Friday, March 28, 2008

Don't mind's the jet lag talking

It’s 38 degrees and its snowing today.

Yes, snowing.

I took the bus to work this morning.

(Taking the bus means really that I took the bus and walked 25 minutes because it’s a better alternative, and faster, then having to take two busses because that takes me an hour to get to work, if not longer, and I am not a pleasant person after waiting for two different buses and hour commute for literally 6 miles of distance despite listening to my cool and/or relaxing music on my ipod).

Last week I was in 90 degree sunny weather in India wearing short sleeve shirts. Now here I am back in the Pacific Northwest wearing my raincoat and hoodie.

And I gotta say, it’s not just the weather that makes me feel like curling up in my bed and not going anywhere. It’s that in Seattle it is unpleasantly difficult to get anywhere. I’ve obviously already written many times of my loathing for drivers in this town that seem to think 30 mph means 20 mph. I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing about it (even I’m tired of hearing myself whine about it…)

But also, there’s the parking issue (what neighborhood in this town doesn’t complain about its lack of parking?) and there’s the alternative to driving, the mass transit.

Or should I say the utter and complete LACK of any useful mass transit.

Because the weather is really bad in NYC. It’s freezing in the winter and brutally unbearable in the summer. Yet, I was out and about a lot. And yes, the subway system isn’t perfect and yes, I was stranded on a subway platform many, many times.

But if I was on the train on the LIRR for an hour, I’d be at Jones beach. Which is a lot further than 6 miles away.

Maybe I'm just missing New York.

Maybe I’m just grumpy because of the jet lag.

Maybe it’s because its only Friday morning and I’m ready for the weekend.

Then again, maybe it’s the fact that here we are almost April and it’s SNOWING outside.

Yep. I think that’s it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Blast from the past

I came across this photo awhile ago and have been meaning to put it up because I really like it.

It's the press photo from the New York city production of BURNING BOTTICELLI in 2004. I don't remember if it was ever used at all, but it would make a cool poster.

Pictured are Mizuo Peck (yes, she recently was Sacajawea in the movie Night at the Museum), Joe Hickey, and G.R. Johnson.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ah, Paris!

I’ve been reading some of the Theatre of Cruelty by Artaud lately, partly for leisure and partly for work (but then that’s par for the course for me when it comes to books on theater or plays). Other than the fact that he was a total madman (no really, he did go crazy for various reasons too many to mention here), he was also a genius and true poetic visionary. He despised theater that was just a carbon copy of so-called life. He thought virisimilitude (ie fourth wall realism) was anethema. His idea was to have images and theater that jarred the audience, that made some kind of impact in their psyche and gut.

One of his big statements was: NO MORE MASTERPEICES. And by that he meant this reverance and idolatry for the text which we have (like the sanctity of Shakespeare, for example).

On a sidenote: Right now I’m sitting in the Air France lounge in Paris and sipping my cappuccino and contemplating whether I should try the champagne. I must say it felt very chic reading Artaud on an Air France flight while eating croissants and listening to the French singer Carla Bruni. One thing I love about this extremely short visit to the city of lights is that I get to use all the French I know, which to date is two words: “Merci” and “Bonjour!”.

I've also been reading Joseph Chaikin's book The Presence of the Actor and the text of his production of The Serpent, which his theater compnay, the Open Theater, workshopped and produced in 1969. It's truly an amazing piece of work, though hard to read in places only because it is a physical and ensemble-based piece. I’ve only seen clips of the show in bits here and there.

Part of my reasons for reading some of this stuff is that I’m still percolating ideas and images for my show scheduled for the fall, 7 Minutes to Midnight.

In the introduction, though, Chaikin says something that is quite appropriate for one of my recent posts:

“All entertainment is instructive. It instructs the sensibility. It needn’t give information in order to instruct. In fact, information can more easily be rejected than the ambience of entertainment.”

The power of “instructing the sensibility” cannot be overestimated. As I read The Serpent, I kept thinking of how universal the themes were that they explored: sin, redemption, crime and death. Yet the lens in which they viewed these things was filtered by the time and era in which they lived (the late 1960s). It’s a powerful piece.

Also, I just read a brilliant paper by my brilliant PhD candidate wife about mimes and performers in ancient Rome. There were many points about the paper which struck me but one curiosity was that it seems that in Greek and Roman times, great actors were exempt from war service. Makes you wonder if those who were pacifists immediately started to learn how to act, juggle, dance, sing and/or be a mime in order to avoid hostile situations.

Can you imagine the pressure to perform well in light of being shipped off to war?

“Sorry, Sorex, but you’re not as funny as you used to be…off to the war with you!”

In a more current view, it’s like dodging the draft for the Vietnam War by joining the circus instead of fleeing to Canada.

Which begs the question…if a mime falls in battle and no one is around to hear it, does he make a noise?

(Okay, I know, that is an ugly and bad joke which should not be let of the house but kept grounded like a bratty child, but there is a reason I’m not writing jokes for stand-up comedians or sit-coms…so deal with it.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Little know fact
but the word


actually comes from the French word


The word was originally used to describe the experience of immigrants and pilgrims, those in the lower classes of society who spent much of their time wandering the land. The connotations denoted hardship and struggle going from one point to another, which is made more arduous when you are a poor migrant worker.

For the past five different days I was in five different cities and five different hotels. Right now I'm lucky in that my travails have ended and I'm sitting comfortably by the pool at my hotel in Delhi.

Some folks here are not so lucky...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Did Mr. Rogers & Big Bird Change Your World?

On this trip there has been an issue of whether or not education and advocacy can make a difference for the poor (what the nonprofits term "under-served" but really it just means poor and usually sick people). They are talking specifically about mass media and communications. I would extend that argument beyond just film & tv and even think about theater.

Can tv/film/theater change the world?

Some of the people I’m traveling with I think believe that it can’t. And by itself, maybe it can’t. But can it make a difference?

There’s a new term out there which I just read about in Time magazine called filmanthropy. It refers to a new niche in independent film which caters towards social reform and community outreach on a grand scale. Think films like An Inconvenient Truth and Supersize Me. And there is debate about whether these films really raised awareness or simply strengthened true believers, basically preaching to the converted.

But this makes me think of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Most people in the U.S. grew up on these programs on PBS, as well as many others. Did we not learn how to behave on these shows? Didn’t we learn to interact with other people? How to count? How to sing? How to do some of the simple things we take for granted right now? All while being entertained by muppets singing to us or making jokes. And I think…that’s real change. Change that's hard to measure.

And I think about our work in the theater. Brecht believed that the purpose of theater was not just to entertain but to educate the audience, to show them they have choices, that they could empower themselves instead of being pulled by outside forces. Boal carried on that work to even further extremes.

Now, I don’t think all theater should be overtly political or educational, but at its core it makes an impact. It is political because all art either falls into one of two camps; endorsing the status quo or questioning it.

I like to think that I question the status quo, but sometimes I’m not sure. And questioning things is a social and political act. And it’s the first step towards real change that can be measured.

Maybe its just because I’m over here seeing things in India that most people don’t get to see that makes me reexamine some of the things I’m doing with my art. It’s obvious that art can’t heal a sick person, but it still can feed the soul and educate the mind. And to me that’s just as important.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

One week down, one to go

It's Sunday morning as I write this and we are now into the first week of this visit to India.

While here I’ve already seen Delhi, Bareilly, Lucknow (well, if you call the drive to the hotel and back to the airport “seeing" it), two small villages outside of Baduai (in the Baduan district), and a retail store in the middle of nowhere which looks like the Indian version of Wal-mart but on a very small scale. Otherwise I have been inside in meetings in a hotel, not counting the one day lost where I was in my hotel room getting some much-needed rest and recovery.

I am now sitting in my hotel room in Delhi before departing on a plane tonight to Indore. Not a day has gone by where we haven’t been traveling, either by plane or car. To say that it wearies me is an understatement.

What also wearies me is seeing so many people of abject poverty. It’s a nonstop barrage of dirty people on littered, dusty streets, some without shoes, some sleeping near the road, some of them, the ones with some belongings, are farmers, who have their ox-driven carts or herd of goats and are going to market. On the roads, and sometimes its hard to call them roads, are thousands of large brightly-colored decorated cargo trucks (all made by the huge company TATA). Sometimes there are so many on the road at one time they look like a uniformed convoy.

These pictures are from the two sightseeing areas I had a chance to get to on the first day of my arrival. The first is Qtab Minar. It’s an ancient tower which was used for astrological purposes something like 1500 year ago. There were some other structures around it, as well. The other was Humayan’s tomb, which was a precursor to the Taj Mahal, only built with red sandstone. There were also several other buildings and tombs surrounding the area (in fact, I think someone said it is the burial ground of 1000 Mughals). It was quite beautiful and the grounds were well-manicured, making the place seem serene as it rests in the heart of such a bustling city.

My main impression of India, other than the smell, is the vast amount of people. Even in the so-called rural areas, they are swarming everywhere, constantly on the move. If you are claustrophobic, this is not the place for you.

Today I may go to the Khan market and also look for rugs. We’ll see how that goes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Miles and miles of people, everywhere...

This was written on March 13, 2008

“Did you remember to steal a roll of toilet paper?”

I had just checked out of my room and was getting a cup of coffee down in the hotel restaurant when Saul asked me that question. I replied, “No one told me, so how could I remember?” Someone else suggested that I go into the lobby restroom and grab some toilet paper for the trip to Bareilly. Why? Because they don’t have any available (and in fact some don’t use toilet paper). So I grabbed some before we headed out on our long car drive from Delhi to Bareilly. And turns out later it was a good thing I did (though the reasons for that will remain under wraps for now).

The drive from Delhi to Bareilly was an adventure.

For one, there are people everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Even when you get outside the teeming mass of buildings which is Delhi and get to more rural areas, there are still huge masses of people. We passed by small town and village as the main road cut through the heart of them and every place seemed overfilling. And second, the traffic was heavy. Everything from trucks to bikes to rickshaws, to ox-pulled carts, motorcycles, and mopeds, all on the road. There are no lines, no real method to the movements, although like in the U.K., everyone drives on the other side of the road. Cars honk non-stop, alerting other cars of their presence. It reminded me a little of Manhattan traffic—as long as everything keeps moving, it all seems all right.

Later that afternoon, we went into a village about two hours drive from Bareilly. That was an odd experience as Saul and I were the only two white guys around. It is quite a strange feeling to have so many people staring at you as some curiosity. We were just there to ask questions, but it seemed as if we were being greeted as special guests. There was no way we could be low profile.

The village had about 10,000 people in it, which seemed large to me, but then again, it’s India. I imagined a village of a couple hundred or a thousand at the most, but that number seemed so large. It didn’t look that big. And there was only four doctors for the whole village. One of them may have not even been a real doctor, but probably had a fake diploma and started practicing. In India, its easy for anyone to say “I’m a doctor” and then start prescribing drugs (you don’t even need a prescription to get medicine here).

Asking questions is interesting as we had to have an interpreter, someone who worked for another nonprofit organization in the area. So I’m sure some things got lost in translation. I wanted to be more involved in the questions and conversations Saul was having, but was not feeling all that well and even had to excuse myself to the bathroom. And by bathroom, I mean, a room with a hole in the ground—not seat, not toilet paper…good thing I brought mine.

Which makes me remember something that Gina, a technical advisor at our India office said to me on Monday: “You have to imagine everything covered in feces. They bathe in feces. All the food has feces.” She continued to warn me about what not to eat and drink. “Have only hot foods. Drink bottled water or beer, sometimes tea but I’d do it cautiously. Even in a fancy hotel, I wouldn’t eat the vegetables…”

And as we drove, all I saw along the road (if you could call it a road) were people urinating and defecating, not too far from the fields where they were growing sugarcane and wheat). It was like India was one giant bathroom...

One thing for sure, this trip has made me very grateful to be born into a country of privilege and abundance.

Smell this

The plane lands thirty minutes late and after getting through customs I wait another fifteen minutes for my bag on the baggage carousal only to discover that it was already pulled off the carousal and has been sitting waiting for me somewhere else. But no worries. I grab my bag and we’re off, each getting our driver to take us to the hotel which is about thirty minutes drive.

Dan says to me, “Now you’ll get a whiff of India”.

I say, “I thought that was just the smell of the airport."

“Oh no, it’s the pollution. You smell that? It’ll get on your clothes. You’ll be smelling it for weeks after you get back.”

And he’s probably right. The polluted smell is a bit like burnt matches or ghost remnants of some burning tire factory. I think it might be partially due to the petrol exhaust. It reminded me of the Richmond air…thick and heavy…

Speaking of heavy, the fog was heavy when we landed. As my driver took me through various streets of Delhi, we could sometimes only see about twenty feet ahead of us. That didn’t stop his resilience as he honked and weaved around busses, motorcycles, rickshaws, people walking in the middle of the street, stray dogs, goats and oxen. Yes, oxen. Not just on the small side streets, but the major roads. We almost hit two huge oxen just ambling across this major thoroughfare.

And I couldn’t help but notice the urban slums we drove past. I’d seen some downtrodden and poor people just outside our resort in Mexico, but this was far, far worse. And more prevalent. It’s hard to describe, so I’ll have to post some pictures.

By the way, that picture above is from the Khan Market--not a slum, but a more touristy shopping area.

In short, I just got off the plane and I’m totally overwhelmed. Then, after seeing how most of India lives, I check into the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel…And a palace it is…probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. People are waiting on me hand and foot. Every time I leave the room it gets cleaned. I ordered room service and the butler (yes, butler) asked me to touch the beer bottle to make sure it was chilled enough. Just makes me feel even more uncomfortable.

And it hits me...I'm in another world and totally out of my depth.

Tomorrow and Tuesday are full days of meetings before heading out to the "field" and seeing the villages.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

You are here

So I’m flying through the air on the first of two overnight flights and I realize that this trip will be the longest flight time I’ve ever accumulated. I’ve been advised not to sleep on the first flight in order that I can get some sleep on the next and help to adjust to the 12 hour time difference. So I’m going to try that. This means that when I land in London at 12 noon, it will really be 3 am my time. And I’ll have to stay up till at least 6:30 am for the next flight.

I feel a little bit like I’m back in undergrad when I pulled all-nighters on a regular basis—sometimes for work and sometimes for fun.

Hey, I did my undergrad work in Vegas. It’s not that uncommon.

And I manage to do it...falling asleep for about three hours on the second overnight that's three hours of sleep in 26 hours...yuck!

This trip to India is also the farthest I’ve been from home. And that’s a little freaky. I don’t actually know the distance in miles, but there is a metaphorical thing there…an idea of being so distant and far away.

Added to the fact that I’m going to a country that is completely foreign to me. And this is not a fun trip, but a working trip. We’re going into the urban slums and to see rural village health clinics. I’m going to be driving through the countryside and flying from Delhi to Lucknow to Bareilly to Bhopal. It’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime trip that most people never get to experience. And I think I’m trying to get used to that idea.

And I’m in business class which also takes a certain getting used to…Man, are these sleeper seats comfy! And the food is yummy!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The clock is ticking...

I've started thinking about my next show. It's titled 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. It's not going to be a traditional play (as in text or narrative-based with this neat and tidy package of a story) but an ensemble-based devised piece formulated from ideas and images I've had for awhile. There will be text, movement, and music.

Here's the rough logline:

In 1947, the Doomsday Clock was set to 7 Minutes to Midnight, as a warning and analogy of the path of destruction that began with the birth of the atom bomb. In this ensemble-based piece, we’ll use text, movement and music to examine the nature of time and death and how the clock is ticking for us all.

For those of you curious about the Doomsday Clock, check out this link.

So it's just another simple show...about TIME...and DEATH...and adding a smidgen of Greek myth, too...

Perhaps when I return from India I will shed more light on this project.

By the way, the clock is set to 5 minutes right now.

Which begs me to ask, if you had only 5 minutes to live, what would you do in that 5 minutes?