (or maybe its not juxtaposition but rather a dialectic—a dialogue of ideas—I get them confused).

One thing illuminates the other. Ideally.

Feeling lost in this process, I reached out to another writer/director whose work I really admire, Young Jean Lee. She had a show come through here in Seattle at On The Boards called SONGS OF THE DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN. I was really impressed with the show and have been hearing a lot about her as an artist for a long time (in fact, I even saw her perform as an actor with the National Theater of the United States of America way back many years ago at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn). She is a member of 13P, a playwrights production group in NYC, studied with Mac Wellman, and has been doing her own thing of writing/directing for a long time.

She is currently working on her next show, SHIPMENT, about race. Check out her website here because she has a really interesting blog about her process and the show.

In fact, on her blog, I found this little list of advice she received from some other smart theater person about her work. I think it’s so great and applies to all kinds of theater-making, traditional or alternative, so I’m going to post it here:

- first of all, I admire what you do. your work is consistently brave,
provocative, disarmingly honest, conflicted, disturbing, and funny;
and I'd love to work with you on something somehow someday
- do not be offended: it will harm no one except you
- Foreman gives a suggestion in 'Unbalancing Acts' to address the one person in the audience - even if that person exists only in your imagination! - who is: A. smarter than you and B. totally gets what you are doing
- assume the audience is very intelligent, and then work hard to keep them guessing what is really going on
- encourage the performers to harbor secret throughlines, and to own & savor everything they do
- never reveal your entire hand at once
- be cunning
- keep the audience in a state of mystery as to what is genuine and what is not
- however, disregard any advice that is not useful or interesting to you
- examine your impulses and take care not to reject advice out of
pride nor fear
- tell your truth, the universe needs honesty
- and finally: don't let the bastards get you down"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Kind of Writer Am I

Okay, so this kind of fun, but I don't really know how reliable it is.

Probably as reliable as that fortune teller I went to once in NYC who told me someday I would buy a car or be in a car some day...Which ended up being so true because I went on a TYA a cargo van...about a year, you know, totally reliable.

You Should Be a Film Writer

You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.

You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.

Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.

And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Two More Weeks


That’s the new name for the prologue section of my show 7 Minutes to Midnight.

It’s organized chaos, to some degree, but its really a lot of things going on…Eight actors playing with a bunch of rubble. Somewhere in there they will start speaking the text, singing the songs, becoming the story that is the story of the atomic bomb and the story of Kronos and the story of our own tendency for self-destruction…

And we’ll get there…But right now it’s kind of a big mess.

But that’s okay. We got time. Not a lot of time, but some.

No matter what show you work on, you always need two more weeks. That’s just the mantra for any director/writer/actor whatever…Two more weeks. But what I love about the theater is also what challenges me—that there is a looming opening night. And you don’t “not open”. I mean, you can, but that looks even worse then putting up a crappy, haphazard show.

It’s hard to imagine that some of the great theatre practitioners—like Stanislavsky, Brecht, and Grotowski—they rehearsed plays for years.


Unfortunately, in this country, that is rare. I think the average rehearsal time, especially for universities, is six weeks. Now, a lot can be done in six weeks, especially if you have talented people involved (and if you have well-trained people, as well). My actors are starting to feel and work collaboratively like an ensemble, which is wonderful, but think about how much growth could happen with this group if we were working on this for a year? Or two years? Think about how the script and performance might evolve over the span of that time.

In an age of the 10 Minute play, the 24 hour play festival and the rise of YouTube clips that are shot and put up in a matter of minutes, are we losing that sense of creating a piece over a long period of time? Are we losing the sense of involvement and focus and really mining our subject, searching under every rock for the gold we might discover?

Or maybe this show is simply making more aware of how time is so fleeting.

We never have enough. No matter what we’re doing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Poster for 7 Minutes to Midnight

copywright and courtesy of Brian Healy, the set & lighting designer of the show.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Harp jam

This one is for Chris who is so patiently trying to learn the harmonica for the show.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No More Waiting and Waiting No More...

I was sad to learn this week that the Seattle Rep had cancelled the upcoming production of Bill Irwin in Waiting for Godot. The show was to be directed by legendary Irishwoman Gerry Hynes (of whose Broadway version of Beauty Queen of Lenane was so riveting--and one of the first Broadway shows I had seen after recently moving to NYC).

Instead they are doing The Road to Mecca.

No offense to Mr. Fugard, but...really?!

But my disappointed feelings were rejunevated when announced that Mr. Irwin was going to get his chance to do Beckett's most infamous play, after all...on Broadway. And with a co-star none other than Nathan Lane.

I must say I have slightly mixed feelings about that...In the article they even compared Lane to a modern-day Bert Lahr, who played Estragon in the original production on Broadway fifty years ago.

(As if you don't know this, but Bert Lahr was also the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.)

Bert Lahr hated the play, hated Beckett, and I think the feeling was mutual.

Of course, this was fifty years ago, before anyone knew who Beckett really was or what his play was all about. People weren't used to this post-modern comedy, this laughing and crying at the same time thing. Let's hope Nathan Lane approaches the role slightly different.

It could be quite interesting. And Anthony Page is a good director.

And plus, it's Beckett on Broadway.

Evidently, that's something you see only twice in a century.

Hope I can get out to NY next year to see it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

National Science Foundation: Science Hard

Someone referred me to this article by reputable newsline THE ONION. For the full article, click here.

INDIANAPOLIS—The National Science Foundation's annual symposium concluded Monday, with the 1,500 scientists in attendance reaching the consensus that science is hard.

"For centuries, we have embraced the pursuit of scientific knowledge as one of the noblest and worthiest of human endeavors, one leading to the enrichment of mankind both today and for future generations," said keynote speaker and NSF chairman Louis Farian. "However, a breakthrough discovery is challenging our long-held perceptions about our discipline—the discovery that science is really, really hard."

"My area of expertise is the totally impossible science of particle physics," Farian continued, "but, indeed, this newly discovered 'Law of Difficulty' holds true for all branches of science, from astronomy to molecular biology and everything in between."

The science-is-hard theorem, first posited by a team of MIT professors in 1990, was slow to gain acceptance within the science community. It gathered momentum following the 1997 publication of physicist Stephen Hawking's breakthrough paper, "Lorentz Variation And Gravitation Is Just About The Hardest Friggin' Thing In The Known Universe."

This weekend's conference, featuring symposia on how hard the Earth sciences are, how confusing medical science is, and how ridiculously un-gettable quantum physics is, represented a major step forward for the science-is-hard theorem.

"We now believe that the theorem is 99.999% likely to be true, after applying these incredibly complex statistical techniques that gave me a splitting headache," Farian said. "A theorem is like a theory, but, I don't know, it's different."

Members of the scientific establishment were quick to affirm the NSF discovery.

"To be a scientist, you have to learn all this weird stuff, like how many molecules are in a proton," University of Chicago physicist Dr. Erno Heidegger said. "While it is true that I have become an acclaimed physicist and reaped great rewards from my career, one must not lose sight of the fact that these blessings came only after studying all of this completely impossible, egghead stuff for years."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Move it on Over - Hank Williams

Even if you're not a big country fan (and I'm not really, but alt-country, that's another story), you gotta love ol' Hank.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Vote

This is a recommendation from a friend of the blog (and yes, blogs can have friends). WARNING: some strong language and unabashed political overtones!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dylan Says: "Are You Registered to Vote?"

Actually, he doesn't say that, but his CD comes out today and the only thing wrong with pre-ordering it is that its being delivered to my house right now...but I won't get home till late so won't be able to listen to it...arrgh!

But Dylan would ask, "Have you registered?" because in most states, today is the last day. And if you don't register, you can't vote. And if you don't vote you are a big poo-poo head.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Quote of the day

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it."

– Harlan Ellison

Friday, October 3, 2008

Accommodating the Mess

The title of this post comes from the thoughts of Samuel Beckett who was musing about a form of drama that “accommodates the mess”.

The mess being post-modernity. The mess being how we process things so differently. The mess being a post- World War II and atomic age.

My mess right now is 7 Minutes to Midnight.

I’m not saying the show is bad or in trouble. What I’m saying is that like many of my ambitious projects, there are far too many things going on in it right now. It’s time to clean it up. Less is more, in art as well as architecture.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve worked with the small ensemble of five actors to create and shape material. Some of it is movement work, some of it is text. Now I’m going to add some more to the ensemble and I really need to start answering some of those really tough questions like “what is this story about and what is the best way to tell it?”

Mostly I’m thinking about structure. One brilliant playwright, maybe it was Octavio Solis I can’t rember, doesn’t like the word structure and would rather use the word “organization”. As he says, “you organize your closet, you should organize your play”.

I’m trying to think about how to organize this play, which means what scenes go where. Should we follow events historically in a linear fashion? Should we jump around? Do I want to have some cohesive way of tying things together? There are many, many options. The characters and most of the story is pretty clear, at least to me, but I need to figure out the order. What I love about theater is that there are so many ways of telling the same story. Which will we choose?

I don’t know.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend, by myself and in my rehearsal on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pretentious or just long-winded...You decide!

I was asked to answer some interview questions for the Bellevue Community College school newspaper about our show 7 Minutes to Midnight.

In an effort for clarity I of course went for length instead...The reporter wisely broke up my interveiw and edited it down for print.

The chair of BCC said it sounded smart. I thought it might be prententious.

But hey, you decide for yourself with this unedited version!

How does this type of play differ from the plays BCC usually produces? From other plays you've written?

Most of the plays BCC has done are either well-regarded classics or important contemporary plays by modern writers. They’ve done Chekhov or Wilde or Sondheim musicals in addition to newer works like Steven Dietz. They have a track record, not necessarily at BCC, but nationally or internationally. In a way, they’ve been “road tested”.

When you’re working on a new play, whether it is a traditional process (which I’ll briefly explain) or more alternative, that luxury of the road test is not there. In some ways, this makes for a wonderful range of choices and that pioneer spirit of “no one has ever done this before”! On the other hand, you can also get daunted on whether or not it can be done, or done well, for that same reason.

Most of my plays I’ve written in the past, like Obscura or Burning Botticelli, have been developed in a traditional process, generally used in regional theaters and on Broadway. The process is like handing off a baton in a relay race…It starts with a playwright who plans and writes everything down, usually alone. Eventually there is only so much work you can do by your self and its ready for production (even though it may need some amount of rewrites). The script is then like that baton, handed off to a producer and/or director to get a production started. The baton is again handed off to designers, then to the actors culminating in a final performance where the baton is handed to the audience. Again, there may be some rewrites but generally you go into the first rehearsal with a solid script that has been worked out ahead of time (story, characters, dialogue all in good shape).

In this kind of traditional process, the text is usually the primary element, although not always. The other aspects of performance like sound, image and movement become secondary. With a play like Importance of Being Earnest where the text is not just stylistic of that period, but also witty, you want the text to primary.

But with alternative methods of theatre-making, of which there are several terms—like “devising”, “ensemble-based” or “physical theatre”, the text becomes equal with other elements of the performance such as movement, music, sound, and light. Even the idea of having some clear storyline can become less important. The form becomes open and more collaborative. it’s more difficult to create this kind of theater alone as a playwright. You need to work directly with the actors, to see their bodies moving in space and to let the actors experiment with images and sound. Many shows can fall under this category of “devised”, the most popular being The Tectonic Theater’s The Laramie Project or Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, but it also can describe many others.

Although I as director and conceiver still lead the rehearsals, it’s more like I’m guiding them down a path. I bring in story ideas, text, research and assign tasks based on that. But anyone in the cast can bring in their own research or text and we can experiment in rehearsal to see how, or if, it might fit. In this sense, using the relay race as a metaphor, the baton is not passed off, but passed back and forth, or shared between two people…at different moments the creation is happening over and over again in each rehearsal. Sometimes the audience even becomes part of that creation process.

Devising a show takes a lot of time and energy, from me and from the actors. I’ve been doing a lot of planning and gathering of ideas, images and text for a long time before even bringing the actors on board. We actually started preliminary rehearsals at the beginning of summer. We’ve spend a lot of time discussing the ideas, characters and stories, as well as doing ensemble-building exercises and games. As I add more ensemble members, I’ll have something resembling a script on paper, but even that will be shaped by the ensemble as we work and re-work the performance. It’s a lot of work but at the end of the process you have something that is truly unique to those actors in this space and time.

How are the students responding to being "builders"?

I think they have embraced the work quite well. Although I taught a lab class in the Spring, this is my first opportunity to direct at BCC and I don’t have a great familiarity with the students. The first stages of rehearsal have been us getting to know each other and building trust. Trust and creating a safe place to play is vital to this kind of work, as it is with any theatrical production. But I’ve given them some big challenges and they are engaging with the movement exercises as well as with the ideas and the material.

A lot of times in theater we get so product-oriented. This kind of work, the journey and process of discovery in rehearsals is equally, if not more important than opening night. We’re learning about ourselves as artists as well as learning about important events in U.S. and world history and how it affects us now. It’s an interesting thing to be given the freedom to explore deep issues of a personal and global nature. Every day I ask them to be creative in new ways and nudging actors out of comfort zones can be really scary, no matter your experience level. Even seasoned actors find this difficult. My hope is that their connection to the work will be more personal because they own the gestures, or they brought in a piece of text or song lyric that resonated for them.

Why is the Science Dept. involved in "building" the play?

I don’t know that I’d say they’re involved in the “building” of the play but we want their help as we create it—we’re not scientists, obviously. So we’d like to get their help with research on the subject matter of the play. We hope to get some professors to drop into rehearsals to explain some concepts.

One of the main questions the piece grapples with is what is the scientists’ responsibility towards humankind? This is tied directly to the real-life creation of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The Doomsday Clock.

Basically, the Bulletin was established in 1947 by a group of scientists, most of whom worked on the Manhattan Project, and they wanted to advocate to the world that this could literally be humanity’s downfall. And they knew that others besides the U.S. would gain this knowledge and power and essentially predicted the cold war. Never before had so many people in the world been so ignorant of something that affected the entire planet. The average U.S. citizen didn’t know how destructive the bomb was, how it worked, how dangerous radiation could be, and most importantly, they had no idea how many bombs the U.S. was building or that they were going on with the next step of building the hydrogen bomb. They created the Doomsday Clock that same year as an arbitrary way of gauging how close we were to destroying ourselves. In 1947 it was set to 7 minutes to midnight (hence the title of our show). It’s moved twenty times in the past sixty years and now stands at 5 minutes. They’ve said we’re at a second nuclear age, similar to the late 1940s and we have 27,000 nuclear warheads on this planet. But how many people pay any attention to that fact and how do we even comprehend it?

So this play will jump around a bit in time and space, asking questions about what it means for us now in 2008? What was the journey of the scientists who went from trying to end a war with their invention to watching the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And how do you resolve that in yourself? How can the actions of one person affect the world?

I know this sounds like it will be this depressing story of war and destruction, but ultimately we’re trying to find the opposite of that. We want to know; Can we hope for peace?

Friday, September 26, 2008

CERN in 3 minutes

This is a shorter video about CERN, but really informative.

Large Hadron Rap

Here's the rap.

End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)

There’s been a lot of talk and hoopla about this huge particle collider, the Hadron, in Switzerland (actually on the Swiss-Franco border just outside Geneva) at CERN.

There is even a rap about the collider on youtube (see below).

I must admit I’ve watched the rap three times and am still a bit fuzzy on exactly how it all it works, but the whole idea is very cool in a Star Trek kind of way (not that I was ever into Star Trek, mind you).

As per their usual m.o. to sell papers by frightening the general public, most of the media has focused on the potential to create a black hole which will suck up the earth and/or the rest of the galaxy. Others have said they may just blow up Geneva. Some people say, that's fine as there's not much to do in Geneva anyway.

Now, I may be crazy or just far too trusting but there are something like 8,000 scientists working on this from twenty different countries. They have been spending two decades on this project, spending billions of dollars. I'm going to assume that they've done their homework here.

Would they seriously go through with this experiment if they thought they were going to obliterate humanity?

Hmmn,...on second thought…

No seriously, its 8,000 scientists. I think we can trust the fact that if there is an error in their calculations or their theorizing, that one of those 8,000 scientists might raise their hand and say, “Hey guys, according to this calculation, we might totally vaporize ourselves and I don't know about you but that would seriously cut into my time playing Spore...” In fact, that discussion might have already happened (8,000 scientists in a room and not one of them is thinking about their own hide? I don’t think so.)

There is of course the other discussion of why they are doing this in the first place and what they hope to learn. They answer that they don’t know, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could create a little big bang just like at the beginning of time?

Um, okay…but it would be cool if I could levitate, or we could eradicate malaria or fight global warming or I don't know, disarm the world from nuclear weapons...but y'know, super colliders, that's fun, too.

They talk about the success of this and proving a theory of matter and anti-matter which could be on the same scale as splitting the atom and creating nuclear energy.

And we all know where that could lead…

And if you don’t,. you should come watch my show this fall.

Then there are the conspiracy enthusiasts, those who avidly wept for months when The X-Files went off the air, who believe that the governments have conspired against all us normal citizens…For instance, its not an experiment and they know exactly what they’re doing--they are using alien technology, probably found from the crash site in New Mexico to open another doorway to another dimension, like Stargate. Others think maybe these scientists are aliens themselves trying to return to their home planet. Some people on Wall Street think its tied to our economic collapse somehow...

Brian Cox is the “rock star” of the science world. I know that’s a little like saying a mushroom is the rock star of the vegetable world. Of course, given his haircut and nice clothes, he could in fact, be an alien. But if you want to know more about the collider or the universe and/or the Unified Theory of Everything (well, not really), check out this talk from TED.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If this were a sitcom, we'd be in syndication

This is the 100th post!!!!

That doesn't really mean anything. I mean, it's not like I accomplished running a marathon or writing a book or building a house.

It basically means that at least 100 times this year I have been either bored or thoughtful enough to interrupt my day by bringing you some taste of triviality to your life.

Yeah, me!

As a celebration, let's all print out this 100 dollar bill and see if we can spend it.

Here are some other trivia items regarding the number 100 (courtesy of me and wikipedia):

100 is a good enough golf score for me
The 100 dollar bill is the highest denomination in print of US dollars
100 dollars is also how much money I've lost in bets thinking I can break 100 on the golf course
100 is about 25 cents in Indian Rupees
100 is the number of times I've said, "Maybe I should bet in Rupees".
100 is the number of yards in a football feild
100 milliseconds is about how much football I like to watch
100 is the number of tiles in a Scrabble set
100 games of Scrabble would make me want to pull my eyeballs out of their sockets
The 100 Years War didn't actually last a 100 years
100 years is not the actual length of Oliver Stone's movie JFK, but it feels like it
"100 Years" is a song by Five for Fighting
100 seconds is how long Five for Fighting remained on the pop culture radar
100 degrees celcius is the boiling point of water
-100 degrees is an average winter day in Buffalo
The first 100 days is an arbitrary benchmark for the US President
100 hours is how long it would take to retrain a person who incorrectly pronounces "nuclear"
100 Senators sit on the US Senate
100 days a year are spent by US Senators arguing about how much pay increase they should receive
100% is actually the maximum amount of energy you can give, despite what your football coach told you
100 is the number of people in the world who have not heard of Facebook

And finally...

A 100 year old person is called a centenarian and they are allowed to say and do whatever the hell they want.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cartoon for the day

I just think this is too darn funny...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brainstorming…or…90% of what you throw at the wall won’t stick.

Oscar Madison: Now kindly remove that spaghetti from my poker table.
[Felix laughs]
Oscar Madison: The hell's so funny?
Felix Ungar: It's not spaghetti, it's linguini.
[Oscar picks up the linguini and hurls it against the kitchen wall]
Oscar Madison: Now it's garbage.

Ideas are like the plate of spaghetti that Oscar throws across the room in the movie The Odd Couple (or is it Linguini?).

Not all of it is gonna stick.

Most will fall to the floor and you'll have to pick it up.

But one or two strands of noodle will cling to the wall like a Jackson Pollock masterpiece.

It’s pretty accurate that 90% of what you write (or create) is going to be crap. The trick is, and this is where the rewriting part comes in, to only show the good 10%. Keep writing then cut. Write some more, then cut. And so on.

And don’t tell anyone about how many bad ideas you had before the good idea so that you can pull off the illusion that you are some kind of genius like Mozart.

I’ve been a bit busy lately working on the fall “show” aka 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. We're still in that early phase of collecting and creating material based on our research and our questions. I firmly believe that’s how most good plays begin their original impetus—with a question examining the world or human nature.

It's a wonderful place to be, free and open, and really you can go in so many different directions.

Later we'll have to make actual choices. Making choices is much harder...


Last week we created points of view of characters each with a firm YES or NO on this question:

“Was it necessary for the U.S. to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

This is a big question and not one easily answered. It is not the main question of our show, by the way, but one worth exploring. The characters the actors created via a behavioral exercise each had personal and philosophical reasons (all plausible and all justifiable) and from within this work, stories began to arise. Now some of the work we did was just to get started and although most of that material may not make it to the final presentation of the performance two months from now, we got a lot of brilliant little things to start working from and to begin a fuller dialogue about.

What we discovered from the exercise was that:

1) this issue is far more complex than a simple yes or no answer can give (which is good)


2) this catastrophic event in time affected not just those in Japan, but all around the world.

This one device has changed the world.


And it still shapes political powers today.

But we never think about it…Never contemplate the 27,000 warheads in the world, of which 2,000 of them are ready to launch.

Right now.

Any minute.

It’s like living in a straw village under a volcano. Waiting for the top to blow.

But I’m getting off track.

The point is we’re still “playing” with the play-dough in our rehearsals. We’re bringing stuff in and seeing if our spaghetti will stick to the wall or not. That’s what life is like for the earlier days of creation.

Perfection is not the goal. Good and bad is not really an issue. We just want to throw some ideas around. We need to play. We expect some good stuff, some brilliant stuff, but probably a lot of stuff that's not so great.

We may try an exercise or an idea and it will totally suck.

Because eventually we find those little nuggets of gold. And when we find them, we’ll use it for all it’s worth.

So tomorrow we have another long rehearsal and we’ll see what we can discover.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy - Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger: Power of Song trailer

"If you love your country, you find ways to speak out and do what you think is right..."

Right on.

Pete Seeger is my new American Idol

In this age of "America's Got Talent", I have a new idol...Pete Seeger.

We just watched the documentary, Pete Seeger: the Power of Song.

Oh my god.

One man and a banjo can really change the world, start a revolution, stand up for beliefs and truth (and yes, still be a patriot despite being a pacifist).

Truly amazing.

Almost makes me wish I knew how to play the banjo.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Art is Alchemy

Dario Robleto, At War With The Entropy of Nature / Ghosts Don't Always Want To Come Back, 2002, Cassette tape made from carved bone and bone dust from every bone in the body, trinitite, melted and dissolved audio tape of an original composition of military drum marches and soldiers' voices from battlefields of various wars made from EVP recordings (Electronic Voice Phenomena: voices and sounds of the dead or past, detected through magnetic audio tape), metal, screws, dust, Letraset, 5/8 x 3 3/4 x 2 1/2 inches, Collection Julie Kinzelman and Christopher Tribble

“If you don’t know the history, you’re just making a jumbled mess. So sampling actually offers a way out of the criticism of this generation because sampling insists that you know your history. That you actually engage with it. That’s why I’m so compelled to know my history.”

-- Dario Robleto

Over the weekend I went to the Frye Museum to check out an exhibit that the designer working on the show 7 Minutest to Midnight recommended to me.

All I can say is, I’m so glad he did…

Dario Robleto is the most exciting artist I’ve seen since I discovered Matthew Barney years ago at his exhibit in the Guggenheim. But where Barney works more with myth and biology, Robleto deals with transformation, memory, and war. They both use alternative substances for creation of their installations, but Robleto is bravely embracing the controversial memory of war in American society.

At first glance, that cassette tape is just a cassette tape with an interesting title of songs on it...but then you read the list of materials and a narrative starts to emerge. You realize the tape is made with dust from all the bones in the human body, trinitite (the glass made from the heat of the first atomic test, Trinity, in the desert sands of New Mexico, that the tape is made from audio of military marches, soldiers voices from the battlefield...and suddenly the frame upon which you view this tape is altered. There is a connection to history, to war, but ultimately tied to the present becuase of the package (a modern cassette tape). It hits you on an intellectual level, but also hits you in the gut and in the heart...Maybe you're repelled by the fact that it was made from human remains, sure, but you can't escape the fact that the artist is reminding you about the history and legacy of war...and how we view it if it were a mix tape.

It's like post-modernism with heart.

To learn more about Robleto, just google him, or check out this interview here.

I liked the exhibit at the Frye so much, titled Alloy of Love, that I bought his book, with photos of the peices, but also some essays and interviews. One comment he made is about how some people view his work as “destructive”. He usually uses old vinyl records which he melts down and restructures into something else (like making buttons out of Billie Holiday records). He takes old love letters and grinds them to a pulp and remakes them as “love pills” and puts them in a bottle. He took the unabomber's manifesto, cut it up and made his own "love manifesto" which he sent to random friends. He’s taken old letters from soldiers in the Civil War, or taken lead from bullets collected at Civil War battle sights and transformed them into wedding rings for a piece. He’s even made a magic wand out of trinitite.

He doesn't view this as destruction, but rather transformative. He uses material that first of all, ethically, is not in desperate need from archivals, but is still historical--things you might have in the attic that have meaning on a small level, and then gives them even greater universal meaning. It's like turning lead into really, he views his art and process as alchemy. His gestures are positive, not embracing the cynical, but filled with hope, turning the remains of violence into something beautiful.

And he uses art as if he were making a mix tape, or creating music, or “sampling”, like a DJ.

And I wonder, how can we play with these ideas in our show this fall? How can we transform the destructive forces of the atomic bomb and make something hopeful?

I realized that I've always been very much interested in art that transforms suffering into hope (its certainly there in Beckett, Shepard, Shakespeare, etc.). Perhaps all art does that, I don't know.

As Robleto says:

"Hope is everywhere in my belief and I hope that comes through because I’m not a pessimistic person. I want to stress the point that my work is ultimately about hope. It’s about acknowledging the horror of the past and the present but suggesting that we’re not powerless against it. We can be proactive about changing things, and that’s where the hope comes in. The fact that you would even think that you could change something is a hopeful act."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Speaking of Ensembles...

Renowned ensemble-based theatre artists, Hand2Mouth Theatre will be in Seattle this weekend for Bumbershoot, doing their new site-specific performance, Project X:You Are Here.

Here's how they describe it:
Project X: You Are Here is a performance installation investigating the human desire to live longer, to live life to the fullest, and to leave a legacy. It is a collective time capsule and a live event created especially for Bumbershoot 2008 to capture and record the life experiences of Festival attendees. Audience members are active participants who can contribute their own experience, memory, and energy to the installation, facilitating the evolution and growth of Project X. The project is centered at Ground Control, a research hub and interactive museum from which satellites - small, mobile performance units - radiate around the grounds and offer attendees a chance to take part in the project; their contributions are then brought back to be displayed at Ground Control.

Could be interesting...

I know there are more important matters to complain about than the weather, but...

I’m not specifically saying that Seattle weather is particularly bad this August, but…

I flipped my Sports Illustrated golf calendar at work over to September in prep for next Tuesday. The photo for the month is the 5th hole of the links course at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. It’s a beautiful green on the edge of the cliffs, the rough ocean waters behind it and a wall of clouds in the sky. No blue sky anywhere. Just grey.

Then I looked out my office window.

The similarity of my view of Seattle was uncanny.

A wall of clouds in the sky hanging over Lake Union.

August is supposed to be the good month. It's not suppossed to look like this...It's bad enough we get this crap all fall/winter/spring...

I don’t want to look at that picture for the whole month of September. At least next month I will be able to look at a sunny picture of a course in North Carolina.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Getting Lost

[Photo from Painted Snake in a Painted Chair, Talking Band Theatre, La Mama Theatre 2003]

Music is a very important, integral part of the work—we view it as one of the “voices”, including the visual imagery, text, etc. A number of members in the company have musical backgrounds, particularly Ellen and I. She studied flute, piano, and composition. I play clarinet. The music is played live by the performers. From the beginning the company was exploring poetry. We got right away into the music of language, and were really interested in the crossover between language and music. Music is part of the texture of the piece.

I’m interested in that bridge between science and arts…there was a time when the science and arts did not have a separation. Galileo and Kepler both wrote about music as well as science. It was all seen as part of the pursuit of natural laws.

(From my interview with Paul Zimet, Talking Band Theatre—and formerly worked with Chaikin in the Open Theater)

Okay, so what is “devising” theatre?

Or physical theater, aka ensemble-based work or shall we say, experimental theatre?

How does someone like Mary Zimmerman make Metamorphoses or Anne Bogart make bobrauschenbergamerica? How does Ping Chong create Blind Ness, or Moises Kaufman make The Laramie Project?

Here's some rudimentary thoughts on the subject.

A lot of people have been asking about my show in the fall, 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, and I always stumble slightly when I describe the process behind it…It’s a show about the Doomsday Clock, I say…

"The what?"

It’s an arbitrary clock created by a group of atomic scientists in 1947 to gauge how close the world is to blowing itself up with atomic bombs (aka Doomsday). Every year they meet deciding how many minutes closer or further we are from annihilation. It was set at 7 minutes to midnight in 1947 and has moved several times since then. Right now we’re at 5 minutes to midnight.

It's also about the Nevada testing site, which I used to drive past many times a year when I drove from Vegas to Reno...And what the desert literally and figuratively means...

"But what’s it about?"

It’s about scientists responsibility to mankind…or about how one person’s action’s affect the world…

"No, what’s the story?"

Ah, see the linear story does not quite exist yet…There is a story there, of scientists building a bomb, winning a war, realizing what they’ve done when the bomb is dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the government lying to the American people, the Cold War, etc. That's the literal linear history that can be explored.

There is also embedded in our show the story of Kronos (or Saturn) who devours his children for fear of being usurped.

Perhaps you know the infamous Goya painting?

I don’t know why, I just think this idea/image is pertinent.

There are also some folk/country songs and songs of the era of the late 1940s.

None of it may connect to each other. At least, overtly.

This show may be like a pastiche--mixing of performance styles.

But the truth is, I'm not sure what the show will actually become. We have yet to start building it. Unlike plays written solely by me, I have no pre-conceived or detailed notion of how the end product will look. I have some ideas, of course, but nothing fixed. The core members of the ensemble are still doing research. We’re still talking about the ideas we want to explore. We haven’t even start playing in the rehearsal room to create the characters.

But let’s back up a bit.

The traditional process of making a play (ie playwriting) usually begins with a solitary playwright, sitting alone at his/her desk, writing down the basic plot and characters. He/she describes the setting, time and place, writes the action and dialogue. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Then the script is rewritten again and again before getting a reading or a staged reading and then a production. Sometimes it goes straight from initial draft to opening night, but that’s rare. In essence, the script is handed off to a director and actors after the playwright has been grappling with it for whatever length of time. In any original production, though, usually the playwright is still working with that director and actor to polish and perfect the script as much as possible before that first time the audience experiences it.

This type of process is primarily text-centered. The script and the words on the page became the most important element.

Most of my plays have been written this way, including my latest, THE ALBATROSS, which is very traditional playwriting with a linear storyline. The most anti-traditional play I've written, BURNING BOTTICELLI, is more epic in form and non-linear and tosses around a lot of ideas, but it was also built primarily by me at my desk--though rewritten extensively with the NYC cast I had at the time.

In “devising”, the script is created primarily in rehearsal. The script consists of not just the spoken word, which is important, but also physical movements, songs, images, and/or video. In this case, the body can be text. The focus is more on the actor/audience relationships. It can be experimental because the main idea behind this kind of theater is to question the idea of theater—to ask why this structure, why this form, why these words, what happens when we do this, etc?

The idea for the play can begin with one person, such as the “conceiver” or director (suck as Anne Bogart or Mary Zimmerman), or it can be a joint project initiated by a group (such as the Open Theater or Theatre de Complicite). But usually, there is someone who takes some form of lead, even in the most autonomous working ensemble. Someone has to start making decisions of what to leave in and take out before performing for an audience.

In my case, the central ideas and questions are coming from me and ultimately will be shaped by my lens. But I will not be writing this play alone like I usually do, which is quite welcome. Instead, I bring in these thoughts, images, props, songs, text, whatever and mix it up, like making a stew.

We play. In the playing we create. Just like kids playing in a sandbox, really.

When I first met with my core ensemble, I laid out a very simple map in these terms, that our process would have three phases:

Phase 1: Collecting (Research, questions, brainstorming)
Phase 2: Testing
Phase 3: Shaping

We begin with questions and these questions will lead us to gathering notes, text, images, sounds, music, and whatever else might stimulate our imaginations and thoughts centered around those questions.

In the rehearsal room, we take what we have learned and share with the rest of the ensemble. We play with them dramatically, with exercises, with character studies, improvising and trying out some of our ideas.

In the shaping phase, we start pulling the show together and making the difficult decisions about what we are trying to say or do with the audience. This could also be called the “whittling away” phase.

In some respects, this process is not so dissimilar from traditional theater. It's pretty evident that each playwright has their own distinctive process (Albee writes a play vastly different than Churchill). So then its also clear that each "devisor" of theatre has their own process, as well.

But it's writing. As a group. Collaboratively. Writing theatre. Sometimes writing "on your feet", sometimes collecting text, sometimes originating text.

Now, those three phases makes it all sound very systematic, but the truth is, it won’t be. These phases will all blend into each other. We’ll still be gathering notes in the testing phase, still be testing some things in the shaping phase, etc. And as with charting any course via any roadmap, there will be detours and side roads, distractions and perhaps a flat tire. We will lose our way. There will be times when we will be speeding right along at 65 mph and other times when its only 15 mph. It is the nature of the process.

But as Chaikin says:

We must be able to go somewhere else—where, we don’t know. The danger here is that we will get lost…Plan on it. Count on it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on

Outside the weather is crappy yet again.

I have to continually remind myself that there are regions in this world where summer is not over in mid-August…That the sun shines more than ten times a year…

It’s just not here in Seattle.

I’m feeling glum today for many reasons. Maybe one reason is that I'm still reading that biography on Samuel Beckett, The Last Modernist by Anthony Cronin. As biographies go, it's not bad, certainly not as exhaustive as Damned to Fame.

Beckett's outlook on life is quintessentially Irish. It is hope amidst suffering, optimistic but cynical…Beckett is a man who, when a friend said about a sunny day, “Isn’t it a beautiful day? Makes one glad to be alive…”, Beckett replied with...

“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that…”

But the real reason is I just found out that someone at work has been diagnosed with cancer.

But as Erin (maybe now going as Eloise), one of my students at BCC so elegantly said…

“F**k cancer!”

Life is suffering, as the buddhists say, but life is worth living.

We can't go on, we must go on, we go on.