Saturday, March 31, 2007
On Tuesday, March 27, there was a serious failure in a high-pressure test at CERN of a Fermilab-built "inner-triplet" series of three quadrupole magnets in the tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider. The magnets focus the particle beams prior to collision at each of four interaction points around the accelerator.
Today I'm teaching a workshop and master class on the art of the monologue, and I'm delighted--I love teaching, it's one of my great passions and not terribly different than the monologues in that it is a form of extemporaneous address used to connect with an active audience. I hope to teach a workshop like this while in residence at ART, but I'm not certain when we're going to be able to set that up--that's something I'll have to touch on when I arrive on the ground, which unbelievably is tomorrow.
One of the things that I'm concerned with at ART is the physical relationship between the myself and the audience--I've looked at pictures and schematics for the Zero Arrow Theatre, but it really doesn't mean all that much until I walk inside and stand in the space itself. This is something that very rarely impacts productions at ART--they're principally produced works that are forged and created for that space, and when transferred have ample time to adapt. We'll be moving quickly, and our bare and extremely minimal set (table, chair, water, me) can have a surprising number of variables in it--big decisions have to be made right at the top which dictate a lot of how the show will flow as we move through the run. It's a little like marrying someone you haven't met, but have excellent references for--at some point you close your eyes, trust your experience, trust your skills, and jump. To do anything else is impossible.
Crossposted to the ART blog
Friday, March 30, 2007
Mike Daisey has turned storytelling into a form of theater that has been amusing and exciting audiences around the country for the past decade.
Daisey explores wide-ranging material drawn from his own life and his observations of American culture in shows that have dealt with everything from his own employment at Amazon.com (during the dotcom boom) to the unexpected links between P.T. Barnum and L. Ron Hubbard.
The 33-year-old performer has been called the heir to legendary New York radio monologist Jean Shepherd, as well as "a cross between Noam Chomsky and Jack Black."
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Axlrosen sez, "A wristwatch buried in the ice at the North Pole three years ago was found by a boy more than 1,800 miles away after it floated ashore on the Faeroe Islands."
Niels Jakup Mortensen, 11, spotted a black box near his home on Suduroy, the Faeroes' southernmost island, his mother Anna Jacobsen said. Inside, she said, was a watch that had been buried at the North Pole by Joergen Amundsen, a descendant of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen.
So when American Repertory Theatre asked me to blog on their site about my run at their theater I was intrigued--with a contained format, I felt that the entries could be an interesting exercise in following the process Jean-Michele (my director) and I go through developing the work, and since the run at ART covers three very different monologues, all at different places in their developmental life I thought a little hands-on commentary could be intriguing. So here we are.
And where we are today is New Haven, Connecticut, where I'll be opening INVINCIBLE SUMMER at Yale Repertory Theatre this evening. It's a special three-day engagement which will function as a kind of test-bed for the much longer run that immediately follows at ART--we got in yesterday and immediately rushed into tech, where we configured the lights, sound and all the rest in about six hours. My monologues use very particular lighting, with slow, almost imperceptible changes over stretches of time, so that a theatrical effect is achieved that, to my eyes, echoes the nature of story: shifting, chimerical but never overtly plotted or "dramatic" in a conventional sense. It's hell on dimmer systems that run the lighting, and in many spaces a lot of tech is spent coaxing the systems to deal with slow, slow, slow fades and making them graceful. Considering that this short run is the equivalent of a touring production, I'm very happy with what we've achieved--we're working with Melissa Mizell, whom we met at the Spoleto Festival the last few years, and she knows what we look for, which I think helped things enormously.
Tonight's show will be very stressful for me, as it is the first time I will have spoken the show aloud since the Public Theatre run in January. The monologues grow and develop like living things, and as a consequence there is an unpredictability inherent to the process of doing them again--they are never memorized, and due to the passage of time they naturally shift when put down, and I have to figure out where they've moved to. It can be hard to distinguish between what's inspiration in the changes, and what's simple unfamiliarity, but some of the best discoveries in monologues of the past have come on nights just like this, and I think I'm up for the challenge.
I don't do much on opening days--I had an interview this morning, then slept some more, and now we're headed to IKEA, where I'm hoping to find the perfect water glass for this evening's show, along with some meatballs and tiny red potatoes.
Crossposted to the ART blog
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Pieces of space junk from a Russian satellite coming out of orbit narrowly missed hitting a jetliner over the Pacific Ocean overnight.
The pilot of a Lan Chile Airbus A340, which was travelling between Santiago, Chile, and Auckland, New Zealand, notified air traffic controllers at Auckland Oceanic Centre after seeing flaming space junk hurtling across the sky just five nautical miles in front of and behind his plane about 10pm last night.
According to a plane spotter, who was tuning into a high frequency radio broadcast at the time, the pilot "reported that the rumbling noise from the space debris could be heard over the noise of the aircraft.
"He described he saw a piece of debris lighting up as it re-entered (the earth's atmosphere).
"He was one very worried pilot, as you would imagine.
The big mystery to me is: why don't more people start startups? If nearly everyone who does it prefers it to a regular job, and a significant percentage get rich, why doesn't everyone want to do this? A lot of people think we get thousands of applications for each funding cycle. In fact we usually only get several hundred. Why don't more people apply? And while it must seem to anyone watching this world that startups are popping up like crazy, the number is small compared to the number of people with the necessary skills. The great majority of programmers still go straight from college to cubicle, and stay there.
It seems like people are not acting in their own interest. What's going on? Well, I can answer that. Because of Y Combinator's position at the very start of the venture funding process, we're probably the world's leading experts on the psychology of people who aren't sure if they want to start a company.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Everything else is a little who fucking cares at the moment: work, Work, home--all a predictable soup; fuck the highs because i live for the lows. My back has been assaulting me for a couple of weeks now, leaving me physically incapacitated for a few days, then forcing me to walk with a cane. The cane is embarrassing in a way, but in another way it looks kind of perfect. Love remains a rude lodger, arriving unannouced and unbidden, pissing in the houseplants, kicking over chairs, blunting knives, threatening like to burn the house down, and I'm all, "thank you, you're so amazing, please don't leave!"
If you make stuff, it is not yours to command its destiny in the world. God help you, you should be grateful if it has one. It's fantastic if anyone cares. Every artist should be constantly reminding themselves how lucky they are if people are even bothering in the first place. If people do something that is not as interesting as I'd hoped with my work, or if they go and make a lot of dough, that's part of accepting that I've made a gesture whose conclusion is not mine to command.
But to be totally obvious, lyrics and even film projects are not novels. One thing I would always retain is the rights to my novels. With my new novel, I'm inviting some filmmaker to take a lover's leap with me, saying that five years after the release of a film, we make it a stage play or a comic book or a musical or make a sequel. I wouldn't probably choose to do that with every one of my novels. With some of them, some degree of control is still appealing to me. With this one I felt I would really enjoy giving that away. And it's my choice. That's the key. This proceeds from my choice. But I don't think 50 or 100 years after my death, someone should still have say over what someone makes of this stuff. It certainly doesn't follow. As Lawrence Lessig likes to point out, you can't provide incentive to a dead creator to make more art by offering him a copyright.
I took my 3-year-old daughter to the LA Zoo yesterday and we were treated to the spectacle of a very relaxed tapir receiving a body rub by a gentle zookeeper. I videtaped the procedure with my digital camera.
Daisey, in part two of Modern Living: The Terrors of Literature, a monologue performed at McNally Robinson Bookstore Friday night, told the audience why the written word is so problematic.
Books, he explained, are merely dead tree matter, filled with glyphs that your brain turns into images. They are pinned down in space and time. Words stay flat on the page, when essentially writers would like to “wave their hands over them and have the words rise up and hang in the air like a benediction.”
The written word infiltrates our lives like “a lattice work in front of our vision.” But spoken words are a living breathing aural experience. It can’t be nailed down to an exact time and place. It is also why, when trying to write down your failed love affair, you can’t do it. It can’t be seen from above, like light shining through a prism. Only in performance is it a different experience every time.
Monday, March 26, 2007
For $10,000 to $15,000, you, too, can be a best-selling author.
New York public-relations firm Ruder Finn says it can propel unknown titles to the top of rankings on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble with a mass email called the Best-Seller Blast. Popular authors such as Mark Victor Hansen of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series recommend your book in messages to fans, and offer a deal: Buy the book today and you'll get downloadable "bonuses" supposedly valued at thousands of dollars -- such as recordings of motivational speeches and contact information for important people. Orchestrating even 1,000 book purchases in a single day can drive a title from obscurity to the top of the charts.
Rick Frishman, who oversees the campaigns for Ruder Finn's Planned Television Arts, also is a client. His 2004 book "Networking Magic" went from a sales rank of 896,000 on barnesandnoble.com the morning it was published to No. 1 at 4 p.m. He has a poster in his office showing the sales chart he briefly topped. "I'm a nobody, but I was somebody for a day," he says.
A decade after they were introduced, online book-sales rankings remain an object of obsession for authors. Because they're unrestrained by shelf space, the Web stores give millions of books a ranking. These are updated hourly and displayed on the book's sales page and on best-seller lists. This "democratic" potential is celebrated by compulsive watchers of the numbers. Cindy Ratzlaff, vice president of brand marketing for Rodale Books, has noticed that Amazon seems to refresh its numbers 35 minutes after every hour and she makes it a point to check the page soon after, every hour during the workday. "It's really pathetic and extremely addictive -- and we all do it," she says.
In a courtroom scene from The Simpsons that has since entered into the television canon, an argument over the ownership of the animated characters Itchy and Scratchy rapidly escalates into an existential debate on the very nature of cartoons. “Animation is built on plagiarism!” declares the show's hot-tempered cartoon-producer-within-a-cartoon, Roger Meyers Jr. “You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?” If nostalgic cartoonists had never borrowed from Fritz the Cat, there would be no Ren & Stimpy Show; without the Rankin/Bass and Charlie Brown Christmas specials, there would be no South Park; and without The Flintstones—more or less The Honeymooners in cartoon loincloths—The Simpsons would cease to exist. If those don't strike you as essential losses, then consider the remarkable series of “plagiarisms” that links Ovid's “Pyramus and Thisbe” with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, or Shakespeare's description of Cleopatra, copied nearly verbatim from Plutarch's life of Mark Antony and also later nicked by T. S. Eliot for The Waste Land. If these are examples of plagiarism, then we want more plagiarism.
Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I didn't really get to say everything I wanted to in this 100-word blurb on Mike Daisey. Mainly, I'd like to reiterate here that Mike Daisey is the most ingenious guy in theatre right now, at least in my opinion. Sure, he is slightly lacking in the rugged good looks of Liev Schreiber, but the fact that he maintains the challenging crossover of acting and writing is absolutely astounding. Even more impressive is that he improvises most of his monologues while using the verve of a sweaty, overzealous southern preacher man.
At the other end of the threat spectrum was Joshua Kinberg, a graduate student at Parsons School of Design and the subject of four pages of intelligence reports, including two pictures. For his master’s thesis project, Mr. Kinberg devised a “wireless bicycle” equipped with cellphone, laptop and spray tubes that could squirt messages received over the Internet onto the sidewalk or street.
The messages were printed in water-soluble chalk, a tactic meant to avoid a criminal mischief charge for using paint, an intelligence report noted. Mr. Kinberg’s bicycle was “capable of transferring activist-based messages on streets and sidewalks,” according to a report on July 22, 2004.
“This bicycle, having been built for the sole purpose of protesting during the R.N.C., is capable of spraying anti-R.N.C.-type messages on surrounding streets and sidewalks, also supplying the rider with a quick vehicle of escape,” the report said. Mr. Kinberg, then 25, was arrested during a television interview with Ron Reagan for MSNBC’s “Hardball” program during the convention. He was released a day later, but his equipment was held for more than a year.
Mr. Kinberg said Friday that after his arrest, detectives with the terrorism task force asked if he knew of any plans for violence. “I’m an artist,” he said. “I know other artists, who make T-shirts and signs.”
He added: “There’s no reason I should have been placed on any kind of surveillance status. It affected me, my ability to exercise free speech, and the ability of thousands of people who were sending in messages for the bike, to exercise their free speech.”
For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.
From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show.
They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department’s Intelligence Division. Other investigators mined Internet sites and chat rooms.
From these operations, run by the department’s “R.N.C. Intelligence Squad,” the police identified a handful of groups and individuals who expressed interest in creating havoc during the convention, as well as some who used Web sites to urge or predict violence.
But potential troublemakers were hardly the only ones to end up in the files. In hundreds of reports stamped “N.Y.P.D. Secret,” the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.
These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.
Jean Michelle Gregory is 29 and lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. She's a director who specializes in autobiography.
"I was just a regular little straight kid, weepy over the absence of my boyfriend who'd gone off to college, when I fell in love - or was it lust? - with this 21-year-old woman who wore a leather jacket, had just returned from backpacking around Europe, had a wicked tattoo crawling up her wrist that she'd designed herself and who took to calling me 'Jailbait' every chance she got. So what did I do? I invited her to my senior prom, of course. And when it became clear we weren't welcome there, she sweet-talked a bouncer into letting me into my first bar - which also happened to be a gay bar - and we ended up dancing the night away. The evening was ultimately as wholesome as it was sexy."
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan is a fascinating book that details the changing eating habits of Americans. I can't recommend it highly enough. It explains how, over the last 30 years, we have become a nation that eats vast quantities of corn – much more so than Mexicans, the original "corn people."
Most folks assume that a chicken nugget is just a piece of fried chicken, right? Wrong! Did you know, for example, that a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget is 56% corn?
What else is in a McDonald's Chicken McNugget? Besides corn, and to a lesser extent, chicken, The Omnivore's Dilemma describes all of the thirty-eight ingredients that make up a McNugget – one of which I'll bet you'll never guess.
Neither can I. And I sure as hell couldn’t when I was in college, where I relied on the student health center to provide cheap, effective birth control pills for between $10 and $15 a month. I can only assume that these days, when tuition and book costs are higher than ever before and rising, a $500-or-more annual hike in birth control expenses is a bigger burden than ever before. Which is why it’s such terrible news that Congress is eliminating an incentive in the Medicaid rebate law that encouraged companies to provide low-cost contraceptives to college campuses. The change will boost the price of birth control as much as 300 percent.
Arguably the hottest restaurant opening of early 2007 is Morandi, if you bear in mind that Gordon Ramsay at the London opened in late 2006, as did the Waverly Inn, which officially never opened — at least according to the coyly articulated position of the Graydon Carter Fabulosity Institute. It may never open, instead remaining content and profitable in some hyper-exclusive limbo where phones are never answered and hoi polloi are reduced to quivering, pointless supplication.
Morandi’s heat comes not from its chef, Jody Williams, who’s no slouch, but from its owner, the restaurateur Keith McNally, now trying his hand at an Italian venture. His proving ground was French: Odeon (which he no longer owns), Balthazar, Pastis. Especially Balthazar. Above all Balthazar. It represented the three coolest restaurant syllables since Indochine, and it’s still cool, a full decade into its existence.
But how’s the actual experience of it? I stopped by in a gearing-up-for-Morandi mood and frame of mind, and on this visit — and do I emphasize it was just one visit — I didn’t have such a wonderful time at all.
South Carolina's Legislature yesterday approved a bill which requires a woman to pay for an ultrasound, view the picture of the fetus with her doctor, wait an hour after seeing the ultrasound, sign a piece of paper saying she has seen the picture, and then and only then can she decide that she still wants an abortion. There's no exceptions, not even in cases of rape, health or incest. If the house approves this bill (again) it goes back to the Senate and if they approve it, it will pass. This is totally emotional blackmail and beyond the scope of what is choice.
Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction, his book on writing is filled with insightful advice on the craft. (Btw, it was also the inspiration for the title of the “On Writing” posts we publish here.) Some excerpts below.
Mike Daisey, in a hilarious and brilliant talk, raved about computers, Steve Jobs and vibrators for about an hour at Tekserve last night.
Not only are we addicted to having the newest technology, but, “There is nothing on earth that works less well than a computer.” He compared computers to the most basic of home appliances, the vibrator. “The Wahl 9000 is a marvelous instrument. It never crashed. It never blue screened. Off, low and high are each what you expect it to be. Every time. And I don’t have a special sleeve for it. We throw it under the bed.” After encouraging us all to get one, he said that computers are basically unstable.
“Computers are not appliances. They are environments, a playground for making shit happen. You can do things the creator of them never even thought of,” he said. He compared them to an abusive relationship, where your partner, who is creative and wonderful, just sometimes, for no known reason, completely freaks out. Computers are so complicated you can’t really know what is going on. And your pour your whole life into them.
Friday, March 23, 2007
This just in on the handy-dandy space-finding sites of NYC Performing Arts Spaces.
NYC Performing Arts Spaces has launched nycTheatreSpaces.org, the free online resource of New York City rehearsal and performance spaces suitable for actors, playwrights, directors, producers and theatre companies.
Plays, musicals, literary readings, sketch comedy and other theatrical performances can be accommodated by the many rentable spaces -- large and small -- in NYC Theatre Spaces' extensive browseable database. You can also search for spaces appropriate for auditions, film and photo shoots, special events and parties.
Not everyone is excited about Shutdown Day. “My first instinct is to flinch,” says blogger, writer and sex guru Rachel Kramer Bussel. “I just can’t imagine a whole day. I could imagine half a day maybe.” But, she admits, she’d feel better about it if she absolutely knew nobody would be trying to contact her online during her stint of cyber-deprivation. Even then, “I would feel really antsy about it.”
Kramer Bussel has friends who freak out as though she may have fallen down a well if she doesn’t answer their emails within a day. She does all her work online, and productive time is mixed in with messing around.
Five minutes in the “real world” are like 10,000 years online. Civilizations rise and fall, philosophies flourish and collapse under their own contradictions. Most of all, your own reputation can turn from crap to gold and back again—several times. Step away from the Internet for a day, and you may come back to find everybody else’s tag clouds have gone carnivorous. And people are speaking Urdu.
Just back from Clearwater, FL -- a wealthy suburb of Tampa/St. Pete -- where the Eckerd Theatre Company was workshopping my civil war drummer boy musical.
Eckerd Hall is a performing arts center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was leased over the past weekend by Scientologists -- (Clearwater is their east coast headquarters) -- celebrating the Birthday of L. Ron Hubbard! What a thrilling coincidence! While we're toiling away in the conference room over scripts and designs, John Travolta was appearing on the mainstage; there was a humongous party tent in the parking lot.
Scientologii snipers were posted of the rooftops; Scientologii bomb-sniffing dogs prowled the halls; Scientologii bodyguards (ineffectual looking guys in black with earpieces) eyeballed the entrances and exits. A very unusual space to be workshopping a new musical for three days! On Saturday morning, the festivities had ended -- and laborers were dismantling the party tent. Scientologii laborers had constructed it and you could tell they were scientologists because they were lean, clean-shaven, close-cropped and dressed like postal workers. Normal laborers were tearing it down and you could tell they weren't Scientologists because they had mullets and beer bellies.
When the coast was clear, we braved trekking across the astroturf carpet to ogle the remains of L. Ron Hubbard's birthday cake -- a triple-tiered affair with yellow frosting and gold roses (ick!) -- it appeared to be vanilla with lemon filling but we didn't take a taste -- it was going stale in the sun -- and it didn't appear to have been a huge favorite at the party. It was pretty well mangled but you could still read "Happy Birthday Ron" on top of the cake -- and someone had swiped a finger through a couple of the gold roses. On the ground next to the cake was a huge and rather tacky photo portrait of L. Ron himself -- long since dead now, of course, but apparently frozen in state somewhere waiting for the Scientologist Judgment Day -- and he was smiling and standing next to a birthday cake that looked exactly like the mangled cake on the table. Like it's somehow the traditional L. Ron birthday cake on Scientology Christmas.