Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolutions for 2015


Ten Resolutions for the New Year
  1. Read more plays. You know how many I plays I own that I have left unread? A lot. Plus - shorter than books.
  2. Write more plays. I wrote a lot in 2014. I mean, really, Good boy. And yet, it was really not enough, not close.
  3. Submit more plays. Also did a lot of this in 2014. There are countless opportunities out there. Find them and pursue them.
  4. Attend more plays. Harder than it sounds. I have a lot more responsibility at work and also we take co-parenting very seriously. Bonus - as they get older I can take them to more stuff (another reason I don't miss the baby part.)
  5. Less screentime. Pick up a play to read or something. 
  6. Continue to conquer the house. It has taken twenty years but is slowly bending into your (communal) image.
  7. Game night doesn't have to be a thing. Game time does.
  8. Eat the right food, drink the right drink. Work out.
  9. More good things. Less bad things.
  10. Bet on the Cubs over Miami in the World Series.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Free For All (book)

"I could have killed Clive Barnes if I'd seen him in person ... there are times you feel that way. You would actually commit an atrocity because the feelings are so intense."
- Joseph Papp, Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told
On one occasion, when New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes gave a thoroughly negative and condescending review of the Public Theater's world premiere production of David Rabe's In the Boom Boom Room ("Oh dear. Let us hope that the Shakespeare Festival will have better luck next time.") artistic director Joe Papp phoned him at home after midnight to tear him a new one.

This is a fact which is corroborated by each party in Kenneth Turan's fascinating account of Papp's tenure as the creator and driving force of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, Free For All (2009).

Let's parse that. Imagine you are a writer. You love theater, that's why you have made your career watching it. You eat, breathe and sleep theater, the way others immerse themselves in commerce, or construction, or craft. In fact, you are fortunate enough to see all theater available to you. You aren't some suburban academic who had a sideline making a couple bucks writing theater reviews for a local paper with a subscription of a couple thousand. You see everything, everywhere, around the world.

In the privacy of your home, the phone rings in the late of night. That's the time when I expect either a wrong number or to find a close relative has died. Instead, in your torpor, the producer of one play you reviewed needs very badly to insult you at length, to in fact threaten you with violence.

Not play, "I ought to kick your teeth in" show off, dumb-ass threatening kind of violence. By his own admission, Joe Papp put Clive Barnes against a wall once. So what if he was Joe Papp, admired by hundreds of artists and thousands and thousands of New York audiences. Does he have the right to harm a writer for doing his job?

We now will speak in defense of critics.

Theater critics are people who write articles for publication about theater. Sometimes they are critical evaluations of theatrical performance, or news items about same. These essays can be published in a print publication, or online, or both.

Like them or not, like how well-written they are or not, like what their artistic point of view is or not, these are the writers who, by choice or design, professional or amateur, write about live theater. No one else does that.

Without their efforts, no one outside of the theater world would know live theater still exists. These are the people who report on theater.

You might think, what right do they have to criticize the work? Well, none, actually, there is no right to criticize. But they do it, anyway. Some are educated, some are not. Some are pretentious, but so are you.

Some have a deep history of theater knowledge - and of local theater knowledge, which is much more irritating - while others do not. Artists pick and choose whether or not this is a blessing or a vice, depending on what has just been said about them.

We have our favorites, and there are those we make fun of on Facebook. Often. One in particular, he's a clown, but seriously. Without these few, these miserable few, there would be absolutely no one writing about the work we do.

We cannot ask for better because there is no better. We have several fine, thoughtful, opinionated, clever, diligent theater critics in our struggling metropolis. There are also a few cranks, but believe me, I have read many Cleveland area theater reviews, in the Plain Dealer and the Press and the News, dating back decades and decades, that were as bad as those written today.

It is my opinion that it is unnecessary to write to a letter to the editor of a paper with a daily circulation of 45,000 to demand the head of the theater critic. You sound like an idiot.

It is unwise for a member of a small budget theater company to place a private phone call to the editor-in-chief of a weekly tabloid to complain about one article written by the theater critic. The editor will only tell the critic about the call and they will laugh at you.

It is unimaginable to picture an artistic director - even one as important as Joe Papp - physically assaulting a theater critic.

Okay, not that is not actually unimaginable, not in Cleveland, but still. I just read an entire book about this man, one of the most important figures in the history of American theater, and that's what stuck with me. To this reader, that is his epitaph.

They are critics. They are writers. They have no agenda, and they also have no power. They ain't your marketing department, they don't work for you. They cannot make your show live or die, certainly not today, not in Cleveland. That's your job.

So get back to work.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Two Holes and a Plaque

Shakespeare might have been born in Stratford, died in Stratford ... but he really lived here in London. - tour guide, 1990
Twenty-four years ago as a young student taking a holiday university tour to England, on a rainy December morning, I witnessed a most unimpressive sight. A sooty plaque on the wall of a post-war factory building, indicating that the Globe Theatre, the very stage for which William Shakespeare had written his plays, was at one point in history around here, somewhere.

At that moment in time, there was also located nearby two large holes in the ground. Pits, really. One was the excavation site of the Globe's smaller competitor, the foundation of the recently-unearthed Rose Theatre.

And perhaps more significantly, another short walk down the south bank of the Thames, was a great muddy, vacant mouth, the groundwork for the as-yet unbuilt Shakespeare's Globe. Whether it ever would be built was even then uncertain. There were many at that time who found such a building project elitist and in fact entirely unnecessary.

Regardless, what they found at the Rose was auspiciously timed to excited the imagination about this new Globe, and also to provide valuable data on original construction. And if there is thing I hope to show in my new work The Great Globe Itself is the trajectory from Cleveland to that plaque to that sloppy hole in the ground.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Inventing Meaning for "The Tempest"

There is a strong resemblance.
Now my charms are all o’erthrown

And what strength I have’s my own.

- Prospero, The Tempest (Epilogue)
Writing is like magic.

Picture the aging William Shakespeare, summoning to him the spirit of creativity, a tricksy spirit which reveals to him the true story of a shipwreck I the recently “discovered” Bermudas.

Shakespeare sees himself as master of this island, drawing to it this doomed vessel. Aboard, lords and gentlemen who have shown disrespect for his writing, but also a fine husband for his younger daughter (already 26 and without prospects).

At that same time, he struggles with his Bête Noire, that which inhibits his creation; lust, anger, drink, vulgarity, struggles to keep this Devil down in the hole. He plays with the nobility, terrifying them with monsters, treating them as toys.

Finally he composes a great play for his child and her man, forgives his ignorant enemies and critics, sets down his pen and paper (“staff” and “book”) and chooses to retire from writing.

Wouldn’t that make a good play?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Into The Woods (musical)

 
ONCE UPON A TIME … Ohio University was on a quarter schedule and the college more or less shut down between Thanksgiving an New Year’s. Six weeks to work, lie about, or travel.

December 1990 the school of theater arranged a trip for England which included tours and shows in London, followed by several days of workshops and shows in Stratford-Upon-Avon with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.


Our first night in we had reservations for some West End show, reservations which we lost for some reason, and our ticket broker gave the tour a choice of two alternatives - Man of the Moment by Alan Ayckbourn, or the original London production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Ayckbourn’s work I was familiar with, and enjoyed. Of Sondheim, I knew nothing. If you do not count West Side Story, I had never seen or heard any of his work. Please forgive me, I was only 22, and by the age of 22 I had pretty much lost interest in musical theater entirely.

And yet, I chose to see that, in large part because like everyone else in the company I was suffering from jet lag, having been awake for over 24 hours straight. I thought a musical would more successfully keep me awake.

Nigel Planer as Neil in "The Young Ones"
 Note: I missed the chance to see Nigel Planer live onstage in "Man of the Moment", though I did eventually see him in "Feelgood" (for better or worse) ten or so years later.

Into the Woods in its original London production was very odd. The New York premiere (1987) featured legit Broadway talent such as Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason. In the West End the cast was composed of several famous television personalities, like presenter Nicholas Parsons as the Narrator and Julia McKenzie as the Witch who, though an experienced stage performer (and recognizable as today’s version of TV’s Miss Marple) did not look much changed when stripped of her witchy old-age make-up.

Yes, I am ashamed to have written that. But there it is.

Just appearing on stage these actors received applause. The problem was (and the soundtrack recording gives proof of this) many of them could not sing.

However, I did find the music infectious, as Sondheim’s work invariably is (“There's not a tune you can hum.” my ass.) It was colorful and interesting, and very funny. All these folk tales wrapped up rather neatly, and the title song reprise made it clear, after almost ninety minutes and no intermission, that the show was over. Except for the Narrator adding To Be Continued and the lack of any curtain call.

As you know, if you are familiar with the work, “Happy ever after!” is not how the show ends, and I soon discovered there was, in fact, a second act. This second part was confusing, disorienting, ill befalling absolutely everyone, their mistakes magnified. I did not understand the point of this second act, which I felt was maudlin, mawkish, somnambulant (literally so, I pinched the soft parts of my own hands very painfully to stay awake) and a tale or two too far.

But it kept with me. Later, I got the Broadway cast recording, still later the West End disc (Rapunzel’s Prince has the most bizarre accent) and even recorded the Great Performances production onto VHS, which I still have.

Listening to the albums I grew to appreciate the emotional ambiguity of the second act. Also, on Mandy Patinkin’s eponymous album (1989) he does a heart-wrenching cover of No More.

Tom Ford and Jodi Dominick (center) as the Baker and his wife.
In 2008, Great Lakes Theater inaugurated the “Re-Imagined” Hanna Theatre with a repertory of Macbeth and Into the Woods. I had children of my own by then, aged 5 and 3, and already they enjoyed love theater. We brought them to opening night, but left at intermission - by design. I felt the ending was too upsetting from a child. All the characters they loved were made unhappy (or always were) some would be killed, and horribly, the songs more complicated about complicated, adult issues. There would be a time for such challenging stuff, but not yet.
“Stay a child while you can be a child.”
The Great Lakes production was excellent (the Wall Street Journal called it a “tour de force”) introducing CLE audiences to performers who would develop long-standing relationships with the company (Jodi Dominick as the Baker’s Wife stands out in my memory) and gorgeous turns by returning actors whose work at GLT are becoming legendary (Tom Ford who played the Baker would go on to create a truly bizarre Sweeney Todd at the Hanna as well as a show stealing Monsieur Thénardier in this season’s record-breaking Les Miz).

It was disappointing to know my kids would only receive half of this particular production, and never have the opportunity to see the entire thing. I didn’t see the entire GLT production myself until it was almost closed.

Isn't it nice to know a lot?
Fall 2008 I had used vacation time to canvas in Beachwood, convincing elderly voters that Obama was not, in fact, a Muslim. The day before Election Day, I walked about neighborhoods in Euclid, encouraging likely voters to get out and vote. It looked as though every other house in what was otherwise a well-kept neighborhood was for sale, foreclosed, or abandoned.

November 4, Election Day itself, I was an emotional wreck, despondent in my fear that someone as willfully uneducated as Sarah Palin could attain high office, and demoralized by the fear-mongering and purely racist rumors. The economy was in free-fall that warm, bright fall day, and I did not know what kind of world these children would be left.

I could not even think that day, so I attended a student matinee of Into the Woods.

The second act clicked into place for me. The path from The Last Midnight to No More to No One Is Alone was a map of the psyche of a doubt-ridden parent. I sat in the front row on the balcony (there were fortunately no students in the balcony that morning) and tears, many tears, streamed down my face.

I’ll just come out and say it, Into the Woods doesn’t make sense if you have never had children. Tell me I’m wrong, that’s fine. Sondheim doesn’t have children. My argument can’t be substantiated.

However, just today on Facebook, colleagues far and wide, in speculating upon their decision to attend a showing of the new Disney film adaptation, have remarked upon the original version’s “eeeeendless, repetitive second act” (thank you for that, Henson.) Those who have shared this opinion, within my sphere, are uniformly child-free.

Conversely, my wife says she was always emotionally affected by the entirety of Into the Woods, even before having children. I would argue this is because she has very troubling issues relating to her father. I was never introspective about about my relationship to my own parents, my father was just this guy. I thought myself a solitary man, until the impending birth of and subsequent loss of my first child, a son.

So, allow me to rephrase my original statement … Into the Woods didn’t make sense to me until I had children.

For Christmas we went to see this new film adaptation, which was very enjoyable and arguably the most successful adaptation of a musical from stage to screen ever made. That that is a very low bar to hurdle does not render my praise in any manner faint.

TO BE CONTINUED!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Photo Shoot

Imagine Arthur is holding a Globe Theatre, and not a roll of tape.
Theater is a collaboration between artists. Creating a promotional photo is a collaboration between at least as many artists plus a lot of other people coming together for a brief moment in time to get something right to promote something that hasn't even been created yet.

I mean, the production is being created, as we speak. Yesterday, we had a production meeting where Esther revealed renderings ...

There are no less than fifteen distinct looks in this show.
... and Terry created a model. As you can see (below) there are a great many entrance and exit areas to play with. We decided to go with a theme of architectural renderings, rather than flats painted to look like walls in the Globe. Besides, which Globe? I am satisfied that this suggests the historic building without being too literal, and will have a sense of timelessness.


Esther was also present today today to help get our three actors into the looks she chose specifically for the shoot, each from one of the three time periods represented in the play - Kyle as Burbage (1613), James as Sam (1936) and Arthur as Clement (2005). Many thanks also to Kylee, who gave James a Clark Gable mustache that he wanted to keep.

Remember, this is what we were going for.
Todd and I and the team at TRG Reality tossed around ideas regarding the skyline. They had already put together a great mock-up that went from Jacobean England to Depression era-Cleveland to modern day London, and there were many questions as to what was most recognizable and how much or little would be seen behind each man.

See the Millennium Bridge? Do you know the Millennium Bridge?
The gentlemen from TRG put together a mock-up before our actors arrived to give Todd and I a sense of what the final image might look like. We also have to factor in the use of text in the final version.

It was a long afternoon, but a very successful afternoon. I was thrilled with how our actors looked, and surprised at how close to the original concept I think the finished product is going to appear.

I mustache you a question ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Recording A Christmas Carol Writing Contest


During the Great Education Department Realignment of 2013, one responsibility that I had earned was to shepherd the quarter-century established "A Christmas Carol" Writing Contest. Middle school aged city of Cleveland school kids are invited to write poems, stories and essays, inspired by themes present in Charles Dickens' classic work.

Great Lakes Theater collaborates with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to provide all participating students free tickets and transportation to attend a matinee performance of A Christmas Carol, and students whose work was singled out by their teachers are called on stage, by name, receive commemorative T-shirts, get to meet actors from the company, and receive applause and the supportive cheers of their classmates.

It is a pretty sweet event. And it means that beginning in August, I have already started thinking of the holidays, contacting every single CMSD middle school English language arts teacher to encourage their participation in the event.

In case you are wondering, that is almost seventy schools. I have a pretty decent system going now, making phone calls, sending PDFs by email, and more often than not, communicating by fax. Yes, I know.

There are also six grand prize winners, who receive special gifts, a booklet including their work, and a special evening for they, their parents and teachers to attend an evening performance. These students' work is chosen from all of the school winners from a panel of judges composed of members of the GLT education staff, and close supporters of the company.

Laura Welsh Berg
Last year, we added a new component to the contest. In collaboration with Great Lakes, WCPN 90.3 FM ideastream produced a special holiday broadcast of Sound of Applause, one in which host Dee Perry interviews the students and actors from the A Christmas Carol company read their stories.

Now, some of the stories these kids write are really very good, and last year I was loath to edit them for time. This was a mistake, as recording the stories took several recording sessions spread out over a couple afternoons. Our actors just came off two solid weeks of rehearsal and the last thing I wanted to do was tax them on their first week after opening the show.

Having said that, they were incredible generous and excited about this new program, and the reaction from the students, hearing these talented performs interpret their work, was that of complete delight.

This year I was a bit more aggressive in editing. This was not an easy thing to do, as these middle school writers' creative, original and expressive use of language is a large part of what makes the work so exciting to read. But a booklet of their unabridged works will be available to read on the Great Lakes Theater website soon, and I do feel I was able to cut the work without sacrificing each student's unique voice.

We recorded one story two weeks ago. Today we recorded the other five in about an hour, total. Many deeply felt thanks to Aled, Betsy, Jodi, Laura, Lynn, M.A. and Sara for their time and great talent. The broadcast will be next Monday at 2 pm and 10 pm on WCPN 90.3 FM. Check back for links and more info.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Shakespeare Spent the Day

"So much for Bardolatry!" - G.B. Shaw
If I were to start this post by stating, Look ... I'm not Anti-Stratfordian ... it sounds like when David Cross once began a stand-up routine lamenting, Look ... I don't hate children ...

But I do not like the term Anti-Stratfordian for the same reason I do not like the word Atheist. That's your word to describe me, and you cannot accurately nor fairly define a sentient being what it does not believe. You wouldn't call someone who is Jewish Anti-Christian so you should not call someone who has no spiritual belief a non-believer. It's like calling someone who doesn't believe in vampires as being anti-vampire. 

What I don't believe doesn't concern me. It certainly shouldn't define me.

I believe Shakespeare wrote his plays, but that also does not make me Pro-Stratfordian. I am agnostic on the subject of William Shakespeare, the man. There have been so many lies - pretty lies, but outright falsehoods, nonetheless - that it is impossible to read any historical account of him without sighing.

I do not know how I acquired a copy of Ivor Brown's How Shakespeare Spent the Day (1963) but it has been on my shelf for some time. It has taken about six months to read it, on and off, because I got bogged down at the end. It was a great resource material for The Globe because it describes in detail how they ran a theater, they meaning Burbage and Henslowe and yes, Shakespeare. The real nuts and bolts, or more accurately, spindles and pegs, that held the work of theater together.

But even as Brown strives for accuracy, even he cannot help himself but speculates at length about the final year, spending a great deal of time lauding (his idea of) Shakespeare, a retired playwright who humbles himself, making repeated (if undocumented) visits to London in his final years, to improve upon the works of lesser poets like Fletcher and Middleton, adding his hand to elevate works like Pericles or Henry VIII or Timon of Athens.

Does it not make more sense that these were first unfinished works by WS, which had been abandoned for one reason or another (perhaps because they suck) only to be taken up and filled out by others for the purpose of production by a company that needed new works to maintain relevance?

Durr?

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Design Meetings

Suggested Poster Mock-Up
When I was a kid, more than anything, I wanted to sell things. This is not because I wanted to make money, my career choices should make that perfectly apparent. It is because I love packaging. I made posters and greeting cards and designed my own original cereal boxes and candy wrappers.

I did not have any concept of content, I looked up recipes for candy, and made a few, but the outside was much more important than what went in. While I have finally discovered what it is I truly want to sell, there is that part of me which is much more interested in making you want to buy.

I have written, directed and acted in plays, and even created a few sound designs. But as a stunted graphic artist, I have truly missed out on creating the visual components of theater. I took scenic, costume and lighting design in my freshman and sophomore years at school, and I was terrible at them. I wasn't particularly good at making posters either, and that really disappointed me.

However, that was a long time ago. And practical application of my abilities and the humility to stand and appreciate admire and the work of those who have made design their life has brought me into some very successful collaborations. We have employed the same team of designers for the past several years for the outreach tour (including Terry as scenic designer and Esther as costume designer) and I am consistently impressed, and delighted with the work, and grateful to get to work with them and it.

Wednesday we had our second production meeting for The Great Globe Itself. It is a new situation, acting as director and playwright, having shared the story and then being asked to weigh in on the creative decisions of others in its realization. This is where collaboration is such a relief, as we bat ideas around to discover how the costume design concept will play against the backdrop of the scenic design, how the colors will play, and can the set work with the limitations of three actors playing eighteen characters in forty-five minutes.

This is why it doesn't pay to walk in the room and say, boom. Here's what you get, take it or leave it. This is a manner in which theater is unique among the arts. This is why it never pays to scream at people.

Anyway, it was a very successful meeting and it made me smile. That afternoon, Todd and I had a different meeting, with the folks at TRG to discuss the promotional graphic for the brochure and the poster.

The first image I had, while composing the play (because, as I said, I am always thinking of packaging) was that of the character of Sam, facing the viewer, holding out a globe - a Globe Theatre - shimmering, floating just above his outstretched hand. In the background, the classic Cleveland skyline of the mid-20th century. One skyscraper, the Terminal Tower.

As the script took shape, with each age defined by its main character - Burbage, Sam, Clement - I saw each man, standing, laughing, collaborating, moving the Globe forward. Cleveland in the background is abstract, but present.

I created a mock-up using stock photos (see above) using the copy machine, scissors and tape, because I am old school and that I how I roll. This is what I shared with Todd, our marketing director, and the designers at TRG.

So far, all are supportive of the image. It is too much? We talked about these men being in a place, rather than in an abstract space, but where? Cleveland? Or Cleveland and London - and which London, 1613 or 2005? Or both? Will the final work come out like this, or something mind-blowingly different?

Photo shoot in two weeks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Original Pronunciation


Original Pronunciation is a practical, theatrical theory. We do not know what the people in Shakespeare's time sounded like. In America, there are those who believe that Shakespeare is only proper when performed in a British accent. However, there are many British accents today, and even Received English (the accent you must use when being "received" by British royalty, I heard Steve Coogan explain that once on NPR) was entirely fabricated.

David Crystal, linguist, author and scholar, working in collaboration with his son, the actor Ben Crystal, used texts from the period to divine what that "original" dialect might have been.

Take for example, Sonnet 116 (which was read at our wedding) which begins Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments ...

The final six lines read:
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
 
Those are meant to be rhyming couples. But no modern American nor British dialect can twin the words come and doom, nor proved and loved in rhyme. And having decided to make them rhyme, which word are we rhyming with? Is it coom and doom or come and dumb?

By taking contemporary examples of how words were used, and what they meant at that time, the Crystal's constructed a "new" dialect which makes much better sense of Elizabethan prose and poetry.

They explain it much better here:

David & Ben Crystal. These men are adorable.

The Great Globe Itself takes place at three different periods in history, one of them 1613 England. It was decided to bring in a dialect coach to make distinct character voices for each of these time periods. I asked my friend Chuck Richie (Kent State professor, retired) to come work with our actors - Arthur, James and Kyle - to create voices not only in OP, but also Depression-era Midwest and modern-day London.

In the past, Chuck has worked with me to create voices for several tours, including a Brooklyn-raised Arthur Miller for Seeing Red, a Romanian Count for On the Dark Side of Twilight, and course, Belgian for Poirot.

We all met Monday evening in the rehearsal hall, Chuck providing a great deal of interesting material on OP, first receiving a primer in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and then being led through several recordings based on the work of David Crystal.

Finally, the actors just leapt into the script. It was delightful to hear the first scene, or part of it, anyway, read in the tongue in which I had attempted write it. True, our actors were going a bit fast, trying to approximate the speed in which it must eventually be performed, there were moments when I wanted to pull the reins and go back and cover certain words and phrases, but generally let it go. I was itching to direct.

Rehearsal for The Globe don't even begin until mid-February. But I am relieved to have these materials in the boys' hands. We've started already.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Hate This: Seeking Publication

John Dayton is David Hansen
For the better part of five years, I was performing I Hate This somewhere. First I created opportunities, through CPT's Big Box series, a couple of theater festivals, and as word began to spread I was being contacted by medical professionals I knew, and then those I did not know, to perform at hospitals and conference centers across the Midwest, culminating in a seven-date tour of Great Britain.

This could have been my gig. If I had promoted the piece who knows where it could have taken me. I could have made some well-needed income marketing the production, and told our story much farther afield. I did receive email once from the UAE asking if there was a video available, and I was like, Dubai? Can't you folks afford to fly me there in person?

I did suggest this but also told them about the radio drama, and they said the free audio version would suit their purposes just fine. So, oh well.

The question, "Would you let someone else perform this script?" did come up from time to time, and the answer, at the time, was no. It was my story, our story, it was far too personal, I had complete control over its presentation, and besides, who would want to tell it?

If you have been following along, you know a small, professional touring company in England, Freerange Theatre, inquired about I Hate This. I had last performed the show myself in 2011 at Cleveland Public Theatre, and had no immediate plans to ever perform it ever again. Also, I am entering my late 40s, I was in my early 30s during the events depicted. Allowing a younger performer to work with these words may add life to what I feel is an important work.

I did try to get it published, by sending it to a few high-profile theatrical rights management companies back in 2010. The response was pretty much the same from each of them, this work is too intimately tied to its author, no one else could do it justice.

You could say the same thing about The Santaland Diaries, but people keep dragging that threadbare holiday chestnut on stage. Ditto the monologues of Spalding Gray, and that big, sweaty, liar guy. But those are funny, or at the very least not about dead babies. Well, except for the Sedaris piece.

Perhaps emboldened by the impending Manchester performance at the Lowry, I sent the work out one more time, to one of the nation's largest play rights distributor. My query letter must have been something because they requested the complete script almost immediately - and almost as fast received a kind rejection letter, not from their editor, but from the President of the company himself.

His main point was this:
"While we found it often very moving indeed, the consensus here was that it would be a difficult play to place in our market, given that it is so deeply personal. The power would seem to rest a great deal in knowing that the person telling the story is the person to whom these things have happened."
I could not argue with this opinion, it is one I have heard before. Having said that, a little over a month later John Dayton and the folks at Freerange proved him entirely wrong.

The blog Write Out Loud had this to say about John's performance:
"Performing autobiographical work of course has its challenges but one can only image the difficulty of immersing yourself in such heart-breaking content. Yet Dayton explores this grief fearlessly, without pander ... To feel and experience the same as the portrayed protagonist in such a way, is down to honest writing, bold directing and fearless acting – which was certainly the case with Freerange Theatre Company’s production."
One very interesting development in this one-night-only performance at the Lowry was that Mr. Dayton was contracted a mere three days prior to the show, another actor having dropped out suddenly. More props to him for the work and what great notices he received putting this performance together (with director Hugo Chandor) on such short notice.

But he was "holding book" as we say, performing script-in-hand. Hugo explained this to the audience, with apologies, but according to audience member Paul Kleiman (who also moderated the post-show discussion) no contrition was necessary, not even for holding book. On his blog, Stumbling With Confidence, Paul wrote:
"What fascinated me was not only did the fact of reading from the script not detract at all from the play, it actually – in a strange way – enhanced it, aided by a very strong performance from the actor ...

"The actor obviously isn’t David Hansen, but he is telling David Hansen’s story. Rather than playing the ‘pretence’ game, by holding on to and acting out the script the actor introduces what, in Brechtian terms, might be referred to as an ‘alienating’ element, providing both a certain distance and also an opportunity to really empathize with the story itself rather than the performer/performance."
When Cleveland Play House performed Dustin Lance Black's 8 in 2013, the company also held book. This was out of necessity, it was a political-artistic statement presenting the piece, and done so through the generosity of all involved. There was not the time to memorize.

But also, we were reading the actual words which had been spoken in open court. Reading from texts visually reminded the audience that we were not asking them to suspend their disbelief, but to always be aware that this really happened, these words were actually spoken.

Following the performance of I Hate This Paul said he: "suggested (to the Freerange company) that the play works really well keeping the script in full view."

Most gratifying was Write Out Loud's observation that I Hate This is "laced with levity; there are some great one-liners and jokes that were complimented by dry British wit in their delivery."

The tagline I created back in 2003 states that this play is honest, horrible and even humorous, though I never felt I was able to convince anyone of the latter. And now it all makes sense ... I may write British, but I need a real Englishman to play it.


I Hate This blog (2003-2011)

UPDATE: The Write Out Loud post was written by Kate Morris, and edited version appeared on the Manchester entertainment site The Skinny. Four stars!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

TingleTangle @ Guide To Kulchur

Ute Lemper sang Weimar Berliner Cabaret songs at the Almeida Theatre in Islington tonight. Opening night. Full house. Third row. It was wonderful.”
- Journal: June 10, 1997
My appreciation of Weimar Republic culture grew very slowly during the 1990s, from witnessing a revival of the Degenerate Art Exhibit in Los Angeles in 1991 to my (then) girlfriend’s decision on our first day together in London in 1997 to get tickets for an evening of cabaret songs.

Earlier that year we had visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum in D.C. which included a special display on the Berlin Olympics, beginning my fascination with that event, and Cleveland’s connection to it.

In 1998, the day after the Starr Report was published in the New York Times, we saw Sam Mendes’ Cabaret on Broadway. These two events are not unrelated in my mind. It was the first time I had ever seen any stage version of Cabaret, witnessing that with some semblance of historical context was not unappreciated.

(The 2000s were not Hitler’s Germany, however the Starr Report was an indication of the kind of casual Fascism that has become mainstream in today’s political-entertainment culture. Tsk tsk. Shame shame. We do not murder those who threaten us anymore, we mock them to the point of irrelevancy.)

To truly appreciate the music of Cabaret, you must understand what was being emulated. And it was a delightful surprise to learn, thanks to the remarkable and almost supernatural stylings of Ms. Lemper, how risqué and gay the Weimar Republic was, and far and away more overt than the Kander and Ebb musical it inspired.

The song Two Ladies is kinky when Joel Gray’s Emcee sings it with two women, as in the 1966 original. New boundaries were crossed when Alan Cumming’s Emcee first performed the song with one woman and one man in the 1993 revival. But it’s still one big double entendre.

However, when Ute sang Das Lila Lied or The Lavender Song (slipping in and out of German, she apologized in advance, she does that) you see a woman bravely announcing she is “queer and different” and boldly challenging her oppressors:
Round us all up, send us away
that's what you'd really like to do
But we're too strong, proud, unafraid
In fact we almost pity you
You act from fear, why should that be
What is it that you are frightened of
The way that we dress
The way that we meet
The fact that you cannot destroy our love
We're going to win our rights
To lavender days and nights
Cabaret’s Emcee is brash and obnoxious, to be sure, but he never had the stones to get into anyone’s face like that.

In Thursday evening’s performance of TingleTangle, Ray Caspio performs The Lavender Song quite differently, as a rock song, and using a microphone literally gets into the faces of the audience with this bravely defiant gay anthem.

TingleTangle is the latest production from Theater Ninjas, Ray Caspio is the Assoc. Artistic Director of the company, and this piece is both a very personal collection of stories and also a number of hilarious and sometimes beautiful cabaret sketches. The show is going on now at Guide To Kulchur.

Earlier this year my (now) wife introduce me to GTK, home to second hand books and zines -- remember zines? -- located in a Gordon Square storefront, adjacent to the Capitol Theatre on West 65th. Like all the best bookstores, it is small on ground level but features a large basement full of moe stuff.
The Sally Tatnall Black Box
The basement is your average, unfinished urban basement. Cement floors, brick walls. They have readings in what they call the “Sally Tatnall Black Box”. It’s homely state reminded me of personal episodes from mid-90s Tremont. Installations, happenings. It’s the kind of location I would like to see something theatrical “take place” in.

So of course I was thrilled to discover the Ninjas would be satisfying my desires with this production. They have created a neat little cabaret stage, crammed into one corner of the space, more than or only just enough room for their company of six to perform.

Just a brief description of TingleTangle (because there are many surprises and it is not my desire to ruin any of them) and that is that the show is about two things: Sex and Ray.  Not the two together (though that does come up) but that there is a great deal to Ray Caspio which is revealed in this production through his sincere storytelling, and then there's a lot of hilarious songs and comedy pieces about sex. And those are two things I would never have expected.

The monologues are breathy with an almost off-the-cuff quality, like I just have to tell you this story right now, okay? Which is very different from the ensemble pieces, some of which are fall on the floor funny (I have said this before, making sex funny is very, very difficult) while others are erotic in a manner which deftly compel you to watch and forget there are others around you.

Much of the personal material has to do with nothing so well-traveled as being gay. We live in a strange time, when marriage equality is an all but done deal in the U.S. (save the Deep South and, you know ... OHIO) and where the Cleveland Play House could rally all the local theater companies together to mount a staged reading of the politically charged play 8, only to have the appointed performance date fall less than a week after a Supreme Court decision had reversed Proposition 8.

This is not the Weimar Republic, and gays living openly will not be forced back into the closet. We have all come too far for that.

And yet. What do I know? What do I know about living openly? Nothing, I know nothing. What I do know comes to me from friends and colleagues and co-workers and storytellers. An hour into the show the lights came up and everyone was quiet and I was the first one to stand because I guess I thought the show was over. On my way out of the space one of their people said softly, "The intermission will be ten minutes," and I was so relieved because I didn't want it to be over.


TingleTangle continues through November 15.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Twenty-Fifteen

Okay, motherfuckers. Where's my hoverboard?



Odd years are normally my favorite, and certainly the most productive. This isn't a fact or anything, just a subjective opinion.

My written work continue to spread like a an ultramicroscopic, metabolically inert, infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, with odd productions of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles popping up at high schools and church drama clubs.

Whether or not Acorn would allow foreign productions of Styles was put to the test this past year, and they will not. Certainly not in Britain, where they retain copyright to the book which is in public domain in the US.

Just this last week there was a performance of I Hate This at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester, and shortly thereafter I found this very interesting blog post from a gentleman, Paul Kleiman, who attended the performance and participated in the post-show discussion.

He noted that John Dayton, the actor, was brought on board perhaps a month prior to the October 15 performance and so it was decided he should hold book. Instead of being a distraction, Kleiman suggests that holding a document and reading from it provides an appropriate distance from the production - we know this is not David Hansen, we are not going to pretend it is. This actor is interpreting his experience.

I am reminded of the play 8, which was produced one night at Cleveland Play House last year. Taken from court transcripts, holding book was a necessity of the brief rehearsal period, but also reminded the audience at all times that this was not fiction, that these are the actual words that were spoken in open court, and in interviews.

As for the upcoming year, I have at least two new works that will be produced in Northeast Ohio.

Rosalynde & The Falcon will debut at Talespinner Children's Theatre on Saturday, March 28. This is my second collaboration with TCT, and I am very excited to be working with them again. I have loved everything this company has produced, and am constantly amazed at their dedication to every moment and detail of each production.

For this piece I was inspired primarily by Shakespeare's As You Like It, and also its source material, Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, which was itself by the anonymously written, Medieval age Tale of Gamelyn, and all those folk tales that involve threatened women driven into the woods where the have adventures, meet strange men (dwarves, thieves, bears, what have you) and discover strong, important things about themselves they would never have learned at home.

It's also written entirely in trochaic octameter, but don't let that bother you.

Interestingly, another new play will debut on the exact same stage, at the beginning of the month. This year's free Great Lakes Theater outreach tour The Great Globe Itself opens Tuesday, March 3 in the Reinberger Auditorium, home to Talespinner Children's Theatre, before moving on to another 26 venues around northeast Ohio.

In brief, Globe describes with playful humor how the history of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is a line which runs straight through Cleveland. But you have followed this blog long enough that you already knew that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Hate This @ The Lowry

The Lowry Studio
Tonight, someone other than me will be playing me in a performance of I Hate This (a play without the baby) at The Lowry Studio Theater in Manchester, England.

When we produced a radio drama adaptation, others played everyone but me. The Silvers were my parents, my brothers were performed by Nick Koesters and Scott Plate. But I was me.

The only time I am aware of where someone has read my role for a public audience was ten years ago, when the now-defunct Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland would produce a biennial celebration of area writers. The scene Rocking Chair was read by Senator Sherrod Brown, then U.S. Representative for Ohio's 13th District.

This evening John Dayton, a young British actor will be performing the role of David Hansen in a one-night-only performance of I Hate This at 8 PM at The Lowry Studio Theatre in Manchester, produced by Freerange Theatre and directed by Hugo Chandor.

I have never met any of these people. Hugo contacted me over a year ago about the possibility of adding this piece to their repertoire. Freerange has had great success with Spoonface Steinberg by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) which is a solo piece for one woman which tells the story of an autistic girl who is struggling with cancer. I figured a company unafraid of such subject matter, and one having received such strong notices for the work, could be trusted with our story.

However, fifteen months is a long time and 3,500 miles is a far distance. In spite of ongoing communication, it has been difficult to really think of this event as something that was going to happen. I had entertained the idea of attending, the but responsibilities at home and monetary concerns made the trip unrealistic.

Recent posts on Twitter, however, have assured me this is really happening.








Personal favorite:

Best of British, John. Can't wait to hear how it all plays out!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Creating Vertical Space


"Inner Below" humor.
In the six months since Bill Condee and I last shared tea, I composed the first draft of The Great Globe Itself, the play which inspired me to contact him. During that same time, he traveled to Malaysia on a Fulbright to teach, lecture and conduct research on Malaysia shadow puppetry.

When I reached out to him yesterday, informing him that I was spending a brief 36-hour period in Athens and did he have time to chat, he promised to quickly read the script I had sent several weeks earlier in preparation for our meeting. In that way, it was much like my preparing for his theater history class my sophomore year.

Much of his guidance is of a piece with one of my concerns about the production in general, which is making sure the audience, any audience, comprehends where we are and what is happening.

A few days ago the design team met to have our first production meeting, to discuss the set and costumes and overall concept. One of the questions is how we can make a single set (all three scenes take place at one of three "Globe Theatres") reflect three different time periods.

One of our interns has been tasked with dramaturgical study, and will be producing essays to be included in the program, which will act more like a study guide, to be sent in advance to libraries and schools in preparation for the production.

Finally, we will engage a dialect coach, so that characters from each time period have a distinct, regional accent.

So, Dr. Condee. We meet again.
However, I am aware it all come back to the text. In our meeting, the good Doctor suggested there are not enough "sign posts" of what is to come, and clearly laying out time, place, and facts.

This has been a major concern of mine, as I have been writing this piece for an audience who knows little to nothing about Shakespeare and his time, rather than for an insidery piece, full of private jokes for literary-minded people. Every line in Shaw's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is hilarious - if you have the entire first folio memorized.

As our conversation continued, even he suggested some very funny bits of business that involve the discrediting of John Cranford Adam's theory of the original Globe having included a small, intimate stage in the rear of the space, for intimate scenes. This area (now referred to as the "tiring house") would feature the worst sight lines and acoustics, and render the play unwatchable to those who had paid the most pennies to see the production!

But I would have to explain all that, as I just have, in order to mock it.

However, these things are relevant and important to "getting" the first scene:
  • Who are these men? Burbage is clearly important historically, but he's more important that described here. The man who originated the roles of Hamlet, Richard III, Macbeth? These things are not obvious.
  • John Fletcher, his significance is also not emphasized enough.
  • What makes it exciting for audiences to enter and experience a play at the Globe Theatre?
For that last question, we turned to my wife Toni who was joining us.  She has often expressed her great love of the Re-imagined Hanna Theatre™ as the most beautiful theater space in Cleveland, and  using the Hanna as a model of experience has been helpful to creating this work. In the play I describe what it is like to play on the stage of such a space. However, what is not coming through is what it feels like to be in the audience.

Actually, I have tried to do that, with the character of the tour guide in 2005 at Shakespeare's Globe, but perhaps that is too far along in the proceedings.

Following the first reading, one of those in attendance expressed their view that the play successfully portrays the Globe as its own character. When I asked this question, "Is the Globe a character?" Condee disagreed. Not to him, not enough, and this opinion is important to me because he is the theater space guy.

The theory is that players would drag their cart into a courtyard and thereby have not only listeners on the ground before them, but also makeshift galleries, provided by those hanging out on the balconies rising several floors into the sky. This, presumably, was the model for not only the Globe but also Blackfriars.

Hanna Theatre, Cleveland
This creates vertical space to be filled by the performer. Condee rose to his feet in the coffee house (to the amusement of those in proximity) to enact a grand vertical gesture, his open, out-stretched palm rising from right in front of him, to over his head, his gaze following his hand.

Intimate, introspective gestures will not do. You cannot bend over and emote into your hands, the acoustics and sightlines in the original Globe were simply too poor, it was a necessity to draw your audience to you.

My wife's question, then, was how to present this in the numerous spaces to which this production will travel. Each of them is flat, they are horizontal spaces, with audiences at the same level or below, as in a traditional proscenium. Should the players - the characters - in the place, convey the struggle to connect.

Each new question threatens to turn the piece into a dialectic, a play about space, which could be exciting, I guess. Returning to the motivation of the players themselves, Condee returned to the subject of signposts, and whether it were possible to foreshadow future events.

At first, I was leery of portraying people, in the moment, realizing their destiny, as that would be too odd, people don't do that. Each of the days represented are ordinary days which are a catalyst for future opportunity. Do the players comprehend in the moment the magnitude of their own future significance?

I guess I am really only referring to Wanamaker here. He's only a young adult in his featured scene, and nowhere near the point in his life where he has germinated his legacy. However, there is someone else in the scene who has the potential do it for him.

To be continued.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Winsor French

 
While we were all sleeping ... Cleveland picked up and moved away to other cities.
- Winsor French
There was a time when people, certain people, were paid to write. Winsor French (December 24, 1904 - March 6, 1973) was one such person. French was the society columnist for the Cleveland Press, intermittently, for almost forty years.

His story is sad and small, it took me over two years, on and off, to read Out and About with Winsor French by James M. Wood, because, frankly, I found his life tedious. Or perhaps just Wood's telling of it.

My main interest in this man, was, of course, that I hoped to take in more Cleveland history. But French was not nearly as enamored in the city during it's heyday as he was when it was vanishing before his eyes.

He'd the place, in fact, by the onset of World War II, choosing instead New York City and Hollywood, hoping to write that novel, that play, or anything of significance. However, he much preferred to writing, and unlike man, couldn't do both.

French wanted to be like his close companions, Cole Porter and his wife Linda, philanthropist Leonard Hanna (whose gift of stock in the fledgling "Internal Business Machines" enabled the columnist to live in a manner he preferred) or the man who might honestly be described as his life partner, nightclub pianist Roger Stearns, but the best he could manage was to write about them, and how beautiful it was to live a life of opulent gaeity.

Much of his work involved being in Not-Cleveland, traveling to report on the conditions in Post-War Europe, and somehow managing to share only the company of seriously wealthy people for whom the war had been some kind of thankfully well rid-of inconvenience.

By the 1950s, French had become what so many of us find ourselves, the Resigned Clevelander. Lamenting the loss of something special, he spent his last two decades either writing about the Cleveland that had been, or banging the drum for people to return to downtown to indulge in what little excitement remained.

He lived downtown Cleveland, from an apartment on Playhouse Square with a view of his beloved Hanna Theatre, to a tony nest on racy Short Vincent, and even digs in ill-fated Erieview. But even he eventually left the city, another single man occupying a highrise apartment in Lakewood's Gold Coast.

Winsor French retired from his column in 1968. His tenure chronicles the time period of one major American city's entire collapse.

Last night a friend who works up Euclid suggested drinks at Hodge's - it might be the last time this season for cocktails alfresco.

On this late Thursday afternoon the avenue was bustling with walkers. I was reminded of something my sister-in-law from Minnesota said when I was giving her my nickel tour of downtown a year ago. She said, "Wow. Cleveland is like this place where everything already happened."

Passing visitors taking selfies with the chandelier - which Winsor would have either loved or entirely hated - I allow myself to imagine it's still happening.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jim Henson: The Biography (book)


If he had lived, James Maury "Jim" Henson (September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990) would be seventy-seven years old today. My parents are older than that, though not by much.

His impact on popular culture, on my life and on the life of those my ages and younger, cannot be overstated. Sesame Street is the gold standard in education television, and we were born at almost the same time. I and everyone who follows has watched that program, all across our world.

Prior to the creation of Sesame Street, television programs could be for children, or educational, but not both. Not instructive and entertaining. And there is no way that show would be anything but a brief moment in American media history of it were not for Jim Henson and the Muppets.

Sam & Friends, 1955-61

Arguably, Jim Henson was the most talented and luckiest artist in human history. He was brought up by a loving family that was full of humor and loved to play. He did not aspire to puppetry - because let’s face it, in 1950s America, who would - imagining for himself a life as a scenic designer.

Discovering a knack for this ancient entertainment, he recreated the idea of what puppetry could be on the new medium of television. He redefined the relationship between the puppet and the viewer, breaking the “puppet theatre” model of Howdy Doody and Kukla, Fran and Ollie, inspired by geniuses like Erne Kovacs, he used the TV screen itself as the only boundary for his puppets’ world.

We loved The Muppet Show in my house, which turned the model of having puppets in a human world on its head, inviting human guests into a show populated by puppets. The Muppet Movie took this even further, moving puppets into the real world.

Seriously. Could you have imagined before 1978, the idea of a critically-acclaimed motion picture, one which also generated millions and profits, that stars PUPPETS.


The swamp may be a set … and Jim Henson is underwater with his hand inside a puppet.

You know what is amazing about this guy? His failures are successful. In 1986, the year I graduated from high school and had very little time for fantasy (or David Bowie for that matter, have you listened to the Tonight album recently?) he released Labyrinth, which was a critical disaster and did terrible box office in the United States when it was released.

Since that time, generations younger than myself, who watched it endless times on cable and DVD, have embraced this entirely bizarre move starring David Bowie’s crotch.

Everybody eventually loves everything Jim Henson ever did.


His death came in that valley of my wonder, when I was still striving to bury childish things and move into a world of more adult entertainment, studying plays, making videos, avoiding puppets. I was twenty-one years old, but the suddenness of his demise came as a shock. I did not know what it meant. It was just sad.

The rumors were fast and furious. He knew he was dying, that was why he had sold out to that entertainment monster Disney. Or he had died of a staph infection in a hospital while being treated for something else. Or it was because he had been raised Christian Scientist and had died of something which the workaholic Henson had been living with and could have been easily cured.

None of this is true. In the book Jim Henson: The Biography, author Brian Jay Jones lays out in painful detail the encroaching effects of a rare bacterial infection, symptoms even I would have ignored, or tried to ignore, choosing instead to take more naps and over the counter pain remedies. For weeks, it is true. I do that, too. I think most men do.

By the time he felt truly ill, it was far too late. He checked into a hospital and was dead in two hours, at the age of 53. That’s it. That’s all there is to say. Rare, freak infection and it destroyed his internal organs. Could have happened to absolutely anyone.


DID YOU KNOW ..? The song Mah Nà Mah Nà was originally written for an Italian soft porn flick from the 1960s, which is like, duh - that’s exactly what it sounds like.

Reading this book filled me with joy and terror. I thought I had already been through my midlife crisis, but everywhere I look I am reading or seeing evidence of the complete fragility of life, and for the first time I am seriously afraid of death. Not of what comes after, that does not trouble me, but of what is left behind.

Great men walk the earth, and women, too. Those whose names we know, and also those we do not. Their greatness is defined by their acts, those which effects cascade across humanity, having a broad effect, alternating our life experience, making it grander, more relevant, richer, deeper, more, more, more.

Resigned, I am lesser man, and grudgingly content to be so. We, too, have our place. Not all can awe inspire or ground break. But we speak, move and act. We do not cause even little earthquakes, but merely exert our will to shake the walls, and observe and respond so that those in our midst, even those unknowing our works, can say, “Yes, that was worth it,” or “I felt something,” or best of all, simply saying, “Thank you.”


St. John the Divine, NYC
May 21, 1990

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Time Machine (book)


Its very title, The Time Machine (1895) suggests that H.G. Wells’ tale of time travel is the first such book to suggest a literal journey in time, through the use of a scientific machine specifically built for that purpose.

In fact, Wells did coin the term "time machine" though there were a few stories which played with the concept of traveling backward in time written prior to this piece, which was serialized before its being revised into a book.

In my play, On the Dark Side of Twilight, I trace the history of vampires in literature, and how the definition of their existence had changed from era to era. Some rules, like their need to drink blood, definitively defines what it means to be a vampire, and so has remained constant. That they cannot walk in daylight was not true at first, and has recently been dismissed.

Some fun might be had writing a similar story on the history of time travel, and what ideas our imaginations can accept, and which they cannot. Wells did not trouble himself with the idea of paradoxes, never questions whether his protagonist - who has no name, only The Time Traveler - or whether or not to kill Hitler, who would only have been six at the time, anyway.

In fact, Wells does not even venture into the past, only the future, and in doing so he sets in this one story several paradigms for our idea of time travel, many of which have never changed, and has inspired countless imitators.

Unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which she doesn’t actually describe how man reanimates man, just that it happens, Welles describes a few precious materials which compose the machine and make it work. We now refer to this as Techno Babble, a term devised to describe every word anyone says on Star Trek.

The Future, as defined by Wells, is originally assumed by the Time Traveler to have one set of realities, and as his veil of ignorance is lifted, he discovers to his horror is something entirely else. This “Discoverer’s Error” is a mainstay of plots for Star Trek and Dr. Who - these programs often presenting the opposite discovery, that that which appeared monstrous was merely misunderstood.

Mary Doria Russell’s award-winning novel The Sparrow even lifts the central conceit of Wells’ mystery, the concept of two sentient in a symbiotic relationship where one exists as food for the other.

I found the final passages of The Time Machine extremely affecting, especially or due to their brevity, in the which the Traveler leaps millions of years into the future, twice, the witness the Earth in its final days. As the globe ceases to spin on its axis, and either the Sun expands or the Earth comes nearer to it, the seas crust with salt, all appears reddish or pink to the eye … and giant creatures described as similar in appearance to crabs roam the shore.

The Traveler is nearly attacked by one and manages to escape with alacrity. I couldn’t help but be reminded by Stephen King’s Gunslinger, who had no means of escape when set upon by mutant crustaceans on a foreign beach and was terribly maimed.

Wells’ uses his time machine to ask what if, and to play out a fantasy of a future time where the worst fantasy of man’s inhumanity comes to pass. There are several allusions to the downfall of humanity through Communism, but it is Capitalism which is the true culprit, how a permanent underclass will eventually turn on its master. The image of workers underground while idle classes play above (a literal image from the Victorian period) is reflected in films like Metropolis, and many others.

Time travel has always been a tool for writers to reflect their own time back to their readers in metaphors which are exciting and easy to digest, with or without Jessica Paré.