Friday, November 17, 2017

The Santaland Diaries (2017)

Photo by Steve Wagner
It happened last month in a cottage in Yalding, England, where I received an email from Beth Wood at Cleveland Public Theatre, asking if I would not like to perform the stage adaptation of The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris and Joe Mantello.

For several years now, CPT has produced this holiday favorite. The Santaland Diaries is one of the most produced plays in America, and has consistently been for over a decade, so much so that American Theatre magazine has stopped including it in their annual list of most-produced plays.

Actors who have played the role in Cleveland include Ray Caspio, Kevin Joseph Kelly and (for Bad Epitaph) Curtis D. Proctor.

I was excited to have been asked. So, I have spent the past several weeks rehearsing with director Eric Schmeidl, who played the role of "Crumpet the Elf" himself for CPT three years ago. I love working with Eric, who has previously directed me in The Velocity of Autumn at Beck Center, and Night Bloomers for Dobama.

When I first announced the production and my place in it on Facebook the other day, I was delighted by the strong and happy response. I was inspired to put out a call for questions, because folks were so curious about my finally playing Crumpet the Elf. Here are my responses.

Q: Explain the juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy in this this line; "Today a child told Santa Ken that he wanted his dead father back and a complete set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everyone wants those turtles."

A: Actually, Donald, I think the line speaks for itself. The line you should be asking about is; "I am a thirty-three year-old man applying for a job as an elf," and how exactly I am going to play that when I am certainly long past thirty-three. 

For this production, and in fact when Eric himself performed the role in 2014, there is a set piece which makes it clear this play takes place in the past -- 1989, to be exact -- and that we are treating it as a memory play.

When first produced in Cleveland at Bad Epitaph Theatre in 1999, we tried updating the couple line. The boy wanted Pokemon cards. When I directed the show at Beck Center in 2002 the boy wanted a "SpongeBob SquarePants BackPack. Everybody loves SpongeBob.

You have to admit, "Everybody loves SpongeBob," is a funny thing to say. But now we leave the line as is.

Q: Have you seen David Sedaris in person and what did you think?

A: Good question, David. Sedaris read at the Ohio Theatre in 2000 when he was promoting his collection of essays "Me Talk Pretty One Day." He was on a certain medication and at one point had to ask the audience if it was all right to take a much needed pee-break, and we all thought that was fine.

Q: What's your favorite emoticon?

A: ūüéÖ

Q: Reflect on being a writer who creates and performs autobiographical one-person shows performing another writer's autobiographical one-person shows.

A: Insightful query, Phil. Yes, I have written and performed my own solo shows, "I Hate This" and "And Then You Die." Standing on stage and talking for an hour without interruption is not unfamiliar to me. Those who are close me are no doubt aware that sitting in bars and talking for an hour without interruption is also not unfamiliar to me. 

It is perhaps because of these stage experiences that, while I had a few concerns about whether to accept the offer, actually being able to perform the piece wasn't one of them. I have at least that much ego.

Performing someone else's story, especially one as lighthearted as this, is particularly liberating. I just need to say the words and it's funny. Sedaris is really good that way. But it is also a thrill channeling my own feelings through the words. I don't have to play a character. Just as with those other solo plays, I still get to be myself. 

Q: Compare and contrast your Crumpet with Eric Schmiedl's Crumpet. I'm assuming you have seen Eric Schmiedl's Crumpet, yes?

A: No.

Q: How did you levitate that box (see photo)?

A: Well, Carolyn, how do you know that box is not slowly floating down into my loving arms, like a drunken cherub? 

Q: Have you ever actually worked in a retail store during the holiday season?

A: Thanks for asking, Nina, though your use of the word "actually" makes me a little defensive. 

I am happy to report that almost every Christmas season since 1991, I have been employed by one theater company or another. This means my holiday contributions to society have included productions like "Stealing Christmas" (Karamu 1991), "The Wayward Angel" (Bad Epitaph 2000), "Adventures In Slumberland" (Talespinner Children's Theatre, 2013), educational programs surrounding Great Lakes Theater's annual production of "A Christmas Carol" and that Yuletide favorite, "Simpatico" by Sam Shepard (Dobama Theatre, 1995).

However, during my college years I had several holiday jobs in mail rooms, wholesale outlet stores, performing data entry, and packaging and labeling volatile chemicals. I have also had my turn as a server at several restaurants, but have never "actually" worked retail during the holiday season.  

Q: What's with the knickers?

A: Yes, Halle. The knickers are satiny and very comfortable.

Q: Where?

A: The Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Susan! See you there!

(Many thanks to Blayne, Bob, Carolyn, David, Donald, Halle, Nina, Phil, and Susan for all the great questions!)

Cleveland Public Theatre presents "The Santaland Diaries" at the Outcalt Theatre in Playhouse Square, December 6 - 17, 2017

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Friend Dahmer (film)

Local comics legend Derf (see: The City) composed a cartoon memoir of his high school years in the late 1970s and his association with serial murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.

That book, My Friend Dahmer has gone on to international acclaim, been translated into a several languages, and on Friday a motion-picture adaptation starring Ross Lynch as Dahmer goes into general release.

Derf has been and will be accused of cashing in on a horrific tragedy, but that charge can more reasonably be made of previous made-for-TV films which capitalized on the gruesome and inhuman acts performed by Dahmer during the years of his crimes. This story has as much to do with the psychology of a would-be-but-not-yet killer as with the world which fostered his desires and compulsions, and provided the opportunity to make his fantasies come to fruition.

As one of the more self-pitying members of Generation X, I have loudly and at length whined about the disastrous effect the 1970s had on its children, when media was skewed entirely toward the interests of rising Baby Boomers. Our television programs and films churned out tales of easy sex, transient relationships, and graphic violence, while popular music dwelt on maudlin thoughts and liberal mores, and no one was looking after the kids.

From "My Friend Dahmer" the graphic novel by Derf
Two months ago I surprised the wife for her birthday by taking her to a sold-out, pre-release screening at the Cleveland Cinematheque. I am excited for Derf, and hope My Friend Dahmer, the film, receives the attention I believe it deserves.

The film captures that late 70s mood without fetishizing it, as so many contemporary films do. The suburban torpor of a nation in decline, and the effect that has on its citizens, especially the young people is on full display.

Derf has often suggested that his book is an indictment of the adults who failed in their responsibility, providing no oversight, and in this way allowing a neglected, alienated monster to come to life. Dahmer may have been destined, either through fate or natural design, to become a murderous sociopath. But why did no one see the signs?

The screenwriter and director Marc Meyers made the decision not to employ a narrator. Derf comments on the proceedings in his novel through the use of captions, and in this way he himself leads us through the narrative. We are never alone with Jeffrey Dahmer. Without narration, Dahmer's increasing isolation from humanity (portrayed hauntingly by Lynch) is ours to witness in isolation.

It is this emotional connection -- not sympathy, which is feeling, but empathy, which is understanding -- that makes the final scene of the film so chilling. I won't spoil it for you. It's enough to say that in any other film, it would be moment of triumph, and of celebration. Our main character finally knows who he is.

And he is free.

"My Friend Dahmer" makes its Cleveland premiere at the Capitol Theatre next Friday, November 10, 2017.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Assessment

It has been two years since I wrote an assessment, which has been a useful tool to reassure myself that, in spite of any sense of inertia, the work continues.

Last week there was a reading of These Are The Times which was very productive, and when I have a moment I will be able to tweak a few things and then, if you can imagine, I will finally be able to begin the submission process. And it only took eight years!

Meanwhile, I composed a piece for Grand Rounds: Four 10-Minute Plays, which will be performed on December 6th at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage as part of the exhibit Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews In Medicine.

Just yesterday I was a "Writer In the Window" at Appletree Books, brainstorming a writing collaboration with my colleague Chennelle which will make its formative debut in early 2018, and tomorrow evening rehearsals begin for a play I will be performing in, to be announced.

Basically, after months feeling a bit adrift, November is packed. Suddenly, I have no time. And you know what? That is a good thing. When I am pressed I am most productive, which is stupid but there it is.

What is not good is how I have almost entirely stopped exercising. Nerve pain has made working out this past summer less than fun, but the fact is I have not gone for a run in over a month. Seriously, October 1 was my last time out. I haven't run so little since 2011, when I was taking antidepressants.

But the kids are all right. My education work is meaningful and sustaining. What I most need is to (literally) get off my ass, and move.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (documentary)

Lonny Price, Ann Morrison and Jim Walton
(Merrily We Roll Along, 1981)
A documentary on the creation of Hamilton would, of course, be very exciting, especially if you are a fan of Hamilton.

But it wouldn't have much of a dramatic arc, would it? Acclaimed young theater artist sets out to create a musical based on the life of a little-regarded figure from American history ... and he succeeds.

Wouldn't you be more interested in the creation of Moose Murders?

Well, they haven't made that film yet. But I remember seeing Moon Over Broadway, the Pennebaker/Hegedus documentary about the creation of Ken Ludwig's farce, Moon Over Buffalo. That production, though an eventual success, was initially hampered by set-backs and interpersonal tension which makes for compelling backstage drama.

Netflix, which has apparently cornered the market on quirky, at-home theatrical events like the Disney musical Newsies and Oh Hello On Broadway, has made available Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened. Directed by Lonny Price, this is a film about the original and ill-fated 1981 production of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. Mr. Price knows a great deal on the subject, as he was one of that production's starring performers.

Time has been extremely kind to Merrily We Roll Along, and several Sondheim's standards were created for it, including "Old Friends," "Our Time," and "Not a Day Goes By."

Adapted from the 1931, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart classic of the same name, the story follows the lives of a trio of friends, writers and performers, from aspirational youth to jaded success and disappointment-- only going backwards, scene by scene, from middle-age to college graduation.

Sondheim's musical follows this same reverse-chronological timeline. As if that conceit weren't challenging enough, the Broadway premiere of was cast with a team of very young performers, to play aged at the beginning of the play, and younger as they go.

When the production closed after only sixteen performances, we can lament the end of the professional team of Stephen Sondheim and director Hal Prince … but you know they've done just fine. What of the company, the eldest only twenty-five, and some as young as sixteen?

Joseph Dunn
(These Are The Times, 2013)
Their lives in the time since may provide meaningful solace to those given to regret of the road not traveled. The lead performers went on to good lives as actors, educators, and journalists … but even Merrily company member Jason Alexander, featured performer in the wildly successful sit-com Seinfeld, even he has regrets over the failure of this important first work in their careers.

I was describing the documentary to my twelve year-old son as I walked him to the bus stop this morning. "Huh," he said. "Sounds like the plot of the musical."

Tomorrow night I host a private reading of a newly revised version of These Are The Times, my Cleveland history play which received a workshop at Cleveland Public Theatre almost five years ago.

The first act of Times is presented as a Federal Theater Project “Living Newspaper,” presenting the events of 1936 -- and in the 2013 workshop these events also occur in reverse-chronological order, as in Kaufman & Hart’s Merrily We Roll Along, which was produced at the Cleveland Play House that year. There's even a reference to the Play House production during one scene in the act, as if explaining that show would give the conceit additional clarity.

“It’s just too complicated to tell a story backwards,” laments Hal Prince in Best Worst Thing.

In the newly revised version, my first act now proceeds in proper chronological order. Note taken, Mr. Prince. Note taken.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shakespeare On Stage

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
with Magdalyn Donnelly & Anne McEvoy
Great Lakes Theater
I am tired of Shakespeare.

Not tired of his work, that I am still quite fond of. I am tired of William Shakespeare, the man. A man about whom we know less than we know about any other individual about whom we have decided it is important to know things.

We know where he was born (not exactly when, though) when he died, a little bit about his family, and that he wrote thirty-eight plays. Respectable scholars are even still debating about that last bit.

For someone about whom we know nothing, there is an ever-expanding industry in making shit up about him. Each biography gets fatter than the last, containing greater amounts of conjecture, and the slightest potential new discovery turns out to be inconsequential or downright fantasy.

Someone found a painting in Canada twenty years ago of a young man, the artifact carbon-dated to the late 16th century. Bares a slight resemblance to Shakespeare, must be him.

More recently, however, is the cottage industry in stage plays, films or TV shows in which Shakespeare the man is a character. It began, more or less, with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote not one but two plays featuring the Bard in a lead role.

Oh, look. Shaw is lecturing.
Shakes vs. Shav (1949) is a ten-minute script which was written to be performed by marionette puppets in which the two famous playwrights argue over who is the better writer.

The Frogs, adapted from Aristophanes by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove in 1974, stole the "Shakespeare-against-Shaw" debate conceit entirely, drawing it out and making it much less amusing. But I digress.

Decades earlier Shaw wrote The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1910) which was created expressly to promote the idea of England creating a federally-funded theater, which they eventually did with the National Theatre, though Shaw never lived to see it.

Dark Lady runs about a half-hour, and presents a blocked Shakespeare creeping around the streets of London after hours, searching for his mistress (about whom he writes in the Sonnets) and stealing inspiring snatches of dialogue from passersby for use in his future works. He eventually runs into not only his “dark lady” but also a sleepwalking Queen Elizabeth I, whom he first mistakes for his love. Comedy ensues.

The last third of this short play concerns Will’s efforts to persuade the Queen to establish what he calls a “national theater.” Most of the wit, however, involves the phrases uttered by the night watchman, the “dark lady” and the Queen herself -- familiar from Shakespeare’s canon-- which the frustrated playwrights jots down in a notebook for inclusion in his plays later. So the comedy depends upon these lines being familiar to the audience.

Mr. Shakespeare
Are you familiar with the phrase, “Frailty, thy name is woman”?

Perhaps you are.

“All the perfumes of Arabia”?

Yes, no? What is it from?

How about, “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles”?

No, of course you aren’t. Even I had to look that up.

Great Lakes produced Dark Lady for the outreach tour in 2006, and I played the role of Shakespeare. This was not a stretch, I had been playing the role of “Mr. Shakespeare” as a promotional gimmick for the company for two years by that point, making public appearances at art festival and rib cook-offs. I was their “unofficial mascot” for seven years. The costume shop created for me a beautiful, velvet doublet in the company’s signature purple.

The thing I learned performing Dark Lady … it isn’t funny. I mean, it would be, if the audience were composed entirely of those well-versed in the canon. Ever see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)? It’s not funny because of references to Shakespeare. It’s funny because there’s a stoner in a dress and they rap Othello.

Actually, Complete Works isn’t funny, either. But I digress.

But therein lies the problem with plays about Shakespeare. We know nothing about him, we feign familiarity with him through his work, and inevitably we lean on the work itself to carry the narrative the pathos, and the humor.

Yeah, I saw Something Rotten. It’s funny, if it’s funny, because of the song about musicals. But "Will Power" is really painful to sit through. I know the idea of Shakespeare as a rock star is the joke, but is it? There’s this pretentious notion, flouted by complete nerds, that the man from Stratford was some kind of celebrity in his own time. Listening to Adam Pascal (who played him at the Palace) growl through “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” like some kind of Jim Morrison or something isn’t funny, it’s embarrassing.

It’s like that SNL sketch where Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a substitute teacher at a high school, determined to turn the kids onto how cool Shakespeare is, and they’ve heard it all before.


That’s actually part of a play I wrote once for an educational outreach tour, comparing verse to rap music. It was very awful and I will never mention it again.

Which brings us to the most produced American play of the 2017-18 season (as determined by American Theater) Shakespeare In Love, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.



As in the film, this is a purely fictionalized tale of a young William Shakespeare, like so many of us in the mid-90s (in his case, the 1590s) slacking and suffering writer’s block. He’s trying to write a new play titled Romeo & Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. A great deal of the charm and interest hangs on seeing Shakespeare as fallible, flawed, with the same passions and potential for falling short as the rest of us. Kind of the way he’s represented in The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

He has to work at writing, it doesn’t come easy. The best stuff is taken whole cloth from someone else (kind of like in Dark Lady) in this case usually Kit Marlowe.

Rhys Ifan as Edward de Vere
Anonymous (2011)
And just as with Dark Lady, over one hundred years earlier, much humor is dependent upon the audience being well-versed in Shakespeare. When I was in an audience for the Cleveland Play House production they definitely enjoyed the dog, while somewhat familiar Shakespearean allusions  bounced awkwardly off their heads in silence.

When Will is asked for new pages of the script and he promises them “tomorrow and tomorrow” and his producer adds, “... and tomorrow?” there was a general is somewhat delayed chuckle of recognition and the woman behind me tittered, mumbling, “heh heh, ‘creeps in this petty pace…’”

I turned around and said, “oh, you got that one?”

Now, I enjoyed the film of Shakespeare In Love, too. But I also enjoyed Anonymous, which tells an alternative history based on a popular conspiracy theory that the works of Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, a nobleman about whom there is a deep and rich biography available. A man who was actually once captured by pirates.

HE WAS CAPTURED BY PIRATES.

My colleagues who abhor such theories dismiss that film out of hand, because it’s utter nonsense. One critic even pointed out that a flashback from the mid-1500s featuring the young de Vere performing a scene from “his” A Midsummer Night’s Dream was preposterous because there is no possible way Dream could have been written before the early 1590s.

Yeah, well? Shakespeare In Love is how the man from Stratford created the story to Romeo & Juliet, based on his own personal romantic experiences, when Arthur Brooke’s poem "Romeus and Juliet" had been in heavy circulation since 1562, and even that is not the original tale.

But Shakespeare In Love is a comedy, Anonymous is meant to be taken seriously.

Really. Is it?

Shakespeare In Love
Charlie Thurston as Will Shakespeare
Cleveland Play House
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
But what about the children, they cry. Someone might see Anonymous and think that it’s true. Yes, and I am sure there are those who believe Shakespeare In Love is true -- not in it’s every particular, but in the larger sense that the playwright and poet William Shakespeare was charming, passionate, and had lots of friends. Only he didn't.

The real reason people want to believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays is because he is the kind of exciting character we want William Shakespeare to be. Only he wasn't.

Couldn't we at least, then, present the unfaithful horn dog in Shakespeare In Love, a man who spends far more time partying and having sex than actually writing, as the opportunistic, litigious, status-obsessed striver with the weak chin, beady-eyes and receding hairline that the available historical record makes evident?

Instead we get another fictional yet admittedly extremely handsome, roguish-yet-self-effacing charmer, like the one who played him in the CPH production, pictured here, resplendent in his beautiful, velvet doublet.

Wait. Where did you get that doublet?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hurricane (song)

Let us now sing the praises of the lighting designer.

The most mercurial of theatrical craftspersons, the light designer, put simply, illuminates the space. This was an element of stagecraft of which I was entirely ignorant as I entered college. I had literally never considered what if any thought went into the lighting of a stage -- and I had even directed plays in high school. Someone else took care of it for me, and I remained uneducated.

I thought you just, well. Turned on the lights.

Light design was a course I took my freshman year and I began to understand color and shape and their countless variation. I learned what a gel was, could tell the difference between a Leko and a Fresnel (and how to pronounce them.) I developed a fetish for gobos. But my appreciation for light has been slow. It is always the very last thing I think of.

Touring I Hate This the very first thing I did was get rid of the bed special, a rectangular light which would appear when my character was in the hospital, and disappear when he wasn’t. It was impractical for such a basic tour. Video I needed, and sound. But just turn the lights on, a general wash, that will be fine. Light design is a luxury.

When Double Heart went from touring to the New York Fringe, someone reminded me that the tour never employs a light designer (general wash, please) and that we would need one for the Connelly. Couldn’t we just use some other show’s plot? Seriously, I wanted to get away with that. Lucky for me I’d met Cris a few years earlier, a professional designer living in New York and he was able and amenable not only to do the work, but made us all look so much lovelier in the production.

Double Heart tech rehearsal
Light design by Cris Dopher
Watching Hamilton at the Richard Rogers last summer was a bit of a blur, not least of which because we were seated high in the galleries, but the light made me see and appreciate a trope which got by me when first listening to the score, that of the eye.

The set for the production is deceptive in its simplicity, it is a big, open room. Tables and chairs are brought in, sometimes the mere suggestions of tables - a board held by company members - and so the light has a lot to do to set mood, to isolate areas of the stage, and people. And there are those two turntables which sweep people and set pieces around the stage, sometimes quite fast. The action swirls, and light swirls with it.

In the first act, when Washington first sings history has its eyes on me, the turntable is ringed with blue, but the unlit (black) center shrinks, and you realize you are seeing a great eye, the pupil constricting.

In the second act, this effect is mirrored when Hamilton sings “Hurricane.”

This used to be my least favorite song on the recording. There’s always that song in the second act, the low-point song (and yes, I know the show goes lower) which is slow, reflective, and usually, somnabulant. Lin-Manuel Miranda has a fine voice, but speaking honestly I feel he wrote this one for someone else to sing.

Lucky for us, someone else did sing it the night we were there, the incomparable Javier Mu√Īoz, and it was downright operatic. But if the singing raised my estimation of the song and its place in the production, the choreography - and the light - gave the words the emotional weight which was intended.

As Hamilton is struggling with his choices as he confronts a potentially career-ending scandal, he recalls his childhood in St. Croix, and the hurricane which nearly destroyed the city. “In the eye of a hurricane,” he sings, “there is quiet - for just a moment. A yellow sky.”

The eye returns, a sickly yellow, dilating, slowly rotating circle. As he describes the chaos and destruction of the disaster, a tragedy whose record he created as a young teenager, and which record created the conditions for his education in colonial America, company members hoist and hold props and furniture - tables, quills, chairs, books, paper - and people, slowly and unnaturally held in the air and swept around the circle, caught in the maelstrom. Helpless.

The hurricanes come, and we prepare for them as best we can. What follows after is the definition of how successful and competent we are as a civilization. The current administration was swift to respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck Texas and Florida, respectively. But Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the American territory of Puerto Rico has been shamefully slow.

When President Trump chose to rage-tweet at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for criticizing these efforts, Miranda - the son of native Puerto Ricans - jumped into the fray.


This was surprising, because the artist is notably polite, positive, and generous on Twitter. After the curtain speech for Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, Miranda kept his cool, telling Terry Gross:
“I don’t get engage in a tweet battle with anybody. Twitter is optional, y'all!” 
It is a fine show of character not to respond to personal insults directed at one’s self. But the president’s drawing politics into this humanitarian crisis was apparently a step too far, and Miranda’s response has made headlines.

You, too, can assist, Miranda has been promoting the Hispanic Federation, which has two funds that are going directly to on-the-ground relief in both Puerto Rico, and also in response to Mexico’s recent devastating earthquake. Donate today.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

How I Spent My Summer (2017)

Raising Cairn
Celeste Roberge, 2000
Portland Museum of Art
As summers go, this past was not as historic, nor as creatively productive. We won no basketball championships, directed no productions of Shakespeare, attended no theater festivals, nor were we present for the nomination of a tyrant.

I wrote no new plays.

But summers are important, they always have been and for different reasons. I still work, to be sure, but this is when vacations are had, and my wife and I do strive to make the most of those brief moments as we can. Once it was because our children needed attention and occupation, and now it is becoming increasingly apparent our summers with them as children are running out.

And she wonders why I am depressed this week.

Humming
Jaume Plensa, 2011
deCordova Scultpure Garden
The first major journey was to attend, and in my case, to officiate, a wedding for my wife’s cousin and his beautiful bride. Perhaps you didn’t know I am an ordained minister, but seriously, who isn’t these days? I needed to register with the state to conduct ceremonies in Ohio, in Illinois they don’t ask. Are you in good standing with your church? Well, you better be, that’s the only thing they have to say about it.

We turned this delightful event, held in Aurora, into an extended stay in the Chicagoland. Funny, I set one of my recent works in suburban Chicago, though I’d never really spent any time there. Just research. Passing through and investigating those sites I thought appropriate, I was not disappointed. I tried to imagine my characters there. They must have been happy once.

The weather in Chicago was perfect, we did the architecture tour, saw the Neo-Futurists, spent a whole day at the Museum of Science and Industry. I had my own memories of that place from when I was a kid, I was probably there more for myself them for them.

A Sunday Afternoon On
the Island of La Grande Jette

Georges Seurat, 1886
Chicago Institute of Art
In July, I bought a new car.

Our schedule fell out so that we needed to be in town by August 1 for my daughter to begin soccer practice, so we barely got Boy Camp in before it was time to leave for the east coast, this year spending several days in Salem, MA before continuing on to Friendship.

Between the Art Institute back in Chicago and the deCordova and Peabody Essex in Massachusetts, we spent much leisurely time at art museums, both indoor and out. Our time in Maine, however, was brief. Before long we were heading back, a stop in Concord to meet friends and check out the grave sites of famous authors before making our way back home.

Throughout the summer there were macaroni and cheese topped burgers at the Speedtrap Diner, deep dish at Navy Pier, drop-dead ramen at Kokeshi, and our favorite waiter at Congress Bar & Grill. Also, I developed a strange obsession with Oh Hello, On Broadway on Netflix, which I watched at least three times.

Real Estate Goldmine
Joshua Starcher, 2017
Rooms To Let
After Maine, we still had all of August, which ended up being something of a blur, driving back and forth across the state. The truth is, a cloud has been hanging over us since the very beginning of the season, on what may have been the first unofficial day of this summer. It was a Saturday in late May, the kids were on a year-end, school-related Cedar Point trip, the wife and I had the day to ourselves and witnessed Rooms to Let in Slavic Village, the first of our many art-related summer explorations. It was while waiting for the kids to return on the bus that we received the call.

It’s personal. It’s family-related. I don’t want to go into it right now. It is enough for now to say I have been looking at things more closely at things this summer, and finding them horribly beautiful.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Salem Witch Dungeon Museum

Salem Witch Museum (2017)
Twenty-one years ago, my then-girlfriend and I were concluding her first week in Friendship, ME when my cousin asked if we had ever been to Salem. She’s just past through and was delighted by the honky-tonk; the wax museums and so-called “museums” which commemorate one of the most-shameful (perhaps only one of the first most-shameful?) moments in American history, the Salem Witch Trials.

In particular, she told us we must check out the Salem Witch Museum or the Salem Witch Dungeon -- we assumed there was only one institution called the “Witch Museum.” Not two, or as is the case today, three. Or four.

My girlfriend found a wonderful B&B and when we arrived our host was only to happy to recommend the Peabody Essex Museum, and some fine restaurants by the waterfront. When we asked about the Witch Museum her face fell with something like disgust or disappointment.

“Oh, you’re here about the witches,” she said under her breath before politely directing us toward that part of town.

In fact, it seemed back in 1996 that Salem had not truly embraced its designation as “Witch City” at least not the manner that it does today. The TV Land statue of the character Samantha from the TV program “Bewitched” was not unveiled in 2005.

But then, even the Peabody Essex, founded at the very end of the eighteenth century was much homelier than it is today, receiving a massive renovation in the early 21st century. Like a lot of cities, including ours, Salem seems to be enjoying a tourism boom.

"Bewitched" (2013)
The Salem Witch Museum is the more stately of the two tourist traps we visited two decades ago. Located right off Salem Common, the exterior is extremely visible and striking, formerly an actual church. It also has the benefit of having a large statue of the city’s founder, Roger Conant, standing high in the middle of a three-way intersection. He is dressed appropriately in the puritan fashion of his time, but his great cloak and tall hat do make him look like a witch himself.

However, the attraction itself is not particularly interesting, though it looks sharp. Crowds are ushered into the center of a large room, where a booming recorded voice complete with sound effects describes the events of 1692 while life-size, stationary panoramas depict the terrifying history. Then you exit through the largest gift shop in Salem -- and that’s saying something.

No, the big fun is to be had at the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum, which is distinctive in that it features an actual historic artifact, a single beam of wood from the actual building where members of the accused were actually imprisoned during the witch scare of 1692.

Down the less-traveled Lynde Street, the Dungeon Museum is also a former religious space, a chapel built in the late 1800s. It was to this site I imagined one day taking my children, to share with them mine and my wife’s love of bizarre roadside attractions, though the prospect did not leave me without a little hesitation.

We have passed through Salem a few times in the past several years, visiting our friend Kim, having lunch at Gulu-Gulu, and sharing with them the more respectable sites of the Peabody Essex and, this summer, the House of Seven Gables. But they’re still young and each of them have expressed a disinterest in anything approaching scary.

At least, that was until last year when the girl asked if we could go on the Spook-A-Rama at Coney Island, which she claimed to have hated having decided to do immediately upon exiting, though comments she has made during the year since have suggested otherwise.

You see, when my wife and I went to the Witch Dungeon Museum in 1996, we had a slightly different experience than what is offered today. After paying admission, we entered the chapel, where there was a theater curtain hiding the chancel. Without any fanfare, the curtain opened and the half dozen or so in attendance with us watched as two women performed a scene adapted from original court transcripts in which young Mary Warren accuses the elderly Elizabeth Procter of witchcraft.

Salem Witch Dungeon Museum (1996)
"More weight."
The first thing we really noticed was how the judge, bailiff and court spectators on stage were all ancient mannequins, posed rigid and awkwardly in their seats. They did not move nor comment throughout the proceeding.

Following the performance, the younger of the two actors stepped forward, and led us into the basement, which resembled a prison. We were informed about the historic importance of the wooden beam, and our attention was directed to various cells where we could see even more mannequins being horribly mistreated.

Then she instructed us to head down a short hallway, to take our time, and she would meet us at the other end. She then disappeared through a doorway and we were left on our own. I volunteered to go first down the hallway, peering into cell doors and windows and sure enough, at the far end of the hall, one of the mannequins wasn’t a mannequin at all, but our tour guide who suddenly put out her hands and yelled BLEAGGHH!!!

Not exactly Spook-A-Rama, but high cheese. I did wonder whether or not the girl would get a kick out of it.

What I did not expect was the very pleasant surprise that the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum has during the past generation in fact stepped up its game! There were not two, but three performers on hand, the third what you might actually consider a docent. Also dressed in period costume, she provided narration and context prior to the performance (it was the exact same amateur performance) and led us all the way through the basement “dungeon” giving an entirely respectable historical overview of the events and the persons involved.

The prison cells are still occupied by the exact same dummies we had seen in the 90s, I believe the lights have been lowered to hide the aged plaster and papier-m√Ęch√©. But we received a proper if brief education in mass-hysteria, and no poor college intern popped out from anywhere to say BOO!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Discovery (album)

Summer, 2001. We had rocked unsteadily through those first few months after the loss of our child, we had journeyed to England and back. And then there was time and plenty of it. I had to prepare for my work at Great Lakes, memorizing lines, but rehearsals wouldn’t begin until the first Tuesday in September.

My wife had written a play that was going to the New York International Fringe Festival. Angst:84 is a high school satire with an acting company of fourteen, many of whom in this cast were actual teenagers. Several were going into college that fall, others returning to high school. The summer was booked with rehearsals, dance party fundraisers and group mailings promoting same.

My job was to run sound at the festival. That’s it. Coming off my sadness and grief it was delightful to be surrounded by young people and doing youthful, fun things. In this, my wife and I were not exactly in the same place. She was game, she was not having “fun.”

At one of the mailings, the director was playing the new Daft Punk album, Discovery. No idea what hooked me so fast and so strong, I mean, I like EDM but this felt like something special. It was a feeling.

Angst:84 rehearsal (Photo: Plain Dealer)
That summer I had also downloaded many ROMs from the cabinet video games I had grown up with, and this album seemed the perfect soundtrack to playing those games. It was as though this album actually existed in 1980. I tried to pinpoint exactly what song I was thinking of, which songs they had sampled, but I was never able to figure it out. The closest I could get were tracks like “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire (1978) or “Valerie” by Steve Winwood (1982).

Last month, as our summer began and we were listening to satellite radio, I tuned into the 80s station, because you know me. The song “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles (aka Trevor Horn) came on and of course I had to point out that actually that song is from 1979 and suddenly it struck me, right around the refrain where the woman is singing “You are … a radio star” from somewhere in the background, that this was the song.

Like, the entire album Discovery are numerous reworkings of that one song, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Especially the vocals in “One More Time” and “Digital Love.” Thematically, “Video Killed the Radio Star” is melancholy tune chronicling the end of an era while “Digital Love” is about a dream of a wonderful happy time which have been in the past or never have happened at all. They are both sad in their own way, recalling a memory of joy.

To me, of course, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was released as my childhood was concluding and moving into troubling adolescence. I read online that Daft Punk was trying with Discovery to create a tribute to the first ten years of your life, whenever that may have been in time. There are also specific samples which were used as the baseline for certain songs, but this one is never mentioned, because it’s not actually sampled. But it’s all over the record.

Put the blame on VTR.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Testament of Mary @ Mamaí Theatre

Anne McEvoy in "The Testament of Mary"
Some twenty years ago my partner and I went to see Annie Sprinkle give a lecture at Cleveland Public Theater. Once a sex worker and performer in pornography, Sprinkle had by this time earned a doctorate in human sexuality and had moved into education and sex-positive advocacy.

It was a full house that night, and as we streamed into the theater there was this one woman standing outside, entirely on her own, protesting the event. She had a sign and she was expressing her disapproval. I cannot recall what was written on the sign, nor exactly what her point of view was.

There are several arguments against pornography. The puritanical is perhaps the first that comes to mind, that performing sex acts on film or video for the enjoyment of others is wrong, improper, it is degenerate.

There are also more relevant arguments against pornography and more specifically the porn industry, which preys upon women, especially very young women, and can even participate in human trafficking.

If I remember correctly, this protester was against that evening’s event because sex work is generally anti-woman, that it defines women, the entire gender, as simply something to be fucked. A sound, feminist, anti-porn argument.

As the audience entered, we just kind of ignored her. But her presence impressed me. Whether I agreed with her or not, she was taking a stand for what she believed, all by herself. She wasn’t grandstanding, she wasn’t aggressively attempting to shame anyone. She was obviously outnumbered by the crowd and she had no support. She was just making her point, outside, in the cold.

We don’t protest theater in Cleveland. Not much. Too polite, perhaps. Or maybe it’s because no one cares or worse, that the vast majority of people in greater Cleveland who might be offended are entirely unaware of what happens in the theater scene.

Photo: Steve Wagner
Last spring, Talespinner produced my play Red Onion, White Garlic, and when it was announced that this Indonesian folktale would be performed by women in hijab (87% of the people in Indonesia today identify as Muslim) I was thrilled, and also concerned. We are a polarized country. Our president has expressed a general contempt for Islam. Would someone make trouble?

No one made trouble. Please. How would the racist dingbats of Northeast Ohio even know this were happening?

But recent events have made live theater an occasional lightning rod for controversy. Following a performance of Hamilton, attended by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, the cast gave a curtain call speech as the man exited the hall. The outrage that followed in the media was scattershot; is it appropriate to lecture a captive audience following a play, shouldn’t they show more respect to the Vice President-Elect, must everything be about politics?

This was at Hamilton. You get it.

This summer the Public Theatre made headlines again -- this time with Shakespeare if you can believe that -- by presenting a modern dress production of Julius Caesar as one of their two, free productions at the Delacorte in Central Park.

Shortly after the election, The Public's Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis, decided to cast Caesar in the form of Donald J. Trump. This textually justifiable interpretation of Shakespeare’s version of Caesar as a proud, preening, feckless, needy, physically weak, power-hungry windbag would be on full display in the form of the actual sitting president, and in the president’s own city.

It would also mean depicting him murdered in the Senate, every single night.

Photo: Inside Edition
Even the discussion of the assassination of a sitting president is repellent to me. I don’t even joke about it, and I’ll joke about anything. First, I am an avowed pacifist. Then, the violent overthrow of a democratically elected figure is the diametric opposite of democracy. One individual or small number of people conspiring to violently undo the decision of the vast majority, it is anathema to the values upon which this nation was based.

This is, in fact, a dominant theme of the play Julius Caesar. Brutus is torn between his belief in the ideals of a democratic Republic against his deep love of his comrade Caesar. But the people want to make Caesar their emperor, their king, it’s what the people of Rome, for good or ill, have decided they want.

In murdering Caesar, Brutus utterly failed to teach the citizens of Rome that it was necessary to slay a potential tyrant. (Ironically, J.W. Booth also failed in this regard, and as an interpreter of Shakespeare he really should have known better.) Brutus's name was disgraced and eventually he threw himself on his own sword rather than surrender to a man  -- Octavius, later called Augustus Caesar -- who would soon become to first true emperor of Rome, regardless of Brutus’ sacrifice.

But your average Trump-supporting troglodyte wouldn’t know that. They couldn’t be bothered to watch this production, any production of Julius Caesar, let alone read it. They just saw the stabbing murder of a version of Caesar dressed like Donald Trump on a continuous loop on Fox News and on Breitbart. No other part of the play, just that one moment.

None of these people would have even cared about the production if they hadn’t been told to care about it by the people who tell him to think things on TV and on the internet. The production had been playing for weeks before the uproar began, and it was only through the final weekend of performances that protests took place in the form of Trump sympathizers interrupting the performance and storming the stage (death threats to Eustis and his family at his home came later) which created a heightened sense of expectation, wonder, and worry at those final shows.

After all, in Shakespeare’s day, when Caesar, and later Brutus then Marc Antony, make their speeches to the actual audience, certain members of  the audience called lines back to the stage, rehearsed lines. There we undoubtably audience plants at the Globe, and so it was this summer at the Public. How was an audience member to know if the person getting riled up next to them was an actor, a protester, or perhaps a domestic terrorist?

Last weekend I brought my mom to see The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, directed by Bernadette Clemens and produced by Mamaí Theatre at the Helen Theatre in Playhouse Square. Tóibín created a stir when he wrote the novel, a brief exploration of Mary, mother of Jesus, as a troubled, conflicted single parent to a religious zealot in a dangerous time. Adapted for the stage in a ninety-minute solo performance, she tells the audience directly of experiences at once familiar but seen from a fresh perspective; from a person who sees only disaster in what is to come, and from an intensely personal point of view.

Photo: America Needs Fatima
On Friday, July 8 a peaceful protest was staged on Euclid Avenue, sponsored by the Media Research Center, an arch-conservative lobbying organization whose founder, L. Brent Bozell once referred to President Obama as a “skinny ghetto crackhead.” They provided flyers decrying the depiction of “Holy Mary” for her “bubbling with contempt for her Son’s demented followers,” that she “threatens the writers of the Gospels with a knife,” and that for a time she “lives as a bandit, stealing to survive.”

These allegations are true, as are all the others cherry-picked and presented out of context from this compelling narrative. Anne McEvoy, one of our most talented performers and a good friend, imbues her character with pathos, and also the deep, painful wisdom of a mother and woman who has lived so long and seen so much. It is a passionate and moving performance.

Sitting in the house, however -- with my own mother sitting next to me -- I was keenly aware of the others in the audience around me. That one protest had taken place the week before. This Friday evening there were few people downtown anyway, a sleepy summer evening in Cleveland. There were no security offers checking bags or purses. I wondered how many attended as a direct result of the protests. I have to admit, it motivated me to get a ticket.

But what if one of those in attendance had ill-intent? To interrupt the performance, or worse? These things happen today.

I am not a person of faith, and am accustomed to seeing things from a variety of points of view. I guess that’s relativism. If a person of faith cannot glean insight from a reinterpretation of their beliefs without flying into a rage, they need to breathe, to begin again, and to reconsider the foundation of their faith.

Mamaí Theatre presents "The Testament of Mary" at the Helen in Playhouse Square through July 23, 2017

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Boy Camp 2017

For the eighth year running, the boy and I have been left on our own for a weekend in July, a weekend we refer to as Boy Camp. The truth is, we have plenty of father-son time during the course of any given year. In January my wife and daughter headed to the Women’s March in DC and the boy and I - and Sarah - saw theater, ate poutine and attended the Science Fiction Marathon at Case.

But Boy Camp has become a strong tradition, something we both really look forward to. The weekend has not disappointed. True, we did not go bowling, but we have made a date for the near future. But other stereotypically testosterone-inspired events have transpired.

For example, yes. We began with a trip to Home Depot. Seriously. His call. He has wanted for some time to make his own practice swords, like those we employ in the residency program, and that required ½’ PVC pipe, foam and duct tape. He also bought a dangerous looking utility knife and almost immediately nicked himself with it. Lesson learned, I hope.

We also headed to Game Stop to remit a gift card he’s had, like, two years. His computer and phone have kept him away from that Xbox he bought at the police auction a year or so back, but he only had one controlled. Now he has two and we stayed up late Saturday night playing WWF Smackdown ‘13.

After shopping we headed to Ensemble Theatre, where The Whiskey Hallow was giving a free concert. It should have been out in Pekar Park, but was rescheduled for indoors under threat of heavy storms which never materialized. The bands includes on of the boy’s teachers from School of Rock and a former student, they’re pretty amazing and it was a great show. Wish it could have been outdoors, though.

However, it did afford us the opportunity to check out the ARTFUL artists studios on the second floor of the former Coventry Elementary space. Only two years ago we were rehearsing scenes for Timon of Athens up there, and there was nothing but open, wanting space. Now there are studios and classes, and real work going on.

Unfortunately, the school district plans to sell the building, which puts this new endeavor, Ensemble Theatre, Lake Erie Ink and another important local arts organizations out on the street. I should write a letter.

That evening he made a sword (cut his finger) and we watched three episodes of The West Wing before bed.

Saturday morning he indulged his father, joining me for a theater-related meeting and bearing through it pretty well. I had promised fried chicken and waffles, which is where we headed directly after - to Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles. Folks in the office have been telling me about this place, and we had a fantastic lunch there. However, I think he learned that real pieces of chicken fry better than the boneless kind.

Then to Shaker Square Cinema for Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was the best of the Spider-Man movies. I never liked any of the previous Spider-Man movies.

Before dinner, some exercise. I ran, he biked, some three or so miles through town. We talk about anything on these runs, I am grateful for them. When he comes along on the bike I get water, and take a few breaks. The running has been very challenging the past several months.

Before dinner we had to get bananas, and of course some ridiculous-flavored ice cream. I planned to make fried banana and sunbutter sandwiches, but he persuaded me to slap a piece of cheese on them. He was correct.

We dined watching Most of Buckaroo Banzai. He really wanted to play Xbox but I suggested we watch something while our hands were occupied with the sandwiches, watermelon, Fritos, and Twinkies ice cream. He agreed, and we made it most of the way through the movie before his desire to lay the smacketh down became too overwhelming.

Now, I had made a promise the night before which I seriously did not feel like keeping this morning, which is this: he wanted to fish. I, having been ill for the past ten days, was delighted to not only sleep through the night, but to sleep late. By nine I had no intention to find somewhere to drop a line during the hottest part of the day.

Fortunately, before he woke some friends called asking if he didn’t want to go with them and their son for the day. And so, Boy Camp drew to a close - for me - a bit early, as I sent him to hang out with his best friend in the beautifully resurrected Edgewater Park.

There’s so much more summer in store. I am sure we will get out into it together soon.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Infinite Wrench @ The Neo-Futurarium

This week the family is enjoying a few days in Chicago, following a weekend wedding in Aurora, Illinois. The kids haven’t been here since before they can remember and we have a full slate of touristy things planned for them, city walks and museums and so on.

My son is already familiar with the Neo-Futurists. He has listened to the CD recording they produced in the late 1990s of sketches from Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (an attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes). He became a fan of the work and wistfully remarked he would like to see the show some day, but only if they sell out because he wanted the pizza.

When they sell out, they “order out.” Get it? One large pizza, divided more or less equally among two hundred audience members.

Following the election, I was surprised to read that Neo-Futurists founder Greg Allen had announced he was pulling the rights to Too Much Light (TML) with plans to create a new version designed specifically to "combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression." I posted something on Facebook about the announcement, ignorant of the larger story at play.


I assumed he was disbanding the current troupe of Neo-Futurists, unaware that he left the company several years ago. He doesn’t own the rights to the name Neo-Futurists, in fact there are permanent companies in New York and San Francisco, he only owns the rights to the name “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind” and licenses the concept to these companies and any others who wish to create their own version of the show. He had pulled the rights to perform TML from the Chicago branch only.

Long story short and without getting into any more details, the NY and SF troupes dropped TML in solidarity with the Chicago troupe and worked to create a new framing concept which is called The Infinite Wrench. That is the name of the show we saw last night.

And it’s virtually the same as TML in all the ways that matter.

Twenty-five years ago my colleagues and I contacted the Neo-Futurists to speak with them about their work and to let them know we were hard at work on our own late night program of very short plays performed in a random order, inspired by TML. There were a few brief questions.

Q: Do you call the play Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind?
A: No.

Q: Do you call yourselves Neo-Futurists?
A: No.

Q: Are you performing any written work previously written by Neo-Futurists and performed in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind?
A: No.

And that was about it. Our format was reverse engineered from theirs, presented in the style of a TV game show, but how can you copyright the idea of performing short plays, even when presented in a randomly decided order?

So it goes with The Infinite Wrench. They were stripped of the iconic title but otherwise the show functions much as it always has.

I cannot recall the last time I saw them perform, but it was certainly before the children were born. The baton has passed entirely from those members of Generation X who made the core company when I first saw them in 1991 – many who have made their mark far beyond the Neo-Futurists, like Ayun Halliday, Greg Kotis, Spencer Kayden, Lusia Strus – to these Millennials.

The differences are subtle, where they are even apparent. Most striking were the emotional, thematic, substantive similarities. There is a philosophy behind writing for this show, for being a member of this company.

Improv comedy troupes like to promote the idea that improvisation means every show is different, when the exact opposite is true. Just because you have no script does not mean every iteration of Party Quirks doesn’t feel like every other performance of Party Quirks.

Yet there is an inherent spontaneity to the writing of the Neo-Futurists, the fast-paced rolling out of the sketches throws an audience member's expectations off-kilter. Many works I experienced last night have the some loopy vibe as those I saw a quarter-century ago, though much of the issues and events addressed are intimately tied to those today.

And this filled me with an intense personal melancholy, as I realized something I thought I understood before but was finally brought into sharp relief. We tried to bring the spirit of TML into our work in Cleveland, but we had no philosophy. We had rules about content, which is not the same thing.

One of the main tenets of The Neo-Futurists is that they do not imitate life, they present it. They never do impressions, they always perform themselves. This is not strictly accurate, one performer last night was a dog, for example – but this was in the service of telling someone else’s story.

When I was twenty-four and twenty-five years old I wrote some great short plays for our show. Those two years spent writing and writing and writing, thinking about writing when I wasn’t actually writing, I learned and grew in my practice every day, laying the groundwork for my future work. But I was entirely immature and unprepared to tap into the kind of emotional honesty present in any single play I saw in just this one performance of The Infinite Wrench.

Last night’s show was a special show, however. Yesterday was the Chicago Pride Parade, and this was the annual "30 Queer Plays In 60 Straight Minutes" performance. The company does not necessarily discourage parents from bringing younger audience members but also could not promise the content to be “appropriate” for them. Our definition of appropriate is different from most people's and I am much more concerned with all the violence my son perpetrates through his video games than watching a series of silent, brief vignettes which describe one intimate evening in a lesbian relationship.

It might also be pointed out that my children are not unaware of LGBT issues. In fact, issues of inclusion and equality are very important to them. It was all cool.

The Neo-Futurists continue, as relevant and fascinating and fresh as when I first experienced their work. It was an inspiration and a reminder.

Best of all, my son got that pizza.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A personal reflection for June 25, 2017.

So we returned from Great Britain. I developed a severe migraine headache, as I always do when traveling east to west, across the sea or land. It happened last year when I flew to Alaska. And the very next day I began work in a summer arts camp with no opportunity to relax and contemplate what had just happened.

I did perform I Hate This again, for Cleveland Public Theatre in 2011, and once again a year ago. Two other gentlemen have performed the show, in Manchester and at Hartwick College.

But the tour brought to an end a five-year journey, first developing the show, fringing it, and then sending it around as an educational tool for hospitals and bereavement organizations.

What I decided not to do was to further pursue the piece professionally. I am sure I could have marketed and sold I Hate This, gathering the proper technical equipment, an educational guide written by experts, producing promotional materials, flying around the world to tell this story.

After five years, however, that was not my direction. In fact, ten years ago was when I began my work as a playwright in earnest. That fall I presented a new work at Cleveland Public Theatre’s “Little Box” and by the next year was at work on “the running play” which I took to New York in 2009.

I joined the Cleveland Play House Playwrights’ Unit, received a Creative Workforce Fellowship, and began writing outreach tours for Great Lakes Theater, and later the newly founded Talespinner Children’s Theatre.

I’ve been a director and an actor, but I always wanted to write, and finally I found my voice as a writer and was creating the work. Revisiting these blog entries from ten years ago has been a personal reminder of how much I have had the opportunity to accomplish since then.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Seventeen: London to Cleveland

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

I don't like summing up. Summing up is for the book, the article or the play. A blog is life in motion, and trying to draw any grand conclusions at the end of a long journey is as pointless as trying to draw one at the end of any given day.

Often I do exactly this when composing a blog entry, and I generally find myself simply dropping the last paragraph before publishing.

"Publishing." That's funny. Getting paid is nice, but what the hell, we'll call it publishing.

Non-stop from London to Cleveland. That's my idea of luxury. Once we arrive at Hopkins, My wife will turn around and board a plane for Vermont. It is year two of her work at Goddard College and she has a week on campus in Plainfield, that leaves me alone with the kids until next Monday. Well, alone with my stage manager/childcare specialist, my parents, and anyone else who will help.

Yesterday was a frazzled attempt to bring things to an enjoyable close. I had floated the idea of getting half-price tix to take the girl to see Mary Poppins. While my brother drove most everyone and our bags back to Battersea, My wife, stage manager, and I took a way around Leicester Square - which in the middle of a Saturday afternoon was an insane crush of tourists and opportunists. The lowest ticket price was £32. We called home and said the show was sold out before lingering around some bookstores.

My brother made curry, and we had an amazing relaxed evening around the vicarage, drinking, talking, watching Monsters Inc. (the girl just loves that movie.)

Yesterday morning I took a six o'clock run around Plymouth. Today I rose in London. Tomorrow I get up at dawn in Cleveland Heights, take the kids to school, and embark on an arts camp for city of Cleveland middle school students.

I could really have used a weekend before starting in on that.

Original blog post: June 24, 2007

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Sixteen: Plymouth to London

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Mayflower Steps
Today I took a two-mile run around Plymouth. I actually ran up the Mayflower Steps, into the Old World. Maybe that's where I belong.

Actually, I ran up the steps next to the "Mayflower Steps," those were steps that led up from the car park in the marina. And those aren't even the real Mayflower Steps, the atucal stone steps Francis Drake descended on his journey to the New World are reportedly in the women's loo in the pub across the street.

I followed the water around the Barbican, up through the city, and back down the West Hoe (yes) making a full circle. It was a fantasy of mine that I would finish by the lighthouse, run down the steps to the ocean, and take an insane, frigid plunge into the Atlantic.

But the tide was out. That would have been an uncomfortable, long wade. I would have looked not like a man triumphant, but rather someone determined to drown himself.

It was a good, brisk run. Two runs in Britain. Worth bringing the shoes.

Original blog post: June 23, 2007