Monday, April 25, 2016

I Hate This: On the Writing

No excuses. No apologies. The facts are enough. The facts are awful. Let them be awful. It is hard not to apologize. But is that the way it happened?

Brian Cook’s production of I Hate This introduced me to the writing, and I am stealing that idea. We don’t know what “David” does. He says he was heading off to work, but he’s wearing jeans and a sweater.

Note: I was wearing jeans and a sweater. That sweater, and some long lost pair of jeans. I was in reality going to audition for an Ohio Lottery commercial, because at that time I thought I was an actor. I was asked to dressed somewhat artsy, hence, the sweater. Regardless, I did not make the audition.

“David’s” mother alludes to his being a writer, and a writer is what I always wanted to be, before I somehow got the idea that I should be an actor. I do not know why I decided to be that, unless it was an urgent need for attention, which is a bad reason to do anything.

Hartwick production design by Brian Cook
Now, as always, I am happiest when I am writing. It is what I always wanted to do, who I wanted to be. I should have studied English, but I digress. In this play, “David” is a writer, in And Then You Die, he is a cartoonist. Even when I was an actual cartoonist, I was more excited by the writing than the drawing.

Brian’s design for the Hartwick production included a great deal of paper. Paper spread across the floor, up the walls, even grew up the legs of the tables and chairs, the hospital bed.

Our design will be much simpler. But writing will happen. There will be writing.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio)

Malvolio
Costume design by Zachary Hikle
Yes, we are almost one-third through the new year. And hasn’t it been remarkable? At the end of Twenty-Fifteen I blithely remarked, “Surprises are welcome.” Really, they’re not. No more surprises, please.

At the same time, I made note of dreams I had had about new works. In one I was receiving a staged reading of a play I had not yet written that went extremely well. This was several months before I received an invitation to go to Last Frontier. So that was not even a surprise, then, it was foretold.

Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. He would be 452 today, which is far too old to be, so it is just as well he also died on this date 400 years ago, in 1616.

Olivia
Costume design by Zachary Hickle
When Shakespeare's First Folio comes to the Cleveland Public Library, we will be ready. Great Lakes Theater will be presenting Twelfth Night (as told by Malvolio) the first two weekends of July, in the newly renovated Brett Hall, just off the main entrance.

In this 45-minute retelling, we are creating a 1980s teen comedy love triangle between Viola, Orsino and Olivia, set in the (fictional) Elyria High School.

The text is entirely Shakespeare, and will also include passages from other of his works, like As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and even and Hamlet, as well as some verses from the Sonnets. And it's free.

We’re having great fun with the adaptation, it’s fun to treat the 80’s as some bizarre, bygone era, which of course it is. My entire cast was born around 1990 ... so just as you might find in an 80’s teen sex comedy, all the teenagers are played by people in their mid-20s.

Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio) opens at Cleveland Public Library Thursday, July 7.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)

Make-up for an evening of one-acts.
Late summer, 1984. It’s a Sunday night, the next morning is the first day of school. I am lying in bed, probably around 10 PM because in spite of the fact that I was sixteen years old, I had great anxiety about not getting enough sleep, and unlike most kids my age, I got up ninety minutes before school started (and it only took ten minutes for me to bike to school.)

The radio next to my bed was on. I had the radio on all night, every night, from 1977 until I went to college. I fiddled with the volume knob until it was just quiet enough so that I could hear it without having to work too hard to hear it, and not so loud that it would keep me up. First WGCL (1977-1982) then WMMS (1982-1986). Saturday nights I might fall asleep to WCLV Saturday Night, at least until high school when the odds were good that I would be up late weekends.

But it was the night before my first day of junior year, and I was listening to WMMS. Lights were out, I was resting, relaxing. The song I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man) by Kenny Loggins came on. It starts with this low, atmospheric, bass note syncopation before busting open with a guitar riff and some higher keyboard notes and an upbeat tempo.

I suddenly sat up in bed. I mean, I gasped, and I sat up, shocked and desperate, the way you feel when it’s midnight and you remember you have a book report on something you haven’t read, or that you had forgotten someone’s birthday. But it wasn’t either of those things.

The song I’m Free is from the Footloose motion picture soundtrack. The video shows the singer breaking out of prison (he’s free!) then hooking up with Virginia Madsen, and generally being on the run. It’s about freedom.

But it wasn’t the video. I wasn’t watching the video. It have have been the refrain, which includes a chorus of young people yelling, “I’m free!”

In that moment, in a split second, in the firing of a synapse, I recalled when the first single from Footloose had been released, the title track, back at the beginning of the year. I had resisted the dance thing, but everyone was dancing, the boys as well as the girls (ever since the end of disco, it had been taboo) and then I developed a crush on this one girl and there were these dances, at school, at church, at cast parties and private parties, and teen night at Spanky’s -- she was always there, and I had to do something about that.

Goofing in a Spanish photo booth.
I asked my mom if we could go clothes shopping and she was very, very surprised because neither of my two older brothers had ever asked such a thing and we went to TJMaxx and I got a dozen outfits, it must have set her back a hundred dollars.

And a short, Reagan-era haircut.

That spring I had been to Sibs Weekend at O.U. which for reasons that should be obvious I cannot remember. After the spring musical a number of us produced an evening of one-acts, I directed my first scene.

Ghostbusters opened that June, one of the funniest movies of all time, I saw it no less than ten times in the theater that summer.

That July I spent a month in northwest Spain, learning conversational Spanish, the uses of vermouth, how to smoke horrible tobacco, defending America to skeptical natives, skinny dipping, and yes, working out in discos, every afternoon, every night.

Returning home, summer concluded with band practice, more late nights, dancing in driveways. And now the summer of 1984 was at an end, time to return to school.

In a moment the sheer scope of activity overwhelmed me. This song made me think of that song, and everything that had happened to me, and every place that I had been in between.

And I felt that terrible, sinking sensation, hearing that chorus of teenagers shouting, I’m free, that there was a whole world happening out there, and that that girl was still out there, and that I was in bed, accomplishing nothing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Love's Labour's Lost (2016)

Love's Labour's Lost, Great Lakes Theater (Photo: Ken Blaze)
Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598?) was a very topical play, making reference to many timely political figures and historical events, and so, like the comedy stylings of Vaughn Meader, dropped into obscurity almost immediately after it was written.

At its core the story is quite simple. Boys decide for a certain period of time to swear to avoid girls. Girls show up. Hijinks ensue. There are subplots involving a Spanish nobleman (who for some reason is written to speak in a funny accent, unlike the rest of the men who are also from a region in Spain) and academics who speak in impenetrable pedantisms.

Back in 2000 the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival produced a 90 minute version directed by Eric Schmiedl which entirely eliminated the subplots to focus on the (four) men and (four) women. People affectionately called it the “Gap” Love’s Labour’s Lost, because they all wore khakis. Scene gave it an award for “Best Local Production With Homegrown Talent,” because in those days, apparently that was a necessary distinction.

Love's Labour's Lost, Royal Shakespeare Company (1990)
Surprisingly, for all the talk about how infrequently this work is produced, I have had a chance to see it several times. When our school toured London and Stratford in late 1990, we saw Ralph Fiennes as Berowne and Alex Kingston as Jaquenetta, several years before either of them were known by American audiences.

However, I do not recall a moment of that production. Even with all of the topical references removed, the language is very dense, even for Shakespeare. Though you may follow the plot, it is not a sure thing that you want to. The words ... the words are ... there are so many words.

Tyne Rafaeli’s production, now showing at Great Lakes Theater, is by far the clearest and most hilarious version I’ve ever seen. And they do talk a lot. They will also horrify bibliophiles with their unprecedented abuse of bound materials.

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (2006)
What excited me most about this version was how honestly and firmly the director and performers handle the matter of gender. Comedies about boys versus girls (in the world series of love) can so easily rely entirely on stereotypical gags about female body types and literal kicks to the crotch.

Rafaeli treats us to a story about young men and women of privilege which, while absurd, cleaved neatly to reality, to wit; I cared about the characters. I liked being in the room with them. The playful, joyful, exuberant chaos of the second act was earned and delightful and its abrupt ending was very touching.

In this production Laura Welsh Berg plays Rosaline, attendant to the Princess of France and romantic foil to Berowne, with a fierce worldliness, befitting this storied character. Many have speculated that the dark-eyed Rosaline (Berowne says she has “two pitchballs stuck in her head for eyes”) was inspired by the same “dark lady” who consternates Shakespeare so dearly in his sonnets.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun ? Well, yeah. They're pitchballs.

It was due to this apocryphal connection that we chose to produce George Bernard Shaw's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets as the outreach tour in 2006, when GLT last produced Love’s Labour’s Lost.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame is lust in action ...
And speaking of alcohol (wait for it) this weekend I am looking forward to enjoying a refreshing Young Man-Hattan, one of those concoctions to be found in Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails For Your Everyday Dramas, a handy and very funny reference guide of delightful drink and hors-d'oeuvre recipes penned by Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim.

The Young Man-Hattan is a variation on the classic drink, only a little more bitter -- much like the Bard himself, writing some of the least warm and fuzzy love poems ever to an unnamed “young man” and their relations with the aforementioned dark lady.

This Saturday night I have the honor and privilege to be moderator for a light and amusing discussion with Dr. Bicks and Dr. Ephraim before the evening performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Hanna Theatre. Join us!

Great Lakes Theater presents "Love's Labour's Lost" now through April 24.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I Hate This: First Rehearsal

"You are fucking cool as shit all of the time."

cool. adj., 1. moderately cold, 2. marked by calm self-control, 3. marked by indifference, disdain, 4. composed

The company.
We had our first rehearsal yesterday. This is the big question, how much storytelling? How much acting? The text is so familiar and the truth is I have lost the truth. I believed that in my "near-dispassionate" telling I was providing the facts without torturing the audience. And I was praised for it.

In our first two hours I was astonished at how many things I had forgotten. I mean, since the very beginning. Chennelle made observations which prompted stories which revealed truths I had misplaced.

It's in the text. I woke early, alone, our first night back. But I didn't just wake up. I heard my wife in the nursery, crying. That is what woke me up, that is the manner in which I woke up. I didn't need to "find" her, I followed the sound of her. It's right there in the words.

Then there's the other thing. The face I am entirely unaware I have. It's not something I am necessarily comfortable being made aware of. But there it is. Mr. Cool-As-Shit. Dad. That guy. I thought he was in the mix, but I even when I am accepting blame, I am making excuses. It is very, very hard not to.

What is inside has to come out. And what is outside has to be hard.

I Hate This (A play without the baby) will be performed one night only, May 7, 2016. Click here to make your reservation.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hamilton (musical)

Civics lesson from a slaver

Ken Howard died last month. A proud union actor and leader, he is remembered by most from the 1970s dramatic TV program The White Shadow. To many of us, he has always been the face we picture when we think of Thomas Jefferson.

I turned eight in 1976, the American Bicentennial. We visited Williamsburg, our class portraits included Betsy Ross’s flag, and I personally have a strong and intimate association with seeing the film adaptation of the musical 1776 on Broadcast television.

The musical was originally produced on Broadway in 1969, when the U.S. was deep into Vietnam, the film version in 1972. For years, before cable anyway, it was rebroadcast around the Independence Day holiday. My family had the cast album, which we loved playing.

This story, depicting the signers of the Declaration of Independence as witty, flawed, somewhat crabby, but above all hopeful public servants was a helpful antidote to the general malaise of actually being American at that time.

It was much later that I learned, much to my disillusionment, that musical’s book compels the character of Jefferson to tell one whopped of a lie, in an obvious effort to leave the tall, awkward, Blythe Danner-loving redhead untarnished.

When debating the inclusion of language which would have publicly condemned the practice of enslavement, a South Carolina congressman reminds Thomas Jefferson of Virginia that he is also a slaver.

Jefferson states quietly, “I have already resolved to release my slaves.”

Actions speak louder. In reality Thomas Jefferson never released any slaves, with the exception of those he fathered, whom he conveniently allowed to “escape.” In fact, there was a practice at that time for slavers to put into their wills to grant freedom to those they held in slavery upon the slaver’s death. George Washington, for example, did this. Thomas Jefferson did not, passing possession of two hundred or so souls onto his heirs.

The worst sins of the historical characters in 1776 is that they are a bit laconic and playfully lascivious.

Enter Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cultural juggernaut that is Hamilton. Inspired by biography and history, Miranda has single-handedly retrieved the least-known or least-understood of the “founding fathers” from obscurity by creating a vast and complex narrative which begs repeated listening. Most of us cannot hope to attend the production at the Richard Rogers Theatre, and have spent the past several months listening to the soundtrack, which weaves rap,hip-hop and R&B into traditional but staggeringly effective modern showtunes.

Part of the appeal of Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton is how unapologetic the character is. In fact, he is the diametric opposite of that, he refuses to apologize for anything.

What is a legacy?

Recently I purchased the soundtrack to In The Heights. Without question a very well-written show, fun to listen to, and inspiring. It is important that Latino/a voices are being heard, on Broadway, that musical styles never before presented were in the mix, the faces, the accents, the names. It deserved to and received the Tony Award for Best Musical that it received.

Miranda wrote the music and lyrics for In The Heights. He also wrote the music, lyrics and book for Hamilton.

Hamilton is a fucking monster.

My children listen to it, all the time, it is on before school and whenever we get into the car. My thirteen year-old daughter listens to it when she’s doing her homework, every single day. My ten year-old son is working very hard to memorize every single word -- especially the cabinet meetings, the boy loves the cabinet meetings.

Several of the girl's friends are on board, and my wife sees her students sharing earbuds to listen between classes. I would into the office of one of my work colleagues to drop off paperwork, she's listening to Hamilton. I keep seeing friends and colleagues surprise me on Instagram with their selfies at the Richard Rogers.

What is the difference between these two Miranda shows, or in fact between Hamilton and virtually any other Broadway show that has created a kind of widespread, “crossover” appeal that hasn’t been seen since perhaps the original production of Hair?

I think it's all the history.

Doctoral theses will be written, have been, are being as we speak, to be sure. My question is this; what is it about history which at once lends drama instant gravitas, but also compels great writers to reach deeper, go farther - and provides us the freedom to move along wherever it will take us?

The best example I can think of is The Crucible. Not a critically well-received drama when it was first produced, though it did win awards. But with that one play Miller reached far outside of himself to find the humanity in an arcane historical event and created the piece which I believe will stand the test of time, greater than All My Sons, greater than Death of a Salesman.

In one thousand years, Salesman may seem as obscure as The Women of Trāchis. But we will still be performing The Crucible, and it will play as fresh as it did in 1953, or as it remains today. Who is John Proctor? Who is Alexander Hamilton?

Well, he’s me, isn’t he? And who are you? Who are you? Who are you?

… Not Yet

There was a recent bit of unpleasantness regarding the open call audition for the national touring production of Hamilton. They were looking for “Non-White Actors” and said so, causing scores of melanin-deprived individuals to get the vapors. “Colorblind” casting is one thing, but to show blatant preference against a single race? This feeling of being treated unfairly just because of my skin?

White people cannot comprehend the idea of not being allowed to have something they want.

The fallout was that, in spite of several prominent examples of AEA productions which called specifically for “white actors” the call for actors for the tour was changed to a more inclusive, “performers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.” In that way they are free to do what casting directors have done for centuries, and simply disregard any performer they feel does not suit the production.

At long last, white American actors will know what it feels like to "Audition While Black."

The non-white make-up of the original cast of Hamilton is, of course, part of what makes it unique. Miranda has said as much, that this is America today, representing America as it began.

It is that opportunity for creative representation which makes theater unique. The boy and I watched the movie Gettysburg last month, and while it strives for historical accuracy, the beards are a little difficult to take. Historical film wants to be accurate. The stage is all about the suspension of disbelief.

Recently I recounted an incident in which I debated with stranger about a production of The Crucible at the Cleveland Play House which featured a mixed-race cast. Watching an African-American actor perform John Proctor apparently disturbed this man a great deal, which I simply do not get. He saw a black man, I saw John Proctor.

Theater has always been a representation of reality and not an exact replica the thing itself. Anyone can play anything, if they play it well enough. Is appreciating this a generational thing? My children love the actors, singers and rappers who perform Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Hercules Mulligan (EVERYONE loves Hercules Mulligan) each of them portrayed in Hamilton by non-white performers. My children are not stupid, and they are not confused by these performances, they are aware that actual men they represent were racially European-Americans. They just love the music, the words, the voices, the personalities.

The performance of their characters by those who are not white may have confused or confounded or even offended the men they represent. But would an eighteenth century man be any less surprised or scandalized or even offended by the music and lyrics of Sherman “1776” Stone? I do not believe so.

History has its eyes on you.

Much has been written about the historical accuracy of Hamilton, Miranda is pretty up front about that. Yesterday there was a piece in theTimes about the accuracy of the politics of the piece, and how it positions Hamilton as a visionary hero and Jefferson as a villain.

Who cares. Really. This is a play. You are worried the kids are going to get their opinions on history from a Broadway musical? Sister, please, turn on the so-called news and listen to the outright lies being offered by real people. This is art and should be judged as art.

The fact is, the artistry is brilliant. The words, as blogger Tim Sniffen put it; "The words caressed my brain and flowed over my face like hot, relevant syrup." (Read the whole thing, rarely have I read professional jealousy so lovingly and hilariously expressed.) It is not a cop-out to remind everyone that art has a responsibility to reveal the TRUTH, and not to let facts get in the way.

What is exciting to me, personally, is that this is the first time my little family – wife, daughter and son – have discovered and been overwhelmingly excited by the same cultural object all at the same time. It is as new to me as it is to them, none of us are better educated than anyone else on this. I know my history, but my kids are closer to the pop culture and they are teaching me the memes the fandom, the inside jokes, the appearances on Jimmy Fallon, and everything else that comes with it in Twenty-Sixteen.

And after all, may I remind you; “I have already resolved to release my slaves"? Srsly? Don't talk to me about facts.

The Orphanage

We purchased the original cast recording in early February, less than two weeks before my father died. I remember this because he and my mother had visited one day during a snowstorm and we had a long afternoon talking. That’s what my father and I did, we talked. I was telling him about this exciting musical I was listening to, and how much I thought he would like it, because it is about American history, only I wasn’t sure he would like it because he couldn’t understand rap music. It’s not that he didn’t like rap music, it’s that he couldn’t understand the words going by so fast, and he found that frustrating.

The following Friday morning, I had just gotten out of the shower and received a call that he had suffered a massive heart attack, and that it looked bad and that I should get to the hospital as soon as possible. I learned later that it was far too late, but I dressed as fast as I could and drove across town and found myself suddenly, quietly blurt out, “stay alive …” and almost immediately wishing I hadn’t.

The days and weeks that followed we listened to the cast album, and I mean a lot. There have been and there continue to be a lot of drives between Cleveland Heights and Lakewood, and each time the kids ask if we can listen to Hamilton. I mean, my butt hasn't even hit the driver's seat and my daughter says, "Hamilton."

So, to this guy, the sense of emotional emergency, and its aftermath, are all tied up in that period. Like my association between 1776 and the Bicentennial, I will always remember the events surrounding my father's death and discovering these songs.

And it is because of my father that I cannot make it through the closing song (Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story) without breaking into tears. After two hours of listening to his enemies - and even he, himself - describe Hamilton as an orphan, and also bastard and whoreson, the poignancy of his wife Eliza’s greatest gift, the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York (today Graham Windham) resonates deeply.

Because, you see, my father was also given up by his birth mother. My father was an orphan. And I can’t help it. In this song, I see him. I see him every time.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Hate This: Fifteen Years On

Don't you think I'm looking older?
As the new year began, I was struck by all the unique milestones, personal and public, that lay in our way in 2016. My daughter was to become a teenager. Shakespeare’s First Folio would be visiting Cleveland (and all those Republicans.) We would elect a new president.

I was also aware that our first child, stillborn in 2001, would turn fifteen. On the tenth anniversary of the events described in my solo performance, I Hate This, that play and a companion piece were produced at Cleveland Public Theatre. It was rewarding to expand upon the play in that way, and have the opportunity to widen the scope of what stories I could tell in a single evening.

For this birthday, however, I wanted to reconnect with I Hate This on its own. But how best to proceed? I considered intimate, private performances, maybe even hosted in my own house, or someone else’s house. Maybe a string of them, a series of appearances for an audience of ten at a time. Perhaps one day I will still attempt that.

I was actually about the abandon the idea. We were putting together The Secret Adversary tour, and soon I would need to begin rehearsals for a forty-minute abridgment of Twelfth Night we will be presenting as part of the First Folio proceedings. It just wasn’t the right time, you know? You can always tell yourself it isn’t the right time.

Then two things happened. First, my father died, and life itself took on a startling new dimension for me. Preparing a memorial service, physical contact with a deceased and beloved family member, making decisions you never imagined you would be called upon to make ... so much that had been buried into the past returned to the surface.

And shortly following that, I was accepted into the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, which I greatly wished to attend, but scarcely had the money to pay for. It made perfect sense to accomplish two goals at once, raise funds in exchange for which I would offer an entirely relevant premium -- my work. I would remount this play, with purposeful intent.

We have put together a production team, with Josh Brown adapting the multimedia he created for the CPT production (2011) and we will be including Dennis Yurich’s original score from 2003, which is now appropriately period.

Most significantly, I have asked Chennelle Bryant-Harris to re-stage the work. She has worked three seasons as an actor-teacher in the residency program, and we collaborated as co-directors for the Love In Pieces project two years ago. She is a talented, young director who will bring a fresh perspective to the work. Significantly, I suggest, for at least one important reason - unlike my previous collaborators, she wasn’t there. She did not know me then. Her experience is based entirely by what I set on the page, and so my words have to do much more work.

During the past two years I have watched with fascination as two other men have taken on the role, John Dayton and Brian Cook. Their interpretations gave me an opportunity to think of the text in new ways, have liberated me from thinking there was one way to perform this show. It’s my show, to be sure, but I was locked into a delivery, a certain cadence and choreography, which was established almost from the first reading in August, 2002.

When I polled friends on Facebook as to whether anyone would care to see either this play or And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years) again, Brian P. commented, “I'd be more interested to see how time and the vicissitudes of life has affected your approach to (I Hate This).”

So would I, Brian. So would I.

Click here to visit my GoFundMe page and make a donation and reserve your seat to see "I Hate This" on May 7!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Nineteen Eighty-Nine

Part two in an ongoing examination of the best year in musical history.

See Nineteen Eighty-Nine Part One.

Oranges & Lemons - XTC Some guy writing for Rolling Stone suggested that if Skylarking was XTC's Sergeant Pepper's, the Oranges and Lemons certainly follows as their White Album. Skylarking may have been the epitome of XTC's work, completing the transition from the somewhat clumsy after-punks of White Music (which features some great songs in which frontman Andy Partridge sounds unhappily uncomfortable) to the Beatles tribute band they had always desired to be.

The friends who had originally turned me on to XTC weren't thrilled with Oranges & Lemons, and it does have some unlistenable tracks, notably the heavy-handed President Kill Again and the not very clever Pink Thing which is, I shit you not, a poppy love song to a penis.

However, these are two false notes in an otherwise brilliant collection of tunes which landed just as spring was breaking for this young man about to turn twenty. And the thing actually had singles! Singles which charted, somewhat!

Speaking of spring break, I spent mine driving solo to Panama Beach and back, smoking cigarettes, chugging Diet Pepsi, driving well over the speed limit through the Deep South, and listening to this cassette over and over (which is what you did with cassettes) enjoying the metaphysically sexy punch of The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Mayor of Simpleton, the angry young manly introspection and doubt of One of the Millions and Miniature Sun, or the outright screamingly arrogant and cynical rage of Scarecrow People and Across This Antheap.

Oranges & Lemons is a fine thinking man's whine.

3 Feet High and Rising - De La Soul For white kids from the suburbs, we got into hip-hop pretty early. We had memorized Rapper's Delight before Blondie's Rapture had even been released, and not the other way around. Ditto, La Di Da Di. By the time the Beastie Boys emerged, we were keen enough to appreciate that License To Ill was meant as parody.

Rap had already been through many phases by the end of its first decade, from block party to the message to the frat party and on through my introduction to the biography of Malcolm X via the works of Chuck D, rap music had for the most part been an education, a look into a world in which I was entirely unschooled.

De La Soul was the, what, fifth wave of hip-hop? Sixth? Nerdy Tribal Retro Academic. Sampling as trippy modern art, lifting not merely funk and soul but 60s psychedelia and children's records. I was yet too callow to "get" it, but every track was an education. Every track still is.

Which reminds me, I need to go back and watch School Daze.

The gateway drug to Native Tongues, thank you Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Q-Tip will never age. Phife Dawg, rest in peace. Also, lyrics. Also, too, comedy. I wish my cousin Nag was here, he knows these things, no, I'm sorry I don't.

Pretty Hate Machine - Nine Inch Nails No, I am not that cool. I did not purchase Trent Reznor's first album when it was released in fall of 1989. I cannot claim to have seen him perform at the Phantasy in Cleveland, I was at school. But this is another example of how the last year of that decade was the greatest in music history.


My introduction was in 1991 on KROQ in Los Angeles and picked up a copy at Tower Records. This first album (ticky ticky ticky thump) came at just the right moment, clearly articulating a sense of self-loathing and unhappiness with something edgy enough to feel dirty but in reality much like disco.

You should hear the Purest Feeling demos. Some of it sounds like Madonna.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Last Frontier Theatre Conference

Because in those days I had a yearning to go to Alaska.
- Willy Loman, "Death of a Salesman"
Founded in 1993, the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, presented in partnership with Prince William Sound College, is a weeklong event which features performances, staged readings and workshops, providing emerging playwrights the opportunity to receive valuable feedback from professional and often prestigious playwrights, directors, producers, academics and critics.

In Valdez, Alaska. The LFTC takes place in Valdez, Alaska, in June. And I’m going.

Notable playwrights who have been honored or have attended have included many whose last names alone are recognizable, like Miller, Albee, Kushner, and Wilson (both.)

Me, I wrote something I had been thinking about for years, it spilled out maybe two years ago, I have had a couple of readings and wanted to try it out. Among several of its offerings, LFTC has a “Play Lab” in which you will have one rehearsal and then a staged reading which will be attended by a trio of special guests who will comment on your work. I chose to submit my new play to LFTC in August 2015, and almost immediately received an email from director Dawson Moore. Not an acceptance email, but one he no doubt sends to every applicant who does not live in the great Northwest.

The gist was, “Really?” As in, so you've applied to our theater conference via email. Did you notice that we are in Alaska?

My response was not as ridiculous as it seems. “Hey man, I’ve been to Alaska.” I’ve even been to Valdez, though admittedly, it was part of a cruise the wife and I took for our Honeymoon in 1999. But I can fathom the vast distances, the miles, the expense. Yeah, if accepted, sure.

See? I been to Valdez.
Last month, shortly after my father died (I mean, just ten days after my father died) I got the message. “Congratulations, David.” It read. “Your play The Way I Danced With You has been accepted for inclusion in the Play Lab at the 24th Annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference.

“I hope you will be able to join us.”

Indeed. I hoped so, too.

It took a little time. Summer is busy, but work and family have been extremely supportive, and I am definitely going. The folks on the Facebook page have been very helpful and informative. I can expect a bit of roughing it - not exactly camping, but I may be lying on the floor of a college dorm in a sleeping bag in a room with at least two other people. Theater people.

I will also be attending others’ readings, produced productions, workshop and seminars, dinners with complete strangers, perhaps a glacier cruise (included!) and generally hobnobbing with a gang of writers and other theater people, none of whom I have ever met before in my life. It's thrilling, It's intimidating.

First things first, this will take some cash and I intend to do a bit of fundraising. However, to that end I am working to provide a very special premium - a performance of I Hate This.

It was my intention to perform the show again this year, as the events in question occurred fifteen years ago. I haven’t presented I Hate This in five years, but have been inspired by subsequent productions by others in Manchester and Oneonta. After father died, it suddenly seemed even more important. Then I got the call, and now it also seems practical.

Here’s the thing. Soon I will create crowdsourced fundraiser. There will be one premium; a ticket to the show, which will occur in early May. Details to come. I hope I see you there.