Thursday, December 31, 2015

Nowhere Generation

From NOTES FROM L.A. 
JUNE 1991 - VOL. 1 NO. 1 - TEMP 72°
Now you can’t afford to take all the drugs your parents used to take
Because of their mistakes you’d better be wide awake.
- Elvis Costello, “The Other Side of Summer”
I’m a member of the Nowhere Generation. I’m a representative of the youth of today, and I’m mad. The world’s in a mess (again, as it always has been, as it always will be) and as a youngster I naturally find it necessary to blame those who came before for all the world’s problems. In fact, no generation in the history of the world has had their rebelliousness so thoroughly documented as the generation that came just before mine.

In the next few months I will be writing about the world, and my place in it, but first I’d like to get a few things straight about the New Generation Gap and what it means to me.

If a generation can be defined in sociological terms in a twenty-two year span, anyone who was born between 1961 and 1983 qualifies. 1961 was a very special year. The introduction of the Pill effectively brought down an enormously self-indulgent birth rate and brought to a screeching halt the production of that generation know affectionately as the “Baby Boomers” and less affectionately as “Those Hypocritices Who Might Have Saved The Planet If They Weren’t Side-Tracked By Their Own Desire For Wealth And Power.”

Harsh words. But this is coming from a member of the Nowhere Generation, a moniker divined, oddly enough, from Esquire yet highly preferable to other titles, most prevalent being the Twentysomethings.

The fact is the top end of My Generation is turning thirty this year, including my brother. He’s no yuppie. He was too young to have been a hippy if he wanted to be, which he didn’t, and his aspirations for power only concern furthering his modest career as a radio producer in Minneapolis. He always used to remind me of Doonesbury’s Mark Slackmeyer, and that’s cool, seeing as Gary Trudeau remains on of the few Boomers who recognized very early on the selling out his peers would be doing. His animated Doonesbury special in 1977 showed his characters, still in college, pondering whether or not any of their heroic civil disobedience during the turbulent late sixties and early seventies would amount to anything, and his 1983 Doonesbury musical chronicled these same characters’ graduation and individual desires to abandon idealism and strive only for personal achievement.

And what’s wrong with personal achievement? you might ask. Nothing. I’m all for it, and if I were any better at it I wouldn’t have time to sit here and bitch. But, as a friend of mine expressed recently, the Boomers came up with several good ways of changing society as we know it, but didn’t have the patience to stick with any of them. So we, the younger generation, who should be impressing our elders with our vibrancy and promise, only depress them and remind them of how short they fell.

As a result, the great media/entertainment machine, which has followed the whims of this most-largest-generation-in-history ever since their conception, churns out television shows stroking the Boomers’ egos on matters such as their success (Thirtysomething), their past (The Wonder Years), and they even tried to glamorize their future with the (thank god) cancelled-almost-immediately My Life and Times, a drama about an octogenarian in 2035, reminiscing over his life. As Tom Carson of the LA Weekly said about this latest effort, “given their track record so far, it may be vanity to assume the baby boomers will have valuable lessons to pass on to later generations.”

But what’s my point, right? Well, for a moment there is no point. But that’s what’s wrong with my generation, or haven’t you been reading Time? We find no point in anything. The great majority of us will settle for modest comfort, and we don’t even expect that.

Everyday I hustle my youthful, 22 year old butt up the Santa Monica Mountains and look out over the staggering metropolis of Los Angeles, and if you know much about L.A., you know I can’t see very far. Rather than taking it all in and feeling a burst of self-aggrandizing energy and proclaiming, I can change the world! I will change the world, me and all my friends! -- instead I curse those who came before me, promise not to drive as much, and hope I outlive the planet.

POST NOTE: Almost twenty-five years ago, a small tribe of Cleveland expatriates lived on a cul-de-sac in Venice, CA. One of my pastimes was editing a newsletter, with plans to mail copies to our friends and family. Before the first issue was completed, I had decided to come back home. Happy New Year 2016.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Twenty-Sixteen

My hopes for the new year are for everyone else. My son will transition to middle school, my daughter to the rarefied arena of eighth grade. My wife is writing a new play for production. I would prefer the Presidential election not become much worse, but there is little hope for that. Civil unrest continues to rise, agents of death conspire to foment hate and oppression here and abroad.

In our small corner of the world we continue to make things bright, to love our neighbors, all of them, and to do that thing we do - create art. It is not on a grand scale. It’s the small stuff that makes every day worth living.

This time last year I was aware of two productions. As of today, I am aware of two productions. This winter the outreach tour will be my adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, and this summer my adaptation of Twelfth Night (as told by Malvolio) will be presented in association with the arrival of Shakespeare’s First Folio in Cleveland.

   

However, at this time last year I was unaware that there would be a new production of I Hate This which would make me consider at the piece in a fresh light. Surprises are welcome, too. The moment has passed in which I feel the urge to press things too hard, to force an action. It has hardly been effective for me, anyhow.

Current events are horrifying, and dispiriting. Yet I am not in that place to comment upon them. My musings are much more philosophical (or cast in a negative light, merely wistful) but these questions must also be asked. We are all complicit. We are all connected. For now, I will keep my focus tight.

Best wishes for a good new year.

MORNING UPDATE: Two nights ago I had a dream that my new play was selected to receive a staged reading at a festival curated by Lin-Manuel Miranda but when the reading of my play began they were actually performing "Hamilton."

Last night I dreamed that another new play I had written - a different play, a play that does not yet exist - was receiving a staged reading at a local playhouse. And nothing went wrong! It was a successful reading in a successful dream.

Two dreams about new works, and they are both about readings, not productions. What does this mean? How will this fadge?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Attic

Our home was built in 1937. Fifty-six years later I moved in. Twenty-two years later I am still there. It would not surprise me to learn that I have lived there longer than any other individual.

When I turn 81 years old I will have lived there for 56 years myself. All things going the way they do, this is a thing that will happen.

Our home has a walk-up attic. It could theoretically be turned into another room. At present it is used as intended, as a storage space. In the past is has been well-organized. Since we started having children, it has become a repository for things for which no one has a use, but do not have the emotional fortitude to dispose of.

Clothes, stuffed animals, magazines for preschoolers, and stacks and stacks of “work” from Montessori school.

This season, as it has been continually cool, I have been doing the good work, sorting and reclassifying materials. The wife has neatly organized boxes of material from her studies which more or less remain where they are, or have been stacked higher in accessible but out of the way spaces.

The children are old enough to participate in decisions about their materials, which can be classified as recyclable, to-be-sold, or stored for future consideration.

And then there are my boxes, which perhaps take up the greatest share of space, and for which “Stored for Future Consideration” is an age old classification covering cassettes from childhood, magazine graphics from adolescence, notebooks from college, and the marketing materials from three or more theater companies.

Walking into my attic is like walking into my brain. And that can be a very unhappy place to visit. I cannot look at a thing without remembering a moment, and without warning suddenly find myself, as the man said, unstuck in time. Listen:

Twenty-fifteen has been significant in ways intensely personal and I have finally, at long last, come to that point in my life where it has become necessary to divest.

These items have no value, to anyone. There will be no future biographer for whom these items will create any interest. Descendants - my children - will not know what to make of them. Newspapers, magazines, tokens, damaged posters, novelty postcards, VHS tapes of television specials, cassette recordings of compact discs, trinkets whose origin simply isn’t interesting, even to me.

I file photos. Photos and programs (programs to performances I have attended - those dozens of programs from show I produced are now reduced to a few apiece for archival purposes) and articles relevant to me, these are boxed and labeled and stored. But already I have disposed of boxes and bags of useless junk.

It feels good. It feels so very good. I don’t want to see them anymore. I don’t want them cluttering up that space above my head. My attic. My brain. And then there is space. And I miss space.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Nineteen Eighty-Nine

It is only correct that Taylor Swift was born during the greatest year in music history.

The longest period I ever lived alone, in my entire life, was for seven months during the year 1989.

I learned how to be calm in silence, to not speak, to enjoy thinking for thinking's sake, sitting on low stone wall in the outskirts of Lugo, Spain. I won't go into details, but I was there for perhaps four hours. It was maddening at first, but the weather was perfect and then I eventually realized that my best company could actually be myself.

It is not an opinion I hold by nature. It is not one I hold at the moment.

The summer of 1989 I turned twenty-one. My mother sent me a blender for my birthday, as a celebration of my first solely occupied apartment. I made frozen daiquiris at noon.

In that time I smoked, a lot - more than ever before or since. It was the only time I had ever bought a carton of cigarettes. And I wrote and I drew cartoons and I watched movies by myself. I couldn't really cook but I had learned one or two things (really, one, maybe two) living the past school year with two roommates who could and gave those a try.

And I listened to music, all the time. When I was napping or dining or creating. Earlier in the year when I was working on my first play there were stretches when I was on my own in the Little Theatre working on the set design, I would listen to albums on cassette, over and over again.

Were they really great albums? Was this actually a significant moment in time? Or was it just me?

Disintegration - The Cure.  Finding it hard to believe this was only The Cure's eighth studio album as I already had dozens of CDs and pieces of vinyl from this group. It discovered them my senior year in high school with Head On The Door (largely thanks to Night Flight) and by the end of freshman year was dyeing my hair, wearing eyeliner and dressing like a goth clown.

Still, my entire Cure-thing always felt like I'd joined a party that had been over for a long time. Head On The Door was the poppiest LP they'd created, and the over-long Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was really an imitation of everything they'd already done. I couldn't imagine they would release another album that would interest me.

So when the first single from Disintegration was released, Fascination Street, with the lyric so let's move to the beat like we know that it's over, I felt a twinge of instant nostalgia. I'd never heard a song from them that felt so self-aware. The record includes their most sincere songs, far from the arch pose of most of their previous tracks.

Personally, I was a point where I had brought most of my horribly tangled romantic relationships to some kind of conclusion, for better or worse, and was left with a kind of resigned longing which was satisfied by songs like Lovesong and Pictures of You.

They were my love songs for no one.

Passion - Peter Gabriel So was released weeks before I graduated from high school. His next album of pop songs, Us, wouldn't be released until the year we started Guerrilla Theater Company. In between he composed this soundtrack for the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, inspired by authentic Middle Eastern rhythms and his usual drumming and howling.

Passion became a necessary component for every single dance recital performed anywhere for the next five years. The night before the Persian Gulf War was engaged in early 1991 many of us participated in an anti-war performance piece on the college green. Of course, the director and choreographer used a lot of music from Passion. It was 1991. I was disappointed, but hardly surprised.

I was very interested in seeing the movie, a movie which was controversial at the time. People protested this retelling of the life of Jesus, emphasizing his humanity. I was not a believer, though I had been. I knew the Gospels. I was not then nor am I now an atheist. I believed what I had been taught as a child, I had a sequence of girlfriends in high school with whom I engaged in passive aggressive, Christian guilt-and-shame babble, and by the time I was eighteen, it just wasn't there, like it never had been there.


But I have a deep interest in myths, fables and legends. On a cool August night, shortly after the movie was available on VHS, I walked to the video store, picked up some Chinese take away, and sat in my basement apartment to watch a movie with the windows open. I was probably drinking Southern Comfort. I know I was smoking.

I found Last Temptation very long, surprisingly witty, and even moving. As the tape rewound - not making this up - my mother called to inform me that my grandfather had died. He'd been suffering for almost a year. I was relieved to know that, for him, at long last, it was finished.

Paul’s Boutique - Beastie Boys Their arrival was perfectly timed. As a mullet-headed, hanky-headed, dickhead freshman, Licensed to Ill was an ideal soundtrack for playing Ultimate by day and learning exactly what my limits for drinking Johnny Walker Red were at night. The only time I saw the Beastie Boys live was over spring break at the Public Hall in 1987. It was unforgettably stupid but also AWESOME (did I mention the opening act was Fishbone?) and I entered my first mosh pit.

In the time it took for them to go through all those things we now know they went through to create a second album, like a lot of people I had moved on. It was hard to be taken seriously as an someone with taste and admit you liked the Beastie Boys. I mean, I still did. But I wouldn’t play it back at the apartment, my roommates wouldn’t have it.

However, I was excited when there was a poster in the window announcing THE HIATUS IS OVER and immediately picked up this bizarre-looking, yellow cassette with the black, 70s era label. The entire summer I kept it running on auto-repeat in the boombox sitting in the passenger seat of my car.

We were right. We knew we were right. There was something special about these guys which transcended the knuckleheaded bullshit of their first album. I was soundly mocked by the company at summer theater for indulging in this funky masterpiece, and wrote out the lyrics for Hey Ladies so that the few of us who got it could rap along - real loud - while we were catcalled by our cast mates.


The whole retro-funk sound of Paul’s Boutique laid the groundwork for all that Gen X nostalgia pop of the mid-90s. And now they’re in the Rock Hall. You see? I have never been wrong about anything.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Secret Adversary: Photo Shoot

Tommy & Tuppence in Playhouse Square

Creating The Secret Adversary tour image created a special challenge. Great Lakes Theater Marketing Director Todd K., and I wanted to create a sense of motion, the impression of urgency. Our young detectives are working against the clock to stop an international criminal mastermind.


First, of course, we needed some charming young detectives, and found them in the persons of Devon Turchan and Deborah Cluts. Shortly after being cast they met with production costume designer Esther Haberlen, who created these c. 1920 looks expressly for the promotional shoot. She will be designing different looks for the tour.

Having decided upon an action shot, we needed to decided where they were rushing to, and why. It had to be intriguing without any necessary knowledge of the story or characters involved.


A few guide images we shared were those of intrepid journalist Tintin and of course, the Doctor, (who has somehow been referenced somewhere in the past four outreach tours) each of whom have awesome coats.

We met with the design team at TRG Reality and threw ideas around. It was decided that to suggest action, our protagonists had to be on their way from somewhere to somewhere else. So the background could not be abstract, but we also wanted to avoid anything very complicated. Something that could be happening in the story, not some detail-laden plot point, but more exciting than, say, a city street or sidewalk.


At the start of the story they met at the top of the stairs at a stop on the London Underground. One after Todd and I skulked each of the Playhouse Square theatres (each built in the early 1920s) in search of stairwells which could stand in for "the tube."

These stairs lead to the original balcony of the Allen Theatre, just off the grand rotunda. As they are no longer useful for accessing the theatre balcony (the Allen has been foreshortened by the Cleveland Play House) the stairs remain something of a hidden treasure, with those striking lights features crowning the rail posts.


The folks at TRG moved in and we all worked together to instruct Debbie and Devon to dash up the stairs ... again, and again, and again. We needed them to concentrate on numerous thoughts at once; Debbie spotted something at the top of the stairs, Devon is focused on her. He's trying to catch up with her, with a hand on her shoulder, and also to check his pocket watch. Also, we desperately did not want them to trip and fall.

video

Unedited rough image.

We had time to go over the unedited images back at the office and several staff members weighed in with their opinions (thanks, Kelly and Stephanie!) and this was roundly agreed to be the best picture of Debbie (thanks, also, to Dresden, who was our stylist that day). However, these are days of perfection and fantasy and we had suggestions for how to make the place look more like a subway ... and also whether or not we wanted to incorporate a different image of Devon.


The carpet (seen above left in the rough image) would be out of place in a public space like a subway. Also, some signage would better suggest the fact that they were even in a subway, and we provided several images, like the one directly above, of the London Underground.


If possible, we wanted to keep Devon's hand, but chose a different one of his torso shots, so he would be more visible - especially wearing that awesome coat. Finally, we just wanted to whole thing flipped so the post was up left instead of right for the purposes of future cropping and typography for the poster.

The day before Thanksgiving we received this final promo image for The Secret Adversary. I am thankful to work with so many talented and thoughtful artists, at Great Lakes Theater and TRG Reality!

Final image - TRG Reality

Monday, November 9, 2015

Brian Cook in "I Hate This"

"I Hate This" at Hartwick College
Friday I took a day off work to drive seven hours to Oneonta, New York. Once I got out of the car I spent less time than that being out and about before retiring to my hotel for the night. I certainly didn't get seven hours of sleep before rising to drive the seven hours back home.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. I'd do it again.

Recap: Brian Cook asked to produce I Hate This for his senior thesis at Hartwick College. In addition to his normal course load, he's spent all semester eating, breathing and sleeping our story.

When a college senior says he wants to direct your solo performance for this thesis production, you say yes. Because this is about their education, not my opportunity. If a young man considers several different hour-long monodramas for men, and decides what he really wants to do is present the worst year in one father's life, you have to assume that was a decision he did not take lightly.

For the most part my hands were entirely off. I left in invitation open for questions, but figured it was best I didn't press it. Brian was creating a play, not working to recreate reality. We never even spoke on the phone, which was probably a good thing, he could decide who this "David" would be based on the words I had written.

I dearly wish I could have seen the production in Manchester last fall. At least then there was a review providing at least one person's impression of what was presented. I wouldn't expect that for a one weekend college production in a small town. Witnessing this performance could be a validation of my work, and I had to see that.

Brian staged the production in a black box space in Bresee Hall. The audience was seated on two sides, facing each other - an alley configuration (also: traverse or corridor) with about twenty-five seats on each side. Friday night was sold out, not technically "sold" because admission was free, but they took reservations and several students had to be turned away.

Speaking of students, this was one of the more bizarre elements of my experience. I've never performed I Hate This for so many young people. But then, the youth of my interlocutor made this relationship between subject and audience much less odd than if I had been playing it for them.

His engagement with the audience was delightful. One of the most significant differences between Brian's interpretation and my own is the visible depth of feeling. My performance has been called "near-dispassionate" which is something you would never accuse Brian of being. It is true, I hold my audience at arms length, but Brian moved into the house to deliver the memorial, he sat next to an audience member to play mother, took someone by the hand to lead them about the stage like my niece leading me into her room to play market. He handed out pieces of red, handmade paper.

I may someday be stealing these ideas.

During the final moments of the play, when it is not unusual to hear a few sniffles, we the audience could see each other, weeping. We were all together, in the birthing room. I wish Toni could have been there. In a way we were no longer alone.


How to make a hospital room into The Cloisters in 5 seconds.

Our original production design, created by director Tom Cullinan, included a stool, step ladder with paint-splattered dropcloth, a rocking chair, a small table with phone (and coffee cup with water) and a screen at the rear of the proscenium stage for the slides - which in 2003 were cast from an honest-to-God slide projector.

The bed was a rectangular light which came in when necessary and went away when it was not.

The intimacy of Brian's production, and the alley staging made it possible for there to be a bed - though not an actual sized bed, one that was built for the production, a clever optical illusion. Bits of paper lined the floor and ran up the wall to a blank spaces where the slides were cast to match the other writing. Paper also grew up from the floor to wrap around the base of the rocking chair, the bed, the table.

Each projected caption was accompanied by the sound of a pencil scratching, which was necessary to draw the audience's attention to the wall. When slides changed right behind me, the audience saw that happen, here there needed to be a sound cue or most would miss them, their eyes away from the wall on Brian.

After the performance a number of theater students gathered at Roots Brewing Co. (wait, I asked, can you people drink?) and I had the chance to talk to Brian and his colleagues about their work, this production, and share my stories about the production history. I also got to meet Nathan, who designed and composed sound and music as well as the poster and promotional video, his stage manager and assistant director Joanna, who Brian praised as critical to keep the production and himself together.

Beers at Roots Brewing Co.
One thing which has become apparent, especially watching a much younger man tell this story, are those elements which have become fixed in time. He was very good at properly representing this, in the old school cordless phone with built-in answering machine (not voice mail) and even down his his wardrobe, which he called very late 1990s-2000, like something you'd see on a late-era episode of Friends.

It's become a period piece. To the audience, which as I have described is a generation younger than I, watching the year progress, month by month (April 2001 ... May 2001) we are all moving toward a fixed point in history which unlike another other significant moment in history has no other name apart from the date upon which it happened.

These students were in second grade on 9/11, and I told them the story about one in my writing group objected to making that part of the narrative. This was in mid-2002 and it was the event was so raw. He found it jarring to move suddenly from such a personal world into the larger one. Some fourteen years later these audience members thought it was a very strong image, contrasting intimate grief onto a global event. With distance, perhaps, it now even more effective than before.

Driving home felt much faster than driving there, into the unknown. I had an open mind about the production going in, and was greatly impressed by what I experienced. But there was the emotional anxiety, the apprehension of watching something I so completely possess managed by another, especially one so young, and presumably unfamiliar with the particular feelings involved; pregnancy and childbirth and death.

I should not have worried. We are theater artists and this is what we do, interpreting tales which have been passed to us. As playwrights there is a time to let go of your work and trust that you wrote it down it correctly. And if you're lucky, as I feel I am, someone talented and impassioned enough, someone like Brian, will choose to tell your story.

Special thanks to Ken Golden, Director of Theatre Arts at Hartwick College, who was a warm and welcoming host during my brief stay, and a man who has made a tremendous, positive impact on the team of young theater artists I met there. We will pad thai again.

Friday, November 6, 2015

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Spoiler Alert: This is a thing that happened.
This story begins last July at the annual Cleveland Public Theatre artists' meeting.

CPT Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan delivered an informal state of the theater address, describing a vision for the coming year, a layman's overview of the present financial state of the theater, and previewed the coming season.

To kick off the artists' meeting with a spirit of positive energy, everyone in attendance was asked to recall a strong memory from the past season. As fate would have it, I was seated far to one side and asked to go first.

As I stood and without thinking, reaching for something to say and came out with, "Does it have to be a moment in this theater?" which I realized as the words left my mouth (and from the general reaction from like, everybody in the room) was an entirely dick thing to say and entirely not what I meant.

The unhappy fact is that I had neither done nor seen anything at all at CPT in 2014-15, which is not a sin in itself, it's just a damn shame. I love this theater, I cannot imagine what state Cleveland would presently be in without it. It's a vital component of our city's character; rugged, dogged, earthy, earnest, open-hearted, and deeply weird. There's always new, challenging work happening there and I have missed being a part of it.

For example, one of the first elements of the new season Raymond shared was a play written in 2010 called White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour and that that was pretty much all he could say about it, except there would be a different actor every night receiving a script they had never read nor seen before to then read for an audience. No director, no rehearsal. A cold reading performance.

He went on to say that if that sounds gimmicky, well surely it is, but it's also a great piece of writing and they wouldn't bother presenting it if it weren't. In addition to Mr. Burns - A Post-Electric Play and the revival of Holly Holsinger's Frankenstein's Wake (which remains the best adaptation of Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley's work I have ever experienced) I made a mental note to catch White Rabbit Red Rabbit. This year, I promised, I would see more plays.

What happened next was this ... when the first press release announcing the names of all of the performers for White Rabbit Red Rabbit (which ran Oct. 8 - 25) it included an impressive list of performers and notable non-performers. Actress and Mamai Theatre co-founder Derdriu Ring, for example, and also Councilman Joe Cimperman. However, there were three dates that said TBA.

I sent a quick email asking, "Do you need actors?" which was greeted by the swift rejoinder, "Why, are you offering?" Soon I was receiving a formal invitation from the company and hey presto, I would be performing the last weekend, on Saturday, October 24.

I hear you are having a party.
I was momentarily a little self-conscious, I felt like someone who had invited themselves to a party. Whatever, People do that.

Preparation was simple, if not necessarily easy. Do not learn anything about this play. Don't look it up online, don't google the playwright.

Not googling the playwright was very easy, because apart from hearing Raymond say his name once back in July, I didn't know the name of the person who wrote this play.

One thing that disappointed me right away was the fact that once I had performed the work I would have exactly one opportunity to watch it from the audience, the final performance on October 25. Anne McEvoy would be playing. Poor Anne, she wouldn't get to see anyone.

And so the weeks passed and I didn't think about it, or when I did I told myself not to think about it. If my responsibility was to read a script cold in front of an audience, that's fine, that's one of my strengths. I am confident reading out loud in front of others.

Also, I was not worried the text would embarrass or compromise me or my beliefs or make me look like an asshole in public or anything. Would CPT conspire to humiliate founder Jim Levin or comedian Mike Polk? Of course not. Besides, Raymond had said at the artists' meeting that though he could not describe the content of the script, he believed it was very, very good, and I like the things that he likes. So there's that, too.

No, it was only when I received the requisite email message from the playwright twenty-four hours prior to the performance did I become nervous. It included a few additional instructions, which in and of themselves were not challenging, but suddenly I developed the belief that there were things I could get wrong. If there is something you are supposed to do, and you don't know what that is, there must therefore have an opportunity to fuck that up.

In brief: It happened. I showed up, and the performance happened. If you want to know what that means you can look it up somewhere else. What I can say is this; I spent the next almost twenty-four hours believing I had done poorly. Not that I had performed poorly, but that I had performed too much. Or too little. I had no idea. I wasn't happy.

Previously, I didn't believe I had time to make Anne's closing performance, there's been so much going on at home and work. Now I had a neurotic need to experience it, preferably sitting all the way in the back. This I did, and I am very glad that I did, for several reasons.

For one thing, I realized there was much of the play I did not even remember. I mean, she performance reminded me of what I had done which I had promptly forgotten in the mental maze of performing the thing.

Also, so many of her choices validated my choices and so I felt less self-conscious about what I had done. She was delightful, by the way, though her energy and mood was quite different. We are different people.

I was also very grateful for the post-show discussions. As CPT is currently restoring the Levin Theatre, which may have otherwise been the site of a show like White Rabbit Red Rabbit, instead it was produced in the Parish Hall, and then interested audience members were asked to relocated to post-show to the church for the discussion - an entirely different building, some 100 feet away - which afforded those who wished not to participate the opportunity to just walk to their cars or XYZ and be done with it. You had to choose to join the post-show discussion.

And both nights I was present I would say more than half the audience did! That by itself started the discussion off on a strong foot, I felt. We all wanted to be there. And there was much to discuss.

Now here's a minor spoiler if you wish to turn away.

Much of the discussion the final night, the night I watched, not performed, was about the relationship between the writer and actor, and whether or not the actor was being manipulated by the writer, having agreed to read words written by an unknown other, one living (or not) in a foreign land from a different time - the time at which they had written, a time before now. Were we, and by proxy the audience, being manipulated?

Brian Cook in "I Hate This"
But then, we debated, isn't that the nature of all theatrical performance? Isn't Shakespeare, cold and dead, still fucking with us with his words, words we feel some strange compulsion to read and speak in spite of their distance in time and the bizarre things he makes us do? Do not all playwrights cast a spell on others to perform their bidding, to their their stories, even from the grave?

This evening I had the peculiar opportunity to watch a young man speak my words, to tell a story so deeply my own they could be no one else's. And yet he was there on the stage and everyone was watching and listening to him, and I was in my seat and I knew every word and yet it was like experiencing some different man tell his story, not mine.

Today I drove seven hours to Oneonta, New York to witness Brian Cook perform I Hate This at Hartwick College.

To be continued.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I Hate This @ Hartwick College

Last February I received a polite request from a theater arts student about the possibility of acquiring rights to perform my autobiographic monodrama I Hate This (a play without the baby).

From time to time I have received requests from high school teachers for permission to perform selected monologues from this play for dramatic competition. Even though I normally grant permission to do this I have never received word as to whether any student actually chose to use my work, in spite of my requesting to know if the work is ever actually performed. This does not surprise me. When I was in high school, I do not think this play would interest me very much, either.

And so I was intrigued when the college student in question, one Brian Cook from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, responded when I asked that he was considering this script for his senior thesis after first finding it on Wikipedia, and then doing a bit more online research about the play before asking to read the play.

In other words, he knew what he was getting into before contacting me. Brian knew he was proposing to perform someone else's personal account of losing their first child. He was proposing that to me, he was proposing it to his advisors.

Still, I was curious. The protagonist of this work is 35 year-old man, married and somewhat settled, the story dealing with issues that I personally neither knew nor cared about when I was twenty-two. When I asked him about it, he reflected his own disinterest in most other pieces he found and considered, finding them either "too distant" or "not related" to either himself or his intended audience, or that they were simply "comedic revues."

The pitch that clinched it for me was when he said, "I remember reading that this project came to life through your journaling, right?" He then shared his design concept which involves words and paper, lots of paper. I loved it, it just sounded right.

Brian states in his bio that though he started with an emphasis in acting, through his time at Hartwick he has developed a deep passion for design, and he will be designing, performing in and directing the play.

When I asked him what if anything he has learned since his work on the production began, he used the word hope, and that sits well with me. So many ask those of us who have lost children if we're over it, if we are past our grief, if we have achieved closure. We hate this way of thinking (see: title of play) because no, we aren't. We don't, we haven't. That's not the way it works.

But hope ... hope is about the future. Hope is about moving forward, which is something we must do. Brian himself puts this very well in his director's note for the production:
This play is about a man who lost a son he would never know, but it is so much more. It is about everyone who ever lost someone, who ever wondered who or what they were, everyone who ever thought life just couldn’t get better. This play is here to reassure us all, “Yes, yes it does.”
Hartwick College presents "I Hate This (a play without the baby)" performed, designed and directed by Brian C. Cook, November 5 - 8, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Everything I Never Told You (book)

Brief, solitary air travel lends me the opportunity to consume books with great speed, which can be greatly disorienting as one novel can color an entire journey. As I was preparing to travel to St. Paul for the Twin Cities Marathon, I noticed to my surprise a copy of Celeste Ng's debut novel, Everything I Never Told You sitting on my wife's bookshelf.

I was surprised because I had just been thinking of that book. I was thinking of that book because I had recently heard Celeste interviewed by Dee Perry on Sound of Applause. When I heard her interview on Sound of Applause I wondered why her name was so familiar.

It didn't take long before I remembered she had written an award-winning play for Marilyn Bianchi's Kids' Playwriting Festival, and that I had directed that play.

This is why I wanted to read her book, and between flights and trying to calm my mind before the race at bedtime, completed the entire work over the weekend. It left me shaken and sad, but also gave me a great deal of clarity and focus.

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."

The first two sentences of the book filled me with a morbid, horrible curiosity. I have a niece named Lydia, but I have to be honest and state that didn't have anything to do with it. While I was in St. Paul, I told my wife about the book and that it was worming through my thoughts in advance of the race and that I was even afraid to continue and she suggested I put the book down for a while but I insisted I needed to know how it ends.

This is the thing. Perhaps you have noticed that I do not actually post private information on either this or my running blog. There is personal, and there is private. Arguments happen in my house with great shouting, and if you are standing outside you may hear them, but I won't share the details here.

It is enough to state that I have a daughter - have while she is mine - age twelve going on thirteen and while I cannot impart any intention on mine or my wife's part to impress upon our daughter the need to succeed, speaking only for myself I have presented a model for anxiety and concern for my own efforts in the public arena which may in part explain (other than impending adolescence) an overwhelming preoccupation with achievement coupled with almost absolute inability to enjoy what success she achieves. This last is certainly a fault she has acquired from both of us.

Celeste's book includes layers of difficulty for its family of protagonists with which I and my family do not need to cope, external pressures to succeed in matters personal as well as professional, many of which arise from issues of race ... but also gender, and that does affect us very much.

Details in the family dynamic, between father and son and also between mother and daughter, do not (necessarily) parallel ours, though I can see clearly the judgment between the males and the yearning between the females and that is not unfamiliar. Celeste's parental characters rise above the portrayal of many parents in YA novels, for example, in that we receive a complete back story in which we root for their success before receiving them as the parents who so entirely misunderstand their teenage children. Even in this, we understand them.

My wife and I do not shape our children to be what we wish them to be. We follow their lead, as best we can, with support and encouragement, and try very hard not to judge. And that is hard.

But how much of my daughter's perfection anxiety is based on her understanding that in order to move forward, to go to the places she yearns to go, to be the person she most wants to be, she must accomplish more than we have done.

+ + +

For three years I managed Dobama's Night Kitchen and my final production (as artistic director) was what we called Marilyn's Festival: In The Night Kitchen.

This annual performance of award-winning, children-written plays did not include all of the winning plays, only about half of them to create a two-hour, two-act event. Most of those chosen for performance were the fanciful elementary or middle school plays. with one high school play (often fifteen minutes long) plunked into the middle of the second act, like a brooding, unhappy teenager at a six year old's bouncy house birthday party.

In honor of the 20th festival in 1998, we would produced an hour's worth of high school written plays as a separate production.

In my notes from the selection process I called Shaker High senior Celeste Ng's short play The Fishbowl "very funny and insightful" with a strong message, and gave it my highest rating.

The premise of The Fishbowl is of a man in a psychiatric hospital who insists on using certain familiar words in place of other familiar words. For example, he consistently refers to his room as a fishbowl. Two doctors debate whether he requires either medication or understanding.

In its basic debate between two doctors who have two very different ideas over treatment of a patient who may or may not be delusional it reminds me of the play Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, only that play debuted in 2000. Celeste wrote The Fishbowl two years earlier.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Assessment

Perhaps this is a bit premature, but I am on an upswing and have no idea how long it will last. In my most recent assessment, I reflected on stagnancy and a general feeling of malaise. Writing was not happening. In fact, it continued not to happen for some time, as I was locked in my head over the Christie piece, unable to freely enjoy anything until that was sorted.

Tiresias Riddles the Fate
However, since that time I have written two brief pieces for performance. Cleveland Public Theatre's annual Pandemonium benefit was held on Saturday, September 12. My fifteen-minute play Tiresias Riddles The Fates was performed twice in one of the outdoor yurts and though it rained all evening crowds made their way across the sodden parking lot to join us.

The theme for the evening was "transform" and so I was inspired to call upon one of the oldest known transgendered characters in literature. And the Fates? Because women. My daughter encouraged me to create something for the event and I thought if I roped her and one of her friends into it I might actually come up with something fun. Two actor-teachers rounded out the cast.

The CPH Centennial Plays
The other short play, On the Beam, was written as part of the centennial celebration to be thrown next weekend in honor of the Cleveland Play House 100th Season. The Playwrights' Unit was asked to write short plays that tell the history of CPH in 60 minutes. Writing a short piece about the first Cleveland production of The Crucible was stepping into warm and familiar territory, and I was very happy to offer my contribution.

Performances of The CPH Centennial Plays will be in the Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square next Saturday, October 24 at 12:15 PM and again at 4:15 PM. Admission is free, though they are asking that people make a reservation. It's going to be a big, day-long party with events happening all around the Play House complex.

Not sure which performance of the Centennial Plays I will make, but I do know I will be performing in White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Cleveland Public Theatre that same night, Oct. 24 at 7:00 PM in the Parish Hall on the CPT campus.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit
I can't tell you anything about WRRR because I do not know anything about WRRR. It is a play an actor can only perform once, because they are expected not to know anything about it.

I will show up that Saturday night, they will hand me the script, and I will walk out on stage (will I be walking onto a stage?) to perform a play I have not read for an audience. As the play opened last weekend, and folks have been encouraged to see it more than once, it is very possible the audience I will be performing for will now much more about the play than I do, which is nothing.

This evening we had an impromptu reading of a work I wrote last Spring and only recently came back to, what I affectionately refer to as The George Michael Play. It is not my custom to hold a play reading in a bar but I did want to thank the people at Parnell's on Playhouse Square for letting us use the upstairs room this evening.

The George Michael Play
It's a dicey piece of work, but I had two splendid readers, and Khaki, as well as a room of actor-teachers to witness. It has been some time since I made up something entirely original, so many recent works have been adaptations or parodies or sequels or prequels, to create something to entirely me, well it has been a while.

There is also a great deal of work to see or things to do these days, we will be attending the Talespinner Halequinade benefit tomorrow evening, King Lear at Great Lakes later this week, the Play House production of The Crucible the week after that.

I Hate This
Most unusual of all, however, is a production of I Hate This the first weekend of November at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Brian Cook will be designing, directing and performing this very personal play of mine for his senior thesis. How he came to choose this monodrama, from all those available, is a question I must ask him some day soon. For the time being it is enough to say that his thoughts on the script, and his preliminary concepts for design were enough to satisfy and I have otherwise had no input into the project.

The idea that this particular piece, this most personal stories, could have a life separate from my body, from my own mouth, is in a word reassuring. That I was able to put down the words, that the words alone tell the story, and that they may safely be interpreted by another independent from any additional contributions from me.

I ran a marathon a few weeks ago, the Twin Cities Marathon. Yes, I have been writing, but so much time was spent occupied by that intense, physical pursuit. And I did well. Now, on the other side, I am overwhelmed by all this work; home work, work work, and the writing work. I haven't had a run in almost a week, and I do not like to think that I have to choose between writing and running. Perhaps this time I might be able to keep body and mind together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bummer (1995)

Promotional photo by Anthony Gray
Dobama’s Night Kitchen premiered on Saturday, September 23, 1995 at 11:00 PM with the original, ninety-minute, ensemble-written play Bummer. The work was written and performed by Tia Dionne Hodge, Dan Kilbane, Trishalana Kopaitich,  Keith Lukianowicz, Sarah Morton, and Charles Ogg, and I directed.

The previous spring, I was contacted by Dobama Theatre Artistic Director Joyce Casey to create a series of projects to be performed “late night” following their mainstage productions in an attempt to attract all the young people who were hanging out on Coventry.

For the three years I was managing the project, DNK featured new plays, long-form improv, and a variety of ensemble-written projects. The most cohesive of these, in my opinion, was 2001’s The Gulf, which has a tightly focused point-of-view on a particular event. This earlier piece cast a much broader net.

The mid-1990s represented a kind of return-to-childhood for many members of Generation X, an opportunity to review and revisit times long forgotten. This was the era of films like Dazed and Confused, which took place in 1976, and also Reality Bites which included a signature moment of twenty-somethings having an impromptu dance party in a gas station food market when My Sharona comes on the radio.

Bummers.
Big Fun, which opened in 1990 just up the street from the former Dobama space, was part of a burgeoning trend of upscale retro memory stores. Weezer’s entire first album is a salute to the year 1979 … and Smashing Pumpkins released a song called 1979. As a tribute to my entire tribe, I decided the first show would be a salute to recovered memories, with a title appropriated from a cartoon in Dynamite magazine called Bummers.
“1980?” [Hansen] asks. “Why not? It was a really strange year, not part of the ‘80s, not part of the ‘70s. It was a big transition period.” – The Plain Dealer
The only Bummer company member from Guerrilla Theater Co. was Keith “Lefty” Lukanowicz, Charles lived in my mod at O.U. The other four members I met for the first time through auditions, and each of them (Dan, Sarah, Tia and Trish) would become de facto DNK company members, participating one or more additional productions, Dan himself later taking on the responsibility of artistic director for the project. Auditions included, if you can believe it, request for a writing sample.

There were actually seven company members originally, because I am by nature superstitious, but one backed out right as we began rehearsals. However, I am also superstitious enough to let things progress the way they will, and did not replace her.

With this first project I was depending on methods of writing and performance I was accustomed to from my work in Guerrilla Theater Company, which had disbanded the previous year. Artists would write, we’d put the writing on its feet, then either keep what we’d written or go back to the drawing board. I had no experience in editing or rewriting, and with the six week rehearsal schedule I’d set I didn’t feel we had that kind of time. Just write, try it, then keep or discard.

Company in costume in front of Dobama
There was so much good material I balked at selecting only one hours’ worth of stuff, opting instead to cycle some material in and out over the course of three weeks, which may not have been the best decision, either. But as is, the material was amusing, ridiculous, poignant and touching.

Costumes were largely cobbled together from the thrift store, though we did get a new Rock and Roll Over ringer tee for Keith and a Daffy Dan’s Cleveland Rocks shirt for Charles.
Hansen says Hodge will wear a pair of Chic jeans, but she corrects him. “No! I have Sassoons, with one pocket and a snap!” Morton interjects that she wear the Chic jeans – aqua-colored – in the show. (The Plain Dealer)
Performed on the set of Dobama’s mainstage performance of George Walker’s Love and Anger (set in an industrial basement office) the sow truly had the feel that the kids had taken over and were putting on their own show. And admission for this first production was three dollars.

Critical response was extremely generous for this fledgling project, an experiment in writing, performance and my nascent abilities in direction.
While a few of the early skits fall short of their intended effects, others shine with near brilliant writing, moving performances, smart timing and fresh creativity. (The Plain Dealer)
The best-written and most moving pieces are presented with a genuine appreciation and respect for young children and their inner-strength. (The Free Times)
 The show is warm, human and fresh. (Cleveland Scene)
The two scenes which stood out most for audiences and critics alike were Tia’s monologue on growing up the only African-American student in her elementary school class in suburban Aurora, and Sarah’s Interview about an eleven year-old trying to escape the foster child system. In this piece she sits alone on stage while two unseen parents kindly question her:
Visually shaken and frustrated, the child demands to know what she should say to finally be rescued – like other children – from this system. Aged by life’s ugliness, she says, “It’s not my fault I know more than they do.” (The Plain Dealer)
The show included a great deal of pop culture references, with a few notes of period pop songs covering each brief scene change, skits about Little League, kids playing at Charlie’s Angels and getting the lyrics wrong.

Most theater companies with any staying power generate their share of artists whose work outshines the humble origins. Recently I have been struck by how many Dobama's Night Kitchen artists have had great success as writers, even if their work in the Night Kitchen was not strictly writing. Notable examples include authors Tia Dionne Hodge (Play.Speak.), Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You), and playwrights Laura Jacqmin (Hero Dad), Sarah Morton (Night Bloomers), Caroline V. McGraw (Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys), and Toni K. Thayer (Angst:84).

Sources:
‘Bummer’ tells how it was being a kid in 1980 Cleveland by Sheila Simmons, The Plain Dealer, 9/23/1995
Swing Poets give smart take on 1980 by Sheila Simmons, The Plain Dealer, 9/29/1995
Bummer Isn't One by Lenora Inez Brown, The Free Times, 10/4/1995
Happy talk about actors and acting by Keith Joseph, Cleveland Scene, 10/5/1995

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Crucible: Archive Materials

Diane Bell as Mary Warren, Kirk Willis as John Proctor
Cleveland Play House archives (CWRU)
In honor of the Cleveland Play House 100th Season, the Playwrights Unit has been asked to write short plays about the company’s history. As CPH’s 2015 production of The Crucible will be in performance when these sketches will be presented, I offered to cover the regional premiere of that play, which was produced at the Play House in 1954.

We were given access to company archives, which are kept at Case Western Reserve University, and their staff and the apprentices at CPH have been extremely helpful in locating and distributing specific items.

I have previously covered The Crucible in this blog, having read contemporary reviews of the CPH ’54 production, as well as Miller’s own inspiration for having written it. But there was much I had never seen, including photographic images of the actors, their costumes, and the scenic design.

Produced at the Euclid-77th Street Space, it was presented on a wide, open thrust stage, with little wing space. The set is a spare frame construction. The period costumes, inspired by the garb of 17th century Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay colony, do much of the work in placing this production in time and space.

The reviews for the CPH production were uniformly positive; when they were critical, it was generally in comparing this new play to Miller’s landmark Death of a Salesman.  A preview piece written by William F. McDermott for the Plain Dealer provided background which informed potential audiences this new work (it opened on Broadway in 1953) had elicited a wide range of opinion.

The Crucible at the Euclid-77th Street Theatre
Cleveland Play House archives (CWRU)
True, The Crucible had won the Tony Award for Best New Play. However, the producers did not decide to create a touring production. McDermott reported that the West German paper Der Tag found the work, “too narrow minded in clinging to historical fact,” and that in Miller’s characters he had created, “no one person which stirs our conscience.”

When the Munich-based paper Abend suggested this play is a “reliable image of what happens in the United States,” it even produced a defensive response from the playwright who countered, “In Salem they only hung [sic] sixteen persons, in Europe they had burned thousands.”

One of the great delights of looking into an archive like this are the pieces of personal correspondence which someone, at some time, decided it would be worth to save. There were some internal memos, and also personal messages of special interest or gratitude.

A thank you card from a Mrs. S. who lived on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights saw The Crucible with her husband in 1954 and offered a pair of observations which, taken together, will be familiar to anyone who has managed any theater company, anywhere:

“Neither of us can remember a more wonderful production.”
-- and also –
“I was annoyed to see so many empty seats.”

The Crucible at Cleveland Play House opens October 10, 2015.

Source:
The Plain Dealer, October 3, 1954
Cleveland Play House Archives, Case Western Reserve University

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Secret Adversary: First Reading

This paperback has been in my satchel for six months.
Historically, I have found it necessary or even desirable to be working on more than one piece at a time. This summer, however, one project in particular has created a distressing logjam, not only for my ability to write but also to think and conduct myself as an emotionally adult human.

During the past two weeks I held a rehearsal read of the work in question, a one-hour adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, and then presented it to the unit this past Wednesday. Just completing the draft suddenly made it possible for me to think about an entirely other work, one which I began a year and a half ago, and discover what needed to happen next with that script.

In addition, there was another piece, a project we are working on within the unit, a five minute scene, which I was able to create in short order (the turnaround itself was fortuitously brief) and about which I will write in some detail in the days or weeks to come.

The reading at the CPH offices was happily well-attended. It helped that every single GLT actor-teacher was present – all eight of them, most reading and the rest to provide support and enjoy the read. But there were also CPH staff, most of the unit, and several of our kids.

Feedback was reassuring, that I have successfully adapted the novel into a script which flies along and is mostly coherent. RL for example is a great fan of Christie’s characters Tommy and Tuppence and expressed how much she looked forward to the reading (prior) and how much the characters satisfied (after).

In fact there was helpful balance of positive response and critical comment and suggestion to keep me moving forward. The small company (3 men, 2 women) put some in mind of 39 Steps, suggesting the piece is going to be even more humorous in performance then I had previously imagined.

CH stated the transition from what is Christie’s dialogue to what is mine is pretty seamless, and in fact most of the lines which popped for folks were actually mine (or in one glaring case, Evelyn Waugh’s.)

One issue of great interest is the McGuffin, the “draft treaty” which puts the entire adventure into motion. Where it passed hands - on the deck of the sinking Lusitania – requires some explanation to our modern, American audience. Even more important, however, is how such a document could topple a government. I mean, it really doesn’t matter, that’s not why the adventure is exciting. But it does give the entire endeavor some kind of point. Christie didn’t need to explain this, but I do.

Something else I need to do is create a calendar of events. The book takes place over the course of about a month. The way I have abridged it, it’s more like one week, but I’d like specifics.

It’s been a long summer. I remember writing pages in Montréal and in Maine, day after day in Cleveland. I thought I’d never produce a draft, but kept moving, one page after another.

I’m running a marathon in two weeks. Running a marathon is easy. Writing is hard. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

How I Spent My Summer (2015)

Actor-Teachers (2014-15)
Today we will be celebrating the close of summer in our neighborhood by attending the annual block party. The date is generally the penultimate Saturday before school begins. So many other districts have started already, it feels like ours are the only children without classes to attend.

The other day one of the kids said they were pretty much exhausted with traveling. The girl and her mother have traveled more than the boy and I, and all of them together more than me. The wife took them to Ottawa for the first weekend of the Women’s World Cup and of course there was Girl Camp.

Cleveland Shakespeare Festival
The unofficial start of summer for me is always the end of the school year party for the actor-teachers. This year we tried something different, eschewing the traditional potluck at either mine or Lisa’s house, and instead having a bowling party.

At that time, we had already begun rehearsals for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival production of The Life of Timon of Athens. Now, I was pretty confident we would create an entertaining show, but I was surprised at how successful the company was in taking this rather odd and somewhat bitter text and creating a lively, funny and actually kind of touching story.

Camp Theater Improv Club
Recently I wrote a piece about improvisation which detailed my happiness with the work we created at Great Lakes Theater’s Camp Theater! The high emotions left me feeling very positive about the summer and what lay ahead.

Finding the right balance of time on and time off for the children has been a continual challenge, especially now that they (as we) can easily pick up a device and zone out for hours on end. The girl attended camps in music and soccer, while the boy concentrated on his efforts as part of his baseball league.

TCG National Conference Weekend
The Theatre Communications Group national conference was held in Cleveland this June, and I was happy to play my part as an ambassador for GLT, hosting a dinner at Sokolowski’s and then taking some new friends for an impromptu walking tour of my old theatrical stomping grounds in Tremont.

By the middle of June I began training for the Twin Cities Marathon (in October) and you can just read all about that here. We closed out the month taking what has become a much beloved annual trip to Topsail Beach in North Carolina.

Indepedence 5K (Topsail Beach)
Boy Camp continued, which included not only bowling and theater but also an extended bike/run and even his playing drums for a School of Rock performance at the Cain Park Art Festival.

We all saw the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival production of Merchant of Venice. We all saw American Idiot at Beck Center together. And then it was time to take the second part of our summer vacation … which is normally a road trip to Maine, though this year we started by heading through Canada instead of upstate New York.

One night in Niagara Falls and then onto Montreal. We spent three nights and two days in a funky part of town in an even funkier apartment. For my forty-seventh birth we attended a daytime house party on an island and then an outdoor performance of Twelfth Night.

Repercussion Theatre (Montréal)
Maine is to me eternal, though every year I wonder if it will be the last … for me, not for Maine. Maine will remain. The children have grown older, and while they have always been content with staying in the cove, near the water, fishing, catching crabs off the dock, their worldview has expanded so that we were able to take a touristy visit for window shopping and movies. Our interests meld.

Now we are in a kind of holding pattern, or I am, anyway. As I said, waiting for school. Waiting for friends. In the boy’s case he’s waiting to shake a terrible cold he developed several days ago. Last days of summer and you’re too weak to go out, that sucks big time.

My son and my father. (Flood's Cove)
But I have not been moved to review the events of summer before on this blog, not like this. Why? I am always moved by nostalgia, much to my own regret (there’s a snake that eats its own tail) but life has moved with such speed these years, I much naturally rather to look forward.

However, these days have been particularly hard on me, and it has been exceeding hard to focus. Some stems from within, but also from without, with some hard knocks striking at me from strange and surprising directions.

Perhaps I needed to give myself a brief reminder of how successfully things can go and how important it is not to forget that.