Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Hate This (blog)

Circa 2004.

It has been nearly a decade since I began blogging. At that time I believed the exercise of keeping a regular online journal was a fad which would pass very quickly. Maybe I was right and I never noticed.

The I HATE THIS blog began when the show was tapped for the 2003 Minnesota Fringe Festival. There wasn't much to share apart from the festival itself ... I mean, if the blog was dedicated to the progress of the production of a very personal play about my experiences with stillbirth, then what else would be appropriate to put there? I tried adding articles of relevance, but those were few and far between.

There was the 2004 New York Fringe, Chicago in 2006 and Great Britain in 2007. It was all hit-and-miss, because by that point I had started other specialty blogs -- it was never my intention to blog about my daily life, my feelings, what events I was attending. Those things were mentioned, sure, but it's not what the blog was for.

The last activity for the I Hate This blog was the 2011 production at Cleveland Public Theatre. Last week I was a featured speaker at a bioethics grand rounds at the Cleveland Clinic, but I didn't feel I had anything to add to that blog about it. It's there for people who are searching for connection after a loss, it's easy enough to get in touch with me through that.

At present, there is this blog, which began as a research project on Cleveland history, and has become my default playwriting blog. Then there's Daddy Runs Fast, which is about running, about physical and mental health. And two blogs is enough for anyone.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kickstarter


On or around June 1 we will begin our Kickstarter campaign to raise necessary funds to bring Double Heart to FringeNYC. While this is the first time I have used this service, today it is the thing (unless you are Zach Braff) for raising a lot of cash from a lot of people in a short period of time. It's a brilliant concept, and one of the more successful attempts to harness the interconnectivity of the new, social media age.

When taking And Then You Die to FringeNYC in 2009, I tried something similar, namely putting a PayPal "donate" button onto my website and blog and encouraging people to give what they could. Sites like Kickstarter provide a lot more clout and cover, and an easy-to-follow interface for those who may not feel comfortable giving cash online. They are also good as prompting folks to think long and hard about how they present themselves to the public.

Putting together the language for this appeal, I am intensely grateful for the experience I have had in the Development Department at work. It has seriously made me a better technical writer (although I admit that is a poor sentence.)

You can look forward to hearing all about this campaign for the next month. Cheers!

Promotional cliché #24: You must stand in front of a brick wall.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

One Theatre World 2013


The One Theatre World conference came to Cleveland last week. Formerly a once every three year festival -- now biennial -- and produced by Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, OTW2013 coincided (on purpose) with the International Children's Festival at PlayhouseSquare.

I wasn't actually registered to attend the conference, I was fortunate enough to get an "all-entry" pass because I'm am a well-connected Cleveland writer person, and frankly I have been so wrapped up in annual gala benefit business and fringe festival business and two kids playing two instruments and playing on three different teams business to really notice the difference between the ICF and the OTW, anyway, I thought they were related not merely co-incident.

Regardless, by the end of the week, while I had experienced a couple great, international children's show, I saw all these excited theater people from everywhere walking places together with their Big Red Passes hanging from their necks, and the weather was perfect (unlike this weekend) and once more in my life I had the distinct and sinking impression that I was missing something.

On Friday morning I had the great good fortune to be crossing Euclid Avenue when I was and saw this guy who looked sixteen years older than a guy I knew sixteen years ago and the name "Marty" popped into my head and I looked at his Big Red Tag and it said "Marty" in large, readble letters, and I called out, "Marty?!" and recognized me, too, right away.

The first long-form improv we presented at Dobama's Night Kitchen was The Realistic World, and Marty was one of seven housemates in Tremont (people got confused ... no one was actually living together in a house in Tremont, it was a play we improvised.) The last I had heard of Marty, my wife and I were on the last night of our honeymoon in Fairbanks, Alaska. I saw a poster for a children's show posted in the Pump House. This play was directed by Marty Johnson. He is now Education Director for iTheatrics, the folks who edit and license all those "Jr." versions of hit Broadway shows.

This is the kind of thing I mean when I have the creepy feeling I am missing something. I knew there were workshops going on, but I just couldn't make time for those, but I was missing all the new, exciting people in my midst. Lucky for me to run into him, that was great catching up, and he introduced me to a few others and then I had to get back to my business in the Bulkley Building and that was okay.

But I cancelled previous plans for Friday evening, and the wife and I came downtown to skull around with our VIP passes. We stuck our noses into The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly so she could see what that was all about and then joined, well, everybody else to see ZooZoo. The Ohio Theatre was packed.

My goal was to catch Finegan Kruckemeyer's closing, keynote address that evening. Staff was scrambling to get everyone a seat, including all those like me (and many, many others) who had passes but no reservations. We were seated in a block of OWT participants -- right in front of Marty, as it turned out, and next to some kind folk from Pittsburgh, and behind Tim and Chris from Alvin Sputnik but I wondered allowed, given to delayed curtain, as to whether it were possible we might miss the address? The man sitting next to me motioned directed my attention to seats behind and to the right observing, "Fin's sitting right there, they can't start without him!"

If there is one thing I regret in life, it is that I have not had enough mentors. I cannot remember who gave me that advice, or when, but "Find a mentor, attach yourself to them, be near them, apprentice yourself," was once recommended and more than most I know I not only ignored this advice, but actively strove to achieve great things entirely unschooled and ignorant.

Joyce was a great inspiration to me, and I learned many things from her about management, communication, hard work, and unapologetically maintaining core beliefs. Daniel taught me honesty, responsibility, loyalty, dignity and joy. There were also many college professors and instructors who wisdom I heard, but failed to deeply plumb.

So having the opportunity to enjoin, engage and listen is to me (especially at this point in my life) some hard to come by by also deeply treasured. Attending a conference is like searching for a parent I never had.

Fin.

Last Spring (as I noted last week) Fin led a session on playwriting which was truly eye-opening, and I had high hopes for his address which were entirely satisfied. How much can you learn in one 45-minute lecture? An awful lot, actually, when the speaker is well-prepared, interesting and impassioned, as Fin was. His main point, which was not coincidentally the summation of my last post on the subject, is that as creators of children's drama (a subset of children's literature) many have become to concerned with the why or the how, instead of being solely immersed in the what.

As one whose occupation is in theater education -- and for the last four years not merely the facilitation of theater education, but one who writes grant proposals for corporate, government and foundation support of such work -- I knew of what he spoke. The justification for children's theater can be the wet blanket thrown over the art of simply telling the story, letting the story happen, after which someone else can determine its significance, its learning potential, how it satisfies key educational benchmarks for achievement.

Speaking from notes but flowing as though these thoughts were spooling out from the top of his head, Fin launched into numerous lists of companies and artists from around the world who satisfy the what in their work, and unreeled a panoply of premises for stories like he was that Dream-tortured author from Sandman.

We had the opportunity to chat only briefly following the talk, there was a babysitter to release, but I promised to send him the revised draft of Slumberland once I get to it, which I hope is sooner than later. Last week's reading, the variety of shows I had experienced last week, and Fin's closing address made me more confident in this new work, which is good. It would have only been too easy to look at the professional delights before me and think, Good Lord, what is this piece of crap I have spent so much time on? I am glad that this is not the case.

Recently, my daughter's violin teacher moved from the Heights to Orange. The girl self-started, almost three years ago she asked if she could learn the violin -- which was odd because my wife and I do not have an instrument ... true, on my wife's side there are some fine musicians -- and we said, oh, ah, of course. She is a dedicated pupil and her mother has added to her world of responsibilities the care and tending of daily practice.

Her teacher is quite excellent, and while we were at first a little concerned about the new, forty-five minute drive to lessons each week, it was really only twice the amount of time it took to get her across town. One family friend suggested we find someone else nearby, that our schedules are so full as it is to be worth the trip.

I would have imagined that ten would have been too young to already be advising my girl to "find a mentor". Having already found one, however, the least we can do is drive her there.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero


Larry Tye's Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero, is a very interesting book until about two-thirds of the way through. What began as a pretty straight-forward history of the most iconic comic book superhero ever created -- which is something none can dispute -- runs off the rails right about the same time the Man of Steel "died", which is to say, in the early 1990s.

There is a more recent book, Glen Weldon's Superman: An Unauthorized Biography, which purports to describe how the character has morphed throughout its history to reflect the times. Tye's book already illustrates this rather successfully, as the pro-downtrodden hero of the thirties becomes the anti-Fascist of the 40s, and all of the successful radio, television and film adaptations that followed through the decades.

However, following a description of the sad de-evolution of Christopher Reeves' series of films, this historian shows signs of having consumed his own Kool-Aid, returning to the comic books themselves, and straining to describe a variety of late 20th century comic book story arcs as important, relevant or iconic in and of themselves.

Just a tip: Never describe the plot of a comic book in a historical text and try to make it sound original or interesting writing. I like comic books, but its just embarrassing. He also quotes a number of die-hard, latter-day Superman enthusiasts, who have eschewed more popular figures, like Batman, or anyone in a Marvel comic.

One was quoted as saying, "Spider-Man tells us that even heroes are human and can be hurt ... Superman is here to say ... I'm not going to preach to you.'" Tye then proceeds to preach, and preach, insisting how Superman is unique, and that he is and always will be the best superhero ever created.

And I do not believe him. It's not just because he glosses over the fact that Superman (The Movie) is embarrassingly dated, that Superman II has really terrible dialogue, a whiny protagonist and a horrible plot (he seems to think the "Kiss of Forgetfulness" is a totally brilliant Deus ex Machina) that Lois & Clark was good for one season and horrible for the rest, and even holds up the much-maligned Superman Returns as an example of Superman's exceptionalism.

Really. A 76% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a paltry $391 million in box office (foreign + domestic) for Superman Returns had not "once again demonstrated why (Superman) belonged as a summertime Hollywood blockbuster." 71% percent of the audiences on Rotten Tomatoes liked Jack Reacher.

In the world of this book, every Superman story idea is a good story idea -- in fact, a great one. The idea of Superman, it is true, is greater than the sum of all the pulps, and shows and actors and writers and everybody. The origin story is solid, and mythic, and biblical, and that's why they retell that same story, over and over again, every time they get the chance. They're doing it once again this summer with Man Of Steel.

But once you've gotten past the myth, the day-to-day act of just being Superman can seem entirely mundane.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

International Children's Theater Festival (2013)


Last time I was Fringing in New York, I missed an opportunity to see The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, Deep Sea Explorer. There were three companies that had arrived together from Perth, Australia, Tim Watts' Weeping Spoon, producer of Alvin Sputnik was one. Mark Storen (see below), whose A Drunken Cabaret I did get to see was another.

Watts' show received some very nice press, including an interview in The NY Times, and by the time it had come to my attention I was either scheduled for the same time or it had sold out. So I was surprised and delighted to see that it was on the slate of productions presented as part of this, the fourth year of PlayhouseSquare's International Children's Festival, a fantastic celebration of live theater arts which truly explore the vast possibilities inherent in and unique to live performance.

The festival proper opens today, May 9 and runs through Saturday but there are also school matinees, so yesterday I had an opportunity to sneak in and share this astonishing "solo" show with a roomful of kids that looked about my son's age.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, Deep Sea Explorer

I used italics around the word "solo" because though Watts is the featured person -- the guy with the recognizable face -- he works with an small, experienced team of artists and puppeteers to make it all work. And I use the word astonishing not only because of the delightful and surprising use of puppets, screens, video, live music, sound effects and darkness, but also subject matter which is at once reassuring, sweet, loving, and very, very bleak.

Let me put it this way, without giving away too much -- the premise is based on ecological disaster on a global scale. That's at the beginning. But following the protagonist as he manages and copes with his world sets in motion a melancholy hero's journey driven entirely by love. There is also an eight-inch tall hand puppet in a diving suit that can breakdance.

Sitting in this darkened room, as one with children, and one who works with children, I was at once thrilled and terrified. Can you actually do this? Sure, most of these kids have seen The Avengers, destroying things is part of their daily roleplay. But this is different, isn't it? Or is it. The very real threat posed by global warming and rising sea levels. Will there be nightmares? Or resolution to change things? Maybe both, who knows. Is it an artist's job to worry too much about what will scare the children, or just to stay honest, be clear, and be gentle.

Because that's, at last, what I saw in Alvin Sputnik. It is honest, it is clear, and it is gentle.

The Girl Who Forgot To Sing Badly

Yesterday, we saw The Girl Who Forgot To Sing Badly, written by the Tasmanian Finegan Kruckemeyer and produced by the Irish TheatreLovett, which is not gentle, but rather brash, velocious, and has really great hair. Louis Lovett spins a yarn -- well, I mean, he unpacks it out of many boxes and then spins it, which is a terrible thing for me to have done to a metaphor -- and revels in his own personal awesomeness.

Though his work is very physical, he exhibits tremendous focus. It is very clear, inspiring movement work, and an inspiration to men like me, who do not think of themselves as lithe or graceful. I thought, I can do that. I really should try. Do not fear the clown, but set him free.

Because even though the production features a great set, comprised of boxes within boxes within boxes (even Lovett's costume is a box within a box within a box, if you follow me) and though Kruckemeyer has crafted an irresistible story (another box w/in a box which, like Alvin Sputnik features end-of-the-world elements) it is the direct, clear, concise, animated, fantastic and outsized storytelling of Lovett upon which the success of the piece rests.

These two pieces of children's theater -- which can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone, really -- acknowledge and honor their undersized audiences in two different ways. In Girl Who Forgot it is the weight of detail and demand for attention that puts kids on notice that there will be no dumbing-down, keep up, children, you will get this, and in Alvin Sputnik the almost absolute absence of narration for long stretches of the production where we all just watched spellbound as wonderful and even frightening things developed and played out in elegant ways.


But seriously, what does this all have to do with David? I am so glad you asked. On Monday evening I had the opportunity to hear Adventures In Slumberland read for the Playwrights' Unit. In general it was a reassuring success, most comments were very positive. The crew that had assembled to rehearse once and then read were instrumental in the reading coming off all right -- especially as there are several turn-of-the-last-century melodies which they learned on their own time, primarily by looking up ancient wax cylinder recordings on YouTube.

Having never before written more than something like a short sketch for children, I wanted to try something special and new, unpredictable ... but not so odd as to be incomprehensible. What are the lines? Where are the boundaries? How much will I allow myself to trust the child? Readers of this blog may expect to read more grappling in the months to come.

As should now be abundantly clear, a children's show can be anything, about anything, anywhere, or everywhere, or nowhere. Kruckemeyer himself held a workshop here a year ago (thanks Deb for chronicling his writing exercises) which cracked open my perception of what writing can be and how a story can be successfully built.


Tim Watts, Finegan Kruckemeyer and I have one mutual friend:
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mark Storen.
NOT SAFE FOR CHILDREN